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Title: The Air of London
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: James/Nikola, James/Declan, Nikola/Declan
Word Count: 2347
Warnings: glossed over sex
Disclaimer: None of these characters belong to me...sadly
Feedback: yes, please.
Summary: When James died, he left a void in both their lives. Three different stories told as one.
A/N: Thanks to [livejournal.com profile] misslucyjane for the beta!




"I think that I may go so far as to say, Watson, that I have not lived wholly in vain," he remarked. "If my record were closed to-night I could still survey it with equanimity. The air of London is the sweeter for my presence."

-Sherlock Holmes in The Final Problem





“You have big shoes to fill, Mr. Macrae,” Nikola had said, and Declan hadn’t thought any more of it than that he was out of his depth in taking over a sanctuary from the man who’d run it for over a century. It’s a thought Declan had often enough himself, and knowing what he did of the vampire through James, he wasn’t surprised to hear it.

The words do come back to him though, again and again as he attempts to transition seamlessly into James’ position, knowing he can never quite live up to his mentor.

They’re in his mind as he walks up to James’ room as he often did after particularly long days, needing the comfort of the familiar space and knowing that no one was likely to bother him there.

He’s surprised, then, to find someone stretched out across James’ bed, but his call for security dies in his throat when he recognizes the long, slim form.

“Dr. Tesla,” he says, masking his shock to see the man there.

“Mr. Macrae,” Nikola answers, still lying perfectly still, hands crossed over his chest, looking up at the ceiling.

Declan isn’t sure what to say or how to react, so for a moment, he does nothing, simply stands and waits for Nikola to explain himself. He trusts the vampire because James had done, because it’s easier than trying to work out what trouble might come of this.

Eventually, Nikola does speak. “You were sleeping with him,” he says, and Declan is too surprised to deny it.

“How did you…?”

“You’re exhausted and frustrated and feeling inadequate and yet, rather than call it a night, have a large glass of scotch, and go to bed, you’ve come here. I’m sure James was a great boss, but if you’re missing an employer, you go to his office. You’re missing a lover.”

***

When James finally invited Declan to his study, the young man had already been working for him for three years. He was a model employee, and he’d come with the highest recommendation, but James’ study was his fortress. An invitation there was an extension of a hand of friendship. It was an intimacy offered to very few.

(Helen was always welcome in his study, though she rarely visited anymore.)

He poured Declan a tumbler of brandy, watching as he sipped it carefully, appreciatively, a lesson he’d learned from James. His eyes darted around the room, taking in it size, shape and contents. Another lesson well learned.

And then he did something that surprised James. He smiled, set his brandy on an end table and pulled a book from the shelf.

In years past, James would have balked at the presumption, concluded the evening prematurely and never again invited Declan to share this with him, but Declan’s smile was so boyish, his pleasure so apparent, that James could not help smiling himself.

Mr. Midshipman Hornblower, sir?” he asked, turning that smile from the book to James. “I wouldn’t have guessed it would be your taste.”

James laughed softly, taking the volume from Declan’s hand. He meant to say something about all boys having a longing for adventure, but Declan was still smiling at him, that boyishness, that pleasure turned toward James, and instead, he slid the book back into its place and leaned in for a kiss that began as chaste as James could manage and only morphed into something more when Declan’s lips parted easily under his touch, a tentative hand placed on James’ arm inviting more, inviting James into Declan’s fortress, offering him an intimacy James knew was also hard-won.

***

“And what about you?” Declan asks, and Nikola finally looks at him, taking in the face of the man who is meant to be all that James was. “He was a good friend, I’m sure, but I know for a fact you’ve not visited him since I’ve been here. What brings you here now?”

Nikola is quiet a moment, still studying Declan’s face. It isn’t often he lets himself be honest with someone. Especially not with someone he’s only just met.

“I’m in need of inspiration,” he says after gathering his thoughts.

“From his bedroom?”

A slow smirk slides onto Nikola’s face, and he turns onto his side, stretching long limbs across a bed he knows Declan must know as intimately as he does. “Don’t you find it an inspiring place?”

“Not anymore,” Declan admits, surprising Nikola with Declan’s own honesty. “Now it’s just…deficient.”

Of all the words he could have chosen to describe that feeling, Nikola finds this one to be particularly apt. It’s how he feels as well. Truth be told, James’ absence will hardly affect him. It had been decades since he’d seen his friend before Bhalasaam, and he can’t say he’d felt any loss before then. But here in this space where James should be, Nikola feels that deficit as well. A hole. A void where James used to be, where he never would be again.

He looks away from Declan to James’ nightstand and picks up the book he finds there. “Was he still reading these crappy novels?”

He barely stops himself from jumping when Declan takes the book from his hand, silently cursing himself for dropping his guard even here, for not noticing Declan approaching.

“All boys long for adventure,” Declan says.

“James was not all boys,” Nikola replies, letting his eyes close, wondering if he imagines the lingering scent of James on the pillows or if it’s just buried so deep only he can smell it.

“Neither were you.”

Not for the first time, Nikola wonders exactly what James had told his assistant about him, about their friendship, about the times it was more than that. The bed dips as Declan sits, and Nikola finds he isn’t at all surprised at the touch of warm fingertips to his cheek or at the hesitant press of Declan’s lips to his.

This is why he came here, after all, and he suspects why Declan did as well. To fill that space where James should be.

***

Nikola had told him that it was ridiculous, considering all they’d done together, to allow the mores of the time to tell them what is and isn’t appropriate, and while James agreed with him, he could already see Nikola’s mind spinning out, calculate where such ideas would lead his friend in the future. It frightened him to think of Nikola that way, especially now, after what the Source had done to him.

It fascinated him as well, to see what they had begun together, to know what that might mean someday. He was by no means prescient, but he knew Nikola well enough to make a good estimate of the changes he would undergo. Changes he was already undergoing.

This, though, this was a social more that should be easier to shrug off than it is. It was only modesty, after all, only the stripping bare of himself to the eyes of someone he trusts more than he knows he should.

It was easy enough for Nikola, who discarded his clothing the way he did everything else, with precision and care, deliberate in a way that made James want to dissect his motives, dig into that deliberation and see what lay underneath.

It was easy enough because there was no vulnerability in it. Only an apparent weakness. His skin was pale, his limbs lean and limber and without the musculature of a physically powerful man. But it was only a veneer, and James knew that all too well. There was nothing he could do to Nikola, even stripped as he was, that could possibly hurt him. And his most powerful weapon, his intellect, was hidden further still, even more inaccessible to attack than his body, his heart.

“Fair’s fair, James,” Nikola said, amused affection in his tone, his accent and inflection giving the words a more sensual turn than they possessed on their own. “I am beginning to feel somewhat cheated.”

James pulled himself from his thoughts, no easy task anymore, and smiled. “Remind me again of the purpose of this exercise?”

“It is a skill I have not yet tested myself on, and one in which we are evenly matched for inexperience.”

That much was true, at least. James had not done this before. Not with a man. And Nikola had not done it with anyone. Science had always been his mistress.

Slowly, with a deliberateness to match Nikola’s, James began to disrobe. Nikola sat on the bed to watch him, head cocked, gaze intense, as though James were one of Helen’s Abnormals, a creature to be studied, cataloged, learned from. James stripped his clothing like armor, laying it aside carefully until he was as bare as Nikola, until they could embark on this experiment from even footing.

Nikola stood and held out a hand, and James took it.

***

Neither of them is patient enough to take the time they would if they were with James. Nikola’s cool, elegant fingers easily divest Declan of his loose, casual clothing, and Declan tugs off Nikola’s with an ease born of years spent fiddling with James’ fussy, old-fashioned attire. The similarity makes Declan laugh and the disparity makes Nikola sigh.

Nikola’s body is nothing like James’, and Declan is glad for it, for the reminder that this is not his mentor, his lover, his friend. But it is James’ friend, and that makes him feel more comfortable than he likely should as his fingers map the lean muscles, skate across pronounced ribs and hips.

Nikola growls softly, more pleased than predatory, and they both shiver, and Nikola wonders if Declan knows what he’s getting himself into, if he will accept Nikola’s differences as easily as James did, if he will revel in them for what they signify. It’s easy, too easy, to turn Declan onto his back and remember when he learned to do this and with whom.

Declan gasps at Nikola’s precise touches, marveling that he knows just how to draw those sounds from him, and Nikola delights in hearing them, quickly learning what Declan enjoys and what he does not. Hands roam greedily over unfamiliar skin, and each of them knows what this is and what they want it to be, and each of them is surprised to find the two not altogether different.

He touches like James, they each think, though Declan has to wonder if perhaps it isn’t more that James touched like Nikola, while Nikola could tell him if asked that it was really that James and Nikola touched like each other, having learned the art together.

There is a hesitance on both sides when Nikola reaches for the third drawer in the nightstand and they realize together that both of them have been in this position before, that the only unfamiliar part of this situation to either of them is the other.

And Declan nods, giving Nikola permission to take James’ place, and Nikola nods, as much in acceptance as offering permission of his own.

With this realization and this permission granted and received there comes an ease that neither had felt until then, an understanding of each other and how to touch and how to be touched and how to make this perfect and right and everything that either of them needs. Each of them calls out a name that belongs to no one in the room, and neither of them take offense or mention it or even pause.

And when their familiar and unfamiliar dance reaches its climax, they each call out each other’s name, and the void between them shatters if only for a moment.

***

Declan wasn’t sure afterward if he should stay, if he was allowed. He found himself feeling very foolish and very, very young, and he wondered if that were how James thought of him.

But James reached an arm across the space between them, pulling him just a bit closer, warm hand curling around Declan’s hip.

“I’m sorry I’m not more comfortable,” he said, and Declan didn’t know how to say that he found the faintly whirring and hissing solidity of James’ suit more comforting than the embrace of any other man would be, so he merely smiled and rested his hand over one of the dials.

“Don’t worry about it,” he said, and felt foolish again for coddling James like a child.

But James laughed and said, “I never will, then,” and Declan drifted off to the hum and tick that he’d come to associate with home.

***

It was less awkward than Nikola had anticipated, and he supposed that came of a combination of their intellect and their familiarity. He felt oddly satisfied, content simply to lie next to James a moment, to place his head on James’ chest, feeling as much as hearing James’ heartbeat thundering in his ear and for once not becoming distracted with thoughts of the blood flowing through his body, thinking only of the warmth of James’ body wrapped around him, cocooned with them in the sheets.

“We’ll have to do this again, of course, to really understand it,” James said, a teasing note in his voice that it took Nikola a moment to place as affection.

“Ah, of course, my friend. Several more times for the results to be at all meaningful.” He glanced up at James, and James blinked sleepily back at him, reaching a hand across to smooth Nikola’s mustache.

“Sleep,” Nikola murmured, pressing his lips to James’ thumb. “One of us should.”

James chuckled, and Nikola smiled, and they closed their eyes together.

***

There is a space between them on the bed, and sweaty limbs don’t so much tangle as reach across the void, any touches incidental, except when Declan’s hand curls around Nikola’s sharp hip and Nikola’s thumb strokes over Declan’s stubbled upper lip.

Neither of them speak, and neither of them want the other to, and gradually their breathing settles into an even, matched rhythm, and the silence around them takes up whatever space is left.


fin

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