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a dull white void

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Even though it’s a warm summer’s day, there’s a chill in the emptiness of the Archives.

Georgie clutches her jacket tight to herself, watching her breath fog in the air as she exhales. She knows this is an old building, but surely they could have some heating installed in the basement, at least. How anyone gets anything done here is beyond her.

She’s meant to be meeting Melanie. They haven’t spoken in months, but Melanie called her the other day. Apparently she wanted to reach out, rebuild some of her life. Well, Georgie’s not been very social herself lately, so she didn’t see the harm in chatting. They agreed to go out for lunch at a nearby cafe and talk about meaningless things, and that was that.

There’s no sign of Melanie, though, or of anyone else. It’s just Georgie, alone among the desks and endless piles of paper.

“You don’t work here, do you?”

Georgie spins around at the unfamiliar voice.

A man leans against one of the bookshelves. He’s tall and broad, with a weather-beaten face concealed under a dark beard speckled with grey. For some reason, he wears a navy blue sailor’s coat on top of a typical rich guy suit.

His smile is open and amiable, but she doesn’t like the look in his ice-pale eyes.

“It’s hard to keep track, sometimes,” he continues. “People come and go so often, and I don’t have too much to do with most of our employees. But I think I’d have been told if someone new was hired in the Archives. My assistant is very conscientious about things like that.”

Georgie considers leaving, but she’d have to walk past him to get to the door. There’s a strange feeling to the air around this man — not like Antonio, or whatever his name was, but similar. A sensation of utter detachment from the world at large. She doesn’t like her chances with whatever’s going on here.

“No,” she says, tone clipped. “I don’t work here. I’m looking for Melanie.”

“Well, I’m afraid it looks like she’s not here.” The corners of his lips curl like there’s a joke only he knows the punchline to. “I’m Peter Lukas, current head of the Institute.”

He offers a hand. She’d prefer to take it, but she doesn’t really have another option. His grip is solid and unyielding, and he holds on for slightly too long.

“Georgie Barker.”

Peter Lukas’ eyes widen theatrically; his smile turns into a boyish grin with perfect white teeth.

“Oh, yes! I believe Elias mentioned you. You’re Jon’s friend, aren’t you?”

“We haven’t spoken in a while.” 

“Right, right, the Archives soap opera, of course.” Georgie bristles at that, but it goes ignored. Peter Lukas smiles that same affable smile. It never once reaches his eyes. “It should be easy enough for you to avoid him; I understand that he’s on his way to Norway right now.”

Despite her intentions to stay firmly away from Jon’s business, Georgie finds her interest piqued. Norway? Jon’s never exactly been a fan of cold temperatures.

(At the moment, Georgie can relate.)

“When will he be back?”

Peter Lukas’ smile widens. There’s something malicious lurking underneath that expression, collecting in the wrinkles at the corners of his eyes.

“Hard to say, given everything, but I’d guess he won’t be back for a while.”

Georgie swallows down a wave of emotion. She can’t tell if it was relief or regret, or some terrible mixture of both. Apparently Jon doesn’t even need to be here to make her conflicted.

Peter Lukas tilts his head with a distinct air of assessment, like he’s measuring her against some unseen criteria.

As she meets his eyes, Georgie feels abruptly— cut off. Any tethers to the world around her vanish, leaving her floating somewhere unreal and insubstantial. All alone except for Peter Lukas in front of her. The weight of isolation presses on her shoulders, and it brings a sense of utter apathy with it. She’s cold and alone and utterly pointless.

Been there, done that.

Georgie takes a deep breath, and raises her chin. He can probably hurt her. He could even kill her. But whatever happens, he’s not going to rob her will from her. Georgie Barker will not go down without a fight.

As if hearing her thoughts, he continues to speak. Every word he speaks draws a thick fog around them. It deadens the sound of his voice, and the chill feels like it’s being etched into her very bones. 

“I do wonder if your little interpersonal problems make you fair game. You aren’t technically one of his, and he hasn’t got Elias’ possessive streak — at least, not yet — but I don’t know if I want to take my chances.”

Peter Lukas watches her. His expression softens, and if it weren’t for the amusement still obvious in the twist of his lips, he might even look kind.

“What do you say, Georgie? Should I risk the Archivist’s wrath? I’m sure Elias would like that.”

The fog intensifies. The desks and shelves are beginning to fade away into nothing, and Georgie can’t make out the writing on the files.

There are so many things she could say. It’s just the question of which one will stop her getting killed, or frozen, or whatever fate he’s planning on forcing on her.

“I’m not Jon’s,” Georgie says, through cold-numbed lips. She regrets it immediately. An association with Jon is probably her only advantage in this situation, as much as she’d prefer otherwise.

Peter Lukas’ smile turns thin. It’s not pleasant, but it does look genuine.

“No, you aren’t, are you?”

He takes a step away from the shelves, giving her a considering look — almost pleased. He begins to button up his coat as the fog draws in thicker, a dull white void that leaves Georgie shuddering with the force of the cold.

“Well, I’ve got work to do, so I’d best be off. Good to meet you!”

Peter Lukas grins with too many blunt white teeth. Between one blink and the next, he’s gone.

There’s a single moment of awful resignation as Georgie stands alone in the mist. Then warmth rushes into the room, so sudden that it feels stifling in its intensity, and Melanie walks through the door with a familiar annoyed look on her face.

“There you are! What took you so long?”

Georgie doesn’t reply, trying to press feeling back into her bloodless lips. Melanie narrows her eyes, expression turning wary. 

“Are you alright?”

“Yeah,” Georgie manages, more of an exhale than a word. She holds up a finger in a silent gesture of ‘give me a minute’. She steadies her breathing — the trouble with not feeling fear is that it’s hard to notice when you’re going into fight or flight.

“I was really hoping today wouldn’t involve anything supernatural,” Georgie mutters, when she feels a little better.

“You shouldn’t have come to the Archives, then.” It sounds like Melanie’s trying for irritation, but it just sounds tired. “What happened?”

“Your boss? Or boss’ boss, I guess.”

“You met Peter Lukas? Wow. He’s been here for months and I’ve never seen him.”

“You’re not missing much,” Georgie tries to joke. It falls flat, probably because of the way she’s still shivering. Ice slowly melts on her skin. She must look like she's just been dragged through the Arctic.

“Yeah, I guess not. The last thing I need is the Lonely trying to snatch me up.”  Melanie huffs. So much for talking about meaningless things.  “Come on, are we getting lunch or what? I promised Daisy I'd be back in twenty minutes.”