Jenkins walked slowly along the corridor that led to the kitchen, his nose buried in a book about the reproductive system of the leucrota; the Library's female of the species had somehow turned up pregnant, despite his best efforts to keep her separated from the male. Jenkins had no desire to midwife the birthing of their offspring, but he was resigned to the task. It was part of his duties as the Caretaker of the Library, after all, however distasteful and messy the birth promised to be.
As he walked, Jenkins became aware of a shrill screaming, along with the familiar sound of small clawed feet wildly clattering closer and closer to him by the second. He halted and raised his head just in time to see Franklin careening toward him at full speed, a pale circular object about six inches in diameter clamped solidly between his jaws.
"Franklin?" The tea dragon leaped into the air and landed on the immortal's chest with enough force to push him backward two or three steps and causing Jenkins to drop his book.
"Franklin!" Jenkins gasped as the dragon scrambled up his chest and onto his left shoulder, his claws easily penetrating the multiple layers of clothing Jenkins wore and biting into his skin. Franklin clambered across the old man's upper back to finally perch on Jenkins's right shoulder, snugly wrapping his long semi-prehensile tail around Jenkins's neck to anchor himself. It was then that Jenkins saw what the little reptile was carrying: A large cookie with white chocolate chips and macadamia nuts.
"Now where on earth did you find that?" Jenkins asked in a slightly chiding tone while reaching for the cookie. Franklin growled a warning and tightened his grip on his prize, then slightly turned his body away and began gobbling down the cookie.
"There you are, you little bugger!" Ezekiel Jones ran up and skidded to a stop in front of the Caretaker. Angry and flushed, he jabbed an accusatory finger toward the tea dragon. "Jenkins, you need to do something about your overgrown pollywog! He stole that from me!" The immortal understood now why Franklin had been running.
"Honestly, Mr. Jones—it's only a cookie," Jenkins began placatingly, but Ezekiel wasn't having it.
"That's not the point!" Jones fired back. "He's got to learn to respect other peoples' property!" He reached up to try and take back what was left of the cookie; Franklin hissed angrily, spraying wet cookie crumbs into the Aussie's face. A chuckle rumbled deep in Jenkins's throat and Ezekiel, roughly wiping crumbs and dragon spittle from his face, turned his pique onto the immortal.
"Oh, you think this is funny, mate?" he snarled, staring daggers at the older man. "You think this is some kind of joke or something?" Jenkins cocked his head to fix the young man with an amused look.
"I do indeed think this is funny, Mr. Jones," he replied unabashedly, hurried on before the fuming man could interrupt. "I find it immensely humorous that the 'world's greatest thief' has received a small dose of his own medicine!" Jones shook his head and threw his hands into the air, a look of incomprehension marring his youthful face.
"Jenkins, what the hell are you talking about?" he demanded irritably. The old man raised his head to peer down his nose at Ezekiel.
"What I mean is now you know how all of your victims felt when they realized that they'd had something stolen from them," he said bluntly, a clear note of reproach in his voice now. Ezekiel's jaw dropped, gobsmacked.
"Hey! I only steal from those who can afford to lose it—and if they don't want their stuff taken, then maybe they need to get better security!" the Librarian spluttered, waving his hands in the air angrily as he strove to justify himself. "Besides, I've only taken stuff that they've been hoarding, stuff that could do others a lot more good if only it was shared!" He narrowed his eyes and turned to point at Franklin a second time.
"He steals because he's a greedy, scaly little glutton! And all you do is encourage him!" A look of studied perplexity overtook Jenkins's face.
"Where did this cookie come from, exactly?" he asked, seeming to go off on a tangent.
"I bought them at that fancy bakery on the west side yesterday!" Ezekiel answered sourly. "They cost a pretty penny, too!" Jenkins, cocking his head, looked askance.
"Bought—or stole?" he pressed, unable to keep a sarcastic note out of his voice. Ezekiel shrugged lackadaisically.
"You can't expect a world-class thief to pay for everything!"
"And how many, exactly, did you steal?"
"A dozen!" Jones answered, shifting uncomfortably beneath the old man's relentless stare and his implacable insistence that all forms of stealing were wrong. "I had them shut up in the pantry, too, in a tin box, but that little goanna chewed right through it!" A startled expression wiped the anger from Jones's face as he suddenly realized the trap he'd fallen into.
"A whole dozen, hidden away in the pantry," repeated the tall immortal, a tiny smile of satisfaction pulling at the corners of his mouth. "One might even use the word 'hoarded', I think."
By now, Franklin had started to feel badly about growling at his adoptive father earlier. He realized that he'd behaved very rudely towards the patriarch of the family. Ashamed, he stopped munching on his ill-gotten treat and started making a trilling whine, softly butting the side of Jenkins's head as he tried to get the old man's attention. When Jenkins turned his head to the dragon, Jones was surprised to see Franklin hold out the remaining half of the stolen cookie, its ragged edge now soggy with tea dragon slobber. Jenkins reached up and took the cookie, gave it a cursory glance, then popped the whole thing into his mouth. He smiled brightly; Franklin squealed with delight and began frantically licking the human's face.
"Something that was being hoarded, something that could do others a lot more good if only it was shared," said Jenkins pointedly around the mouthful of cookie. He gently fended off the exuberant dragon as he looked back at the glowering Librarian. The younger man then rolled his eyes.
"Not the same thing, Jenkins," he growled, still peeved about the loss of his gourmet cookie. "Not the same thing at all!" Jenkins raised his eyebrows in mock surprise.
"No?" he questioned mildly, then dropped his eyebrows to stare sternly down at the thief. "I'm pretty sure most of your victims would disagree."
"So are you gonna punish that little pig for stealing or not?" Ezekiel burst out in frustration, anxious to get the focus of this encounter back onto the thieving tea dragon. Jenkins merely laughed.
"I am not," he said blithely. "If I can't punish you for stealing, then I'm certainly not going to punish Franklin for the same behavior!" He leaned forward to stage whisper in a conspiratorial tone. "Perhaps you should think about getting better security for your more expensive confections, hmm?"
Ezekiel glared at the old immortal through slitted eyes, his lips pressed tight. Jenkins saw the Librarian's jaw clench just before Jones spun on his heel and angrily began to stalk away.
"Whatever, mate; I'm so outta here! GFY, Jenkins!" he muttered peevishly. He passed unnecessarily close to Jenkins, bumping against the Caretaker's arm just enough to communicate his displeasure and quickly walked away toward the workroom.
"I heard that, Mr. Jones!" Jenkins called out cheerfully. Ezekiel responded by flipping him a middle finger without even looking back. Laughing, Jenkins turned his head to look at Franklin and affectionately scratched the wriggling creature's long neck, sending him into a paroxysm of happiness.
"I think I'd like another cookie, Franklin, what about you?" he asked lightly. "One without the extra spittle, preferably—no offense. Would you care to join me?" Though he didn't understand the words, the little dragon did understand that his beloved Bái Shān wasn't angry with him for his earlier behavior; indeed, Bái Shān actually wanted to spend some time with him! Franklin began to bob his head up and down on its long neck, squealing happily, his serpent-like tail lashing to and fro with excitement. Jenkins grinned and moved his hand to scratch the dragon's ears.
"Let's go and see where Mr. Jones hides his precious cookies, then, shall we, before he upgrades the security!" Jenkins said. He scooped his book from the floor, then turned to carry Franklin with him to check out the kitchen pantry.