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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.

Chapter Text

All of the entities, the forces of fear, play the long game. Mr. Pitch is still 300 years out from his next Becoming, and settles his acolytes in Ny-Alesund to wait; the Stranger, having so recently failed, begins gathering tattered powers, though it will be centuries before it can manifest again. The Beholding has twice been foiled by human ingenuity that Peter knows of, but slowly the Eye claws its way towards ascendancy again. The surveillance state doesn't hurt its efforts.

Peter really should take a more active interest in the ascendance of the Lonely, but he just can't be bothered, and anyway for now it is tied to the Beholding. The Lonely, for obvious reasons, finds alliances difficult, and its lack of allies in other arenas has hurt it. But having connected itself to the Eye, for now, the Lonely needs very little. And so Peter can dedicate himself to the Magnus Institute with a light heart.

He doesn't know the form of the Beholding's ritual or its result, not precisely, but in the days following the sailing trip on the Thames, he dreams prophetically. He sees Jon, deitic and enthroned, the third eye in his forehead glowing golden, presiding over a world where all is known. If the Beholding brings through the Lonely, he could himself be a prince of solitude, reigning over those who are seen but not known, identified but not allied.

"May I ask you a question?" Jonathan asks. "It's of a personal nature, and I don't want to Compel you."

Peter tacks into the wind, bringing the Phantom Island's bow about, and then nods. This is the third time they've been out on the water, though there have been other outings -- lunches and dinners, and once Peter accompanied him on a short trip for research. The water, more than anything, has begun to feel like a place they can find an even ground together.

"Of course, Jon," he says. "Always happy to advance the cause of knowledge."

"It's not for the Institute, at least not directly," Jon suggests, gazing out at the other vessels. He doesn't just see them, not anymore; he Sees them.

"I'm at your service," Peter tells him, and his family will hate how true it is; they are aware, dimly, that there has been an error made in putting Peter at the head of the Institute, in selling his soul to the Beholding, because the apple has had its way. Peter is bound to his Archivist, smitten, and can deny him nothing.

It would be humiliating for Peter, were it not so thrilling. It humiliates his family, to be sure, but Peter finds it difficult to care.

"What does it feel like, to have a lineage?" Jon asks. "To know how far back your family goes and how far forward it will continue?"

He sounds wistful. Jonathan comes from so little. Dead parents, a resentful grandmother, no breeding at all. None of his antecedents were sworn to anyone, and Jon Sims will have no descendants, at least not of his blood, of that Peter is reasonably sure.

But his Archivist, his Jonathan, deserves a measured reply. It does not do to satisfy curiosity with half-truths if it can be avoided.

"Rich," Peter says, turning his face up to the autumn sun. Soon it will be too cold to do this in any kind of comfort. "Deep. Weighty. Sometimes too weighty. Imagine being one man to carry all that history. Though I do have siblings, and cousins and nephews and nieces. And I suppose you know how the weight of history feels, all things considered," he adds. After all, the Archivist bears the weight of all who came before. On Jon's slim, handsome, scarred shoulders rests centuries.

"Does it comfort you?" Jon asks.

"No. Well, yes, as a child," Peter admits. "But not anymore. So I can recite my family tree for generations -- so what? Do you know how little has changed between Mordechai and me?"

Jon glances at him as though he rather does.

"There's no comfort in history," Peter says. It's bitter, though it sounds cheerful enough. "There's only what we make of where we are now."

Jonathan tilts his head back and kisses him, sweeter than the Lonely, sweeter than any history Peter has ever known. Technically their second kiss.

"You don't even like that," Peter accuses gently, when it's done.

"I don't care, either way. But you do," Jon tells him.

His whimsey has certainly come back to haunt him.

Peter Looks, and he knew that Jon has no particular interest in the carnal, but now he knows that he also has no particular objection to it, and that's delightful, actually. Because it means if he asks -- not now, but someday soon -- Jonathan will give himself up like a gift, without desire but with open-hearted affection. Which is the purest gift, one given with no thought of recompense. Even Peter Lukas knows that.

***

He's summoned to Moreland House soon after. His family, chilly but beloved, encloses him in their formal embrace; he arrives on a Friday afternoon, having left work early, and dines with his parents, two uncles and a great-aunt, his elder brother, his brother's wife and children, his sister and her children. After dinner he watches a movie with the little ones in the playroom, the consummate indulgent uncle. Delilah prattles to him of school and cartoons.

Saturday morning he wakes to an empty, silent house. He rather expected this.

He washes and puts on nice clothes, charcoal trousers and a Fair Isles sweater, his Hublot watch, clean boots. Descending the staircase, he sees fog swirling across the grounds. He turns at the bottom of the stairs and passes through the empty kitchen where no breakfast is cooking, out into the kitchen garden.

"Grandmother," he says softly, respectfully, as the fog licks at the borders of the garden and the remaining autumn plants sway where there is no wind.

Grandmother Lukas was not a Lukas from birth, though she might as well have been. Grandfather's soul was really never his own after he married her, and Grandfather quite loved that, may he rest in peace (unlikely). Now, Grandmother is the matriarch, as securely enshrined in her power as any blood Lukas ever was.

"I assume you know why we're having this little discussion," she says, slowly pulling a late-fruiting tomato from the vine. It looks grey and unappetizing.

"I imagine the family disapproves," he says, smiling.

"There are concerns. Not just from the family," she replies. "The Archivist is sworn to the Eye, and you know what his destiny is to be."

"Indeed I do. But we are also invested in the Watcher's Crown, aren't we? Some might say this is serendipitous. It binds us to the Eye and when the ritual is performed we will be in a very advantageous position, Grandmother."

"I'm sure that's an answer you've spent a long time on, but it hardly breaks below the surface," she says. "We do not need, nor have we asked, for you to bind us closer to the Eye. Your job was to ensure the survival and progress of the Archivist per Elias Bouchard's request, not to indulge yourself and make him your plaything. Or vice versa."

"Now, Grandmother. You know perfectly well Jon is nobody's plaything, and neither am I."

"You should never have woken him. He should have come back to himself by himself or not at all," she frets.

"Well, that would have been very good information to have before I tried," he says cheerily. "But as the family didn't see fit to warn me, it's not entirely on my own head."

"I'd like to know what you intend to do about it, Peter."

Peter cocks his head. "Keep on as I have, unless you have a better idea. I suspect, Grandmother, that you called me here just to shame me, which is a real waste of energy if we're being honest."

"The family cannot protect you from the consequences of your actions in this regard," she announces.

Peter bites his tongue. The family has not protected him from much in years. He has spent much of his life far from home. Perhaps the family doesn't understand as well as it ought the role he, and others like him (poor Evan) have played. But there is no point in recrimination and nobody likes a complainer.

"I think you would call this a gamble, so let me be clear. If the family won't protect me if I fail," he says, voice for once rather measured, "Perhaps it also won't reap the benefits if I succeed."

"The family won't place all its bets on the Archivist," she says. "You would."

"I would, and I will. They're my bets to place."

She shrugs, and holds out the tomato. When he takes it, it is a firm, ripe apple. He looks down at it, rather surprised. When he looks up, Grandmother winks at him.

"I speak for the family," she says. "But once I was an idiot in love, too. No one will be bitter if your bet pays out, my child. And if it doesn't, well, there was always a space for you in the family crypt."

The apple is the only color in this world, a vibrant swirl of pink and green.

"I love you, Grandmother," he announces.

"Why, my sweet grandson. I love you too," she replies.

The fog lifts as Peter walks back into the kitchen, and by the time he reaches the dining room the family is all there, helping themselves to heaping bowls of soft-boiled eggs, chafing trays of french toast, platters of sweet pastries.

"Did you see Grandmother?" Delilah asks him, when he lifts her up so she can tweak some french toast onto his plate.

"I did!"

"What's she like?" Delilah asks.

"Oh, ever so scary," he assures her.

"Will I ever see Grandmother?" she asks.

"Only if you are very good or very, very bad," he tells her. His sister, her mother, gives him a look, but doesn't interfere. "Now, fetch me an egg, little one, and one for yourself, and I'll break the shell for you."

She runs to get him an egg, and he takes a sharp knife from the table, cutting slices from the apple, eating them from the blade.

***

He returns to London after breakfast, texting Jon as he does so. Would it be indiscreet of me to suggest drinks before noon?

Jon simply texts back the name of a brunch place near his flat.

When Peter arrives, Jon is having a pleasant conversation with the barman in Urdu. Peter doubts he knows they aren't speaking English, which is charming. The barman looks starry-eyed, a reaction Jon tends to cause more and more. Peter is not unaccustomed to it himself; humanity loves a monster, much as they may also fear them.

He rests his hand in the small of Jon's back, amiably ordering himself a Bloody Mary.

"Shall we get a seat?" he asks. There's a wait -- it's a trendy brunch place in London, of course there's a wait -- but a perk of being Peter Lukas is that there's always an empty table for him. Jon gathers up his drink and follows.

"I suppose this isn't Institute business," he remarks as they seat themselves, and Peter waggles a hand. "Oh dear."

"I went down to see the family last night," he says. Jon nods. Peter knows he is shuffling through his organized mind, picking out details of the Lukas family filtered through other eyes, all the Statements a Lukas has ever featured in. Natalie, Evan's unfortunate (or rather, quite fortunate, as she survived) fiance, probably gave an unflattering but accurate portrayal. "They're...perturbed."

"By all of our boating?" Jon asks. His mouth curves, the little scar at the corner dimpling.

"Not to put too fine a point on it," Peter agrees. "My grandmother expressed her disapproval."

"Well. How banal."

"I -- what?" Peter asks, derailed. "Are you calling my family's disapproval boring?"

"Not at all. I'm sure for you it's very exciting."

Peter narrows his eyes.

"Anyway, perhaps common is a better word," Jon says. "Oh, don't look at me like that. What I mean is that we are here, mostly-mortal, caught in an ancient battle of fears made manifest, striving to hold back forces both dark and brilliant, and you come to me like this is Montagues and Capulets and not just 'granny doesn't like my boyfriend'."

Peter bursts out laughing, even though it shouldn't be that funny. He's just so pleased with his irreverent, curious, foolhardy Archivist.

"Well, I suppose I did get dramatic," he says. "And it's not that they don't like your character, you know."

"I should hope not, given I begin to suspect I'm rather important to some vile plan or other they're hatching."

"Cruel, calling my family vile and banal. It's more that it complicates matters. It adds an extra spin to the roulette wheel. The achievement of power, real power, is always a gamble, and you throw the odds off."

"In whose favor?"

"They don't know. That's what they don't like."

"And you?" Jon asks.

Peter shrugs. "I told Grandmother my bet was on you. She said she couldn't do the same."

Jon considers him. A waiter approaches, and Peter's fingers twitch, and he leaves again.

"Are we preparing for the Watcher's Crown?" Jon asks. "And when I ask, I mean to ask whether we are preparing for it imminently, in my lifetime, not whether the Magnus Institute is gathering strength for some distant event hundreds of years from now."

"The acquisition of knowledge is slow and perilous. Even written down, it's so easily lost," Peter says. "The Eye takes longer to prepare for its becoming than most."

"But," Jon prompts.

"But the last attempt was in the 15th century," Peter said. "Before that, in 1086."

"Was a Lukas around back then as well?" Jon asks, grinning.

"One of them," Peter replies. Jon blinks. "Well, not a Lukas. But an ancestor of the first Lukas is recorded as a landholder in Kent in the Domesday Book, which was very nearly used to summon the Eye."

"And the 15th century?"

"Ah, no. That was a Gutenberg, not a Lukas," Peter says. "So, yes. We are roughly due for an attempt at the Watcher's Crown, and with the Institute thriving, things are slowly falling into place."

"And what will it be, this ritual?"

Peter shakes his head. "I can't tell you that, Jon. Even if you Compelled me. That's for the Eye and its avatar to know."

"And Elias can't be compelled anyway," Jon murmurs. Oh, Archivist. So intelligent, and yet such a fool. "If I could just..."

He looks frustrated. A waiter brings them a bowl of fruit they didn't order, bright berries, sliced banana and pears, orange wedges around the edge. Jon dishes out a small plate of it for himself.

"Gertrude had decades to prepare for all of this, to learn it all, and she had access to knowledge that would get me killed," Jon says, scowling at his fruit. "I had barely two years before I was expected to save the world, and now what? If I could just...put all things in order, if I could figure out what will happen next instead of constantly being two steps behind. Supposedly all of these rituals would be clustered quite close."

"How do you know that?" Peter asks, very carefully keeping his tone jovial, holding back the sharp surprise.

"I don't know, I suppose I read it somewhere," Jon says tiredly. "Sometimes I know a thing without learning it, these days."

"That must have got Elias very excited."

"You've no idea. But I don't know how to prepare for...any of this. Stopping any of the others. Gertrude practically held my hand through the last one."

"Must they all be stopped?" Peter asks. Jon looks up slowly. "I mean, I don't want the world plunged into eternal night or remade by circus clowns but not all of our patrons are actively malevolent."

"Yours nearly killed your would-be sister-in-law. The Hunt would happily destroy me if I looked at it sidelong. Elias murdered two people." Jon shakes his head. "Just because they're not our nightmares doesn't mean they aren't someone's, Peter."

"And what will you do?" Peter asks quietly.

"I don't know," Jon replies. He doesn't understand what Peter is asking, but Peter supposes at this point that's for the best. "Study. Ask questions. Learn what I can. That's why I'm here, anyway, according to Elias. And then...act as I think best."

"A dangerous thing for a man like you to say."

"Yes, that's me. Dangerous Jon Sims," Jon sighs. "So what does your family want you to do? About us, I mean."

"Nothing, really. They leave it in my hands, I'm a grown man after all. If I can captain a cargo freighter for a decade, I think I can run my own love life."

"Then why the emergency brunch conference?"

"Oh, I just wanted to see you," Peter says, and Jon's smile warms from cynical to soft.

"Well, that's very charming of you."

"Yes, I know!" Peter agrees happily.

***

All is not peace and quiet for the Magnus Institute, however, and certainly not for Jon and his researchers. Having interrupted the Unknowing and seemingly corrupted the Spiral, they've come to the attention of other entities, who now see nothing to lose in trying to temper the power of the Eye.

Peter comes into the Institute one morning to discover that his office (formerly Elias's) is in messy disarray, the door hanging off its hinges, drops of blood in the hallway; he can feel the commotion in the Archives two floors away. It's not entirely a surprise to find Jon in his own office, knelt in front of Basira, gently dabbing at a cut on her face with gauze while Martin hovers with the office first-aid kit in the background. He's shedding little packets of aspirin randomly.

"....so enormous," Basira is saying, as Peter appears in the doorway. "That was all I kept thinking, he's just so enormous."

"Did he hurt you anywhere else?" Jon asks. "Did he...take...anything from you?"

"No bones, if that's what you're asking," Basira says with a weak grin.

"It appears whoever it was didn't have the same respect for my door," Peter interjects, and Martin turns, plasters flying everywhere. To Peter's genuine surprise, Martin comes right up to him, in his face, snarling.

"Can we have five minutes' peace? Just five minutes?" he demands, and Peter raises his eyebrows, looking past Martin's ear to Jon.

"Martin, let's not have this battle right this minute?" Jon asks tiredly. Martin glowers at Peter. "Martin!"

"Maybe if you weren't such a mysterious creep, nobody would be trying to break into your office," Martin snarls, but he backs off. Peter gives him a mild look, moving past him, towards Jon and Basira.

"I assume whoever we're discussing is responsible for the assault on my office as well as on your face," Peter says, leaning against Jon's desk, looking at Basira.

"Jared Hopworth," Basira says. "I mean, it's not like I saw his passport or something, but I've read the Statements, I don't see who else it could be. He looked like he had six shoulders."

"Ah, the fellow who likes to play with bones! I don't think he's a good person at all," Peter remarks, which gets him a smile from Basira. "Was it him in my office?"

"We haven't had the full story yet," Jon says, setting aside the gauze now that the bleeding has stopped. Basira gives him a pleading look, and he holds up his hands. "You don't have to make a Statement if you don't want to, and certainly not right now. But we will need to know what happened. Martin can ask, if you'd rather I didn't risk it."

"No, that's fine," she replies, taking a breath. "Sorry about your office," she says to Peter.

"Not your fault. I mean, I presume," he says. "Why don't you explain what happened?"

She swallows and nods. "I was coming in early to get some cross-referencing done with the book I'd been working on, and I was heading to the library when I heard scuffling noises coming from the administrative offices. I went upstairs and saw your door hanging off its hinges and a torch light flickering around inside. I should have probably gone for help but once a copper..." she shrugs, and glances at Jon, who smiles. "So I shouted through the busted door for whoever was in the office to come out with his hands up, because he was under arrest."

"That must have gone over well," Peter observes.

"Well, the light flicked on, because I guess he knew the game was up, and he turned around and he was....so massive. Shockingly huge. Not unrealistically huge, just...the biggest a human being can be, I suppose. Biggest I've ever seen. He clearly wasn't afraid of me."

"Do you know what he was after?" Martin asks.

"I don't...he said tell me where the bones are," she says.

Jon's eyes meet Peter's. Ah yes -- that Statement Elias read. The bones Jonah Magnus retrieved.

"I didn't have anything I could use as a weapon but I told him again he was under arrest and to kneel down on the floor, and of course he basically laughed, so I -- " Basira swallows again, looking worriedly at Jon. "You'll think it's stupid."

"I won't," Jon says.

"I might," Peter tells her, grinning, which does break the tension at least.

"I had the book I wanted to cross-reference with me, so I held it up and I said, I've got a Leitner, motherfucker, want to see what I do with it?"

"You took a Leitner out of Artifact Storage?" Jon demands.

"No! It was just a normal book, but he didn't know that!" Basira says. "He freaked out, anyway, and charged me, and I knew who he was and I did not want him touching me. So I dodged backwards and he got out down the stairs while I knocked my head on a windowsill. When I got up, I went downstairs and you were just coming in."

"So he didn't find what he was looking for," Jon says. "Wherever the bones are, he didn't get to them."

"Why...are there bones in the..." Martin looks back and forth from Jon to Peter and then just sighs.

"I think the much more important question is why Jared Hopworth, of all people, is walking into someone else's domain looking for them," Peter says. "I'll have to arrange for better security. And a new door. And possibly a cleaning crew. Well, there's my day filled."

"Is this a joke to you?" Martin asks. He is a very trying man. Still, Peter makes the attempt to like him for who he is and not idly wish he could strangle him into some kind of obedience.

"Very much not, but humor is an exceptional coping mechanism, I've found," Peter says. "Basira, will you take the day? I can have one of our security officers escort you home, if you like."

"No, I'm fine. It's a bit sore but I might as well be sore here doing interesting things as sore at home on my couch being bored," she says.

"Employee of the week," Peter announces, pointing at her. "But I don't want you wandering the Institute bandaged up and alone. Martin will keep you company."

Martin opens his mouth, but Jon gives him a quelling look.

"Jon, if you wouldn't mind a consultation in my office?" Peter says.

Jon sends Basira and Martin off to the canteen, and follows Peter silently up to the wreckage of his office. Rosie, from her own little cubby across the hall, is peering trepidatiously at it.

"I've called for security, until the...door issue is resolved," she tells him.

"You are a gem amongst administrators," Peter tells her. He sidles around the door, which is hanging precariously by one screw in one hinge, and into the snowdrift of paperwork and office supplies that's ankle-deep on the floor.

"This is just...very inappropriate," Peter says, leaning on his desk. Jon bends down to gather up some cassette tapes with cracks spiderwebbing their casings. "I mean, there's robbery and then there's just ransacking."

"He was after the bones of Barnabas Bennett," Jon says, voice low enough that Rosie can't hear. "Elias said they were in this office, if you knew where to look. Barnabas Bennett, who was a victim of Mordechai Lukas."

"I don't need reminding, I know the story well enough," Peter says, without heat. "Being fair, Barnabas Bennett was an arsehole. He cheated Mordechai and then taunted him about how his class would never allow him to recoup the money."

"And you think it's coincidence that Jared Hopworth came here looking for them only a few months after you became head of the Institute?" Jon presses. "Are they still even here, for sure?"

"How should I know? Elias didn't tell me where they were. Here's your computer, the password is 'password', there's a stapler in that drawer, the file labels are on the shelf, and oh yes there's the skeleton of a man your ancestor murdered in the ceiling!"

Jon just gives him a very unimpressed look that Peter does not feel he deserves.

"Why would Jonah Magnus keep the bones in his office, anyway? Why not artifact storage?" Jon wonders. "Or, you know, like any normal person would do, a proper burial."

"More importantly, why are they so valuable to the Flesh that it would send someone this far into the Eye's domain? That's a serious shot across the bows," Peter muses. "The Flesh can't possibly think it has the power to try a manifestation."

"Maybe Jared just wanted some bones," Jon sighs. "He's...somewhat thick."

There isn't much Jared hasn't opened, overturned, or crushed. All the shelving will have to be replaced, and his desk is looking rather...lopsided. There was a very nice glass-fronted curio cabinet where Elias kept a prized collection of Fake Spooky Things, including an entire shelf of counterfeit Leitners, and that's now a wooden frame and a pile of debris.

"You don't suppose it actually is in the ceiling, do you?" Jon asks.

"No, I don't think even Jonah Magnus was that irreverent," Peter murmurs, thinking about how someone sworn to the Beholding would think. They're not much on lies, but they are big on the storage of knowledge, the squirreling-away of truth behind...

"Give us a bit of a hand?" he asks, putting his shoulder to the side of the curio cabinet's remains. Jon picks his way over the broken glass and lifts up, helping to slide the cabinet away from the wall. The flat door of a wall safe appears from behind it.

One of the keys on the ring he was given when Elias was arrested opens it, but inside isn't a safe. It's a stone chamber filled with elderly wooden shelves.

And on almost every shelf is a neatly front-facing skull, with a pile of bones behind it. There are five in all.

It's a vault.

"Oh, eurgh," Jon says eloquently. Peter dusts off a brass plate that reads BARNABAS BENNETT.

Next to it is one which reads ROBERT SMIRKE.

"Jon," he says.

"Yes, I'll have Melanie look up the others," Jon sighs, already tapping the names into his phone.

"There are two empty spaces," Peter continues.

"Yes, well, I'm sure Jonah Magnus felt it was better to have too much storage than too little -- "

"Seven is a ritual number," Peter says. "I think we may be looking at elements of the Watcher's Crown."

"And the Flesh sent Jared to disrupt it?" Jon asks. "Steal the bones?"

Peter shakes his head. "The Flesh itself isn't very old. It's also a bit thick. No, this smacks of backstagery."

"Beg pardon."

The Flesh, Peter knows, doesn't even have many alliances, but it's eager to please. And there's only one entity that hates the Beholding more than the Stranger, but hasn't yet struck directly.

Peter turns to Jon, briskly.

"Do have Melanie research those names. I imagine they're all in the Institute's records somewhere," he says. "I have a few inquiries to make myself. Come find me when you're -- no, I'll find you," he corrects, and then gives Jon a reassuring smile, because the man's gone rather pale. "Nothing for you to worry about, not yet; this is an...executive issue. Do you keep a torch down in the Archives?"

"Y-yes," Jon says slowly. "Several."

"Good. I'd send Martin out for batteries and maybe an emergency lantern, give him something productive to do."

"I see."

"I knew you would." Peter cups Jon's chin between thumb and forefinger, leaning in to kiss him. "Look after yourself today. I'll look after the Institute."

Jon leaves with many backward glances, confusion and grim knowledge warring on his face, and Peter sighs as he looks around at his ruined office, closing the safe door.

"Rosie, who do we know who has the authorization to read anything that might be in this office but low enough status we could ask them to clean it up?" Peter calls.

"Erm," Rosie says, popping her head into the room. "I don't think that's a functional combination, Mr. Lukas."

"I thought you might say that. Well, this will have to wait. That door is priority; please have it replaced by end of day, even if it's just with some plywood. Long as it has hinges and a sturdy lock, we'll worry about the aesthetic later."

"Already got Facilities out buying you a new one," she says. "Should have it up by lunchtime."

"Well, give them my blessings. I've a meeting to attend; it's likely to run long. I leave it all in your hands."

Rosie nods, and Peter gathers up his coat and hat. A quick stop in Artifact Storage and he'll be on his way.

Chapter Text

Melanie is, after conquering her towering rage over Basira being hurt, annoyed to have missed all the excitement. The new research, at least, provides a distraction, and by evening she has numerous notes.

Barnabas Bennet they know about; he welshed on a debt he owed Mordechai Lucas, was banished to the domain of the Lonely and made to live out his life in solitary panic. He left a letter for Jonah Magnus, and his body was eventually retrieved by him.

And they have files upon files about Robert Smirke.

The other three are less obvious, but still not obscure. Two of them have burial sites, which means someone's been robbing graves. Rosa Meyer died quite recently, of pneumonia, in prison, after trying to blow up the Magnus Institute. Elsa von Closen was slightly harder to track down, but Martin remembered the name, and they found her in the file on Albrecht von Closen -- a descendant of the von Closen line and more frequently referenced as Elsa Keay, mother of Mary, grandmother of Gerard. Gerry.

The third says it's Walter Heller, but Jon noticed while writing down the name that the skull wasn't shaped like a human's -- or rather, only to a point. There was no nasal cavity, just a smooth jut of bone, and above that, a single orbital cavity, the bone structure symmetrical on both sides. Jon is fairly certain, though he doesn't tell Melanie, that this is the previous archivist Walter Heller met in Alexandria, rather than Walter Heller himself. The one Gertrude killed in an explosion. It explains the web of fractures he saw, around the sides of the skull.

If the Unknowing used dancers dressed in their victims' skins, with one powerful skin for the lead ballerina, as it were, what are these bones even for? Is the Avatar of the Beholding meant to play them like bongos?

Jon sighs and rubs his eyes. It's too early to read another statement, but he also itches to; it calms him, takes him out of himself, centers him back in what he now understands is the heart of the god he never really wanted but still, as Elias told him, chose.

"Let me take you away from all this," a voice says in his ear, and Jon is pleased to have finally mastered his startle reflex around Peter. He turns and looks up mildly at Peter, bent over him, and then frowns.

"You smell like a muddy field," he says.

"I've been having a right adventure. Tell you about it if you'll have dinner with me," Peter says. There's a small, faint dark smear under his earlobe, but other than that he's pristine.

"I'll get my coat," Jon sighs.

Peter leads him up into the Institute and out, into the chilly late-fall sunshine. "It's as I thought," he says, as they're strolling up the street towards Le Colombier (seafood, of course). "The Flesh didn't act against us alone."

"Then who was it?" Jon asks.

"The Dark," Peter says, and Jon stifles a shudder. "I smell like a field because I've been in a root cellar. The Buried and the Dark are quite close, and one led to the other, but it was a bit of a squeeze, as you can imagine."

"You risked -- that's too much, Peter -- "

"Hardly. If I couldn't handle the Dark," Peter sniffs. "Besides, I brought insurance," he adds.

"Dare I ask," Jon drawls.

"I took the Hand of Glory. We had it in storage. Very useful thing. The fat saponifies, you see, and can be used as a sort of candle, when treated properly. When lit, provides light only its holder can see, which when speaking with the Dark is not to be underrated! Anyway, I had a very strong word with our local avatar of darkness," Peter said. "They won't bother us again for some time."

"A strong word."

"Well, a candle is an ignition source," Peter says imperturbably, guiding him through the doorway of the restaurant. Lots of light in here, Jon notices. "Now. Tell me all about what you've found about the bones," he says brightly.

Jon sorts his thoughts, presenting the list chronologically by date of death. Barnabas Bennett, Robert Smirke, Elsa von Closen, Rosa Meyer, and their former archivist, "Walter Heller".

"Not that I know what to do with any of this," he grumbles, as his grilled prawns and Peter's Dover sole arrive. "I think Gertrude believed the Watcher's Crown was imminent, probably the next ritual after the Unknowing, but it isn't as though there's an instruction manual for these things. If there was, it's probably in that blasted Key of Solomon, which doesn't exist anymore anyway."

"Do you suppose any of the other Leitners would help?"

"No way of knowing. None of the ones we have, certainly. There's no catalogue of the rest. Or, rather, I suppose there was, once, but it was likely destroyed with the library," Jon says.

Peter looks terribly thoughtful, and Jon raises his eyebrows. "Wasn't it?" he prompts.

"Leitner already had an extensive collection by the time the library was built," Peter says. "And he would have had to provide at least a general outline of what and how many, in order to give the architects an idea of what to build."

"Are you saying some random architect somewhere has a catalogue of the Leitner library?" Jon asks. "I don't think we know who built Leitner's library but it shouldn't be difficult to find out. All the zoning and such will still be on record."

"A job for tomorrow," Peter says, nodding in approval at the wine he's being presented, allowing the sommelier to pour. "Eat now. Can't have you going hungry, and the catalogue will wait."

The catalogue does wait, at least through dinner, but after coffee and sweets, when they're putting their coats on, Peter looks at him and shakes his head.

"Go on, Jon. Go back to the Archive and do what you can tonight. But wait until tomorrow morning to call the building commission."

Jon kisses him, squeezes his hand, and heads back towards the Institute.

***

The management of a man like Jon Sims requires patience, Peter knows that, but he had hoped tonight he might cajole him into a walk by the river, and perhaps even into coming home with him. He shouldn't have suggested Leitner might have left a catalogue behind.

But there are ways to slake his impatience. It's been months since he took anyone, and while the urge is dulled, here on land among so many, soon he will have to. As Helen said to Jon once (or rather, as the thing that had Become Helen had said), it's nourishing. And man cannot live by gourmet seafood alone.

He makes sure, however, that nobody -- no eletronic eye, no human eye -- sees him take the old pensioner by the arm, as if to help her across the street, or how she never makes it to the other side. Nobody will miss her, and she was at the end of her life anyway.

It's quite hard to do, in London. So many traffic cameras. But, well, cameras can break, and Peter has been at his work a long time.

***

In the morning, there is a new door with a shining new nameplate on it on his office, and a note pinned to it from Jon saying he's gone off to Brighton to speak to the Brighton & Hove City Council about who built the Leitner estate.

Peter props open his new door and spends a good deal of time, that day, gathering up anything that might be considered confidential. What he's left with is heaps, everywhere, of splintered wood, broken glass, and shattered plastic, a bin of fake Leitners and other counterfeits, and a stack a foot high of disarrayed papers. He tells Rosie to send in Facilities to clean and repair as they will, and locks up the papers for sorting later, just in time for a text message from Jon.

He's on his way back to London, and he doesn't just have the catalogue; he has the draft plans for Leitner's library. He seems very excited.

Peter ambles down to the Archives and doesn't even jump-scare Martin, he's so at peace with the world.

"Put away the video games, the boss is on his way back," he announces. Martin looks guilty, but then he always looks guilty, and Basira and Melanie barely look up from their work. "He's bringing you three a present, I think. He says he's found a Leitner catalogue."

"A what?" Martin asks.

"Like...a shopping catalogue with a Leitner plate? Or a catalogue of the Leitner library?" Basira asks.

"The former would be very terrifying! What do you suppose it would do to one? But no, it's the latter," Peter says. "Likely not complete, but I'm sure he'll want you to check it. So, look sharp and be prepared, and you shall have dinner paid for by the Institute."

"We're not allowed food in the Archives," Melanie says.

"Then you shall have dinner paid for, but not within the confines of, the Institute," Peter says, just as Jon arrives, with a large tube under one arm. "There he is. Journey successful!"

"Very," Jon announces. "I have a catalogue here of five hundred and nine books owned by Jurgen Leitner -- titles, authors where available, and brief descriptions."

"Brilliant," Basira says, as Jon hands over a series of stapled sheafs of paper. "Can I make a Spreadsheet of the Damned?"

"Deadsheet," Martin murmurs.

"Be careful and be good, children," Peter says, leading Jon away. The assistants descend on the research like locusts, but Peter wants Jon -- and more importantly, that tube full of architectural drawings -- well away.

"So you've found the library of Jurgen Leitner," he says, piloting Jon towards the study rooms at the border of the library, where they can speak without being bothered. He leans into the largest one, where three researchers are clustered around a pile of books, and whistles through his teeth to get their attention.

"Head of the Institute exercising his privilege," he says, as if it's quite funny. Often if you talk about something like it's a joke, everyone will believe it is. "Out you go, kick out some poor undergraduate, we need this room for important Institute business."

They slither out, awed by the head of the Institute and his Head Archivist, and Peter takes the tube from under Jon's arm.

"Let's see what a 19th century genius and a 20th century rich boy can do, shall we?" he asks, unrolling the papers, spreading them out. He doesn't need to wonder how Jon got the originals from the building office. They weight down the edges of the rolls with cellphones and keys, the edge of Jon's messenger bag, Peter's pocketknife and the little torch Jon carries everywhere. Peter doesn't ask about the corkscrew, but he will, later.

And then he looks down at the plans, the elevations, the excavation orders, the detailed diagrams of each chamber of the library, and a chill runs through him.

It's a panopticon, of which Smirke and his Victorian brethren were so fond, but horribly distorted. Lopsided, with doors in strange places, with walls of strange heights. One watercolor, clearly designed to be a presentation to Leitner and misfiled with the plans, shows a mosaic of intersecting lines on the floor. It disgusts him on a visceral level, this revelation, this attempt to quantify the unquantifiable, to sort and catalogue it.

"This is blasphemy," he murmurs.

Jon, studying the plans, must not even hear him, just his tone.

"I think it's quite pretty, in its own way," he says. "I've never cared much for perfect symmetry."

Peter sees a detail of one chamber, ovoid with a single, lonely shelf of books in the very center, and thinks he's going to be sick. He presses the back of his wrist to his mouth.

"Does it mean anything to you?" he manages to ask.

"It echoes things we already know -- Millbank prison, and a structure under Pall Mall that Leitner wanted to access. And this design is familiar, though I can't think from where," Jon says, tracing the mosaic on the floor, the horrible lines that connect certain doors in certain patterns. "My goodness, he was an arrogant man. Are you all right?" Jon asks suddenly, and Peter looks up to find his Archivist staring at him. "You've gone over very pale, Peter."

"Probably a bad egg at breakfast," Peter says, because it's equally unsettling how unperturbed Jon is by this monstrous violation of all they both belong to. "I think some fresh air might help."

"Go on ahead, I'll tidy this away," Jon tells him, and Peter carefully does not rush from the room.

Outside, the London afternoon is cold, the light bright but grey, washed of all its warmth. Peter inhales and wishes for the sea. There's a lot that can't be controlled and must be reckoned with, on the open water -- the weather, the currents -- but all of the human things, machines and people and goods, that can all be micromanaged down to the atom, when your entire world is a single ship and a single crew. On land there are just so many people and so few of them are his to command.

The tinny click of a lighter and crackle of tobacco brings him back to himself -- Jon is standing nearby, a decent distance from the entrance, lighting a cigarette.

"Sorry. Habit," he says. "I quit for five years but the second you start up again, it's just ingrained."

Peter holds out his hand, which is shaking a little, and Jon looks surprised but puts the cigarette, filter-first, between his fingers. He inhales, tastes smoke, feels the rush of nicotine soothe him, and passes it back.

"Don't smoke as a rule," he says, trying to recover himself by rambling, the way he tends to be so good at doing. "Nothing worse than running out of cigarettes two weeks into a three week voyage by sea."

"The library upsets you," Jon replies. Peter nods. Jon offers the smoke again, mutely, and this time when Peter takes it, Jon shakes another out of the pack and lights it for himself. So Peter keeps his, though in the seven or eight minutes it takes Jon to finish the new one, he only puffs it two or three more times.

"Any particular reason?" Jon asks. He grins. "Want to make a Statement?"

"There's no story there. Not sure what came over me to be honest," Peter says. "I think...well, it's like you said, isn't it? The sheer arrogance of the man. Imagine trying to collect up power like that and keep it in a box."

"He had noble goals," Jon says.

"Oh yes, and good intentions," Peter scoffs. "Paved his way to Hell with them, didn't he?"

"I suppose so. What's the alternative, though? Let them...roam around, randomly eating people? Bit like leaving bear traps out in a room full of toddlers, isn't it?"

"Charming," Peter says, but he smiles.

Jon stubs his smoke out on the concrete retaining wall and drops it in the ashtray. "Listen, Martin and Basira and Melanie will be working on the catalogue all afternoon. Let's take the Phantom Island out. You'll feel better on the water."

He can't deny it's true.

"I'll go lock up the plans and tell them I'm off. Meet you back here in a few," Jon says, and Peter stays outside, clearing his head with a few more deep breaths, before running upstairs to tell Rosie he's taking the afternoon off and she should, too.

***

It takes more than an afternoon. It takes nearly a week for the Archives staff to complete what Martin continues to insist on calling the Deadsheet, but when they're done Basira proudly presents Jon with a printout of every book in Leitner's early catalogue, its origin if known, what patron it likely belongs to in the cases where they can puzzle it out, and cross-references to statements made before and after Leitner acquired it. There's an additional list of books with Leitner plates that weren't in the catalogue, which he must have bought between starting building in 1990 and the destruction of the library in 1994. All told, there are seven hundred and eighty books on the list, more than two-thirds of the final catalogue of nine hundred and seventy eight.

"This is excellent work, really good work," Jon tells them, and even Melanie looks pleased. Peter, paging through the printout, notices Jon's name in the "Statements" column, and runs his finger back to find that Jonathan Sims has made a statement about A Guest For Mr. Spider. He looks up at Jon, but Jon is busily working on the digital copy, sorting and filtering it down to the books they know, or at least suspect, concern the Beholding, curious.

"Not that I don't love work for its own sake," Melanie drawls, "but is there a specific use for this, now we've got it? We're not going to start rounding them up ourselves, are we?"

"I found two of them on eBay," Martin says. Everyone looks at him. "Either that or two really good copies," he adds, apologetic for having drawn anyone's attention. "The photos are all very...blurry, but that could be, you know..." he flops a hand. "Spooky."

"A real Leitner would draw too much attention to stay on eBay for long, if that helps," Peter says. "They're much more likely to go up at Sotheby's."

"Duly noted," Martin replies cautiously.

"From the Library of Martin Blackwood does have an ominous ring to it," Jon says, still studying the digital copy. "I know we have several Leitners in artifact storage -- but not a single one from the Beholding?"

"Presumably," Basira says, very delicately, "the Eye doesn't want its own books locked away somewhere. It wants them...out in the world."

There's a moment of silence as they all take that in, even Peter, who is mostly impressed with Basira's insight.

"What about this one?" Jon asks. "Die Meister del Spielkarten, by Max Lehrs."

"I looked that one up," Martin says. "Max Lehrs was an art historian specializing in German and Dutch engravers in the 15th century. It's probably about..." he checks his notes. "The Master of the Playing Cards, an engraver who made playing cards from engraved illustrations. Lehrs went blind while writing it so the second half's a bit...erratic."

"How do we know?"

"Oh, there are editions out there that aren't the Leitner edition," Martin replies. "Historically, that means it's probably a special edition or a proof copy."

"Why that one?" Basira asks.

"Not sure," Jon says, though Peter can tell he is -- he knows because he Knows. "Whereabouts unknown, is it?"

"Well, it's not on eBay," Martin jokes.

"Martin, I'd like you to dive a little deeper into that one. See if you can find any reference to it in the library -- and..." Jon snaps his fingers as if trying to remember something. "Melanie, double check any statements given while Jonah Magnus was still alive or collected by him. Basira, skim the unrecorded statements to see if you can find any more Leitners, but don't drive yourselves crazy over any of this. I was enjoying getting back to business as usual."

The assistants respond on the general theme of "right you are, boss" and begin to disperse.

"And start on it tomorrow!" Jon calls after them, which gets a slightly more enthusiastic response. Peter comes to the realization both that it is pretty nearly time to close up for the day, and that he's starving.

"Dinner?" he asks Jon, as the Archivist packs up his laptop, locking his printout of the Deadsheet in a desk drawer.

"Sounds good. Let's get out of Chelsea, though. There's a new place near mine, if you don't mind the trip," Jon replies, shouldering the bag.

The new place near Jon's is cozy -- not quite white-tablecloth, but they do a nice bacalo, and the wine selection is decent. Jon has pasta and speaks excitedly about the possibilities before them, having built their catalogue. The ethical quandaries, the emotional ones.

"I don't advocate the destruction of knowledge," he says, and Peter watches him, enjoying seeing his hands illustrate his points. "But obviously we should learn from Leitner's mistakes, too. So what are we to do? Leave them out their and let them take their courses? Try to gather them up anyway and do a better job than Leitner did at it? Can't say I'd want the job of handling them. Or do we find them and destroy them?"

"Doesn't feel right, does it?" Peter asks.

"No. I was taught to treasure learning. I have no real reverence for books, you know, qua books. I don't see the point in treating every battered paperback as if it's special because of its material existence. But think what we could learn about this entire world, if we could access them safely, somehow."

"Even people who specialize in that get bitten by them."

"I know," Jon says, sipping the last of his wine, looking frustrated by it.

"A question for another night, I think," Peter adds, rising. Jon stands and settles his coat over his shoulders, ducking into the strap of his bag. "Are you walking from here?"

"Yeah, it's not far."

"Want some company?"

Jon glances at him as they step out into the street. "Yes. I rather would."

"Can't have you wandering around alone too late at night," Peter says, resting an arm over his shoulders. Jon leans into it comfortably, and they walk the three or four blocks to his flat in peaceful silence. Peter makes sure the streets are clear.

He lets go of Jon at the steps to his flat, but he also doesn't move, just shoves his hands into his pockets, looking up at the window over the street, Jon's window.

"Want some company?" he repeats.

"Up the stairs?" Jon asks, amused. Peter nods, and Jon's eyes widen. "Oh!"

"Only if you'd like," Peter says, brushing Jon's cheek with his thumb. "I know it's not usually a consideration for you."

"No, it's not that, it's just, I hadn't...well, I suppose it is that," Jon stammers. "But not in the way you think, I...yes. I should very much like that, actually."

Peter gestures ahead of himself, and Jon unlocks the front door, leads him through the hallway and up the stairs, fumbling a little as he unlocks the door to his flat.

Inside, Jon sheds his coat and drops his bag on the chair near the door, and when he turns around Peter leans in, kissing him.

"May I take you to bed, Archivist?" he asks, and Jon laughs into his mouth.

"You're very formal, suddenly," he replies.

"It's a momentous thing."

"Maybe so," Jon says, which delights Peter to no end, that his Archivist finally understands how to behave like who he is, nobility ordained by a god. And then Jon kisses back in earnest, and Peter staggers mentally, and by the time he finds his balance, they're in Jon's bedroom, in his bed.

Jon has a constellation of scars all down his left side, the remnants of Jane Prentiss's attack, that start at his lip and follow down his neck to his shoulder, then under his arm, across his ribcage. There are larger ones dotting down his leg, but Peter barely sees those. Peter is on his back, looking up at the Archivist, who surrounds him and fills him and confuses him all at once. This was not the surrender he expected, although it is still a gift for Peter, and Jon's pleasure seems incidental.

Peter kisses the Desolation's rough burn marks on Jon's right hand, feels the jagged line through them of the Spiral, and spreads his arms to open his chest for Jon to press a sweaty forehead into, wondering what would happen. If he pulled Jon into his domain now, would they simply couple like this forever, and would that be so terrible?

But he doesn't, because Jonathan has a destiny, and Peter himself has a part to play.

And for a moment, it happens again -- Jon exhales and Peter feels his lungs inflate; Jon inhales and the breath is pushed out of him -- but perhaps that's just the ecstasy of it. Who knows.

After, when their breaths have settled and the smell of apples is no longer quite so strong in Peter's nostrils, he admires him -- Jon isn't especially well-muscled, but his skin is smooth where it isn't scarred, and in the dim light of the room his hair glows white. Peter likes the curve of his hip, the dip under his ribcage, the sleep in his eyes.

"I hope you enjoyed yourself," Peter says.

"I usually do," Jon yawns. "It's just I never think of it, normally, you know. But yes, that was...nice."

Nice will do, Peter thinks.

***

He wakes at three in the morning, according to Jon's bedside clock, unsure why at first. Something pulled at his consciousness, but Jon is still sleeping, back pressed up against Peter's side.

There it is, coming closer -- something is coming for them that shouldn't be. Peter Looks, and then he almost laughs, because he shouldn't even have bothered being worried. This will be handled relatively easily.

He waits, enjoying the warmth of the bed and Jon's easy breathing, until he hears the click of picks in the lock of Jon's front door. (He honestly expected more locks on the door, a couple of deadbolts and a chain, perhaps, but he supposes Jon knows they'd be useless against anything that really wanted in.)

When he hears that soft scraping, he climbs out of the bed over Jon, careful not to jostle him, and walks into the living room, not bothering with clothes. In fact, this will be much more effective without them.

Naked, he flicks the lock and opens the door.

Trevor Herbert, the vampire slayer, looks up at him in shock. Behind him, Julia Montork is slightly faster, and she has a knife; Peter steps back when she tries to put the blade to his throat and she stumbles, kicking Trevor, who sprawls to the ground from his crouch.

Peter raises a hand, and both of them freeze. He can see the pulses beat in their throats.

"What does the Hunt want with the Archivist?" he asks, gently.

"He knew we'd come," Trevor growls, pushing himself up. He doesn't even try to cross the threshold. "He knew we'd come, he couldn't expect we'd just lie down over it!"

"We've come for Gerard's page," Julia adds. "We didn't want to cause any trouble but we will if we have to. You can give us Gerard and we'll go."

"Oh, that's certainly not going to happen," Peter says. "You'll go regardless of what you get or if you get anything at all. I simply can't have Jon being pestered by the Hunt, not at such an important time."

Just then, a voice calls from the bedroom doorway, "Peter?"

"Jon, we have guests," Peter replies, without looking away.

"We have wh -- Jesus Christ, put some clothes on!" Jon yelps, and then emerges from the bedroom in brightly-colored boxer-briefs, carrying Peter's trousers.

"Damage is done now," Trevor manages. Peter accepts the trousers and tosses them aside. He enjoys the awkwardness of everyone having to have this conversation while he's naked, and he can tell it's genuinely bothering both of the Hunters.

"They say they've come for Gerard, whoever that is," Peter says. Jon turns to the Hunters and pales. Julia looks like she'd like to go through Peter to murder Jon.

"Finally checked the book, did you?" Jon asks grimly.

"You ripped his page out of the book and we want it back," Trevor replies. Peter could demand an explanation but it's easier just to Look, and ah -- of course.

"Beg your pardon, but am I given to understand you're mad Jon stole a page from a book you stole from police, who confiscated it from the previous Archivist?" he asks mildly. Everyone looks at him. "Sounds to me like whatever he took was Institute property to start with, so I'll thank you not to act as if you've been personally injured by this."

"Peter," Jon begins.

"Speaking as the head of the Magnus Institute -- "

"You?" Julia interrupts scornfully.

Peter closes his hand, the one he'd held upright, into a fist, and her eyes go feral.

"If I let her go, she'll turn on you and rip your throat out," he says to Trevor. "So I'm going to keep her quiet and you're going to hold your tongue, and I'm sure we'll all get along famously."

"What've you done to her?" Trevor asks furiously.

"Oh, I haven't introduced myself, have I? The name's Peter Lukas."

Peter can see that the Lukas name at least registers with the old man. Probably heard about him from Gerard, in fact. Peter never met Gerard Keay, but they ran in much the same circles, just at different times.

"You can't have the page anyway," Jon blurts, which is not really helping, but is rather adorable. "I burnt it. Gerry said he'd give me what I needed if I burnt his page so he could be at peace. I burnt it and he's gone."

"Then there's...nothing more to be done," Trevor says, looking for a graceful exit. Peter has no doubt if he weren't here, they'd kill Jon in revenge and to satisfy the Hunt. As it is, they won't come back, but they won't forget, either.

Peter could let it go. He can see Trevor understands, even if Julia is still unhinged and straining at the leash. He can restore Julia, let them both go, and rest easy in the assurance they will not try to touch the Beholding again.

But he is a bastard, and he's enjoying this.

"Oh, there is one more thing to be done," Peter says, and holds out the hand that's not clenched in a fist and keeping Julia down. Trevor looks at it.

"What do you want me to do with that?" he asks.

"I want you to put the book in it," Peter says.

"Peter," Jon starts again, more urgently.

"I want the book and I will have it," Peter insists. "It's Institute property and you've made use of it long enough. For the insult of coming here, for the insolence of daring to think you could touch my Archivist, I will have your book or I will have your life."

He can see Trevor considering angles, and he doesn't want him to do that for long.

"Give me the book and I'll let her go, and both of you can walk away," he adds.

After a moment, Trevor reaches carefully into the filthy pack next to him and takes out a bundle wrapped in fabric. He places it in Peter's hand, and Peter can feel that it's the real book. He can feel its malevolence through the fabric. He moves his arm to one side and deliberately lets it fall to the ground just inside Jon's flat.

When he opens his fist, Julia gasps, but she doesn't lunge, and the crazed ferocity leaves her eyes.

"We'll go," Trevor says quietly. Peter can see hatred burning in his eyes, but Trevor didn't get to be as old as he is by failing to pick his battles.

"See that you do. And you have a very good evening, Ms. Montork," he says, closing the door.

Jon exhales shakily and leans against the wall, sliding down it until he's a pile of limbs on the floor.

"Did you have to be naked for all of that?" he asks. Peter glances down at him.

"The Hunt respects that. Shows I'm not armed. Shows I'm stronger than them when all things are equal," Peter says. He nudges the bundle with a bare toe. "What is it?"

"Gerry called it the unnamed catalogue of the trapped dead," Jon said.

"Traps the dead, does it? So you can call them back and ask questions?"

Jon nods.

"Huh. Sounds useful."

"I don't know. It tends to put people in a thrall," Jon says. "It belonged to Mary Keay for decades. She was obsessed with it."

"Shall we call Artifact Storage to come retrieve it?" Peter asks.

"Do you really want to explain why the head of the Institute is in the Archivist's flat at half three in the morning?"

"I don't explain myself to anyone, ever. What business is it of theirs demanding an explanation?"

Peter is still, with half his mind, Watching Trevor and Julia hurry off. They're far enough away now. He clenches his fist again, out of Jon's eyeshot, and Julia jerks like she's on a string. He releases his fist, and Trevor dies before he can scream.

Julia might take a few more with her, but she'll be dead too, by sunrise. Feral creatures just don't do that well in the city.

Jon pushes himself up the wall, and Peter reaches out, pulling him into an embrace, one hand on his hair. It's mostly grown back in, now, from where the doctors shaved it over his wounds.

"Will it suffer to sit there for a few hours? Or will we, if it does?" he asks. Jon shakes his head against Peter's shoulder. "Then let's get some sleep, and we can take it in with us tomorrow."

Jon allows himself to be shepherded away from the book, and Peter rejoins him in the too-small bed.

"Do you like cats?" Peter asks, after a while.

"What?"

"You should get a cat or two."

"Why?" Jon asks, clearly confused.

"Well, just imagine how much better it would have been if I'd answered the door naked and holding a cat," Peter says, quite reasonably he thinks, and Jon laughs and shakes his head.

"Maybe when life's a little less chaotic," he says, and Peter isn't sure if he sleeps again or not, but his breathing is slow and his body is relaxed, so really it's all one in the end.

Chapter Text

They meet Martin at the entrance to Artifact Storage the next day, not intentionally. Martin looks deer-in-the-headlights surprised to see them.

"Are you here about the cards too?" he asks, confused.

"What cards?" Jon replies.

"That book you wanted more work on, Die Meister del Spielkarten? Well, I couldn't find out much more about it, though I did get a book on Max Lehrs, but if the book is about the Master of the Playing Cards, we're in luck -- "

Jon holds up a hand and Martin falls silent.

"I've got a Leitner, and I really need to get rid of it," he says. Martin gapes, and Jon catches Peter grinning. "So why don't you let me talk first and we'll get this squared away."

"A new Leitner? Where'd you find it? Did it...attack you?"

"Technically not a Leitner," Peter reminds Jon.

"It hasn't got the bookplate," Jon says, taking the bundle out of his bag. "But it's useful nomenclature nonetheless. Yes -- oh, hi Linsey," he says, surprised. He knew Linsey when they were both in Research; he hadn't been aware she was even still with the Institute, let alone in Artifact Storage.

"Jon Sims! How's life in middle management?" she asks.

"It's certainly an adventure," Jon replies. "Linsey, I have here a bit of a problem child."

"Well, Martin is always getting into mischief," she says, grinning.

"Hey!" Martin frowns.

"Not Martin, I can deal with him on my own," Jon replies.

"HEY!"

"It's this book," Jon presses on, placing the bundle on the table. "Now, this is not a Leitner," he says, resting a palm carefully on the wrapping, "but it should be classified with them. It doesn't have the bookplate but it's...like they are. You know what I mean?"

"Oh, sure. Can I get you to fill out a recovery report?"

"Already done," Jon says. "It's on the shared drive, I filled it out this morning. It has some details about the book's function. Please do read the report before unwrapping it and do be very careful with it."

"Of course. We always are. Anything else I can help you with today?"

"Martin, you said something about the Lehrs book?" Jon asks, pivoting towards him.

"Yes -- yes! It's in the same vein actually. Uh. There is a deck of cards, I have the accession number here..." Martin slides a crumpled slip of paper across to Linsey. "I couldn't find anything to do with the actual Leitner," he says to Jon, as Linsey enters the number into an elderly computer. "But we do have artifacts from the Master of the Playing Cards, the engraver the book was written about. He was a contemporary of Johannes Gutenberg and they think, Lehr thinks according to this biography I found, that the Master of the Playing Cards was doing etchings for Gutenberg."

Jonathan knows the significance of this, at least to some extent. Martin doesn't, but he knows it means something. Jon has often wondered, since finding Martin's secret, what the man would have been like, if he'd been given better chances, if he'd been able to go to University. If he would even have ended up at the Institute at all. He makes uneducated but intuitive connections that are occasionally quite impressive.

"Oh, you're...you're not authorized to handle this," Linsey says. Martin looks faintly insulted. "Sorry, Martin, they're marked heads of department only."

Martin, wordlessly, looks at her and gestures at Jon.

She looks reluctant. "I know you're a head of department, Jon, but I really think someone with some experience specifically with the artifacts should be handling these."

"Why don't we compromise," Jon says. "Have one of your senior artifact handlers get in touch with Martin and we'll make an appointment to have them show the cards for us. We just need to examine them. Please, Linsey," he says with a smile, and she smiles back.

"It's for your own safety," she says. "I'll have one of the senior handlers email you as soon as they're in," she adds to Martin.

Her tone is, Jon must admit, a little snooty, and Martin bridles, but Jon rests a hand on his elbow. "Right. We'll leave you to it. Martin, we have recording to do."

He turns to say goodbye to Peter, but at some point between Gutenberg and Martin picking a fight with Linsey, Peter has vanished. Presumably he has important Institute business that is more useful than standing around with the Archives staff.

***

Statement of Hildy Bennet, regarding the Correction Of A Book. Statement number 0091505. Original statement given May 15th, 2009. Audio recording by Basira Hussain. Statement begins.

So, you know the Domesday Book, right? Everyone does, everyone gets it in school. William the Conqueror comes to the throne in 1066 and all that, and by 1086 he wants to know, hey, how much do I own? What is this great country I rule really like? And he sends out all these agents to survey everything, and I mean everything. Down to the number of geese and cows in a farmyard. And it's a great historical document! Really, it is.

But the problem is it's also, like, really inaccurate. To start with, some of his surveyors were a bit brighter than others, and some of them couldn't count so well. There were no standardized weights or measures yet, not really, and a lot of things weren't well-defined, or meant different things in different areas of the country. Plus, they're basically asking everyone to tell them how much they can be taxed on. So in addition to all the mathematical errors and the poor counting, people just...straight up lied. A lot. Especially the people who were surveyed later and got more warning. So it's a great "big picture" of William the Conqueror's era. Not...so good when it comes to the details.

Here's where I come in. I'm a historian. I teach medieval history and I study it, I write scholarly papers on it, and I'm working on getting tenure. Or, I was. I don't think a nervous breakdown looks very good on a tenure application. But I was trying. And one of the things they really like to give tenure for now is writing a popular nonfiction book. You know, like A History Of The World In Six Glasses, that sort of thing. So I thought, what if you could look at existing independent data, like ledger books and farm diaries and such, and compare it to the numbers in the Domesday Book, and write a better Domesday Book? Extrapolate some kind of actual accurate survey?

So I rolled up my sleeves, I called the Museum of English Rural Life, and I got to work.

Funny thing was, the research was so easy. Bits and pieces just...fell into place. All the data lined up really well, and I got some really good cross-confirmation from various documents. Sure, I had to use some slightly later records in some cases, but I did pretty well in statistics when I took it, and I calculated a plus-minus on accuracy.

The problem with academia is it's hard to tell when you're just a scholar of something and when you're deeply obsessed. JRR Tolkien used to make his classes deliberately difficult to attend so that he'd have more time to write Lord of the Rings. And I found that I was neglecting classes, and then neglecting my marking, and then neglecting my partner, and...

Well. I just kept at it. I had to make the numbers work. And I had to start taking all my research to really far corners of the library or bad cafes or dark bars, so that nobody would see me. I felt like I was being watched, all the time.

And then I found this...book. It said it was...I mean the title said it was...that is, the title was "The Failure Of Doomsday". Which is a more contemporary spelling of Domesday, two o's, you know. It wasn't very long, practically a pamphlet. I must have gone to some pretty crazy sources in those days because the bookplate said it came from a private library. Swedish, I think?

Anyway, the book said that the real purpose of the Domesday Book was, get this, to summon a powerful demon. The more accurate the information, the stronger the demon would become in our world. They called the demon The Knowing Unmoving. And all this work that went into compiling the book, it all came back to those last two volumes, Great Domesday and Little Domesday, that comprise the research. And when they were done, the king sat down to read them, but -- but he couldn't, because they were so wrong. He couldn't read them, he couldn't even look at them, and this book says he died trying. Which is ridiculous, he died on military campaign in France.

And yet.

Anyway, I guess they never raised the demon.

I wonder if I almost did. I don't think so, I don't think it works that way, but the last thing I remember is reading that book, The Failure Of Doomsday. And then...I woke up in hospital.

I've still got the one eye, at least. And I've put aside my work on the true Domesday.

For now.

But. Do you suppose I could have a peek in your library? Just...just to see if there are any --

No. I suppose not.

Statement ends.

Well, Jon. There's another Leitner for you. I'll cross-reference it with the Deadsheet and let you know if it's a new one.

I looked up Hildy Bennet and she did actually get tenure, eventually. She wouldn't talk about it, said her therapist told her that it probably wasn't a great idea. I gues she's had some issues with obsessive-compulsive disorder since her hospitalization. She did wish us well, though, and hoped we didn't need any of the work she'd done on Domesday, because she says the hard drive with all that data in it was...corrupted.

The Leitner didn't make it to the hospital with her. God knows where it is now. Probably under some furniture in a dingy cafe somewhere.

***

Statement of Arnold Gelthus, regarding his brother-in-law, Johannes Gutenberg. Original statement consists of a transcript of private testimony to the Archbishop's Court in 1455, admitted to evidence in a lawsuit between the burgher Johann Fust and the engraver Johannes Gutenberg. Statement number 4551111. Translated by persons unknown, to judge by the paper and print quality, sometime at the dawn of the electric word processor. Audio recording by Melanie King. Statement begins.

I don't believe my brother-in-law is entirely to blame. I don't think he should be prosecuted for this debt, he should be given time to pay it back. He didn't deliberately misuse any funds, of that I'm sure. He's never been a cautious man, my brother-in-law, and his sister has had reason enough to curse him, but he's not malicious. He just falls in with bad company.

I don't think you fully understand what the Burgher Johann Fust is asking. He wants the press as compensation, and that press is Johannes' whole livelihood and his -- his masterpiece. Johannes is a genius and the press is proof of it. If he's let to use the press, to use it wisely, perhaps with supervision, he could make the money back very quickly. Even if he does owe more than twenty thousand guilders.

I'm sure he didn't spend the money unwisely. He was a good steward of the money I loaned him in 1448, when he moved back to Mainz after that misadventure with the scheme over the mirrors. When he borrowed my money he put it to good use, hiring good staff, working with that engraver, making playing cards. It's so clever, that press, you can take things apart and put them back together and in an afternoon have an entirely different printed sheet. Faster than any scribe. Oh yes, it's a wonderful contraption.

But I think...after he borrowed the money from Fust, he met some man, I don't know his name, who said if he was willing to print for him a single book, he would make it worth his while. The number he named much have been huge. He told me the man called the volume The Book Of All Knowledge. He wanted to put all the wisdom of the whole world in one book!

Oh, I heard it all. Months of going back and forth with this mysterious fellow, printing up bits of the book, having them rejected, having them rewritten, which wasn't Joannes' fault. When was this? Oh, it spanned at least a year. The last two years, now that I think on it.

I suppose it's no wonder Fust wants his money back. Johannes must have poured significant amounts of his own money into all those pages he did for that man, for the Book of All Knowledge.

But Johannes has told me it's almost finished. I believe him, I do. Johannes says if he can have just one more month. So I am here to plead with you not to take his press away and give it to that moneylender Fust. If he can have until midwinter, this will all be over. The Book of All Knowledge will be printed and Johannes will have enough to make up the back payments and Fust will be satisfied. I beg you in God's name to have a little mercy on my poor brother-in-law.

Statement ends.

Gosh. This should be in...it should be in the British Museum or something, shouldn't it? I mean, this is just the translation but according to the notes we have the original...somewhere. I hope Gertrude didn't deliberately-accidentally misfile it, it probably needs to be in some kind of humidity-controlled box.

Maybe the church should have it?

Anyway, I looked it up. Gutenberg did lose the press, in November of 1456. Fust got hold of it and probably destroyed all the plates from whatever book Gutenberg was trying to print up, so I don't think there's a Leitner here. Sorry, Jon.

I wonder who his mysterious patron was. I mean, he can't really have been writing the book of all knowledge everywhere, can he?

***

Jon flicks the tape player off and leans back in his creaky office chair, older than him and probably older than Gertrude. He stares at the ceiling, thinking.

He knows, now, what the Rite of the Watcher's Crown is to be, in general terms. Poetic and appropriate, gruesome, damning. And now he knows why he was so young when he met Mr. Spider. And he knows how to solve the problem Gertrude never could. She lacked information he has.

He stands, locking the tapes in the same drawer as the Leitner library materials, and climbs the stairs to the main floor of the Institute, then another flight to Peter's office. He half-hopes Peter won't be there, and half-hopes he will. Peter is, bent over budget spreadsheets, looking irritated by them. He looks up when Jon knocks on the open door, and he smiles.

"Come to rescue me from accounting?" he asks.

"A brief respite, anyway," Jon agrees, settling into the chair on the other side of his desk. It's newer than Gertrude's old chair, but not as comfortable; it's designed not to be.

"How much do you wish to know about what I know?" Jon asks him. Peter considers this, chewing on the end of his pencil.

"I'm guessing this is quite a specific question, underneath," he says finally.

"I am...forming impressions. Building a work of art. A...great working. But I'm not sure you'll want the particulars until you must have them."

"Is it that you know what the Rite of the Watcher's Crown will be?"

Jon shrugs. "I see the shape of it. I'm developing the substance. You'll need to be there for it, as head of the Institute, but I don't need your involvement in the meantime."

"Not Elias? He's really the heart of it. I'm just a stand-in."

"He's not very accessible right now, and anyway, the Eye's already got him. No, you'll be just as appropriate, if not more so."

Jon can see that Peter is trying to hide his pleasure at this. His presence at the Rite of the Watcher's Crown will ensure the Lonely benefits significantly, Jon knows.

"Happy to be there, you know that. Will there be snacks?" he asks, and Jon laughs. "Little canapes and themed cocktails?"

"Not for the Watcher's Crown, no. I don't think catering companies look kindly on their employees being present for mystic, deadly arcane rites."

Peter blows air through his lips, derisive. "Hardly deadly."

"Remains to be seen."

"These preparations. Dangerous?"

"Not excessively. Possibly expensive."

"Sometimes I ask myself what Elias would do," Peter says.

"Elias would want to know everything, but Elias ended up in prison at the bidding of one of my assistants," Jon replies.

"A good point." Peter considers further. "Well, my chequebook is yours. Or rather the Institute's is. If you think I'm best off not knowing until the big day, I'm sure you're fully capable, and you'll come to me if you aren't."

"I'll come to you anyway, if it's all the same to you," Jon says, grinning.

"Jon Sims, flirting with me? My stars," Peter remarks.

"Enjoy it while it lasts. End of year I'll be quite busy. Keep the last two weeks in December clear."

"A ritual for Christmas? Delightful."

"And a happy New Year," Jon agrees.

***

The following week, Jon hands out his assignments, cautiously, reminding them not to let their ordinary work go slack. The message, he thinks, is received; they should appear business as usual, but this work is much more important. Melanie is to speak to every rare-book and antiquities dealer in London, or at least as many as possible; Martin is to scour auction websites and any internet sources he can find, even the super-sketchy ones; Basira is to ask every Sectioned officer she knows, and scour the library for references to wicked books.

They need to find as many more Leitners as possible to add to the Deadsheet. A complete catalogue, if possible. They don't need to actually acquire the books, just the information.

Jon wishes he could speak to Gerry one more time. Or even to Mary Keay. Either one could help in their search.

But he has one other option. And so, while the others try to balance boring archival work with diving headlong into a quest for all the lost Leitners, Jon takes a cab across the river and south.

Her Majesty's Prison Brixton is suitably Victorian looking; it was built in 1820, and one can imagine Robert Smirke consulting on it, though he didn't. An imposing sand-colored edifice behind high concrete walls, it houses low-security inmates, and one who really shouldn't be. Then again, Jon has listened to Elias bargain for his life from his own hospital bedside, so he knows Elias is either biding his time or content not to be dead, and unlikely to be a threat to the larger prison population.

Elias knows he's coming, of course. When Jon arrives, the prison staff are expecting him, and after a cursory search and the confiscation of his bag (but not his tape recorder, or the folder he insisted on bringing in with him), they show him into a small room. Elias wears the blue collared shirt and denim trousers of his uniform like a tailored suit.

The recorder clicks on without Jon bothering. Elias looks pleased.

"I had so hoped I'd get to see you ascendant," he says.

"You haven't been Watching?" Jon asks sourly.

"Well, I haven't been peeping on you and Peter Lukas, if that's what you want to know. It's a bit tawdry, and I was concerned he was a distraction to you. But then, the heart wants what it wants, I suppose," Elias remarks.

"I...hadn't even thought about that," Jon says, because he hadn't. He examines himself briefly to decide whether or not he gives a single fuck that Elias might have seen him having sex with Peter Lukas and decides no, he does not, but Elias is already continuing.

"Seeing at a distance is more difficult. Deprived of the Institute's embrace, I tend to save it for important things."

"How terrible for you," Jon remarks.

Elias rolls his eyes. "But it does mean that, while I knew you were coming, why you've come is going to be a delightful surprise. I get so few of those. Martin's total betrayal was my last one."

"I see it as a sort of patriotism," Jon said. "He may have betrayed you personally, but he acted with admirable speed to protect other aspects of the Institute."

Elias makes a small noise, a sarcastic 'hm'.

"Why are you here, Jon?"

"Information," Jon says. "I'm hoping either you know it or you can See it."

Elias cocks his head. "Traditionally, asking me for information has not gone well, for you."

"Yes, I'm aware, and I have many people exploring many other avenues," Jon says testily. "But I'm on a deadline, and I don't have time to play more hide-and-seek."

"And what are you seeking?"

"Leitners," Jon says. Elias...almost hisses. "I don't need the books themselves. I don't want the books. I just need the titles and any other information we can get. He had nine hundred and seventy-eight when the library fell and we have just under eight hundred on our list. And you owe me, because if he weren't dead, I could just ask him."

"I believe I've made my point about Leitner providing you a crutch."

"Crutch or not, I need a list as complete as possible by the middle of December."

Elias's eyes light up, even though his expression doesn't change. "The Rite of the Watcher's Crown?" he asks.

"I hope so," Jon retorts. "Is that liable to get you to be more helpful?"

"Do you think you're ready?"

"How do I know! The last time this happened, it was bloody Johannes Gutenberg!"

"Perhaps you are," Elias muses. He holds out his hand for the folder, and Jon passes it over. "This is every title you know of?"

"Every title he owned as of 1990, plus all the titles the Institute has records of, plus a few the others have found. They're searching for more now."

"Hm. I can see a few gaps already," Elias says.

"Are you willing to fill them?"

"I can't just send my consciousness out into the world to find them, like Dr. Strange," Elias says. "I can give you a few names based on memory, and I can offer you a few places to start looking. That's all. I'm not an encyclopedia."

"It's more than we've had," Jon says.

"Leave the list with me. Come back for it in a few days," Elias says, squaring it away. "It'll be a novelty to have real work in here."

"You seem to be settling in all right," Jon points out.

"Yes, well. The prison library isn't exactly esoteric but it's reasonably well-stocked, and they offer a number of interesting educational courses. And at any rate, these accommodations would always be temporary. When the Rite is complete..." Elias smiles at him. "The law's opinion of me will hardly matter."

Jon nods, slowly. "I trust you won't have any hard feelings."

"None at all. Speaking of which, do give my utmost regards to Martin, when you see him," Elias adds, before signalling for the guards and standing, folder under one arm. "Good day, Jon."

***

The following day, Jon pulls Martin off the computer to drag him to Artifact Storage again, where Mitch, one of the senior artifact handlers, carefully brings two objects into a study room off to one side.

The first is a shadow-box, an old Victorian display case, wrapped in velvet. The second is a cedar box slightly smaller than a cigar box. There's a blob of sealing wax on top of it (not sealing anything, Jon notices) with Jonah Magnus's personal seal imprinted in it.

The shadow-box, once unveiled, has thirteen beautiful little works of the engraver's art in it. They're each about the size of an index card, rounded at the edges with wear, printed with images -- nine suit cards and four court cards.

"This is the Suit of Lions," Mitch says, as if it weren't evident. On the cards, finely engraved lions cavort and pace, sit, sleep, and climb invisible obstacles. "Jonah Magnus acquired them, apparently won them in a bet. He had them mounted in the frame and -- "

Jon holds up his hand, "Wait," and then points to them. "Martin?"

"The cards were engraved with plates mounted in holders, an early form of movable type, which is one reason we think he might have known Gutenberg," Martin says. "The images are isolated, but you can find copies of them in illuminated manuscripts and in Gutenberg's early printing. That's not causative, though, not necessarily -- they could all be drawing from a common book of patterns, or he could have copied off other manuscripts."

"Like memes. Or, I suppose, more like clip art," Jon says. Mitch snorts.

"That's exactly it," Martin says, shooting a look at Mitch. "Some of the images in the cards recur, which is how we know they were individual plates. And there are some examples of the same images being used in different combinations -- lions with bears for a suit of 'wild animals'. Basically you could custom-order yourself a deck of cards with any suits you liked as long as you used the plates they had to hand. Might even have been a hobby project at first -- the plates were designed for use in early printed books, but if you've got a bunch of lions lying around and easy access to a printing press, why not make yourself a deck of cards?"

"Mm. All right, now, you go," Jon says to Mitch, who rises to the challenge.

"Jonah Magnus kept these framed on his wall in his office at the Institute, until he thought better of it," Mitch recites. "He started hearing sounds if he worked late. Growling. And supposedly one night -- there was a letter about it to a colleague but we don't know where the letter is now -- he witnessed an enormous beast in the corridor. He locked himself in his office and covered the frame with a cloth, and when he looked again it was gone. He said it was huge, blocking the entire corridor. He said it had a mane, but it wasn't made of hair," he adds, which Jon can tell he thinks is the spookiest part. He doesn't want to alienate the man entirely, so he makes an appropriately impressed face.

"Can we see the deck?" he asks Mitch, who covers the Suit of Lions before opening the cedar box. There's a pile of cards inside, less well-used than the Lions, it would seem.

"It's a full deck, after the European style at the time. Five suits of thirteen cards each, one through nine plus a king, queen, and upper and lower knave," Mitch tells them. "The suits are birds, lions, deer, beasts, and wild men. You can see some of the lions on the beast cards," he adds, apparently not wanting to be outdone by Martin.

"Wild men," Jon repeats thoughtfully.

"Yes. Erm. Magnus had a theory that the cards belonged to someone who was...very keen on hunting," Mitch says. "Would you like me to lay them out for you?"

Jon inhales. These cards are so beautiful -- they're works of art, they're pieces of history.

"It's one of the only complete decks in the world," Martin says, which doesn't help.

But Jon has a duty, and it's more important than some bits of ink and card, even very beautiful, very old ones.

"What could I offer you that would convince you to let us take the deck out of Artifact Storage indefinitely, off the record?" he asks Mitch, straightening from his examination of the cards.

"What?" Mitch asks, shocked.

"What Could I Offer You?" Jon Compels.

"Five hundred euro," Mitch says promptly. "And a date with him," he adds, nodding at Martin.

"What," Martin manages.

"How about seven hundred, and no date with him," Jon replies.

The thing about Elias, he is beginning to understand, is that he really was something of a one-trick pony. He only knew one way to use his powers -- pulling information out before putting it back in, more complete, and in terrible ways. It's a clever use, to be sure, but Jon is learning nuance. Certainly you can always blackmail someone once they've dumped their secrets on you, but you can also find other, more subtle levers. For instance, he didn't offer Mitch a bribe -- he just asked what he could give him. But Mitch, now committed, is the sort who won't back down, who won't want to admit they were Compelled even if he knew what Compulsion was, which he likely doesn't.

Mitch didn't need to be blackmailed. He just needed some cash. Jon doesn't need to know what for.

Mitch nods, looking a little sick, and Jon, who was prepared for this, counts out seven hundred of the thousand in cash he'd brought with him. Mitch takes the deck out and closes the little cedar box. Jon wraps the cards in a clean handkerchief and stows the bundle in his bag.

"In about two weeks, feel free to discover the cards missing," Jon tells him. "Blame me, if you like. Nobody can prove I took them from Artifact Storage but I'm a bit shady, so they'll believe you and you'll keep your job."

Mitch nods again.

"Thank you, Mitch. You've been a delight. Martin," Jon summons, and Martin follows him out.

"I'm not sure I'm grateful you didn't make me go on a date with him or a little insulted missing a date with me is only worth two hundred euro," Martin hisses, as they descend the stairs to the Archive.

"He wasn't really attracted to you, his taste isn't that refined. He just isn't used to someone knowing more than he does about anything," Jon replies.

"How do you know?"

"I'm the Archivist, Martin."

"Well, that's not spooky at all," Martin complains, after a beat. "What are we doing with the playing cards, anyway? They're not technically Leitners."

"They're a payment," Jon says. "They won't be here long."

"Who are you paying with them?" Martin asks. Jon considers how to name them.

"The builders of the press," he says finally.

"The press?"

"I need to have a very important book printed," Jon says. "And for that I need quite a special press."

***

That evening, Peter comes down to take him to dinner, but Jon feigns illness, says he may have eaten something bad for lunch, that he's going to just wrap up some work and go home. Peter nods, uses it as an excuse to feel his forehead, kisses him, and departs; a few minutes later there's a text from Melanie, stationed at the cafe across the street, that Peter has left the Institute.

Jon has had no way of practicing fooling the cameras, not the way Elias clearly had, but he awoke from the aftermath of the Unknowing aware that his power was magnified, and with it came new skills. He can hide things from Peter and even, he now knows, from Elias, and hiding himself from a few cameras is child's play. He knows, deep down, that they can't see him as he emerges from the stairwell to the Archive, rounds the banister, and heads up to the first floor administrative offices. Peter's door doesn't yet have a lock on it, and anyway why would he need one, so Jon slips into his office easily.

There's a new curio cabinet in front of the wall vault, but it isn't filled yet, and it shifts with ease. Peter's keyring is in his top desk drawer and the key is the shiny little brass one, Jon knows.

Two of the shelves in the vault are still empty when he opens it.

Jon takes the deck out of his bag and unwraps it with excessive care; he thinks it won't bite him, but he knows not to be arrogant. He places the deck on one of the empty shelves, squares it to be sure it's tidy, and closes the vault door again.

He leans against it for a moment, forehead touching the cool metal.

"I'm sorry," he whispers to the bones, because he is going to commit a violation on them, but he hopes they understand it serves something better -- that the eventual, final desecration of their bodies will not have been in vain.

He opens the vault door again, and the bones, the nameplates, and the playing cards are gone. He trusts, when the thing is done, he'll know where to look for it.

Chapter Text

The rest of November is a blur of research, at first somewhat fruitful but increasingly frustrating as the low-hanging fruit is plucked and leads begin to dry up. They have found more Leitners, in private collections and sales catalogues, and Basira was even invited to view one, but the owner was a creep and when Jon showed up instead of Basira he was politely turned away. They got the title anyway, and a few other details, which is what's important.

Elias's list fills in many gaps and some of his suggestions are helpful, but Jon doesn't like dealing with him, doesn't like the proud glitter in Elias's eyes when he looks at him, and he only goes back to pick up the list, never returns. The day of his visit, Peter takes in the dark circles under Jon's eyes, makes him hand over the list to the assistants, and takes him out on the Thames.

"I know you're trying to relax me, but it is freezing out here," Jon says, curled around a thermos of coffee and wrapped in a scratchy blanket from the supply chest in the stern of the little boat.

"The fresh air is bracing," Peter informs him, setting the sail slack so that they'll drift more slowly, and clambering over to him, settling down behind him. He's furnace-warm, and Jon leans into the heat. "Do you good," Peter says in his ear.

"Not as good as a warm bed and a book," Jon grumbles.

"No more books today. You have three able assistants, let them assist," Peter tells him. "I'm not trying to probe, Jon, but I take it things aren't going well."

"No, it's not that," Jon says. "They're going as well as can be expected. It's just...one never knows, about the Institute. It's so difficult to see what's right. Never more so than when I'm talking with Elias," he adds sourly. "I used to think I didn't want to be a monster like -- like we read about in the Statements. But now I think as long as I'm not Elias..."

"You never encountered a monster like Elias in the Statements?"

"Once or twice. People who abuse a position of power. But those monsters just...toy with people. Michael once asked me if he was evil for being what he was designed to be. I couldn't answer him, he was giving a Statement, but...most of the evil in the Statements is like that. It's just built that way. Elias...became that, and he used his monstrosity for very specific ends."

He can feel Peter considering this.

"I'm probably not being very clear, am I?" he asked.

"Well, speaking as a monster," Peter says, "I should rather have it put towards a purpose than used for...fun."

"Is it a good purpose though, if you have to be a monster to serve it?"

"A deeper question than I can answer," Peter laughs.

"Elias once asked me what being human even means," Jon says.

"Put it from your mind, my dearest," Peter advises, and Jon leans a little further into him, head resting on Peter's shoulder. Mist from the river drifts up around them but a few other enthusiasts are still out on the water, Jon can see them, and it's just mist.

***

Time passes, however hard they work, and by the fifth of December they have nine hundred and sixty-five names in the Deadsheet, which by then Basira has converted from a spreadsheet into a full on database (the Deadtabase).

"It's frustrating to be so close, isn't it?" she says, as they sit in Jon's office, brainstorming ways to find the last thirteen. They have at this point pretty much abandoned even the pretense of doing real work.

"No clues left from Gertrude?" Martin asks.

"If there are, we're missing them," Jon sighs. He had the same thought last night.

"What about," Melanie begins, and then falls silent. "No, that well's run dry," she says, of whatever she was thinking.

"Could we go back to Elias?" Basira suggests.

"I honestly think he's done all he can. He wants us to succeed," Jon says.

None of them talk about why they're doing this; they all know. And they know, from hasty meetings in the tunnels, from Jon's hurried explanations, what a gamble all this is. Martin and Basira are hesitant, each for reasons of their own; only Melanie, full of rage at the Institute and its traps, is all in. Even Jon has his doubts, but he's committed now.

"Could we ask Artifact Storage to audit their Leitners?" Martin says. "If they shelf-read really carefully, maybe..."

"They did an audit when I was in Research, a couple of years ago," Jon sighs. "If there were Leitners they didn't know they had, they'd have found them then. They did find, I think, one or two, but they've been catalogued now, we've already got them in our list."

"Well, there's always the last resort," Basira says. "I figure if we start skimming every single uncatalogued Statement now we ought to be pretty well finished by, oh, 2024 or so."

"No time. But if we can't come up with anything by tomorrow, I suppose we'll start," Jon says.

"You know, if you were a supervillain," Melanie begins, and everyone looks at her. "What? I'm just saying, if you were a supervillain, you could get on television, right, hijack the TV, and Compel everyone who's watching to come to the Institute and tell you about the time they found a Leitner."

"Points for imagination," Jon agrees. He considers. "Where do you suppose the busiest place in London is?"

"Probably one of the train stations at rush hour," Martin says.

"Piccadilly Circus, according to the internet," Melanie adds. "But that's all tourists."

"Though we probably want tourists," Basira adds, catching onto Jon's drift. "The Leitners we're missing are the ones that have gone the furthest from London, probably."

"You're not going to go down to Piccadilly Circus and start yelling aboug magic books, are you? Because that'll get you arrested," Martin says.

"I don't think I'll need to," Jon replies. "People come to the Institute because they're drawn here. They want to talk about what they've seen. That's not a function of place."

"You think thirteen people who've encountered Leitners are all just going to show up on a random street in London if you go stand there?" Melanie asks.

"Have you seen where we work?" Jon asks. "I'll be lucky just to get thirteen."

***

On Saturday, when he should be having a lie-in with Peter, Jon rises before Peter's awake and leaves him a note, gathers up the book he picked up in a shop the night before, and catches an early train.

It's still early when he arrives, and Piccadilly Circus is cold and only the Starbucks is open, but Jon, in a good hat and a heavy scarf (gifts from Peter) and fingerless gloves, settles on the steps up to the statue of Anteros and opens his book.

Even at this hour, the place isn't empty; it seems like nowhere in London is, regardless of the time. Early-morning joggers from nearby hotels, the odd tramp, the very odd drunk, enthusiastic tourists, they all pass in singles and pairs. Jon is aware of them, for a while, and then he loses himself in the book, and isn't aware of much of anything.

The book isn't anything special, a thriller of the sort he used to get a kick out of reading as a kid, knowing it was slightly too grown-up for him and enjoying it more because of that. Someone's playing a cat-and-mouse game with someone else, and there's a beautiful scientist, and fast cars.

He's somewhere near the end of the first chapter, savoring it, lost in it, when a voice intrudes -- "Excuse me, do you have the time?"

Jon looks up into the face of an elderly man, speaking with an American accent.

"Yeah, it's about half-seven," he says, checking his watch. "Seven-thirty," he adds, in American.

The man looks bewildered. "I...I don't know why I'm out here so early," he confesses. "I'm taking the grandkids to the wax museum, we didn't have to be awake until like...nine o'clock. But I woke up and I thought, it'd be really nice to take a walk. I haven't taken a walk in years. Not just to walk, y'know?"

Jon nods, because he can see the hunger in the man's eyes, and he knows the man doesn't understand why.

"Well, the fresh air's nice. I'm quite partial to sitting and having a read, myself," he says. "Read any good books lately?"

The man's relief is almost a thing he could touch. "I don't read books anymore," he confesses. "See, I found the best book in the world in a Borders, once, and after that everything else is just..."

"The best book in the world? Really?" Jon asks. In his bag, the cassette recorder clicks on. "Tell Me About It."

***

On Monday, Jon, feeling like he never wants to talk to another human being, sets a scrap of paper on Basira's desk.

"Twelve," he says. The assistants all study the paper. "I don't remember most of Saturday. I think I entered a trance. I'm fairly sure I spoke at least one language I don't even know the name of."

"I'll get them entered in the Deadtabase," Basira says. They won't stop calling it that, perhaps because if they don't have at least a little humor in their lives, they will all go insane.

"One more to go?" Martin asks.

"You know, a pat on the back for getting twelve names in a single day wouldn't go amiss," Jon says to nobody in particular.

"I didn't mean -- "

"I know, Martin," Jon says tiredly. "I didn't mean it quite that way either."

"It's just, we're so close."

"I had a thought," Melanie says. "About where we might find a few more -- or I guess, now, the last one. Probably useless now, the odds aren't great, but..."

"Is it better or worse than the supervillain-on-television idea? Because that panned out, sort of," Jon says.

"When Jonah Magnus was raising funds to start the Institute, he wasn't just asking for money," she tells him. "People had known he was interested in the esoteric for a long time, so before he started the Institute, occasionally his cronies would send him stories, or sell him weird things. Once he was working to actually found the Institute, he asked for money, but he also asked for 'gifts in kind'. That's how a lot of the oldest artifacts are catalogued. They were gifts from wealthy patrons of the Institute or other collectors."

"But this was long before Leitner's time."

"Yes, but, Magnus wrote in his diaries that the one thing he could never secure was a collection of books in the library of a very specific family," Melanie says.

"The Lukases," Jon guesses, from her tone. Melanie nods. "The Lukases are rare book collectors."

"Rare esoteric book collectors," Melanie corrects. "We actually know that at least two Leitners are in their library, through Martin's work in the auction catalogues. But -- "

"We're not supposed to upset the Lukases," Martin says. "And since we knew they had two we assumed we'd have a record of any others they had, given how close they are to the Institute."

"But they might have three," Jon says.

"They might," Melanie says apologetically. "And the thing is..."

"At least one Lukas likes you a lot," Martin puts in. Jon can tell he's trying very hard not to sound bitter, and he appreciates that.

"I'll speak to Peter," he says.

Basira finishes typing and looks up from her computer, glancing around at the faces -- Melanie apprehensive, Martin annoyed, Jon weary.

"Data entry's done," she says. "What did I miss?"

***

Jon brings lunch up to Peter that day -- he knows Monday is back-to-back meetings day, and Peter won't have packed a lunch -- and they eat cold spicy noodles with miso salmon, one of Peter's favorite dishes, while Peter gripes about administrative duties and Jon tells some of the funnier, less relevant stories of his day out at Piccadilly Circus.

"Which brings me round to a question I have for you," Jon says, when the meal is done and Peter looks relaxed. "It's a bit delicate -- to do with your family."

"Most things to do with my family are," Peter replies, amused. "Fire away."

"We're still working on cataloguing the Leitners," Jon says. "We've almost got a full list, now."

"How many are you missing?"

Jon meets his eyes. "One."

Peter nods. "So, you know my family holds a few."

"We know they hold two. I need to ask if they hold three."

"To be honest, I don't know how many," Peter says. "Never was much for books. And the library always goes to the heir, which I'm not, so I saw no reason to take a survey."

"Would it be rude to ask you to find out?"

Peter's smile softens. "As if I could refuse you anything? No, it's easy enough to ask. I'm meant to go down for dinner on Friday night anyway. Why don't you come along? You can have a peep in the library for yourself."

"What?" Jon asks, floored by this.

"The family will need to meet you sooner or later anyway -- you are a significant figure in the Institute, you know, and they've been asking some rather pointed questions. And of course they're curious if what I've said about you is true."

"What have you said about me?" Jon croaks.

"Nothing that you can't live up to. Tell you what, I'll call my brother and say I'm bringing you down to the estate for dinner with me, as a representative of the Institute, and say you've got a strong scholarly interest in the Lukas library," Peter says with a wink.

"I mean, I suppose I do -- "

"Lovely, good. I'm so pleased you agreed to come."

Jon didn't agree, but that's neither here nor there, if it gets them the name of the last Leitner.

***

Martin's reaction to Jon going sailing with Peter Lukas is nothing compared to his reaction when Jon says, still a little shocked, that he's going to Moreland House for dinner on Friday, and will probably be staying over.

"People who go to Moreland House sometimes don't come back," Martin hisses.

Jon, desperate to stop this fight before it starts, says, "Do you know what Tim said about me?"

Martin stops in his tracks. "Erm," he says, blinking. "He said a lot about you, most of it very unflattering."

"He said that this place loves me too much to let me be taken," Jon says.

"Well. I. I suppose he had a point, that time," Martin manages.

"I'll be fine, and I'll get the name of the last Leitner, at least we hope. I'll text it to you if I get it," he says to Basira.

"What happens once the list is complete?" Melanie asks.

"I'll do what I need with it. And then we wait."

"We're not very skilled at that," Basira says.

"Then the practice will do us good."

***

Moreland House is deep in the Kent Downs, or at least, Jon thinks it is. It doesn't have an address properly, and it's not on Google Maps. He's nervous, on the way down, and he's not paying attention to where they turn off the A2, or what roads they take from there. Peter gives him reassuring looks, but the closer to Moreland House they get, the quieter he becomes.

"Have you ever met any of my family?" he asks, guiding his zippy little sports car around yet another weird curve.

"Not personally," Jon says. "Except for Naomi Herne, I suppose."

"Terrible about Evan," Peter says, looking genuinely sad. "We were very alike, him and me. The rest of the family's...quieter."

"Hard to imagine, knowing you."

"I'm the sport. So was Evan. Well, a little more so than me. Anyway, if they're not very talkative, don't be hurt. That's just their way. I'll do what I can to keep the convo going."

Peter isn't kidding, though. They arrive at cocktail hour, apparently, and all of the grown Lukases have drinks in their hands, while the little ones are shunted away with a nanny to play in another room. Peter's father, Nathaniel, barely says hello. He knows Nathaniel Lukas only as the man who took Gertrude to sacrifice Michael and stop the Spiral, but that's not something you can really bring up, and anyway now he understands just how bereft and confused Michael must have been on that boat journey to Sannikov Land.

Peter's brother and sister make polite small talk that dies quickly. There's an aunt who asks him if he enjoys working for the Institute, and if they still have that dreadful portrait of Jonah Magnus in the library. They do, and that makes for at least three minutes of conversation, but then it's silent again until a gentle chime summons them to dinner.

At least at dinner there's food, and the Lukases seem to feel that now is the time to question Jon about the Institute -- they ask Peter about its finances, Jon about its activities, and the children occasionally ask him if he's ever seen anything scary. Jon tells them ghost stories he knows to be untrue, which he thinks might have gotten him a slightly approving look from Nathaniel. Everyone calls him Archivist as if it's his name and unlike with Peter, he doesn't correct them to Jon.

"Cigars and brandy in the smoking room, oh lawks," Peter whispers to Jon, as the women file away into some room with the children, and Peter's brother and father and uncles lead them in another direction.

"If I have a cigarette will you be disowned?" Jon whispers back, but the question is never answered, because after Peter enters the room, Nathaniel bars the way. Peter ignores it. Jon looks up at Nathaniel, sees Peter in another twenty or thirty years.

"Peter tells me you're a scholar," Nathaniel Lukas says.

"I try to be," Jon replies.

"He tells me you're interested in the Lukas library. In our Leitners."

"Yes," Jon says. "That, I very much am."

"Very well, Archivist. My mother would like the pleasure of showing you our library."

No grandmother Lukas was at dinner, Jon thinks, but he supposes that would be rude to say.

"Up the grand staircase and to your right," Nathaniel says, and then abruptly shuts the door.

Jon climbs the staircase slowly. The few windows he can see show darkness outside, but that's normal. Surely that's normal. There's no sound in the big, echoing house; he should be able to hear the men talking from here, at least, but he can't. And when he reaches the first floor, where a massive stained-glass window looks down over the staircase, he can see fog eddying around through the clearest parts of the glass. It is not just fog.

He'll probably have to give a statement about this, if he survives.

He turns right and finds a half-open door, with promising-looking bookshelves beyond. Inside, it smells like dust, and then it smells like nothing.

There's a solemn-looking woman standing in front of the bookshelves, white hair pulled back in a bun, in a long grey silk dress.

He's going to have to tell Melanie he finally met a Grey Lady.

"Mrs. Lukas," Jon says, hesitant.

"Archivist," she replies. She doesn't offer her hand, and he doesn't tell her to call him Jon. "My grandson tells us you're making a study of the library of Jurgen Leitner."

"Yes. I -- I understand you've acquired some of the books he formerly owned," Jon manages.

"Why?" she asks, ignoring his response, her voice like a whipcrack.

Jon does not care to be ignored, and he knows how Peter reacts when he behaves like the Archivist, and not just like Jon, the archivist.

"I think you know why," he says, keeping the stammer out of his voice.

It works; she nods.

"Peter holds you in high esteem," she says. "He thinks you're worthy of the attention of the Lukases. Worthy of seeing our library."

"And you?" he asks.

"I am sympathetic to requests from a favored grandson," she replies. "Come along."

She leads him into the shelves, but not very far; it's actually a pretty small room, for a library. He'd thought it would be bigger.

"The family doesn't approve of ostentation," she says, as if reading his thoughts, which she probably is. "There was a fad in the eighteenth century for purchasing big libraries all of a piece, with books that nobody would ever read, and few would even want to. We couldn't countenance such a fad. The Lukas library is meant for study. It is meant for those who mean to use it. No book enters here which has not either been read or been...examined."

"Reading a Leitner's a dangerous proposition," he says.

"Do you intend to?"

"Dear god no," he says, shocked. She turns to look at him, one grey eyebrow raised. "I mean -- no. Certainly not one I'm not familiar with, and without preparation. I only need to examine it. See the title. Check the bookplate. For my catalogue of his work."

"Ah, yes, the catalogue," she agrees, graciously. They've stopped in front of a bookshelf with a glass pane over it, a little lock at the bottom. It's so dim behind the glass it's difficult to see, but he thinks there aren't very many books in it.

"Our Leitners," she says, her voice carrying a distinct note of pride. "We have five."

There was always a chance that they had more than two, but that the Archives already had the rest on their list already. Some of the ones on the list were 'whereabouts unknown'. Jon restrains his impatience as she takes a ring of keys, chained to her waist, and unlocks the glass.

Open, it's easier to see. Yes, there are five. There's one they have on their whereabouts-unknown list, and then the two they knew about, and then --

Sandwiched between the last "lost" Leitner and the two they knew about, there's one Jon doesn't recognize. His fingers twitch.

"Are they safe to handle?" he asks.

"Not that one," she says, pointing to the largest of them, on the end, but he doesn't care about that one. "The rest are. Please be cautious."

Jon was ready for this; he takes a thin pair of white cotton conservator's gloves out of his pocket, pulling them on and reaching for the book. It's called A Compendium of Visual Illusions, and Jon would bet his teeth it belongs to the Spiral.

He takes it carefully from the shelf, studying the binding and the title pressed into it on both the spine and the front. The pages are discolored, or possibly tinted. He looks to Mrs. Lukas for permission, and when she nods, he distends the spine, pushing the top pages back, fanning out the very ends until a fore-edge painting appears. Jon recognizes it; it's an engraving of Bedlam, the mental hospital, by Hogarth.

Carefully avoiding reading any text, even the frontispiece, he opens the book to the inside cover and runs his finger down the bookplate, newer by far than the paper behind it. He knows how to spot a fake Leitner bookplate; the worst have pixelation where they've been made from a bad scan of the original, and the best still have slightly too straight lines in the border -- true Leitner bookplates have border corners that are 87 degrees, not 90, at the tops, and 93 degrees at the bottoms. It's not well-known outside of the Institute.

"It's a genuine Leitner," he says. "And the one I've been hunting."

"Then we're pleased to have helped in your search," she says, not thawing an inch. "I have a favor to ask of you, Archivist."

"Of course, if I can."

"This one. We haven't been able to authenticate it," she says, indicating one of the others. "If you can tell me whether it's real, I may have a...payment for you."

"This has been payment enough," he says, putting the Compendium of Visual Illusions back on the shelf, taking down the one she indicated. This one he's familiar with from Leitner himself -- The Stalwart Hunter's Almanac.

"If it is real, it's quite dangerous," he says. "I wouldn't read it, if I were you."

"Fortunately I'm not much interested in hunting," she replies. Jon opens it, studying the bookplate again. The slightly bent-in borders, no pixelation, and the signature is ink, darker than the printing. He checks the image of the lantern in the window, finds it has three panes, not four, and nods.

"It's genuine," he says. "I can even give you a history of it. It was the first Leitner ever bought. A man named..." he closes his eyes, remembering, "Desmond Lorell...owned it before him, and it killed Lorell. Very violently."

When he looks at her, she looks...hungry. It's the first emotion he's had from her.

"His first," she murmurs. He places it back in the shelf and her eyes follow it. Then, abruptly, she closes the shelf and locks it.

"Well done, Archivist," she says briskly. "This way."

She leads him to a writing-desk at the other end of the library, where a large, thin box sits, the kind used to hold old documents. When she opens it, Jon isn't sure, at first, what he's seeing.

It's a sheet of paper, or perhaps vellum, with close, spidery handwriting on it. The edges are neatly trimmed. At first he thinks it's just an old document.

Then he sees a small cluster of freckles, far up in one corner of the page.

"I understand you have some experience with another catalogue," Mrs. Lukas says. "Peter says you used it to speak with Gerard Keay, before you laid him to rest."

"Yes," Jon says, swallowing bile.

"This is a page from that book. It was sold to us, by Mary Keay, in 1986, shortly after the birth of her son. She said she hadn't a use for it, and needed the money for his education. That was how she put it."

"Whose is it?" Jon asks.

"His name was Gerard Alexander," she says.

Jon stares at the freckles in the corner of the "page". "Gerry Keay's father."

"We thought it was time he returned to the Institute, and you've proven a capable custodian," she says. "And now I think it's time for you to leave the library."

Jon closes the document case and lifts it, and the second he does, the room fills with light; it's not the library at all, but a brightly-lit den with a billiards table nearby, and a group of Lukas men staring at him as if he's committed a faux pas.

Nathaniel Lukas snorts and turns back to the bar; Peter's brother and uncles find polite ways to look away. Peter, carrying small brandy snifters in each hand, steps away from the bar to join him.

"I see granny approves," he says, indicating the case. Jon just stares at him dumbly. "Here. It'll help," he adds, offering the brandy, Jon sets the case carefully on the edge of the billiard table and takes the drink.

"Did she tell you what it is?" Jon asks softly.

"She said she had something that belonged in the Institute, and she wanted to donate it," he said. "That's all I knew. What is it?"

"A...connection," Jon chokes out, and then rubs his forehead. "Would you mind making my excuses? I don't feel well at all."

"As long as I can make my own as well. Stay here," Peter says, and goes into conference with his family. He's back in a moment, taking Jon by the elbow, putting the case in his hands and guiding him back out into the great hall. They fortunately do not take the staircase, just turn down a long corridor that eventually opens into a sitting room, and from there through a door and into a bedroom. Jon's overnight bag, which he'd left in the car earlier, is on the bed.

Peter takes the box from him and sets it on a little table, then comes back and runs his hands down Jon's arms, holding his wrists gently. Then he lets them go, and retreats towards another door.

"I'll be next door, changing," he says. "They gave me the adjoining room for the night."

Jon takes his phone from his bag and texts Basira -- the name of the Leitner, plus the names of the two they didn't know the whereabouts of before -- and then undresses mechanically, feeling as though he has to watch the case the entire time. He's startled by the beep of Basira texting back, and he switches it to silent.

When he's down to his underwear, he calls, "Peter?"

"Yes, my pet?" Peter replies, ducking back into the room.

"This is not a place I am supposed to be," Jon says, slowly, measured, "and while my concerns are irrational they are still...concerns. About the Lonely. About...being alone. About waking up and finding myself...very alone."

Peter smiles. "You only had to ask, you know," he says, pulling on a battered sweater he's slept in a few times at Jon's. It seems vastly out of place in this house, in this world, but it's comforting. "Would you like me to stay?"

"Yes, please," Jon says, and Peter sits on the bed, pulling Jon in between his legs, draping arms around his waist.

"Put on your nightclothes, you'll catch your death. These old houses are no end drafty," he says, and when Jon is dressed he pulls him back in again, moving them both under the covers, lying so their breath mingles, so Jon can see Peter's eyes.

"Do you smell apples?" Peter asks.

"Right now? No. Why?" Jon asks.

"No reason." Peter ruffles Jon's hair, strokes the scar at the corner of his mouth fondly. "Go to sleep. Even if she likes you, one's first encounter with Grandmother is bound to be tiring. I promise, I will be here when you wake up."

Chapter Text

Breakfast at Moreland House is a less formal affair than dinner, and apparently having braved Mrs. Lukas, Jon is slightly less likely to be snubbed by the others. They still don't speak much, but Peter's little niece Delilah sits with them, which at least means Jon doesn't have to make awkward small talk. The Lukases don't really say goodbye, they just sort of fade into the woodwork as Jon carries his bag and the document case out to the car. They don't say goodbye to Peter either, so Jon assumes it's normal.

"Shall I take you home, or just drop you straight at the Institute?" Peter asks, once they're nearing the edges of London again.

"Basira's probably already put the new book into the catalogue, but I think I'd better lock up your grandmother's gift," Jon tells him.

"You never did say what it was."

"It's a page from the book we took off Julia and Trevor -- it's been missing for a long time."

"Will you put it with the rest of the book? A reunion of old dead friends?" Peter sounds rather pleased by the idea.

"Eventually. Depends on what I find out."

"The family liked you."

"How can you tell," Jon asks dourly. Peter laughs.

"Well, you're still here."

"Very reassuring."

"Relax. Even if one of them tried to take you, and they'd have to go through me for it, you're protected. My people won't risk picking a fight with yours."

"Now just to worry about the other twelve."

"Soon you won't need to," Peter says, patting his leg. "Any news on a date for that soiree I'm invited to, last two weeks in December? Because that...begins on Monday."

"Now that the work is nearly done? Should know soon."

"Brilliant. In that case, off to work you go, and I shall see you on Monday, unless you'd like to brunch tomorrow."

"May not have time. I'll let you know."

When he arrives at the Institute, all is quiet; there's a skeleton staff in the library on Saturday, and always someone on duty in Artifact Storage, but everyone else is cleared out, and there aren't many students in, this close to exams -- they're all cramming for their classes, and the Magnus Institute is well known as a terrible place to cram. One always feels exposed, somehow.

Jon calls out for Martin, Melanie, Basira when he reaches the Archives, but gets no reply; he does a check of the stacks, just in case, and their shared office, and the reading rooms, and then he goes to his office and places the box on his desk.

Then he locks it in his desk and runs upstairs to have a cigarette.

Then he goes back down and takes out the box and stares at it.

What he knows about Gerard Alexander is minimal. Until Mrs. Lukas said it, he didn't even know the man's name. He knows Mary Keay killed him -- Gerry said as much -- and he knows he used to work for the Institute, or at least Mary told Gerry he did.

He puts it off again, spends half an hour trying to work out if there's a way he could check Gerard Alexander's employment record without asking anyone else or setting off any alarms. But there isn't.

And he could, of course, ask the man himself.

Blast it. He flips the box's lid up and reads, as fast as he can, through the dying breaths of Gerard Alexander, his wounded confusion at his wife murdering him, his worry that she'll go for the little one next.

And then, in the chair across the desk from him --

Gerard Alexander is handsome, in a thin sort of way. For some reason Jon expected him to look more old-fashioned, with brylcreemed hair and a fashionably 1950s suit, but of course he died in 1985. And he looks it. Jon wonders if Gerry's hair was blond, under the dye.

"Gerard Alexander," Jon says.

"You're not a Lukas," Gerard answers, looking around him. "And this isn't the library. Is this...is this the Institute? Jesus Christ. I used to be a file clerk here. Are the Lukases all dead or what?"

"I'm afraid not," Jon says. "My name is Jonathan Sims. I'm the Head Archivist of the Institute."

"They haven't changed the furniture down here -- you haven't even rearranged it! I guess Gertrude finally dropped in her traces, eh?"

"Ah. Yes." Jon was not quite expecting this.

"How long's it been? The Lukases only ever took me out to ask about the Institute, and my knowledge of that stopped being relevant, I'd guess, a while ago."

"It's 2018," Jon says.

"Thirty-three years since I went into the book. I don't suppose you know if my wife is still alive or would be willing to kill her for me," Gerard asks casually.

"She's not. She has died...twice, but I think the last time stuck," Jon says.

"I always wondered if she got my boy too, but the Lukases wouldn't say. You don't know, do you?"

Jon wavers, because he isn't sure which is worse: the lie that Mary killed his son in infancy, or the truth that he missed Gerry's whole life.

"No, she didn't kill him," he says finally. "He died a few years ago, though. Brain cancer. Sorry."

"Oh, no," Gerard says, his face falling. "Oh, the poor kid. Did you know him?"

"Briefly. He seemed like a good man, more or less."

"Work for the Institute, did he?"

"No. He was more of a freelancer."

Gerard nods. "So, how did you get me, if the Lukases aren't the victims of a well-deserved slaughter?"

"They donated you."

"Balls."

"Afraid so."

Gerard rubs a slightly-translucent hand over his face. "And so now I guess you want to question me, do you?"

Jon considers him. "I do have questions. Not sure if you can answer any of them. But I've dealt with prisoners of the book before, and I know it's not...pleasant."

"It certainly is not."

"So, I can make you an offer. I can burn the sheet in exchange for answers."

"Well, now, hold on, let's not go overboard," Gerard says. "I mean, there is a sort of interesting immortality angle to be examined here."

Jon pauses. "You...don't want to finally be at peace?"

"Pfft. Peace is overrated," Gerard says, with a flap of one hand. "What kind of morbid arsehole did you talk to before?"

Jon wisely does not mention who he spoke to. Instead, he says, "Well, is there anything you need? Or...want?"

Gerard shrugs. "Mary's dead, good riddance to her, and you can't bring me my Gerry Junior, so I suppose not. But I'm not averse to answering questions. I mean, knowledge is the entire purpose of the Institute, isn't it?"

"I suppose so. Well." Jon studies him. "Do you remember Elias Bouchard?"

"Sure. Is he still hanging around? He was the special executive something something to the head of the Institute, when I was there. I expect he's still...special," Gerard says.

"He was head of the Institute himself, until recently."

"What an arse. I mean really."

Jon smiles a little. "Well, we're in agreement on that," he says.

"Not much to say about him. And you say Gertrude's died?"

"Two years ago. Elias murdered her."

Gerard blinks at him. "Well, I suppose that's why he's no longer head of the Institute."

"Did you ever know a man named Leitner?"

"Leitner, mm, no," Gerard says. "Can't say the name rings a bell."

Jon suspects that Gerard's knowledge of the Institute will be less than salutatory. He was a file clerk.

"What's the most important thing you learned, here at the Institute?" he asks, finally.

"Oh, well. That's easy. Sacrifice," Gerard said.

"S....sacrifice."

"Yeah. You've got to make sacrifices to get the work done. There's no getting round it."

"Well, I'll...I'll bear that in mind. I think we'd better return you to the book, for now, but I'll make sure someone takes you out and shows you around sometime," Jon says, as if this is just his life now.

"Ta very much! You know where I am if you need anything," Gerard says.

"I dismiss you," Jon replies, and Gerard vanishes with a cheerful exhale.

Well. That was...relatively useless, but he supposes the Lukases weren't about to hand over state secrets or anything.

He closes the lid of the document case and locks it back in his desk, to hand off to Artifact Storage later. Really, he ought to be getting some kind of commission, doing the work of a Head Archivist and an Artifact Recovery officer.

***

When Jon comes in to work on Monday, a bit later than he intended -- he has slept very heavily, the last few nights -- Melanie hugs him and Martin blows a noisemaker, both of which are very unsettling.

"We did it!" Basira says, offering him her laptop. "We catalogued every book from the Library of Jurgen Leitner."

"Can we take the day off and go for drinks?" Melanie asks.

"It's a Monday morning. No," Jon says, horrified.

"Can we take the afternoon off and go for drinks?" Martin wheedles.

"How about we take no time off and do our jobs?" Jon asks. They look so crestfallen he rolls his eyes. "Fine. We work until two and then you may go for drinks."

"You have to come too," Basira insists.

"I have work to do. Now that the catalogue is complete we have to proof it, and then I have to assemble it. So, guess what we're doing today?"

"Proofing," they chorus.

"Proofing," he agrees.

***

Statement of George Bethley, regarding the pressmen in his office. Statement taken direct from subject, December 18th, 2017. Statement begins.

Thank you for taking the time to let me record this. I saw your two friends leaving for an early afternoon and I heard your boss ask you to stay behind to help me. Bosses, eh? I know what that's like.

I work for the I, the newspaper? I know print media is dying, but then, aren't we all, and I'm a fair sight closer to it than you are. I'm a press machinist -- make sure everything's running smoothly before we go to print and stays that way when we do. It's an all right job, but the hours are late, so that the folks who write the paper have time to cram as much as they can into each edition and we still make the newsagents the following morning.

Anyway, it's a quiet job, even though the press is quite loud. It's a big old web-offset. It pulls a web of newsprint through the machine, that's why they call it that. So I show up to do the nightly inspection, and with a few other younger fellows I do the print run, and then off I am to bed. As I say, it's a decent job, though I doubt it'll exist by the time you're my age.

The problem is, lately, we've had some issues with the lights going out at odd times, and then just when we thought we'd got that fixed, these new guys show up. They've got all kinds of tools and bits of equipment and I thought we must have had a breakdown the first time I saw them, but they didn't even look at our press. They just started building something in the corner. I assumed they were there on official business so I left them to it, but I asked the boss about it and he said he hadn't heard anything about it.

He went down and saw what they'd been doing and he said for all we knew they were building some kind of bomb. Awfully big for a bomb. Anyway, he kicked it to pieces because he's not much on calling the police, and told us to haul away the wreckage, so we did.

Next night, when I got in, it was back. Pristine and new. And the same three men were working on it.

I didn't tell the boss this time. I just didn't dare. And they weren't causing any problems. So, last week, for three nights running, I just let them do whatever they were going to do, and kept myself busy.

We don't go in on the Saturday-to-Sunday night shift, because they sell the Saturday I on Sunday as well. But I went in last night for the Monday edition, and...

I think I saw a skull in it.

And I'm worried, but I can't tell the boss and I can't call the cops, and this seemed like it was up your street.

I did ask one of them, I said to him, what's that you're building there?

And he told me to mind my business, that he was here on orders from the big boss.

And I said, well, I don't know who gave you your orders but you can't just set up shop in here.

And he patted me on the shoulder, which still...feels wrong, and he said, don't worry, we'll be gone by Friday. You may be, too.

What does he mean, do you suppose?

Statement ends.

***

"Did you know," Jon says, strolling into Peter's office on Tuesday afternoon, "That the very last commercial press in London is still going in Fleet Street?"

"Didn't all the newspapers leave Fleet Street?" Peter asks.

"They did, but I guess this one press didn't get the message. They print that commuter rag, the I."

"Good lord."

"Anyway," Jon continues, looking very pleased with himself as he drops into the chair across the desk from Peter, "I've come to give you a date. An invitation to be my date, actually."

Peter sets aside his laptop. "I am listening intently," he says.

"This Thursday, the twenty-first. The sun sets at 4:23. Longest night of the year. In Fleet Street at the last press building. You are invited to the production of a very special book," Jon says. "On a very special press."

Peter feels a surge of excitement, like leaving port, like coming back into it.

"If they work hard, the book should be completed by two in the morning."

"Less than sixty hours away," Peter breathes.

"Are you pleased, Mr. Lukas?" Jon asks, grinning.

"Very pleased indeed, Archivist. Is there anything you need from me?"

"Other than your presence at the unveiling? No. And you don't need to spend the whole night there -- just come to me when the book is done. I'll need your help then, but not before," Jon says.

"I will. Will your assistants be there?"

"No, I don't think so. Just a few men to operate the press, and they're already paid. Once it's done it'll need to be bound, but that will wait."

"Do you know what your place will be, when the Rite is complete?"

Jon nods. "Do you know what yours will be?"

"At your side, I suppose," Peter says cheerfully. "Very well, Jon. I'll leave you to your final preparations."

"Which reminds me -- can you let me into the safe behind the curio cabinet?"

When Peter unlocks the safe, he's only half-surprised to see the skeletons and even the shelves are gone. There's just a simple, over-large empty envelope.

Jon takes a sheaf of paper from his bag and carefully slips it into the envelope. Peter sees a title on the first page: The Complete Catalogue of the Library of Jurgen Leitner. Then Jon closes the flap, uses the little waxed-red tie to loop it shut, and sets it back, smoothing it down carefully.

"I'll see you in about sixty hours," he says.

Chapter Text

At 4:23pm on Thursday, December 21st, 2017, only four people are in the building that houses the big web-offset press which prints the I newspaper. All four of them, as one, stand up and leave.

George Bethley, who usually shows up around six to do the daily inspection and loading, never arrives. He sleeps straight through from 9am on Thursday to 9am on Friday. None of the others come in either. Well, none of the other regulars.

Three men with eye tattoos on certain joints, with rough hands and brilliant minds, show up promptly at 4:24. Behind them is a fourth man, and they all nod to him, governor, before they begin doing the final checks on the terrible press, the press of bone. Two of them check the press itself, load it up with ink that is best not too closely examined, and prepare it for printing. One of them lays out the plates they've been setting, plate after plate after plate of text and engraved images.

Jon doesn't look at the plates. Even in reverse, the way they have to be to print properly, the Complete Catalogue of the Library of Jurgen Leitner is perilous, and it's not yet time.

He actually spent a lot of time picking out clothing for this. What does one wear to the end of the world? Robes feel very culty, and street clothes don't seem right. The everyday suits he wears to work are so ordinary.

Finally he selected the one three-piece suit he owns, a grey affair he wore for some wedding or other back when he had friends instead of a wide variety of terrible nemeses. Besides, Peter will appreciate him in this, probably, and that will be nice. For a while.

There's no particular pageantry to the work, which is dirty and loud. When they're ready, the pressmen simply place a plate in the frame, spread the ink, draw up the paper, and thump. Like boots marching to combat. Thump.

The catalogue is several hundred pages, but the men are fast, and they are tireless. Jon smokes and watches. There's nothing for him to do yet.

Around midnight, rather earlier than suggested but not really earlier than expected, Peter arrives. Jon offers him the half a cigarette he's been smoking. Peter kisses the scar at the corner of his mouth and takes it, finishes it while Jon lights another with the spiderweb lighter that seems to go everywhere with him, now.

"It's terrible," Peter remarks, staring at the press of bone and metal. Somewhere in that thing is Robert Smirke's skull, the spine of a previous archivist, the femur of an innocent victim of the Beholding. "I've never seen anything so awesome. In the traditional sense of the word."

"You will, soon," Jon assures him, and Peter kisses him again.

"Give us another cigarette. What will we do until they finish?" he asks. Jon lights two cigarettes, passes one to Peter, and studies the casing of his Zippo.

"Just watch," he says. "It's awfully peaceful, once you find the rhythm of it."

"I like that suit," Peter says.

"Thank you. So do I."

***

They finish the printing just shy of two o'clock. One of the men, the one who laid out the plates earlier, has been slowly assembling the dry sheets on a worktable, under a series of bare lights and dark windows. The last three sheets have to dry fully, which makes Jon impatient, but he knows he has to wait.

Then the last sheet is shuffled into place, and the men walk away from the book, back to the press. They begin disassembling it. Most of the bones in the press are broken, and it's a miracle it's held together this long. As they pull it apart, the bones crumble. White dust blows through the room.

Jon stands over the book and touches the title page. The faint image of the flyleaf, a copy of Leitner's bookplate, is visible through the thin paper.

"Mr. Lukas," he says, without looking up from the book. "I've printed a book for you. Would you examine it, please?"

Peter clearly believes this is part of the ritual. He comes forward, and Jon steps aside to allow him to stand in front of the book.

"Of course, my Archivist," he says with a smile. And he turns over the title page and begins, slowly, to read.

Jon keeps his eyes on Peter's face, and does not look at the last ever Leitner.

***

Martin and Melanie and Basira are also awake. None of them would have been able to sleep, and they knew that would be the case. Jon hasn't given them any details, but he has told them that it will happen over the night of the 21st, and that there are three options for the morning:

1. The world will end or be irrevocably changed, in which case, not to worry, you'll probably all be dead.

2. You'll hear from me by sunrise, in which case you can have Friday off.

3. You won't hear from me and the world won't end, in which case you should profess ignorance and try to survive as best you can at the Institute.

So they've gathered at Martin's, because Martin doesn't have a flatmate and does have the biggest sofa, and Basira brings wine, and they sit there and they wonder.

Around two in the morning, it feels like the world...blinks. They look at each other.

"Was that it?" Basira asks. "Was that the world ending?"

"Doesn't feel like it. I don't feel any different," Martin says.

Melanie opens her mouth to add her commentary, but before she can, all three of them feel it. Like surgery without anaesthetic, like a scalpel straight through muscle to bone. They cling to each other on the couch and scream, and scream.

And then they stop.

***

Elias has been Watching, but it's difficult to See at this distance, and while he knows tonight is the night, he doesn't really know what that means. He knows his fellow prisoners are on edge, but neither he nor they truly know why.

And then, at two in the morning, he opens his eyes, the pupils constricting to pinpricks, and he says his last words.

"Oh. Oh, Archivist. No."

***

In the garden beyond Moreland House, in her silk dress, dreaming of her dead husband and her lonely god, the last matriarch of the Lukas clan tilts her face up to the eternally grey sky.

"This is what comes of trusting a man like him," she sighs.

***

Peter can feel the raw power of the book even before he turns the first page, like the best nicotine rush in the world. This is the book, the book Jonathan will use to complete the Rite of the Watcher's Crown and bring the Beholding into the world. The Lonely, riding the conduit down behind the Eye, will make Peter his prince, and if his own god doesn't fully manifest, his beloved's god will do for them both.

It seems he has been reading the book a long time, he thinks, suddenly. He hasn't been paying attention, either. He's supposed to be checking the book, a final favor for the Archivist before the Rite, but the words have just flowed over him. He should turn back and start again but he can't -- his hand mechanically turns the pages, his eye scanning down each one, and even though he wants to stop he can't tear his eyes away. He can feel Jon, a column of burning light next to him, the smell of cigarettes and apples, but he can't speak, can't cry out for help. The book has paralyzed him and he remembers that if it isn't a Leitner, it still carries the Leitner bookplate, and that...used to...have some significance, he can't...what was it...

Time seems to stretch endlessly, but then compress very suddenly. He must have turned the pages quite fast, towards the end, because the sky is still dark when he flips the last one and reads the last footnote and then --

Peter looks up, and his eyes open. When did they close?

And then his Eye opens.

He can see everything, suddenly, everything everywhere, every person sleeping in their bed, every bone in the earth, every crying child, first just in London but then beyond, spreading out like a contagion, filling his brain and it hurts. The endless, overwhelming sight, the bottomless knowledge that can't be filtered or shut out, his eyes hurt and his Eye hurts and he searches for Jon among the billions and can't find him.

It's too much. It's too much and Peter wasn't meant for this. It was Jon's gift, and he feels the Beholding rushing down on him like a torrent of earth, a terrible avalanche of knowing.

He screams out for Grandmother; for their patron, Solus, for solace, and there is a short sweet burst of merciful silence.

When Peter recovers, he finds himself alone in the press building. Jon is gone; the workmen are gone. The windows are growing lighter but there are no sounds outside of his own breathing. He would know. He can see the whole...entire...world, and if there were even one other person in it, he would know.

Well. There is one other here, but it is not a person. Peter looks up through the windows, to where the sky should be, and sees one vast, endless, unblinking eye.

***

Peter vanishes quickly, once he's finished with the book. One second he's there, and the next he's not.

The press is a pile of white dust and black machine parts in the corner.

Jon feels, for the first time in years, truly free.

How pleased Melanie will be, he thinks, if she survived. He can no longer Look or See, but he thinks they probably did.

One final bit of business, then, and he will walk out into the old world a new man.

He lights the last cigarette he will ever smoke, puts the Zippo back in his pocket, and inhales sweetly. When it's burned down about two thirds of the way, he lays it on the upturned catalogue, watching it smolder. There's just enough air between each page for it to catch quickly. The ashes fly up, winking out one by one. When it's gone, all of it, he sends a quick text to Martin -- it's done -- and then walks out into Fleet Street, just beginning to awaken, and turns towards Chelsea.

It's a couple of miles to the Institute, but the walk will do him good. He’ll stop somewhere for breakfast along the way. By the time he arrives, it'll be late enough in the morning that he can call the police; he's terribly worried about his boyfriend, who broke a date with him last night and hasn't been in to the office yet this morning.

***

Statement of Jonathan Sims, regarding the Rite of the Watcher's Crown. Statement given directly from subject, December 31st, 2017. Statement begins.

I know you will find this tape eventually, Peter, on your side of the barrier. I am hopeful that when you do, you will be able to play it. It is, partly, for yourself that I made it, though you know how thorough I am; I always feel the thing must be documented or it might as well not have been done.

I'm sorry I didn't put it down sooner, but there was so much to do. The holidays. You know.

It became evident to me, in my study of Gertrude's work preventing the other rituals from coming to fruition, that a sacrifice was necessary to foil them. I admire Gertrude in many ways, but I believe she failed when she came to the conclusion that the sacrifice must be an innocent. She should not have given Michael to the Spiral. God knows what she did to the others. I should not have given Tim to the Stranger, but at least I tried to save him. And I accept that he does not forgive me in this life or any other.

I found knowledge somewhere in my dreams, before you woke me, and when I woke I knew two things: that I must prevent the Rite of the Watcher's Crown from occurring, and that I would need to make a sacrifice to do it. I am, in some ways, sorry it was you. We both know you are a monster, but you had little choice in the matter, being born into the Lukases. And I think you did love me.

I'm afraid I didn't love you. And for what you've done -- even just for what you've done to those I know about, and I do know about Julia and Trevor -- this is a lenient sentence. At any rate, I have confidence your anger will keep you busy, at least for a while, in the prison you made for yourself.

Just as the Unknowing, the only other ritual I have, aha, personal knowledge of, seems always to need to be a performance, I believe the Rite of the Watcher's Crown must always be the production of a book. The Domesday Book was the first attempt we know of, but the data in it was incomplete, in fact was downright fraudulent, and the Eye cannot be carried into our world on a conduit of lies. Likewise, I believe Johannes Gutenberg was commissioned by the Beholding, or one of its agents, to produce a book containing all of human knowledge, and with supernatural aid may even have done it -- but Johann Fust confiscated his press, and the time of the ascendancy passed before anything could be done.

And so I set out to build a press, and to produce not a compendium of one king's known world, or certainly all of human knowledge, but what an Archivist does best: a catalogue. A full and complete compendium of the accomplishments of Jurgen Leitner, including engravings of his library and a copy of his description of its destruction, transcribed from one of my own tapes. The book would, indeed, be a Leitner in itself. When read, it would cause the reader to form a human connection to the Beholding, which would complete the Rite and bring the Eye into our world.

Elias, may he rest in peace (though I doubt it), spent a great deal of time and energy preparing me to become this conduit, I see that now. Which is why I gave it to you. I knew what would happen; I knew, unprepared, that you could not possibly control what you were given. And I knew that you would flee to your one truly safe place, the domain of the Lonely. Try to come back and you will surely perish, and accomplish nothing.

The thing about apples, Peter, is that they are a temptation that leads to a fall.

But you are safe there. There is nothing for you to See there. There is just you and the God of Knowing. And when you die, it will simply be the Beholding. Trapped. Forever. In an empty world.

On the plus, at least it will know everything there is to know. Perhaps it will even be happy. But it cannot touch the Institute again. I have severed it from our world forever. I think the Lonely approves, actually. One less competitor in future.

Perhaps the better word for what I have done is "amputate," but I know enough to understand that people will say I killed it, and I am comfortable with that. I did not kill a god lightly. If I hadn't had Gertrude's example I couldn't have done so at all. But for her flaws she knew that this is the domain of humanity, and that our job, our true job, was to keep back the night of ignorance as long as possible. An institute for the formation and preservation of knowledge should be beholden to no god.

True, we won't be protected anymore, but we have better armor than fear now -- we have the information to strike first and strike hard at whoever attempts to take our learnings from us.

This is my legacy to the Institute. I hope your life is not unpleasant, Peter. And I hope you will carry a message to your sole companion.

If you wanted blind obedience, you shouldn't have opened my Eyes.

Statement ends.

***

Jonathan Sims, newly-minted head of the Magnus Institute, gently presses the stop-record button on the old cassette deck. And nobody, at all, sees him do it.

Then Martin arrives, with tea, and Jon smiles.

"Thank you, Martin. I appreciate you coming in on New Year's Eve to help tidy things up. Peter left things pretty well-organized, but with all the fuss over his disappearance, and then the Institute closing completely for almost two weeks..."

Martin nods, grinning at him, and then a grin breaks over Jon's face, too.

"Head of the Institute!" Martin crows. "Basira texted yesterday to tell me. How'd you pull that off?"

"The two surviving members of the board of directors saw a very loyal, experienced member of management who had weathered all sorts of recent unpleasantness calmly, and who seemed enthusiastic about budget meetings," Jon said. "And the Lukases apparently saw someone they very much don't wish to cross a second time."

"Do they know?"

"I'm sure they suspect, given the Rite was interrupted. They may know. But if they bring it up they'll have to admit they were going to capitalize on it themselves."

"You should go out to celebrate," Martin says. "I'm sure Georgie's got a party she can take you to. Melanie's throwing a 'New Year, No Job' bash for herself, Basira will be there."

"Haven't you got any plans for New Year's?" Jon asks.

"Not really. Quiet night in, I thought. Probably be in bed by ten, maybe wake up for the fireworks for a few minutes."

"I have to say, fireworks don't really appeal to me either. Don't suppose you'd like to help me get a jumpstart on strategic planning for 2018? It's our 200th anniversary. I'd like it to be a real banner year for the Institute. New student outreach program, new fundraising campaign, renovation of the Archives..."

"I'd like that very much," Martin says.

"Good. Well, no time like the present to begin. I was thinking about revamping the website, first of all. Most private institutions put their collections online, and a suitably redacted library collections page might be just the thing to spark interest in our research..."

In the dark places outside, in London and abroad, in the creeping and crawling, in the howling wilds and the places of great violence, the word is spreading:

The Archivist murdered his God. Perhaps, for now, we had better make a wide berth.