Chloe pinches the bridge of her nose and looks up from the computer screen she’s using as a shield, pretending to scrutinize the library holdings when in reality she’s actually just avoiding eye-contact with the general public. It’s been a long evening behind the reference desk and the patrons have been lining up, not really decreasing in numbers until just now, half an hour before closing time. She’d kill for a beer and a vegan sandwich from that questionable place just around the corner. For a moment to herself, really, behind a closed door. It’s her favorite fantasy whenever she is put on duty out in the trenches of the library’s non-fiction section or - as she prefers to think of it since the library management moved all printers and public computers here - Hell.
This newly arrived patron, however, pulls her thoughts back to the present.
“Hello, excuse me. Yes, hello. My name is Lucifer Morningstar." He looks like he's presenting her with a great gift as he approaches, his smile generous and wide. "What in Dad’s name do you mean by ‘the book is not available’?”
“I’m sorry?” Chloe offers him the very best version of her Professional Smile. It only hurts a tiny little bit around the corners of her mouth and some more inside her soul but all staff recently had a full day’s lecture on the importance of smiling as their boss is reviewing the library’s customer service policy. Again. “Which book are you referring to, sir?”
The man leans against the desk and shows her his cell phone. He smells of cologne and booze, though not in the same way as several of their regulars smell of booze. There are many flavors of alcoholism and most of them parade around on display in the library on a daily basis. For instance, she’s fairly certain this man won’t protest pee in the corner between historical and supernatural romance. You never really know until you catch one of them doing it and she likes to keep an open mind but it’s typically the ones you most expect.
“Ah yes, that’s right,” she says. “That book is in our reference library. Actually it’s in the section that is only open to scholars since this is a separate from, wow, 1703. Written in… Latin?”
“Come now,” he says and smiles radiantly at her. God, he’s good-looking. Definitely not one of the regulars because they have a uniform troll look accompanied by egg-breath. “Surely we can come to some sort of… agreement, Ms Decker."
His gaze lingers entirely too long at her name tag just over her right breast; she clears her throat.
“I’m afraid it’s only for scholars, sir."
She feels confident that this follows the guidelines that they have regarding the oldest material in the stacks. Politely tell them no, sorry - and smile, of course. Marcus Pierce, their new boss who’s been headhunted from Library of Congress, would probably never be caught smiling, though. That’s the difference between you and me, Decker, he had told her the other day. You have to follow orders. I don’t.
The patron regards her during a very brief moment of silence.
“Well, then I will have to become one, won’t I?” he asks, rhetorically.
“I’m, um, pretty sure it doesn’t work like that, sir,” she replies because she is nailing customer service and she’s a librarian and refuses to leave a single question unanswered.
He chuckles, a low sound at the back of his throat as his tongue darts out, quickly, to touch his lower lip. “Oh, it does.”
That’s the first time she meets Lucifer Morningstar.
The following day he arrives just as they open the doors and she recognizes him with an embarrassing flush of warmth running down her spine. Which is utterly unreasonable, but so is he. He’s dressed in a blue Prada suit and wears shoes that are probably made by designers she has never heard of. She wonders what part of this country - continent? Planet? - he owns, how deeply rooted in something rotten his wealth is. As an underpaid servant of the public and a philanthropist to boot, Chloe is against wealthy people on principle.
“Well hello again,” he greets her, bright and distracting.
She blinks. Attempts a smile that gets caught in the way he raises one hand to brush over the nape of his neck as he watches her. The pile of books she’s carrying on her hip wobbles dangerously when she goes out of her way to appear casual and throw her hair back before remembering that it’s tightly wrapped into a bun on top of her head. Right. Mr Morningstar seems to find her failed head movement delightful, regardless, judging by the way he's staring.
“Aren’t you just stacked, Ms Decker.” His voice really has no business being this sultry. “Do you want some help with those?”
At first she thinks he means her breasts, the answer how dare you forming inside her mouth, but then it dawns on her that he’s probably referring to the stack of books that are threatening to scatter at the floor any second now.
“No, it’s fine,” she snaps, jerking away from him.
The three large books on top of her pile crashes between them; at least one of them audibly breaks its back just as Dan walks by with a full book cart. He gives her a meaningful glance that Chloe sighs inwardly at. A couple of years ago she had too much wine at a staff party and ended up making out with him behind the audio-books shelves - outdated media format as a backdrop for a romance that was obsolete before it even started; so very meta of them - and then, because she really does hate emotional conflict, she had sort of dated him for two years. Those had been endless years, really, and she always wants to point out to people that she ended things with him way before he was caught selling semi-antique books stolen from the stacks down in the reference library on the black market.
Demoted to library assistant - a disgrace for anyone with a master's degree - Dan spends his days doing shelf-work and sighing dramatically at patrons and colleagues mishandling books.
“Oh, look at that,” Mr Morningstar says and leans down to pick up the fallen tomes. “Well, I suppose you could always make paper planes with it now. Speaking of, I’d still like to see that lovely Latin book we were chatting about last night.”
He hands her the books and she tries grabbing hold of them without dropping the others, too. It’s so graceful, being a librarian, she thinks. A dignified occupation, truly .
She purses her lips, regaining balance. “Believe it or not, but it’s still placed in the reference library that is available to scholars only.”
“My apologies, but that is absurd.” Mr Morningstar makes a dismissive sound. “It’s hardly an incunable. It’s just a book.”
"A very old book," she adds.
"To you, perhaps." He chuckles irritably. Which shouldn’t be humanly possible to do but she finds that he transcends a lot of things and not only because he’s wearing Prada inside a public library.
She squares her shoulders, her own irritation making her feel a little cockier now. “And we have our rules for a reason. The restricted shelves are a necessity-”
“A restricted section, huh?” He smiles but the tone of his voice is sharper now, clearly there’s some urgency in his mission that he won’t reveal. Or, she corrects herself, he probably will. At length. They always do. “Knowledge forbidden? Suspicious, reasonless. Why should their Lord envy them that? Can it be sin to know? Can it be death?”
Chloe blinks. Walks across the floor to put down the book pile randomly on Dan’s cart - he groans at her, says hey I sorted those, man but she pays him no attention - and then promptly returns to Mr Morningstar.
“I’m sorry, you were quoting Paradise Lost to me?”
He raises an eyebrow and the sharpness from before is gone. “Were you just recognizing a reference? In this day and age! Truly, Ms Decker, I am impressed.”
“Oh come on,” she says, trying to sound humble while simultaneously attempting to ignore the fact that the only reason she knows any Milton is because Ella who works with youth outreach is obsessed with him to the point of having quotes tattooed on her upper arms. “I am a librarian, after all.”
“That you are,” he retorts, voice dragging impossibly low and inviting. “That you are, indeed.”
Chloe takes a deep breath. “But you still need to be a scholar to see this particular reference section.”
For a second he merely glowers at her. He has a commanding presence, for sure, a heavy streak of power to his posture; she wonders if he’s in the military or something similar, used to commanding people. She’d probably do anything he told her. Well, apart from letting him leave sloppy fingerprints all over valuable and rare texts, of course. She’s not a barbarian .
“Bloody hell,” he mutters, mostly to himself before breaching the distance between them to look her in the eyes. There’s something ancient about his gaze, something bottomless, a hunger there that reaches out for her. Or perhaps it’s just been a really, really long time since she had sex. She swallows. “So. Tell me, what it is that you truly desire?”
She is a bit startled at first. It's not every day someone asks her about her wants, least of all in this place. Last time that comes to mind must have been a few months ago when Pierce was new and had these tedious staff appraisal sessions with everyone. He had looked at her, up and down and sideways and asked where she sees herself in five years. In your position, sir, was her first thought but she hadn’t wanted to sound delusional so she quickly made something up about constantly looking for new challenges to imbibe and oh had she mentioned that her worst trait is that she’s very hard-working? (She had, twice.) Pierce had scribbled something down - he's all about going analogue; Ella claims it's “vintage sexy” but then again, Ella has quotes from Milton’s Satan on her body in permanent ink - and nodded. Nobody knows what that was for, nobody has dared to ask. Chloe has sworn to herself to find out one of these days.
"Uh," she says now, pushing her glasses back into place. "I'd like for it to be Friday, I guess. We go out for drinks on Fridays."
Mr Morningstar looks puzzled. His smooth skin even gets a few lines as he frowns, clearly concentrating. She drags a hand over her head, forgetting once more that she’s wearing a bun and can’t wrap strands of hair sexily around her fingers.
"Come now, darling," he practically purrs. His voice hits a note that she’s pretty sure she’s only ever heard in porn before, it’s deep and throaty and makes her acutely aware of the fact that they are standing in the middle of her workplace. “Surely there is more?”
“Like what?” She leans against the nearby shelf, grateful for some support in this weird conversation.
“You tell me, Ms Decker.”
“Um, off the top of my head: higher salary, a nicer apartment, better government funding of public libraries -”
“Are you running for student council?” Mr Morningstar interrupts her, impatient now and decidedly taken by her reaction to his weirdness. “ You’re a grown woman and a librarian. Those are hardly your deepest, darkest desires.”
“No, of course they’re not.”
He draws a sharp breath, still visibly impatient but now also intrigued. She likes that look much better, it lights up his eyes and animates his features.
“Oh, but you are quite something behind those dreadful clothes, aren't you," he says then and Chloe feels slightly dizzy. “I’ll get back to you, Ms Decker. I’ll get back to you, indeed.”
When he turns on his heel he spots Dan who is finally done shelving the upper row of his load and begins moving towards the next section. It is evident by the predatory stroll and the seductive grin on his face that this week’s most annoying patron has very specific plans as he sets off after her ex-boyfriend.
“There’s no need to bother Dan, Mr Morningstar,” she shouts. Three elderly patrons shush her in a synchronized motion. ”He no longer has access to the reference library.”
“Hey !” Dan looks up at her, wounded, but says nothing else as he trudges along, even his book cart leaving a sad little hissing sound in its wake.
Mr Morningstar is back again one hour later, waggling a business card in her face and - she notices after a moment - with a ragged-looking man in tow. Chloe takes the card and eyes the visitors skeptically. At least they’re keeping their voices down. Or well, one of them is.
“Tell this lovely librarian what’s on your mind now, darling,” Mr Morningstar urges and shoves the other man forward until he nearly topples over the reference desk. “You did go through all this trouble and came all the way from England, after all.”
“Lucifer Morningstar works for the Bodleian Library,” he says, hurriedly and - oddly - without any sort of cadence to his speech. Like he’s under a thrall. “My name is Jasper Hart and I’m his colleague. Here - you can check my access card.”
“Bodleian Library, huh.” Chloe looks at them both from her side of the desk, folding her arms across her chest. Mr Morningstar nods appreciatively. She unfolds them again, adjusting her jacket. “Then you really must know the rules for reference libraries, Mr Morningstar.”
“Ah, well. I find tedious rules so very hard to remember.” He sits down on the desk, leaning in to add: “Don’t you?”
“It will be so exciting to see what you hide down there in your hortus conclusus . Shall we say an hour from now? That will give me time to, ah, browse your shelves.”
His gaze travels from her face to a female patron wearing loud heels and then further along to a tall and lanky man who is checking out a bunch of books in the self-service machine.
“Good, it’s all set then,” he answers his own question and Chloe sighs, nodding her consent.
At least this way she’ll get rid of him. Lucky for her the librarian in charge of the reference library is visiting family in Iran, so there should be an easy feat to just take this guy down there, show him his damn book and then - good riddance.
“Did you print these cards out just now? They smell new.”
“Yes.” He nods, proudly. "They are very informative."
The card in her hand has a frame of symbols and letters she can't decipher. In the middle it says, in a bold, elegant font (she had somehow expected Comic Sans) :
King of Hell (leave of absence), The Literal Devil, Satan, Beelzebub et cetera.
Polymath, Scholar of Humanity, Light-bringer (former).
Lingerie Inspector, Orgasm Donor, et al.