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Encounter

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[-The Twelfth of November, 1887-]

Lafayette did not like hunting for Rebels.

After the incident back in July, he had a terrible and overwhelming fear that he would one day find Grayson amongst the bodies that had been struck down in a firefight. Should that day come, Lafayette would resign the Order is disgrace and let himself wither away without the Blackwater; he could barely countenance being a part of the Order knowing what he did now about Grayson and the Rebels and Alastair and the Lord Chancellor. He felt unmoored, very uncertain of his footing and dreadfully certain that he was about to make a horrible mistake.

Lafayette had been drinking more than usual, and he was not proud of it.

I really must cut back, he thought as he followed the guards through the shipping yard, head pulsing slightly with discomfort. He could have used the Blackwater to dull the effects of the hangover, but felt compelled to leave it and suffer the consequences of his actions.

“It was down here,” The guard said feverishly, hustling across the gravel and stone of the road with a stiff gait. Either he was very eager to do his job well, or he was very cold. “I’m certain I saw someone break into the warehouse through the window, moving like a demon straight from Hell!”

Lafayette was several feet behind the guard, so he felt quite safe rolling his eyes as deeply as he wanted to.

“I fired off a few shots, not sure if it hit anything.”

Well, from the looks of it you definitely hit the window. Shards of glass were hanging from the frame of the window, and all over the ground beneath it.

“It is inadvisable to start shooting at people and things if you are not entirely certain what they are,” Lafayette remarked out loud, trying not to sound testy and perhaps failing. Fortunately, the guard seemed thick-headed enough not to notice and take offense.

“Well, whatever the case, I think whatever I saw is still in the warehouse.”

“But you did not check?”

“No, sir, we waited for you.”

‘We’, it could be presumed, were the few other guards currently stationed around the warehouse. Lafayette didn’t know whether or not the hesitation to search the premises could be considered a blessing or a curse: If he went in and found some dead or otherwise badly-injured dockhand, he would be obligated to report this idiot. On the other hand, if it did actually end up being a thief, or some foolish youth, or a Rebel…

…Well.

“I will take a look, Monsieur. Please wait out here.” And please do not shoot me if I move too suddenly for your liking.

Were Grayson still a Knight, were they still comrades in the light of day, Lafayette knew he would have gotten a sour look and a remark at how carelessly he entered the warehouse. “It would do for you to display more caution, Marquis,” Lafayette could imagine him saying.

“And if you were here to say it to me in person, I might even heed it,” he mumbled out loud to himself.

Lafayette strolled up and down the aisles of the warehouse without hesitation, though he kept his eyes and ears sharp for anything out of place. Occasionally he paused, craning to look about and around the shelves and boxes that might have been enough to conceal someone, but he saw nothing. When he reached the window, Lafayette saw that amongst the glass scattered on the floor inside the building were small splatters of blood. Not enough to indicate a fatal shot- indeed, there was still reasonable doubt as to whether or not it was the bullet or the glass that had caused the injury- but enough to be noticeable. The trail of blood was not long, suggesting that whoever had been injured had been smart enough to cover up the wound before hiding or escaping.

So, they could still be in the warehouse.

Lafayette rolled his shoulders and looked around uneasily. The warehouse was dead silent, not a rustle or creak to be heard. Now that he had some reason to believe that someone was still around, he was feeling a little more nervous. He started down the row of shelves that would have been the most likely choice for escape for whoever had broken in, moving as slowly and as quietly as he could.

And then he saw a few shards of glass near a shelf.

Lafayette glanced back and forth, double-checking, and no: There was no trail of glass leading to the shelf. It was just a few pieces, something likely shaken off in the process of escaping… Or climbing onto the shelf to hide.

Should he look, or should he go and get the guards?

No, Lafayette thought grimly, that would probably only end with me getting shot. He had to assume that the other guards were as trigger-happy as their cohort, and all he could picture was five people firing their guns off all at once.

Lafayette pulled his pistol from its holster and stepped up to the shelf. He reached out, pushed the first box aside-

-and found Rani Lakshmi, leader of the Rebellion, tucked in behind it.

They froze, staring at one another for a long, silent moment.

The spell was broken by something thudding outside, muffled voices floating in through the half-open door. Perhaps some of the guard’s friends, or some dock workers, had decided to drop in and start asking questions.

“I had hoped that was your voice I’d heard,” Lakshmi remarked.

“Please tell me you’re not here to blow anything up,” Lafayette whispered.

Lakshmi shook her head. “Just some light theft,” she said mildly, and then gestured to her thigh, which had a long, wide laceration down the front. “Got a little out of hand, I’m still waiting for the Blackwater to fix it.”

Lafayette grinned, chuckled a little. “Was that from the guard, or did you cut it on the window he shot out?”

“I am not entirely sure- it all happened so fast.” Lakshmi tipped her head towards the door. “The next thing I knew, that fool and his friends had the place surrounded. I didn’t dare attempt an escape.”

“Smart: They look ready to shoot at any shadow that moves.” Lafayette glanced back towards the window. “I can probably put them off, and signal for you when they’ve moved away.”

Lakshmi raised her eyebrows at him. “Are you certain? I am not ignorant as to the trouble you would be in if you were caught aiding a Rebel.”

Lafayette shrugged, and waved a hand. “Ce n’est rien. It is only a matter of time before the Order starts to sniff me out anyway.”

Lakshmi’s face fell. “Well, we welcome defectors, as you well know.”

He nodded tiredly. “It would not be the first rebel faction I’ve aligned myself with in my long history.” Lafayette tapped the side of the box. “A moment, my lady; I will signal you forthwith.”

“Go with my thanks, Marquis.”

Lafayette went to the door, formulating the words and the exact posture he meant to use when he stepped outside. He had his hand on the door, pulling it open when-

BANG!

Jesus!” Lafayette dropped to the ground, blood rushing and crashing through the headache and the fuzzy sort of indifference he’d had going on.

“Hang on, hang on, it’s the Knight!”

Lafayette jumped to his feet, enraged. “Qu'est-ce que ce bordel? Vous êtes comme une valise sans poignée! Un roi des idiots!

He went right on shouting as he stormed away from the warehouse, thankfully too focused on hurling insults at the guard to think to reach for his weapon or start swinging. The guards backed away, hands up. “My apologies, Knight!”

“Your apologies?” Lafayette bellowed in English, temporarily diverting from the vulgarities of his natal language. “You could have killed me, you idiot!”

The guard shrunk back a little further, cringing with visible fear in his eyes. Good: Maybe he would remember this the next time he went and fired his weapon off so recklessly.

“The warehouse is empty. If anyone was here, they are gone now. You- all of you- go back to your patrols, or whatever it is you do here,” Lafayette ordered, raising a finger to point at the guard that had nearly shot him. “You in particular should probably report to your manager and tell him of the window that you broke; because if you do not, I will, and I will not be nearly so gentle in the telling. Allez-vous en!

The guards scattered. It seemed that swearing and screaming profusely in French had accomplished his intended goal with greater efficacy than Lafayette could have anticipated, because they did not look back and they did not seem to suspect him of lying about the warehouse’s supposed emptiness. He supposed that being screamed at in a foreign language could be very intimidating: After all, how was one to know if they weren’t being threatened with violence or death?

Like being shot, for instance, Lafayette thought sourly.

He waited until he was certain they were gone, then edged back to the door and called inside: “Madame, you are clear.”

In spite of her injury, Lakshmi crept up to the door silently, standing just inside and out of sight. “That was impressive, Marquis.”

“I have been known to lose my temper when I am shot at by idiots.”

“Well, you have worked me out of a tight spot regardless. Maybe it should be you I call Knight,” Lakshmi said slyly. “Since Grayson rejects the moniker nowadays.”

“Does he?”

“Bad memories, I expect.”

Lafayette rubbed his eyes. “I cannot blame him: I feel as though every step I take now is a bad memory in the making.”

A hand darted out through the narrow gap of the open door, coming to squeeze Lafayette’s shoulder. “You know where to find us.”

Lafayette reached up to pat the hand. “I do.”

“The door is always open.”

“I know.”

“Then why not come?”

Lafayette sighed. “It is not a decision to be made lightly.” What he really meant was that he feared what Isabeau would become if she lost a fourth person; two mentors and her brother had already produced a disturbing change.

“Of course.”

“But when the time is right, I am certain you will see me.” Lafayette forced a smile, turned, took Lakshmi’s hand into his and kissed it. “And I will be delighted to see you, as always.”

Lakshmi’s eyes glinted mischievously in the light. “And I you, Marquis. Farewell.”

She slipped out of the door, keeping low and near the wall until she disappeared around a corner.

Lafayette sagged back against the wall of the warehouse, briefly wondering if he ought to cut his losses and just follow her back to Aux Belles Muses.

Then he thought of Isabeau, and shook his head. “Maybe another day,” Lafayette told himself.

He strolled wearily from the shipping yard, intending to return to Westminster and get some sleep.

And maybe another drink or two.

-End