Three Librarians tripped clumsily over the threshold of the Back Door, their latest solo mission successfully accomplished. Eve Baird had decided that this particular outing was a relatively low-risk one, and so she'd sent the Librarians out on their own as an exercise in "Librarianing" without a Guardian. She was pleased to see that no one appeared to be injured, though the trio did look a little worse for wear.
"So! How were the Badlands?" she asked briskly, clasping her hands in front her as her eyes swept over each of the young Librarians. All three were grungy and rumpled, and they looked as if they hadn't slept in a week, though in reality they'd only been gone a couple of nights.
"Did you recover the artifact?" interjected Jenkins tersely, coming forward to stand anxiously in front of the returning team. "Did you find the Skeleton Key?"
"Nice to see you again, too, Jenkins," a surly Jacob Stone growled back, glaring at the hovering Caretaker. "And yeah, we're fine, thanks for askin'!" He brushed none too gently past the tall man to stomp over to a chair and drop into it exhaustedly. Jenkins barely glanced at him, more irritated than perplexed by the historian's behavior.
"Mr. Jones?" Jenkins queried, turning to the tired-looking Australian. Ezekiel only scowled and waved the question away with both hands, not even speaking to Jenkins, as he, too, crossed the room to flop into another chair at the worktable.
"I have the Key," said Cassandra. She reached into the pocket of her short, lemon-yellow skirt and pulled out the artifact: A long, thin key that had been fashioned in antiquity from the hand- and finger-bones of a master thief. It could magically fit itself into any lock and open it—even electronic locks. Cassandra thrust it out to her husband, and a look a tremendous relief washed over the Caretaker's face as he carefully took the key from her hand.
"Well done, Cassandra!" he breathed as he gingerly turned the magic key in his hands and examined it. "The Library has been after this artifact for centuries!"
"She had some help, you know!" called Ezekiel in an annoyed voice, but Jenkins didn't hear him.
"Who would've ever thought that it would turn up in a roadside tourist trap in the Badlands of South Dakota?" asked Eve. She gave Jones a look as she went over to take a look at the intricately-carved Key for herself. "Have to admit, though—it doesn't look all that threatening..."
"Do not be deceived by appearances, Colonel!" warned Jenkins, He looked up from the prize. "This key, in the wrong hands, could do immeasurable damage—perhaps even destroy the entire world!" Eve cocked one eyebrow and gave the immortal a disbelieving smirk.
"Destroy the entire world? Really, Jenkins?" she asked derisively. "Don't you think you're overselling it a little bit?"
"The Skeleton Key will undo any and all locks," he said flatly, squaring his shoulders defiantly as he pulled himself up to his full height, stared into the tall blonde's eyes, "Including the launching mechanisms for every single nuclear warhead on the planet." Eve's expression morphed from doubt to wide-eyed shock in the blink of an eye.
"Okay, then! I...stand...corrected..." she answered, appalled by the destructive power of such a kitschy-looking object. She turned to go and inform Flynn of the safe return of the Librarians and about the successful retrieval of the Skeleton Key before she said anything else foolish. Jenkins slipped the key into his jacket pocket as he turned back to his wife.
"Welcome home, my dear!" he belatedly greeted her, stepping in to take her into his arms and give her a hug, at the same time giving her lips a light peck.
"Oh, Jenkins—don't! I'm gross!" Cassandra protested uselessly as he embraced her. "I'm dirty and sweaty and I don't want to ruin your suit!"
"Nonsense!" he replied as he stepped back from her. "Did the mission go well?"
"Oh, the mission was fine!" said Jake sullenly, clearly in a foul mood. "It was the accommodations that sucked!"
"Big time!" added Ezekiel peevishly. "I mean, sure—I've stayed in some real flea-bag hotels in my day, don't get me wrong. But this place was an absolute dumpster fire!"
"Got that right!" Jake agreed fervently. "And then the guy runnin' it has the nerve to complain about business bein' so bad!" The Librarian angrily shoved a book on the table that was in the way of his elbow. "It's like five thousand degrees in the Badlands this time of year, and he's only got one freakin' room with workin' air conditioning!"
"True, but—we survived!" Cassandra suddenly piped up loudly, her voice unusually loud and cheerful. "We're Librarians, after all—tough, strong, unstoppable Librarians!" She hurried over to loop her arm around Jenkins's elbow, then forced him to turn towards the hall that led to the lab. "We better get that artifact to the lab now, Jenkins; it's not gonna catalog itself, you know!" Jenkins gave his wife a puzzled look as she gently tugged him towards the lab.
"And I never, ever want to hear the words 'prairie dog pot pie' again!" Ezekiel continued to grouse, his face twisting in disgust.
"Hey, I'll tell you what—that was not prairie dog!" spat Jacob fiercely, his expression of revulsion mirroring Ezekiel's as he jabbed an emphatic finger in the thief's direction. "I've had prairie dog meat, man, and I don't know what that guy had in that pot pie, but it was not prairie dog!"
"Jenkins, are you coming, sweetheart?!" Cassandra implored, pulling harder on the immortal's arm, a slight note of panic coming to her voice now.
"The beer was warm, too!" Ezekiel continued, the two men feeding off of each other's negativity. "And seriously—I know the Badlands are in the middle of nowhere and everything, but is it really that hard to build a bloody tower so we can get some kind of Wi-Fi out there?"
"Jenkins? Sweetie?" begged Cassandra, pulling ever harder on her husband's coat sleeve as he half-listened to the griping pair of Librarians.
"And then, on top of everything else," complained Jacob passionately as he leaned in his chair toward Ezekiel, "They have the nerve to put all three of us into a room that has only one damn bed in it!"
"Yeah, but at least it had the working air-conditioner," conceded Jones in a grudging tone.
"What?!" thundered Jenkins, pulling his arm free of Cassandra as he spun around to stare at the two younger men. He took several steps back in their direction. "There was only one bed?!"
Too late, Jake and Ezekiel realized their mistake.
"Did I say there was just one bed?" asked Jake, going bolt upright in his chair and stumbling over the words as he furiously backpedaled. "'Cause...what I really meant was—there were actually three separate beds—one for each of us...but...!" He looked pleadingly over at Jones, panic-stricken.
"But...the room…was so bloody small..." Ezekiel picked up the thread, exchanging a terrified glance of his own with the historian. "It just seemed like there was only one bed! 'Cause they were all so close together, see, and...we were really crammed in there and everything—!"
"Like sardines!" Jake rushed to clarify.
"Yeah! Sardines!" confirmed Ezekiel, his black head nodding furiously.
"Jenkins, listen to me!" said Cassandra, pulling on his arm to get the irate Caretaker's attention. "I know what you're thinking, but everything was fine!"
"Was there more than one bed or not?" he demanded sharply as he turned on her, his dark eyes boring angrily into hers. She met his gaze without blinking and took a deep breath.
"There was only one," she calmly answered, her eyes still holding his, and she raised her chin boldly. "But Jake and Ezekiel gave it to me. They slept on the floor. They were perfect gentlemen!"
Jenkins scrutinized her through suspicious brown eyes for several long seconds. "There was no...'taking advantage' of the situation?" he asked cautiously.
"Jenkins!" she snapped, shocked, a clear look of displeasure on her face, "How can you even think something like that about them? How can you think something like that about me?!" The immortal's body visibly jerked, startled as he realized that he'd just inadvertently accused his wife of infidelity.
"My apologies, my love!" he offered contritely, dropping his head in submission. He reached out to take her hands and kissed the backs of both. She promptly snatched them away.
"What about them?" she asked curtly, nodding her head toward the two men. "Don't you think you owe Jake and Ezekiel an apology, too?" Jenkins cleared his throat loftily and cast a disdainful glance at the pair.
"Mr. Stone, Mr. Jones—my apologies," he said diffidently, giving them a stiff nod.
"Not much of an apology, really," critiqued Ezekiel. He quickly held up his hands as the sheepish look in the immortal's eyes instantly changed to one of warning. "But that's okay—I mean, it is the thought that counts, right?"
"Come along, Cassandra," sniffed Jenkins, hooking her arm around his elbow again. "Let's get the Key to the lab—before someone does something that the two of them will regret!" He gave Ezekiel one final glare as he all but dragged his wife to the corridor. The moment the two of them were out of sight of the others, Jenkins reached his free hand over to lightly pat Cassandra's hand on his arm.
"You're a terrible liar, my dear," he rumbled smugly.
"What?" Cassandra yipped and she whipped her head around to look up at him, her blue eyes wide and surprised. "I have no idea what you're talking about..." Jenkins turned his white head to her and smiled.
"You're a terrible liar," he repeated flatly, "But you are a very good friend." The redheaded Librarian halted and jerked her arm free of his as she turned to face her husband.
"You knew?" she asked, bewildered. "You knew all along that all three of us were in the same room the whole time?" Jenkins nodded.
"What kind of husband would I be if I didn't call the hotel where my wife is staying to make sure she had everything she needed?" the immortal asked in an offended tone.
"How did you know where we were staying?" she asked, flabbergasted. Jenkins snorted and raised his chin.
"Colonel Baird told me after you checked in with her upon your arrival," he said. "I then called the 'hotel'—and I use that term very loosely—to make sure you had the best room that was available." Jenkins adjusted his suit coat as he continued to speak in a bored tone. "Besides, if you had been sleeping in a bedroom alone, I would've expected you to at least look somewhat rested today, and you don't. In fact, you look absolutely dreadful!"
"And you already knew that Jake and Ezekiel gave me the bed?" she persisted.
"Of course," he said. "As you said yourself, my dear; they're perfect gentlemen."
"But...if you knew all of that already, then why did you go off on the guys like that?" she asked, still baffled. A sly smile came to her husband's face and he carelessly shrugged one shoulder.
"For kicks!" he answered, utterly pleased with himself and not even remotely apologetic. Cassandra reached out to begin punching his arm repeatedly with a small, harmless fist.
"I don't believe you, Jenkins! You are just...just...just awful!" she scolded, her fine brow furrowing. As she continued to rain painless blows on his arm.
"I think I've been a perfect gentleman about the whole thing," he countered blithely. He grabbed her fist with one hand and easily held her still. "A more jealous husband might've simply killed Mr. Jones and Mr. Stone outright. I, however, am not a jealous husband, and so I merely put the fear of Jenkins into them. And now you scold me for having such remarkable self-restraint!" The immortal shook his head.
"Sometimes, Cassandra, I think there's just no pleasing you!" The Librarian's eyes flew open wide. She opened her mouth to give her husband a proper scolding, but Jenkins leaned over and gave her a soft, loving kiss before she could say a word. When the kiss was done, Cassandra pressed her lips tightly together and glared up at him for a moment while Jenkins looked down at her innocently. She couldn't maintain her reproachful facade for long, however.
"I still say you're awful!" she said, unable to suppress a smile as he allowed her to wrench her fist free and lightly punched his arm a second time.
"Awfully in love with you, I think is what you mean to say," he corrected happily as he leaned over to take her hand in his. The two of them then turned and continued on to the lab, gently swinging their joined hands between them as they walked.
A/N: Many thanks to all of the anonymous Guests who have posted comments on my fics in recent days! I may not be able to reply to your comments directly, but please know that I really appreciate your taking the time to read and comment on my work!