Simon woke in his room on his bed and found himself gazing up into Max's face, half-lit by candlelight and scrunched with worry.
Simon croaked, “Hannah.”
“I can't sense her,” Max said.
He'd never known Max could sense her at all.
“Are you alright?” Max said, which seemed to Simon impossibly foolish and then impossibly sad.
Why can't my body do what I need? Can't I last long enough to correct my wrongs?
Max said, “I asked about the potion. I visited eleven sellers.”
“Is it morning?”
“Dawn. I know who bought the potion, who gave it to Richard St. Clair.”
“Good,” Simon said and closed his eyes. “He may visit you--St. Clair.”
“I'll send him to you.”
Good. Simon drifted off.
He woke to fading sunlight, evident despite the heavy bedroom curtains. He had to concentrate to understand why and when he was. I went to see Max; Max came to see me; it must be the next afternoon—
How long would it take St. Clair to discover that Simon was his only recourse? A day, Simon guessed. The young man was driven to unmask his attacker--he would return soon.
Simon maneuvered upright, one hand clutching the nearest bed post. He hunched on the edge of the bed, hands on knees.
The faintest murmur rose behind him. Hannah occupied the bed; he could see her shape beneath the top quilt. He ran his hand along the shape of her shoulder and hip, and she stirred slightly.
She whispered, “You shouldn't have gone out.”
Simon coughed out a laugh.
“You shouldn't have lifted me up the stairs.”
“I'm destroying you. I am the house, and the house is killing you.”
“No, Hannah. I'm going to save you. With the house, someday you will be found, brought back, restored--”
“Such hope,” she cried faintly. “You are such a hopeful man.”
Simon would never have said so. Practical. Pragmatic. Realistic. He wanted things to be true. They ought to be true. How could desperation be hope?
* * *
Hannah could mean his willingness to believe. Simon sat in the parlor, waiting for Richard St. Clair. He kept drifting off, his head full of possibilities. Perhaps the house needed to be destroyed. Perhaps that would free Hannah. How could Simon be sure? If she was the house . . . Things return, the priest in Ennance had said years earlier. We get more chances than we deserve. There were still no guarantees.
Two people entered the parlor. They loitered by the door, watching Simon. He studied them, eyes hooded, pretending that he hadn’t just woken, that he had anticipated their arrival.
The man was St. Clair—the other, a woman dressed in man's clothes. They held hands. How complicated. No wonder Richard St. Clair was anxious about his bespellment.
St. Clair said, “We spoke to your supplier.”
“I have a number of suppliers.”
“Max Leute. I suppose you've bribed every supplier in Kingston.”
“I still have some influence. You gave me an entire night to find what I needed. I have the information you seek; it is fascinating.”
“You want your house—”
“Protected.” Simon leaned forward, hands tightening on the chair arms. “Left alone.”
St. Clair gestured acknowledgement of Simon’s riposte. At his shoulder, the woman-in-man’s-clothes watched them closely, her cheek pressed to St. Clair’s shoulder.
St. Clair said, “An historical designation involves renovation.”
“That date can be determined later.”
“There are better examples of Truflian architecture throughout Kingston.”
“But none so notorious. Imagine the stories your historians could collect.”
The woman said in a clear voice, “The historians may prefer stories of noble deeds, a house that conveys an uplifting purpose.”
“Ah.” Simon’s eyes flicked towards her. “Your lover is a woman. Your family has such unexpected proclivities that I wasn’t sure.”
St. Clair flushed as Simon continued: “Yes, dear lady, in the short run, the state would prefer all things abound to its glory, but in the long run, the long run, don’t we all prefer more excitement? There lived the wicked Lord Simon in his house of shame.”
Hannah reacted to the slur, of course. Her anger filled the room, yet it was anger without energy or sting: gloom rather than fury.
“No renovation until your death,” St. Clair said. “The house protected twenty years beyond that.”
Let the house sink. Let it die. Hannah was winding through Simon’s brain. She had invaded the house. Now she was invading him.
Simon thought, This is what I created. I made her a thing reflective only of myself, my identity, my place. Hannah was forever protective, ready to defend Simon, to put him first—but nothing truly alive was willingly consumed by another’s needs.
Did we both stop living? Years ago? Even before Ennance?
And yet—after all these years—what was hope if not something that operated without meaning. How can I give up?
“Yes,” Simon said to St. Clair. “That long. Long enough. Yes.”
“Who bought the potion to feed me?”
Simon gave him the name, adding, “I trust you will keep our bargain.”
“I’m an honorable man.”
“Honorable?” Lord Simon snorted. “I thought you were being honest.”
* * *
St. Clair and his lover were gone. Simon leaned back in his armchair, eyes shutting.
Kev came here while you were gone last night. Hannah’s voice—or rather Hannah’s sigh. His Hannah of brassy confidence and clear opinions was now a mere moan, a draft of fear and discontent.
We kept him out, she muttered, me and the butler thing. Kev is mad—he wants revenge. He’ll not stay away. We won't be able to keep him out again—
“I’ll do what I can,” Simon told her.
Too much, she whispered. Too much. Simon—you are fading too.
Yes. He was fading with too little time left. When Max visited, Simon sent him to fetch the police. Max balked as Simon closed his eyes. Perhaps Max would go. Perhaps not. What could Simon do but keep trying to protect her, her as house, her before she dissolved into the house's dust.