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Declan had come into this with his eyes wide open, but there are certain things he had never in his wildest dreams expected to see. Every new room at the Sanctuary holds new wonders or dangers, and sometimes things that are both at once, and Declan spends the first few years feeling almost constantly overwhelmed.
James is understanding, at least as understanding as anyone who graduated from boarding school in the Victorian period can be, and if there are occasions when Declan fails to answer a question the first two times it’s asked of him, James is more than willing to let it pass without comment. Eventually, Declan’s thick skin grows thicker, and he is as unflappable in the face of an escaped mapinguari as he had learned to be in the face of enemy fire.
In those early days, though, Declan had spent a lot of the time in the library. At first he had thought that he would do some background reading, the better to get caught up on what he had missed by not being a hundred and fifty years old or possessed of a Sphinx’ memory, as were his employer and the nominal keeper of the archives respectively. Since one of the first things Declan had learned was not to ask unresearched questions of either, he had decided that this was the best course of action to take if he wanted to be taken seriously.
The library is not in complete disarray when he finds it, not exactly, but the system is antiquated and he suspects that no one has attempted to reshelve anything according to the alphabet since the Blitz. There’s a card catalogue, cream-coloured card after card with yellowing edges and excessively detailed though not necessarily helpful notes on them. Since the cards only explain that the book exists and do not provide any clues as to its location, the catalogue is less than useful.
Declan starts from scratch, transferring the information on the cards to a computer spreadsheet he’s more or less sure won’t crash the hard drive by the time he’s finished compiling it. He’s well aware of James’ general dislike of the computers, so he updates the card catalogue, refilling and organizing the shelves methodically as he goes. He does it on his own time, which isn’t hard at first but grows increasingly difficult as his responsibilities pile up. He’s put off taking a room at the Sanctuary for as long as possible, but eventually decides that it would be easier (and cheaper: London rent is nothing to sneeze at) to just live in house like everyone else. It takes some getting used to, and he is very, very grateful for having a private bath.
“I told you it would be more practical,” James says one morning at breakfast. It’s not an I told you so, more of an observation, and Declan doesn’t take offence.
“You did,” he replies instead, and that’s the last time it’s ever mentioned.
James never mentions what Declan is up to in the library, either to approve, offer suggestion or complain about the fact that Declan has rearranged most of the furniture. The Sphinx is promoted to Head of House in New York about four years after Declan started work at the Sanctuary. Declan is about half finished when the Sphinx leaves, mostly because the library is in use so the books move around, but also because he is spending a lot of time in the field. The Sphinx is not replaced, a sign of approval as far as Declan is concerned, so he keeps working, plugging through the Ms and Ns, and hoping no letter will ever be as awkward as the Js.
It’s two days after a botched mission to Chile, and he’s so jet-lagged and angry that he can’t sleep, so he goes to the library to work. If he’s going to be awake, he might as well be productive. He spends the first hour doing general clean-up; he learned a long time ago not to get annoyed because the books will move and people will be too stupid to put them back correctly. He can smell the faint scent of burning parchment from the map room, and finds the slime mold happily ingesting the leather case of James’ favourite map of sub-Saharan Africa. He’s so caught up in thoughts about South America that he picks the creature up with his bare hands, but it doesn’t try to eat him, so Declan can only assume that it’s either full of leather or has taken a liking to him. He dumps it in the empty fish tank he keeps in the biology section for just such emergencies, and is starting to ponder where in London one can purchase a quality leather map case that looks late Victorian at two o’clock in the morning when there is a large crash from over by the fireplace in the main room.
Declan grabs a candlestick off a shelf, suddenly grateful for the randomly placed items of gothic décor now that he’s found a use for it that doesn’t involve dusting, and presses up against the wall before making his way back to the main room.
There’s a man by the fireplace that Declan doesn’t recognize. He’s of medium height and wiry build, but Declan hasn’t survived four years at the Sanctuary and all his time in Special Forces judging by appearances. There’s power in the way the man stands that Declan has been trained to see, even if it’s contained by a somewhat dated waistcoat and striped suit.
“I can hear you breathing,” says the man, not looking at where Declan is standing. “I suppose you’re the one I have to thank for moving the furniture?”
Declan takes a few steps closer, but does not lower the candlestick. “What are you?” he asks. “And how did you get in here?”
“James has never mentioned me?” The man flashes him an absolutely insincere smile, all teeth in a way that Declan finds a little unsettling. “I’m hurt.”
His vague non-answer has given Declan enough time to figure out how the man broke in. The window is open, and Declan had moved the sofa that used to be beneath the window two weeks before. It’s about a sixteen foot drop into the room (and a two story climb up the brickwork on the outside of the wall). Not impossible, but not something Declan would care to do on a regular basis.
“James let you move the furniture?” The stranger is looking around now, taking in the changes Declan has made to the room. The insincere grin takes on a salacious air. “He must really like you.”
Declan doesn’t turn red at that, but it’s a near thing. His feelings for James are one in a litany of poorly kept secrets that haunt the Sanctuary halls. He tightens his grip on the candlestick.
“How did you get past our security?” he asks.
“It’s not that hard,” is the reply. “Well, it’s not that hard for me. I’m a genius. A lesser immortal might have difficulty with your systems, but to me, it’s merely a matter of opening the door.”
“And yet you came in through the window,” Declan hears himself say, even though he hadn’t meant to joke.
“James must love you.” The sentence is said without any irony at all, which makes Declan more uncomfortable than the earlier insinuations. “Also, there used to be a sofa here. Sometimes I just want a glass of wine and no questions.”
“I think there are whole restaurants and pubs for that kind of thing,” Declan says. He relaxes, letting the candlestick down just a little bit.
“Ugh, and miss James’ exquisite taste? I think not.”
“Shall I wake him for you?” Declan offers.
“God, no,” he says. “There are far too many things I’d have to explain.”
He’s standing by the fireplace again, fidgeting with one of the few decorative pieces Declan had left in place there. Declan recalls having moved a decanter off that shelf two or three years ago, and wonders if that had been the intruder’s goal, like some bizarre biannual version of Father Christmas. He’s starting to wonder if he can reach the panic button by the door, one of the few technological improvements that James had actually condoned outright without Declan having to circumvent him (it’s a game, and one they both rather enjoy playing, but Declan is trying very hard not to think about that right now), without being caught by whatever kind of creature the man undoubtedly is.
The silence is just starting to get awkward, Declan trying to measure the distance without looking like it, and the man not lightening up his scrutiny in the slightest.
“I think I’ll just go,” he says finally, an odd note of disappointment in his voice. “You’re more his type than I am anyway.”
Declan gapes at him then, not for the remark, well, not entirely for the remark, but for the casual bend of the knees and effortless jump upwards to the window. He’d been expecting some kind of acrobatic climb up the shelves and maybe a leap once some height off the floor had been achieved, but the intruder’s route was much more direct, and then he is gone, and Declan is alone in the library with the newly escaped slime mold biting at his heels.
“You are impossible,” he says to the yellow mass, because it’s really the only thing he has left to do. The creature is humouring him, he thinks, because he is wearing boots which he assumes do not have the taste of James’ expensive leather shoes. “Come on, then. To bed with you.”
Once he has secured the slime mold in its habitat (and slipped it the pair of shoes that James discarded earlier in the week after an unfortunate run in with an active sewer line during their last visit to the intelligent rats that live under London), he goes to bed himself. He doesn’t think that he will sleep, but he does. His dreams are lit with the amber light of candles through brandy, and he can hear a voice that manages to laugh even though it bears some decades’ worth of sadness.
Even though he went to bed so late, he wakes at six in the morning. For a moment, he doesn’t remember the library or the stranger, or even the slime mold, but the sunlight reminds him of the window, and then it all comes back. He debates what to say to James, and finally decides on nothing. The intruder is clearly not a threat, though Declan is still not entirely sure what he actually is, and Declan can’t think of what he’d say to James in any case, so he decides to wait. If it’s something James has recorded, Declan will find it in the library, and he doesn’t want to jump the gun if he can find the answer himself.
The one thing that Declan cannot forget is the remark the intruder made about James’ type. For a while now, Declan has been studiously avoiding any thoughts about what James might think of him, at least in any case other than a professional sense. He’s shrugged off the signs he would have taken as interest from another man as figments of his imagination due to his own predispositions. But today, Declan doesn’t shrug.
It’s an exceptionally nerve-wracking afternoon, and by the time dinner rolls around, he is more or less sure. He doesn’t have anything to drink at dinner, even though he’s sure it would calm him down, because he wants to say later that he did what he did with a clear head. When he is back in his room, he takes down a plum coloured shirt that he has never worn before, and wishes he felt a little bit less like an idiot for being so ridiculously giddy.
The last thing he does before leaving his room and heading for James’ sitting room is brush his teeth.
Some years later…
After the Os and Ps, Declan’s time in the library is cut short. He stops spending his sleepless nights alone there, he stops spending sleepless nights alone, so it takes him quite a long time to muddle through Q to S. And then, after everything falls apart, he’s far too busy to put things in alphabetical order in his spare time.
The Cabal is encroaching on the Sanctuary’s privacy and safety, and everyone is on high alert. James has gone to Old City, ever at Magnus’s call, and his departure was so surprising and markedly sad that Declan can’t bear to sleep in any kind of bed at all. So he goes to the library, and begins work where he left off.