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The Last Press

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"Have you considered that you might be able to wake him?"

Peter Lukas leans back in his chair, threading his fingers together over his stomach. "I honestly can't wait to see where this is going," he says enthusiastically.

Basira is the only one of Jon's surviving assistants who seems unafraid of him. In the supernatural sense, of course. All of them treat him as the boss, which he is, but Martin has a real proper fear of him, Melanie just hates anyone and anything to do with the Institute, and Jon ignores him, because Jon is unconscious (dead) in a hospital room. Peter very much hopes to meet Jon one day; he seems like a nice fellow.

Basira, though, bears the weight of the Institute, of her responsibilities and her fealty to the Beholding, quite lightly, quite graciously. She respects but does not fear him. He likes her immensely. He could have wished for her as an acolyte to the Lonely, if she weren't already marked for another. She has the spirit for it.

They've been seated together in the Archives, because he cannot for the life of him piece together Elias's scheduling system, and he thought the brain trust of the archival assistants might help. Basira even offered, while Martin scuttled away and Melanie glared from behind file shelves.

Now, she leans over Elias's schedule-book, one hand poised in the air to accentuate her point.

"I've been reading a lot of fairy tales," she says.

"You do work in the Archives," he jokes.

"Real fairy tales. The old stories," she continues. "And it occurred to me, Jon's sort of a sleeping princess, isn't he?"

"Doubt he'd enjoy hearing you call him that. And isn't it Sleeping Beauty? Pricks herself on knowledge she wasn't meant to have and suffers for it?"

"Sometimes," she agrees. "But not always. There's an old version of Snow White where she takes a bite of the poisoned apple and falls into a sleep."

"I think I've seen that Disney film," Peter says.

"The idea of you watching a Disney movie fills me with delight," she replies, deadpan.

"I have nieces who are quite young," he protests. "Really, Basira, all of you think I'm a terrible monster. And I am, but even terrible monsters like a nice animated musical feature now and again."

"I'll bear that in mind. My point is, in the old, old story, it's not the poison that does it. It's the fact that it stays in her," she continues. "She takes a bite of the apple, falls to the floor, and the piece of apple stays in her mouth. She only wakes up when it's dislodged."

"By a prince's kiss? That's an impressive amount of tongue to use on a first kiss," Peter points out.

"Well, in that version it's because someone drops her by mistake," Basira admits.

"High comedy. What's this got to do with the Archivist?"

"He's not alive," she says. "He's not breathing, his blood isn't moving. But the EEG proves there's extensive brain activity and..."

"Elias's tape," Peter says quietly. He's aware of it. Martin keeps the tape in his pocket but Peter is on good terms with the Beholding and the position of Head of Institute comes with some perks. "He's dreaming."

"Yeah. And he's not decaying," Basira says. "His cells aren't dying. There's no lividity, his blood hasn't settled. He's just..."

"Frozen."

"Suspended."

Peter inclines his head, agreeing. It's a better word.

"So our Archivist is Snow White, with the apple lodged in his mouth," he says.

"Apples pop up a lot in the statements," Basira remarks. "I mean, not a lot, but more than, say, bananas or kiwis or avocados."

"Very mythic, your average apple."

"Anyway, the point is, we keep waiting for him to wake, but maybe someone's got to wake him."

"My connections go quite high but they don't extend to convincing Prince Harry to kiss my Archivist awake," Peter says drily. "Or drop him."

"Why not William?" Basira asks, sidetracked.

"Of the two, if you could pick..."

"Oh, my tastes tend more towards Kate and Meghan."

"Ah! Well, let me assure you, Harry would be choice," Peter says. "But it's not an option."

"I wasn't really going to suggest you coerce a member of the royal family into solving a supernatural case of suspended animation."

Gosh, he likes Basira so much.

"I think," she says, "that you're the closest we've got to a prince. You're the head of the Institute, and...."

"It doesn't hurt that my family's very close to a patron, even if it isn't his patron."

Basira's expression says she wouldn't have said it, but he said it, so she doesn't have to anyway.

"Huh," he said. "I suppose it can't hurt to try."

"In this job, I have learned, everything can hurt to try," Basira said. "But you'd be the one getting electrocuted or sucked into another dimension or growing another eye if you do, not me, so that's all right."

"I'm so glad we can have these little informal chats," he tells her.

***

There is a schedule to these things, Peter knows. Martin leaves work early each day, guilty but defiant, and goes to read to the Archivist (fortunately not his own poetry, bless the boy) for about an hour. If Melanie has had a bad day, she arrives as Martin's leaving, and she yells in the silent hospital room for a while. Basira doesn't generally visit at all; Peter knows she doesn't see a use of it.

None of this matters though, because he can't really go to see the Archivist until after visiting hours. That's the point.

At two in the morning, at the hour when a hospital is at its most depressing, Peter Lukas walks into the ward, carrying a pleasantly generic vase of flowers. The nurses on the ward don't see him, but they think about their family, or their ex-lovers, or how hard it is to make friends working night shift, and one of them weeps quietly. Peter lets himself into the Archivist's room, the click of the door impossibly loud in the silence.

The Lukas family tree is wide and branching, but the Lukas family business tends to be close-held. In every generation there's usually only one with Peter's genial, outward-facing nature; most of the family are dour and private. Peter has never minded being the family's ambassador to the outside world, except once. When Evan, his nephew and the next generation's ambassador, was so extroverted that he left the family completely, Peter envied him, just a little.

But Evan died for it, and Peter doubts his few years of freedom were worth it, and even if they were it's much too late for Peter now.

(He isn't sure who will supplant him when his time comes, but that's one reason he's here at the Institute; it is now too perilous to have him at sea, at least until the littlest ones are a bit older and one of them shows signs of being the ambassador. His money's on Delilah, coincidentally the one responsible for his wide knowledge of classic Disney princess films.)

He reflects on all this as he sets the flowers down and arranges them so that if the Archivist does awaken he'll see them. Peter has not lacked for companionship in his life, but he has never settled with any one person. It would have to be someone appropriate and approved by the family, and that's very unlikely to happen for him. He's not the heir, anyway, so it doesn't matter, but he thinks whimsically that it would be deeply hilarious if he does wake the Archivist and some kind of ancient magic kicks in and he's stuck with him.

It wouldn't be dreadful. He knows enough of Jon Sims to know he's a decent, interesting person, and attractive enough. But the Family would just die. A Lukas and an avatar of the Beholding? Not to be borne!

It amuses him, and it gives him pause, even though he knows it's not likely.

Well, nothing ventured, et cetera.

He normally does come across very human, but here in the privacy of the hospital room, Peter Lukas rolls his shoulders, cracks his neck, and sheds all of that, reaching out for his patron, reaching out for the Lonely. Pangs dig into his ribcage, and his heart breaks, which is how he knows it's coming, and the world quiets down as everyone else in it fades away. It is desolate, but after all, it's his family's heritage.

The Beholding can't come here, through the blanket of solitude and despair, but just before the Lonely seals them off completely, he has the distinct feeling of being watched.

Then it is just the two of them: Peter Lukas, a prince of industry sworn to the Lonely, and Jonathan Sims, an avatar of the Beholding apparent, a young man (well, younger than Peter) dreaming endlessly while his heart doesn't beat and his lungs don't breathe.

"I don't know if I should ask forgiveness or say you're welcome," Peter says to the corpse, cheerily. "I suppose if this works you can let me know."

The Archivist's hair is grey, only a few hints of black here and there, and cropped close where it isn't shaven completely over wounds that don't bleed but don't heal. Peter brushes it back, feeling it bristling under his hand, and leans down, wrapped in royalty, kissing him lightly on the lips.

For a moment, less than a second, he thinks it hasn't worked, and he'll have to joke about it with Basira tomorrow. But then, in the muted emptiness of the Lonely entombing them both, there is the sudden smell of apples. Not just apples, but the smell of apple orchards at harvest, a sweet, wooden scent. Leaf fires burning and the open flesh of fruit, bringing with it a nostalgia Peter Lukas usually associates with the smell of saltwater and old steel.

And then there is the soft sound of an indrawn breath. Peter flinches, the air pushed out of him by what feels like an invisible hand pressing on his lungs. He wraps an arm around his chest, jerking backwards from the bed.

Then an exhale, and his lungs inflate against his will. Jonathan Sims tilts his head back, breathing softly. A pulse jumps in his neck and half a dozen cuts and scratches begin to bleed, the iron blood smell obliterating the apple orchard of a moment before. The link between them snaps like a rubber band and Peter's breathing is his own again -- and so is the Archivist's.

Peter watches, objectively fascinated, as the Archivist's skin turns pink before his eyes. Who says the time of miracles is over, after all?

They hadn't even bothered with an oxygen or heart monitor because all it would do was angrily declare a dead man, so no alarm sounds. There is nothing that alerts the nurses, as Peter quietly departs, that their patient is breathing and bleeding, and that his dreams have finally quieted.

Peter strolls away from the hospital but he Watches, shamelessly, as the Archivist's eyes open on the bland but pretty flowers on the table next to his hospital bed. There's a tape recorder there too, with a blank tape in it. Peter Watches him reach out for the tape recorder, roll over onto his side, and begin to murmur softly into it, his nicks and scratches dotting the sheets with blood.

Statement of Jonathan Sims, Head Archivist of the Magnus Institute, London, concerning the dreams of the Archivist. Statement begins.

I can taste apples on my tongue.

***

The next morning, Peter arrives in to work with a big box of pastries, and while Martin and Melanie don't like him they do like free food, so they are suspiciously but still of their own will biting into chocolate croissants when Georgie calls Melanie to tell her that Jon is awake and talking.

As it becomes apparent the conversation Melanie is having, Basira looks over Melanie's head at Peter, a question in her eyes. Peter shrugs self-effacingly.

"He's awake?" Martin asks, as Melanie hangs up. "Can we see him?"

"She says she'll meet us there," Melanie says, and then both she and Martin, comically, turn to look at Peter.

"How very exciting! I wouldn't dream of detaining you. Please give him my best regards," Peter says, and Martin and Melanie flee. Basira follows, still watching him as she leaves.

It really is so nice when things have a happy ending, Peter thinks. And if it brings the Archivist back to the Institute with a new outlook on life, so much the better!

He will need his strength, all his strength, for what is to come, after all.

***

The Archivist's recovery is swift. Peter, with the discretion of a good manager, doesn't visit him while he's in hospital or recovering, and so while they have kissed -- or rather, Peter has kissed him, he can't really be said to have participated -- they have, still, never met, when Jonathan Sims returns to the Institute not a week after waking up in hospital.

Peter knows about Jane Prentiss, about Jude Perry and Michael and even Daisy -- every agent of an unseen force that has met the Archivist and left a mark on his body. There is a small indentation on one side of his face that pulls his lip up just slightly into an uneven cupid's bow -- the result of the Corruption, which touched but did not take him. So many of them have touched him and all of them, even the Eye, hurt him.

So Peter doesn't take it personally when the Archivist presents himself in his office like a soldier at war.

"I can't say how glad I am to see you back," Peter says, which is true, and also disarms him somewhat. "The entire place was in such a disarray when Elias was arrested, and of course your assistants were simply distraught. I gave them ample compassionate leave but I can't say they took full advantage of it."

The Archivist looks sullen, but also bewildered, which is a combination Peter just adores.

"They've all been reading Statements," he says. "Do you know what that does to a person?"

"I know what it's done to you," Peter answers. "I can't say whether it has affected the others, since they wouldn't stay away long enough for symptoms to show. Even Melanie, who I understand quite justifiably wished to kill Elias, and doesn't seem very fond of me!"

The Archivist's lips actually quirk a little. "I hear she's enraged at Martin, too, for keeping her from Elias's throat before he could be arrested."

"I feel cooler heads prevailed there. I do wish you'd make my case to Martin, though. He seems to think I'm not nice to know," Peter complains.

"I mean...you aren't," the Archivist says slowly.

"Yes, but there's nothing he can do about it and I am genuinely invested in this place and its people. You understand, I'm out of my own country here, and I have to tread carefully. I'm not about to anger the Eye by throwing sand in it." Peter frowns. "You must understand, Archivist, benefit to the Eye benefits us all. So. If you wouldn't mind at least telling Martin not to scurry away when I approach, and as long as you continue in the exemplary way I understand you've begun, I think we're bound to get on just fine."

He stresses bound ever so slightly, and sees his message is received.

What happens next is very unexpected.

The Archivist Compels him.

"Do You Mean To Harm Myself Or Any Of My People?"

"No," Peter confesses. "It wasn't even my idea, heading the Institute. My father and Elias sorted it out, which is a trifle annoying to be honest, but I go where I'm told. If you don't threaten the Eye or the Lonely, there's no reason for you to worry."

...Compels him. Him! He Compels him!

Peter confesses in the time it takes for him to have the thought, and he feels himself fill with delight and annoyance.

"And if you ever do that again, I'll staple your tongue to the roof of your mouth," he adds pleasantly.

The Archivist seems amused by this. "Noted," he says. "I don't make a habit of it, but I had to be sure. For Martin's sake."

"Don't mistake my diplomacy for generosity," Peter warns, but then he smiles. "Anyway. I don't intend to micromanage. Go to your Archive, settle in. Take the time you need to get back on your feet."

"Just so," the Archivist says. His tongue darts out against his teeth, very briefly, like he's tasting something. But then he rises, nods to Peter in a formal sort of way that would be funny from anyone else, and leaves.

Elias had told Peter that their Archivist was progressing well, and that for all his frustrations, he had very high hopes. Peter can see now what he meant.

***

"I'm going sailing this weekend," Peter says, a week later, once he's found his feet and the Archivist has settled in again. Their interactions have been cordial but infrequent until now.

The Archivist flinches, because nobody has yet got used to Peter just showing up somewhere, but he hides his dismay, at least. Just not his startle reflex. Which is as well, a good startle reflex is a handy tool.

"Oh?" he asks, looking up from his weekly metrics report.

"I've a small boat docked at a local sailing club, thought I'd take it out."

"Not your usual vessel."

"Well, you know what they say. You can take the captain out of the water, but you can't take the water out of the captain." Peter considers it. "If you could take all the water out of him, it would be extremely disgusting and leave behind a very unattractive corpse."

The Archivist stares at him.

"The point is, I was wondering if you'd care to join me. Not an order, just a suggestion," Peter adds, holding up one hand innocently.

"Why?" the Archivist asks, sounding baffled.

"Why not? Get you out of the Archives for a bit, put some color in your cheeks."

The Archivist peers up at him.

"All right," he says.

"Well, perhaps some -- I beg your pardon?" Peter asks, because he was expecting out-of-hand rejection.

"I accept your invitation," he says slowly.

"Ah! Brilliant. You won't regret it," Peter says cheerily. "World's End Sailing Club. Don't mind the name. I'll meet you there -- Saturday morning? Eight?"

He nods briefly, and Peter returns to his office --

***

The recorder, unnoticed, clicks on.

"You're doing what. With who."

"Apparently I'm going sailing with Peter Lukas this weekend."

"Jon. People who go sailing with Peter Lukas get eaten by evil ocean fog."

"I hardly think that's likely to happen on the Thames on a Saturday morning, Martin."

"You can't just...go sailing with him."

"It appears that I am."

"Why?"

"Curiosity, I suppose. No good reason not to. He did promise not to harm us."

"I don't believe him."

"I told you, I Compelled him."

"Elias couldn't be Compelled."

"Elias was sworn to the Beholding. Lukas isn't. I know when it works. I'm telling you on the off-chance he does horribly murder me, so that you'll know where to look if I don't show up to work on Monday, but I don't think it's likely."

"You're seriously going sailing. With Peter Lukas."

"What's the worst that could happen?"

"Horrible death and the apocalypse!"

"Perhaps. But at least there won't be any clowns."

***

To Peter's utmost shock, Jonathan Sims knows how to sail.

Well, he figured he'd know the pointy end goes in front and the big fabric thing goes up, but this goes far beyond that. He'd expected dismayed surprise at the ship -- Peter is a sailor and the entire point is to feel the wind and the water. People always expect a big cruiser, tricked out with brass and wood paneling, not the trim little blue-sailed Enterprise named Phantom Island Peter keeps.

But when the Archivist arrives on the dock, he takes in the Phantom Island with critical eyes, nods, and comes aboard like a professional, not only helping Peter make her ready but checking Peter's rigging.

"You're full of surprises, Archivist," Peter says, as they maneuver the dinghy out into the busy river, filled with Saturday leisure-crafters like themselves. "An able seaman as well as a scholar?"

"I grew up in a seaside town," the Archivist replies, watching the other craft with eyes that are keener, Peter knows Elias would say, than they used to be. "And I was in constant search of entertainment as a child."

"So you took up sailing?"

"No kind of money for that," he says, sounding rueful. "No, I took up loitering around the harbor until a couple of local sailors adopted me. They showed me how to rig most of the smaller craft. Haven't been out on the water for ages, though."

"Did you enjoy it, as a child?" Peter asks. Hard to envision the Archivist as a little boy.

"I don't think...I categorized things quite that way. It wasn't a matter of enjoying or not enjoying a thing. It was something to keep me occupied."

"What would have happened if you hadn't been occupied?"

"Oh, the worst thing," he replies, and actually shoots Peter a smile. "Boredom."

Peter suspects this is a little joke, and when he Looks, he understands -- boredom as a child was merely unpleasant. Boredom, now, for his Archivist, means quiet and safety, and there are people for whom quiet and safety are not only no longer an option, but no longer even appealing.

"Boredom's an old enemy of mine," Peter agrees. "You get a lot of it at sea."

"I imagine so."

"Your assistants weren't keen to let you out on the water with me, today," Peter continues, guiding them smoothly into the lazy current.

"Martin fusses," the Archivist replies, absently checking the tension on a line. "At this point it's practically the white noise of the Archive, him fussing. I'd be more concerned if he didn't."

"Still, he's been a great help to you. And to me, I suppose!" Peter says. "After all, if he hadn't worked out how to go after Elias, I wouldn't be here."

The Archivist shoots him a dry look, but Peter has found the secret to life is to always be very earnest. He genuinely feels a gratitude to Martin. Especially here, not the metaphysical but the realistic here, out on the water with the Archivist, who he is already thinking of as his Archivist.

But instead of replying directly, the Archivist leans on the edge of the dingy and watches other boats pass. "Do you know why Elias murdered Gertrude Robinson?" he asks.

"I understand she was attempting to destroy the Institute. Also, much as I have always liked Elias, he is a bit of a blunt instrument," Peter replies. "Never a hammer when a jackhammer would do the job."

"You've known him a long time."

"Since he became head of the Institute. Why?"

"Curiosity," the Archivist says, in the same way he said it to Martin on that tape, as if curiosity was both a natural inclination and a blood curse. "But you're not entirely right."

"About Elias?"

"When he told me he killed Gertrude, he said she was planning to destroy the Archive. He might be a blunt instrument but he's very specific with his words. Not Institute. Archive."

"One and the same, I should think," Peter observes. "The Archive is in the basement. Bit hard to set it on fire or blow it up without taking the Institute along with it."

"Yes, one might almost say the Archive is the foundation of the Institute," the Archivist replies. "Which is why I suspect that her destruction was not to be quite so literal."

"Ah. No C-4 for this job, then?" Peter asks, and then, very carefully, "Do you have an idea of why she wanted to destroy the Archive?"

"Yes, but only a theory. And if you want it, you'll have to dig for it."

Peter Looks, but he can feel that there are things he can't see. "Well. Elias wasn't wrong. You are coming on marvelously, Archivist."

"Do you know, the only beings that call me Archivist generally want to murder me," the Archivist says. "So you might give a shot at calling me Jon."

Peter beams, delighted. "May I really? You don't know the honor your confer."

"Probably not, but we might as well be on first name terms," Jon says.

"Well, it is quite a lonely thing, to be a watcher."

"Yes, I suppose it is." Jon pushes himself up and towards the bow, leaning into the dip and rise of the little boat. "How fast do you suppose we're going?"

"Two, three knots, maybe."

"This is a racing ship -- think we could get up to ten?"

"In this crowd?" Peter considers. "I'd need some good steering. Up to that task?"

"Yes, I think I am," Jon replies, and together they bring the little craft more fully into the wind, Jon darting them amongst other vessels while Peter pushes the speed.

***

By the time they make it back to the sailing club, near lunchtime, both are windblown and Peter can see Jon is tired; he's still recovering, he supposes, though he looks well enough.

"You know why they call it World's End?" Jon asks, as they join the queue to enter the little harbor. "Bad roads from central London out to this area before it was developed. And there was a pub called the World's End."

"Oh yes. My ancestor Mordechai used to drink there," Peter says. "With Jonah Magnus, actually, and sometimes Sir Robert Smirke."

"Old devils," Jon mutters.

"Undoubtedly," Peter replies. "I should be lucky to grow so old, though."

"I suppose we all might," Jon agrees, unrepentant for having called Peter's many-times-great grandfather a devil (he was, though).

"Lunch?" Peter asks, as they dock and make her fast. "The clubhouse does a delightful Turbot."

***

On Monday, Jonathan is still a little reddened from the sun and the wind, and Peter smells apples in his office, all the day.