Flynn Carsen and Eve Baird raced through the maze-like corridors of the Library. Their destination was the Annex workroom, and they were answering a frantic, almost panic-stricken phone call from Cassandra for their help. The moment Eve heard the younger woman's panic-stricken voice choke out the name "Jenkins!", she jumped from the chair in her office and rushed to Flynn's office to alert him to the emergency.
The two burst into the workroom and began wildly scanning the area. Eve quickly spotted the three young Librarians clustered together next to Jenkins's desk, all of them appearing to be looking at something in the niche behind it. Franklin, the old Caretaker's tea dragon companion, was crouched on the floor several feet away from the desk, the little dragon uncharacteristically subdued as he held his long head low to the wooden floor, tail wrapped tightly around his body, soft whines of distress coming from his throat. Jenkins was nowhere to be seen.
"Guys?" Eve called out anxiously and quickly strode towards the small group. "What's going on? Where's Jenkins?" Cassandra spun around and ran to the Guardian, threw her arms around the startled woman.
"Oh, Eve!" she wailed, her pale cheeks wet with tears. "We have to do something to help him!" Eve cast an alarmed glance at Flynn as she gently pulled herself out of Cassandra's grasp.
"Why? What's happened, Cassandra?" she demanded, looking into the distressed woman's face. "Where is he?" Snuffling and unable to speak, the Librarian turned and pointed in the direction of Jenkins's desk. Jake Stone and Ezekiel Jones were now facing the others; each man had a blatantly guilty look on his face as they traded anxious glances.
"Stone, Jones—what's going on?" asked Flynn, hurrying over to the pair. The two young men exchanged nervous looks again.
"It was just a joke, Flynn! We didn't mean to hurt 'im or anything!" declared Jake.
"Yeah, we were just playing around, you know? Having a lark!" agreed Ezekiel. Carsen's eyes flicked back and forth between the two, the Librarian becoming wary and even a bit afraid.
"What was a joke?" he asked. "What have you done to Jenkins?!" Jake and Ezekiel looked at each other again, but neither wanted to be the one to speak first.
"They tricked him!" shouted Cassandra, her blue eyes burning now with anger. She rushed back to the Caretaker's desk, one arm raised to point an accusing finger at the two men. "They tricked him into drinking some water from the Fountain of Youth!"
Flynn whirled around to gawp in disbelief at the younger men. "You did what?!" he gasped. Jake and Ezekiel simultaneously shoved their hands into the pockets of their jeans, their hangdog looks and lowered gazes answered the questions clearly enough. Flynn ran both hands over his face and through his hair in exasperation.
"Flynn, what's happened?" asked Eve, coming to stand next to her husband. "What does that mean?!" Cassandra brushed by her to go and stand next to the tall oaken desk. She turned to face Eve as she now jabbed her finger past the high desk, toward the narrow space between the niche's wall and the large map case behind Jenkins's desk.
"Just see for yourself!" she cried, emotion threatening to overwhelm her again. "Look what they did to him!"
"Cass, we're sorry!" Jake started to say. "We didn't realize—"
"Shut up, Jacob!" the redhead spat shrilly, turning a furious glare onto the hapless man. "Just—don't even speak to me! You guys have done enough damage for one day!" She turned back to Eve and Flynn.
"Look what they've done!"
Unsure of what they were going to find, Eve and Flynn crept forward and carefully peered around Cassandra in the direction she was pointing. Their eyes widened, and both of their mouths fell open in shock; Eve gasped and covered her mouth with both hands.
On the floor was a pile of clothes, and Eve instantly recognized them as the suit that Jenkins had been wearing earlier in the day. She forced her eyes upward and toward the crevice Cassandra still pointed at. The Guardian cried out again as she realized that there was a small child hunched over, trying to hide itself in the small space with its back to them. The child was wearing only a snow-white, oversized t-shirt that hung to the child's knees like a baggy dress. The child was softly crying.
"Oh, my god," breathed Eve, spinning around to face the young Librarians. "Is that...is that Jenkins?"
"Yes, it's Jenkins!" yelled Cassandra, her eyes boring into Jake and Ezekiel. "They thought it would be funny to pour some water from the Fountain of Youth into his tea and trick him into drinking it!"
"We didn't mean to hurt anyone—" Jake started to say, but Cassandra fell on him like a Fury, pelting the historian with blows from both of her fists.
"You turned my husband into a CHILD!" she screeched. "How am I supposed to be married to a little boy?!"
The screaming frightened the cringing boy and he began to cry harder as he tried to press himself even further into the niche. Eve hurried over to grab hold of the furious Cassandra's arms and pulled her away from the recoiling Jake and Ezekiel. Flynn went to stand between the boys and Cassandra, just in case she got away from Eve. He held his arms out, palms turned downward in a calming gesture.
"Okay, okay, okay—let's all just calm down for a minute," he interjected in a low, soothing tone. He turned his head toward the two men. "What, exactly, happened?"
"It's like Cass said," Jake said, shifting his weight nervously between his feet and scratching the back of his neck as she spoke. "Me and Jones just thought it would be fun to slip Jenkins some Fountain of Youth water and see what happened."
"We didn't use that much!" added Ezekiel quickly. "We just added a little bit to his pot of tea while it was brewing in the kitchen. He didn't drink a lot, just a couple of sips! Or, at least we didn't think he'd drunk that much..." With a feral-sounding growl, Cassandra tried to rush the two men a second time, but Eve held onto her tightly.
"You two are idiots!" the redhead shouted angrily at them as she struggled. "That's magic water, you morons! It makes people young again! What the hell did you think was going to happen to him?!"
"He's immortal, he's over a thousand years old," argued Ezekiel defensively, shrugging. "We thought it would only take a few centuries off of him! We didn't think it would turn him into a kid kid again!" Flynn sighed heavily and ran a hand through his hair.
"Except that that's not how the Fountain of Youth works," the Librarian said wearily. "It's not a matter of 'the more you drink, the younger you become'. It's an all or nothing thing—any amount of water drunk causes you to become a child again!"
"I'm gonna kill you both!" Cassandra shrieked, lunging for Jake and Ezekiel again. Eve hauled her back and held onto one of the wrathful Librarian's shoulders. Behind them, she could hear the little boy whimpering pathetically, and the sound touched something deep within Eve.
"ENOUGH!" the Guardian bellowed. She stared hard into Cassandra's startled eyes; the younger woman instantly fell silent and dropped her head. "You—stay there!" Baird then turned to the boys. "And you two, be quiet!" Keeping a wary eye on Cassandra, she walked slowly over to the high desk and looked again at the upset child cringing in the crevice.
"Jenkins?" she called out softly. "Jenkins? It's Eve; are you okay?"
"No, he's not okay!" snapped Cassandra. Eve shot her a warning look, and the fuming Librarian snapped her mouth shut on any further complaints. Eve turned back to Jenkins.
"Jenkins?' she called again, but the small figure only continued to cry, trying desperately to hide himself from her. She felt a hand on her back, and looked around to see Flynn. He had a sympathetic look on his face.
"Why isn't he answering me?" she asked worriedly. "And why is he crying? I'd expect him to furious, not sad..." She caught something in Flynn's eyes just before he dropped his gaze.
"What?" she said, alarmed. "Flynn, what is it?" He shoved his hands into the pockets of his trousers and sighed again.
"He can't understand you, Eve," he informed her somberly. "He's exactly the same now as he was when he was a child the first time—during the Dark Ages. Like he's been transplanted to the Twenty-First Century. He can't speak English because he hasn't learned it yet. English hasn't even been developed yet from his point of view; hell, there's no such place as England yet for him!" He pulled his hands out of his pockets and shrugged his shoulders helplessly. "He can only speak the language he grew up speaking. He only knows what a five year old child born in Fifth Century Britain knows." Eve gaped at her husband, appalled. In the background, Cassandra cried out her husband's name and began to cry.
"So what do we do now?" Baird finally found the words to ask. Flynn pressed his lips together and shrugged.
"All we can do is wait it out, see if the effects wear off on its own," he answered. He turned to the boys. "How much water did you put into his tea?"
"No more than a couple of ounces," Jake said instantly. "And he drank even less than that. Like Jones said, he only took a couple of sips of tea before he changed!"
Eve rubbed her hands over her face. She could feel one beauty of a migraine beginning to bloom at her temples.
"So how long do we have to wait?" she asked Flynn. "When will it wear off?" He shrugged again carelessly.
"Depends," he replied evasively. "How much water he consumed, how it interacts with his metabolism—could be hours, or…" He cast an uneasy glance back at Cassandra.
"Or he may not change back at all?" pressed Eve, her voice dismayed as she stared bleakly at Carsen. He pressed his lips together again and exhaled through his nose.
"Or maybe not at all," he conceded. Cassandra sank to the floor as despair overwhelmed her. Eve closed her eyes as her head began to pound.
"If he doesn't change back—what'll we do then?" she asked, thinking out loud more than actually expecting an answer.
"Maybe we can find a family willing to adopt him?" Flynn offered.
"NO!" shrieked Cassandra, her head snapping up and her eyes wild. "NO!"
"We may not have real choice, Cassandra," he countered in what he thought was a reassuring tone. "The Library's kind of a dangerous place for a child—"
"NO!" wailed Cassandra, her heart going numb at the thought. Jones and Stone exchanged panicked, guilt-stricken glances. Franklin whined softly from his place on the floor, sensing something was very wrong in his adoptive family.
"No one is adopting Jenkins out of the Library!" Eve cut in vehemently. Flynn started to protest, but one look at his wife's expression silenced him. Eve turned to Jake and Ezekiel.
"Okay—Stone, Jones," the Guardian ordered, forcing herself to ignore the throbbing pain. "Go home. We'll discuss all of this later." The two men exchanged a glance and decided they'd better simply do as they'd been told. They hurried over to the Back Door and Jake set the coordinates for their apartment.
"Cass," Eve turned her attention to the weeping woman. "Go with Flynn back to your room and wait there. Flynn, you stay with her."
"Wh-what are you going to do?" Cassandra stuttered through her tears as Flynn helped her to her feet.
"I'm going to sit with Jenkins until he changes back," Baird answered the young woman, forcing confidence into her voice. "We can't leave the poor guy wedged in that crack behind his desk, and I think part of the reason he's so afraid is because of all the yelling going on."
"But he's my husband!" Cassandra protested, but her tone was unsure. "I should be the one to stay with him..." Eve shook her blonde head.
"It's okay, Cassandra; I know how anxious you get around small kids, and you're already on the edge as it is; I'm afraid he'll pick up on your emotions and it'll just make him even more upset," she said. "I think it would be easier on the both of you if you just went to your room and waited for us." She went over to the sniffling young woman and took her hands, gave them a reassuring squeeze.
"I'll take good care of him, don't worry," she said kindly. Cassandra grimaced weakly, then cast a longing look toward the still-whimpering child.
"Okay," she whispered, surrendering. She allowed Flynn to guide her out of the workroom and to her and Jenkins's suite of rooms. She looked back one final time, and a fresh burst of tears overcome her as they walked. The Guardian heard Flynn say something about a sedative potion as they passed into the hallway.
Eve turned back to Jenkins and bent over, her hands on her knees as she tried to address the small boy trying to hide from her.
"Jenkins?" she said softly. She remembered what Flynn had said about Jenkins not being able to understand English, and for a moment she was at a loss as to what to do, how to communicate with the child, when she suddenly had an idea.
"Galahad?" she called to him quietly, careful to keep her voice as non-threatening as possible. "Galahad?"
The little boy stopped sniffling at the sound of his name. He slowly twisted his small body toward the woman, just enough to see her. She was tall—the tallest woman he'd ever seen, with hair the color of pale gold and eyes the color of a clear sky. She lowered her body to the ground, getting easily down onto her knees. She smiled warmly and held her hands out to him in invitation, but he hesitated. She looked like a Saxon, and the Saxons were the enemy of his people. His nurse had told him many stories of how cruel and bloodthirsty the Saxons were, how they wanted to kill or enslave all Britons and take their lands for their own. This woman didn't look particularly cruel or bloodthirsty, but Nurse had told him time and again that the Saxons were a treacherous people, never to be trusted.
He stared at her with wide brown eyes, scared and confused as to what to do now. Galahad had no idea where he was or how he'd gotten here. All he knew was that suddenly he was in this strange place, with a group of strange people—presumanly Saxons—all of them yelling angrily at each other in a language he couldn't understand, and he was growing more terrified by the second. What would this Saxon do to him? Would she make him her slave? Nurse had mentioned once that Saxons ate naughty children; would this Saxon kill him and eat him now? Filled with terror, his small body began to tremble and he whimpered softly.
Suddenly he remembered the weapons drills he'd seen of the soldiers guarding the keep where he and Mother lived. He remembered how they practiced not only skills with weapons, but also how they practiced their war cries and how they held their bodies, projecting bravery and fearlessness in the face of the enemy as a way of intimidating them.
"Galahad?" the Saxon woman repeated softly, interrupting his thoughts, motioning with her fingers for him to come to her. He turned completely around to face the stranger, staring at her with large, fear-looking eyes from underneath a mop of unruly, curly hair the color of jet. Eve was struck by how pale and thin he was; he looked as if he was malnourished. His eyes had the look of an old soul, like he'd already experienced a lifetime of hardship in the four or five short years of his age.
Galahad hiccoughed a couple of times as he harshly wiped the tears from his eyes with the backs of his tiny hands as he stepped out of the niche. He planted his feet firmly on the floor and raised his head defiantly, mashing his quivering lips together and frowning in determination as he faced the enemy. If the Saxons were going to eat him, he was determined to die bravely; perhaps the gods of Britain would avenge him by making the Saxons sick after they ate him! The tiny warrior balled his hands into small fists and threw his head back to let loose a loud, high-pitched shriek meant as an war-cry, but which sounded more like someone stepping on a cat's tail. Eve lowered her head and bit her bottom lip to keep from laughing at the childish attempt at bravado.
"It's okay, Galahad, I won't hurt you," she said softly when she looked up again, continuing to smile at him. He stared at her for a few more seconds, then tentatively began to approach her, one small, careful step at a time, the childish scowl fading mare and more the closer he drew to her. Eve waited patiently for him to come to her, smiling and speaking softly to him the whole time to reassure him that she meant him no harm. As soon as he was close enough, she gently took hold of his skinny arms and pulled him into her arms so that she could hug the frightened child. Eve sighed with relief when she felt him slip his arms around her neck to cling to her. Through the soft cotton fabric of the t-shirt, she was horrified to discover that she could feel nearly every bone in his thin body. After a couple of minutes, she pulled herself away from him and looked down into his large brown eyes.
"My name's Eve," she said slowly, pointing at herself. She then pointed to him.
"Galahad." she said, then pointed back to herself. "Eve." The small boy blinked at her, then raised one hand to point at her.
"Eve," he said slowly, his voice high and soft. Eve nodded, smiling.
"Eve!" she confirmed. Pleased, the tiniest of smiles came to the boy's lips.
"Are you hungry?" she asked. The smile disappeared from Galahad's face. Eve rubbed a hand over her stomach, then made an eating gesture with the same hand. "Hungry? Food?" Galahad's eyes widened with understanding.
"Bwyta!" he yelped excitedly, momentarily forgetting he was supposed to be afraid the Saxon woman. "Ydw! Dw i'n newynog!" Galahad then remembered that he was supposed to be strong and brave; he quickly quelled his excitement and put on what he thought was a suitably fierce and blasé expression. For a second time, Eve had to look away again to keep from bursting into laughter. As soon as she had herself under control, she turned back to the waiting boy and stood up.
"Come on," she said, offering him her hand. "Let's go see what's in the fridge!" Galahad stared at her hand for a moment, then carefully placed his own into it. She beamed down at him again and began to lead him out of the room. They'd gone no more than a few steps when Franklin suddenly jumped up from he'd been crouching the entire time and bounded towards the pair, a questioning trill sounding in his throat as he took in the sight of the small stranger that he recognized as a human hatchling.
The second Galahad saw the dragon coming at them, he screamed and—despite her being an enemy Saxon—he rushed to hide himself behind Eve's legs.
"Draig!" he shrieked in terror, his small fingers digging into the Guardian's legs. "Draig! Draig! Draig!" Thinking this a game, Franklin began to yip loudly and follow the frightened boy around Eve's legs. Galahad whimpered and stumbled as he did his best to keep the tall Saxon's legs between himself and the frightening creature.
Baird's heart filled with pity as she watched the scared little boy at her feet. She stooped and took him into the crook of one arm; at the same time she took hold of the rambunctious Franklin with the other hand to hold him still.
"Settle down, Franklin!" she ordered the tea dragon. He went back into a tense crouch, his long ears up and forward while his long tail swished behind him. When she was sure Franklin was going to behave, Eve turned to Galahad.
"Don't be afraid, Galahad," she said soothingly as she gave him a quick one-armed hug. "This is Franklin; he's a good dragon. He won't hurt you—see? A good dragon!" She began to scratch beneath Franklin's chin. Instantly the little beast flopped over onto the floor and rolled onto his back, whining for her to scratch his belly. As she moved her hand to oblige him, Franklin began wriggling wildly with delight and squealing.
Galahad watched it all in amazement. He'd never been this close to a real dragon before, and even though this one must still be a baby, he'd been told that all dragons—even the young ones—were vicious, dangerous animals. The boy frowned as he watched the squirming dragon; this one didn't seem nearly as vicious as he thought it would be. In fact, it seemed to actually enjoy having its stomach scratched.
"You wanna pet him?" the Eve asked him. He turned and looked at her blankly, not understanding what she was saying. She made a show of reaching out to pat Franklin's chest, then brought her hand up to take one of his and gently stretch it toward the tea dragon. "You wanna pet him?" she repeated.
Galahad gawked at her with huge scared eyes. The Saxon woman wanted him to touch the dragon now! He froze as he glanced at the reptile, then back at the woman. He actually did want to touch the dragon; after watching the Saxon pet and scratch it, the dragon didn't look nearly a scary as it had at first glance. He noticed that the small creature even had collar around its long neck, with a small bell made of a green-colored stone, just like a hunting hound. Was the dragon this woman's pet? Did all Saxons keep dragons as pets? They must be fearless warriors, indeed!
Fearing to look weak in the eyes of the enemy, Galahad looked at Eve again, then slowly leaned forward and stretched out his hand to Franklin. The tea dragon rolled over onto his feet again and stretched out his long neck, touching his snout to the boy's fingers and snuffling them loudly. Franklin instantly recognized the scent; the human hatching smelled just like Bai Shan! Franklin was confused for a moment, but then it hit him: The hatchling must be a hatchling of Bai Shan! Cha Hua, Bai Shan's mate, must've hidden her egg someplace until it had hatched!
Franklin shrieked with joy and rushed the startled boy. He jumped up and laid his forepaws on Galahad's shoulders, then began wildly licking the child's face with his long forked tongue. Eve felt Galahad tense up for a moment, but as soon as he realized that Franklin wasn't attacking him, he relaxed again. The little boy began to laugh and squirm as Franklin's tongue and long side whiskers tickled his face and neck. The more Galahad tried to avoid the dragon's "kisses", the more playful Franklin became, until he was finally able to knock the boy to the floor and climb on top of him, still licking his face. Galahad shrieked with laughter and thrashed about, trying to dislodge the little dragon, but to no avail.
Eve let the two go for a few minutes. She had to remind herself that this wasn't just some random child; this was Jenkins, a man she rarely heard laugh, and when he did it was never with as much abandon as this. It was hard to reconcile the child and the man. It served to underscore for the Guardian just how much his immortality had taken out of Jenkins, and the realization chilled her own newly-made immortal blood for a moment.
Baird shook off the unsettling thought and returned her focus to the boy Galahad, bending over to pluck the wriggling Franklin off of him. She held the dragon against her shoulder as she reached out her other hand to help the boy to his feet. As he looked up at her with bright shining eyes, she smiled down at him, sadness now tinging her expression.
"Come on," she said, giving Galahad's hand a quick squeeze with hand, while tousling the mass of black curls with the other. "Let's go see if there's any ice cream around here."
Eve prepared a large bowl of rocky road ice cream, generously topped with a mound of whipped cream, a generous handful of colorful sprinkles and a maraschino cherry perched on top while Galahad watched her in wide-eyed wonder, his empty stomach loudly growling as his nose caught the scent of the ice cream. She gave him a spoon and set the huge bowl of ice cream in front of him on the table. When he hesitated, unsure as to what he was supposed to do next, she motioned that he should eat it. He took a tiny bit of the sprinkle-covered whipped cream onto his spoon and cautiously put it into his mouth. It was like eating a cloud! And it was so sweet on his tongue, as sweet as honey. He next took a small bit of the ice cream and eagerly tried that. He was startled by its coldness, but it was also sweet-tasting, but in a different way from the whipped cream and colored sprinkles. Galahad had never tasted anything like it before in his life, and it was wonderful!
He dug his spoon into the ice cream again and popped it into his mouth. His empty stomach was struck by powerful hunger pangs, and he greedily shoveled the ice cream into his mouth faster and faster, gobbling the frozen sweet like a starving puppy.
"Hey, not so fast!" Eve warned, but she was too late. The spoon clattered to the floor and the boy clenched both hands into fists as he was overcome by a sharp, aching pain in his head, and he scrunched his eyes tightly shut in agony.
"Ice cream headache!" said Eve sympathetically, rubbing his small shoulder. She jumped up from her chair and hurried to bring him a glass of warm water from the sink faucet. She tapped his arm to get his attention, motioned for him to drink it. He obeyed, and soon the pain eased.
"You ate that too fast!" she lightly scolded as she bent and picked up the spoon. She carried it to the sink and left it there, then retrieved a clean spoon from the drawer and took it to the boy. "Here, try again. Slowly." She acted out eating a spoonful of the treat very slowly. She smiled in encouragement as the little boy took the spoon from her. He carefully finished the ice cream, savoring its sweetness and the exotic flavors. To Eve's amusement he even licked the bowl clean when the ice cream was gone. By the time he was finished, Galahad's face looked like he'd fallen face-first into a mud puddle.
"If you could see yourself now, Mr. Neat and Tidy!" laughed Eve. She started to fetch a washcloth to clean the ice cream from the boy's face, but suddenly stopped as an idea came to her. She turned back to Galahad and pulled her phone from her pocket.
"Hey, how 'bout a picture?" she said happily. She first snapped a picture of just Galahad staring up at her with round, puzzled eyes. She next took a selfie of herself posing with him, the bemused look still on his sticky face. Eve reached out and took one of Galahad's hands and tugged him gently out of the chair, then led him over to where Franklin was quietly playing with one of his innumerable dog toys. She had Galahad sit on the floor next to Franklin and the little dragon instantly abandoned the chew toy to climb happily into the boy's lap. He soon smelled the scent of ice cream and began furiously licking the residue of rocky road and whipped cream from Galahad's face. Galahad began to laugh and squeal as Franklin's tongue tickled his cheeks.
"Peidiwch, draig! Mae'n ticio!" he cried between giggles as he repeatedly tried to push Franklin away. It wasn't long before the two were rolling around on the floor, Galahad laughing and shouting orders in the strange language while Franklin ignored him and continued to sloppily lick the ice cream from his face. Eve quickly switched to video and recorded the entire thing. When she had enough footage, she put her phone away and retrieved a washcloth. She wetted it, then went over to pry Franklin off of the shrieking boy so that she could finish cleaning the ice cream from Galahad's face. As she was rinsing out the cloth in the sink, she saw the child stretch his skinny arms wide and yawn.
"Sleepy, huh?" she asked conversationally. She hung the cloth to dry, then went to sit in one of the kitchen chairs at the table. She patted the tops of her thighs and smiled at him. "Wanna sit up here for a while?"
Galahad recognized the invitation; Nurse often sang him to sleep after the evening meal, and though he was still hungry, his belly felt much better now. The Saxon woman had been very kind to him so far—surely it would be all right for him to sit in her lap for a little bit?
He clambered up onto the blonde woman's lap and, with a loud sigh, curled up against her chest. Eve wrapped her arms around him and held him close. At once he snuggled against her, surprised to feel so safe and cared for by someone who was supposed to be an enemy. Mother had never treated him so kindly in his whole life. Mother refused to touch him, let alone hold him in her lap. She wouldn't even smile at him. Galahad didn't understand why, but he knew that Mother blamed him for their misfortune. But this Saxon woman had been nothing but kind to him, at least so far. After a couple of minutes she began to hum softly. Galahad didn't recognize the tune and assumed it was something Saxon mothers sang to their own children. As he drifted off to sleep, he felt a pang of envy for those Saxon children who had mothers like this one.
"Eve," he mumbled drowsily, and his eyes closed.
Eve cradled the sleeping child and continued to hum. She marveled at how small the boy Galahad was. She was used to Jenkins—a towering man well over six feet tall, with broad shoulders and long, strong limbs. Jenkins was a soldier, a man without fear. It was hard to believe that her Jenkins grew from this small, thin, fragile boy now sleeping in her lap.
"That must've had one hell of a growth spurt, Skip!" she murmured. She didn't know whether it was a soldier's instinct to watch over the men under her command, or if it was a Guardian's instinct to safeguard the Librarians in her charge, or whether it was a mother's instinct to protect her children—perhaps it a was combination of all three, or perhaps they were one and the same instinct—but Eve knew in the very marrow of her bones that if the effects of the Fountain of Youth didn't wear off and Jenkins was trapped in childhood, then she would straight up eviscerate anyone who tried to harm this small child. If she had to resign as Guardian to do it, she would raise this child and care of him, see to it that he had plenty to eat, the best education, and that he felt loved and cared for and safe, that he grew up to become the man she knew he would be one day. The Library, the world, needed Jenkins. Before she even realized what she was doing, she bent her head and softly kissed Galahad's head. I swear to you, Jenkins—I'll always be here for you!
"When did I become such a mama bear?" she muttered to herself wryly, and bent to kiss Galahad's head again. She heard the sound of a camera shutter and snapped her head up to find Flynn grinning at his phone screen.
"You became a mama bear when you accepted the Library's invitation to be our Guardian!" Flynn answered her, a look of pride in his eyes. He flipped his phone around so that she could the picture he'd just taken of her kissing Jenkin's head.
"I think this should be the Library's Christmas card this year!" he said, grinning as he approached the Guardian.
"Only if you want Jenkins to smother you in your sleep one night!" she answered, carefully keeping her voice low so as not to wake the boy. Her face quickly became serious as she looked up at Carsen. "How do we fix this, Flynn? And if you mention adoption again I'm going to strangle you!"
"The effects of the water will wear off in a few hours," he said, completely unconcerned by her threat and shaking his head.
"Are you sure?" she asked in surprise. "You didn't seem so sure earlier in the workroom..."
"After I got Cassandra settled into her room and calmed down a bit, I went back and tested the tea Jenkins was drinking," he explained in a loud whisper. "The amount he drank was negligible, plus it seems that the hot temperature of the tea somehow mitigated the effect the Fountain water would have had on Jenkins than of he'd drank it cold—it should work its way out of his system long before it has a chance to make any permanent changes at the metabolic or cellular levels." Eve let loose a quiet sigh.
"He's so small!" she went on, her tone taking on a worried note. "And he's so thin! I can feel every bone in his body!"
"The Dark Ages were a hard time, Eve," he answered her sadly. "Even for the well-off. Child mortality rates in those days were incredibly high, at least thirty percent, maybe more. Malnutrition, illness, accidents; some parents even killed their own children..."
"What?" gasped Eve, shocked, and Flynn nodded his head. "How could they do that?"
"If the child was born with severe defects that were beyond the scope of medicine in those days," the Librarian sighed, "Or if the parents simply didn't have the resources to feed another child. Granted, it was rare, but it did happen."
"How's Cassandra?" the Guardian asked quickly, shoving away the unpleasant thought of dying children as she turned to look down at the peacefully sleeping Galahad. Flynn gave her a lopsided smile and shrugged one shoulder as he raised his hand to gently run his fingers through Galahad's black thatch of hair.
"Well, before the sedative took over she was no longer wanting to kill Stone or Jones," he replied. "She does still want them skinned alive, though."
"Hopefully by morning she'll be willing to settle for just assigning them some nasty, dirty job in the nether-regions of the Library someplace," Eve offered. "The Records Vault is still a complete mess—I bet making them whip things into shape there would teach them that artifacts are not whoopee-cushions!"
"That's a good idea!" Carsen readily agreed, happy to have a good excuse to pass that particularly unpleasant task to someone else.
"So how long will Jenkins be like this?" she asked him. "And be honest!"
Flynn reached out to brush the dark curls away from Galahad's forehead. "He should be back his normal gigantic, cranky self by morning, I think. Midday at the latest."
"Will he remember any of this?" Eve asked as she lightly stroked the boy's pale cheek.
"Hard to say," said Flynn with a shrug. "From the research I've done over the years on the Fountain, it seems that some people do remember, while others don't. Just depends on the person, I guess." Eve sighed again and carefully adjusted her hold on the child's body.
"So what do we do now?" she asked, turning to look up at her husband. Flynn rubbed his five o'clock shadowed chin thoughtfully for a couple of minutes as he stared down at the boy.
"I think the best thing to do is to take him back to his room and put him to bed," the Librarian answered firmly. "Just let him sleep it off. I'll get Cassandra and she can come spend the night with us."
"You mean just leave him here, all alone?" exclaimed Eve. Flynn moved to stand behind and began to massage her neck and shoulders.
"Franklin will watch him," he answered her lightly. "And it's only a few hours until morning now, anyway; he'll be fine."
"But what if—" Eve started to protest, but Flynn gave her shoulders a firm squeeze and he leaned over so that his lips were close to her ear.
"Do you really want to be anywhere near the Library when Jenkins wakes up wearing only a t-shirt and it turns out that he's one of those who actually does remember being transformed into a child and—most importantly—how it happened?" Baird sucked in a lungful of air.
"I do not," she replied, her tone hesitant, "But I don't think we should leave him alone with just a tea dragon! What if something goes wrong?" She stood up and adjusted the sleeping Galahad so that he rested comfortably against her shoulder.
"We can talk about it on the way," replied Flynn. Together, she and Flynn carried him to the suite of rooms Jenkins shared with Cassandra. As Eve gently tucked Galahad into the huge bed, Flynn woke Cassandra. She, in turn, almost woke the boy up with her cry of dismay when she looked over and saw her husband was still in child form.
Flynn soothed the distraught Cassandra and explained to her what was going to happen. Calmer now, but still fretful, the Librarian re-tucked the blankets around Galahad, and Cassandra paused to look down at him.
"He's so tiny!" she whispered in wonder, "He looks so weak and helpless…" She reached out and ran her fingers through his black hair. "It's so hard to believe that this is Jenkins!" she said softly. Flynn came to stand next to the young woman and laid his hand on the back of her shoulder.
"Come on, Cassandra; let's let him sleep," he said, and began to guide her toward the door.
"No! I want to stay here with Jenkins!" she protested, refusing to budge.
"I really don't think that's a good idea," Flynn started to say, but the redhead spun around to face him.
"I'm not leaving him here all alone, Flynn!" she said stubbornly as she stared him in the eyes. "He's my husband and he needs me and I'm staying put!"
"He's likely going to be very angry when he wakes up..." the older Librarian warned.
"And he has a total right to be angry!" Cassandra snapped, her blue eyes angry despite the sedative she'd been given earlier. "I'm pretty sure you'd be angry, too, if someone tricked you into drinking magic water and turned you into a kid!" Carsen held up his hands in surrender.
"Okay! Okay!" he exclaimed, backing away a couple of steps. "Have it your way!" Eve, giving her husband a sour look, went to Cassandra's side.
"Are you sure?" she asked the Librarian. "You've said yourself that you and kids don't exactly mix...?" Cassandra smiled tiredly and nodded.
"When we married, I promised to stick with him through thick and thin," she answered steadily. She turned to look down fondly at the small boy in the bed. "He needs me and I'm staying. We'll be fine, Eve."
"If you need anything from us, call!" said Eve, stepping between the two Librarians. The Guardian was secretly glad that Cassandra was going to stay with Jenkins; Cassandra had a lot more courage and chutzpah than Flynn gave her credit for having. "And I mean that—call us!" Cassandra relaxed and nodded her head again.
"I will, don't worry," she agreed. "And thanks for taking care of him earlier."
"No problem, Red," Eve answered, "He's an incredibly sweet little boy." She flicked her eyes toward the small lump in the bed, nearly swallowed up by the covers. By now Franklin had found his way to the bedroom; he was now in the bed with Galahad, curled up next to the boy and yawning loudly. Galahad's thin, pale arm moved to wrap itself around the dragon, cuddling the little reptile like a teddy bear.
"A boy and his dragon!" Eve said as she quickly pulled her phone from her jeans to take one last picture.
Jenkins turned out to be one of those who remembered almost everything about his ordeal, and he was absolutely livid. Flynn waited until around noon of the next day before he called the Library to check in on Cassandra and to see if Jenkins had turned back into an adult yet. Jenkins, fully regrown now, answered the phone. The moment he heard Flynn's voice, the immortal started bellowing threats as to what he was going to do to Jake and Ezekiel the instant he got his hands on them. Flynn was forced to hold his phone away from his ear during the tirade, and Eve could hear the furious Caretaker's roaring voice from all the way in the kitchen of their apartment. She hurried to find her own phone so that she could call the boys and order them to stay away from the Library until she gave them the all clear.
Several days later, after the immortal's anger had cooled, a very meek Jake and Ezekiel returned to the Library. A team meeting was held at once; although things were tense at the beginning, by the time the meeting had concluded everything was worked out to everyone's satisfaction. Jacob and Ezekiel, after receiving a severe dressing down by both Flynn and Eve regarding their using an artifact of the Library for a prank, were put in charge of cleaning and organizing the long-neglected Records Vault. Each man's face registered his dismay at the punishment, but neither dared speak a word of protest, let alone complain about the severity of their justly deserved penalty.
Jenkins was harder to convince, but Cassandra was so happy to have her husband back to normal again that she was able to assuage his anger and convince him that the two young men had received a just and fair punishment.
So now, with the boys busy in the Records Vault and with Flynn and Cassandra doing some research in the lab on a newly-acquired artifact, Jenkins went to his desk and climbed up onto the stool, preparing to get work of his own done. He had just unstopped a bottle of ink and was in the process of sharpening the nib of his quill pen when Eve Baird entered the workroom and went straight to his desk. He noticed a small book-like object in her hand.
"Jenkins!" she greeted him. She carefully laid the book on his desk; it was a photograph album. "That's for you."
"What is it?" he asked suspiciously, eyeing the album sourly. He remembered almost everything about his interactions with the Guardian while he was a child, and he was now somewhat uncomfortable around her. He'd spent many years building and projecting the image of strength, composure and invulnerability to the various Librarians and Guardians over the centuries. He was embarrassed that Eve Baird had seen him in a position of such weakness, fear and helplessness. He respected and loved Eve, but he never wanted her to know about the brutal circumstances of his childhood nor of his early life nor the scars they had left on his psyche. He didn't want her to see him as the pathetic little boy who rarely had enough to eat and a mother who hated him. He didn't want Eve to see him as anything other than Jenkins—strong, reliable, constant. Cassandra was one thing—she was his wife and he trusted her to keep his weaknesses and flaws and foibles secret, to not allow them to color her opinion of him. The Tethered Librarian and Guardian of the Library, on the other hand...
"A memento of your little adventure with the Fountain of Youth," she replied. A scowl instantly darkened his face.
"Take it away!" he ordered, brushing it to the side of his desktop with the back of his hand. Instead, Eve wordlessly picked up the album and opened it, then held it out so that he could see the first photograph: It was the picture Flynn had taken of Eve cuddling the sleeping child Galahad on her lap as she held him, her lips gently brushing his dark head.
Jenkins stared at the picture, speechless for several seconds as the still-fresh memory flooded into his brain. He reached out to slowly take the album from the Guardian's hands.
"I've never seen myself as a child before," he murmured quietly. His breath caught in his throat as the memory washed over him like a waterfall, filling him again with the sense of safety and security he'd felt, the pure, genuine, freely-given love he'd felt as he was held in the warm strong arms of the tall "Saxon" woman, her soft comforting lullaby sending him off to a contented sleep. As he continued to gaze steadily at the picture, Eve was surprised to see tears well up in the old Caretaker's eyes. A heartbeat later, one of them slipped free and rolled quickly over one weathered cheek.
"Jenkins? Are you all right?" she asked him softly as she reached out to touch his hand. He looked up as if she'd surprised him and quickly blinked the remaining tears away.
"I'm fine, Colonel," he answered, wiping away the tear on his cheek as he pretended to scratch his nose. He paused for a moment and looked at the picture again, an almost longing expression on his face. He looked up and regarded Eve inquiringly. "I remember you...singing to me."
"I hummed you a lullaby, something my mom used to sing to me," she said, and gave him a small smile.
Before he could say anything more, she reached out and flipped the page of the album to another picture, this one of the gleefully laughing Galahad as Franklin frantically licked ice cream from his face. A surprised, amused snort escaped Jenkins as he took in the image and relived the memory, felt again the joy and happiness of that moment. He slowly paged through the small collection of pictures, his eyes shining—though whether with happiness or sorrow, Baird couldn't say.
The last photo was of Galahad in bed, snuggling with Franklin as he peacefully slept. Jenkins stared long and hard at the picture of himself as a small child, his face unreadable. Eve kept silent, allowing him time and space to process everything he'd just seen and the memories they called forth. After several minutes, the Caretaker finally closed the album and looked up at her briefly before dropping his gaze again.
"If you'll permit me to say this, Eve," he said quietly, reticently, "I wish with all my heart that I had had a mother like you when I was a child." He hesitated, swallowing hard before he could continue. "If I had, perhaps I might've grown up to be a much better man than I am today."
Stunned by Jenkin's unexpected confession, tears began to sting Eve's eyes, and she felt a lump form in her throat as she read between the lines of the handful of hesitant words he'd just spoken to her. The Guardian stepped hurriedly around Jenkins's desk and wrapped her arms around the old immortal.
"You're already the best man anyone could ever hope to be, Jenkins, and if your mother couldn't see what a treasure you are then she didn't deserve to have you as a son!" she whispered fiercely into his ear and then hugged him tighter. "And don't you ever forget that!"
She felt his arms encircle her body and tighten gently as he returned her embrace. He felt her sorrow for his childhood suffering, anger at the unjustness of it all. He also felt her love for him, her respect, her complete acceptance of him—weaknesses and flaws and foibles and all.
"Thank you, Eve," he whispered back with equal ferocity, and the two of them held each other for a long time.