1964-05-02 - Read Between the Lines
Summary: A -very- late book (extra emphasis on -very-) is returned, much to the delight of all involved, to various degrees.
Related: None
Theme Song: None
lucian rosemarie 


“You never leave the place. What was the point, if you stay holed up here?“ says the steely-eyed waitress. She might be the only one to speak to him so. The frown perpetually cast on her downturned mouth does not warm her coppery skin.

He stares at her through the burning smoke infused by rose petals, hashish, and a pinch of a bitter herb once called Crone’s Tears in a city wiped off the face of the earth six millennia ago.

Her voice is cold and dull. “Go. Get out of here. Find the reason you buy those absurd suits.”

Lucian gives her a mild look. Once it would have sent the chorus fluttering in a storm of bubbling lights, the angry chime of the cherubim assaulting his ears. But she was never one of the cherubim. He slings his coat over his broad shoulder and takes the stairs, vanishing behind the undulating sea-green wall.

*

Sitting on the steps is fine for college students with nothing better to do, according to the papers. It doesn’t work well for a man with a purpose. That purpose is a tome wrapped in a yellowed dust cover, and faded tape along the interior. The pages smell satisfactorily musty.

What’s the point of summoning up just anything if it’s not there when you need it most?

The cover is satisfyingly blank and the interior printed in a uniform enough fashion. Lucian breezes past the loiterers and those with actual business, for he says in absolutely no ironic terms at the first desk he finds, “This book has been in my possession a terribly long time, and it ought to be shelved somewhere. Bad me.” The grin says anything but. “There is a petite little thing, brunette librarian, who demanded I set things to right. Where might she be?”

As if he even has a library card in their stacks and stacks and stacks of records. As if any of them do when he damn well invented writing.

*

Rosemarie’s latest attempt at ‘demanding’ went more along the lines of a polite request with a frosting of disapproval. Any book kept in anyone’s possession for a ‘very long time’ meant denial of a new reader being introduced to a new field of information and ideas. ‘Demanding’ is a difficult state for the brunette librarian.

Thus, the barkeep’s arrival at the front desk is completely unexpected, at least to Rosemarie’s coworker, Diana. The dark-haired young woman looks up from writing a notation on the daily task sheet kept up front by the head librarian Mrs. Ketch (know easily enough by her raven-like habit of hovering and personality to boot) and immediately her eyes widen slightly.

“You might be referring to Rosemarie? She’s not petite though.” A giggle, somewhat airy. “She’s too tall to be called ‘petite’, I think. She’s, like, three inches taller than me.” Diana’s grey eyes travel beyond Lucian, after some effort drawing away initially, and she rises onto the tip-toes of her Mary Janes. Her lips purse and she frowns. “She’s normally at that information desk over there, by the Sciences.” An obvious point towards the little desk currently without a minder at least a third of the way back into the shelves. “There are other brunettes here besides her. There’s Tillie and Candace and Georgia…” She ticks off pristine fingers, not a smudge of ink to be found anywhere on them. “But if it was someone who told you to bring back a book, I bet it was Rosemarie. She has an attitude about that kind of thing.” It’s clear that Diana doesn’t share the view for the faint flavoring of dismissal in sharing the information. “Let me page her over the intercom.”

The library aid picks up the connection to the PA system and speaks into it. Loud and clear comes the announcement: “Rosemarie, if you could please come to the front desk.” Kzzzt, click. Diana offers Lucian another brilliant, somewhat vapid smile. “You can return the book here, you know.” Her palms pat-pat the desk top in front of her.

Over in the stacks, the brunette in question pauses. The book balances on its edge, halfway to being sheathed between its shelf-mates, as she hears the announcement. Hmm. Diana’s going to get yelled at for using it. It’s not supposed to be used save for extreme cases, like…fires. Burglary. Someone knocking over an entire collection of encyclopedias onto their head.

Hey, it’s happened before.

Wearing a curious frown now, she finishes the motion of placing the book. The cart is carefully wheeled flush to the shelf itself before she begins making her way out of the back of the stacks. Down the aisle, into the main pathway, all the way down that one, and then out into the open near her abandoned fortress. Rosemarie looks across the expanse towards her coworker and the front desk and…squeaks.

Oh dear god. He actually brought the book back. It might be possible to spot the blush that suffuses her cheeks from where he stands. She freezes up, gripping the raised edging around her desktop as an anchor.

*

Fires and burglary are the least of the problems he can cause with a finger snap. A little more effort might be necessary to attract attention from the powers that be, only to discover they are not powers at all.

The explanation from Diana holds his attention with the sort of lethargy found in those who work odd hours in the service industry. Maybe it’s the specific time when he should probably be sleeping. Pristine blue eyes narrow at the succession of names, the explanation on protocols.

Alexandria was every bit as tiresome. Donate two works to withdraw one. This, that, and the other, it never changes. Libraries are the bastions of protocol.

“Tillie, Candace, and Georgia sit where?” he asks, not quite interrupting the verbal stream. Then the problem follows a moment later that she presses an infernal buzzer.

“No, that’s…” Too late. The fixed smirk on his lips fades away and he tips his head, a shock of pale blond hair made nearly white in the light instead of the true gold it usually is. Unnecessary behaviour tightens his jaw. “An unnecessary abuse of power. Over a book. Next time, do refrain from bothering,”

A mishmash of dust slips out from the pages onto the desktop. Possibly it was stored in sawdust or buried on a beach.

As it takes the questioned figure a time to get there, he takes it upon himself to do a rather quick circuit of the floor and gauge the other information desks in placement and, more important, woman tucked behind them to do library things. Amazement women have an equal place in the arts and literary world fails to register, though they might note a man in dark jeans and a devilish frown.

And still he manages to get back in time before she does. Advantages of experience and memorization of a simple layout, really.

“Ah, Miss Piper.” Irony dial, twenty. “I have a book to return. You might need to show me where it belongs.”

*

Diana does a little fish-mouth gaping before scrunching up her face at Lucian’s departing back.

“Whatever…” she grumbles, going back to the list before her. One of the charms to the library aid is her infallible ability to rebound from momentary issues. Even Mrs. Ketch doesn’t seem to make a dent in that skull of hers. The grit on her desk is brushed away — on the outside edge of the desk. No dust on her shoes, thank you very much.

He’ll see Rosemarie’s throat wobble in a swallow before she bites at her lower lip.

“I-I-I-I — ” Oh good lord, the stutter. She jams her teeth shut, giving him a perfectly-uncomfortable smile; one might receive the same smile from a receptionist being berated by their boss in front of a customer. The old ‘please hold while I deal with this stupidity’. She wills down the racing of her heart and commits to eating her crow. A sigh visibly lifts her chest beneath her cream-hued knit sweater and she tries again. “Lucian, hello. If you have a book to return, it needs to go to the front desk, with Diana.” Her nod is towards the front desk, where her coworker is most definitely watching them both like a hawk.

Oh, the gossip.

Her cinnamon-brown eyes drop to the book, covered as it is in the yellowed cover, and her breath catches. There’s the sense of wheels turning behind her doe-eyes that she brings back to his face.

“That’s…a very old book, Lucian. You checked it out from here?”

She takes a moment to appreciate those summer-sky eyes, no less muted for the lighting of the library. His hair catches the light and seems to hold it in places, as if it belongs woven into the strands that somehow manage to reflect out reds in the shadows closer to his face. Oh, that face, with those lips —

Girl, come back. A blink or two is accompanied by the blush remaining at its current state beneath her freckles.

*

“It certainly seems to belong here. I may have been slightly remiss.” He quirks an eyebrow at the karmic imbalance of unease on Rosemarie’s part and undented confidence on his. “It came from somewhere over in the sciences section, though it has been a while. I might have been slightly remiss, what with Lux occupying a fair share of my attention.”

A shrug of his broad shoulders does nothing to dislodge the perfect coat and the shock of golden blonde hair. “As I understand, finders keepers. You get to claim the bounty on this one.”

He taps the cover lightly with his fingertip and steps back, a surrender of what he might be holding onto.

The cover is bland as can be, and gives nothing away about the interior. Woven cloth binding, likely, pages inside ragged cut. More substantial could be there isn’t a trace of anything on the spine. Supposing she makes the effort to crack it open, it has the feel of a printing press rather than a modern print feel.

That, and the entire thing is written in Latin.

“I may have glossed over a few annotations.” He waves his hand as though writing in a book is no small thing. “Clarifications, mostly. Sometimes the hand gets crabbed by candlelight and meaning could be lost. Oh. And you might call the main collections acquirer. I’ll be out on the stairs when you come to collect.”

Fancy that, a carefree book writer and possible dog-earer of pages, sauntering away from the blushing young woman after giving her a wink.

*

She feels the vibration of his finger tapping through the book held most carefully in her hands. The brunette looks back up to him again, absolutely wallowing in suspicious confusion. Curiosity wins out and opening the book near to halfway through reveals the writing in black ink. Her brows dip together as she scans the text. Indeed, Latin — not that she could read it even if the scribed words were more legible.

A different style of handwriting shows where Lucian made his notes. She does wince internally for that. A book is printed as is for a reason. Edits should have come first, but…this is…

“The main collections acquirer?” Her fingertip rests lightly on one line on the page, barely touching, because somehow…this feels like a very, very old book. The weight, the feel of the cover. She eyes the paper and tests the weight by lifting a single leaf. Heavier, as if…

When looks up again, he’s basically out of the front doors. “The stairs…?” she asks the empty air quietly. Immediately, Diana is over in a flash.

“Alright, tell! He’s gorgeous!” She oozes in a twinkly manner, clearly ready for Rosemarie to spill her guts about the gentleman in the dark jeans who spent enough time talking to over a ratty, overdue book that it signifies a beyond-passing interest.

“He’s a barkeep, I met him a club,” is all that her coworker gets — for the moment. “I need to find Bart, hold on.” The book in her hands is carefully closed and cradled against her chest. It even smells like it was hidden someplace safe for years for the displaced air that reaches her nose. Diana rolls her eyes, but indeed, returns to her post. She knows that she’ll get answers out of her work-friend, one way or another.

Back in the stacks — waaaay back in the stacks — lives said collections acquirer. One chooses ‘lives’ simply because it seems that the man is here twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week. It’s clear that he loves his job and treats the rooms like a museum. Technically, they are, in a sense. Climate-controlled, dust-free, must-use-gloves-only. Oh yes, only gloves. He’s a stickler on that one. The balding red-head looks up from turning the pages on a recent addition to the collection when Rosemarie knocks on the door to his office. Latex-gloved hands open the door and he smiles in his inane way.

“Falcroft.”

“Bart,” she replies, deferring to that terrible shortening of his name (Bartholomew) simply because she, in turn, is mildly annoyed for the entitling of her surname. “I…think I have a book for you.” The man’s brown eyes shift down to the tome held in mindful manner between folded arms and chest and back up.

“Alright, I’ll bite.” She follows him into the cooler room and offers out the moderately-heavy book. He takes it with his usual reverence and sets it down on a clean desk before turning on an overhead archival lamp.

A few minutes pass. Rosemarie’s eyes wander and it’s when she realizes that she can’t hear him breathing anymore that she looks back, her unease growing. He’s staring. Bart is staring at her, his jaw dropped visibly open.

“Oh god, Bart, what?!” she squeaks, covering her mouth afterwards. Her heartbeat ratchets up double-time.

“You’ll need to sit, Falcroft. This is your book?” Even as he’s asking, she’s finding a chair behind her with a searching hand. Plunk.

“…y-y-yes? A…f-friend g-g-gave it to me.”

Bart is boggled. “Gave it to you?!”

“…yes?” It’s a whisper of a reply, dripping with fear of condemnation. Bart slowly removes his glasses from his face and sits down in his own chair with a thump. “What, Bart?!”

“Falcroft. This is Newton.” He receives a blank look at first before Rosemarie frowns.

“You’re not…?”

Bart nods slowly. “Isaac Newton, Falcroft. This is a copy of ‘Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica’, probably…1680s.”

Ohhhhhh, the room whites out for a second and Rosemarie has to find her breath again.

“Yes, Falcroft. Newton,” Bart emphasizes, jamming his glasses on his nose and going back to turning the pages one by one. “I don’t know which joker wrote in it, that asshole — it’ll detract from the price, but Falcroft. We need this book. Are you selling it?”

Lucian. She’s going to kill him! What on earth?!

“Oh g-g-g-god, it c-can’t st-stay in my ap-p-partment! I have a c-cat! It’s over three-hundred y-y-years old!” she squeaks over her knuckles.

“Then sell it.” That seems to be decided for her — not that she’s going to complain. This is…too much. “Whomever your friend is, I need to know, Falcroft. No one just up and gifts someone a first-edition printing of an Issac Newton.” The collections acquirer looks at her again and grins. “Bet you it’s worth — ”

And he drops a number that, frankly, sends Rosemarie over the edge.

“OH!” she shrills breathlessly, eyes going wide and bleeding raptor-gold.

“Hey, it’s one hell of a paycheck. Congrats,” Bart comments even as he’s using a magnifying glass to study the binding. “Give me a few days to speak with staff and you’ll get a nice pick-me-up to your normal pay stub. We’ll need to verify its authenticity, but…yeesh. It looks authentic to me.” With that, she’s dismissed.

Eventually, somehow, she wobbles her way out of collections — past her desk — past the front desk (and Diana gives her a very concerned look) — and out the front doors. It’s easy enough to find that blonde hair and she quivers her way over to him.

“L-L-L-L — ” Lord, she can’t even say his name for how her heartbeat is thumping away in her ears. Her scalp itches madly behind them and her grip on the Otherness is tenuous. “Th-that w-w-w — The b-b-b — ”

Just put the poor girl out of her misery.

*
Outside, a very unhappy man about fifty stands underneath a tree, closest to the stairs, a coat on.

“Does this square us?” He makes no point of keeping his voice down. No one would understand, anyways.

Lucian looks at his nails. “For the time I rescued you from your landlord, the issue with the French investigators, or the estate matter with the Weizhaupts? I do believe their heirs are still very interested in the little matter of the Matisse?”

His companion grits his teeth and glares, reddened eyes rimming the rheumy brown irises. When they melt, the suspended crystal distillation is undeniably inhuman. “You wouldn’t…”

“No,” Lucian states, “I wouldn’t for the business of your landlord. The other debts stand. We are not clear.”

“It’s too dear. The issue about the building and the owner — for a Newton?”

The blonde raises his head. Blue eyes darken to the rich indigo of an endless evening sky. “For the special attention of the fire marshal and controlled rent until 2019, it’s hardly trouble for you. I know how many we have lying around. Think about it, Akariel.”

Akariel smacks his trilby back onto his head and spits an epithet. “You were always the worst for bargaining, Morningstar. I don’t even know why I bother.”

Shoulders slumped, he eases away, back into the street, just another forgettable scholar.

Give him a moment longer after Akariel vanishes, and he sinks down. Lucian sits on the stairs, soaking up the sun, as though he has every right to be there. His legs stretch out on the gradient sinking broadly to the front walk, and he slides his elbow back to support that supine, lionlike recline. His sharp gaze wanders over the pedestrians, segmenting them into pieces, catching glimmers of their sins and fears as they gaze up to him.

Rotten to the core in the weakest of ways, pale greys in a city patched by so many spectral descriptions that no one could possibly put a definition to.

He probably knows Rosemarie comes clattering down the steps before she begins her stammering procession, but it certainly strokes the man’s ego a few times in the best of ways that she is so tongue-tied.

“Lucian. Bite off the last bit, en.” A touch of emphasis there. “Though I get ‘Looshien’ as much as ‘Looch-ien’ so it all depends on Italian or English or French.” The play of a smirk wants to come fully forth but he’s not about to poke the ball of chattering librarian so hard entirely for its own sake. “Yes, it was something out of its proper hands for far too long. Naturally the fine will be terrible, I’m sure, supposing my records have not been totally expunged due to me being a total wretch. The bane of librarians everywhere.”

*

Wibbly-wobbly knees finally give as one instep shifts enough off an edge of a step to warrant a check on her balance. Better to sit and stutter and stand and risk falling hard or even tumbling down them. Thus, the brunette with the blazing cheeks and ears plops down on the same plane as his broad shoulders and scrunches up her sweater into a near-white knuckled ball.

“F-f-fine?!” Would that she had the presence to not utter this in a near-trill. “Lu-Lu-Lu — oh, dammit.” Rosemarie at least turns her face away to curse in frustration. Her eyes blaze with intensity in their golden hues as she looks back to him, fain to be feverish in her drawn features. “That w-was a f-f-f-first-edition book by Issac Newton, Lucian! B-Bart just quoted me-me-me-me-me — Nngh!” It’s some incoherent sound of frustration when she scratches behind her ears with fervor. Never mind that, too late now. Like a rainforest fern in iridescent dusky hues, prone to flashing sapphire and cobalt in the right light, the fans of feathers curls out.

Luck appears to be on her side, for even as she freezes up, fingers splayed to press them flat to her skull, it’s that time of the afternoon that warrants a lull. Lunch-goers have all returned to their jobs and anyone with children is more concerned about them than pretty hairpieces with a lean towards the avian.

“Oh god,” she whispers, looking at Lucian with wide eyes. Regardless of his immediate reaction, she gets to her feet with exaggerated care and moves around to the other side of him. Her subconscious says he’s bulwark in this moment, likely influenced by the Otherness cavorting about her blood like a lamb in spring.

Guess what, oh host, it’s fine! Rainbows and sunshine, don’t stress!

Perhaps it puts her in the shade of the canopy of the nearby tree or allows her to further quail away against a concrete wall. Regardless, she works to pull strands of wavy hair overtop the feathers, to hide them mostly away beneath the volume. The hardest ones are the longest, topmost and curving out and beyond the end of her skull in sickle shape. Prickling along her outer forearms means the next step and this she tamps down on mentally.

A dogged determination to finish her thoughts arises as she continues. “F-First edition! B-B-Bart thinks it’s m-mine! It’s y-yours!” She finds his face, with its gracious architecture and those damnably-blue eyes. “They think it’s my book!”

*

“Yes, it is your book. Bad of me to let it lie around forgotten. I'm sure the fine is atrocious and I've not the cash on me to pay for it right now. Rather than be led by the ear to the bank, which would be very uncomfortable for everyone involved but me, I acknowledge your ownership provided you see my account waived for any penalties. Unless you propose another bargain,” Lucian idly replies, tossing blond hair away. Strands resolutely tumble back into place exactly where they are intended to deliver maximum impact. Some men have the alarming tendency to be handsome under the least likely of circumstances. He simply breaks that mould to be impossibly himself.
Shade thrown by a tree barely into full leaf, bravely stretching fingers out to the cool spring, grants less cover than Rosemarie might wish. Nothing to defy Lucian from seeing her, anyways, with her hands flat to the sides of her head in a charming, utterly ridiculous effort. Feathers and hair look just fine, rarely on the same appendage or extremity, however. The whole flying mammoths notion. That Bulgarian museum never really was the same after the incident.

He leans forward, forearms slung lazily across his knees. “I have no idea who this Bart is. Make sure he appraises you fairly and, having any doubts, talk to another collections person in a department. I imagine you could gain a second opinion, if doubts are nibbling at you.”

Those bright blue eyes, so akin to the secret fire in the heart of an aquamarine or the rarest diamonds, do not stray away from her face. Likely they mark the obvious, too.

*

He just gave her a Newton. Gave her a Newton.

The barkeep’s nonchalant release of said book into her care continues to make her heart do this odd pitter-patter in her chest — and throat. Rosemarie gives up on pulling hair overtop the crests of dusky feathers and instead attempting to keep holding those stupid blue eyes that are too blue to be real, I mean, come on, now. Her hands end up clutched before her sternum, her thumb worrying errantly at a knuckle.

A little laugh escapes, the beginning of an avalanche into something that could be construed as chuckling save for the hysterical pitch, and she quickly closes off her mouth. A quick set of centering breaths (a bit fast to be completely useful, but at least she tried) and she manages to reply,

“B-Bart is the h-head of c-c-col-l-lections here. He q-q-quoted me…” Her voice peters off again and likely Lucian can see the gears turning now as her gaze slides off beyond his face momentarily. Her mouth drops open slightly before she looks back at him. “Enough to buy a house.”

It’s a breath of a hope and a dream come to fruition and it dangles there before her in a clarity that proves to bring out sheer disbelief.

“Why? Y-you d-d-don’t have an account h-here. And what b-bargain, what?” The stuttering is going away little by little, thank goodness. It’s blissful to find someone with the patience to hear her out when it happens. Silly little feathered thing finds another shift inside towards trusting the man sitting there, offering her all of his focus.

*
The Newton. At least it wasn’t the missing fourth folio that no one happens to recall where he put it. No point telling her about that with so much to worry her feathery head about.

Yes. Lucifer Morningstar, that arrogant. Then he and all his siblings are, unfortunately, and worthy of a good backhand. If only. His eyebrows go up when she starts to giggle maniacally, the particular pitch easily measured and construed as something unflattering instead of excitable. Some of the easy candor in his smile falters.

“I see, it was rather overdue. An incomplete library is something of a pain in the side of a collector, isn’t it?” His tone isn’t faltering very much, screwed solidly into the plank of logical, solid sanity. “You’re certain I haven’t an account there? I am quite sure I do. Oh, there must be a pile of fines one way or the other.”

He still leans all too easily against the steps, going nowhere. No way around him but to confront the fact he is not at all bothered by the monetary value. Money is such a human construction. “I asked that you subtract my fines from whatever you receive, if it’s to keep us squared away. If that doesn’t settle well with your sense of what is right, name something else.”

*

Said Morningstar, who hasn’t given this name to be checked, is given a disbelieving look.

“L-Lucian. It’s a Newton.” If she says it enough, it might become a curse word for the emphasis she puts on it. “How on earth is that book overdue? How am I supposed to subtract fines from an account from…”

The barkeep receives a flat look. “You do not have an account here from the 1600s. You…cannot have an account from then!” She laughs again, suddenly tickled by the concept. The city — nay, state of New York didn’t exist in the 1600s! Her hands fly up over her mouth to stifle the reeling laughter, this time with a note of relief in it. Clearly, she’s decided that he’s joking. After a moment, they drop to reveal a wry smile and she shakes her head. “If you really want me to go search out and see if you have an account, I’ll need your last name.”

She’ll humor him. This time.

*
Lucian lofts a gilded brow. His response is measured in his own time, which means an uncomfortably long silence by standard New York measures. That’s a hell of a different yardstick, but at least he is not as patiently wedded to the idea of introspective silences as Duma, the angel of silence. He hasn’t spoken since the Fall.

“You believe this,” a wave of his hand, “came into existence shortly before the first Dutch and English ships nudged up against a sandbar? I rather doubt that unless I have seriously misjudged you, Miss Piper.”

The arrogance of the man to assume about her character and judge matters to his own liking.

He returns to watching people along the library concourse, headed for the sidewalk and their business about town. Here go children dutifully clinging to the metal frames of their nanny’s prams, students with heads full of savage dreams, elderly folks recapturing the memory of places long gone. Their shuffle isn’t altogether different.

“Yes. It is a Newton. Do with it what you will. Sell it, keep it on your shelf, burn it page by page in the name of some cause. It’s yours.”

*

Her brows knit in a little frown. Misjudged her? How? There’s a curl of tart words gaining power on her tongue until he confirms the book’s author.

“Burn it?!” squeaks she of now wide-eyes, the humor momentarily set to startled wing by such a passing use for said positively-treasured book. “No! Never! It was a gift!”

Rosemarie gives herself a reason to pause and consider Lucian right back by saying this, though she’s got nowhere near the level of practiced scrutiny that he does. Were he to ever impress upon the sheer vastness of the years spent honing this art, she’d probably keel over.

“A gift,” she repeats quietly, even as the base of the feathers shift for her fingernails seeking out the tingles left in their wake. The Otherness languidly floats through her bloodstream, kept at bay by distraction and subconscious suppression by its host’s will. Hence, the lack of the wings — those are a jump away and she’s mindful of this in her hind-thoughts. “You’re…very kind, Lucian. T-too kind,” she adds with hesitance and a bit of a cringe. “F-f-forgive me, but…no one is this kind. To me. Ever.”

The blush increases visibly beneath her freckles again as she endeavors to keep eye contact. It’s hellishly difficult.

*

“You are one of those people who thinks the New World didn’t come into existence until Cristoforo Columbus ran into an island? Surely not.” Not a librarian, who by definition is supposed to have a general body of information about the world. Geography, history, and the Native American population are hard to ignore. Even in 1964.

Lucian stretches his legs down the broad, shallow steps and cantilevers himself up. The dash of his hands against his pants sends any dust from the dark trousers. “The continent has been here, populated, much longer than Europeans and current generations of living Americans care to recognise. It might give a brief pang of conscience to imagine their ancestors and the founding Pilgrims or charming French trappers and Breton fishers had anything to do with the mass depopulation — die-off — of the indigenous population. Their isolation from the Old World diseases made manifest destiny terribly easy. Walk through with a bout of smallpox and watch the reaper do the work, as it was.”

A certain calculated lift of his brows banishes the moody bout, and he gives Rosemarie a shake of his head. “The point is, the span of your life to date doesn’t set the tone for what comes. Not everyone you meet matches a role already played.”

He pulls his hand over his cropped blond hair, the tendency to curl in the front giving way to the regular cropped lines. Eye contact; eye contact is dangerous.

The penchant is there; he banishes the notion away. Shadows are not things he cares to see in the present mood.

*

“I am not one of those people, no.” She’s not sure why she feels the need to defend herself, but the words arrive as tartly as originally tasted. The blush remains. “And you call yourself matchless? Hmm?”

She might have made an excellent governess a century back, able to deliver the question calmly despite the inclination and fight not to smile. It’s one of those awkward things, this attempting not to grin, like laughing at a terrible delivered by a friend at a social function in hopes of averting conflict.

“Then, oh matchless Lucian, I still don’t have a last name to check in our matchless system in case of these fines you speak of.” Rosemarie almost manages lofty. Almost.

Better than stuttering, even if it won’t take much to knock her back to that state.

*
Lucian tugs on the white pressed cuff of his sleeve. “They call me,” he says. They is not something he chooses to identify further. The polished coin cufflink shines in the sunlight, a winking exclamation point.

Whether to answer the question or not? He keeps it simple, applying the Italian emphasis cautiously. “Venere. Though most gruesomely butcher it. Vey-ney-ray.” It could well be Italian. Maybe French. The stress spills slow as honey along each sound, giving equal balance to the first two syllables.

“You, I will note, haven’t offered the same. You might wish to think about that,” he adds, the drawl catching languidly. Slowly the lengthening of the grin reveals itself, wolf turning upon the hen roosting too proud on her henhouse. “Care to rectify that. I mean to hold you to account.”

*

Her eyes, drawn so automatically to the flash of light per oldest hindbrain’s reaction (and never looking up either — that’s always an issue being a simple human in a world that clearly contains more than the standard flavor of humanity, see past experiences with magic), return to his face after a moment.

“Venere.” More mouthed, sampled as quietly as possible over a tongue unused to shaping such sounds. She might do a passing job of it with practice; for now, the New York twang might bruise a vowel or two.

The slow revelation of that smile, so deliberately slow, is enough to make her sit up tall in place. Her hands retreat to her lap, knotted together in some mishmash of fingers and knuckles, perhaps part of her skirt drawn up into it. The fan of feathers behind each ear seems to spread farther still beneath her locks, wider, catching rays of light in sapphire-blues. Her irises never returned to normalcy; they melt further into avian gold.

Lucian sounds terribly…like a mob boss. Like everything and anything her momma ever warned her about. He makes it sounds like her last name is something to be protected and treasured and never, ever given away freely. How…unnervingly counter to society’s standards.

“Hold mm-me t-to a-a-cc-cc…account?” The Otherness in her blood swirls, trickling like champagne through her veins. “F-for m-m-my l-last name?”

A few beats of silence, more beating in her ears. The tips of plumage peeking through ears quiver in conflicting feelings. The blush has spread down her neck, beneath the collar of her cream sweater.

“It’s…F-Falcroft.”

*

Lucian is too far above the possibility of teasing or linking his name to a classification of disease. Nothing new there, and she’s too polite to say anything in that direction. Rosemarie Falcroft; there is a name repeated on the mind. Once repeated, never forgotten. The steel point of memory digs it onto the long, long scroll of thoughts.

Her mama might be carefully flailing to chanting prayers on her knees before the altar if she knew. Knowledge is, after all, a terrible burden.

Is it right to tell a lady her feathers are showing? Not particularly. All that’s likely to do is set Rosemarie running down the stairs squawking in shrill tones, for all he knows, and yet the pieces are slowly, surely coming together. Some part of him eases a little at that. Not another of his brothers, not even close.

They wouldn’t be blue, for one, not that shade of iridescent sapphire dust. Though Raphael has the unfortunate fate of peacock plumage, eyes frozen in their watchful splendour. Thoughts not to track upon.

Finger taps the corner of his eye. He nods. “Miss Falcroft. That will do then. You’ve inherited the means to wipe out my debt, as any, for an overdue book. Should my records still come with a dollar or so then I expect you to take care of that.”

*

A careful swallow and she nods with equal care.

“Of c-c-course, M-Mister Venere.” Forgive the rough handling of the foreign surname. “M-more than enough,” she adds in a somewhat giddy whisper in regards to the debt. A hand unlaces from her lap to touch at the base of her ear, beneath the lowest feather (a sweet little plume, no more than a finger’s length in comparison to the topmost at just over a foot).

“I can’t…c-can’t b-believe — you’re t-too kind.” More of that imploring look from her, even uncomfortable as she is in her own skin at the moment. That Otherness. It just wants out to play.

*

Kind, how many have called Lucian Vénére that? The mere thought catches a tremor of amusement where none belongs, and he stretches his arms back behind him.

“Lucian.” A minor correction, really, but enough she might take it as a rebuke even without trying.

Stretching lasts for a moment and then he gives a good shake, his limbs loose beneath the crisp shirt. His inimitable ease cares nothing for a world creeping towards thermonuclear war. “What are you asking from me, Miss Piper? You have given me that look and I cannot decide whether your intention is asking me to rescue you from yourself or allow you to run away before something happens.”

Really, humans can make simple matters so terribly complicated. Is it any wonder they get themselves in trouble so often?

*

“Oh.” A whisper of a sound followed by a microtic of her pupils wider. Good lord, no one should be able to imply that indecision is a decadent state. There she goes over-complicating things. All sorts of trouble branches off from this moment.

To the one with the indomitable memory, it may come as no surprise that she suddenly rubs at the outer line of her left ulna. After all, there had been a rum-glossed confession in regards to where feathers tend to show on her body. The long sleeves of the sweater prove to be the saving grace. After all, she could explain away the plumage tucked away beneath ears as some hair-clip and the standard human on the street would accept it away as some touch of Bohemian fashion. Primordial fans on her forearms? Not so much.

“I-I’m n-not sure what I’m asking,” she admits, her gaze dropping to his chin, lower to the collars of his white shirt. It seems safer lingering there, admiring the crisp white of the neck of the garment.

*

“To make sure I have an understanding, you aren’t sure.” At the cusp of a decision, Lucian smirks and shakes his head slightly, the blond tumble of his hair brushing over his brow. “At least you know that much, which is not a bad thing.”

He drops the matter as neatly as they come, and jaunts three steps down from the library. “When you come to a decision, then come tell me. You know where to find me. Or leave a word with Maz, and she’ll see I get it.”

He cuts a smart nod to Rosemarie, the grin once more in place. “Do enjoy the little stir in the henhouse. No doubt you will be the star of the show for a few days, until someone returns a missing Gospel.”

*

She’ll nod and then risk a glance up from the crisp shirt collar at him in time to see that curl of his lips. Ooh. Goosebumps break out across her body.

She’ll watch him depart those three steps, still somewhat loose-mouthed for attempting to figure out what’s being implicated. A giggle escapes Rosemarie even as she briefly hides her face behind her hands. Emerging again, those freckled cheeks shine with healthy blush.

“It’d b-be you r-r-returning something l-like that!” A bold claim.

And then a breathless pause and entreaty with laughter beneath it: “P-please d-don’t d-do that.” She rises to her feet, steadily rather than as if dealing with a rush of blood from her head, and observes him from above, being higher upon the steps. “I’ll…I-I’ll visit the c-club again. L-Let you know.”

Isn’t that telling in and of itself.

*
Lucian halts on the pavement. Around him go pedestrians about their business, headed into the library or just a sunny spot to eat their lunch and worry about the world’s end. Might as well do it in good company.

He shakes his head, glancing over at her. “I? No, not likely. The Gospels hold no particular secrets or fascination for me.“

Too close to the truth, but then, he is intimately aware of that.

Rosemarie gives reason for reconsideration, though, based on the statement made. “Are you asking me to stay away from this particular library, or have I somehow earned a delivery service?” Who know libraries did such things in this woe-begotten age? “That means writing an order. You don’t need to do that. You are not my servant. No one is.”

*
Oh good. Whew. No other long-lost tomes appearing to be handed off to Bart, who will surely start pestering her about meeting this Lucian with fervor were she to deliver another to his latex-gloved hands. Tucking hair behind her ears to reveal more of the plumage, now receding slowly but steadily for the relaxation of her internal stress. Things have been settled, decisions made.

Still, she gives him a mildly confused look, the man with the leonine hair and sly smile. “No, n-no servants. No d-delivery service, just… I th-thought I’d let you kn-know about any f-fines that I find in person. It s-seems f-fair. Y-you brought the b-book in p-person.”

Then she laughs, a little ringing chuckle, and shakes her head. Out comes the sun, granting silver lining to her personality. He touched on a hidden humor vein within her.

“No one is b-banned from the library unless they’ve d-damaged books and you…well. They’ll like you, in a r-r-roundabout way. You’ve st-stirred up the henhouse, Lucian.”

She got it right this time, that first name rather than foreign last, the one she’ll be checking once the itching at hair line behind ears and along arms completely ceases.

*
And, wind out of sails, abruptly found. The doldrums engulf the angel formerly known as Sammael. Samael, if you happen to be a Qabbalist who got the orthography wrong.

He taps his fingers against his knee, the bend pronounced as the sole of a very expensive Italian shoe flexes on the last step. “Ah, superb. I don’t tend to keep running accounts of all those fine details at every moment.” Just every other moment, and he never forgets a debt. Thus he offers Rosemarie a nod.

Good, all is in order. The world hasn’t foisted off another vassal onto the Rebel Angel. “Is your work so regular you thrill for interruptions?” Librarians and their henhouse.

“I shall try not to set anything on fire or rework the decimal system you have going on for an amusing arrangement. Charming, that. I’m surprised,” he adds, “you don’t have a song to remember it. Or do you?”

*

While he might languish and fight to leave the doldrums, his particular angle of small talk draws forth another chuckle, a shift of sunlight upon her. Oh, the images that flush from her imagination. Bart in his archival room appearing at the screeching of Mrs. Ketch about the system having been cleverly rewritten to reflect some piano composition, Diana standing off to one side so very confused and generally uncaring save for the fact that her conversation with Candace has been interrupted. Candace would stare. Giselle would be nonplussed, the most stalwart of all the staff. Tillie, prone to be found in the children’s section, might make some bubbly comment in an attempt to draw smiles.

Back to the present.

“No song, just c-cards at the d-desks,” Rosemarie replies, giving him a little smile. “You’re n-not allowed to s-sing in the library, remember? It would disturb the patrons.” Doesn’t she look prim with her shoulders now squared and hands clasped before her waist — the proper librarian. “You can interrupt us…I guess,” she adds, eyes diverting to one side momentarily before the courage summons them back to his face. “If y-you can manage to m-ake Mrs. Ketch less grumpy, you m-might even be w-welcome on a regular basis.”

*
“Mrs. Ketch.” There aren’t so many Ketches; come to think, he could probably name two or three if he had to off the cuff. “First name?”

At this rate, Rosemarie may think he is a Soviet spy. There is no question about that, and his fingers comb through his hair again. “I shall see you at the club, then, with a full run of my fines owed. Do remember when you need something to drink.”

Small talk is not his art. Not at all. He can do it but the conversations had a thousand times over in a thousand years are not new, they are tedious, and wouldn’t it be nicer to say something useful?

“Be careful.” It sounds appropriate to say to a mortal. “The world is destabilised more than usual.”

*

“Kate,” comes the quiet reply to his query, offered with an appropriate amount of curiosity. “I think,” she adds, suddenly uncertain. A nod to his thoughts on conversing over drinks. She’ll be back for the rum, assuredly. The phantom taste of the spicy shots has haunted her in passing ever since, triggered by odd parallels in her cooking cabinet or the light shining into a cup of tea over a book in the window of her bedroom.

His warning is cause for a frown, a cloud passing over her countenance.

“I’ll b-be careful. Thank you.” Gratitude seems appropriate to offer, even if it makes her wring her hands slightly before her bellybutton. She presumes he means of the feathering, which has retreated entirely now. The Otherness found boredom rather than frivolity; it reclines back to dormancy within her blood.

*
Frivolity, take note. He may well know what you are, to some degree. It falls to Lucian to make the polite departure. “You are welcome,” he says, nodding to her.

That shirt Rosemarie wears is already wrung to death. No need to watch sartorial murder. “Until we meet again. Farewell.”

A lift of his hand follows, and he heads off down the sidewalk presumably to the direction of East Village and not, say, for a walk around the neighbourhood that will literally feed him for a week.

*

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