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The Librarians fic: ...And the Returned Favor

January 7th, 2016 (09:37 pm)
relieved

feeling: relieved

Title: ...And the Returned Favor

Disclaimer: I do not own the Librarians.

A/N: Set roughly after The Point of Salvation. Unbeta’ed. My last fic for sendintheklowns. I’m not sure I actually got your prompt in here, but I started with sick!Ezekiel and things went haywire from there.

Summary: Maybe I’m not your friend. But you’re mine.



-o-

Ezekiel sneezed.

This, in and of itself, probably wouldn’t have been very dramatic.

At least, not for normal people.

Ezekiel Jones was not normal people. He did nothing by half measures; if he couldn’t do something right, then he wasn’t going to make a point to do it at all.

This included, not incidentally, getting sick.

Not that Ezekiel did it often -- he was young, virile, and generally too awesome -- but if it was going to occur, it seemed only fitting that he would be stricken with a killer virus that waged an epic war on his immune system, leaving him spent and bereft.

To prove this point, he sneezed again before blowing his nose melodramatically.

“Are you sure I shouldn’t go to the doctor?” Ezekiel asked.

From across the room, Stone grunted. He didn’t even have the decency to look up from his book. “It’s a cold,” he said, sounding bored.

Bored.

Ezekiel was possibly dying and Stone was more interested in an old book that no one had read in two centuries.

Indignant, Ezekiel cleared his throat to produce as much gurgling phlegm as possible. “I think I could be dying.”

“You’re not dying.”

Ezekiel wheezed with a whine as the pressure in his sinuses ratcheted up another notch. “I feel like I’m dying.”

Stone lifted his eyes, pinning Ezekiel with a glare. “I know the feeling.”

Ezekiel glared. “You know, your bedside manner could use some work.”

Stone looked back at his book, shaking his head.

Perturbed, Ezekiel sneezed again. Louder and harder with extra phlegm dredged up from his chest, directed at Stone for good measure.

-o-

Ezekiel slept.

This was both a choice for his illness and his sanity. Not only did he feel terrible -- congested, achy and garbled -- but with only Stone and his ancient books for company, the entire ordeal was also on the boring side.

Cassandra had been quite doting, and Baird had been good at checking his temperature and monitoring his vitals. Even Jenkins -- good old Jenkins -- had stellar tricks for nasal decongestion.

But then Jenkins had a meeting of magical minds or some other such nonsense to attend to, and then the clipping book at sent Cassandra and Eve off to investigate a magical happening. With Jenkins gone, they had all agreed that Stone should stay back and keep watch over the place, just in case.

Keep watch over Ezekiel, just in case.

This position was one that Ezekiel could leverage to his benefit, except Stone was annoyingly immune to his many charms and seemed to be completely devoid of sympathy. He was unwilling to make entertaining small talk, and he refused to set up in the theater room so Ezekiel could at least be entertained while he suffered from his physical ills.

And he wanted Ezekiel to drink tea.

Lots and lots of tea.

Like that was going to have some magical effect.

Since this was his reality, Ezekiel slept instead.

He dreamed of robbing art galleries and breaking into bank vaults. He dreamed of Cassandra’s red hair and Baird’s smile. He even dreamed of Jenkins’ reassuring voice.

To be fair, he dreamed of Stone, too.

Of infecting him with illness and then making a big pot of steaming tea.

And dumping it on his lap.

-o-

He awoke coughing.

This was, for once, an understatement.

Ezekiel didn’t just wake up coughing.

He awoke hacking.

It was a deep, chesty cough, pulling deeply in his lungs and tearing up his raw, congested throat. The action was like a thousand knives, stabbing in tandem, straining so hard that it made him suck in sharply to catch his breath.

This, of course, only made it worse. The deep tickle ignited another round of coughing, deeper than before and even more painful. He coughed until he choked, taking a strangled breath before starting again.

“Hey, whoa,” Stone said, his voice somewhere above Ezekiel. He braced Ezekiel with his hand, sitting up up and forward while Ezekiel coughed again. “Easy, easy.”

After several more long moment, Ezekiel twisted his head up to eye Stone curiously. “Easy?” he asked breathlessly. “Does this sound easy?”

“That’s the point,” Stone said, easing Ezekiel back somewhat. “You should be taking it easy.”

“I’m trying,” Ezekiel said gruffly as Stone propped him up on a pillow. “But I’m dying.”

Sitting back, Stone rolled his eyes. “You’re not dying.”

Ezekiel wheezed viciously.

Stone conceded the point -- marginally. “Tell you what,” he said. “I’ll make you some soup.”

“Oh, because that’s the cure all,” Ezekiel huffed with effort. “Soup.”

“It’s good soup,” Stone said.

“It’s basically hot water,” Ezekiel mumbled, sniffling loudly.

Stone’s brows knitted together. “It’s more than that.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Ezekiel muttered, clearing his throat. “Are you sure you have time, what with your busy reading schedule and all? I’d hate for my slow and inevitable death to inconvenience you.”

Now Stone was scowling again. He seemed to do that a lot. “Look, if you don’t want it--”

Ezekiel coughed again, first to prove his point.

Then because he couldn’t stop.

The effort left him spent, and Stone had to help him lie back again, lifting the blankets a little higher. “Seriously, man,” he said. “You need to take it easy.”

Ezekiel glared at him through slitted eyes. “Thanks for the advice.”

Stone’s face shifted, his jaw working. “Just rest, okay?” he said. “I’ll make that soup.”

He retreated, moving away from Ezekiel’s field of vision without looking back. Ezekiel pursed his lips, turning his head toward the ceiling.

“I’m dying,” he muttered. “But with Stone as nursemaid, I must already be in hell.”

-o-

By the time Stone brought him soup, Ezekiel had already had four coughing fits and gone through another box of tissues. He was miserable, with a pounding headache and a pain in his throat that felt worse with every breath he took.

Stone looked so damn pleased with his soup offering that Ezekiel wanted to pour it on his head.

That took too much effort, however. He was a little afraid Stone was going to try to feed him if he didn’t do it himself, so he picked up the spoon and ladled a bite inside, wondering when Stone had finally decided to put his stupid, ancient books down.

“So?” Stone asked, looking expectant.

Ezekiel swallowed, and realized that Stone was curious about the soup.

With another bite, Ezekiel did his best to pout, but the soup felt pretty good on his throat. It actually tasted pretty good, too, with whatever tastebuds Ezekiel had left.

Stone raised his eyebrows, almost hopeful.

“Not bad,” Ezekiel said crossly. “For canned soup.”

Stone’s brow creased. “It’s not--” he started, but he shook his head. “Nevermind. As long as it feels good going down.”

Ezekiel slurped up another bite, a little louder than necessary. “A little short on the salt.”

“That’s probably just your congestion,” Stone said. “Limits your ability to taste.”

Ezekiel glared at him. “Because your feelings are more important than my health.”

Stone closed his mouth, visibly restraining himself.

“Seriously, though,” Ezekiel said. “Next time go with Campbell’s.”

Stone stiffened, but he finally forced a smile. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

“Awesome,” Ezekiel said with a heavy sigh. “Do you think maybe we could watch a movie now?”

“You really should rest--”

Ezekiel looked up at him, big puppy dog eyes. If Stone was going to start showing actual concern, then Ezekiel could at least make his own personal misery worthwhile. The only thing that could make him feel better in this state, was to make someone else feel worse.

It was Stone’s mistake for giving him an inch.

Because Ezekiel could take a hell of a lot more than a mile.

Stone sighed in total defeat. “Yeah, yeah,” he said. “I’ll get something set up.”

It was all Ezekiel could do to keep breathing normally.

And not crack a smile until Stone had turned away.

-o-

It was no easy process, finding a TV to move into the room.

It was an even more difficult process, setting it up and finding the Library’s bluray collection.

Namely, because Stone had never taken the time to look at the bluray collection before. Which was silly, of course. As if books were the only thing worth checking out in a library.

Tired as he was, Ezekiel didn’t really want to watch an action adventure flick with lots of explosions and a blaring musical score.

But with that amount of racket, there was no way Stone would be able to read.

If Ezekiel had to be sick, then everyone could be miserable with him.

Petty and immature?

Maybe.

But between coughing up his lungs, Ezekiel would take what he could get.

-o-

Ezekiel was good with melodrama. He knew how to play a good part, how to milk something for all it was worth. He liked to go big, with no half measures.

In effect, anyway.

Not in reality.

When he woke up to a blank screen and Stone’s figure slumped in the chair next to his bed, he thought things were working in his favor.

And then he sneezed.

A small sneeze; nothing too over the top.

But that tickled his throat.

Which twinged in his chest.

And then he was coughing.

Harder and harder until fire lanced in his chest and his limbs went heavy. He coughed until he gagged, almost collapsing under his own weight until steady hands pulled him up.

Stone.

He was there, holding him until it passed, lying him back gently when it was over.

On his back, Ezekiel shuddered, too spent to make any quip. Stone’s fingers brushed across his forehead, and he frowned.

“Your fever’s spiking,” he said.

Shivering violently, Ezekiel was too exhausted to reply.

“We need to get it down,” Stone said, getting to his feet. “Now.”

For once, Ezekiel had no reply.

-o-

It burned like fire and cooled like ice. The fever climbed, and Stone pressed a cool washcloth to his head, running it down his cheeks and neck. Gentle and consistent, again and again.

The pain racked his body, and every time he thought he couldn’t survive, Stone tucked the cloth behind his neck and told him to hold on.

Shuddering heavily, he looked up at Stone through the dim light from the blank screen on the TV. “Told you,” he rasped, a chill shaking him to his very core.

Stone frowned. “Told me what?”

Ezekiel grunted, too tired to even attempt clearing his throat. “Told you that I was dying.”

In the night, Stone’s face went white, his hand stopping stiffly in its arc from Ezekiel’s forehead to his neck.

“And you doubted,” Ezekiel quipped with all the strength he had left, the smile pulling at his lips the last thing he could offer.

Moving again, Stone settled his hand like a weight on Ezekiel’s shoulder, at the cusp of his neck. “Just rest,” he ordered gravely. “Leave the rest to me.”

That was a battle Ezekiel was willing to lose.

For the sake of winning the war.

-o-

Then, to Ezekiel’s surprise, he woke up.

Blinking several times, he tried to get his bearings.

He felt horrible. Spent and exhausted, like every muscle in his body had been stretched to its limit and left flaccid. The weight in his chest was daunting, and his nose felt like it was three times larger than it was supposed to be. The very act of breathing was a monumental effort, like pushing air through a straw -- a small straw, with a slit in the side -- and the dull ache that laid on his entire body was raw and grating up through the back of his mouth.

Tipping his head to the side, he was surprised to find Stone sitting there, hand propping up his cheek. There was a stack of books on the table next to him, but they were all closed.

Stone smiled wearily. “About time.”

Ezekiel drew his brows together and regretted it when his sinuses protested. “What?” he said, voice garbled and cracked.

“Your fever broke,” Stone said, nodding at him. “No dying after all.”

Dumbly, Ezekiel stared at him for a moment. “Is that--” he started and had to stop to clear his throat. “Is that an I told you so?”

At that, Stone started to grin. “Maybe just a little,” he conceded. But then he shrugged. “If it makes you feel better, you gave it your best shot.”

Stone was actually being funny.

More than that, he was being...nice?

Ezekiel shook his head. “And you--” he said, rasping with effort. “You’ve been here--”

“All night,” Stone said, and Ezekiel had to remind himself that Stone wasn’t prone to exaggeration in this manner. “A long night.”

“But..why?”

Stone returned his confusion. “Why?”

“Why would you do this for me?” Ezekiel asked, halting and slow, working hard to enunciate each word around the gunk that was collecting in his throat and threatening to gag him.

“We’re part of a team,” Stone said.

Ezekiel shook his head. “That’s too easy.”

Stone gestured vacantly. “Cassandra and Eve--”

“Uh uh,” Ezekiel insisted. “You stayed. All night. Why?”

Stone hesitated, studying Ezekiel a little more closely. “Well,” he said. “I guess because you’re my friend.”

Ezekiel prided himself on being ahead of the game. The reason he was a good thief was because he often knew how to think ahead, how to plan for things that most people overlooked, how to see the details that other people took for granted.

This one, though.

This one caught him completely off guard.

“Since when?” he asked in accusation.

Stone’s expression twitched, and he drew his mouth in a somber line. “Since longer than either of us have probably cared to admit.”

Ezekiel shook his head. He was half-dead, not stupid. “I don’t buy it.”

Stone’s expression turned to annoyance. “You don’t have to buy it,” he said. Then he paused, gathering a long, steady breath that Ezekiel couldn’t bring himself to interrupt. “Look, maybe I’m not your friend -- I don’t know. But you’re mine. I mean, sure, you’re a pain in the ass, but when things are on the line, you do the right thing -- even when you don’t want to. You make the choice to do the right thing, the choice. And I respect that.” He paused, shrugging again. “I respect you.”

For a moment, Ezekiel could only stare. Then, finally, he took a squeaky breath and shook his head. He was batting 0 for 2 in this one, though considering he was still battling a potentially lethal virus, he could probably take a little slack. “Huh,” he said. “So I am dying after all.”

Stone grinned, half-relieved for the break in the tension. “Get some sleep,” he said, reaching for one of the books. “I’ll be here when you wake up.”

Ezekiel would have almost had to acknowledge the sentiment, but his eyes were already closing and sleep still seemed like a damn good idea.

-o-

When he woke up, Ezekiel felt better.

A lot better, in fact.

His nose was still congested, and breathing was still more difficult than it should have been, but instead of having five nonstop coughing fits, he only had two, and his sneezes were less uncontrolled explosions and more directed actions to provide self-comfort.

In short, he was on the mend.

He eyed Stone surreptitiously while the other Librarian turned another page in his book.

Just because Ezekiel was certain of that fact didn’t mean he had to share it. Stone was his friend, after all.

There was no better time to see exactly what that meant than the present.

He groaned, sniffling dramatically as he blew his nose. Stone, on cue, looked up.

“Do you still have the soup?” Ezekiel said, adding a bit of extra croak into his voice just for effect.

“Sure do,” Stone said. “You want some?”

Ezekiel nodded pathetically. “Maybe a little.”

Stone got up, putting his book down.

“And some tea?” Ezekiel asked.

Stone nodded, moving toward the door.

Ezekiel cleared his throat with particular emphasis. “And another movie?”

Pausing, Stone gave him a critical look.

To prove his point, Ezekiel coughed heartily. “Please?”

And to Ezekiel’s great surprise, Stone complied.

-o-

The soup was delicious. Even the tea was pretty remarkable. And -- and this was something, truly -- Stone let him watch Die Hard.

With surround sound speaker.

Throwing another tissue into the trashcan, Ezekiel was starting to see the benefits of friendship.

He picked up another and blew his nose, trying to hide his smile.

-o-

Ice cream; pizza; an entire season of the Walking Dead.

Stone acquiesced to everything.

So there was no reason -- no reason whatsoever -- for Stone to balk when Ezekiel asked for one more, tiny little thing.

“You want what?” Stone asked in apparent disbelief.

“Just a seared steak,” Ezekiel said. “If it’s too much to make, you can always order it in.”

“Too much?” Stone repeated.

“Hey, I’m just now getting my appetite back,” Ezekiel explained, as if he was being entirely reasonable. “And I did think we were friends.”

Stone’s face darkened. “Friendship isn’t about what you can take.”

Ezekiel made a face, shrugging. “Then what is it about?”

“You know what,” Stone said, holding a finger up in a threatening manner. He put it down, then up, then down, as though he couldn’t decide. His face screwed up in frustration and he threw his hands up. “Never mind!”

With that, he stormed off, the door slamming behind him.

“Huh,” Ezekiel said, picking up another tissue and turning up the volume. He blew his nose and cleared his throat. “So much for the power of friendship.”

-o-

After a while, Ezekiel regretted his actions a bit.

It was work to get up and change the movie in the bluray player.

And damn, another cup of tea would be nice on his throat right about then.

However, after leaving, Stone had showed no signs of returning, and Ezekiel didn’t have the energy or lack of pride to get up and search him out. This was how they were better, anyway. Stone would check on him in the morning, and things would go back to the way they were before. Stone would think Ezekiel was entitled and annoying, and Ezekiel would roll his eyes and recognize the limited ways in which Stone’s intellect prevented him from being remotely in tune with popular culture.

That was better than friendship. All the same reliability without any of the sentimentality.

This was the thought that he drifted to sleep with, and he would have dreamed the night away with it were it not for the sound.

It was faint, but Ezekiel was attuned to such things. It sounded like a door opening.

Cracking his eyes open, he looked hopefully at his own door. Maybe Stone had brought tea after all.

But that door was still.

He heard another noise, and he recognized it as further away. He listened for a moment, wondering if Cassandra and Eve were back. It sounded exactly like the back door, coming to life and then snicking silent.

It was too quiet, though. No voices. Even if it were late, Cassandra wouldn’t be quiet. She couldn’t be quiet.

Jenkins, then.

Still too quiet. Jenkins didn’t make a lot of noise, but he also didn’t try to stay quiet. Ezekiel, of all people, knew what it was like to sneak.

He sat up a little, curious as he tried to listen harder.

It could be Stone; that would be a logical conclusion. Maybe he was trying to mask his footsteps to avoid having to help Ezekiel out again.

But then, he heard a voice. “Jones?”

And that -- that was Stone.

There was a rustling.

But that wasn’t Stone.

How did Ezekiel know?

Well, it was a mere matter of directionality. Stone’s voice came in a different direction; the two movements were taking place in different locations, there was no doubt about it. Which meant that Stone was probably in his room, not far from Ezekiel’s own.

And someone else was in the annex.

It wasn’t so much concern -- that wasn’t Ezekiel’s style -- as it was curiosity and the simple fact that Ezekiel actually had to go to the bathroom anyway -- peeing came as an afterthought in the face of death. As it was, getting up was a trial -- more than he’d expected and far more than he cared to admit. Apparently, a lack of movement and dangerously high fevers could render even the most virile figures helpless, and Ezekiel found himself breathless by the time he got on his feet. He stifled a cough as he staggered a step forward, and he steadied himself on the door frame when he finally got that far, utterly and totally exhausted.

He was about to call for Stone -- pride and self-righteous indignation be damned -- when he remembered why he’d gotten out of bed in the first place.

It was hard to forget, what with the unknown person traipsing noisily through the annex.

“Jones?” Stone asked with an equally appalling lack of stealth. Then he added, almost under his breath. “What are you doing out of bed--”

He was surrounded by idiots.

Surrounded.

Hand on the wall, Ezekiel blinked a few times, trying to catch his breath enough to answer as he started to open the door.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t fast enough.

There was another noise, louder, harder, more sudden. Like a rush of wind and a crackle of sparks.

Ezekiel’s heart thudded in his chest.

Then he heard a yelp, short and cut off.

Throat almost tightening shut, Ezekiel went still, door open just a crack. His sinuses ached, but he willed himself to stay still, just for another moment.

Through the crack, his blurry vision was clear enough to see a flash of movement as a dark figure past, clothed conspicuously -- and none too subtly -- in a black hood.

Carrying Stone, limp like a sack of potatoes, over his shoulder.

-o-

So.

This was bad.

For once, Ezekiel wished this were an understatement, but his luck had been pretty bad these days.

Nearly dying and all.

Now being the last man standing when an unknown intruder came into the annex.

It actually was a little unfair. This was Ezekiel’s time to be dramatic, but no, here Stone was, getting himself knocked out and abducted. It was Ezekiel’s turn to be the so-called damsel in distress -- and he, at least, had the decency to do it up right.

Stone just passed out and got hauled around.

Where was the drama in that?

Honestly.

Although, Ezekiel reflected grimly, it certainly did the job well enough on him. Sick as he was, the malady was starting to take a backseat to the more pressing reality that Stone, no matter how poor his performance, had just been knocked out and abducted. And there was no one else in the annex.

Which meant, it was up to Ezekiel.

He took a breath.

Then another.

He paused, nearly doubling over from the uncontrollable urge to hack. He squelched it, though, closing his mouth until tears burned in his eyes.

When it was under control again, he straightened, blinking away the wetness.

Dying or not, Ezekiel had work to do.

-o-


Normally, following someone without them noticing wouldn’t be a problem. Not for Ezekiel Jones. Once he’d followed a security guard all the way into a bank vault -- and out again -- without the dumb bloke even realizing he was there at all. Ezekiel had the presence of mind and the lightness of movement to sneak in and out of any situation, any time.

Almost any time.

When he was still half-dead from a potentially lethal virus, things weren’t quite as easy as they were supposed to be. If it wasn’t his head -- which alternated between spinning and pounding -- it was his congestion -- which made him want to cough and sneeze in equal and demanding turns. All in all, he had to shuffle along with extra care because one wrong bodily function, and there was a good chance he’d be taken captive right alongside Stone.

The only good news was that the person who’d broken into the annex was more preoccupied with his own plotting than he was basic common sense. Ezekiel managed to follow from a safe distance, watching as the hooded figure opened a door and hauled Stone promptly inside. When the door was closed, Ezekiel closed the distance, pressing his hear to the outside in an attempt to hear what was going on inside.

Most of the time, Ezekiel was good with maps, layouts and directions. But since the library had a tendency to rewrite itself, memorizing which door led to which place was easier said than done. Still, the exterior looked a bit like the recording studio.

Or the cannery.

Maybe the hall of lightning.

Stilling his breathing, he listened harder. There was clanking and clattering, then some muttering.

And whirring.

A sound Ezekiel knew.

A sound Ezekiel knew better than anything.

The pins of a lock slipping by each other, each one looking for a match. It was a small, subtle sound, one that most people wouldn’t hear at all. But one that Ezekiel could never mistake.

Stepping back, he looked at the door.

Intricately carved, reinforced with iron.

Ezekiel knew this room.

It was the room Flynn had banned him from. The one Jenkins had purposefully hidden from him.

The vault room.

The mystery figure hadn’t just broken into the annex for books.

No, this was about more than books.

It was always about more than books.

The mystery figure had broken in for something valuable. Something so valuable that it was hidden inside a magical library behind a reinforced magical vault.

This wasn’t just a mystery figure.

This was, very coincidentally, a thief.

-o-

Honestly, it was hard to say what offended Ezekiel more. That another thief had the gall to invade on his territory, or that he’d never taken the time to lay claim to this himself. Nearly two years he’d been a Librarian, and he hadn’t tried to break into this room once. Sure, he’d been busy, and sure, he knew that whatever was in there was probably better off inside, but it was a matter of principle. What kind of thief was he becoming?

That, however, wasn’t the point.

The point was that if he ever wanted to do it himself, he had to stop this idiot from doing it first.

And he had to save the Library and rescue Stone.

Blah, blah, blah.

Just another day at the office for the likes of Ezekiel Jones.

First things first, then: reconnaissance.

This would have been a lot easier were Ezekiel not still dying.

Fortunately, Ezekiel wasn’t used to doing things easy. You didn’t become the best thief in the world by only doing the easy things in life.

All the same, crawling through air ducts was a lot more fun when you could breathe through your nose. Not to mention the dust mites.

He bared down hard, swallowing back a cough and burying a sneeze so hard that he felt it ripple through every overtaxed muscle in his body. This had to be what ordinary people felt like all the time in these circumstances.

Squeezing his eyes shut, he tried to keep himself oriented before starting the cumbersome trek again. Getting up here had been hard enough; but navigating the duct system of a magical library was almost impossible.

Good thing he was Ezekiel Jones.

He inhaled sharply, shutting off another sneeze with such intensity that lights exploded behind his eyes.

Blinking wet eyes open again, he grimaced.

Even Ezekiel Jones had an off day from time to time.

He shook his head, trying to clear his vision. He was woozy.

He wasn’t supposed to be woozy, was he?

And, come to think of it, he never did get to pee.

Tilting his head, he seriously considered going right here, right now.

But before he could act on that questionable impulse, he heard a sound.

Different than before. The sound of...electricity?

Frowning his way back to concentration, he edged forward to the nearest vent cover. He had to lean down, squinting in order to peer out between the slats.

The hooded figure was below, working over one of the strangest lock picking devices he had ever seen. And Ezekiel had seen a lot of lock picking devices. He knew about the old school versions, and he was up to date on the latest electronic models. He’d used them all, in fact, and he considered himself an expert on each and every one of them.

But he’d never seen one like this.

It was a box with old fashioned dials and anachronistic lights. The wires were almost comically predictable, and Ezekiel watched as the hooded figure adjusted them with precision to the front of the vault, matching up the sensors to the trigger points inside the door.

The thing was the power source, though. There was no computer, and give the amount of cords running in the other direction, it looked like it was plugged in. But there weren’t any outlets. A magical vault room in a magical library didn’t have outlets. Frankly, Ezekiel was a little surprised that there was a duct system that made any sense at all.

He watched, increasingly perplexed as the figure picked up the other ends of the wires and walked over to a table.

A table where Stone was lying, strapped down and still unconscious. His shirt had been unbuttoned at the top, the t-shirt underneath ripped to expose the skin beneath.

Then, as if things needed to get worse, the figure attached the wires to Stone, two pressed to his head and another four to his chest.

Stepping back, the figure went back to the control box again and primed it with a handle on the side. It crackled, whirring to life again. Sparks lit from the device and the gears on the vault started moving again.

One of the gears clinked into place and the figure turned the handle again.

This time, Ezekiel saw Stone twitch on the table.

The figure pumped the handle harder, and Stone shuddered violently, body starting to shake as the electrical current increased tenfold and the gears shifted faster.

Ezekiel stared, dumbfounded as the tremors racked Stone’s body with more intensity.

There was a reason Ezekiel had never seen a lock pick like this before.

This, as with all things in the Library, was a magical lock picking device.

Not powered by electricity -- no, not in the standard sense.

This unit drew its energy from a source far more powerful with far more reserves and unexpected prowess.

The human body.

Another gear cinched in place, and the figure crowed giddily as he worked the device harder. On the table, Stone was almost seizing.

All the robberies Ezekiel had committed in his life, and this was the first one -- and the only one, he vowed to himself -- that he would stop.

-o-

Jenkins was gone. Eve and Cassandra weren’t back yet. Flynn was off wherever Flynn was off to, and Stone was lying unconscious on the table.

That meant the only person to stop this was Ezekiel.

It was up to him to protect whatever was in that vault; it was up to him to stop the intruder and neutralize him until the others got back.

It was up to him to save Stone’s life.

That much was abundantly clear.

What was less clear, however, was how.

Ezekiel was one man -- and brilliant, smart, cunning and masterful man, but one man all the same. And a sick one at that.

Hand to hand combat was out. Invoking a roundabout history and boring the intruder to death, that wasn’t going to happen. And he couldn’t conjure any magic to make it happen. None of those were his skill sets.

No, Ezekiel Jones?

He was a thief.

And not just any theif.

The best thief in the world.

He’d stolen a lot of things in his time.

This time?


This time, all he had to do was steal a Librarian.

And very possibly save the world.

-o-

The room only had minimal entry points and, despite the magical security inside, there were few other standard security features in place. Magic was clearly supposed to be the main deterrent in a case like this, so it made sense that there were no motion sensors or heat alarms in the vicinity.

In some ways, that made things all the more convenient for Ezekiel.

In others, he could only think that convention measure might actually be effective against unconventional criminals. Because really, if someone was touting archaic lock picks that ran on a human life force, would they really be prepared for a laser grid?

Ezekiel made a mental note to bring that up with Jenkins when this was over, assuming the notion didn’t get stuck in his heavily clogged sinuses.

The main door was out, and Ezekiel could see two other vents from his vantage point. While this one offered him the best view of the room, it was on the opposite side of the room from Stone. Even with preventative action, there was little chance Ezekiel would be able to sneak in and free Stone before the hooded figure realized that something was amiss.

Although, in his current condition, Ezekiel was going to need more than his stealth to make this happen. He needed a distraction, something he could leverage to get in, free Stone and gain the upper hand.

Pushing his way back through the duct word, he paused, tapping for a moment. There was no way to know how wiring worked in a magical Library, but if there was electricity, there had to be something there.

With a quick estimation, he inched his way along until he reached the closest junction point, where he promptly changed directions. Stabilizing himself, he pressed on the closest seam in the duct, hoping against hope that it was installed with standard welding techniques and not some magical algothrim.

The metal snicked, and Ezekiel grinned as he pushed his way to the space between the duct and the wall. He had to reach, but it didn’t take long before he found what he was looking for.

Wires.

Lots and lots of wires.

It had been a guess, but it was a damn good guess.

Who was he kidding, though?

He was Ezekiel Jones.

His guesses were better than most people’s tried and true fact.

That small victory aside, he realized that there were a lot of wires. There was no telling what they were all for, because it was dark and Ezekiel was crammed into an air duct and his head felt like it was going to explode.

Really, though, this was one of those instance in which he had to just go for it.

All or nothing.

Nothing meant walking away, right here, right now. Leaving Stone to his fate and letting the hooded figure take whatever was in that vault.

Staying and trying to stop this, trying to be the hero.

There were no half measures for Ezekiel Jones.

He was a jack of many trades, and today--

Well, today he was going to try being a hero.

With a deep breath, he kept his wooziness at bay and did his best to breathe around the pressure in his chest. His head ached and his sinuses protested, but he could do this.

He was Ezekiel Jones.

Ezekiel Jones didn’t lose.

He pulled, snapping the wires in two, the frayed ends sparking in protest as everything went black and silent.

And Ezekiel went to work.

-o-

Sick as he was, Ezekiel didn’t give his body a chance to slow down. In one fast, fluid movement, he kicked the vent grate through, landing on his feet easily. Somewhere in the dark, the hooded figure roared, but Ezekiel easily ducked away and made a quick line toward Stone.

In the pitch black, the hooded figure stumbled, but not Ezekiel.

No, Ezekiel had total presence of mind and the utmost control of his senses. It was a natural thing for him -- he’d had the layout of the room memorized within ten seconds of looking in.

He sidestepped a table, looped around a chair, then reached out to find Stone’s arm. Moving his fingers seamlessly up, he latched onto the strap that held him to the table and traced it along to the locking device. Without even seeing it, he effortlessly loosened it, shifting his way around and dragging Stone off the table and freeing him from the wires when there was a hiss and a curse and the room was bathed in a strange, ethereal light.

Strange because it was a dancing orb, hovering in front of the hooded figure.

Ethereal because it glowed like a dancing orb naturally would, when it was created by magic.

Stepping closer, light flecked across the face of the hooded figure, revealing aged, gnarled skin. Stretched lips hissed in a language Ezekiel couldn’t understand, and the only person who might was currently unconscious in his arms.

Speaking of which, Stone’s dead weight was almost too much. Ezekiel prided himself on being fit and trim, but Stone was built like a damn work horse.

And besides, Ezekiel was still suffering from a potential fatal illness.

Standing there, he was reminded all too harshly just how much his head spun and just how much it hurt to breathe.

The figure advanced another step, and Ezekiel was running out of options. Escape wasn’t looking likely. There was no way he could overpower the intruder, and he had no context by which to outsmart a seemingly magical being with nefarious intent.

While being almost dead.

No, if Ezekiel was going to do this, he had to do this the only way Ezekiel knew how.

The figure stepped closer, jeering at him.

And Ezekiel dropped Stone and ran.

-o-

It might seem like Ezekiel was running.

It might even seem like that would be easier.

But, truthfully, Ezekiel doubted he would make it more than two steps without passing out at this point.

And besides, he still had a job to do.

Instead of leaving the room, he ducked into the shadows, doubling back. As the figure neared Stone’s crumpled form, Ezekiel mustered all of his strength and flung himself forward.

He collided with the man, whose thin, wiry body gave easily beneath the contact. Without hesitation, Ezekiel staggered to his feet, hauling the robed body with him. The figure writhed, but Ezekiel already had him up and on the table, the first latch in place, secured snugly around the figure’s chest.

Pinned, the figure howled, kicking and thrashing to no avail. Whatever language the dude was speaking, he didn’t sound happy as the burning orb grew in size and intensity. It occurred to Ezekiel somewhat belatedly that strapping the guy down might not be the only way to stop his magic.

No, he had to subdue him.

Like, really.

Ezekiel’s eyes fell on the wires, lying uselessly next to the table over Stone’s still body. Hastily, he gathered them up, pressing them down on any spot of exposed, wrinkled skin he could find.

The figure cursed, the hood falling away from his face and exposing a withered, gaunt expression. He writhed, spitting epithets as the heat of the orb threatened to take Ezekiel down.

Not yet, though.

Ezekiel stumbled to the lock pick device and blinked at it dumbly. He knew how to use one of these.

He knew how to do this.

Taking the pump, he primed it.

It whirred, starting to flicker.

The orb had nearly eclipsed the room now, and Ezekiel felt his concentration starting to slip as his consciousness ebbed.

He turned it, harder now. Faster.

The current started to whir. The sparks sizzled.

The angry yells increased until the air crackled and they turned into screams.

The energy hummed, building and building while the man cried out.

The gears moved, falling into place one after the other after the other.

There was a burst, a powerful surge that sent a shock wave through the room, deep into Ezekiel’s chest. The figure screech, a hair raising sound that pitched with an inhuman velocity as the last gear clicked into place and the lock disengaged.

The orb fizzled.

The door opened.

Ezekiel looked behind him, where the figure was gone, nothing left but a pile of robes.

Ahead of him, a soft light glowed from inside the vault, almost calling to him.

After all he’d been through, he deserved this kind of win. Even if he didn’t steal it, he’d earned a peek.

He couldn’t bring his legs to move, though.

Whatever move he made next, he knew it would be the last move he made before he finally passed out, once and for all.

One move.

He had to make it count.

With a heavy exhale, he turned around, almost tripping over his own feet as he made his way back to Stone. He half fell next to him, rolling the older man onto his back.

Sucking noisily inward, Ezekiel put a hand to Stone’s chest, stilling himself enough to feel the thready beat of his heart.

Grinning, he sat back on his heels, exhausted. He shifted his hand to Stone’s shoulder, giving it one last reassuring squeeze.

“Just take it easy, mate,” he said. “Just take it easy.”

Then, Ezekiel slumped back and closed his eyes.

This time, he knew he’d earned the reprieve.

-o-

Ezekiel dreamed.

Fever induced or pure exhaustion, he couldn’t be sure. He wasn’t even sure why, of all the good things in his life, his subconscious would conjure up the three other people who made his life impossible all the time.

Cassandra’s eyes were bright as she taught him about physics.

Eve’s tone was proud when she walked him through the basics of hand-to-hand combat.

Even Stone clapped him warmly on the shoulder as he detailed everything he knew about engineering.

It was a surprise, really. Not that Ezekiel picked up on all their skill sets so fast and so proficiently.

But that they seemed so genuine in wanting to help.

They all had something to offer him, in the end, if he was only willing to accept it.

And maybe -- just maybe -- someday, he’d return the favor.

-o-

This time, when he woke up, he was comfortably positioned in a comfortable bed. There were no less than two pillows beneath his head, and a puffy down comforter was draped over him.

“Oh, he’s awake! He’s awake.”

Tipping his head to the side, Ezekiel was surprised to see Cassandra there, sitting by his bedside. Behind her, Eve came into view, placing a glass of water at his bedside. Then, unexpectedly, Jenkins came into view with a steaming bowl of soup.

“As always, you have impeccable timing, Mr. Jones,” Jenkins said with a small smile as he placed the bowl next to the water.

“Wait,” Ezekiel said, giving himself a moment to clear his head. Things were still fuzzy, but the aches had faded and the pressure and his chest was greatly relieved. “You’re all...doting.”

“I just happened to be by,” Jenkins assured him.

“And I don’t dote,” Eve told him.

Cassandra shrugged. “I was doting,” she admitted. Her smile broadened. “But you deserve it!”

Ezekiel shifted, sitting up a little, still aware of his body limitations. “I believe it,” he said. He eyed them all curiously. “I’m just not sure why you believe it.”

They exchanged looks before Eve leaned forward and patted him on the arm. “Your heroics stopped the intruder,” she said, sounding genuinely impressed. “Sort of hard to deny it now.”

Ezekiel bolstered himself up somewhat. He still felt sick, but his ego was feeling better than ever. “Who was he, anyway? And how did he know how to get in here?”

“We’re still trying to unravel that question ourselves,” Jenkins said. “There wasn’t much left of him to corroborate any of my suspicions. But there are plenty of ancient beings desperate enough for magic to risk stepping into the Library.”

“So shouldn’t we have a better security system?” Ezekiel asked. “Because this dude, he just walked right in.”

“You’re neglecting the ample spells, charms and other magical protections currently in place,” Jenkins said.

“But we’re looking into it,” Eve assured him.

“It was pretty amazing, though,” Cassandra enthused. “Using his own device against him.”

“That device,” Ezekiel said, still wheezing as he tried to keep his voice even. “It’s a magical lockpick?”

“That’s a crude description, but yes,” Jenkins said. “Magical forces are powerful and binding, but soul energy is the most powerful source in the world. Enough of it can overthrow even the most established spells. Very few people would risk using it for fear of losing control and consuming everything in the room.”

“So what was in that vault,” Ezekiel said, narrowing his eyes somewhat. “Must be pretty important, eh?”

“You didn’t look?” Eve asked, surprised. “You?”

“Well, I sort of have other things on my mind,” Ezekiel said, and then he stopped short. Eyes going wide again, he sat up with a jolt. “Stone!”

“Whoa,” Cassandra said, placing a restraining hand on his shoulder. “You’re still not better yourself yet.”

“But Stone--” Ezekiel said, breathing heavily again as his head spun. “He used the device on Stone.”

“You stopped it before it did any lasting damage,” Jenkins assured him.

“Don’t believe us?” Eve asked with a knowing tilt of her head. “Then ask him.”

She turned her head, looking to the other side of Ezekiel. Following her gaze, Ezekiel stared, absolutely dumbfounded at the sight of Jacob Stone in another bed across the room, propped up on pillows with an open book in his lap.

He waved.

Ezekiel, still confused, waved back.

“You should eat your soup, before it gets cold,” Jenkins said, moving toward the door. He paused on his way out. “And, for the sake of both of our health, don’t ask what was in that vault.”

“When you’re feeling better, we’ll discuss better security measures,” Eve said as she got to her feet. “And maybe look into some more hand-to-hand training.”

Cassandra smiled one more time. “I’m really glad you’re okay,” she said. Her glance went to Stone. “Both of you.”

When she had left to, it occurred to Ezekiel that they had done this on purpose. No doubt, they had nursed him back to health for hours, making him soup and keeping a vigil. For them to leave now would be counterintuitive.

Unless they wanted to let him talk to Stone.

“See,” Stone said, looking a little smug. “I told you.”

Or, Ezekiel reflected belatedly, they wanted to let Stone talk to him.

“I’m sorry, what?” Ezekiel asked, still dismayed by how nasally his voice sounded.

“I told you,” Stone said again, starting to smile now. “You do the right thing. You’re a good guy.”

Cheeks reddening, Ezekiel coughed heartily into his hand before shaking his head. “No way,” he said. “All I did was make sure you owe me one. That’s all.”

“Honestly?” Stone said. “At this point, I think I owe you more than one.”

Ezekiel made a face. Maybe he was still sicker than he thought if Stone was going to make this little sense. “Whatever, mate,” he said. “I had to save you if I was going to stop that guy from breaking into the vault.”

“Uh huh,” Stone said, sounding as if he knew better. “This was all about the vault.”

“Of course!” Ezekiel said.

“The vault you didn’t go in,” Stone clarified.

Ezekiel opened his mouth, huffing in annoyance. He gathered himself up primly. “I live here,” he said. “What would I steal what I already have access to? That’s just too easy. Ezekiel Jones doesn’t do easy.”

“But you didn’t even look,” Stone pointed out.

“Hey, if I wanted to crack the vault -- and I could, I promise you that -- I would,” Ezekiel said. “But I’d do it in my terms, no one else’s.”

“Uh huh,” Stone said, nodding a few times. “Now that’s the Ezekiel we all know and love.”

Ezekiel raised his eyebrows. “Love?”

Stone shrugged dismissively. “Call it a figure of speech.”

“Call it going soft,” Ezekiel said. “First you get taken out by a random old guy, and now this. Not looking good for you, mate.”

“And forget I said anything,” Stone said, picking up his book again.

But Ezekiel was too far into this to stop now.

Story of his life, anymore.

“In fact, should I point out that you were taken down within seconds, while I managed to get you free and overthrow the guy while being deathly ill.”

“You weren’t deathly--” Stone started, shaking his head. “You were on your way to recovery. Because I nursed you back to health.”

“Sounds an awful lot like excuses,” Ezekiel said, reaching for his soup. “Besides, you already admitted it. I’m awesome.”

“I said you were a good guy,” Stone corrected him emphatically.

Ezekiel shrugged. “Same thing.”

Stone opened his mouth, protest evident on his face. He took a breath, though. Then closed it. He shook his head. “You are something else, Ezekiel Jones.”

Beaming, Ezekiel gathered a spoonful of broth. “I know.”

Stone rolled his eyes, starting to read again.

There was no need to disagree.

Ezekiel knew the truth.

Better still, he knew that everyone else knew it, too.

And if that wasn’t friendship.

Then Ezekiel didn’t know what the hell was.

Comments

Posted by: sendintheclowns (sendintheklowns)
Posted at: January 8th, 2016 10:41 pm (UTC)
clown 2

I have to say, sick!Ezekiel might just be my new guilty pleasure. The snark just doesn't quit which tickles me.

'Of infecting him with illness and then making a big pot of steaming tea.

And dumping it on his lap.'

Very evil thoughts for someone who is taking care of him. Hehehe.

I enjoyed the returned favor with Stone just as much.

Once again thank you for making my birthday so memorable. You're the best!

Edited at 2016-01-08 10:42 pm (UTC)

Posted by: do i dare or do i dare? (faye_dartmouth)
Posted at: January 10th, 2016 07:46 pm (UTC)
Librarians Jake Smile

Sick!Ezekiel isn't necessarily my thing (I still just want to whump Stone endlessly), but it was fun giving his snark no inhibitions. If you still haven't seen The Point of Salvation, you really should. I think you'd like that episode a lot.

It's always a pleasure to write for you! I hope the rest of your weekend was great :) Thanks!

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