I couldn't stand how giddy Ezekiel and Cassandra were to meet Jacob's dad, despite how obviously keyed up he was about being in Oklahoma, and wanting to resolve that somehow turned into all of... this.
Hope you like it, drop me a line if you did! Title from Radical Face's 'Everything Costs'.
content warning: consistent theme of implied/referenced past abuse by jacob's father.
"Do you know how easy it is to just- just absolutely trash somebody's credit score?"
Now, since starting his job at the Library, Jacob Stone had heard a lot of things that he never really expected to hear. He'd heard people talk about wizards and dragons and magical books and time travel. He'd met a sword that barked like a dog. At this point, he'd figured there was really nothing left that could truly surprise him. But that was before Ezekiel Jones came strolling into an upstairs office he'd been hemming and hawing over that article in, and started talking about, of all things, credit scores.
It was probably the mundanity of it that startled him the most, come to think of it in reflection. When your life consists of magic books and barking swords, credit reports are pretty far from your mind most of the time, and Jacob is a little surprised Ezekiel even knew what they were. Before he can make the dubious and probably-regrettable choice of asking what, exactly, Ezekiel is on about, the kid walks fully into the room, hops up on the desk next to Jacob's computer.
Maybe it's the general off-kilter confusion of what's going on, maybe it's residual anxiety from their recent trip to Oklahoma still clinging to him and making him jumpy, but Jacob jerks back a little at the sudden proximity. It's a good thing Ezekiel is too focused on his nonsensical rambling to notice.
"I'm serious, mate. I could destroy his credit. I could make sure he's called by telemarketers every hour on the hour. There could suddenly be dozens if not hundreds of unpaid parking tickets in his name dating back to nineteen-eighty-six." Ezekiel's eyes light up and he snaps his fingers. "The no-fly list. I could get him on the no-fly list. It would take me maybe ten minutes. And it impacts more than just flying, y'know."
"Ezekiel." The attempt goes unheeded.
"Oh, you know what really sucks? The IRS. I can sic the IRS on him. How's ten years of back taxes sound?"
"Ezekiel!" On his second try, Jacob says the name louder, with a slight snap to it, and this time it works. The young man perched on the desk falls quiet, and his face has gone serious in a way Jacob doesn't understand. Not that he understands any of this. His head's still in a jumble and he's still trying to sort out which way is up, Oklahoma fogging his head and clouding his judgement, and he isn't in the mood to play games. "What the hell are you talking about?"
Jacob's mouth feels dry all of a sudden. The entire conversation feels like some kind of fever dream. He clears his throat and asks, again, "What?"
"He hurt you."
The statement is made so simply and so directly that it feels like Jacob's had the wind knocked right out of his lungs. Through all the years of his life, the years of family members turning the other way, pretending they didn't hear the arguments and didn't notice how unhappy he was, friends he drifted away from because he never wanted to invite anyone over to his house, he doesn't think he's ever heard anyone say that. 'He hurt you.'
"While we were there," Ezekiel goes on, before Jacob can get his wits about him to speak in response, tell him to stop, to leave, anything. "I could tell. Being around him, the way he spoke to you, treated you. He hurt you, and I think he hurt you when you were a kid, too. It's not right."
Throat still dry enough that he's worried his voice will come out scratchy and cracked, Jacob swallows hard, and does his best to deflect.
"We get hurt all the time," he says, trying to sound as casual and dismissive as possible. He looks to the side and reaches out to straighten the top of a stack of books. "I get hurt all the time, just look at our job."
"And that's not okay either!" The strength of the outburst takes Jacob by surprise, and his head snaps back to frown at Ezekiel. The kid's still sitting on the desk but his hands have curled over the edge, gripping hard, his jaw in a stubborn set Jacob has seen on him a hundred times. "Nobody should be hurting you. It's never okay for anyone to hurt you, and it's especially not okay for your dad to hurt you, and he should pay for it."
He's mad. No, not mad. Upset. Ezekiel is upset, and Jacob doesn't think he's seen this much sincerity or intensity out of him in one go in… Ever, maybe. It's striking and unnerving and Jacob doesn't know what to do or say or think. He's frozen in his chair where he's been since Ezekiel first appeared in the room.
It's not that he expected nobody to say anything, once they got home. Ezekiel and Cassandra, they'd been far too giddy at the prospect of meeting his father, seeing where he was from, to just let the whole thing drop upon returning. He just hadn't been expecting this. More ribbing, maybe, or even some kind of quiet side comment about how now they understand why he doesn't go back. He had never in a million years been expecting his young, irreverent, sometimes self-centered teammate to come marching in and announce in an uncharacteristic protective fury that Jacob's father needed to pay for what he'd done.
"I…" Jacob stops, unsure how to go on. "I don't…"
Evidently not expecting him to actually respond, or at least not right now, Ezekiel hops down off the desk. A few steps away, he stops, already halfway out the door, and turns back, face unnervingly serious and devoid of his usual smile and the mirthful glint in his eye.
"Just. Pick something, and I'll make it happen. He should hurt, for y'know. Cause he hurt you. Say the word, and I'll make him hurt."
And then he's gone, disappeared out into the rest of the Library, as quickly as he'd arrived. The room feels empty and deafeningly silent, Ezekiel's absence draining the energy as much as his presence had brought it roaring to life. Jacob's chest throbs and aches like he's been in a car accident, Ezekiel's assertions about his father, his offer to screw up the man's life in any variety of ways for what he'd done, hitting like blunt force trauma.
He sits back, work forgotten on his computer on the desk and in the books around him. Jacob feels scattered and unmoored, breath shallow and pained. It's hard for him to wrap his mind around what's just happened. How he feels about it.
Ezekiel threatened his father.
Ezekiel Jones threatened his father, because his father had hurt him, and Ezekiel had seen and gotten angry about that. Angry enough to stand there and brashly announce that nobody got to hurt Jacob ever and anyone who did should pay for it.
Jacob doesn't think he's felt quite so… important, in a very long time. Maybe ever. It's an uncomfortable feeling.
It begins with Ezekiel and it doesn't stop with him.
Cassandra marches in not several hours later, announcing her presence with a sharp rap of her knuckles against the doorframe. His nerves must still be shot, from Oklahoma and seeing his father again, and from the conversation he'd had with Ezekiel, because the sudden sound makes Jacob flinch, hard. His pulse thunders in his throat and his chest moves in small, shallow breaths, and Cassandra says nothing about it. For the entire maybe ten seconds it takes him to get himself under control, Cassandra says nothing, and waits patiently in the doorway. When he finally must seem to have himself together, she walks fully into the room. Unlike Ezekiel, she doesn't sit on the desk, or pull over a chair, remaining standing maybe three feet away from him.
The look on her face is odd. It's guilty and determined and nervous all at once, and Jacob finds that he has absolutely not the first idea what she's about to say.
"I owe you an apology," she says, and it would seem today is a day for short, simple declarations that take Jacob completely by surprise, because he has no idea what she's talking about. He thinks about it for several long, silent seconds, and he can't figure it out.
"An apology," he repeats, and she nods firmly.
Cassandra has an expression on her face that she gets sometimes, when she's absolutely sure about something. Any trace of nervous apprehension is gone, faded away behind resolute conviction. She's on a mission, and she's not going to stop until she's achieved it, and it's when she has this face on that Jacob is most sure that, of all of them, she'd be the one who could take over the world if she had half a mind to.
"The way that Ezekiel and I acted when we went to Oklahoma was terrible and hurtful and you deserve better than that from us. From me. You were in pain and we were acting immature and cruel, like we were kids caught up in sibling rivalry or schoolyard teasing. We were too excited to see you harmlessly uncomfortable to see that it wasn't harmless at all. That terrible harm had already been done to you, and we were doing terrible harm, too." The speech is strong and sure and Cassandra does not for a moment look away.
She's looking him dead in the eyes and Jacob wants to look away himself, wants to run somewhere far enough that he never has to think or hear the word 'Oklahoma' again. He wants to run somewhere that these friends of his, with their stinging, fierce love can't make decades old bruises ache and throb even as they try and heal him of them.
"It's nothing," Jacob says quietly, because it is. She's acting like she's committed some terrible sin, when really, what had she done? They all ribbed each other, poked fun at the others' missteps and awkward moments. They had no way of knowing what was clinging to him at the thought of going home wasn't awkwardness, but fear, and once they'd realized, they'd stopped. "It doesn't matter, you don't gotta…"
"It's not nothing, it does matter, and I do 'gotta'." Cassandra's voice gets a little louder when she says it, breaks a tiny bit from that calm, sincere tone into trembling upset.
It leaves him bewildered. Her and Ezekiel, they're both just so upset, and Jacob can't piece together why. If it was about the cave, about what they'd said to each other down there in that hole full of secret truths, then he'd understand. But no. They're upset about him. About what Oklahoma- about what Isaac had done to him. It's baffling and unnerving and Jacob wonders what he's done to deserve them. These fierce, protective friends, who want to go up against his angry, violent father, who seek him out to apologize at length for making fun of him before they'd known his relationship with his family was anything worse than 'tense'.
"I'm sorry," Cassandra says, and Jacob closes his eyes for a moment when she says the words. "I really am sorry. We didn't know, and that's no excuse, but I need you to understand that if we'd known, we'd never have laughed. We'd never have gotten excited. We'd have had your back like we should have, from moment one. And I'm so, so sorry we didn't, Jacob."
His throat is too tight to answer verbally, so Jacob looks down and nods. There's no point in arguing her - when she sets her mind to something, Cassandra is relentless. And maybe there's a part of him that's glad to hear it, glad to know for sure that they'd never meant it as anything more than harmless poking fun.
When she walks over to him, crosses the few feet separating them, Cassandra moves with the slow caution of a person going somewhere she isn't sure she's going to be welcomed. Jacob lets her approach, forcing his tense muscles to release. She hesitates just for a moment when she's standing right beside his chair, then reaches out, gentle and careful, with one of those hands Jacob has seen flashing through the air a dozen times, rearranging equations nobody else can see. Cassandra's palm is warm on the side of Jacob's neck, and her kiss is light and fleeting against his cheek.
She leaves like Ezekiel did - before Jacob can gather his wits and find something to say in response to everything she had. It's a kindness, really. Jacob is lost for words. He can still feel the phantom of her kiss, making his cheek tingle faintly, like the exact opposite of how it feels to be slapped.
There's a couch, tucked into a room in the Annex, just off the main area. It's one of the most comfortable things Jacob has ever sat on in his life, and sometimes sitting on it turns into laying on it which turns into closing his eyes, turned on his side towards the back of the couch with his arms folded over his chest and his entire body lax and loose. Footsteps sound faintly in the hallway, a gait Jacob recognizes and has no reason to fear. He can't bring himself to get up, and so he continues to lay there while their Guardian approaches, the sound of her steps slowing and eventually halting just inside the threshold of the room.
"Stone." Eve says it in a tone that's loud enough to get his attention if he was merely drifting, but quiet enough not to wake him if he truly had been asleep. On some strange impulse, he keeps still, feigning the sleep he'd been mere moments from actually sinking into when she'd arrived. "Jacob."
When she receives no response, Jacob expects her to leave, head off to wherever it is she'd been going when she'd noticed the light on overhead. Maybe turn it off before she goes or something. She does no such thing, instead walking slowly from the doorway over to the couch, coming to a stop behind it. For a long moment, Eve does nothing but stand there, only the back of the couch separating Jacob from her, and he thinks maybe she's found him out, guessed he's mostly-pretending he's asleep.
"If I had been there," she says, her voice whisper-soft and deadly sharp, "I don't know what I would've done to that man. But he would not have walked away from it." Her hand, when it grazes the top of Jacob's head, is light as a feather and gentle as anything. For several long, silent moments, Eve's fingers comb through his hair, the couch shifting just barely when she leans her hip against it. By the time her hand leaves his head, Jacob is clinging to consciousness by the barest thread.
The light clicks off and the brightness against Jacob's eyelids disappears, the darkness cool and soothing around him. It doesn't take him long to fall asleep, and when he does, he dreams about training, about Eve guiding his elbow out, a hundred and thirty degrees, teaching him with a firm patience he still isn't used to, doesn't know if he ever will be.
Non-sequiturs are the order of the week, and never let it be said that Flynn Carsen is left out of the party. He walks up to Jacob as the younger man is browsing through a section of the Library, looking for a specific book on the myth of the Lamia that might be useful on a case.
"Y'know," Flynn says as he approaches down the aisle, as casual as can be. Jacob looks up, quirking an eyebrow. "The Library is an incredible place."
"...Yeah." Jacob shakes his head, wondering what's knocked Flynn's screws loose this time. "I can see that."
"It can do some pretty incredible things."
Jacob nods slowly, the other eyebrow joining the first.
"Sometimes it will just… create things, out of nowhere. Like rooms. Rooms for us to go to, when we need somewhere to go." There's something soft and knowing in Flynn's face, shaded with an awkwardness characteristic of the Librarian when he was trying to be sincere and not sure he was quite succeeding.
Suddenly, Jacob has the sneaking suspicion he knows what this is about, because Flynn and Eve talk, of course they do, and he braces for the questions. To have to tell Flynn to screw off and leave him alone, not to ask questions about things he didn't and couldn't want to understand. But Flynn, for once in his life, asks nothing. He doesn't push the topic, doesn't even bring it up directly, just quirks his head to the side and looks at Jacob with that soft, knowing face, and says, "They're there, y'know. If you need them. The Library takes care of us."
Jacob nods and looks away sharply, running his finger down the spine of a book titled in Greek, something about Arachne. "I know."
"Just making sure," Flynn says, and then he and Jacob are standing shoulder to shoulder, and he's reaching up above both of their heads, pulling a book down. "Is this what you were looking for?"
It is, in fact, the exact book Jacob had been looking for. He takes it and flashes Flynn a quick, tight smile. The Library gives you what you need, when you need it, he supposes.
Jacob would've thought he and Jenkins had gone down this road already, after their little talk about the article. Life - and the Library - however, are full of surprises, and the old Caretaker catches him alone one night, in the Annex. They're cleaning up after their latest brush with near-death, literally in this case, as some of the rubble from the exploding statue had crashed in through the door with them. Jacob ignores the ache in his shoulders from where he'd been caught a glancing blow by one of the larger pieces of debris, and continues sweeping, looking up when he hears someone else enter the room.
"That can wait," Jenkins says mildly, and Jacob shakes his head.
"Rather deal with it now." He shrugs, continuing on his task. He's always kind of liked cleaning - gave him something to do with his hands while his mind ran wild.
"Very well," Jenkins concedes, and stays there, watching Jacob work, leaning against the table in the center of the room. The clippings book sits quiet and calm, and the only sound in the room is the shuff-shuff of the broom against the floor, the dull clack of marble chunks knocking together as they're swept into a neat pile.
Eventually, Jenkins speaks again, telling him, "I read it, you know."
Jacob's hands go still on the broom handle. He asks, even though he's pretty sure he knows the answer. "Read what?"
"The paper you published." Jenkins keeps his tone casual, and when Jacob looks up, he steps around the corner of the table, expression thoughtful. "It was very well written, I enjoyed it quite a bit. You should be proud of your work."
"Yeah, well," Jacob grumbles under his breath, looking down again. He's quietly reeling inside, trying to digest this. It's the first time anyone's ever come up to him and said I read your work. His work, with his name on it. The first ever piece he could truly take credit for.
"I hope you know we are."
The hand on his shoulder, squeezing it firmly and patting him on the back before falling back to Jenkins' side, causes Jacob to look back up. Jenkins is looking at him with that earnest seriousness he wears sometimes, when he's trying to impart some kind of important lesson. Except he looks like he's almost on the verge of smiling, too, and his eyes shine in a way Jacob doesn't know what to do with.
"Proud of you," Jenkins elaborates, as if that part had somehow been unclear. "Immensely proud, Mr. Stone."
With that, Jenkins retreats back to the desk, pulling a book over towards himself and flipping it open with that odd knack he has for opening a book to precisely the page he needs without the use of a bookmark. He doesn't say anything more, and Jacob looks back to sweeping. It doesn't take him but five more minutes to finish cleaning up the debris that's scattered across the floor, and once the last of it's been dumped into the waste bin, Jacob leans the broom against the wall and stands back to look at the work he's done. The floor is clean and empty of dust and rubble, even under the table and behind the globe. He's done well at his task, and the satisfaction warms his chest.
It's a job to be proud of, indeed.