Charles has always loved to read.
He remembers finding a copy of Wuthering Heights in his mother’s room, back when he was thirteen and the world revolved around using baking soda and vinegar and figuring out different ways to build exploding rockets.
Strictly speaking, they weren’t meant to be in Mother’s room, but she was out and Raven had agreed to be watcher. So Hank and Charles set the rocket up, and then, because they were feeling adventurous, built a volcano too. Except it had gone horribly wrong and the room stank of vinegar for days after.
Charles definitely didn’t expect her copy of Wuthering Heights to get covered in the ghastly stuff.
Hank had picked the book up later, after they’d stared at the rain of froth in wonder and fear, and handed it to him, pages soggy and dripping in vinegar.
Charles had no choice but to replace it, find the exact copy--because thankfully the cover was still intact--and put it away on the bookshelf, Mother none the wiser.
God it has taken days, bloody days just to find the right one. He’d gone to so many book shops, little independent stores tucked away in corners, places he didn’t even know existed. But he found it. Raven of course being very little help, opting to skip along the rows, sticking her head out from the shelves and scaring the shit out of customers instead of helping Charles.
What Charles didn’t expect was to read Wuthering Heights. No. That wasn’t part of the plan. He couldn’t help but go back and buy another copy just for himself, and because he was there he thought he might as well look around, check the Classics section, for research purposes obviously.
There was something about it; history sitting in his hands, dried paper and splotchy ink stains all over his fingertips.
It was a revelation. It was like discovering porn. The G rated version, of course.
Charles is sixteen the first time he sees the advert on the notice board outside his World History class. It’s a recruitment flyer for a summer job at the local library. They are looking for part time help, but only for the summer to start off with.
He doesn’t think much of it at the time.
But, while he’s sitting in the library with Hank and going through their Spanish homework set by Miss MacTaggert, Charles decides maybe it’s not such a bad idea to work here. He spends most of his time at the library, knows the place much better than he ought to, though that’s probably because Mother is always too busy and Raven can only spend so much time with him.
Maybe it’s not a bad idea.
He does apply, filling out the form while Raven chortles in the background and Hank looks sceptical. It’s only because Emma knows him that he probably gets in. She’s the only one that’s nice out of all the staff. Shaw, who’s the Senior Administrative Officer, is a nightmare apparently. The Nazi is what they call him.
It’s not so bad, though. He learns how to organise the books, how to help Emma enter the catalogue data into the library's automated system, though Shaw is the one who actually sits down and trains Charles when it comes to the online catalogue and how to search it.
‘You will not put the Bible into the fiction section,’ he tells Charles sternly the first time they meet, and there’s a moment of panic because, well, technically he did do this, but only because Hank dared him to. He can’t say for certain if Shaw is saying this because he suspects Charles’ involvement or because he thinks Charles is a typical hooligan. ‘You must label all the books with Emma and adhere to the system...’ after that Charles sort of zones out and can’t help but notice the large number of nose hairs protruding from Shaw's nostrils.
It’s in his second week that Charles struggles a little. The task is simple enough but it’s the one thing he can’t always get right, particularly when there isn’t a ladder around.
One of the things Shaw has handed over to him is the job to lug the book cart around for the second floor, it’s his ‘responsibility, the highest honour,’ according to Shaw, for a man of his standing. He’s responsible for returning the books on the second floor for the morning. Charles is fine with this because it’s the Classics section and it means he can toss around and waste a few hours without Shaw sussing it out, moody old man that he is with quivering jowls and hacking coughs.
It’s the least crowded area, which is funny because Charles always expected the girls from his English class to be loitering around here. But there’s nothing except for quietness and worn spines and sunlight coming through slightly dusty windows.
He’s got a copy of Sense and Sensibility and it belongs to the top shelf, which would be fine if Charles could reach the damn thing. In his defence he’s a growing boy, there’s still time despite the fact the Raven is only two inches away from his height. He stretches up on his tiptoes, hand gripping one of the shelves as he tries valiantly to reach the top as the hard edges of the wood press against his stomach.
He’s about to give up when he feels something on his hip and he freezes, the touch like a hot brand searing its way to his skin. Someone snags the book out of his hand, rough skin brushing against his, and places it where it belongs. Charles turns around and comes face-to-face with a tall man, with eyes that are hard to figure out if they’re blue or green.
He doesn’t look like he belongs in a library.
‘Sorry,’ he says, ‘I thought you might need help.’ Charles can’t help but feel the way his thumb is rubbing circles against his hip, he’s damn sure of it, until the stranger pulls back and moves away leaving Charles blushing a furious shade of red.
‘Uh, right...thanks,’ Charles manages, but the man is already moving and turning the other way into the next aisle.
Charles is left feeling slightly dazed and flushed, the edges of the shelves digging into his back.
There are rules, apparently, for the staff. Not the normal rules, no, it’s a different set of rules stuck in the back offices out of Shaw’s sight.
RULES FOR STAFF [version 1.6]:
1. Do not put Bible’s in the Fiction section.
2. Do not fuck in the library, except for the fourth floor – Shaw does not patrol it.
3. Do no masturbate in the Travel section. [Yes you, Sean]
4. Stop leaving crap in the staff room.
5. Use soap. There’s a reason why the Men’s room have three bars. [Yes you, Sean]
6. Do not speak to Lehnsherr.
7. Do not make eye contact with Lehnsherr. [Kraken, he’s a fucking KRAKEN]
8. Do not write on the list, Sean.
9. Draw straws when deciding on who is to deal with Lehnsherr.
Charles isn’t actually made aware of this list until the end of the second week and he’s proven his worth, according to Sean. That’s another thing. He doesn’t know who the hell this Sean is until he’s read the list and realises there’s another kid working here voluntarily for so long that he’s practically part of this gang of oddities.
Sean’s got a pasty complexion, face covered with freckles and a mind that is clearly possessed by sex.
Charles doesn’t know why everyone is scared of this Lehnsherr; all he knows is that he’s a legend. Like how sometimes mother’s tell their kids the story of La Llorona, the weeping woman searching for her lost children after she drowned them, and if their kids don't go the fuck to sleep, she's coming after them. Well, this Lehnsherr is the library’s La Llorona. There’s a legitimate fear that he might come and sneak the kids away. Or the Staff.
‘He tried to take me away,’ Sean swore one morning, ‘thought I was a kid. I tell you, scariest fucking experience of my life,’ he’d said with a sigh before he went back to searching for the Kama Sutra.
Charles thinks it’s a load of cock and bull.
It’s on a Tuesday when it all goes wrong. Charles knows this because it’s eleven and Emma is already shrieking in the back over her stolen coffee.
Sean looks up from the computer and says, ‘Oh fuck, it’s him,’ before scrambling for something, ‘straws, where the hell are they?’
Which is when Emma comes out, looking furious.
‘There are none. They’ve gone missing,’ she says, while Sean’s voice is slowly reaching a crescendo.
This is around about the time Charles realises what’s going on. There is only one person that could cause such hysteria.
Emma spouts some fantastic bullshit on the spot about there being a clause: if there aren’t any straws this means by default the newbie must deal with him.
Charles finds it all amusing.
That is until they all leave him to the lions and run towards the back, while he’s left wondering who the heck this man is.
Until he sees him. And then he blushes furiously because it’s the man who helped him with the book.
The Hip Molester.
There’s a good a moment where Charles thinks he’ll either die or his limbs are soon going to stop functioning, because all the blood has rushed to his face and he probably looks an unattractive shade of tomato paste red.
Lehnsherr is close to shooting beams of optic blast with just a gaze directed at the kids corner, where Shaw is sternly telling the children it is story time soon. They’re going to read Dracula. ‘It will make you brave,’ Shaw says, eyes glinting.
He doesn’t know what should terrify him more.
Lehnsherr turns away from the sight of Shaw, looks towards the front desk and spots Charles and then a funny thing happens. He stops glaring, and though he still looks moodier than a normal person has any right to be...well, he doesn’t look he wants to eat Charles’ heart out, blood still dripping over his face like Daenerys Targaryen. Not yet anyway.
Charles pastes on a perfunctory smile. ‘Hello, can I help you with anything?’
Lehnsherr leans on the polished wood, elbows touching the edge of Charles’ Spanish textbook, and rakes his gaze over him.
Charles' cheeks are on fire by this point.
‘Yeah, you can help me,’ he says, and maybe it should sound dirty because that’s what Charles expects from him, instead it sounds, well, completely genuine. ‘I’m looking for a book. It says it isn’t checked out, but it’s not there on the shelf.’
‘I’m sorry about that,’ Charles says. ‘Let me just check it on the database and try to find out where it is.’ He pulls up the database, and then realises something. ‘Uh, sorry, what was the name of the book?’ he asks.
Lehnsherr smiles brightly at him, all teeth and little amusement. ‘Architecture Theory Since 1968.’
He types it in, can’t help but think absently that his eyes are definitely grey. It says they have it. It should be up on the fourth floor, in the Art & Architecture section.
Charles frowns. ‘Oh, it does say it’s here, I don’t know why it’s not on the shelf.’ Privately he thinks maybe Lehnsherr looked in the wrong section. It’s what most people usually tend to do, and then act surprised at how it was found exactly where it’s meant to be.
‘I’ll ask one of the staff members to check it up for you,’ he says.
Lehnsherr shakes his head. ‘No, forget it. I’ll just do it myself.’
He moves away and he’s heading for the elevator. Charles feels kind of bad about this, so he can’t stop himself when he practically yells for the world to hear, ‘Wait, I’ll come and help.’
Lehnsherr stops in his tracks, turns around slowly and gives him a puzzling look. It’s the kind of look you’d give when you don’t expect anything, not even a little. It leaves Charles scrambling, moving away from the desk. Lehnsherr’s lips curl around the corners, hesitant and not even there if you weren’t close enough, but Charles is and so he knows it’s there.
‘I’ll help,’ Charles says and Lehnsherr gives him a brief nod and moves to the elevator. The doors open and Charles follows him in, and while Lehnsherr is pressing the buttons, Charles notices Sean with his head hanging limp like a hanged man and right when the doors snap shut Emma does a cut-throat gesture in his direction.
Good God, he's just agreed to help The Weeping Woman. Or man in their case.
It gets awfully silent after that.
‘You’re new here,’ Lehnsherr says abruptly.
Charles nods, tries to give him a smile.
Lehnsherr gives him a brief, hard look, like he's chalking up his worth. ‘Good.’
He doesn’t know if that’s a good, as in you’ll do my bidding because you’re new and eager to please or good meaning, I’m going to murder you here and take you away because you look like a kid and no-one will miss you.
It doesn’t matter, he’s scared shitless either way.
Charles likes libraries. It’s easy to get lost in the silence and ease that libraries provide him. It’s easy to press fingers into stiff hardbacks and find paper-cuts and dust lingering over his skin. It’s easy to watch other people, too. Yeah, that’s probably the best part.
People Watching is fun. Charles is terribly fond of it. It’s almost like reading a persons mind, discovering something new and different about them that under normal circumstances would’ve never crossed his mind. Like the senior, Logan, who always comes in on a Saturday, and though he tends to head towards the Newspaper and Journals section, somehow Charles is bound to find him hiding behind Ariel by Sylvia Plath. Then there’s Alex, the blond that Hank finds more fascinating than the Fundamental Theorem of Calculus, who secretly seems to enjoy checking out Regency romance novels.
It’s a quiet, easy life, snooping into peoples business.
Lehnsherr has a lot of piercings on his right ear.
This does not come to Charles' attention until five minutes have past by staring at a row of books all about Moroccan and Turkish architecture. Charles turns around to figure where in heavens name Lehnsherr has gone off to, when he sees the glint of metal shining from the corner just as Lehnsherr turns into the next aisle. It blinds him for a moment. He’s not sure if he should be fascinated by this revelation or, well, embarrassed that he’s only realised it now.
He knows according to the books reference number that the book should be here, in the Architecture Theory subdivision which should be right after the Moroccan Tile laying bit, except the book itself isn’t there.
He’s shoving books aside on the shelf, wondering if it’s fallen into the back, though technically a true librarian shouldn’t do that, for all books are ‘living, breathing beings,’ according to Shaw. He nearly has an angina attack when Lehnsherr’s face pops up between the books on the other side, eyes steely-blue and an intense look on his face, as if he’s constipated or something like that.
‘It’s not here,’ he says.
‘Yes, I know and I’m sorry,’ Charles says as sincerely as he can, because he’s sorry. Sorry for not running away and having the misfortune of being the newbie. Maybe Lehnsherr is going to eat him or hack away his body parts like in The Bone Collector, and nobody will find his body until years later under the Moroccan Tile books because no one comes here.
Charles looks up, squints a little and realises maybe he’s saved.
‘Oh, I think I found it,’ he says, jumping on the spot before he grabs the step-ladder from the side and gets onto it, because typically everything is on the top shelf when it comes to Charles. It’s like a manifestation subtly led by Emma.
‘Are you sure?’ Lehnsherr asks, voice distant from the other side.
Charles is straining like he always does to reach the damn thing. He can see the red cover and he’s about to get it when he starts to wobble a little. Something grabs him by the hip and belatedly he realises it’s Lehnsherr. He's still on the other side though he’s managed to get his hand through the gap in the books. Jesus Christ, how is that even possible?
Lehnsherr has got a hand on his hip, grip firm and strong, holding him in place before he can topple over face-first onto the floor. Charles can already feel the rush of blood to his face. He quickly yanks the book off, bends down a little and shoves it through the gap in between the books where Lehnsherr’s arm is sticking out like an ominous sign.
‘Here,’ he says quickly, wiggling out of Lehnsherr's grip. He takes the book and Charles presses the side of his face against the cold spine of J. Ockman once Lehnsherr has moved away.
He would’ve taken The Weeping Man over this any day.
A few minutes pass before he notices another presence. He looks down and sees Lehnsherr watching him carefully. He flushes harder than ever. God knows how long he’s been standing here watching Charles quietly curse the man.
‘So this was nice,’ Lehnsherr says. ‘We should do this more often.’
Then he pats Charles on the hip again like it’s no big deal, like it's his right, before walking away, book tucked under his arm.
Emma looks confused when he returns, body fully intact, whereas Sean is gobsmacked that it didn’t end in tears. Charles would quite frankly like to forget about the whole thing.
Lehnsherr does not pop up over the next three days and life sails by smoothly.
Shaw struts in on the third day, and says in a solemn voice, ‘Charles, it is time.’ He then points a finger in Sean’s direction and says, ‘That neanderthal over there will help you, too.’
Shaw decides it is the designated time for Charles to take over story time for that week and Sean must help him. In other words this means Shaw has had enough of the kids and they’ve had enough of him. The prospect is both scary and exciting. Sean is as happy as a clam. They decide on The Very Hungry Caterpillar as the chosen book, which is all fun and great until Sean concludes that they need to dress up for the part, Emma egging him on. It gets rather complicated after that, and results in Charles somehow being tricked into coming in the following morning dressed as a caterpillar and Sean as a variety of fruits and deserts. Of course he gets off lucky.
Emma finds this all amusing.
‘Oh look at you, Charles, you are so adorable,’ she says, petting his antenna. Charles is mortified to find that she is cooing at him.
The last thing a sixteen year-old needs to be called is adorable. Unless he’s using it to his advantage, that is. Charles sees no gain here.
They herd the children in together and Sean acts as the narrator while Charles must successful try to chew him at every opportunity. He does get an actual bite out of him which results in a beautifully high pitched shriek from Sean.
It’s not so bad after that.
The kids cheer, so do most of the parents, probably just grateful that they won’t have to deal with nightmares over Dracula.
Their story time is a success. Charles loves it so much he can’t help himself but hug each and every one of their little toddlers, Sean handing lollipops on the way out.
He guesses it’s worth looking like phlegm.
It’s only when they’re down to four kids that Charles notices Lehnsherr casually leaning against the information desk, watching them. It leaves him feeling prickly and unsure, wondering why he’s here. Lehnsherr isn’t doing anything and Sean is purposely hijacking the last two lollipops. Charles can’t take it anymore and walks over to him. It’s humiliating enough already and now that he’s seen him dressed as a caterpillar. Well there’s no going back with that.
‘So,’ Charles begins hesitantly, ‘what brings you here?’ Then he flushes bright red because, of course, what else would he be doing, here, in a library.
‘Came to return my book,’ Lehnsherr says, shows him the red cover.
‘Oh, right.’ Charles replies.
There’s an awful bout of uncomfortable silence during which Charles scuffs his toe, looks down at the floor before looking back at Lehnsherr.
Lehnsherr clears his throat, and says, a little awkwardly, ‘So, you read stories to the kids?’
He nods, perhaps a little too frantically. ‘We just started today, it’s usually Mr Shaw’s job but he said we could do it, see how it goes. It was fun.’ He looks down at himself. ‘Plus we get to dress up, which is great for the kids, and then Sean can help me, too.’ He knows he’s babbling, but it’s better than not saying anything at all.
‘I thought it was nice,’ Lehnsherr cuts in, and it takes a moment for Charles to realise he genuinely means it, and can't help but smile hesitantly in return. Then Emma comes out, freezes when she sees who it is before putting on a smile, asking him how she can help.
Charles trots away to Sean, something fizzing in the pit of his stomach. He’s grateful there was none of that hip business today. But he does wonder why Lehnsherr hasn’t eaten his heart out like they’ve all said he would.
Nobody knows Shaw’s real name.
He’s simply Shaw, or Mr Shaw if he’s in a particularly grouchy mood. It would be amusing and the butt of spy jokes if it wasn’t so odd. He assumes Emma to at least know considering she’s worked here the longest, but even she can’t give Charles an answer.
Sean, in a moment of ingenuity according to him, decides to ask Shaw about this in the Men’s room, and Shaw tosses his hair back, looks in the mirror and says, 'Baby, I was born this way.’ Which just puts the kibosh on the whole issue.
Sean is left speechless for the rest of the day.
Charles isn’t overly concerned about this; he’s more interested in the fact that nobody knows Lehnsherr’s real name either. He’s also starting to get concerned over why he’s even thinking about Lehnsherr.
Charles spends the following day going through library records and sending letters to those who have overdue books. He takes himself to a corner by the Languages section, sits down and gets on with it, ending each letter by stamping it with their logo.
Two minutes in and he can already overhear Logan reciting Keats to himself as if he’s never heard the likes of such wonder. ‘Pillow'd upon my fair love's ripening breast,’ and though he sounds cautious and hesitant, Charles lets it lull him into a doze.
He’s got a lovely voice, he thinks before he falls asleep.
Charles awakens to something poking him in the arm. He has to pull himself out of the sleepy haze, where he’d dreamt of chocolate muffins and marzipan rolls.
He’s startled when he sees Lehnsherr standing next to him, clearly having been the one who poked Charles awake.
‘You’re alive, I thought you’d passed out or something,’ Lehnsherr says.
It takes Charles a moment to notice that there’s a letter stuck to his right cheek. Mortified, he hastily yanks it off. Saliva is clearly a good adhesive as it takes a while for him to succeed, Lehnsherr smirking the whole time, amused.
‘Uh, no, I must have fallen asleep,’ Charles explains. ‘Sorry, I didn’t mean to.’ He doesn’t know why he’s apologising, except that he doesn’t want Lehnsherr to think he’s a slacker, not that his opinion matters.
Lehnsherr nods like he’s realised something while Charles spends the time quickly taking note of the leather jacket and jeans that he’s wearing today. He looks different, a man who belongs on a Ducati or something equally sinister. Emma would call it sexy.
‘Well, you’re young, so it’s understandable,’ he says.
Charles sits a little straighter, slightly outraged. ‘I’m sixteen. I’ll be seventeen in a few weeks time.’
Lehnsherr looks thoughtful after this. ‘Good,’ he says after a while which only confuses Charles. ‘Do you think you could help me with something?’ he asks.
Charles nods, eager but feeling unsure. He doesn’t want it to end with him toppling over a stepladder and Lehnsherr catching him like he’s hoping to catch the bouquet at a wedding. Charles is not a bouquet.
‘Great.’ Lehnsherr points his fingers at one of the aisles and heads over, clearly expecting Charles to follow him like a good boy.
Unfortunately, Charles does follow him.
Charles spends a good hour looking for Delirious New York: A Retroactive Manifestation for Manhattan while Lehnsherr fires out random questions, pretending to search, when clearly he’s expecting Charles to do all the bulk work. Either that or he’s waiting for an opportunity to touch his hips. Charles wants the man to decide already.
‘You’ve only started working here because I haven’t seen you before,’ Lehnsherr states.
Charles is crouched down on the floor, checking the bottom shelf, while Lehnsherr stands next to him, looking awfully tall.
‘Um, yes, I think it’s been nearly three weeks.’
‘And you’re technically a librarian?’ Lehnsherr asks.
‘Well, no, not technically, I just help around. They use me for manual labour,’ he says this little fact cheerily and looks up at Lehnsherr, though he regrets this because it means he notices that Lehnsherr has got a new piercing.
‘That’s nice,’ Charles says, the metal looking terribly mesmerizing. He has to blink a few times, points at it and watches the way Lehnsherr gives him a toothy grin. Charles feels like any moment now he's going to be fed to killer sharks.
Lehnsherr looks like he's starving.
Charles quickly looks at the long line of books, finds the one they need sticking out from the bottom of its spine like it’s been hastily shoved there.
‘Got it,’ he says, pulling it out. ‘Here you go, Mr Lehnsherr.’ And he thrusts the book out in his direction while trying to get up. Lehnsherr offers a hand, and for a moment Charles hesitates before taking hold of it, Lehnsherr tugging him up, close to his body. Predictably Charles flushes.
Lehnsherr is frowning when he says, ‘It's Erik. Don’t call me Mr Lehnsherr, I’m not that old.’
‘Oh,’ Charles manages to say in response, and it sound a little breathless. He feels like he’s Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman except without the lustrous mane of golden hair, and Lehnsherr is his Richard Gere, but sans the grey and possibly the charm.
It’s hard to think rational thoughts within such close proximity of Lehnsherr. His body feels like an inferno.
‘Erik,’ Lehnsherr repeats, and then puts a hand on Charles’ hip, and Charles breathes out a sigh of relief. It’s almost like he’s been waiting for it, this little brand of approval. Lehnsherr tilts his face up with the other hand, and this is around about the time Charles starts to think maybe he is Julia. But then rather oddly, Lehnsherr says, ‘You should really wipe that stuff off your cheek, I don't want to kill someone for acting on it,' before leaving him there feeling hot and stuffy and confused.
Three minutes later, in the Men’s room, Charles sees that the library logo of a lion has been imprinted onto his cheek from the letter the whole time he’s been with Erik.
The lion looks more like a cock.
Dear God, Charles wants to die.
Shaw tuts in the background.
‘Charles, my dear boy, you don’t need to be this devoted to your job.’
When Charles walks into the staffroom at eight-thirty the following morning, Emma, barely glancing away from a titillating article, Scarlett Johansson: Lady Bits Exposed says, ‘I need you to go to Janos, ask him to check the computers on the fifth floor. We’ve been getting complaints about them.’
Charles has to trudge all the way down to the lower level, which basically looks like a underground parking lot. The trip down below is always dark and gloomy. You can taste the damp, feel it practically sticking to your skin, until you reach the actual vast expanse of space lit up by bright lights and stocked with high-tech equipment. It’s like The Matrix, except he’s usually greeted by Janos, their own equivalent to Morpheus.
Janos is their IT technician, and it’s during the second week that Charles learns about The Chart.
It’s a list created by Janos at the beginning of the week and over the following days staff members contribute to it by writing down the name of the weirdest, creepiest, and scariest patron they’ve encountered for that week. And then of course there’s the friendliest patron, but nobody really cares about that. There’s a prize draw at the end, you win if your patron is the most mentioned on the chart. Shaw has the most wins.
It doesn’t take long for Charles to realise that Lehnsherr has managed to get to the top of that list for a record breaking seven weeks. This week Azazel is nearing the top, though this is only because Sean swears he caught him reading Twilight and silently wiping away tears.
‘Um, Janos?’ Charles calls out. There’s a quiet hum of hard drives working away and lots of people clicking their keyboards at high speed, like they’re speaking a different language. Charles finds Janos hovering over somebody’s shoulder in a cubicle right at the back.
Janos looks at him briefly before frowning at something on the screen.
‘Fifth floor, eh?’
Charles gives him an apologetic smile. He always feels bad for bothering Janos, especially because Janos always makes sure to bring marzipan rolls just for Charles on Fridays. ‘Yes. Emma asked if you could fix it, there have been some complaints.’
Janos sniffs, nose sticking up in the air. ‘Foolish children. They just don’t know how to print properly. Juvenile delinquents the lot of them.’ He looks at the chart hanging like a prized tapestry, and adds in, ‘You haven’t chosen your weekly weirdo.’ Then he squints, narrows his eyes while Charles squirms on the spot. ‘Hang on a minute, you haven’t even chosen your friendliest patron, and that’s your favourite part. You even have a spreadsheet for that.’
‘I got busy,’ Charles says faintly.
‘Well, I guess you must be, if you’d met Lehnsherr you’d put him on the list straightaway.’ Janos says this a little too fondly, like he’s remembering his first time or something weird like that. Charles can feel the back of his neck beginning to heat up.
‘I did sort of meet him,’ Charles blurts out. It’s hard keep things to himself, he’s not the most effective liar.
Janos moves away from the computer and touches Charles head, like he’s inspecting him for injuries.
‘You came out of that alive?’ he asks in surprise.
Charles nods, finding it all bizarre. Exactly what has Lehnsherr done that’s got everyone terrified? Besides the touching business he’s been polite to Charles.
Janos lets go of him, looks thoughtfully at the ceiling. ‘Hmm, maybe he just wasn’t having a good day. It’s not like him. He was definitely a bastard at college.’
This is probably the first time that Charles has ever heard Lehnsherr as someone beyond the confines of this library. He can’t help but wonder at this.
‘Wait, you know him?’
Janos hitches a shoulder. ‘Yeah, we went to the same college. He had quite a reputation, actually now that I think about it.’ A downward spiral begins to take place in the pit of Charles’ stomach, and he doesn’t know why.
‘Everyone thought he was magnetic and mysterious. Honestly, he was just a cock. There’s nothing mysterious about that.’ Janos laughs at this, then stops when he realises he’s talking to Charles. He coughs and Charles fidgets with his hands. ‘Ignore that, I don’t want to defile your young mind, you’re as pure as the driven snow,’ Janos says, looking utterly genuine and Charles feels the flush spreading to his cheeks.
‘Now go, and tell Emma I’ll get it sorted.’ He shoves Charles in the other direction. ‘We never had this conversation.’
‘Yeah, yeah, I don’t like coming down here either,’ Charles mutters, walking up the stairs.
Janos yells from below, 'It is easy to go down into Hell; night and day, the gates of Death stand wide; but to climb back again, to retrace one's steps to the upper air – therein lies the difficulty.'
‘Virgil,’ Charles hollers back. Yeah, he can understand why Sean thinks he’s Morpheus.
This little slip of information from Janos leaves Charles feeling uncomfortable and unsure, and he doesn’t want to define the reason behind this. He spends the morning feeling unhappy and glum, before he finally resorts to lurking in the kids section. The rest of the day is spent reading about Kipper the Dog and his reliable best friend Tiger. This only leaves him feeling even more miserable because he doesn’t even have a best friend. He can’t count Raven, she’s his sister.
All he knows is that he needs to keep away from Lehnsherr.
This turns out to be harder than Charles expected.
The next day when he spots Lehnsherr, Charles has to dive behind the desk and crawl to the back offices. Shaw merely thinks he’s inspecting the floors for gum, which is fine as long as it means he can avoid Lehnsherr.
The second time, Charles is trying to haul the book-cart into the elevator when Lehnsherr comes out from the Science Fiction section. Charles slaps those buttons as hard as he can and prays to whatever deity out there that the doors snap shut before he sees Charles.
The third time isn’t a charm. He should find the idiot who claimed such nonsense. He’s re-organising the Poetry section and Logan is hovering around, while Charles is crouched down onto the floor.
‘I’ve seen you before,’ Logan says. ‘You work here.’
Charles tries not to sound put out by this statement, it’s not like he hasn’t heard this a thousand times already. ‘Yes, I do work here. ’
It’s silent after that, the peaceful kind, until it turns awkward and stilted, which is around about the time Charles realises Logan is looking at him, waiting.
He smiles at him. ‘Can I help you with something?’
Logan shifts, leans against the shelf and smiles confidently in return. ‘I was wondering if you might help me with finding a book.’
Charles is about to tell him maybe he should check the catalogue first, when he hears something that sounds like a growl, which is ridiculous because that’s not even possible. He whips his head around and sure enough, there’s Lehnsherr looking slightly pissed, wearing his trademark leather jacket and jeans.
‘You’re very hard to find these days,’ Lehnsherr says to Charles, and it comes out kinder than how he actually looks, then he narrows his eyes at Logan.
Charles feels like he’s watching an episode of Planet Earth and can quite distinctly hear David Attenborough’s voice in the background commenting very seriously, ‘The rare white lion suspects a threat and circles the common bred African lion, its mate clearly threatened by unwanted attention and seeking comfort,’ and then it takes Charles a moment to figure out that in this scenario he’s obviously got to be the mate.