Nikola, on his way towards his intended destination, pauses for a moment. There's a handy picture on the wall, the morning light just sufficient on the glass...
From behind him, Henry gives a small crow of delight.
"Were you just...? You were totally checking out your hair."
"Oh, God." Will stares at him. "Seriously?"
Nikola's eyes narrow dangerously.
"Given the amount of product that you use, I hardly feel that you get to point fingers. And the day I take grooming tips from dog-boy will be a sorry one indeed."
"Hey, it's cool." Henry raises his hands. "No need to get nasty."
But Will has made the connection between location, and probable destination.
"Don't you have anything better to do today?"
"Heinrich is being pitifully territorial about his tinkerings, and I'm certainly not helping you with the filing."
"So, you're going to hang out in the library and annoy Ms Donovan?"
"Well, face it, gentlemen," Nikola says, "She thinks I'm hot."
Straightens his cuffs, before sauntering through the doors. Will shakes his head.
"I don't know whether to laugh, or to offer the poor woman a taser."
"He'd probably regard that as foreplay." Henry says, then looks abruptly nauseated.
Will tries very hard to banish that image from his mind.
Kat is standing in the middle of the library, hands on hips, head tipped back to survey the shelves. She gives him a bright smile over her shoulder.
"Good morning, Dr Tesla."
"And good morning to you, too. You look like you are plotting unspeakable mischief. Please tell me that's the case."
"I've basically been turned loose to compile a wish-list, it's probably going to take a day or two for me to stop wanting to jump about like a five-year-old on a sugar rush."
Nikola is a little sorry that the bright smile wasn't for him. Or all for him, anyway. But he can be magnanimous, and share it with books. He hitches a hip onto the corner of a table.
"If you are going to be jumping about in those fetching heels, whilst climbing ladders, I'd better stay."
Taken objectively, he's too thin, and his face is too long, all eyes and nose and that ridiculously wide mouth. And none of that matters, because the whole package is stupidly attractive. Especially when he smirks, all teeth, and she shouldn't find that sexy, because he looks like the very worst kind of trouble. Kat resolutely turns back to her notebook.
This is a little different to the situation yesterday, chatting in a room filled with other people (and one of them Helen, which was slightly uncomfortable in hindsight.) This is just the two of them, in this vast, vaguely shadowed room, the crosshatch of sunlight falling from the high window, and sound swallowed up by the books. It never occurs to her to be afraid, but she is nonetheless very aware of him. This means that she doesn't precisely jump when he comes to peer over her shoulder, although the little kick of breath and heartbeat are noticeable to vampire senses. She tilts the pad so he can see the split screen.
"Incompatible cataloguing systems, unfortunately, so I'm having to run the comparison by eye."
Nikola casts an eloquent gaze around the room.
"Wouldn't it be simpler to have had electronic copies of everything to begin with?"
"Hush your mouth." The librarian admonishes him. "I know that electronic media is the way forward, everything compact and accessible, but there's still something satisfying about the feel of real books."
"Oh, I used to sneak books from my father's library as a boy." Nikola says, smiles sidelong at her. "A self-lit screen is far less hazardous to the bedsheets than homemade candles."
"I'm from the era of the electric torch." Raises her eyebrows, amused. "So, your advancement of technology was just so you didn't set fire to your bed?"
"A valid concern." And, because he's Nikola, "If I'm going to set the sheets alight, it won't be because of a naked flame."
She stares at him for a moment. Nikola's smile widens into full-on salacious, and she bursts out laughing.
"You are an appalling man. How many times have you been slapped for being vile?"
"Not enough to discourage me."
He's so outrageous, he isn't even offensive, grinning at her like a naughty little boy. And it's going to be all too easy to forget that he is anything other than an attractive man with a dubious sense of personal boundaries.
He follows her about as she works, but not obtrusively, sometimes reaching things down for her, and they fall easily enough into conversation. Kat's actual job is not too dissimilar to the work he himself had done in tracing his people, and not for the first time, he wonders what it would have been like, to have someone to share his journey, his research. This is a job that no search engine, however sophisticated the programming, can yet duplicate. All the nuances of thought and language and context.
"I hope I'm not keeping you from anything important."
Nikola thinks of his lab, the handful of half completed projects, those who imagine themselves his superiors demanding his time and energy and intellect for their petty concerns.
"Nothing that won't keep. I'd like to help." He finds that he means it, as he says it.
He's shed his jacket, carrying stacks of books that would bring a normal man to his knees, and Kat tries not to ogle the muscles of his forearms. She has a suspicion that he is showing off, and has turned back his sleeves deliberately.
(She is unaware of the fact that Nikola is cheerfully appreciative of the view he has, as she scurries up and down ladders, bends over the table to mutter at her notes.)
He'd been wondering how to address her - Katherine seems oddly formal, Kat too abrupt – and then, Katica just slips off his tongue. She's been subjected to many versions of her given name, nearly all of which she has shot down, some with extreme prejudice, but that's a new and charming variation. He looks slightly too smug about it, though, so she keeps calling him 'Dr Tesla' with exquisite politeness, even as she ruthlessly orders him about. He can well imagine that she bullies MacRae with this same cheerful disregard. And James had presumably indulged her, let her trample over him in those wicked little boots. Quite why he is allowing this state of affairs, he's not quite sure. Or perhaps he is.
"So, is there some poor beleaguered male awaiting your return to London? A captain of industry? Or a fellow bibliophile?"
"Hardly. My last 'date' consisted of a post-match evening out with Declan and his mates. It was...not good."
"I assume beer was involved?" Nikola asks, in the dubious tones of one discussing an unfortunate faux pas.
"There was Guinness. And a barful of drunken squaddies singing rugby songs." She shudders. "Let us never speak of it again."
"Beer." He repeats. "You're a philistine."
She gives him a truly diabolical grin.
"I learnt an entire list of port-based cocktails, just to watch James twitch. I'm guessing the mention of kalimotxo will do the same to you."
Nikola makes a strangled noise, and stares at her in horror.
"Oh, please tell me you don't..."
"Personally, I prefer champagne."
"You are a fiend." He says, with feeling.
Really, the woman is evil. She has coerced him into being her packmule, and now she was baiting him with alcoholic abominations. Kat just laughs at him.
"There are a couple of manuscripts I was hoping to get hold of, that I lost out on at auction. Unfortunately, it seems that they are in the New York house." She pulls a face. "That bloke that used to be in charge there would never lend stuff out, either."
"Perhaps you'll get an opportunity to, hmm, peruse them, now that he's been displaced?"
"I'm hoping to swing by on my way home." (There's an unholy gleam in her eyes, which Nikola translates as 'And given the chance, I will go through those shelves like a plague of locusts'. He grins. He appreciates the instinct to acquire knowledge by any means.) "I've never been to New York."
"Never...you poor deprived child." He's honestly shocked.
"Well, it's never seemed like somewhere that would be fun to visit on my own. And it's really bizarre being called a child by a man who still looks the wrong side of his mid-life crisis."
Nikola sniggers, then adopts a world-weary demeanour.
"My dear girl, when you get to my age, the world is full of charming infants."
"How very Maurice Chevalier of you."
"Hmmph. See if I recommend any good restaurants to you for that."
A moment or so later, of course, he begins to sing a very recognizable tune softly under his breath. Kat gives him a narrow gaze that makes her resemble her feline namesake, but rather ruins it with the smile she can't suppress. He leans in, his expression wicked.
"Incidentally, I consider ortolans to be a disgusting waste of Armagnac."
She pokes at him with her pen.
"C'mon, I've got a job to do, and I can't concentrate on translating things with you being distracting."
Since Nikola has taken small calibre rounds that have failed to dissuade him, he's not at all concerned by a ballpoint. He keeps grinning, and snags the book she has in front of her.
"Genius, remember? Also, polyglot."
"And modest. Don't forget that." But she looks up at him, all amused challenge. "Go on then, impress me."
"Oh, my dear," The eyebrows again, "I think you can count on me to do that."
She pokes at him again.
"Useful, rather than merely decorative, or go away."
"The story of my life." He says, mournfully, and opens the book.
Languages have always come easily to Nikola. Those who mocked his accent in those early New York days, or at Oxford, had never stopped to consider that English was well down the list of languages he had learnt fluently by his mid-twenties.
A couple of hours later, they have got through one bay of the library, six mugs of tea and a bottle of Merlot, which Nikola has dripped on a volume of hand-drawn maps, and been scolded for. But he has also been thanked profusely, and smiled at with genuine admiration. He'll count that as a win.
"Have you seen Katherine today?" Helen asks, looking round Will's office door.
"I think she's being subjected to another lecture on 'Me and My Ego'."
"Oh dear, Nikola's still here?"
"He has a captive audience and free access to your wine cellar." Will points out, dryly.
"Ah." Helen sets her shoulders. "I had better go and intervene."
Although Nikola is indeed in the library, he appears to be being genuinely helpful. (Of course, 'appears' might be the operative word.) The corner table in the library has become a little book fortress, and she can just see the top of two dark heads bent over.
Nikola hasn't slipped a 'casual' arm around Katherine onto the table, but Helen thinks he's probably considering it. She glares at him on principle, and he gives her a look of transparent innocence. Katherine looks remarkably unharassed, though, blinking up from the collection of papers.
"Good morning...um, is it still morning?"
"Only just. I was wondering whether you were showing up for lunch. Do you have everything under control?"
'Everything' smirks, and much to Helen's surprise, Katherine smiles cheerfully.
"Oh, Dr Tesla's been wonderful. His German is better than mine..."
"...I do have a few years head start..." Nikola, all mock humility, and they exchange grins.
"Your Greek could use a bit of work, though."
"I keep seeing equations in it." He confesses. "It's terribly distracting."
It's a long time since Helen has seen Nikola so at ease with anyone - or anyone so at ease with Nikola.
Lunch is a far less formal affair than dinner, a buffet service in the kitchen. Helen has chosen to toy with a salad, whilst Henry constructs a towering sandwich. Will tries for healthy, falls by the wayside, and follows Henry's example. Kat eyes the American cheese with suspicion, and sticks to chicken salad. Nikola decides that the Merlot is lonely, and needs a friend.
They are all used to Tesla's nicknames, insulting or otherwise - Henry keeps a record, he's quite proud that he's leading the field – so Will thinks they shouldn't be surprised that Kat has become 'Katica'. She's still calling him 'Dr Tesla', but more as if it is a private joke. And then Tesla virtually pouts at her every time she does, which is deeply disturbing.
It isn't like they don't talk to other people. Kat and Magnus are talking about some mutual acquaintance they have in Cairo, and Will reflects on how much his life has changed that hearing the word 'ecdysis' in the context of 'changing for dinner' doesn't even faze him. Henry has this new and random bit of electronic tech that he ganked from somewhere, and by the time Magnus notices, he and Tesla appear to be using a couple of forks to dismantle it, their esoteric technobabble interspersed with a brisk exchange of insults. (Tesla doesn't make any concessions with Henry, which is a back-handed compliment.) But when Kat finishes her plate, and announces her intention to go battle the books once more, the vampire slides out of his chair to follow, and there is already a debate about whether to group volumes by language or geographic region as they disappear down the corridor. Henry blinks after them, then back at the abandoned and gutted 'ware.
"...are we still in some freaky alternate 'verse, here, or does she have some scary vamp-wrangling powers?"
"Not touching that one." Will holds his hands up.
"Well, I'm expecting a call from London." Helen smiles. "I'll ask Declan if there's a precedent."
She drops it into the conversation, a joke made in passing, and Declan manages to disguise the brief flash of horror quite well, but after the phone call ends, he puts his face in his hands and laughs quietly.
Because, yes, there is a precedent. The woman had spent best part of a decade dealing with James Watson. She is extremely used to high-strung genius, tremendous ego and the general weirdness that comes with talking to someone who remembers a world before electricity.
During the mad scramble of the superabnormals, Declan had been aware of Tesla as an arrogant, abrasive presence, though he'd been hurting too much from the loss of James Watson, panicking at the sudden elevation in his own responsibilities, just dealing with everything, to really take notice of him. But he has a general memory of a thin, well-dressed man with a weary face and sharp eyes, all biting sarcasm and ferocious intelligence.
He might not know Tesla, except by reputation and anecdote. (And it is really quite terrifying how much crazy surrounded the bloke even when you didn't know about the vampire element.) But he does know Kat. Clever, curious, stubborn, and utterly unafraid to tell the smartest man in the room to get over himself. To take a living legend to task for nicking her biscuits and making a mess in her library.
(To hold a tired man together when the weight of time and secrets sometimes became too much, and not flinch in the face of the demons accrued.)
He's so glad he's on his side of the Pond for this one.