Will paused by the gently-lit case, looking down at the open manuscript inside. One of the librarians must have changed the display during the day, because this was a different book to the one that had lain there when Will walked by early that morning—and that was a reminder that it was much too long since he had eaten anything or breathed fresh air. His stomach growled.
Nonetheless, he stopped a moment longer. The pages were covered in row upon row of neat insular minuscule, still rich and black, with only a single illuminated initial at the top of the left hand side. The manuscript's main interest, Will supposed, was in the palimpsest beneath the upper layer of text; the vellum had been well-scraped, but it was easy to see the faint grey markings that had been left behind. Product of a place without a great many resources for book production, then; where every piece of vellum was precious, and exotic pigments hard to come by.
Will's gaze drifted up to the capital 'P', intricately knotted with fine black designs that ended in unexpected eyes, looking back; he could trace the forms of two birds, wings highlighted with rusty red and what once might have been green. In the bowl of the 'P' was depicted a small figure, seated at a desk, quill in hand. Will smiled to himself as he took in the details—the curling hair, the thoughtful face, the monkish robes.
He was conscious, suddenly, of a change in the quality of the ambient light—but surely he was not so late that the library was closing?—and raising his head, he blinked, once, twice. And between one blink and the next Will found, with a catch of his breath, that he was no longer in the library of his own day, looking at a manuscript in a glass case, but in another place and another time entirely.
The soft murmurs of the modern library—the footsteps, the hum and flick of the microfiche machines, the hushed voices—had faded away completely and been replaced by a deep silence in which the only sound was the careful methodical whisper of brush on vellum. Seated near a window Will saw the living replica of the figure from the manuscript, head bent over the desk; but now the last of the daylight was fading and the room too poorly lit for further work. The man set his brush aside in a small bowl of water, and then lit the tallow candle that stood beside it, already partly used. When it was burning steadily he stood, and turned, and smiled.
'Hello, Will,' said Gwion.
Will felt the smile break across his face as if the sun was rising instead of setting, and in three quick steps he had crossed the small room and seized Gwion's hands—callused, ink-stained—in his own. Gwion's dark eyes shone.
'You are as lovely as ever, cariad,' he said softly.
Will flushed, as he always did when Gwion said such things to him, and in a voice almost choked with feeling, answered, 'And so are you.' A laugh of pure delight was rising in his chest, and he stroked Gwion's bearded cheek gently. 'I won't even ask how this is possible, but—oh! I'm glad it is.'
Gwion kissed him then, with a hunger born of their long separations, and Will gave himself up to it for dizzying breathless minutes, losing himself in the warm demands of lips and tongue, threading his hands into Gwion's curling grey hair, so soft, so dreamingly present.
When at last they broke apart to draw breath Will grinned mischievously at Gwion. 'Monastery lifestyle not suiting you, then?'
Gwion gave him a mock-frown. 'It suits me admirably, Old One. It's your presence that is not conducive to celibacy.'
Will laughed, and laced their fingers together, pressing their joined hands to his lips and then against his heart. 'Well. Consider me flattered to be able to distract you from your vows and your work.'
The room had grown steadily darker, and outside the window the shreds of orange clouds could still faintly be seen. With a sigh Gwion withdrew his hands, and turned back to the desk to pick up the candle, now burning low. The flicker of the flame across his face rendered it both strange and familiar, and with a pang Will knew that their time together was running short.
'I love you,' he said, sudden and fierce, afraid that Gwion might disappear before he ever heard the words.
'And I you, Will,' Gwion answered warmly. A bell, somewhere, began to ring, steadily pealing out its clear bronze measure in the evening air.
Will said, longingly, 'Gwion?'
With a last smile and bright eyes, Gwion said gently, 'Farewell for now, cariad—' and blew out the candle.
Will squeezed his eyes shut for a long moment, as if by refusing to acknowledge the shifting of the world around him he could somehow remain there, in that other time, with the man he loved. But he was at root a practical person, and he was also ravenously hungry, and at last, drawing a deep breath, he opened his eyes once more.
The library was in almost complete darkness, the manuscript hidden within its case; only a few dim lights were lit here and there. It was definitively past closing time, and Will was locked in.
'Oh, bugger,' he said crossly, and went to try to find a way out.