Eve Baird was breathing hard and her hairline was beginning to dampen with perspiration by the time she reached the top of the incredibly tall, narrow ladder that led the roof of the Library. With one final burst of energy, she grabbed the lip of the open hatchway and hauled herself through it and into the cool night air. She rolled limply onto the roof itself, gasping for breath and absently rubbing a stitch in her side as she stared up into the star-strewn sky over her. Cassandra had warned her that the climb would be hard, but Jesus Christ—this had been tougher than anything she'd experienced before, even during her NATO training!
After a couple of minutes' rest Eve raised her arm to look at her watch: 2:48 AM. She sat up and rubbed her aching, shaky arms while she looked around. She didn't know what she had been expecting to see up here, exactly, but now she realized that she was kind of disappointed. There was nothing up here but plain old HVAC machinery, the motors for the various elevators in the Library, a couple of grimy, old-fashioned skylights and air vents—nothing that couldn't be found on any other business' rooftop in the United States. Baird had never been on the roof of the Library before, didn't even think about whether or not the Library even hada roof before now until Cassandra told her about it, sharing with Eve that Jenkins liked to come up here late at night whenever he was particularly upset about something. And so to the roof Baird had come in search of the old Caretaker.
She got to her feet and began to walk slowly amongst the various pieces of machinery and looking around, her boots softly crunching over dead leaves, twigs and pea-gravel, the sound especially loud up here in the nighttime stillness. She caught a glimpse of the Portland skyline and paused, gasping softly at its beauty. As if in answer, she heard a loud sharp sigh come from behind one of the rickety-looking skylights nearby.
"Jenkins?" she called out, taking a cautious step toward the skylight. There was another exaggerated sigh.
"Here, Colonel," a tired voice almost whined. She saw a large hand appear over the top of the skylight and wiggle slightly in the air. She headed in that direction and soon found Jenkins sitting on a dark-colored wool blanket with his back against a pane of glass in the skylight, his long legs stretched out in front of him. He didn't bother to look up at her or to say anything more.
"Mind if I join you?"
"I suppose it was Cassandra who told you about this place?" he grumbled sourly, still not looking up at the intruder. Eve stepped over his legs and plopped down beside him, crossing her own legs as she made herself comfortable.
"Thanks!" she chirped with mocking cheerfulness. "Nice of you to invite me to sit down!" Jenkins turned his head just enough to give her a sideways stink-eye.
"You're not welcome," he said coldly, then turned his gaze back to the city skyline. Eve sighed and began buttoning up her thin jacket against the early autumn air. Jenkins was clearly in one of his pissy moods again. Fine, you cranky old fart, she thought. If that's how you want to play this, game on!
"What's your problem, Jenkins?" she demanded bluntly, staring at the city in the distance. A soft snort sounded next to her.
"My 'problem' is that I seem to have no privacy anymore since you lot showed up in my Annex," he replied acidly. Eve rolled her eyes and drew in a silent breath. Whenever Jenkins started barking about them invading "his Annex" it was a sure sign that he was royally ticked off about something. Usually Cassandra could tease the information out of her notoriously private husband, but this time Jenkins had shut even her out. He also refused to speak to Flynn, Ezekiel and Jacob as well—which left Eve Baird to try and pry whatever it was that was upsetting him out of the stubborn old Caretaker. Fortunately, the Guardian had a pretty good idea of what, exactly, was distressing him this time, intel that she was prepared to use if need be.
Jenkins had been acting oddly over the last few days, ever since Jake and Ezekiel had returned from a mission involving the recovery of a book spells that once belonged to an Anglo-Saxon wizard and was in a private collection in Hong Kong. Ezekiel had no trouble at all breeching the collection's security systems. A disappointingly easy time of it, as it turned out, so in addition to the spell-book, Ezekiel had also helped himself to a small ring of solid gold that dated back even further into British history than the book did. The ring had been in another part of the collection and under muchtighter security—a challenge that the master thief simply couldn't resist.
No one knew what he had done until he and Jacob returned to the Annex and Ezekiel proudly pulled the ring from his jeans pocket. Everyone, of course, was horrified and angry. Jenkins had begun to berate the young man for his foolishness, furiously snatching the ring from Jones's hand. But the blistering lecture died on the immortal's lips the moment his eyes fell onto the ring. His face blanched and his jaw hung open as he stared down at the tiny scrap of gold in his palm. After a few minutes of trading uneasy glances with one another, Cassandra finally stepped over and lightly touched the her husband's arm, asking in a quiet voice if he was all right. Jenkins looked up, appearing startled to see the others staring at him in bewilderment, but he didn't say a word. He only slipped the ring into a pocket and then quietly lumbered from the workroom, leaving a small cluster of confused faces behind him.
He'd hardly spoken a word to anyone since then, not even to Cassandra when they were alone. He was suddenly distant, distracted, often gazing off into space at something that only he could see. The others left him alone for a couple of days; they were well used to these periodic bouts of moodiness by now. Something would dredge up a long-buried memory in the old man and then he would spend every waking moment afterward brooding over it. Baird guessed it was the ring that had called something up from the depths this time. She'd been hesitant to ask him about it, so she spoke to Cassandra instead. The Librarian anxiously informed her friend that, through the special bond they shared from their Sealing, she could sense that the memory was an unhappy one for Jenkins, but not much else. Cassandra, worried about her husband, looked into Baird's blue eyes and pleaded with her to go and talk to Jenkins. So many of his memories were bad ones, Cassandra explained; if he wouldn't talk to her about it, perhaps he would talk to Eve. He often told Cassandra that he counted Eve Baird as one of his best friends, after all.
So, for the sake of friendship, here Eve was, shivering on the roof of the Library next to a crabby old immortal. If she had any sense she'd just leave Jenkins up here to freeze and wallow in whatever pool of misery he was stuck in right now. Eve took another deep breath and stiffened her spine and shoulders. Good thing for him that I don't have any sense when it comes to my friends! she thought ruefully.
"So what's the deal with the ring, then?" she asked, point-blank. She could sense the tension in the air between them increase instantly. He didn't speak, and Eve patiently let the silence drag out between them. He would tell her when he was ready, and Eve could be just as stubborn as him when she wanted to be. The minutes limped by slowly.
"This style of ring was worn by all of the members of a particular family," he finally said in a quiet rumble, at the same time reaching into the right-hand pocket of his suit coat. Eve saw a tiny glint of gold as the dim lighting from the St. John Bridge far overhead caught it as Jenkins turned the ring over in his long fingers. It was badly damaged; its shank was bent sharply inward toward the head of the ring. Its surface was visibly scratched and gouged. The ring's head was in the shape of a cross pattée, a tiny red stone set in the middle of three arms of the cross; an empty divot in the fourth arm bore witness to the fact that it, too, had once held a similar stone in the past. A fifth, slightly larger stone matching the others was set into the very center of the cross. Eve was no art historian, but she'd seen enough such pieces of jewelry in museums all over Europe to know that the ring had been made sometime in the Dark Ages. By the red stones that symbolized the five wounds to Christ's hands, feet and heart, she also knew that it once belonged to a Christian. Judging from the size of it, Eve deduced that the ring had been made for a woman.
Cherchez la femme, she thought grimly, and plowed ahead.
"So who was she?" she asked, half-expecting the immortal to churlishly snap at her to mind her own business and then clam up again. To her surprise, he answered her question.
"She wore a ring just like this one when we met," he said simply, his eyes fixed on the battered ring. "I was betrothed to her." Eve had not expected that, and she jerked her head around to stare at him, momentarily gobsmacked.
"Betrothed?" she repeated faintly. He continued to stare at the tiny ring, but there was a vacancy in his eyes that told her he was seeing something—someone—else, centuries in the past.
"When I was around sixteen or seventeen years old, my father arranged a marriage for me."
"But…I thought you had to be...you know—pure? To find the Holy Grail, I mean…" Eve interrupted. There was another snort from Jenkins.
"My father didn't care about things such as prophecies or destinies—certainly not about any that didn't center on him," he answered tartly. "He was far more interested in gaining control of the High Kingship of Britain. And in order for that to happen, I had to have a wife." Eve's brow furrowed, puzzled.
"Why? Why not just put you on the throne and be done with it? Or better yet, just take it for himself?" Jenkins shrugged.
"In a nutshell: To try and take the throne from Arthur would've been high treason," said Jenkins, half-turning his head toward her. "The land was prosperous and secure; my father would never have been able to find enough allies to support the overthrow of Arthur." He shifted his weight on the blanket to a more comfortable position.
"And he couldn't put me on the throne because of my low birth," he continued curtly. "So he hoped that I would be able to sire at least one grandson that he coulduse and manipulate onto the throne, thus ruling Britain through him. And in order for that to occur, I needed to be properly married to a suitable wife. One with impeccable bloodlines." The immortal's voice now had a dour, mocking edge to it. He held up the ring to show it to Baird.
"This design was the emblem of a very old and powerful family on the Continent," he went on. "Either by blood or by marriage, they were tied to almost every royal house in Europe. Somehow my father was able to talk one of the branches of that family out of one of their daughters to be my wife." Jenkins shook his head wonderingly at the long-ago feat, then leaned slightly toward Baird.
"I later learned that though she bore the title of 'Duchess' and that her family was land-rich, they were rather cash-poor; my father basically bought her for me in exchange for an obscenely large amount of gold, silver and horses." Eve gave him look of disgust.
"Nice guy, your dad," she said sourly. Jenkins only shrugged and sat upright again.
"Good or bad, Colonel, that's simply how it was done in those days," he said, then sighed softly. "I was told that it was my filial duty as his only son to provide an heir, not for only our family's property and name, but for her family's as well. I was young, and still at the point where I wanted to please my father, make him proud of me—so I obeyed without question." There was a hint of melancholy regret in his voice as he finished speaking. Eve could see the pain on his face at the memory, even after all these years, and she couldn't help but feel pity for him.
"Was she at least pretty?" she joked, hoping to lighten his mood a bit. A wry, lopsided smile came to the old man's face.
"Oh, yes!" he answered fervently, a faint smile crinkling the corners of his eyes. "She was tall and lithe as a willow, with hair like spun gold, deep green eyes. A flawless complexion, smooth and pale as milk, with rose-colored cheeks and plump red lips like ripe cherries. A great gangling boy of seventeen couldn't ask for a prettier betrothéd!" He shook his head again and fell silent, lost in the memory of that first meeting. How nervous he'd been that day, meeting his new bride-to-be for the very first time, terrified and awkward and bumbling—yet he'd also been so full of hope and a quiet joy at the same time...
"So you liked her, then?" Eve prompted after several seconds had passed. The smile on Jenkins face disappeared instantly. His eyes became cold and lifeless.
"I did," he stated flatly. Eve was confused by his sudden shift in mood.
"I don't understand," she said. "If you liked her, then why are you…?"
"My father had taken a fancy to her as well," he cut in, his profile like granite as he stared at the twinkling lights of Portland. There was no missing the way his father had looked at the girl as she stepped out of the wagon that day. Jenkins's head fell back against the glass of the skylight with a soft, desultory thump. The assessing, reptilian eyes that boldly, hungrily swept over her body from head to foot, the oily smile he'd given her as welcomed her to her new home. Galahad had known instantly that it was only a matter of time before his father would take her from him, one way or another. It didn't matter that Lancelot was well over twice her age; such details were unimportant in those days. Perhaps the whole of idea of bringing her to Britain to marry Galahad had only been a pretense; perhaps Lancelot had meant to make her his wife all along…
"We never really got to spend much time together once the betrothal ceremony was done," Jenkins continued, forcing himself back to the present moment. "When she wasn't learning how to run a British household, or how to speak our language, or learning our customs, she and her waiting-women kept to their quarters, and I had my own duties to see to." He sighed and raised his head again to look down at the ring.
Eve shifted her body uncomfortably. She hadn't expected this answer, and there was now she had a jumble of emotions in response: Initial surprise that quickly gave way to a stew of pity, anger, sympathy, revulsion, helplessness. Not knowing what else to do, she reached out to lay her hand on his forearm.
"How…how long were you married?" she asked gently. A tiny, grim smile came to his face.
"Oh, we never actually made it to the altar," he announced, his voice a mixture of sadness and relief. He reached across his body to pat her hand. "Betrothals traditionally lasted at least an entire year in those days before the official marriage occurred and could legally be consummated. She…died after only a few months in Britain. Some sort of fever." He turned his head to look Eve in the eyes.
"And I must confess, to my eternal shame, that I was glad when she died." Eve stared back, astonished.
"Glad?" she repeated. "Jenkins, why?"
"Because I think it was only a matter of time before my father…interfered," he replied stonily. Eve shook her head.
"Jenkins, I don't understand," she said, trying to make sense of his words. He realized he would have to use plainer language.
"My father wanted her for himself," he said a little too harshly. "Whether he became attracted to her earlier in the negotiations or after she arrived, I can't say. Only that I know he wanted her by the time of our betrothal!" His mouth unconsciously twisted in bitter disgust as he remembered one day going to her chambers to speak with her. Before he could knock he heard the girl's muffled sobs through the oaken door, bitterly lamenting her fate and wishing that she could go home again, complaining to her waiting-women that though the unusually tall and brooding Galahad frightened her, the lascivious Lancelot terrified her. She, too, saw the disgusting looks the older man gave her; she knew what he wanted, and she knew that Galahad couldn't protect her. She now wished for death.
"Are you sure, Jenkins?" Eve asked, shaken. He started at the sound of her voice, then gave her dour look.
"You know how my father was, Eve," was all he said. There was a tense silence between them as Eve digested what the immortal had just told her, while Jenkins continued to relive memories. How small the girl had been standing next to him at the betrothal! He'd sensed her fear of him, had tried to smile in reassurance, but she'd kept her eyes glued to the stone floor of the chapel, her body visibly trembling beside him. In the end, Galahad had given up and turned his own eyes to the floor as well, resigned, as the priest droned on about the somber dignity and duties of their impending marriage—but not before he caught Lancelot staring at the young woman, his lust barely concealed.
For her part, Eve could hardly believe her ears. Dulaque was a scumbag to the nth degree, no doubt, but surely not even hewould sink so low as to steal his own son's fiancée—would he? The more she thought about it, though, the less she could deny the distinct probability that that was exactly what would've happened, and Eve again grew angry. It was bad enough that that mangy buzzard Dulaque had actually bought a woman to be Jenkins's wife, but then to turn around and decide to take her for himself, a girl barely out of childhood? That was a level of disgusting that she could barely get her mind around!
"Is that why you've been so down in the dumps lately?" Eve asked and turned her body to face him. "You saw that ring and it reminded you of that girl, and of your—" She almost said 'rat-bastard of a father', but she caught herself at the last second. "—Of your father? Do you feel all guilty about that whole situation or something? Because it wasn't your fault, Jenkins!" She shook her head, bewildered, and ran a hand through her hair, trying to understand. Did he blame himself for what happened to that girl? It wasn't as if he'd made her sick, after all. What could he have done to stop Dulaque? Why should Jenkins still be soupset over the centuries-past death of a woman he admitted to not even really knowing all that well to begin with?
"I mean, yeah—it sucks that your father was such a bastard, and that you had no say in who you could marry, and it's sad that she died so young and under those crappy circumstances but—seriously, Jenkins! Life's too short to—"
Eve halted mid-sentence and gasped softly as she realized what she was saying, and to whom she was saying it. Jenkins slowly turned to meet her shocked stare, a small sad smile on his lips.
"Ah. You finally understand. Life is never too short for the likes of us."
The Guardian felt ill as she remembered that she, too, was now immortal. She hadn't thought about it much since her Tethering with Flynn in order to ground the Library to this plane of reality; with the duties of a Guardian and the missions and the day to day insanity that normally came with Library life, she just hadn't had time to sit down and really think about it or what it meant for her personally. She now remembered the brief discussion she'd had with Nicole Noone in another timeline, about the crushing loneliness of immortality, the regrets and sorrows and loss that never faded with time, remembering with her via the pictures of long-dead friends, family and lovers that Nicole aptly kept stored in a box in an Italian crypt. There were others boxes, too, other graves and crypts and mausoleums all over the world, all of them stuffed full with the ghosts of Nicole's past lives. Was that the immortality that awaited Eve as well?
She suddenly felt nauseous. She looked up at Jenkins, saw the same bone-deep sorrow in his eyes that she had seen in Nicole's.
"Jenkins, I'm…I…" She couldn't think of any words that could adequately express what she was feeling right now, the overwhelming confusion and horror, the primitive urge to flee and never look back, and he saw it.
"I know," he said gently, and closed his dark eyes momentarily as he reached one hand out to take hers and hold it lightly.
"Mortals have the luxury of forgetfulness. Their lives, as you say, are far too short to waste time in dwelling on past hurts, past shames, past losses. But immortals? We have all the time in the world. We have to fill the unending years somehow, don't we? Either with activity or with reflection—we have to fill those long, interminable centuries with something or else go insane." He noted the devastated look on Eve's paper-white face, and compassion filled his eyes.
"Some immortals are unable to accept their new reality, and so they try to carry on as they normally would have done if they were still mortal. They marry, they have children, they have careers, they create homes and friendships."
"Like Nicole did," whispered Eve bleakly, and Jenkins nodded; he, too, remembered the other timeline and its cursed Guardian.
"Like Nicole Noone, yes," he answered softly, and dropped his eyes to fix them on their joined hands. "But that way is the surest path to madness, I think." He shook his head as one corner of his mouth slid up in a self-recriminating smirk.
"I tried to fill my days with activity: Wine, women and song!" he exclaimed, one hand jauntily waved into the air. "And when I finally sobered up after each debauchery, I sold my sword to the highest bidder so that I would have enough gold to start the process all over again. At least until I entered the Library's service, that is." He snorted and chuckled softly. "But even then I merely went from killing strangers on a battlefield to keeping myself busy and distracted with research. I merely replaced the wine, women and song with exploration, learning and experimentation." He sighed and looked up again.
"It shames me to have to say it, but somewhere in the midst of all that 'activity' I did manage to forget many things and people and places and events." He looked off to one side suddenly, unable to look Eve in the eyes. "For instance: Believe it or not, I've completely forgotten the name of that poor, wretched girl that my father dragged to Britain to be my bride. Now she lies in a cold, lost grave amongst strangers in a foreign land, without even a headstone with her name on it to let the world know that she once existed." Jenkins released the Guardian's hand and clasped his hands tightly in his lap.
"I wish to God that I could just remember her name," he murmured mournfully. "She deserves at least that much from her would-be husband." He drew in a deep lungful of crisp air and raised his head to look at Baird.
"But, I suppose, at least now she has the satisfaction—wherever she is—of knowing that I will suffer every day until the end of Time beneath the weight of the regret I feel at how much she had to suffer on my account." Without warning, Jenkins clambered stiffly to his feet and dropped the ring into his trousers pocket. He began to adjust his clothes, smoothing the lines of his suit and tweaking his shirtsleeves and his tie.
"I tell you all of this, Eve, in order that I might serve as a warning to you," he announced briskly, all trace of self-pity gone from his voice now. He held out his hand to help Eve up onto sore legs. Once she was on her feet, he looked down into her bewildered blue eyes with a gaze that was almost, but not quite, severe.
"I know that you don't feel any different right now, that you can't feel the weight of your immortality just yet, but it willcome," he said somberly. "There willcome a day when you will wake up and realize that, other than Flynn, there is no one else on the entire planet who knows you or even remembers that you exist. Even Jacob and Ezekiel and Cas—" His voice betrayed his true emotions, catching in his throat as he tried to say his wife's name. He dropped his eyes and coughed to clear his throat, then took a step forward and began to speak urgently, almost pleading with the Guardian, giving up any pretense of detachment.
"You and Flynn are now the only anchors each of you has: Talk to him, Eve!" he said urgently. "Tell him everything that's going on in your heart and in your soul and in your mind. Keep no secrets from him! Let him be your touchstone. Let him ground you to this world, this…new reality! And be the same touchstone for him as well!" He stepped back and looked down at the ground to hide the tears beginning to well, shamefaced.
"Don't try to pretend that you don't hurt when you remember someone you've lost. Don't try to bury their memory underneath a mountain of busy-ness. Stop and remember them! You and Flynn—remind each other of the things you forget, especially of the people you once cared for. Remind each other of their names, so that they'll never be lost!" Jenkins quickly turned and began to walk away, carefully picking his way in the darkness through the machinery and air vents scattered across the roof as he hurried back to the hatchway.
Eve watched him, her thoughts ricocheting wildly through her mind like a pinball. The idea of outliving everyone she'd ever known and loved suddenly terrified and sickened her—her mom, all of her aunts and uncles, her grandmother. Soldiers and friends she'd served with in the Army and in NATO—they would all die one day, but she would live on. And on and on and on. All the memories that she possessed of them and all of the good and bad times they'd shared would be hers alone. There would be no one left to share them with, no one to laugh or cry over them with her. She would be alone in a world full of fragile, mortal lives that would come and go like blowing dust, and the thought was suffocating. She'd made a horrible mistake Tethering to the Library! Eve suddenly saw herself with a box of old photographs and crumbling letters from past friends and family, like Nicole Noone, mourning people no one else even knew had once existed and cared even less. She would end up like Jenkins—miserable and spiritually crushed beneath the weight of th past. Eve felt despair clawing its way up through like a terrified animal. She want to scream, collapse into uncontrollable sobbing, but then Jenkins's voice suddenly cut through the crushing panic mounting within her.
You and Flynn are now the only anchors for one another…
No, that's not true, she realized; she also had Jenkins. She would always have Jenkins to anchor her, too, and she gratefully grabbed seized that fragile thread to pull herself back to equilibrium.
Correction she told herself firmly. You'll always have each other!
She looked around frantically for him, dimly saw his broad back retreating into the darkness. Eve called out to him.
Jenkins stopped and turned back to her, a puzzled expression on his pale face.
"I beg your pardon, Colonel?" Eve took a few steps toward the old man.
"Esmeralda," she repeated more loudly. "That's the name of the girl you almost married!" The look of confusion only deepened on Jenkins's face.
"I don't think so…" he said hesitantly, giving the idea serious thought. Eve trotted quickly over to stand in front of him.
"If you don't remember her name, then give her one!" she said fervently as she looked up into his eyes. "You remember everything else about her, right? All of the most important things about her? The name isn't that important anymore! Youstill remember her, here!" Eve touched her fingers to the place over his heart.
"And as long as she's here, she's safe and protected and at peace—and the two of you can be happy. No one can take her from you—not death, not Dulaque, not anything! "
Jenkins watched her hand as it moved to his chest. He fell silent for a few moments as he contemplated her words. He then raised his head and cocked it quizzically.
"And why Esmeralda?"
"It's the name of the heroine in 'The Hunchback of Notre Dame'," Baird answered, smiling faintly. Jenkins snorted, a sour look coming to his face.
"She wasn't exactly one of your so-called 'Disney princesses'," he muttered with disdain. "No happy ending for her, remember?"
"No," countered Eve firmly. "I'm talking about the book version." Jenkins gave her a surprised look.
"You've actually read the book?" he asked in a slightly sarcastic tone.
"Contrary to popular belief, Skip, not all soldiers are meatheads!" she shot back, looking him in the eyes. "Just look at you—you can read and write and cipher and everything!" Jenkins gave her a lopsided smile.
"Touché, Colonel," he conceded with a tiny bow.
"That's the image that popped into my head just now," Baird continued, more serious now. "The bones of Esmeralda entangled with those of Quasimodo in the charnel house." She reached up and barely touched the side of his face with the tips of her fingers, and her voice became gentler. "Except you aren't dead, and it's time for you to leave the charnel house; you're not doomed to stay there forever! You can choose to leave the past behind and live in the present."
She heard Jenkins suck in a quick, sharp breath. His eyes gave her a quick, appraising sweep before dropping to the ground at their feet.
"You never cease to amaze me, Colonel," he said quietly, a shy smile on his lips. Eve ducked her head so that she could make eye contact with the old immortal.
"You're not alone anymore, Jenkins; you don't have to lock yourself way from the world anymore or stay trapped in the past with the ghosts," she said. "You have Flynn now—and you have Cassandra and Jake and even Ezekiel Jones if you need someone to talk to!" Jenkins half-snorted, half-grunted at the mention of the annoying thief's name.
"And you have me," she went on tenderly. "Just like I have you now." Jenkins shifted his weight between his feet, uncomfortable at the unexpected intimacy of her words, but Eve refused to back down.
"Flynn might be the Tethered Librarian and he might be my husband, but he's not a soldier. None of the others are soldiers, and there is no way I can do this job without another soldier to talk to, Jenkins. I think maybe that's what you've needed for a long time, too, another soldier to talk to. I think the Library took that into consideration when it recruited me." Jenkins remained silent, not knowing what to say in response so her assertion. Eve reached out to take one of his large hands into both of hers as she went on.
"You're my best friend, Jenkins. You have no idea how much I enjoy spending time with you or how much I look forward to our little bull sessions at the Fountain of Youth, drinking up Stone's fancy beer and just talking." She smiled as she leaned forward, her gaze intent.
"I love Flynn dearly, don't get me wrong, but you are the one who grounds me, Jenkins; I don't have to be a wife or a teacher or a Guardian with you. You give me a safe place to go and just…be. You have no idea how much I need that, how much I need you!"
Jenkins swallowed and squirmed for a few seconds. He raised his other hand and hesitantly laid it on top of Baird's, but still said nothing for a long time. Finally, he lifted his head and looked down at the Guardian.
"Esmeralda is a good name," he said softly, and Eve knew then he had accepted and embraced this deeper level of their friendship. Note to self: Thank Cassandra for getting through that freakin' wall he built around himself! she thought gratefully. She would never have been able to do this if Cassandra hadn't gotten through Jenkins's formidable defenses first.
"It's Greek for 'emerald', you know," he said.
"I do know that, as a matter of fact," replied Eve, surprised to find how relieved she felt, as though a heavy weight had been lifted from her chest.
"It fits her," he went on. His tone indicated that he wanted to talk now. "Her eyes were the color of emeralds—deep green, shining and bright."
"I say we go get us a beer, and you can tell me all about her," invited Eve, turning her body to give his stomach a light dig with her elbow. Jenkins raised his head and pressed his lips together as though in thought, but she knew he would accept. He lowered his silver head to meet her gaze again.
"I'd love a beer right now," he agreed warmly. His eyes widened with anticipation. "And I believe I heard Mr. Stone say something about having just put a couple of newly-acquired cases of Norwegian stjørdalsøl into the Fountain just yesterday!"
"Never heard of it," answered Eve crisply. "Is it any good?"
"Oh! It's wonderful, Colonel!" he exclaimed, squeezing her hand again before finally turning it loose and leaning down to growl conspiratorially. "It's a soldier's beer!" A grin spread across the tall woman's face.
"Well, then, lead on, McDuff!" she urged, looping her arm companionably around his elbow.
Neither cared that the hour was far too late for drinking as they walked back to the hatchway; they were immortal, after all, and no longer needed sleep and no longer had limits. Jenkins would explain things and make his apologies to Cassandra in the morning, knowing that she would understand. He would tell his beautiful young wife all about Esmeralda, share his sorrow and feelings of shame and his grief with her, and she would listen to him and comfort him as only a soul mate could do, and Eve Baird would do the same with Flynn.
Guardian and Caretaker had lighter hearts now, knowing that they could rely on one another to help bear not only the weight of what was, but also the weight of what would be, the two friends having made the unspoken vow this night to be a bright, guiding light to one another in the long dark tunnel of the coming millennia that was their future together in the Library.