The newly-reunited little family made its way to the workroom, moving slowly to accommodate Jenkins and his somewhat stiff muscles. Jenkins and Cassandra didn't even stop to change out of their now woefully outdated clothes, though Jenkins did insist, however, on a quick side trip to the infirmary, where he trimmed his fingernails and toenails back to a proper length, then hurried to his room just long enough to put on a pair of comfortable slippers. He quickly rejoined the others, and as they burst into the workroom, Franklin and Thistle raised their heads at the same time from Jenkins's desk.
Despite the strange clothes and the flowing white hair and beard, he still recognized his adoptive father. The moment the little dragon saw Jenkins, he let loose a scream that would've shattered windows anywhere else other than the Annex. He scrabbled frantically down from the Caretaker's high desk and raced across the workroom floor to leap up into the old immortal's waiting arms. His long tail lashing back and forth like a whip, Franklin licked Jenkins's face in a frenzy of joy and repeatedly head-butted him, squealing the whole time. Jenkins tried to soothe Franklin, murmuring to him and petting his long neck and sides. No one could miss how quickly tears welled up in the immortal's dark eyes as his beloved little tea dragon squirmed happily in his arms.
Thistle followed her friend across the room and now hopped up and down madly at Jenkins's feet, excitedly screeching his name. Impatient for his attention, she finally sank her claws into the wool fabric of his suit and simply climbed up the back of his legs and over his back until she was able to perch on his shoulder. She wrapped her forearms tightly around his head and began nuzzling his hair, trilling loudly while fluttering her wings with happiness, while the others laughed and dabbed their eyes a bit as the little creatures' welcome home overwhelmed Jenkins.
There was an impromptu celebration that night, with a feast of beer and delivered pizzas. What the party lacked in culinary excitement, though, was more than made up for by the feelings of excited joy and gratitude that comes to a broken family that has been made whole again. Everyone shared their stories about what had happened once the Heart of Sorrow took the Caretaker and the Librarian, all of them told with more tears and hugs.
By the time the storytelling was done, everyone was physically and emotionally drained, but no one wanted the party to break up just yet. Eve pulled out her phone and retrieved the Bluetooth speaker from her desk. There was music and more laughter and—after few more beers—lots of dancing, though no matter the tempo of the songs being played, Jenkins and Cassandra only held each other close and slow-danced the entire time. It was an unusual sight, even for the Library—especially since Franklin refused to leave Jenkins's side the entire evening, clinging to his shoulder like a stubborn burr. The only time he would let go of Jenkins was when Cassandra gently pried him off of her husband, only to have the little dragon cling to her instead, licking her face and wriggling just as happily against her.
Finally, long after dawn, Jenkins noticed that Cassandra could barely keep her eyes open. The party was winding down anyway, so he took her hand and gently pulled her to her feet from the table while bidding the others a good night. Saying little along the way, the pair walked to their suite, Franklin scurrying along with them, yipping and squealing deliriously. The Librarian's arm was around his waist, the Caretaker's arm was around her shoulders, each of them simply happy to be together again after their long, harrowing separation.
The moment the bedroom door was closed behind them, Franklin ran across the room, jumped up onto the large bed and proceeded to roll around on the thick comforter. Jenkins took Cassandra in his arms and held her close for a long time, breathing in the scent of her hair, reveling in the warmth of her body against his.
"I was so afraid..." Cassandra began raggedly, and Jenkins held her even more tightly.
"I know," he whispered into her hair. "I know, my love. I was afraid, too."
He stood back and tipped her face upward with a crooked finger and lowered his head to kiss her. It was soft at first, but the kiss quickly deepened. She returned it eagerly, whimpering quietly and weaving her fingers into his long hair, clutching it to prevent him from breaking apart from her before she was ready. Jenkins slipped one hand into her red hair and grasped a fistful of it at the base of her head, the tip of his tongue dancing over hers. Long-dormant desire burst into flame within him. He broke his kiss and nuzzled his way to her ear.
"I need you, Cassandra," he whispered urgently. He wanted to give in to his need then and there, but her tired, careworn face reminded him that she needed rest. With tremendous effort, he forced himself to stand back from her, his hands resting on her shoulders.
"But, you need to sleep now," he said gently. She started to say something, but he put his finger beneath her chin and tilted her head up again to look at her with twinkling eyes. "I've waited this long; I can certainly manage a few more hours until you're rested!"
He bent over and swept her up into his arms, bridal-style, and started to carry her over to their bed, when a harsh gasp from Cassandra stopped him. Looking down, he was shocked to see stark, naked fear in the wide blue eyes staring up at him. Cassandra tightened her hold his arms and she began to whimper.
"No!" she whispered, barely loud enough to be heard and she dug her fingers painfully into his arms. It came a second time, slightly louder, and she started shaking her head. "No!"
Jenkins realized with a jolt what was happening: Cassandra was reliving the moment he carried her to the rail of the Titanic to drop her into the lifeboat. She was having what Colonel Baird called a "flashback".
He gasped suddenly, loudly, as he felt a bolt of terror and grief lance through his very soul through their Sealing like a hot dagger blade. Never before had he felt anything so strongly from Cassandra, and for a moment he wondered if he felt it now because of the Old Magic that Charlene claimed Cassandra possessed. He immediately set her feet gently back onto the floor. The knowledge that his well-intentioned actions had caused his beloved Cassandra such deep, painful trauma overwhelmed and horrified him. He wrapped her up in his arms and stood there, holding her tightly against himself.
"I'm sorry, my love!" he rasped, overcome by his feelings of guilt and regret. Though he squeezed his eyes closed, tears still managed to find their way out and slip down his cheeks and into her soft hair. "I never meant to hurt you! I only wanted to save you, I only wanted to protect you! I had to get you off of the ship! I had to save you! You would've died if I hadn't, and I simply couldn't let that happen!" Cassandra disentangled herself from his arms and looked up at him, her own cheeks damp now.
"I know, sweetheart; I'm all right," she whispered back, and forced a small smile. "I know that you would never do anything to hurt me if you can help it. And you were right, about the Heart Stone, about getting me off of the ship, about getting to the Library—everything. I should've trusted you more. All this time I thought I was, but when push came to shove, I wasn't very trusting at all. And I'm sorry for that!" She buried her face in his long white beard and held onto him tightly. Jenkins stroked her head for a few moments, then gently pushed her away so that he could look into her eyes.
"You have nothing to apologize for, my dear," he said steadily. "Charlene told me everything that happened to you after I put you in the lifeboat. You were brave, you were resourceful, you did what had to be done to make sure that the Heart of Sorrow was finally secured once and for all, even if that meant you might never see me again. You were a true Librarian, Cassandra, in every sense of the word, and I am very proud of you! Never let anyone tell you that you're anything less than that—a true Librarian!"
"But the whole thing was my fault in the first place!" she protested, her tone changed to one of anger and self-recrimination. "If I hadn't let it trick me into picking it up in the first place..."
"Even the best of Librarians can be tricked," he cut in sternly. "I've seen it happen time and time again. And of the ones who were tricked, only a few were able to set things right again. You are now one of those few, Cassandra, and that makes you an exceptional Librarian!"
"You're not just saying that because I'm your wife?" she tried to say teasingly, but to her own ears it came out sounding whiny and needy. Jenkins only chuckled softly and smiled.
"No, I am not," he affirmed. "I'm saying it because it's the truth!" The immortal moved his hands to her throat and began unbuttoning the high collar of her blouse.
"Now, why don't we get you out of all of these layers of clothes and into bed, hmmm? I know you're exhausted, I can see it in your eyes." The Librarian smiled and nodded in agreement. After he removed her jacket and blouse, she finished undressing herself, leaving only the long chemise on to sleep in like a nightgown. While she undressed, Jenkins stripped off his own suit of clothes. When Cassandra was finished, she turned and burst into laughter at the sight of her husband wearing an old-fashioned set of dull red-colored underwear that covered him from neck to ankles, with a flap that buttoned comically over his rear-end.
"What on earth are you wearing?" she giggled, pointing at the strange garment. Jenkins sniffed and stood up proudly.
"I'll have you know, young woman, that this is a union-suit!" he informed her archly. "Very practical in the cooler months of the year, especially in drafty buildings in the days before central heating!"
"With that long hair and beard, it makes you look kind of like Santa Claus!" she teased. Jenkins stroked his new whiskers and frowned thoughtfully.
"Yes, I suppose I do," he conceded. "A shave and a haircut will have to be the first order of business tomorrow. Or, rather, later today, I suppose, after you wake up." He paused as a thought occurred to him, then he leaned forward slightly to give her a knowing look.
"Or, rather, a shave and a haircut will have to be the second order of business after your wake up!" he rumbled cheekily, and winked.
"You're going to sleep with me, then?" she giggled, happiness filling her eyes. Jenkins shook his head.
"No," he chuckled. "I just woke up from a one hundred and seven year-long nap, remember?" A look of sheer disappointed obliterated the joy in her eyes.
"But don't worry, my love; I am going to stay here with you!" he hastened to reassure her. "There's no way that I would leave you alone now; I meant only that I wasn't going to be sleeping."
Cassandra beamed as she climbed into the large bed, Jenkins along with her. Franklin instantly ran to Jenkins and curled up on the immortal's pillows. Jenkins settled himself under the blankets, propped slightly upright on his pillows, while Cassandra snuggled against him, wrapping her arms around his middle and resting her head on his chest. His heart was beating loudly and strongly, just as it always had, and its rhythm soothed her anxious spirt for the first time in what seemed like decades. Perhaps is has been decades she thought, smiling to herself. With time travel, who could tell? She then frowned as she became aware of a difference in her husband's body.
"You're so thin now!" Cassandra said, a tiny note of concern in her voice. Jenkins only chuckled and briefly tightened his arm around her in a quick hug.
"Regeneration requires a great deal of energy," he answered amiably. "But don't worry, I'll put some weight back on soon enough. I daresay I needed to lose a few pounds anyway; I did have a bit of a belly coming in, you know!"
"But…I liked your belly!" she pouted. Jenkins laughed softly as she snuggled against him more as they walked along.
"Bless you, Cassandra! You're the best Tree-wife a man could ever hope for!"
She smiled and snuggled into him, but the stiff whiskers of the Caretaker's beard tickled her nose and eyelids. Spluttering and snorting, she tilted her head to look upward.
"I think you should definitely lose the beard, but...can you keep the hair? For a little while, at least?" she asked. She reached up to comb her fingers through the long, thick strands. Jenkins leaned back to look down at her.
"You like my hair long?" he asked, amused. Cassandra grinned up at him.
"I think it's kinda sexy!" she answered with a mischievous gleam in her eyes. "I can't wait to get my hands into it and pull on it the next time we 'share intimacy'!" The last two words were said in her best imitation of his voice, and Jenkins burst into laughter.
"Then you shall have your wish, my love!" he said, his heart filled almost to bursting with love for his saucy little Librarian. Jenkins tightened the arm holding held Cassandra to hold her snugly against him. He reveled in the feel of her tiny body against his, warm and soft and smooth. That, more than anything else, proved to him that this wasn't all just a cruel dream. He was truly home, reunited with his beloved Librarian.
"I love you," he murmured, softly kissing her head. Cassandra smiled and laid her head back on his shoulder, becoming more quiet and subdued.
"I love you, too," she echoed, reaching up to run the fingers of one hand through the hair at his temple again. Her blue eyes suddenly filled with tears and her voice began to quaver. "I was so afraid I'd never see you again! I was so afraid that I'd lost you…!" Jenkins pulled her upward so that her head rested higher on his shoulder and allowed her to lay her face just under his jaw.
"Shhhh," he soothed, cradling her in his arms. "All's well that ends well, my love! We're together now, that's what matters."
"We were lucky," she continued softly, ignoring his attempts to reassure her. "What if something like this happens again?" She tilted her face upward to look at him. "What if next time we're not so lucky?" Jenkins took a deep breath as he considered her question. He tightened his arm around her while he raised his other one to place his hand comfortably underneath his head.
"I think we should wait to cross that bridge, if we ever come to it again," he said.
"So we just cross our fingers and hope for the best?" she asked, dissatisfied with that answer.
"Yes," he replied gently, to her surprise. He paused for a moment, and Cassandra remained silent, knowing that he was thinking.
"We work for the Library, Cassandra, every day might very well be our last; you know that." He rolled over carefully so they were both lying on their sides, facing each other, propping his head on his hand as he looked soberly into the Librarian's troubled eyes.
"What I'm saying for now is, let's just…take the win, as Colonel Baird would say. We were lucky this time, yes—but ultimately, we won. Let's just focus on that for right now. And hope that our luck holds well into the future." Cassandra snuggled against him, the two of them falling quiet for a few moments, each of them lost their own thoughts, until she broke the silence.
"Just promise me that if something like that ever comes up again, you won't risk your own life on my account?" she asked softly, tilting her head up, her eyes pleading. She heard the air rush into her husband's lungs as he sucked in a deep breath.
"I can't make that promise, my love," he replied softly, regretfully. He reached out to brush his fingertips over her cheek, light as a spring breeze. His eyes locked onto hers. "Because I will take any risk, I will make any sacrifice I have to in order to protect you and keep you safe." With that, Jenkins slipped his arms around her and pulled her close as he rolled onto his back again, one hand guiding her head back to his shoulder before Cassandra could protest. As he wrapped both his arms around her, she cuddled her body against his and sighed. She always felt so safe wrapped up in his arms like this.
"Would you even sacrifice the Library for me?" she whispered, half-teasing.
"Yes," he answered firmly, without a moment's hesitation. "If it ever comes to that, yes." Cassandra pulled herself out of his embrace and sat up, looking down on Jenkins with round, horrified eyes.
"No! Jenkins!" she said in a shocked tone. "Promise me that you'll never do that! I don't want anyone to be hurt or to die because of me, especially not you or Eve or any of the others! And you can't sacrifice the Library for me, either, it's too important to sacrifice for just one person! You can't do that! I won't let you! You have to promise me that you'll never do that! Please! Swear to me right now!" Jenkins met her earnest gaze.
"Cassandra, I love you more than anything else in this world—" he began, but he never got to finish.
"How many times have you told us that Librarians are expendable?" Cassandra challenged him fiercely. "How many times while you were training us did you say that our lives didn't matter, only the Library matters?" Jenkins opened his mouth to answer her, but she cut him off.
"I wanted to stay with you when we were on the Titanic," she said, laying her hand on the side of his face. "But you told me it was my duty as a Librarian to sacrifice my own wants for the good of the Library and the mission." She leaned forward slightly as she fixed her eyes on his. "So what's your duty, Jenkins? Isn't your duty to the Library as its Caretaker ultimately the same duty as mine is as a Librarian?"
She leaned down and kissed his lips softly, then sat up again, her blue eyes entreating again. Jenkins could only hold her gaze for a few seconds before he had to look away. Damn her logical mind! he thought bitterly, but he was also proud of her at the same time for being the Librarian that she was—strong and brave, smart and loyal. If she had been anything less, they wouldn't be here now. He took a deep breath and looked up, laying his hand over hers, still resting against his cheek.
"I will not sacrifice the Library—nor anyone else—in order to save you," he surrendered. "I swear it."
"Now promise not to sacrifice yourself!" she ordered him, giving him a pointed glare. Jenkins chuckled softly and gave her tiny shake of his head.
"That, I will never promise, Cassandra," he said, and tightened his hand that covered hers. He turned his head and kissed her palm tenderly. "I suggest again that you take your win and leave it at that." Her eyes narrowed as she gave him a look that clearly said 'this isn't over yet', but said nothing. She yawned suddenly, and he pulled her down to lie next to him, then tugged the comforter up and tucked it around her, kissing the top of her head as she settled in against him.
"Sleep, now, my love," he murmured. "We'll talk more about this later."
The Librarian decided that, for now anyway, she would follow his advice and take the wins. As she drifted off to sleep, she relished the feel of his strong body against hers, happy to have her man back. She was still uneasy about his willingness to sacrifice himself for her, though, and Cassandra pondered her husband's words. Perhaps it was all of the drama and pain of the last few weeks that influenced her thinking, coupled with her feelings right now, but she simply couldn't quell or ignore her fear of losing Jenkins again to some stupid magical accident or to an intentional magical attack. There was still plenty of wild magic out there, no shortage of crazy magical artifacts floating around, with more being created every day. There were still things that evil people were not afraid to do or use against the Library or anyone else who got in their way. She might not lose Jenkins to death—he was immortal, after all—but this latest adventure brought it home to her with crystal clarity just how vulnerable even immortals are to magic and its power.
Cassandra set her jaw in the darkness, more determined than ever to master Merlin's magic, with or without Jenkins's help, with or without his blessing. It was simply the only way she could protect everyone, especially her stubborn husband, from the dangers of the magic that would always be loose in the world.
Jenkins listened to his wife's soft breathing as it gradually became deeper and more regular the closer she slid toward sleep, her body slowly relaxing and becoming limp in his arms. He moved his head to lightly kiss hers as she slept, his precious, beautiful wife. They were not just words, just an overblown declaration of love whenever he told her that he would die for Cassandra; he meant them wholeheartedly. Had her life depended on him dying that frigid April night in 1912, he would've gladly done so. He would literally do anything to keep her safe, to protect her from any and all harm. He'd had to stand by so many times over the centuries, unable to change the course of events, and watch others die—family, friends, Librarians, Guardians—so many others!
But Cassandra was different. This mishap with the Heart of Sorrow only served to underscore how mortal she was—frail and vulnerable to so many things, and next to defenseless against magic. Jenkins shivered faintly as he remembered the brief conversation he'd had with Charlene regarding Cassandra and the possibility that she possessed the Old Magic. No, he corrected himself. Not the possibility—the certainty. No matter how much he tried to deny it, he knew deep in his bones that Charlene was right; Cassandra had been born with the Gift. He had sensed it the moment she entered the Library's service. He simply didn't want it to be true.
Jenkins unconsciously held his sleeping wife more tightly, so much so that she whimpered in her sleep in discomfort. He loosened his arms immediately and murmured to her softly until she was still again. He squeezed his eyes shut and clenched his jaw for a few moments. The Gift. That's what the ancients called it; after seeing its destructive power firsthand, however, Jenkins called it nothing but a curse. And now it seemed that Cassandra was in the grip of that curse.
He vowed to himself that he would not lose Cassandra to this curse. Jenkins bent his head down and closed his eyes. He whispered another vow into her ear, that on his honor as a knight he would find a way to cheat Time and Death and the curse of the Old Magic. He would find a way to steal his beloved Cassandra from their greedy, clawing, consuming clutches, even if it meant breaking his newly-made promise to her and sacrificing the Library itself to accomplish it.
A/N: And so ends "The Heart of Sorrow". I hope you all enjoyed it, and I thank you for reading! Will Jenkins accept Cassandra's "gift" and help her to master it? Or will he decide that it's simply too dangerous to risk and do everything in his power to thwart her? Will Cassandra accept his advice and try to suppress the Old Magic she carries? Or will she ignore Jenkins's concerns and simply go her own way without any guidance? And what will all of this do to their relationship with each other and with the rest of the team? Find out in the next installment of this series!