He's in 793.734 when everything changes. Fine Arts; Amusements and Recreation; Gaming And Puzzles; Board. It was the fourth edition of the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary that should have given him the first clue.
Or, more realistically, the lack of the thing. It was missing.
Despite the infinite stacks of the library, that wasn't unusual. Most of the books were missing. Jensen had waited six years for Dances with Dragons. Ten for Martinez's Alamo Reconsidered. By the lines of the dues listings, he had thirty years to wait before Planik started to write Fall of the Lesser Gods and forty before it concluded. Planik was not yet born.
The Players Dictionary, though, Jensen's sure he's shelved. Recently.
He could be wrong. The trolleys are never empty. He might order books by Dewey, but Jensen shelves by theme, by color, by the minute of publication, by typeface, by whatever comes to hand first. He has an infinite variation in typologies matched only by an infinite variety of texts. He can't count the number of books which have passed through his hands, and when he'd arrived the accessions listing had already rolled into millions and the shelves sprawled further than he could see. Jensen must have filed a million books himself. More. And it wasn't that he remembered every one. He'd be hard pressed to name every Star Trek fanzine. He's never managed to codify exactly which biographies have been published and which are yet to come.
But Jensen is sure he can remember the bright red of the dictionary and the satisfying weight of it, sliding in beside the three upstanding volumes of its peers. He's sure that there had been, as there always was, a perfectly sized space on the shelf into which it had fitted. There's still a gap on the shelf. But no book.
It's so unprecedented that Jensen leaves the trolley where it is, unfinished (794.1, Fine Arts; Amusements and Recreation; Games Of Skill; Chess) and walks back to his desk to check accessions. He's not wrong. He'd shelved the book sixteen trolleys ago.
He should hear nothing beyond the gentle echo of his own footsteps, the well-oiled whirr of the trolley wheels and the soft rustle of papers as he checks frontispiece against index. There's no one but Jensen here. There never has been.
He finds himself listening for the silence at the end of the stacks as if it will answer him back.
Twenty four trolleys later, in 796.525 (Fine Arts; Amusements and Recreation; Sports and Athletics; Outdoor Leisure; Caving; Mexico - he's actually heading down to Yorkshire) the trolley wheels stutter.
Jensen's heart stops. He's backed up against Ukraine before he can blink. Terror curls his hands in the empty air, widens his eyes and chills the back of his neck with sweat. The stacks seem taller, the passageways darker, the shelves heavier and more crowded: in his mind's eye he can see the top of the stacking start to fall towards him in slow motion, books tumbling, and under the weight of them Jensen feels himself pinned and helpless for all eternity.
Nothing, here, has ever failed Jensen before.
There's a scrabble tile caught under the left hand front wheel of the trolley.
Jensen fumbles through the next trolley. He misfiles Ethnicity and Linguistic Determination under Gender Studies, has to reorder the Journal of Sanguinistical Studies twice and completely mislays Kripke's Disambiguation and Media Tropes. He finds himself holding his breath as he creeps through the library, startling to the double echo of his own footsteps, and the weight of the tiny, near half-inch square tile in his pocket could be as heavy as all twenty volumes (three subsections) of the Encyclopedia Britannia. As he walks, Jensen cannot stop rolling the thing between his fingers. It's wooden, warm, sharp-edged. His fingertips worry at the indentation of the letter, his thumb pushes at the corners, and no matter how much he wishes it otherwise the tile remains real.
It's an E, the commonest of vowels. There are twelve Es in a set of scrabble tiles.
There's a man sitting at the table.
In Jensen's library.
There's a man sitting at his table. In his library. Playing scrabble.
Jensen says, "This is my library." He's outraged. Almost incoherent with anger, suffused with it, threatened, mocked, invaded. "Get out!" he shouts. "Get out! Get out! This is my space! This is my heaven, not yours! Get out!" Almost unconsciously, he curls his hand around the spine of Cacti and Succulents: An Illustrated Guide to Pain Free Cultivation. It's satisfyingly sharp-edged and heavy against his skin.
The man at the table looks up. "Do you have my missing E?" he asks.
"What?" Jensen asks.
"My missing tile. I'll swap it for this," he says. And he holds up Jensen's missing Kripke. By his elbow, he's got the the Official Scrabble Players Dictionary, and it looks used already.
"Let go of those books," Jensen hisses. "They're not yours. None of them are yours. You shouldn't even be here. Go away."
"I don't think I can do that," the man says apologetically. "I think I'm stuck here." He's shrugging. His hands are spread wide, open, and he's pulling a face that reminds Jensen of a moonstruck llama. Not that Jensen's ever actually seen one. Just that, if a llama happened to come along, and the moon was out, and the llama noticed and then enchanted, couldn't look away, then it might, just, have an expression on its face that looked like that one.
Jensen retreats into 793.738, mazes.
When he comes back, the man is still playing scrabble. Skulking behind 582.16 (Mathematics And Science; Botany; Phanerogamia), Jensen watches. He plays slowly, this man, propping his head on one hand. He's frowning. Occasionally, he runs one hand through his hair. For all that they're hunched over the board, he has broad shoulders. Narrow hips. His forearms are muscular, his thighs lean, his feet, big. He sighs. A lot. It's disturbing.
"Can't you be quiet?" Jensen says.
The man leaps from his chair. It crashes down onto the parquet. He's tumbled the rack with its tiles, scattered the board, and Official Scrabble Players Dictionary now hangs preciously from the table edge by the skin of its binding alone.
"I thought you weren't coming back," he says. He sounds, incredibly, relieved.
"Books don't shelve themselves," Jensen mutters. Although there are surprisingly few trolleys waiting by the desk. At a glance, bus spotting and tram line design. It's not inspiring.
"At least tell me your name," the man says. "I thought I was alone. I thought you'd gone."
"I can't go," Jensen says. "I live here."
Trams go under 388.12. Social Sciences; Commerce; Communication; City Transit (Cars, Buses, Trucks, Subways); Roads, Bridges, and Highways; Design. Who knew.
When he gets back to the table the man's gone. It's almost disappointing. Anger's good for shelving books. It makes Jensen faster, sharper, stronger.
But the scrabble board's still on the table. And there are no trolleys of books. Neither of these things have happened before. Utterly discomposed, Jensen checks accessions, and finds that the record of books arriving hasn't stopped. The dues listing still stretches to infinity. He straightens the stack of labels on his desk, chains his paperclips and sharpens his pencil. He can't say he walks to the board. It's more of a sideways skitter.
It reads, "MY NAMEIS JARED." There's a blank tile for the second M. Score, a disallowed 75 points.
Something shuffles, behind the empty trolleys. It's a very quiet shuffle, tentative, unassuming.
"I'm Jensen," Jensen says. He waits. He can't hear anything. It's... disconcerting.
He sighs. "Box rules or tournament rules?" he asks.
It's probably not deliberate. It's just that Jensen honestly cannot remember when he last saw another living soul, and Jared's more than alive. He moves. He gestures, he wriggles, his eyebrows go up and down, his dimples flicker in and out of existence. His hair flops, his eyebrows quirk, his toes tap, and the arch of skin between the tendons of his thumb and his index figure stretches, sculptured and gorgeous, every time he moves a tile. He thinks with his eyelashes down and his tongue caught between his teeth. Jensen can't concentrate. He should have scored 40 for CAPTAIN (Double word score, plus AH, PA, IN and NO) but panicked and went for PAINT instead. (19.) He forgets about plurals. He doesn't get a single seven letter word. Jared wipes the floor with him.
He says, "Do over?"
Jared positively grins back at him, and shuffles the tiles back into the bag. "Thanks," he says. Hesitates. "I didn't mean to... "
"I know," Jensen says. He watches Jared shake the bag, mixing the tiles. Jared, scrupulous, closes his eyes while he picks. "It's just that, dude, this is my place, you know? I wasn't expecting to see anyone else. Ever."
"Kind of wasn't expecting to be here myself," Jared says. He passes the bag across.
"Didn't they ask you?" Jensen says. To his surprise, he's truly curious. He rolls the weight of the bag in his hands, tiles clinking and shifting in his palm under the baize, but he doesn't pick.
"Yeah." Jared shrugs. "I asked to be happy."
Eventually he says, "And you ended up here?"
It's something between a self-deprecating grin and a clown's grimace, the face Jared pulls. "I don't even know," he says. "Kinda like it, though. Now."
Jensen gets M, Y, O, O, I, Q (damn it) U (score!).
"I knew," he says. "I've had this place planned in my head since I was five, you know? I knew exactly where I wanted to be."
"Didn't you get lonely?" Jared asks. He's toying with one corner of the board. His fingers are long, surprisingly slender, smooth skinned. His fingernails are neatly pared. When Jensen glances up, he's looking back. He's got eyes like a constipated leveret. He's not, Jensen thinks determinedly, cute.
Jensen looks away. He says, "No."
Jared doesn't call him on the lie.
He's not stupid. He's familiar with the physiological nuances of 613.96. (Applied sciences and technology; Medicine; Health; Hygiene; Hygiene of Offspring; Heredity; not set (erotica).) He knows what the flush of heat in his skin means, when he watches Jared's hands, and the twist in his belly when he watches those long fingers toy with a tile. He knows that the shiver down his spine with each decisive click is a purely animal reaction. The fact that his dick swells warm and immediate against the seam of his jeans, that there's a consuming pulse in the hollow of his thighs that he can't remember ever feeling before, that his own hands fumble on the baize of the bag, it's nothing more than a chemical reaction to a potential mate. His body thinks Jared's genetically compatible. That between them, they'd make strong babies and raise them well: that Jared's powerful shoulders and muscular arms and long legs mean protection and care and companionship, all the things that Jensen turned his back on when he shut the door to his very own space with himself inside. He doesn't need anyone else. He's not alone: he's in infinite company.
It doesn't help, when he glances up and Jared's looking at Jensen's mouth. His pupils are dilated, the tip of his tongue flicks at his bottom lip, and when Jared shifts on his seat and widens his legs it's so obviously nothing to do with how hard the chair feels that Jensen looks down and can't look away. His mouth dries, his dick pulses in his jeans, his balls feel heavy and tight and he's kneading his thigh with one hand.
He knows he's been caught when Jared reaches a hand across the table and closes it over Jensen's, over the rack. It's gentle, Jared's grip, but it's not tentative at all.
"You seen something you want?" Jared asks. His voice has deepened.
Jensen looks up. He throws his dice, takes his shot, makes his pick on the other side of the wall.
He says, "Yes."
He pushes himself off the chair, drops to his knees, and the space he slots into between Jared's legs is exactly configured for him. His hands were made to curl around Jared's hips, his shoulders built to nudge Jared's thighs. When he rolls his face against Jared's dick, strained under denim, the feel of it under his skin is perfectly real. Jensen's mouthing at heat with his eyes open wide even before Jared's hands pop the zip.
"You sure about this?" Strained, Jared's voice is as unsteady as his hands on Jensen's hair.
Jensen looks up. Under his eyelashes. Grins, slowly, and licks his bottom lip. It'd come under 158.2, interpersonal relations, but he's way beyond flirting. He can't stop: he's turned the last page, and he's long past The End.
Jared's hands spasm and grip. His head goes back, and Jensen closes his eyes and swallows his way down Jared's dick as hard and fast as he can. He has to screw himself open to take as much as he can and there's still inches to spare, but the feel of flesh in his mouth - Jared's flesh - fills up every empty space he has left. He flattens his tongue, hollows his cheeks, tilts up his chin, and sucks like a man whose living depends on his mouth. He shouldn't be surprised when Jared comes, but he is: he splutters, chokes and still doesn't pull off, and Jared nurses him through it with both hands and a whine in his voice that's nothing but wrecked. When Jensen sits back on his heels, palm of his own hand pressed to his dick, Jared's still dazed.
"C'mere," he says, "C'mon up," thick and slow, but his hands don't let go and won't take no for an answer, and his kisses are drugged with words. Jared thinks Jensen is, "So fucking gorgeous, baby, you don't even know," and "Oh God, yeah, so good, just there, don't move, love your hands." When he spreads Jensen out belly-down on the leaves of the table and kisses him hard on the nape of his neck, Jensen's laid bare in more ways than one.
"Stay still," Jared whispers. "Something I wanna... " His fingers touch the skin he'd kissed, momentary heat, and leave behind them on Jensen's skin a momentary coolness and a lasting, smooth pressure the weight of a ten-cent piece. He does it again, half an inch further down Jensen's neck. And again, between his shoulders, and again, over and over and further down. It feels as if Jared's pulling Jensen together by the line of his spine, his muscles tightening under the feel of Jared's fingers and those small, unsteady weights.
"Shush," Jared soothes. He's reached the small of Jensen's back, and Jensen's skin is alive with nerves. He doesn't know what to do with himself, can't move, rubs his fingertips against the table top, curls his toes. Jared's fingers scroll over the curve of his coccyx, leaving sensation in their wake, and Jensen almost shivers. Breath hot and damp, Jared whispers, "Nearly done," against the skin of his ass cheek. Then his fingers inch downwards, square-edged.
Jared's spelling out words on his back.
Jensen might whimper. He freezes in place, hands fastened so tightly on the desk the edges bite into his skin, and Jared huffs the smallest of laughs into his ass. "You like that?" he asks, but the sound of his voice is strained and tight.
Jensen says, "Mmph," and Jared leans over him and sets his mouth to the very first tile. His lips are soft and wet, and his tongue pushes the hard of the wood into Jensen's skin, the smallest edges of pain. When he licks the indented skin, the tip of his tongue is a promise of comfort, but the edge of his teeth when he bites the tile free is sharp-edged threat.
There are thirty-two tiles down Jensen's back.
By the time Jared gets to the last, Jensen's blind with want and Jared's holding him down. Jensen's thighs are shaking, his shoulders tight, he's got one hand in his mouth to stifle his voice and his teeth against his own knuckles. Only Jared's hands on his hips keep him still. When the last tile goes, he starts to shake. He can't stop, and Jared's fingers stutter and push at the curve of his back, the tender crease where his ass meets his thighs, the points of his hips. Eight sharp-edged half moons, his fingernails pull Jensen apart, and then Jared licks up the crack of his ass sure and strong as the slam of a door.
The shock of it curls Jensen up on the desk, gasping for breath, jerks his feet up and sends his hands flailing into the air: he doesn't realize he's screamed til the echo comes back. He's got no voice, nothing to hold, his hands can't reach Jared's skin. Lost, he fumbles helplessly at the polished wood, fingers scrabbling, unable to say what he needs, and Jared blankets him down hips to hips, the heat and weight of his dick pressed against Jensen's ass, his chest sweat-skin hot against Jensen's back. It's Jared's hands that uncurl Jensen's fingers, fold his arms over his head and wrap cord loosely around his wrists, holding him still. Give his hands something to clutch that's warm and soft, hard-edged underneath, and Jensen can just about manage a grateful moan before he screams all over again. That's Jared's hands splayed on his hips, Jared's thumbs splitting him wide, Jared's tongue in his ass.
Jared's tongue makes him scream. Jared's dick punches every word out of him, makes him a creature unleaved, bound open, falling apart, but Jared's hands and his mouth and his voice say, you're not alone.
"There must be a way out of this place," Jared says. His head is resting against the hollow of Jensen's shoulder, his back is folded into the curve of Jensen's arm, and his arm, heavy and warm, rests over Jensen's chest. Palm cupping Jensen's cheek, his fingertips touch the spot at Jensen's temples where the skin is paper thin and close to the bone.
There is a door. Jensen walked in, once. He'd never expected to walk out again. This is his place, not Jared's.
"Maybe," he says.
"You ever wonder what's out there?" Jared asks, and his fingers tighten. Jared will have family, out there. Friends. People that need him.
"No," Jensen says. It's the truth. He'd thought he was content.
Jared looks up. He'd asked to be happy, and happy was, apparently, Jensen. It's right there, in the softness of his eyes and the touch of his hands on Jensen's skin. If Jensen wants to stay, Jared will too.
Jensen's heaven let Jared in.
Jensen smiles. He says, "Let's find out."
impossible. He might even have a map.
so many sources for this fic it's little more than sleight of hand.
Bob Dylan for the title. Robin McKinley for the library. A few people,
most recently yourkidney,
for the idea of the number games. (Unasked, apologies.) Librarything
for the Dewey codes. Thomas Middleton for the board game. The porn's