He finds her, eventually. Of course he does.
When he sees her he stills. She can see him trying to take her in, to assess any potential problems or threats without being judgmental in any way, and abruptly she realizes what he’s seeing: she’s scrunched in Eve’s chair, arms wrapped around her knees, wearing a collection of clothes so disparate and raggedy they’d have to be pajamas and a pair of something more accurately described as slippers than shoes. Also she’s sure it’s fairly obvious she’s been sitting here crying for a few hours.
Now he’s found her she suddenly realizes she doesn’t know where to look, can’t decide whether to keep staring at the empty stretch of desk that very much does not have an urn sitting on it, will never have an urn sitting on it, or over at him. But staring isn’t a thing you do to people, she knows. And she feels so jagged right now she doesn’t even know if she’d be able to look at him for very long without flying apart, so that makes the decision for her.
She keeps darting looks back over his way, though, glad she can see him for herself, glad she can be sure, so she sees him draw closer, after a few minutes. He fetches up against the other side of the table, ends up leaning there and staring across the room with her, although what he thinks they’re looking at she can’t imagine.
She can almost feel how hard he’s trying not to say anything, not to ask.
“Did you ever give yourself a first name?” is how she ends up breaking the silence. She can see, in her peripheral vision, the way he moves his head slightly, can imagine him pursing his lips the same amount. Not the question he was expecting to hear any more than it was the question she was expecting to ask, clearly.
Still, he treats it like he might treat any other question, giving it a moment or two of thought before shrugging. “No, actually. The habit of calling one’s acquaintances by their first names has been something of a new development, and by the time it seemed I needed one I could never settle on one that seemed like it went with Jenkins. And I was hardly going to rename myself again. It took far too long to get used to it the last time.”
“I guess that makes sense,” she says, nodding slightly.
He nods too, just once, and still doesn’t ask.
She wants to explain, wants to be able to lay out what’s been happening in a clear, emotionless monotone that doesn’t betray any feelings. Wants to not have any feelings to betray. And on top of that, on top of everything else, she is absolutely certain what she’s doing is ridiculous. Magical thinking. It’s not like if she doesn’t sit here and stare somebody will swoop in from nowhere and burn him to ash and then put him in an urn that she can still see if she isn’t trying not to. Not like it would even do anything, necessarily, since as far as she knows he’s still immortal.
“Just out of curiosity, you didn’t happen to give your immortality to anybody recently and forget to tell us, right?”
Also not what she meant to say, not quite, although it’s getting closer. And this question actually gets more of a reaction -- she’d asked while looking in his direction, so she can see him turn to look at her, slightly incredulous look on his face, and say, “You know, for all that that’s a very bizarre question, you’re not the first person to ask me that in recent memory?”
What? “What? Really?”
“Just before the Tethering Ceremony,” he says, nodding. “Colonel Baird and Mr. Carsen both asked me that question. They were, hmm. Strangely invested in the outcome, I suppose would be the best way to describe it. As though they were expecting a different answer than the one they were given. They were significantly less specific in their inquiry, though.” Some misery must show through on her face, then, because he blinks and then continues. “Yes, for the record. As far as I’m aware I’m still immortal.”
“Okay,” she says. “Good.” Now she’s thinking about it, she remembers. Just before they’d Tethered, like Jenkins said; she hadn’t really thought anything of it at the time, folded it into their slightly out-of-nowhere desire to do the ceremony immediately. Now, though, she thinks maybe she should talk to one of them, maybe she should talk to both of them, soon; maybe they might have something resembling answers to the questions that have been eating at her since this started.
“Just for my own peace of mind, should I be concerned? Getting asked this frequently after having gone a very long time without an issue, well. It might make a man worried.” He looks away before he asks, eyes forward again. Trying to make light of the situation, she thinks. She’d probably do the same, if their positions were reversed. She doesn’t blame him.
“Did you know that very strong deja vu is a characteristic symptom of partial-onset seizures?” she says, in answer. Not really an answer, but it’s coming. And she can’t bring herself to say it out of nowhere, and it can’t hurt to explain herself a little, and it’s not like the other two questions she’s asked him so far tonight had anything to do with each other either. “Considering what else the brain grape was holding back, when this started happening I got worried that maybe I’d traded what I had for, oh, I don’t know. A different kind of epilepsy. There’s so many different types, you know.”
She hasn’t looked away from him since he answered her last question, so she can see precisely when the alarm registers on his face, can see when he turns back to her half a second later, mouth half-open to ask. “Don’t worry,” she says, and feels herself almost smile. “I went back and talked to Dr. Nassir. He even ran some tests on me to be sure. No more seizures left in my brain. Barring fever or sudden head injury, anyway.”
“Then what --”
“I saw you die, Jenkins,” she says, closing her eyes. She can’t see him like this, can’t be sure he’s still there. She also can’t say this while she’s looking at him, and she has to say this or she’s going to burst. “You gave your immortality away to someone who didn’t even deserve it, and then you died, and it was my --”
It was my fault, she thinks. I killed you. She can’t even form the words to say it out loud and it still feels like she’s going to start crying again. Now she’s glad her eyes are closed.
“Well,” he says, in a very measured tone. She can hear footsteps on the tile floor, realizes he’s walking around the table. “If it’s nothing else -- I’m going to hazard a guess you made sure he checked for any and all detectable things? -- perhaps it’s some sort of magic.” He pauses, half a second, barely even noticeable, and then says, “Have you seen anything else?”
“Actually it started the night after the Tethering Ceremony,” she says, keeping her eyes closed. “I had a dream that it went differently, went badly, went -- we were in the middle of rehearsing, one of the cornerstones got stolen so it got called off. We had to go get Nicole Noone out from the jail cell you’d been keeping her in underneath the lions. Stone and Ezekiel got kidnapped.” It had all been so surreal when she woke up and remembered. “I got kidnapped too, actually. I would’ve thought it was just a strangely vivid and mildly depressing dream, not super normal but not too terribly out of character, but then after that they always showed up the night beforehand and it was harder to ignore.”
“Oh?” he says, voice coming from behind her left side now. Prompting without demanding.
“I mean. Never anything that was useful, that would’ve been too easy, right. I had a dream that Darrington Dare got really angry at you and Flynn because nobody was Tethered, but of course I didn’t see his nemesis trapping us or the doubles trying to kill you. There was one where the thing with Rasputin went really, really bad; that’s when you lost your immortality, you gave it to Nicole Noone because you felt guilty.” Cucumber sandwiches, she thinks, and sniffs once, sharply. “You and I had High Tea, and then we realized four Librarians really was too many, and that dream actually wouldn’t have been so bad aside from that part. Flynn quit. You died. We cremated you, and then we put you in an urn, and then the three of us quit.” And then I woke up and fell apart.
He breathes in behind her, carefully, and then she feels a hand settle on her left shoulder, warm and reassuring. “It’s possible you’re correct that it made you more sensitive to changes in the timeline, especially given your point about what else it had been holding back. Like, for example, Colonel Baird being able to remember her journeys via the Loom of Fate because of what had happened the Christmas beforehand.” He squeezes her shoulder once. “If something happened that changed the timeline, reset it to the day of the Tethering Ceremony, perhaps you’re just picking up on whatever it was that happened our first time through.”
She takes a deep breath, lets it out slowly. Considers the idea: in the other timeline, the first timeline, Jenkins died, and it was her fault, and that was just what happened. That was the end. I hate it, she hears herself say in her memory, sharp and anguished. “Well,” she says, and reaches up to cover his hand with her own. “I guess I’m glad I’m in this timeline, then, because the other one really, really sucks.”
He squeezes her shoulder again, and then he moves their hands just enough to free his thumb up, and then he starts stroking it along the webbing between her thumb and her index finger, slow and steady. She takes another deep breath, and then another. Feels like maybe she’s starting to calm down. Feels like maybe she’s less likely to fly apart.
Later, he will gently coax her out of the chair with a suggestion of tea and butter cookies, although what he’ll say is that he’s acquired a sewing kit in its larval form, and once she figures out what he means she’ll realize she can’t tell whether or not he’s joking. Later, she’ll fall asleep on his shoulder by accident, sitting next to each other on a couch she’s never seen before, a telenovela playing on mute on a TV that looks like it’s going to start an electrical fire any second now. For now, though, she closes her eyes, feels the leftover tears running down her face, and takes another deep breath, and focuses on the feeling of his thumb on her hand, back and forth, back and forth.