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Just a Little Late

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Ezekiel, in general, is loud. Not necessarily with yelling or anything like that - but you notice him, when he’s in a room. His presence just fills whatever space he’s in - loud and bright and full of energy. Unless he’s actively trying to hide. Eve hadn’t thought he could manage both, which is probably why it took her so long to notice anything was wrong.

It started small.

Him and Jacob came back from a case, sniping and bickering like usual, Jacob using him as a temporary crutch for what later turned out to be a sprained ankle. But, both had seemed to be in reasonably decent spirits, despite the injury and despite coming back empty handed.

Eve, of course, had pounced on the both of them as soon as Jacob had gotten back from the hospital (Jenkins’ insistence, just to double check that the swelling wasn’t hiding anything worse), asking what had happened, what was going on - they had assured her as they were leaving originally that this looked like a simple case, in and out, nothing they couldn’t handle.

Sure enough, they were still holding to that. They just needed to back up a bit is all - nothing to worry about, promise . As soon as they had a better idea what was going on - or when Jacob could reasonably walk and run again, whichever came first - they’d be right back out after whatever artifact it was that they hadn’t managed to grab the first time around. She couldn’t get much else out of them, and, since neither seemed particularly put out, she’d made the choice to trust them on it.

Jacob ended up parked in the Annex, with stacks of books around him as he settled in to research whatever it was they’d run into. Ezekiel… he was in and out. Those first couple of days, there was a fifty-fifty chance that when Eve looked up from her desk, he’d be over by Jacob, both of them talking quietly. Where he was the rest of the time, Eve couldn’t say. They didn’t have a case that needed the team, and he didn’t seem to be getting into any trouble, so she let that lie too.

Over the next couple of days, Ezekiel was out of the Annex more often than not. Despite that, Jacob’s book stacks kept changing around, despite the fact that he wasn’t allowed to actually go back to the shelves (he’d tried, that first day. Both Eve and Ezekiel had almost sat on him to keep him still and off his feet). When Ezekiel did sweep in - loud and bright, usually with a crack or a jab at Jacob that Eve resolutely did Not Laugh At (that anyone could prove anyway) - it was with more books or papers, and he’d be gone by the next time Eve looked up.

It took her two days to notice when he’d just. Stopped showing up in the Annex at all.

When she did see him again, it was in the Annex’s kitchen. She almost ran into him, and she still doesn’t know if it was because it was five in the morning and she wasn’t completely awake yet (military life may have given her an automatic inner alarm clock, didn’t mean her brain got the memo), or if he really was just that quiet that day. His feet were kicked up on the table (which she knew he only did ‘cause it drove Jenkins nuts), and his attention was on his phone, waiting for something in the microwave. Completely normal. He’d flashed her a grin, asked how Jacob was doing, and skirted back out as soon as he’d grabbed his mug from the microwave.

Eve didn’t see him again for another two days - though there were small signs, here and there. Coffee in the kitchen (sometimes, just the smell, which should’ve pinged so many alarms since she got in at six am most days, and, besides Jenkins, she was generally the first one there), Jacob’s research stack kept rotating, with more dusty tomes and stacks of notes taking the place of the original handful.

She doesn’t know why, on that third morning after she’d run into him in the kitchen, the smell of coffee just clinging there finally sent her looking. Not the ever more obscure books on Jacob’s table, filled with scraps of paper and notes already. Not Jacob asking if she’d seen Ezekiel lately. Not the almost oppressive quiet of the Annex.

It took her a good while to track him down, rummaging through an uncatalogued wing in the Ancient Empires section. He didn’t seem to notice her, and she took the moment to actually. Look.

He was still in the same clothes she’d seen him in in the kitchen, his shoulders stooped low, hair a bedraggled mess - from pushing his hands through it, apparently, as she watched him do just that - several empty mugs stacked on a bookshelf nearby. What made everything that much worse though, was when she knocked lightly on the shelf closest to her, and instead of shooting her a grin like normal or tossing some comment of his shoulder, he startled. Sharp enough to overbalance and fall into the bookshelf next to him, sending the mugs falling to the floor with a deafening shatter in the stillness around them.

He ended up blinking first at the mugs, then her, eyes big and confused, glassy in a way Eve knew all too well. It broke her heart a little bit as embarrassment slowly filtered through, and he ended up crouching down to avoid her gaze, scooping up ceramic shards with clumsy hands. He ended up flinching when she crouched down in front of him, grabbing his hands to stop him before he cut herself, and she took a deep breath to keep from snapping - she was angry, but not at him, and he didn’t deserve that right now.

“I think that’s enough for now, alright?” He blinked at her again, mouth opening after a moment to argue with her (she was well versed in various ‘pick a fight’ faces, alright), but she just shook her head and hauled him up. “Nope, come on. You need some sleep, at least.” the and we need to talk went unsaid, but from the way Ezekiel tensed in her grip, she knew he’d heard it. But, he did go with her when she pulled him away, so she was going to count that as a win.

Later. Later, she’ll learn that they’d come home empty-handed because Ezekiel had come up against a lock that didn’t work right, thanks to magic. She’ll learn that, according to Ezekiel, if Jacob hadn’t been paying more attention than he had, they both would’ve ended up as dinner for the very, very pissed off manticore guarding the artifact. She’ll learn that Jacob sprained his ankle trying to haul Ezekiel around a too slippery corner when he took a little too long to pull away from the lock to get his feet under him correctly.

But, for now. All she knows is that she left Ezekiel alone for over a week, when he clearly wasn’t okay. She could blame it on any number of things, and, now that she knew what to look for, she knew this wouldn’t happen again, but the fact that it happened at all sits like a stone in her chest. ( Just another, added to the pile already there .)

She focuses on getting Ezekiel home and to bed, posting up guard on his couch, because she knows that unless he’s watched, he’s just stubborn enough to keep trying, keep going, until he actually collapses or worse.

(And focusing on him makes it that much easier to ignore just how much she’s going to have to start looking for, if she’s actually going to manage this Guardian thing. It’s only a little terrifying.)