Jenkins plowed through the hallway leading to the Annex's spacious workroom like a bull on the rampage, his brown eyes cold and pitiless in a wrathful face.
Never, never in all his years with the Library had the conscientious Caretaker ever seen such wanton, unconscionable destruction of one of the Library's most irreplaceable assets! And then, as if that wasn't bad enough, the culprit didn't even have the common honor or even common decency to confess the crime! Unthinkable! Reprehensible! Outrageous! Had the level of quality of the men and women in the world today fallen to so low that this was all the Library had to pick from?! He raised a fist and threw a large chunk of charred wood onto the floor at his feet.
"WHO BURNED DOWN THE TREE IN THE GROVE OF THE CENTURIES?!"
Four men, two women and one small tea dragon jumped at the sound of the thunderous voice of the furious immortal, immediately followed by seven heads whipping around to face the huge man standing in the doorway, their startled eyes staring at him in shock and fright. Jenkins's angry eyes swept the room, looking for any sign of guilt on the face of the party or parties involved in such an egregious act of vandalism. Much to his disgust, he saw nothing. The soulless creature didn't even have the decency to harbor guilt in their misbegotten soul! He took a couple of steps further into the room, pinning them all like insect specimens with his merciless gaze.
"I say again: WHO burned down the tree in the Grove of the Centuries?!" He cast a second withering glance around the room. Franklin, squeaking in dismayed fright, scrambled down from Jenkins's desk and hid himself underneath the large map cabinet behind it. Remorse flickered in the immortal's soul at having caused his little reptile friend distress, but he would make it up to Franklin later. Right now he had an arsonist to root out.
"The what of the what, now?" questioned Ezekiel Jones, his young face looking completely vacant. Jenkins mentally crossed Jones off of the list of suspects; he would've bragged about it to anyone who would listen if he had been the one to commit the heinous deed, if only out of misplaced pride at the accomplishment.
Jacob Stone looked just as confused as Mr. Jones, and Cassandra's face was the picture of utter confusion, which gratified Jenkins tremendously. He didn't want to think that Cassandra was even capable of such senseless destruction. As Jenkins looked away from his wife, his sharp eyes caught Eve Baird exchanging a quick glance with Flynn Carsen. Carsen's eyes were wide and bulging, and he gave just the tiniest of shakes of his head to the Guardian.
"YOU?!" bellowed the immortal, a mixture of disbelief and rage in is voice as he raised his long arm to jab an accusing finger at the pair. Both of them jumped and turned to stare back at Jenkins, like two deer caught in the headlights of an oncoming semi.
"YOU did this?!" Jenkins demanded. He started walking toward them, his dismay quickly giving way to fury. "YOU burned the tree?!" Eve, ever the Guardian, instinctively stepped between Jenkins and Flynn, sizing up her opponent before she even realized what she was doing.
Please don't make me hurt you, Jenkins! she thought as he eyes quickly swept the large, angry man. And please don't hurt me, either!
But before anything could happen, Cassandra suddenly hopped up from her chair and placed herself between Jenkins and Baird, holding her arms out protectively as she stared up into her husband's furious eyes.
"No!" she snapped, her blue eyes never leaving his. "Jenkins, stop!" Her voice was firm, but the immortal could see fear in his wife's eyes, and it halted him in his tracks. He took a deep breath to calm himself before speaking.
"I apologize, Cassandra; I don't mean to frighten you." He flicked his eyes at the blonde woman standing behind the petite Librarian. Eve met his gaze without flinching, still ready to defend Flynn if need be.
"Then tell us what's going on," Cassandra continued with equal calm, reaching out to touch his arm and draw his attention away Eve. "What tree has been burned? Where? And what's the Grove of the Centuries?"
Jenkins took another deep breath and let his broad shoulders drop as his body relaxed. The others responded in kind, everyone's tension easing considerably as they saw Jenkins and his anger wind down.
"The Grove of the Centuries is in the Heart of the Library," Jenkins began, unable to keep the lecturer's tone out of his voice. "There is a tree there called the Tree of the Centuries." He began to pace slowly as he spoke. "On the very first day of every new century, the Tree of the Centuries casts off exactly one hundred seeds, one for every year of the coming century. The seeds plant themselves and instantly grow. Under normal circumstances, one can tell by how well each tree grows what sort of year it will be."
"So, it's a forest of trees that can tell us the future?" asked Jacob, fascinated by Jenkins's narration. The immortal shook his head.
"No, not specifically, only in the most general of terms. I'm afraid," he answered. "And, in general terms, a healthy tree predicts a decent, relatively calm year. A stunted, twisted or ill tree usually indicates a troubled year." He shook his silver head a second time and grunted softly, raising a hand to thoughtfully rub his chin.
"In fact, the last time the Grove predicted trouble was when the trees for the years encompassing both World Wars grew in so terribly crooked and twisted that Judson was concerned for their very survival. When the wars broke out, we understood then what they had been warning us of, but it was rather too late by then to do anything to try and stop any of it…not that Judson would've done so anyway."
"Okay, yeah, we got it," interjected Ezekiel before the Caretaker could go into full professorial mode. "Trees that tell the future, but not enough to do any good— Aces!" He gave a thumb's up gesture and flashed a wide false grin. "Can we get back to the one that got barbecued now?" Jenkins's expression began to cloud up again at the reminder.
"Indeed we can!" he growled menacingly. He raised his eyes to glare at Eve Baird and, half-hiding behind her, Flynn Carsen. Cassandra calmly reached her small hand up to barely touch Jenkins's face. He looked down at her, his eyes softening at once.
"Tell us about the tree," she said steadily. "How on earth did you even find it? The Heart of the Library is so big, after all…!" Jenkins raised his head and rolled his shoulders back a couple of times.
"On New Year's Day of 2000, as is my custom I went to the Grove and inspected the seedlings for the coming century. Except for the tree representing 2001, I saw no other trees that indicated a particularly disaster-ridden year." Jenkins paused and looked around at the small group clustered around him.
"But see what's happened this year so far," he said somberly and ticked off a list on his fingers. "A global pandemic that seemed to come out of nowhere; a sudden groundswell of civil unrest; natural disasters of near-biblical proportions; the sudden rise of ultra-conservative, supremacist hate-groups; a national election with potentially dire consequences—clearly something was not right!"
"Maybe you just missed something back in 2000?" offered Flynn with forced carelessness. Jenkins turned baleful eyes onto the Librarian.
"I missed nothing, Mr. Carsen!" he intoned. "I examined every single tree, and the tree for 2020 was perfectly healthy!"
"So you went to the Heart of the Library to investigate?" asked Cassandra, before Jenkins's ire could be raised again. He nodded.
"I did," he confirmed sharply. "And this time I was shocked to find that the tree for the year 2020 had been reduced to a blackened stump! Thousands of charred shards, scattered for hundreds of yards around! And the Tree of Knowledge itself, right there! It's nothing short of a miracle that it wasn't damaged by the conflagration!" Jenkins raised his hand to sweep another finger around the room.
"And it didn't happen recently, either! By the look of things it happened no more than five years ago—just after you lot arrived here!" Cassandra gasped.
"You're not blaming one of us, are you?!" she exclaimed, but her dismay quickly turned to indignation as a realization struck her. "Jenkins, how could you! You know that none of us would do something like that!" A look of realization suddenly lit up her face and she gasped.
"Wait—that would've also been around the time that we battled Prospero!" she said excitedly. "And he and Moriarty were actually in the Heart of the Library when they was looking for the Tree of Knowledge! I bet they're the ones who burned the tree!"
"Why would he burn a tree, though?" asked Jake, giving the redhead a dismissive look. "And why just one tree? Why not the whole grove? Why not the entire Heart of the Library, for that matter?" He then turned to look at Flynn for answeres. "And why was the Tree of Knowledge planted so close to these other trees in the first place, that could transmit a disease or somethin' to it?"
"I don't know why, Jacob! I'm not a super-villain, and I didn't plant the damn trees!" she snapped back, glaring hotly at him. Stone held up his hands in surrender, his face taking on a look that clearly expressed his reluctance to get involved in a fight with Cassandra.
"The Tree of Knowledge is located where it is because Knowledge only grows in the presence of Time!" said Jenkins in an impatient tone. Suddenly, all of the pieces fell into place, and he snapped his head around to fix his wrathful gaze on the Guardian and the Librarian cringing guiltily behind her.
"You two were in the Heart of the Library, at the same time that Prospero and Moriarty were," he commented slowly, cocking his head, eyes narrowing. The other Librarians turned to stare at Baird and Carsen as he went on. "If it had been one of them who destroyed the tree for 2020, it seems as though you would have mentioned that at the mission debriefing."
"Oi!" yelped Ezekiel as he snapped his fingers, his head whipping around to look at Jake and Cassandra. "Flynn had that Zeus…magic…thunderbolt…thingy…when we were in the Classical Wing setting up the magical surveying equipment!" He waved his hands wildly as he tried to come up with the words he needed to describe the powerful Grecian artifact. "He put it in his pocket, and I never saw him take it out again!" Four heads turned again to look at Carsen. Seeing that there was no use in trying to deny it, Flynn threw his hands into the air.
"All right, you got me—guilty as charged!" he called out loudly, attempting to bluster his way out of the predicament. "I had to protect the Tree of Knowledge, so I tricked Prospero into thinking that some other totally random tree was actually the Tree of Knowledge, and then I used Zeus's thunderbolt to burn it down!" He dropped his hands and looked around at the young Librarians and the Caretaker. "I didn't say anything, Jenkins, because I know how seriously you take your duties as Caretaker, and I didn't want to upset you."
"And see how well that worked out?" the old immortal snorted in derision, not at all placated by the Librarian's confession. "Mr. Carsen, how could you just simply pick a tree at random and hurl Zeus's thunderbolt at it? My gods, man—don't you realize the damage that you could've done if you'd destroyed a more important tree?! What if you had struck Yggdrasil? Don't you know that every single tree in the Heart of the Library is there for a reason?! You simply can't go around willy-nilly hurling thunderbolts at them! And then to simply…not tell anyone!"
Flynn listened patiently to the old man's tirade. Instead of cowering or pleading for understanding, Flynn instead set his face with a stern expression and stepped past a startled Eve to stand directly in front of Jenkins, his heart pounding in his chest as he forced himself to stare up and directly into the angry immortal's eyes.
"I do know that all of the trees in the Heart of the Library are important, Jenkins," he began in low, steady tone. He raised a hand to point his finger into the Caretaker's face. "But, I also know that as the senior Librarian at that time, and as the Tethered Librarian right now, that every single artifact in the Library is at my disposal to use in any way I see fit—even if that means that other artifacts or elements of the Library must be damaged or destroyed in the process for the greater good of the Library or the world!" Flynn took another step forward, forcing a bemused Jenkins to take a step backward. As Eve watched the exchange, the image of a Chihuahua facing down a Great Dane came to mind, and she had to bite her lower lip to keep from snickering.
"And do I need to remind you that you not only serve the Library but that you also serve its Librarians?" Carsen continued, relentlessly pressing his advantage of authority over the immortal. "And do I also need to remind you that, as a mere Caretaker, it is not your place to question the decisions of said Librarians?" Flynn stopped speaking and tilted his head expectantly, waiting for Jenkins's response. The older man stared down at Carsen for several seconds, looking as if he was weighing the pros and cons of challenging a Tethered Librarian. Cassandra, however, took instant umbrage with Carsen's treatment of Jenkins and stepped forward to stand beside her husband.
"Don't you dare try and pull rank on Jenkins, Flynn!" she said, her eyes flashing warningly as she came to the immortal's defense. "He's not a servant! He's as much a part of the Library as you are, and you can't treat him like he's just hired help!"
"Yeah, and you could've at least trusted us enough to tell us what you did when it happened, Flynn!" Jake added, giving the older Librarian a reproachful glare. "If one of us had done something like that and you found about it later, you'd be all over us like white on rice!"
"We're supposed to be Librarians together," chimed in Ezekiel acidly. "Not Librarians together—unless one of us suddenly decides to blow something important up and then keep it secret from the rest of us!" Flummoxed by the reaction of the others, Flynn looked to his Guardian for support. Eve only shrugged.
"They're right, Flynn," she capitulated. "We never should've kept this a secret. We should've told them everything that happened up front."
"Especially after you gave Jenkins a bawling out for keeping quiet about the artifacts that were disappearing and how the rooms in the Library kept shifting around after it came back from the Void!" shot Cassandra hotly, her anger increasing the more she thought about the double-standard. "How could you be—"
"No, Cassandra. Mr. Carsen is right," Jenkins interrupted his young wife quietly and laid a hand on her forearm. She jerked her head around to stare up at him, stunned.
"Mr. Carsen is the Tethered Librarian; he has complete authority over all of the artifacts and over every inch of the Library and over its support personnel. If he wishes to keep information from me, that is his prerogative. I have no right to question his judgment."
"Jenkins—what the hell, man...?!" barked Jake in disbelief, his tousled head snapping around to stare at the older man.
"Jenkins!" Cassandra yipped at the same time, her eyes going wide. "You can't let him treat you like this…!"
"It's all right, Cassandra," Jenkins answered as he took her hand in his and patted it reassuringly. "There has always been an order to things in the Library; I stepped out of line. I shouldn't have lost my temper like that anyway. At least now I know what happened to the tree and why. That's all I wanted to know in the first place." He patted her hand again and smiled, then released her and turned to leave the workroom. Cassandra, Jacob, Ezekiel and Eve stared after him, flabbergasted. Flynn grinned from ear to ear, proud of himself for having stood up to the angry Jenkins.
"Well! Now that that's been settled, how about some dinner?" he asked brightly, rubbing his hands together in anticipation. He flinched when Cassandra spun around to glare at him, her jaw set and her blue eyes flashing dangerously.
"Flynn Carsen, you are just the biggest….BOOB in the whole world!" she spluttered. There were so many angry insults going through her mind that she couldn't settle on just one. "How can you be so…so…so…"
"Prick-like?" offered Jacob in a snarl.
"Jerk-wad-ish?" crowed Ezekiel.
"Hypocritical?" added Eve, tilting her head in disbelief. Flynn's shoulders sagged.
"Et tu, Eva?" he asked forlornly. Before the Guardian could answer, though, Cassandra tore into Carsen again.
"No, seriously, Flynn—it's bad enough that you keep things from us, but you treat Jenkins like he's your personal servant and he's not a servant! He's family! He's every bit as important around here as any Librarian, including you!"
"I know he's your husband, Cassandra, but he's not a Librarian; he's the Caretaker," answered Flynn, beginning to feel irritated by the young woman's challenge to his authority. "There's a reason he's not a Librarian or a Guardian—"
"What reason?" Cassandra demanded, scurrying forward to stick her face into Carsen's face. "What's the reason, Flynn?! Tell us! Tell us the reason so we can all understand why Jenkins is inferior to us?!" The furious redhead stepped back from Flynn and sneered at him with disgust.
"Or is that information that only Tethered Librarians can know?" she snarled. Flynn glanced from her to the other two Librarians. Jake and Ezekiel were waiting expectantly, their arms crossed over their chests and stern looks on their faces.
"What you all don't seem to realize is that this is not a democracy!" the Librarian announced, his anger roused. He began to stalk around the workroom, his hands flailing wildly. "I don't have to explain myself to anyone! Not my decisions, not my actions, not my opinions, not my thoughts, not my clothing choices, not my television-viewing habits—nothing!" He stopped and spun around to face the seething faces of his colleagues and the stunned, confused face of his Guardian.
"I'm the Tethered Librarian, and yeah—you better believe that job comes with some perks, baby!" he continued, shaking a finger at them, laughing without humor. "'Cause somebody has to be in charge of this whoooole enchilada!" His arms flew into the air over his head and he spun around to take in the entire Library. When he stopped spinning he turned to the others and pointed an accusatory finger straight at Cassandra. He began to shake it at her warningly.
"You're not in charge; I am! Sleeping with Jenkins does not give you a voice in the decision-making process, Cassandra! It does not put you on an equal footing with me!"
"Flynn!" gasped Eve, astounded by the vicious turn this had all taken, but Flynn ignored her.
"And just so we're clear here: Jenkins is not a Librarian of any kind!" he reiterated loudly. "His job is to obey and serve us, the ones who are Librarians! Yeah, you heard me right, Cassandra—I said 'SERVE'!" An ugly look of wild frustration overtook Carsen's expression as he continued to work himself up. "He has no right to question my decisions, and he certainly doesn't have the right to scold me like a naughty schoolboy!" His eyes swept the small group of astonished faces gawping back at him, and he smiled pleasantly.
"Okay! Well, now that we're all on the same page, I have some paperwork waiting for me in—" Before he could say another word, Cassandra had darted across the floor toward Flynn like a vengeful Fury, her hand raised to strike him, her eyes almost sparking with rage. With two quick strides, Eve caught up to her a grabbed the redhead's arm before she could hit him.
"And why would Jenkins want to be a Librarian if it means being like you!" she hissed, only half-heartedly struggling against Eve's grasp. "Why would he want to be someone who feels like he has to treat the people like shit, people he should love and respect, not dominate and belittle!" She pulled away from the Guardian and glared at Carsen, a look of utter contempt on her face.
"You have no idea how much Jenkins has suffered because of Librarians!" she went on, her small body visibly trembling with rage. "You have no idea how badly so many of them have treated him! You bark orders and snap your fingers and expect him to fetch and carry and do your bidding like a dog!" Before Eve could react, Cassandra darted forward punched him the shoulder, hard.
"He's not a dog, and he's not your servant!" Cassandra spat, completely ignoring him. She was so overwrought by now that tears were beginning to shine in her eyes. "He's a member of our family! He's a good…kind…sweet…brilliant man! You can only wish you could be like Jenkins, you…you…ELITIST PIG!" Cassandra turned and started to run out of the workroom, but just before she reached the doorway she stopped and turned back.
"And maybe I don't want to be a Librarian anymore, either, if it means being like you, Flynn Carsen!" And with that final, alarming shot, she turned and marched from the room, long red hair bouncing furiously along her back.
Eve traded shocked glances with the other two men, then turned to Flynn, who quietly busied himself with adjusting his clothes. When he made no move to go after Cassandra, she gave him a questioning look.
"Flynn?" she prompted, but he said nothing, only continued to fuss with his cravat. "Flynn? Are you going to go talk to her?" Still no reaction. "You are going to go talk to her, right?" Flynn finally turned his head to meet her questioning gaze.
"No," he said, tone decisive. He started walking toward a different doorway. "As I started to say before I was so rudely interrupted—I have work to do."
Flynn brushed brusquely past Jones and Stone on his way to his office.
"Mr. Carsen! A word, if you please."
Flynn Carsen looked up wearily from his work. He was surrounded by what amounted to a small fortress constructed of towering, wobbly stacks of accounting ledgers, manila files crammed with memoranda, boxes stuffed full of receipts, and reams of inventories that covered the two sides of the large walnut desk in Judson's office—Flynn's office, now. Even though it had been more than three years now since Flynn had taken over Judson's position as the Tethered Librarian, he still didn't feel comfortable calling this place his office. In Flynn's mind, it would always be Judson's office. Everything in it was a bittersweet reminder to him of his beloved mentor and friend, but Flynn just couldn't bring himself to change so much as a pencil cup, had left everything in place, just where Judson had left them on the day he passed from this earthly plane. Except for the paperwork, that is; that was all on Flynn and his gift for disorganization.
Jenkins was clearly angry, his words not so much a request as a command. Flynn threw his pencil onto the litter-clogged desktop and leaned back in his large, lushly upholstered chair. Correction: Judson's chair.
"Jenkins," he greeted tiredly, nodding. He had a pretty good idea why the Caretaker was here, and Flynn just really didn't feel like dealing with it right now. The Librarian's day had taken a nasty turn with that row with Cassandra, and it had only gone downhill from there. "Sorry, I didn't hear you knock."
"That's because I didn't, sir," retorted the older man, uncannily making the word 'sir' sound like the grossest of insults. It immediately set Carsen on edge. He sighed loudly and began to put his feet up onto his desk—Judson's desk. He caught himself and quickly put them back onto the floor.
"Look, Jenkins—I know why you're here," he said hurriedly. "And I'm sorry if I upset Cassandra. But she was meddling in things that…"
"She wasn't 'meddling', sir; she was trying to help you," cut in Jenkins coldly, his dark eyes blazing. "And she was trying to help me."
"Well, I didn't ask for her help!" snapped Flynn, his thin store of patience evaporating. "She's not here to tell me how to do my job! I didn't ask for that, Jenkins, and I don't want that!"
"We are well aware of that, sir," answered Jenkins archly, refusing to yield any ground. "We are all aware that—against your express wishes—that it was the Library who invited her, just as we are all very much aware that you would much rather be the only Librarian, doing everything on your own, without the help of troublesome 'Librarians in Training' or Caretakers—or of anyone else except Charlene and Judson!" The immortal waved a hand around to take in the spacious office. "And we are all very well aware of how much you prefer to lock yourself in this room for hours on end with your memories of better times as a solo act and feel sorry for yourself!"
"How dare you…?!" breathed Flynn, staring up at the Caretaker in astonishment. Jenkins waved around at the surrounding space again, a sour look coming to his face.
"With the exception of the disaster area on your desk, this office has not changed one iota since the last time I was here several decades ago!" he said in a hard voice. "Not. One. Iota! It's been six years since Judson passed; three years since you became the Tethered Librarian, and still, nothing has changed!"
"I really don't see how that's any of your business, Jenkins!" Flynn shot back, his anger rising as he sat upright again in his chair. "And I don't think I like your tone of voice one little bit, either!" Jenkins pulled himself to his full height and glared stonily down at the Librarian.
"I don't care what you think of my tone, Mr. Carsen, and I already know what you think of me," he said, voice low and threatening. "What I do care very much about is when someone mistreats my wife, and that I will not tolerate!" Flynn groaned loudly with exasperation.
"Look, Jenkins, I may have snapped at Cassandra, yes, but I didn't mean to! All I wanted was for her to—" he began, then halted midsentence and gave the angry Caretaker a quizzical look.
"Wait—what do you mean, you already know what I think about you?" he asked, eyes narrowing. Jenkins stared back, silent, momentarily confused by the seeming non-sequitur. He then realized his gaffe; he'd said too much. He raised his white head imperiously.
"I'm sure I have no idea what you're talking about, sir," Jenkins lied loftily. running his hand over the front of his long tie, as though smoothing it. Flynn had noticed early on that the gesture was a sign of anxiety for the immortal, especially when particularly sensitive topics of a personal nature were mentioned. It was a chink in the old knight's armor, and the Librarian was not above taking advantage of it. Flynn pressed his lips together and regarded the tall man for a moment.
"I mean, I know what your opinion of me is, that's all," answered Jenkins stiffly. When he remained silent, Flynn shrugged his shoulders and stared up at him quizzically.
"And that opinion is…?"
"That I am a useless, broken-down charity case who is allowed to remain here only by your good graces," replied the immortal, his face blank. "I'm paraphrasing, of course." Flynn's jaw dropped.
"When have I ever said that?!" he demanded, shocked. Jenkins gazed back steadily, barely concealing his disdain.
"While you were under the influence of the Apple of Discord," he answered, unable to keep the tinge of pain out of his voice.
"I see," Carsen said thoughtfully as he leaned back in his chair again. He tented his fingers in front of his mouth as he peered up at Jenkins. Carsen vaguely remembered saying something to that effect, but once he was free of the Apple's influence, the Librarian had quickly shaken it off. After all, he hadn't really meant what he'd said, the words just sort of…slipped out. But clearly Jenkins had not forgotten so easily, and worse, he was still feeling very hurt. Jenkins had always been somewhat formal and detached with the Librarian, despite Flynn's best efforts over the years to befriend him; perhaps this explained the old man's diffidence? On the heels of that realization, something Cassandra had said earlier came to mind again, and a lot of pieces suddenly fell into place.
"Have all Librarians treated you badly, Jenkins?"
Jenkins stared blankly at Flynn for several seconds, completely blindsided by the question.
"I beg your pardon, sir?" asked Jenkins dazedly, stalling for time to organize his thoughts. Flynn noted that the anger was now gone from the old man's eyes and he pressed his advantage.
"Have all Librarians treated you badly?" he repeated. "Cassandra said that a lot of Librarians in the past have treated you like crap; am I one of those, Jenkins? And be honest!" The immortal continued to stare for several more seconds, then cocked his head as a guarded expression came to his face.
"Until I discovered the destroyed tree today, Mr. Carsen, I've never had any real complaint against you personally," he said carefully. "I do admit that I have privately questioned your treatment of the others, especially Colonel Baird…"
"What?!" protested Flynn defensively. "What're you talking about? I love Eve!"
"But how do you show her that, sir?" countered Jenkins, happy to steer the younger man onto this tangent and away from himself. "By disappearing for weeks or months on end, with only a brief note to let her know that you've gone—and even that's not delivered personally? No messages while you're gone, either, just—POOF! One day you show up out of thin air, disrupting everything she's worked so hard to put into place and leaving only chaos in your wake as you disappear again without so much as a 'by your leave'?" Jenkins mimed an explosion with his hands as he spoke, then waved them around his head for emphasis.
"You don't tell her anything—your own Guardian! You don't tell the other Librarians anything, you don't tell me anything!" Flynn looked up at Jenkins, confusion all over his face.
"Okay, yeah, maybe I don't give everyone a detailed and notarized itinerary of everything I'm doing like Eve would do—but—that's just me, that's just my style…" he defended weakly. Jenkins sighed and lightly massaged his temples as he considered how to respond. When he was ready, raised his hands and pulled his shoulders back a bit.
"If you'll allow me to offer some constructive criticism, Mr. Carsen—you aren't very observant," he began, carefully choosing his words. A look of utter dismay instantly appeared on the Librarian's careworn face.
"What I mean by that, sir, is that you don't seem able to focus on the small things—" the Caretaker tried to say before Flynn could interrupt, but he was too slow.
"I see everything!" Flynn protested indignantly, then began pointing frenetically towards Jenkins. "For instance—I can tell by the long red hair on the right sleeve of your suit coat and by the very faint smudge of face powder on your chest and by the slightly damp spots on your lapel that you've been comforting Cassandra! And, judging by the sizes and multiplicity of the spots, it was quite a little crying jag, too!"
"Yes, I have," answered Jenkins with stern patience. "But do you understand why I've had to comfort her?" Flynn stared back blankly, gave his shoulders a tiny shrug. Jenkins sighed, stounded by the thickness of the Librarian's skull, and tried again.
"You're more of a 'big picture' thinker, if I may be so bold," he began. "In other words, you don't think before you act; you act while you're thinking. And please don't misunderstand me; there is a time when that is necessary, but it's my contention that that way of doing everything cuts everyone else out of the process. It leaves them feeling as though their feelings or their opinions or their ideas don't matter. They're only told, never asked, and that makes them feel…disrespected, patronized." Flynn leaned forward and propped his elbows on the desk.
"And what about you, Jenkins," he said quietly. "Have I made you feel 'disrespected and patronized', too?" Jenkins took a breath and paused, considering how to answer.
"Yes," he finally said. "There have been times when I have felt…dismissed or ignored." Jenkins walked slowly around Flynn's desk to stand next to the Librarian and picked up the discarded pencil, began absentmindedly toying with it. He tilted his head downward, fixing his eyes pointedly on Flynn's as he spoke.
"I have been treated badly by some Librarians in the past, it's true," he continued soberly. "One could even use the word 'abused' at times. Verbally, physically, emotionally, se—" The immortal caught himself and looked away briefly as he snapped his mouth shut, waved the pencil like wand as though to make the last word disappear.
"I have been mistreated by some Librarians in the past," he started again. "And it was always hurtful because I was always made to feel…'less than', if you take my meaning, sir." Flynn leaned back in his chair, looking thoroughly perplexed.
"Less than," he repeated, unsure, then gave his head a tiny shake. "And this all comes from what I said while I was being influenced by the Apple of Discord?" Now Jenkins shook his head.
"I know that ordinarily you would never have said such a thing out loud," said Jenkins stiffly. "But as you well know, sir, the Apple only destroys inhibitions and brings to the surface only what is already in someone's heart; it doesn't create completely false feelings." Jenkins fell silent, content to let the words steep in Flynn's mind.
As the seconds dragged by without a response, Flynn heaved a deep, resigned sigh and rubbed his face with both hands. His initial feeling to what Jenkins had just said was one of defensiveness. How could Jenkins or Cassandra or anyone hold him responsible for what the Apple had forced him to do? He wanted to deny culpability, he wanted to blame the Apple, blame magic, deflect any and all responsibility, because—he realized this with a shock—that was also his 'go to' position, his 'style'. It had always been important to Flynn that he be right about everything, that he show no weakness or faults or failings, especially in front of others. It was a way of hiding his innate insecurity from everyone, even himself. No, check that: Especially himself.
A memory of the intervention that Eve and the others had staged flashed through the Librarian's mind, followed by the tests he had faced in the Wonderland dimension and the lessons of cooperation and empathy and trust he thought he had learned there. Apparently they hadn't stuck quite as firmly as he'd thought. Flynn threw his hands up into the air and allowed them to land on his lap with a soft slap frustration on his face.
"I'm sorry, Jenkins," he said simply. When he saw the stony look on the immortal's face, Flynn quickly elaborated.
"I know it's hard to believe but, I am sorry for those things I said. I should've apologized for them at the time, but…" He dropped his gaze and squirmed slightly in his chair. "I…I did start to think those things about you when we first met." He fidgeted some more in the chair and then gave up, popping up out of the thick, upholstered leather in order to begin pacing nervously behind the large desk.
"I didn't pay a whole lot of attention at the very beginning because, well, I was slowly bleeding to death and we were all so busy with the Crown of Arthur and with Excalibur and with Cassandra and with Lamia and Dulaque and all of that!" The words spilled out of Flynn like water now that he was up and moving. "And then as things began to settle down a bit and I started studying everyone a little closer, you just sort of struck me as…well…so…so…" Flynn stopped pacing and paused to clear his throat, then forced himself to look up at Jenkins.
Jenkins blinked, a very owlish look on his face now.
"Yes, intimidating!" yelled Flynn, throwing his arms into the air, relieved to finally have said it. "You scare the living hell out of me sometimes, Jenkins! I think I've been scared of you since Day One!" Completely taken aback, the Caretaker could only gawp at the Librarian.
"Why would ever be afraid of me?" he finally asked in bewilderment. Never, in all his years of service with the Library, had a Librarian ever said that they were afraid of Jenkins. Many other things, yes—but never afraid! Flynn waved a hand to indicate the Caretaker's height.
"Look at you!" he yelped. "You're huge! You're good-looking! Suave! Sophisticated! Debonair! And you're a Knight of the ever-lovin' Round Table! And not just any knight, either—you're Galahad! You're the Perfect Knight!" He began pacing again as he listed off Jenkins's more frightening aspects.
"You've lived for over a thousand years! You've seen, known, experienced everything! You know everything there is to know about the sciences and magic! You know everything about warfare and swordsmanship and strategy! You know everything there is to know about the Library and its history! You just know…everything!" Flynn suddenly changed course and hurried to stand directly in front of Jenkins. He lightly grasped the lapels of the startled immortal's suit coat and pulled them out slightly.
"Plus, on top of everything else, you're an incredibly snappy dresser!" Flynn finally finished. He turned loose of the old man and stepped back from him, while Jenkins looked as if he was about to turn and bolt from the room at any second. Flynn dropped his eyes for a moment and then looked up again, his jaw set.
"I guess what I'm really trying to say is...I'm jealous of you, Jenkins." The immortal gaped back at the younger man, flabbergasted by the Librarian's confession. He quickly recovered, however, and dropped his gaze. He began fussing with the cuffs of his shirt.
"I'm not sure how we ended up on this topic, but I can assure you, Mr. Carsen—I am most definitely not a man to be intimidated by, nor to be envied," he answered uncomfortably. "I've done a great many shameful things in my life..."
"But you've done a lot of great things, too," Flynn countered gently, then shrugged. "Me—I'm basically just a coward posing as a hero. You're totally right about me: I'm insecure, arrogant, selfish and narcissistic." He looked up and smiled weakly at the Caretaker.
"You have nothing to be ashamed of, Jenkins; whatever bad you've done in your life, I'm sure you've more than redeemed yourself over your years with the Library," Flynn said. "And you must not be too awful a guy, otherwise Cassandra would never have fallen in love with you, right?"
"Nor would Eve have fallen in love with you, sir, if you were as bad as you believe yourself to be," answered Jenkins with a tiny smile. An awkward silence then fell between them. Jenkins cleared his throat and looked around the office.
"You know, Mr. Carsen, Judson was always very fond of you," Jenkins said quietly. Flynn's smile broadened into a bit.
"Really?" he asked, not bothering to hide his disbelief. "I thought you and Judson weren't on speaking terms?"
"We weren't," answered Jenkins, unconcerned. "But I received monthly reports on you and your activities over the years. Usually from Charlene, but sometimes Judson himself would send them." He paused for a second and chuckled.
"Haven't you ever been curious to know how I knew to be waiting for you in the forest when you first arrived in Oregon?" he asked, giving Flynn a pointed look. The Librarian's eyes widened.
"Judson told you to be there? But how did he know?"
"Remember our adventure with the Heart of Sorrow?" Jenkins asked, referring to a dangerous artifact that had transported him and Cassandra to the year 1912. "Cassandra spent some time with Judson and Charlene in the 1912 Library; I think she might have given out just enough information about the 2020 Library to make it possible for Judson to do some calculating, some hypothesizing and maybe just a little bit of anticipating." He shrugged his broad shoulders and frowned slightly. "That's just a guess on my part, though; all I know for certain is that I received instructions from Judson. Via Charlene, to go to the Tillamook State Forest on a certain day and at a certain time and to go a certain place to await your arrival, and then to follow your instructions after that."
All Flynn could do for several seconds was gawk at the immortal. It had not occurred to the Librarian in the slightest to question why Jenkins just happened to be in the right place and at the right time in order to help save his life after being stabbed by Lamia. For the briefest of moments, Flynn Carsen understood what Jenkins had been talking about when he accused Flynn of not seeing the 'small things', the details of life that needed to be seen most, and how his 'bon-vivant polymath' style could sometimes be a hindrance more than a help. He took a deep breath as he scrubbed his hands through his untidy brown hair and exhaled loudly.
"I'm sorry about the fight with Cassandra," he said sincerely, sticking his hand out to Jenkins. "It's a little late in the evening now, but I'll apologize to her first thing in the morning. I promise!" Jenkins took the Librarian's proffered hand and shook it.
"I appreciate that, Mr. Carsen," he said. "Cassandra will, too." He paused a moment, a memory coming to him suddenly.
"I remember what you did for Franklin when he escaped the Annex and was lost in the park, Mr. Carsen," he said. "I also remember that you put yourself into great danger by using a very powerful artifact in order to find him and bring him back to me." He paused again and fixed Flynn with a pointed look.
"That never struck me as the action of a selfish, unsympathetic coward, and I apologize for accusing you of being so. Perhaps…perhaps I harbored a bit of jealousy for you, myself. Before I met Cassandra, it was always my wish that Charlene would speak as warmly and adoringly of me as she did of you." His brown eyes dropped to the floor for a moment in embarrassment. He brought them up again, straightened his frame to its full height and began to speak with a hesitating voice.
"To answer your earlier question, Mr. Carsen: I have been treated badly by many Librarians—but not by you. We've had some…bumps in the road, yes, but don't all…friendships…start out that way, sir?" Flynn face softened as he recognized the olive branch that Jenkins was offering to him, and how much it was costing the old immortal in terms of trust and openness.
"Yeah, I suppose they do," he agreed, a huge weight suddenly lifting from his spirit. He began rubbing his hands together and looking around the spacious office.
"I think you're right, Jenkins; I think it's time for some things to change around here, starting with this office! Maybe one day soon you and I can put our heads together and come up with some news ideas for it, huh? You know, just kinda…spruce things up a bit. Make it something more…." He made small circles with his hands as he tried to find the right word.
"Make it something more 'Flynn Carsen-ish', sir?" Jenkins supplied. The Librarian nodded.
"Yeah, something like that," he agreed. It was Jenkins's turn to smile gently.
"I would be happy to help in any way I can, sir." A reproving look came to Flynn's features and he cocked his head slightly.
"Do me a favor, Jenkins—no more 'sir' or 'Mr. Carsen'?" Flynn chided, his tone lightly scolding. "After all, none of my other friends call me 'sir' or 'Mr. Carsen', so why should you?" He reached his hand out and offered it to the immortal for a second time. Jenkins stared at the proffered hand blankly for a moment. Then, as he raised his own hand to clasp Flynn's, a very small, but very pleased, smile came to his face.
"I am happy to oblige, si—Flynn," he rumbled in reply and vigorously shook the younger man's hand. "I am very happy to oblige you, indeed!"
"Oh, and Jenkins—about the 2020 tree…." Jenkins loudly sucked in a deep lungful of air through his nose as his spine stiffened as he let go of Carsen's hand. After a moment of thought he looked down at Flynn.
"Don't trouble yourself about it anymore, Mis— Flynn," he stumbled, unused to the new informality. "The year is almost over now, and by the looks of the tree for 2021, we have a much brighter future to look forward to!"
"Fantabulous!" shouted Flynn happily before clapping the older man's shoulder. "How about a cup of tea to celebrate before we head back to the womenfolk, Jenkins? My treat!" A delighted smile played at the corners of the immortal's mouth and his eyes lit up.
"I would be honored, Flynn."