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and you'll outlive all you love

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He'd expected the hotel to be old and cheap, but it was still...old. Cheap. Squalid.

"Room sixteen," Jenkins said to the desk clerk, a young man with a sallow, thin face, and was directed up the stairs, past peeling wallpaper the color of arsenic. He was surprised they could afford it. Maybe they could have afforded it once, earlier in the life of this fleatrap.

The steps squeaked, and were too damn narrow.

When he knocked at the door, Reggie answered. "Mr. Melmoth is not--oh. I'll ask him if he wants to see you."

"I won't be long," Jenkins said. "Please."

"He's dying," Reggie said. "I've sent for Robbie. I...I don't think there's much time left."

"I know," Jenkins said. "That's why I've come." The carriage had taken forever, Jenkins hunched in the back, his prize cupped in his hands, fluctuating between telling himself he shouldn't be doing it and hating himself for hesitating for so long.

He'd never--

He had always been so careful about the rules, always. He'd lived through what happened when people put their passions above common sense. But what had that gotten him?

His fingers tightened around the gem in his pocket.

Reggie returned and showed him in.

The room was, if anything, worse than the lobby and hallway, though the wallpaper wasn't as actively murderous. The sunlight filtered in through filthy drapes. "Mr. Jenkins," came the faint voice from the bed. "How lovely to see you. Do be a dear and leave us for a bit, Reggie."

Reggie sighed, and Jenkins realized the unfathomable reserves of patience that Reginald Turner must have been drawing from, here in this dingy, miserable place. Doing this horrid, impossible work. "Of course, darling. I'll be right round the corner if you need me."

"You do worry so," Oscar said. "Now, go on."

Reggie waved his hand and left them.

"I never thought I'd see you again," Oscar said, reaching out his hand.

Jenkins took it. It was bones and skin, little else.

"I'm sorry it took so long," he confessed. "We've lost another Librarian, and--" He sighed. "It's been difficult to get away."

"Don't apologize--" He coughed, and Jenkins held his hand, then his shoulder to steady him. He'd failed so much.

"I have...something for you. I wish it could be more, but--" He pressed the jewel into his hand.

Oscar took it and lifted it carefully to the light. "I'm afraid that I'm beyond the pursuit of riches. Though it is lovely."

"Lift it to your eye, dear."

Oscar might have been weak and dying, but Jenkins saw the flash of wit again in his eyes. "I've had stranger requests--" He lifted it up.

Then he didn't speak for a very long time.

The door opened again. "Are you two all right?" Reggie said. "They've started to give me strange looks as they pass in the hallway."

"It's all right," Jenkins said. "You can come back in, if you'd like."

"Put us on some tea, would you?" Oscar said, the gem still close to his eye.

"Tea," Reggie said. "Of course."

"I can't stay much longer," Jenkins said. The Library would come calling soon enough. It was only the chaos that came from losing a Librarian that had given him time enough to do this. "I wish I could. I wish...I wish I could have done more."

All the magic he'd seen, touched through the years...and all he could do was this. Two Grails safely stored in the Library, and all he could do was smuggle out this tiny bit of magic. And that alone could lose him his position.

But Oscar was smiling through the tears in his eyes. "My dear," he said, "what more could you possibly have given me?"

"What is it?" Reggie asked, as he fussed with the kettle.

"Let's call it a vision, love," Oscar said. He put the gem down. "I'll keep it with me," he said.

"Do that," Jenkins said. "But it will only work for you." And when you go, it'll be just a glass bauble. He looked down at his hands.

"I made my own choices, as foolish as they might have been," Oscar said. "Don't fool yourself thinking otherwise."

"There was something," Jenkins said. "There's always something I could have said. Done."

"I could've done so many things," Oscar said. "In fact, I tried to do most of them." He smiled a bit at that. "Can you stay, have tea with us?"

"I shouldn't," he said. "They'll...be looking for me. Best if they don't know where I am."

"Can't you tell them you're following up on a notorious criminal?"

"You're not the kind of notorious criminal they care about, I'm afraid." He leaned over and kissed Oscar's cheek, as gently as he could. His skin was hot, fevered. How long did he have? A week, at best? He'd waited too long. Been too hesitant.

"My choices," Oscar whispered to him. "Dorian. Bosie. Perhaps if I'd been wiser, I might be in London still."

Jenkins squeezed his hand. What else could he do? Far too late to say I told you so, and far too petty to name the lover Oscar might have chosen instead.

"If he should leave, you should rest," Reggie said, and Jenkins wanted to punch him for being so reasonable. So gentle.

"Won't I have enough rest soon enough?"

Jenkins and Reggie both winced at that.

"Still," Jenkins said. "You'll be more comfortable if you sleep."

"All right," Oscar said. "Though I will have my tea first, if you'll help me with it." He lifted up a hand to Jenkins's face, for a long, affectionate moment. "Do take care of yourself, Mr. Jenkins," he said. "Your burdens, I fear, will catch you soon enough. Pray, don't add me to them."

"You don't need to be so kind," he said. But he took Oscar's hand and held it, just a bit longer.

Oscar was holding the gem up again as Jenkins left. "You...you will keep looking after them? After I...?"

"Of course," Jenkins said, his hand on the door, feeling his heart clench. "No harm will come to them that I can prevent. I swear it."

He heard the whispered thank you, but could not bear to turn back and see Oscar's face.

At least I came during the day, Jenkins thought, as he stepped out of the hotel and back onto the streets of Saint-Germain-des-Prés. He'll see his children playing, fighting. see their mother read them books.

You hardly had to ask me to keep an eye on them, dear as they are to us. Someday the Library might even call your sons to service, Mr. Wilde. I'll be waiting, if that happens.

It's the least I can do.