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Sanctuary - Entering the Modern World
A short fic for the sanctuary_bingo  prompt "London."  Helen and James, and that quintessential London institution, James's club.

“It’s a club for the unclubbable,” James said.  “You wouldn’t like it.”

Helen stared at him across the length of the dining room table.  Even reduced to its smallest dimensions, there was still a considerable expanse of empty tablecloth between them.  Breakfast waited on the sideboard, though most of the staff was eating in the kitchen.  Even Paul had abandoned them, pleading urgent business, but James was not going to change his routine for anything less than another war.

“Has it never occurred to you that I might also find it useful to have a club in London?” she asked.  “One where no one seems to notice that its oldest member is older than most of the port in its cellars?”

“That’s only because the club tradition is that we don’t speak to each other,” James said.  He was fairly sure he didn’t like the direction this was going, and was relieved when Helen frowned.

“I thought you said they’d changed that rule,” she said.

“They did,” James said.  “When they added overnight rooms.  That would have been, oh, around 1950, I think.  No, I’m wrong, it was when we agreed to a proper dining room.”

“And when was that?”

“1920,” James said.  Just after the war, he added silently.  And it was probably the war that had been the biggest incentive for the change, members who’d come back needing safe spaces, one place where they did not have to pretend.  The Diogenes Club had always been that, a club where one’s eccentricities were tolerated as they would not be elsewhere, and it had been felt that it was more important to continue that tradition than to expel members for behavior that they could not help.  “The Reading Room is still silent, of course, and the Lounge, but quiet conversation is permitted everywhere else.”

“And members use the dining room — and presumably other areas — for informal meetings?” Helen asked, and James sighed.  He should have known she would not be so easily sidetracked.

“It’s discouraged, but, yes, it happens.  But you can always use the Sanctuary.  It’s not as though we don’t have the room.”

“I might have business that doesn’t fall under our charter,” Helen said.  “Or that you don’t want to be involved in.  And at the very least, you and I occasionally have business that is better handled outside the Sanctuary.”

James dipped his head, conceding the point.

“Besides,” she said, “it’s 1986, James.  Surely your fellow members are no longer frightened of women.”

“You’d be surprised,” he said.

Still, when he thought about it, Helen did have a point.  There were times when it would be convenient to meet with her or his staff outside the Sanctuary walls, and the Club was one place where the exoskeleton was guaranteed to attract no notice.  He was a member of the governing board by virtue of never having resigned after he was elected in 1898, and he did make a point of attending those meetings regularly, and — he reached for the leather bound notebook he’d been using as a calendar since Paul insisted on installing the personal computers — yes, there was indeed a quarterly meeting coming up.  He’d make the proposal then.

It had to go to a vote of the membership, and by then it had been watered down from membership to merely allowing female guests.  Even so, it would never have passed without a bit of bargaining from one of the younger members.

“If we’re going to let you bring in women,” he said, “I don’t see why we can’t use our mobiles in the smoking lounge.”

“In the telephone room,” James said firmly.  He had no particular fondness for the portable telephones, but it would help distract the others from the woman question. 

By the time Helen returned to London on another of her flying visits, the members had gotten used to the change, and generally accepted the occasional woman guest with equanimity, so James felt that it was probably safe to invite Helen for lunch.  He had not expected her to be pregnant, but it was early enough that most of the members wouldn’t notice, and it was with equanimity that he handed her out of the cab in front of the Diogenes Club’s marble stairs.  She looked up at the well-maintained facade with appreciation — it had suffered only minor damage during the war, and a sensitive restoration had been done in the mid-Sixties — but her smile faded as James offered her his arm, gesturing toward the side of the building.

“I’m perfectly capable of climbing stairs,” she said.

“Of course you are,” James said, blankly.  “But we have to use the side entrance.”


“I’m afraid it’s the rule.  Women guests —”  He stopped at the look on Helen’s face.  “What?”

For a moment, the matter hung in the balance, but then she laughed.  “I’ve waited a century to see the inside of this place. I suppose I can put up with it.”

“The food is excellent,” James said, feeling obscurely moved to apologize.

“I’m sure it must be,” she said.  “But, James.  This does not constitute entering the modern world.”

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Oh, James. Women as guests! Such a concession to modernity.

Much as I love James, I suspect he never fully came to terms with the 20th century....

Oh James! You are such a relic! A dear relic, but a relic all the same. I heart him so!

And he was elected in 1898 and never resigned! :)

He's a very proud relic, thank you! *g*

(Back in the early 90s, Lisa was taken to the Garrick Club by her British counterpart at Heinemann - not as old as James, but close; he was Gielgud's editor, and a genuinely lovely man - and she had to go up the back stairs because they didn't let women in the front door.)

(Deleted comment)
Thank you! I adore Watson - I've been a Sherlock Holmes geek since I was 11, and Sanctuary's version is one of my favorite re-imaginings. (Ancient Vampire blood!) I stole the Diogenes Club from the Holmes canon: I can believe someone might join the board there and just never resign. :-)

(I have one or two more stories that I need to unlock here that might be relevant to your interests....)


Poor guy. Such a lovely stick-in-the-mud.

James has very carefully arranged his life so that the 20th century intrudes as little as possible. *g*

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