When Declan gets back to the UK Sanctuary, he has a hundred and twelve unread emails, his voice mailbox is full of messages from people who want him to return their calls yesterday, and something has apparently eaten a hole through the kitchen wall. The hole is mouse-sized, only mice don't eat through bricks.
Olivia is down on the kitchen floor setting up a camera in front of the hole. She sits up on her heels when he comes in. "Sorry, we've got this ..." She gestures at the hole and the visible crumbs of brick surrounding it. "And no one's been able to figure out what was doing it, so ..."
He gives her the closest thing to a smile he can manage at this point. "Figure it out, all right?"
"I'm on it, boss."
He grabs the first thing that looks clearly edible rather than experimental out of the fridge, which proves to be a wrapped sandwich, and prepares to retreat to his office.
"At least it's something that feels useful. I feel terrible writing up research right now," Olivia says, fiddling with the camera even after it looks fine to Declan. "But it's not like we can just stop ..." She sounds like she's not sure that she shouldn't do just that.
She's not much more than a kid, Declan thinks, and wonders for a moment when staff just out of university started getting so young. "No, we can't," he says. "You might give Terry's parents a ring in the morning and try to be comforting. I'm going to go tell them now."
"All in a day's work," Declan says, and leaves before he can say anything that sounds even more bitter. He'll have to set a good example for the youngest staff about how to deal with the inevitable deaths of some of their colleagues, but he doesn't feel up to being anybody's good example right now.
He calls Terry's parents and says what little there is to say, and then calls Murray's mother and says it over again. Terry's parents cry on the phone. Murray's mother takes it like a soldier's mum, though Declan knows she was relieved when Murray told her he was getting out of the SAS. A nice, safe job doing security for research teams, working for my old mate Declan -- but he can't afford to think about that yet.
There's no one to call for Alistair, and he couldn't bring himself to suggest Terry's parents handle his funeral even if he was Terry's fiancé; they're going to have a hard enough time as it is. He thinks about it for a moment, and then calls Erika Myers instead. She's heard the story already from Henry, which spares him from having to explain exactly how he got three of his best people killed.
"I wondered if you wanted to see to things," he says.
"I can, of course, but ..."
"I know it may be hard for you right now."
"I'm pregnant, not an invalid," Erika says tartly. "And of course the Institute has a private cemetery plot. It's where we used to bury our ... patients, that's what we called them, when they died, and I just can't help thinking that it's the last thing he would have wanted. He was so proud of coming out into a wider world."
"I understand," Declan says. "I'll make arrangements, then. Do you think he'd mind being buried here at the Sanctuary?"
"I don't think he'd mind," Erika says. "At least it's what he chose." He can hear her crying, then, just one miserable indrawn breath before she hangs up the phone.
Declan's phone rings immediately; Olivia, calling from the kitchen. "We found it," she says. "Remember those beetles we got from Tunisia, the ones that dug tiny caves out of limestone?"
It takes a moment, but he does. "The count was off, but we never found the missing one," Declan says.
"Apparently it's been living in the garden. It must have gotten cold and decided to come back inside."
"Without bothering to use the door."
"It's tucked away in its cage again, basking under the heat lamp."
"You might give it a brick, if it likes them," Declan says. "Thanks for sorting that out."
"All in a day's work," she says, and he thinks she'll be all right herself for the night.
And that's it, he realizes after a moment; he's worked his way through everything urgent on his to-do list, and it's still short of midnight. He rewards himself with a glass of whiskey, and on second thought collects the bottle as well.
Magnus and Will both apparently like to brood on the roof of the Old City Sanctuary, but Declan associates staking out rooftops with being on the job. Besides, if he's going to do any serious drinking, he'd like to do it somewhere that doesn't involve a three-story drop to the Thames.
He settles on James's sitting room as the place where he's least likely to be interrupted. It looks depressingly bare these days, now that he's moved most of the books into the library. But he's looking for a place to be depressed in, so in that sense it's ideal. He sprawls in an armchair and drains the first glass, pouring himself another generous splash from the bottle.
He wishes he could believe that James will walk out of the bedroom at any moment and say Yes, thank you, I wouldn't mind a drink and steal Declan's glass out of his hand, and then after Declan poured himself another glass they could sit and talk about anything but three corpses carried home from the Bering Sea. But he can't make himself believe it. He knows what's real.
For a moment he wonders if he might find self-deception easier in James's bedroom, but there's even less of the man there, now; Declan's long since made it over into a guest room, in which no one ever stays. Declan is aware that he's actively avoided putting anyone there, and no one on the staff has been willing to claim the room as their own, least of all him. The last thing he wanted when he took the job was to hang his own clothes in that wardrobe like an inferior imitation of James Watson.
It's a waste of two very nice rooms and a bath, though, and he'd been thinking of suggesting that Terry and Alistair take the suite once they got married, as the closest thing to a private flat he could offer them at the Sanctuary. It had seemed like a clever solution. He should know better than to think himself clever.
He closes his eyes. He has the intense urge to call Ravi and ask him how anyone stands being head of a Sanctuary without going mad. Except that Ravi is dead. It's been a bloody awful year.
It would help to be able to cry, but it's going to take longer than this to persuade himself that he can afford to, now. He might get there by morning, with the help of the whiskey bottle. There's something perverse about being able to put grieving on his schedule, one more thing to enter in his calendar.
There's a familiar wet noise, and he looks up to see their resident yellow slime mold oozing its way under the door, its leading edge spreading out towards him. James always used to complain about the thing, but Declan suspects he thought of it as a pet, or possibly as a friend.
"A friend that ate his shoes," Declan says. The slime mold makes its way around the room as if looking for something, investigating the now-empty bottom shelf of a bookcase and the legs of a chair where four years ago it might have found a carelessly-discarded smoking jacket. "You stubborn bugger," he tells it. "There's nothing in here you want."
The slime mold sidles up to his shoe and stretches an experimental pseudopod toward the glass in his hand. He shrugs and tips a splash of whiskey out of the glass onto the creature. It roils and bubbles in what might be either pleasure or an involuntary chemical reaction, and then begins a distinctly more erratic progress across the room toward James's bedroom door.
"There are no shoes in that room," Declan says, but it slithers under the door and out of sight. He swears under his breath and goes after it, bringing the bottle in case he needs bait to lure it back into view.
It's not in the bath, which is a mercy, because he doesn't like the idea of trying to coax it out of the antique gas hot water heater if it ever discovers it can fit inside. He finds it exploring the empty wardrobe, but when he comes into the room, it disappears under the bed, and refuses to be lured out even when he lays a trail of whiskey from the bed to the door.
"Be that way, then," he says. He could go and wake someone up to fetch a cage and a pair of slime-mold-proof gloves, and extract the thing from under the bed with great fuss so he can put it back in its habitat where by all rights it belongs, but that just seems like more than he can bear at the moment.
Instead he sits down on the bed to supervise it, taking a long drink from the bottle and leaning back with the carved headboard digging uncomfortably into his back.
He still can't sleep in this bed, he finds himself thinking. It would have to move, but presumably if it was gotten into this room, even if that was in the Victorian era, it can be gotten out. His own bed wouldn't be such a bad match for the enormous wardrobe, and he's been complaining that his own room hasn't got enough cupboard space. And there's something to be said for having an en suite bath, even if the bathtub itself is probably a fire hazard.
He flinches reflexively away from the idea once he realizes he's having it, but when he thinks about it now it doesn't feel like it would mean trying to replace James Watson. It's just one more thing that properly goes with the job, like awful phone calls and late-night headaches and having no time for a private life.
He could put a television in the sitting room, just to make James Watson roll over in his grave. He can picture himself with his feet up watching football in the middle of the night when he can't sleep. Maybe eventually he might even manage watching it with someone else.
"But let's not get too madly optimistic," he says, stretching out and taking another swallow of the whiskey. "It's a hell of a job, you know?"
The slime mold underneath the bed doesn't answer, but he likes to think it's sympathetic, in its own way.
There's a knot in his throat, a hard threatening ache, and he tries not to push it away. Tomorrow there won't be time to feel sorry for himself, and probably not for moving furniture, either, although the time for that may be coming soon.
"Everything in its time," he says, and raises the bottle in a toast to everyone who isn't there to answer.