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Michael's dog was chosen partially for his looks, all black with big, pointy German shepherd ears, large enough and attentive enough that he looked protective even in a down-stay at Michael's side. That was important to Michael, who despite his height remained willowy and spindly-limbed even at 48, and suffered from, as Rhia put it, a dramatic case of trans babyface. He liked the soft fabrics of his wardrobe, chosen for him at his direction in pale shades of green and lavender and pink by Gerry or Rhia, and he liked the loose collection of his long hair in a low ponytail, often drawn forward over his shoulder-- he wore thin bracelets to attract the attentions of his nervous fingers, but they still wound up tugging at his own hair frequently. But he didn't like to be approached in public, didn't like their coddling, prying voices that he still struggled to respond to with anything other than fawning politeness, so after his previous retriever mix had passed he got Nemo. Nemo still drew the attentions of particularly obnoxious passers-by, but nowhere near as much as Mia's friendly golden face had, especially not once he grew enough that the size of his face almost matched that of his ears. 


Michael had never been more grateful for Nemo’s warm body pressed against his leg as he was now, standing outside the Magnus Institute, feeling the press of that alien gaze so close to him for the first time in over 20 years. It couldn’t reach him anymore, but the aura of it was still pervasive, and Nemo clearly felt it too, the tenseness in his muscles obvious even through his fur and Michael’s trousers. On his other side, Michael felt the back of Gerry’s hand bump his wrist lightly and was grateful for it, a reminder that he had not been alone in this for a very long time. 


The two of them had convinced Eric to stay home on the strength of Michael and Gerry’s certainty that they could handle it together, and Michael did not intend to go home without at least making the effort. 


“Ready?” Gerry asked. Michael squared his shoulders and laughed softly, not because anything was funny but because the sound made him feel steeled. 


“Let’s go,” he said, both to Gerry and to Nemo. As they started forward, Michael’s hand found Gerry’s elbow. He didn’t need it to find his way, but he felt buttressed with a point of connection on both sides, and Gerry adjusted to the hold without comment. 


“Find the desk,” he said to Nemo automatically, even though Gerry was there to spot the receptionist desk in the lobby, but Gerry let Nemo and Michael lead. The person at the lobby desk directed them to the public archive access room, down several flights of stairs. Michael did his best to shake off the feeling of being swallowed. 


"Hi there, how can I help you?" The voice that greets them is chipper and accommodating, with a thrum of nervous energy almost perfectly hidden under its customer service veneer, and Michael sucked in a breath, momentarily dizzy with the thought that this could have been him, still, today. He recovered before Gerry needed to step in and did his best to summon a smile. 


"Hello, I'm looking for the Archivist? I have some things to drop off with him, if he's available." 


--he and Eric had planned this, the moment Eric came across the obituary of Gertrude Robinson in the newspaper. "We might have a chance," Eric explained, already tapping away at his keyboard, starting the process of putting down everything he knew about the Archives. "Now, before the Eye has had a chance to get into any of them." 


"Is it safe?" 


"We're as safe as we can be from the Eye now, Michael, this won't change that." 


"I know. I mean for Gerry and Rhia. Will they be safe, if we do this?" 


The tap of keys stopped then as Eric considered the question, sighing out a small puff of air. 


"I… I suppose I don't know. I think the Eye is done with all of us, but I can't be sure. I can't be sure that it wouldn't come after Rhia to punish us, and Gerry… well, if it takes an interest in Gerry, us getting involved again will only be one potential reason." Michael gave a small laugh at that-- it was true. Gerry took his knowledge of the supernatural more seriously than Eric was fully comfortable with, pursuing the odd stories that would crop up across London and tracking them down-- usually to artifacts, which he destroyed, but occasionally to more sentient manifestations. 


Several months after Gerry's 21st birthday, he had come to Michael with the story of a man whose skin ran like wet clay, who lurked behind doors in places they shouldn't have been. The thing that had taken Ryan through its gaping, impossible trapdoor had been different, but that old wound rang with familiarity at Gerry's story, and Michael knew they were the same. After a few weeks of work, they had been able to track down a book that could command architecture that had a tendency to be… slippery… into something like order, and use it to loop the hallways that door contained into themselves, an ouroboros with no exit. It was difficult to say how long the containment would last, but Michael took satisfaction in the fact that no further stories about doors had yet come up. 


"I'll take down what I know," Michael said, touching Eric's shoulder lightly. "But you should talk to Rhia--”


"Hello, I'm Jonathan Sims, the Head Archivist here. Is there something I can do for you." The supremely cross new voice as well as Nemo's cold nose in his hand, a trained response to dissociation, brought Michael back to the present, and he redirected his smile to the Archivist. 


"I just wanted to drop this off with you. It’s just some information from the last Archives staff. Clerical stuff.” Jon’s aura fairly bled suspicion, even without knowing what his body language was doing. Michael felt a bit bad for finding it funny, but his smile twitched even so. The man had the energy of a wet and startled cat. 


“Clerical stuff? Why are you-- ” 


“Well, we should be going! Contact information is in the envelope if you require any follow-up.” Gerry almost tripped when Michael abruptly cued Nemo to leave, but he followed quickly until they were both outside, safely a few blocks away from the Institute.


“What was that ?” Gerry asked, one finger hooking in one of Michael’s bracelets to get his attention. “Are you okay?” 


“I’m sorry,” Michael said, finally letting himself dissolve into giggles. “I’m so sorry, I’m fine. I’m--” He hiccupped a little, and started to consider that maybe the situation wasn’t quite as funny as he thought it was. He shouldn’t be surprised anymore when his reactions only barely transected with the things he was feeling, after a whole life of it, but it still caught him off guard every time. “Hm. Let’s sit down, actually.” 


“Bench is over here,” Gerry said, and Nemo tugged Michael to it, setting his heavy head down in Michael’s lap as soon as he was seated. Michael laced his fingers into the fur behind Nemo’s ears and endeavored to take a slow breath. 


“I am fine, really,” he said, sitting firmly on his other hand when it threatened to come up to his hair. “I was expecting it to be strange, and it was. But I really do just-- have to know-- did the new Archivist do air quotes when he said ‘clerical stuff,’ or was it just really firmly implied?” 


Now Gerry laughed. “Just implied, I’m afraid. But--” He stopped suddenly, and Michael bumped him gently with his shoulder to spur him on.


“But what?” Gerry made a few noncommittal noises. “Gerry, did you notice something about him?”


“No, no, nothing like that,” Gerry cut across the worry in Michael’s tone, “just, uh, well …. hewaskindofattractiveokay? No, shut up, shut up!” Michael crowed with laughter, batting Gerry’s flapping hands away from him. 


“Don’t worry,” Michael snickered breathlessly. “We’ll make sure to change the contact name to Gerard Leucothea Delano before he calls--”


“Michael, I swear--”


“Maybe with some emoji hearts…?”


“Oh my god.” 


The rest of the way back was mostly quiet, Michael focusing on his breathing once they were sitting on the train. He was fine, that hadn’t been a lie, but having carried out the errand he and Eric had been planning for the past two weeks, he now felt like he was repressurizing after a deep dive, ears popping as he breathed new air. 


Either this would change the course of events, or it wouldn’t. Either the new Head of the Institute would come after them for this, or he wouldn’t. They had given what they could, and the rest would be up to the Eye’s new crop of bodies and minds, and what they did with it.