Work Header

The Books That Aren't

Chapter Text

It is a library like no library Charles Wallace has ever been in, a library like the ones he has always dreamed of — endless rows of bookcases, paper hand-stitched together, glass doors protecting the most fragile of knowledge, the smell of glue and ink, baskets of tiny sharpened pencils, a catalog typed on heavy cream-colored card stock, pale winter light washing through the windows on the north side. The carpet underfoot is clean and the color of the sky in the depths of winter.

The other patrons are all busy with their scholarship — he knows instinctively that they take their work seriously, and he will not intrude, wandering through the stacks on his way to find the librarian. Each being seems to have their own table individually, and Charles Wallace approves; it is possible to cross-pollinate disciplines through happenstance and sharing space, but more often, in his experience, feeling cramped in a library is distressing. Besides, Charles Wallace tends to doubt anyone else's contributions to his work unless he trusts them with far more than bibliographic citations.

Not that a bibliography isn't heavy responsibility, of course. But there are heavier ones.

He's in no rush; his blood feels warm in his veins and there's no sense of urgency thrumming through the marrow of his bones. He's learned to take the times when he's not afraid as a gift, so he tilts his head to look at the titles on the spines. There's no real order, as far as he can tell — no Library of Congress or Dewey Decimal in force — and he's glad of it. It's nice to think that the books here all like each other, settle comfortably down next to one another, without needing to be segregated and tidied. Ever since he was a child, Charles Wallace has liked the chaotic, the organic, the higgledy-piggeldy. Excessive neatness frightens him, or maybe not frightens, exactly — nauseates. Upsets. It isn't what he wants.

When Meg had the baby, she called him up and said, voice trembling, "It's such a mess here, Charles, I can't —" and broke down sobbing. He soothed her as best he could from so far away, his hands aching with the wish to hold his sister close, let her dampen his shoulder with her tears and exhaustion and fear. "I love you, Meg," he said, eventually, and she hiccuped in his ear.

"Love you right back, baby brother," she said, her voice watery. The baby had begun to sob in the next room, and Meg had sighed, sounding ancient as the maple trees on the north side of their parents' house. "I have to go."

And she had gone, a little lighter, a little comforted. He had hung up, bones weighted with loneliness, but he was used to that.

But one is never alone in a library, and especially not this library; the books themselves are alive here. Charles Wallace runs his fingers over the spine of Rien du tout, ou la conséquence. He has never seen this book before, but he is sure that whoever is in charge of acquisitions here knows what to buy. The whole building is imbued with a feeling of competence; the very air, the dust motes hanging in the angled shafts of sunlight, seem to know what is going on. Charles Wallace feels very young, and very small; the books go on forever. There is more knowledge here than he can hope to acquire in a thousand lifetimes, and the happiness of it rolls through him like wind.

He takes a few more steps, glancing from eye-level shelves to knee-height and back — Between the Stitches, The Prismatic Bezel, The Court of Silk and Blood, A Life of CWM. His fingernail catches on the spine of that last, and he pulls it out carefully; he's always liked his initials. He cradles the spine in his palm and opens the book carefully.

Gaudior is the first chapter. The second is Ananda. The third is Prasaan. The fourth and fifth are The Thrust of Sky and A Measuring Tree. "Hello," Charles Wallace says to himself. It is like looking in a mirror, but better — more truthful, and therefore more beautiful.