Okay. So this day wasn't going so well. Eve was pretty happy to admit that part straight up. Right now, there wasn't much point attempting otherwise.
"So," Flynn said conversationally beside her. He peered back down the trunk of their tree, examining their pursuer with idle curiosity. "On the bright side, at least we know what the monster is now? And I can honestly say it isn't one I've come across before. That's always nice, isn't it? A little something new once in a while?"
Eve stared at him incredulously. It wasn't hard. They were wedged practically on top of each other in the crook of a giant branch, and his face was less than a foot away from her. If she leaned too far sideways, she'd end up in his lap.
And if she leaned too far the other way, she'd end up a bloody mess on the forest floor. The joys of being a Guardian.
"You're entirely too used to this sort of thing," she said flatly, while he turned to smile at her with sheepish cheer. "You do know that, right? There are things you probably shouldn't be acclimatised to, and being herded up trees by rampaging unicorns is definitely one of them!" She sighed. "And I really have to stop being surprised by the things that come out of my mouth these days. There was a time when that sentence would have been a whole lot weirder to me."
Flynn grinned at her for that. Bright and rueful and unfairly dazzling. She tried not to hate him for it. Really, she did.
"Wait until you've been at it for eleven years," he said, with perhaps a certain amount of sympathy. "You'll be amazed what you'll be able to say with a straight face, without even blinking. Trust me."
"I don't have to," she said, elbowing him gently back against the truck in the process, the better to keep him secure. He went easily, smiling faintly at her. "All I have to do is listen to you for two sentences or less. After that, there's nothing anyone could say that would be surprising."
His eyes crinkled at the corners, something soft and happy in them, but before he could open his mouth to actually say something weird and/or sappy about it, the rampaging unicorn at the base of their oaken refuge slammed both rear hooves into the trunk with abrupt and punishing force. The entire tree shuddered, the shock of it almost knocking Eve backwards off their perch, and only Flynn's desperate grab of one of her arms saved her. The situation reasserted itself with a vengeance, and she hurriedly anchored herself more firmly to the branch, reaching with one hand into her pockets.
"I take it you have an idea?" Flynn asked, much more seriously. He wedged one knee outside hers from his more secure position, giving her a little extra support without much thinking about it. "Because shooting it didn't seem to work, and I'll be honest here. I'm coming up blank."
"Hah!" Eve exclaimed, successfully extricating her phone from her pocket without falling out of the tree. She looked up at him, finding him watching her with a vaguely bemused and entirely too besotted expression, and glanced away again almost immediately, focusing on the tiny screen instead. "I mean, yes. I have an idea. Standard operating procedure, actually. Apparently Librarians, even the ones not in training anymore, tend to end up in this sort of position a lot."
She raised an eyebrow at him, mildly challenging, and he only shrugged back amiably. "Comes with the territory," he agreed. "If we're lucky it doesn't immediately get us killed, and we've another great story to tell ... Well. Somebody, I guess. The next Librarian on?"
... That probably deserved an answer, she thought. A serious one. However, they had one slightly more pressing issue to deal with first. She hit speed dial. She'd probably called this number more often in the past few months than any other number she'd called in her life.
Which was possibly a little sad, now that she thought about it. But. Not the issue either.
"Jenkins," she said brightly, ignoring Flynn's amused stare. "Quick question for you."
"Colonel Baird," the caretaker sighed. She could all but see him pinching the bridge of his nose. "What has the Librarian done now?"
She blinked, almost taking the phone away from her ear to look down at it, but the three quick slams through the tree in succession helpfully focused her. "Nothing," she contented herself with. "We've run into a little snag. Apparently the nice horse monster is not, in fact, a kelpie. It's a unicorn. And it's not happy."
"... Huh," Jenkins said, after a second. He'd audibly perked up, she noticed. Apparently that was interesting to him. "Now that's something you don't see every day. They've almost all migrated into the fae realms. There hasn't been a confirmed sighting on Earth in ... Well. Two hundred years, give or take. Huh."
Eve rolled her eyes. "Fascinating, Jenkins," she said, her breath hitching a bit as a particularly rough strike almost pitched her off the branch again. Flynn stabilised her without asking, keeping one eye on the creature below them while listening in at the same time. "Can we focus here? This thing is about the size and strength of a tank, and it really doesn't like us. Shooting it didn't work, and I'm not sure the tree we're stuck in is going to last much longer. Solutions would be helpful right now!"
"What did you shoot it for!?" Jenkins demanded incredulously. "Unicorns are like the Minotaur, they don't stay dead. Shooting it would only make it angry, and if it's a true unicorn it wasn't going to like you in the first place. A bullet most certainly would not have helped matters!"
"Jenkins!" Eve snapped. "I shot it because it almost impaled Flynn through the chest with a two foot horn and did its best to kick my ribs in at the same time, okay? I wouldn't normally be inclined to shoot at unicorns, but nobody told me that they had anger management issues and enough strength to be well on their way to kicking an oak tree down. Can we please focus now?"
Jenkins huffed in her ear, apparently very offended, but at least he knuckled down afterwards. His voice, when he finally decided to speak again, was a lot more serious.
"Alright," he said, moving something around him at the same time by the sounds of things. Shoving things out of his way in a rush all of a sudden. "Okay. You have a problem, Colonel. Ordinarily, a unicorn is more likely to retreat from a human rather than attack it, but ordinarily, a unicorn wouldn't even be in this realm to start with. It's out of its comfort zone, and back in territory where historically a lot of people have spent their time trying to gruesomely murder it in order to replenish their crops or cut off its horn to use as a neutralising agent for poisons. On top of that, both you and Mr Carsen are sexually active individuals, and that makes it--"
"Excuse me," Eve cut in, uncharacteristically scandalised. "What the hell does that have to do--"
"Colonel!" Jenkins snapped back, interrupting her. "It is very relevant, shut up and pay attention for a second. Unicorns were hunted by humans throughout the Middle Ages. They retreated into the fae realms at least partly because of that. Consequently, they are very likely to assume that any human who comes near them is a threat to them, and they are likely to attack it. The only known exception to this is a virgin. Someone pure in body and in intentions. The presence of purity is a soporific to them. They're drawn to it, and it soothes them enough to lower their defences. Neither you nor Mr Carsen fulfil that requirement. It is not going to back down. It is not going to stop trying to kill you. You are, to sum up, in very hot water indeed."
Eve blinked. For once, she could think of nothing remotely appropriate to say. She shook her head, while Flynn caught her gently by the elbows and looked askance at her.
"... Alright," she said, after a second to grapple with that. "So what do we do about it? We're out here alone, Jenkins. Help isn't going to be coming any time soon."
"I'm working on that," Jenkins reassured quickly. She could hear him, actually. He was still clattering things around with some force. "I'll get to you as soon as possible. I have ... Well. I have something that might help. But you're going to have to stay alive until I get there. Killing the unicorn won't be possible, not with a gun. A spear, maybe you'd have a chance to put it down, let it resurrect again later. A sidearm is not going to cut it. If that tree isn't going to hold out, you need to come up with a way to get out of there. Find somewhere safer until I can reach you."
Eve exhaled. "Right," she managed distantly, sharing a long look with Flynn. "So. Running away it is. Great. That works so well when the monster can outrun you."
"There's a cliff face a few hundred yards from here," Flynn commented softly, his expression a lot more analytical now as he acknowledged the severity of the situation. "That'll hold up a lot better than a tree, if we can reach it. The beast's fast, but it's a lot bigger and less manoeuvrable than we are. We might make it, if we plan this right."
"Keep your phone on you," Jenkins instructed in her ear, an uncharacteristic solemnity in his voice. "I'll be coming in through the ranger post, same as you. It's going to take me some time to catch up. You'll have to direct me in."
"Roger that," she said. Strangely, she found a vague, faint smile creeping across her face. Her heartbeat picked up, a steady thump in her chest, and she let her body go loose and ready for action. "I'll call you back when we're up out of harm's way, then. We're north-northeast of the post, about two miles, heading for a cliff face. I'm sure you'll find us one way or another. Be careful coming in. This thing has freakishly acute hearing."
"Unicorns are generally hyper alert at the best of times," Jenkins agreed wryly. "Try to stay alive until I get there, will you? It's very awkward hauling bodies around the woods. It tends to get you funny looks."
She snorted. "We'll do our best," she said, shaking her head. "Try to hurry up, won't you? It's very awkward being dead."
"What fascinating conversations you seem to have," Flynn noted, smiling absently at her as she hung up. "Very cheery. And I thought Judson was bad."
"Shut up," she told him cheerfully, stowing her phone back in her pocket and easing him back so that she could get into position to jump when she had to. Flynn shifted fluidly to follow her, as physically ready as she was for the trial ahead. He always was. He'd never yet failed to match her. "He grows on you after a while, you know. Yes, his two speeds are mostly cryptic and/or annoying, but he's usually pretty good in a pinch. He'll come through. Don't worry about it."
"I'm not," he said, quiet and sincere, those wrinkles around his eyes creasing faintly. Not amusement. Joy, maybe. A kind of contentment. "I've been in worse spots than this, and I'm pretty sure you have too. If you're not worried, I don't see any reason why I should be."
She blinked at him, a strange sensation in her chest. Joy, maybe. Contentment, just a little. "Besides the ton or two of angry unicorn waiting to tear us apart, you mean?" she asked lightly, coming up into a light crouch on the branch, turning to edge out along it away from the trunk. She mentally mapped out the best paths back onto the ground from here, preferably so that they wouldn't immediately be gored trying it. She could feel him moving behind her, smooth and calm and ready. It was ... a rather enjoyable sensation, really. All threats of death aside.
"Besides that, yes," Flynn hummed, reaching across her shoulder to point at a second branch off to their right. "If you shimmy across there, and I head around the trunk a little and use that long one behind us, it won't be able to reach either of us easily, and with two targets it might get confused long enough to get some ground between us?"
"Worth a try," Eve agreed, twitching her head sideways. "Head into the denser thickets. No straight lines, plenty of obstacles. It's fast and it's not stupid. Don't give it a clear line."
"Why, Guardian," he murmured softly, a laugh audible in his voice even now. "You almost sound like you've done this before. Ready when you are, then."
"Shut up and don't die, Librarian," she growled back, more than a little playfully herself, and nodded once more seriously. "Alright. On three. One. Two."
Flynn spun away behind her, hopping branches off around the trunk while she scooted forward to the narrow split of hers. She didn't focus on him, trusting him to keep himself more or less in one piece, and concentrated instead on the sound of hooves behind her and to the right. On the shock of impact up through her legs as she hit the ground, on the lay of the course ahead of her, on the prickle between her shoulder-blades as the unicorn screamed and knocked low-lying branches out of the way to come after her.
She didn't think of Flynn. She didn't let herself be more than peripherally away of him, a presence burning against the edge of her senses, as they both dashed headlong between tree trunks and aimed for the slightly more redoubtable bastion of stone ahead of them. For all the terror she felt at losing him, she didn't let it take from her own survival.
She trusted him. At least that much. She trusted him to keep up with her.
"Come left!" he yelled abruptly, just as she was coming up on the cliff. "Tree to your left! Aim for the ledge!"
Eve didn't answer him, swerving automatically and gearing up for the jump. Dimly, she sensed something massive thunder past her to her right, disoriented by her movement, and then there were branches under her hands, thin and spindly unlike the ones they'd left, but sturdy enough to provide a vault. She caught the edge of the ledge Flynn had spotted, casting a hurried eye up and around it, and pulled herself rapidly higher, towards a much larger shelf that should be wide enough for both of them. She heard the unicorn roar to her right, slamming furiously off the rock as it spun around for them. She ignored it, concentrating on clearing the approach fast enough to let Flynn come up behind her. He'd hit the first ledge. She'd felt his fingers by her foot, scrabbling at the rock.
She turned the instant she gained the shelf, shuffling sideways to make space for him to come up, bracing herself and throwing a hand down after him. He laughed up at her, a little wild-eyed and panicky around the edges, and grabbed her hand with his. She pulled him the rest of the way, his ganglier limbs giving him more reach and purchase to help her. They rolled as he came across the lip, skittering backwards away from the edge in perfect sync. Beneath them, utterly enraged, the unicorn reared up in the clear space beneath the cliff, enough to plant both forelegs furiously against the rock and make the kind of dent that tended to feature in local folklore. 'Here's where the unicorn's hoof burned into the stone. This depression right here'.
"... That was fun," Flynn declared breathlessly, clinging to the back wall of the shelf beside her. "Let's do that again, what do you say?" She groaned out a breath, and punched him lightly in the shoulder.
"Librarians," she managed, panting for air herself. "You're worse than lemmings. What the hell ... happened to survival instincts ... around here!"
"Hey, we're alive, aren't we?" he tried, trying to smile disarmingly and ruining it a bit by being too red in the face to manage. "Come on. That counts as a win. We've got great survival instincts. If we didn't ... we'd be dead already."
"... Helpful," she noted, shaking her head, and let herself collapse back against him. She landed on her rear, her back against his chest, and let herself slump just a little bit. "Next time, Jenkins does the running. We do the rescuing. This is my plan. We hire someone else to outrun to next unicorn, how's that?"
"Sounds like a plan to me," Flynn agreed, curling an arm around her waist and just breathing for a second. He dropped his forehead against her shoulder, his fingers gripping at her shirt. She didn't mind them. Truth be told, she rather liked them. Little points of heat and reassurance against her stomach. She didn't mind them at all.
"... I should call him," she realised, after a couple of minutes. "Let him know we're not dead. Shit. Tell me I still have my phone. I didn't drop it, right?"
Flynn grunted. The hand on her stomach moved, drifting down to pat at her pocket. Eve flushed involuntarily, abruptly hearing Jenkins' voice in her head. 'You and Mr Carsen are both sexually active individuals'. Thanks for that, she thought viciously, around her flush. Thank you, Jenkins. I'm going to be thinking that at the worst possible moments from here on out. If only he hadn't sounded so damned clinical about it ...
"It's still there," Flynn mumbled, poking her hip lightly to remind her. "Left hand pocket. Snug as a bug. However snug bugs are supposed to be."
Probably less snug than we are, she thought desperately, her mind still staggering along the wrong tracks entirely, but she pulled the cell out gamely, unlocking it once again and trying to focus on the pertinent points here. Still alive. Safe for the moment. Still hunted by a murderous mythical animal. All the usual things.
"Jenkins?" she asked, lifting the phone to her ear. "We're still alive. How are you?"
"Peachy," he answered back, almost immediately. She could hear him breathing a little heavily himself. It slowed, even as she listened to him. He'd been running, she thought. Or moving at a fair clip, anyway. He let himself slow a little on hearing they were safe. "Where are you? I've left the ranger's post, and I see the cliff you were talking about. I'm about fifteen minutes away."
"We're on a rock shelf," Flynn filled in over her shoulder. "About twelve feet up the face. We're alright for now. The unicorn definitely isn't happy with us, but we're out of its reach unless it suddenly develops an ability to fly."
"... Kindly don't tempt fate, Mr Carsen," Jenkins answered, snippily enough that it almost obscured his relief. "Although that shouldn't be a concern. Unicorns are not pegasi. Wings should not turn out to be an issue."
"I did know that, yes," Flynn smiled. "I'm suddenly remember an awful lot of interesting facts about unicorns, now that I don't immediately have to run for my life. Such as the fact that in early classical sources, descriptions of unicorns were often confused with those of rhinoceri. I suppose that explains the size and the aggression, at least."
"More or less," Jenkins agreed wryly. "Although being lured out and murdered a time or twenty would make even the most even-tempered animal a little more aggressive, I think. The medieval period was not a good time for them and, given their resurrective abilities, it's entirely possible that you're dealing with an individual who personally remembers that."
"Oh joy," Eve murmured. "And you have a plan to deal with this, right? Because you're going to be within hearing range of it soon. It'd be nice if you didn't die before you've rescued us."
Jenkins didn't answer immediately. Not even to waffle reassuringly. He kept silent, and Eve found herself sitting upright very slowly and very carefully. Flynn, behind her, was suddenly equally tense.
"... Jenkins?" she repeated, carefully. "You do have a plan, right? That's what you said. You had something that would help. That's right, isn't it?"
She heard him exhale carefully over the phone. A soft sigh of anticipation. "We'll find out shortly enough," he said, with a note of humour in his voice that was entirely too Librarian-like for her liking. "I'm going to hang up now. I should be in sight of you in a minute or two. Please don't do anything rash? This will risky enough as it stands."
"Jenkins," she growled warningly, but he didn't listen. He'd already hung up the ... well, whatever he was using as a handset this time around. She snarled in sheer frustration, shoving her phone angrily back into her pocket. "I'm going to kill him. If we all survive this, I'm going to kill him. He doesn't even go into the field anymore, what's he thinking?"
Flynn blinked at her bemusedly. "Um," he said, his hand coming up in instinctive placation. "He is ... He has saved us before, you know. Rather heroically, from what little I remember. He does probably know what he's doing?"
"He's an idiot," she snapped back. "If he's trying to take this thing on alone without something very good for a plan ... If I don't get to do that, he sure as hell doesn't! If I don't get to pick a fight with a Minotaur, he doesn't get to pick one with a unicorn!"
Flynn struggled manfully for a second. She could see him doing it. She could see the heroic effort it was taking him to keep a straight face. She didn't even remotely care about it.
"I'll keep that in mind," the Librarian noted softly, and again with the amusement, with the damned survival instincts of a suicidal lemming that apparently more than two days in this job trained into you. Damned Library and its damned Librarians and its thrice tripled-damned caretakers ...
Who had just appeared on the edge of the clearing, fading into view beneath a rather battered-looking elm. Jenkins looked up at them briefly, a quick visual check just to be sure they were both alive and still where they'd said they would be, and then his attention was fixed once more on the beast in front of him. He looked back at the unicorn, who had turned slowly, and with a sudden, terrible deliberateness, to face him. It wasn't a good position, Eve realised with a thrill of alarm. That hadn't been a good decision. The unicorn was stuck between them now, cornered with its back against the wall and enemies both in front of it and above it. If it had been viewing them as a threat, if it had already been nervous and spurred to attack, then coming in behind it like that had not been a good idea at all.
"Don't move, Colonel Baird," Jenkins said softly, his voice somehow still carrying clearly. "Either of you. Stay very still, and let me handle this."
"... Don't make me be wrong about this," she called back, low and angry. "Have a plan, Jenkins, or so help me I will bring you back from the dead to kill you myself. I swear."
And Flynn, for all his earlier humour, nodded a grim agreement beside her.
Jenkins smiled faintly. He hadn't brought anything with him, she saw with dull anxiety. No weapons, anyway. He'd worn his rubber boots over his suit pants. She'd no idea why. Nothing else. His hands were empty, and there was nothing on him that looked capable of subduing a unicorn. He looked for all the world like he'd come running out here unarmed. She hoped that 'looked' was all it was. She really, really hoped he hadn't actually been that stupid.
"I don't intend to harm you," he said quietly, looking not at them but at the unicorn. "If I'm right about you, I think you can sense that. I've never met one of your kind before, but I'm told that you can sense the intentions of those around you. Particularly those who mean you harm. I don't. Neither do the two behind you. The most we want is to see you back through the portal you came from. Back to your home."
The unicorn stared impassively at him. Its chest heaved. She could see sweat standing out on its flanks, now that she had time to study it without having to run screaming. It was an amazing animal, she had to admit that. Massive, regal, shining. The spiral horn, though currently covered in sap and bark from where it had pierced a tree when Flynn had dived out of the way, was as shining and beautiful as a unicorn's horn ought to be. If it hadn't been trying to kill them, if it hadn't spent every second of their acquaintance so far trying to pound them into a pulp, she would have been feeling more wonder than worry right now.
But it had been trying to kill them. It had done nothing but attack them right from the off, and right now Jenkins was standing unarmed in front of it, trying to talk it into not killing him. Wonder was taking a backseat. It was going to be for a while yet.
"I'm not the kind you usually talk to," Jenkins carried on, standing calmly and at his ease, his expression calm and earnest as he held the unicorn's gaze. "Close, but not exact. Though perhaps that's for the best, hmm? If what I've read is true, those you loved best were often used to trap you. Innocents, who found themselves used against you--"
It moved. It tossed its head down, lining the horn up to strike his chest, and lunged forwards in a short drive. Eve shouted, coming up onto her feet in a crouch, and Flynn grabbed her hastily. He pulled her back, one hand locked around her arm, keeping her from flinging herself down to them. The unicorn checked itself. It drove its horn to within a foot of him, then broke off, dancing sideways and retreating back to position. A warning, nothing more. An expression of displeasure. Jenkins didn't move. He flinched, but he didn't move.
"I'm sorry," he said, soft and earnest. "I didn't know for sure. I didn't know you'd lived it. But I thought it best to say it. I am not an innocent. I'm not here unknowingly. I won't be used against you. Not like that. I thought that should be stated."
"I really hope he knows what he's doing," Flynn said repressively, looking down at him. He kept his hold on Eve. She still didn't know what he'd seen to make him stop her in the first place. His expression, watching the unicorn, was quietly grim.
The unicorn itself seemed less so, though. It seemed ... It looked confused. It tossed its head anxiously, pawing nervously at the ground and lowering its horn again anytime Jenkins so much as breathed differently. It wasn't holding itself ready, though. It had come up out of its wary poise, no longer quite ready to rush forward at a second's notice. It seemed ... It actually seemed to be listening.
Eve gave up. The creature leaned anxiously towards Jenkins, and she gave up on making sense of this. Of anything. She was just along for the ride, and waiting to murder him soundly when it was done.
"We're not here to hunt you," Jenkins continued. He spread his hands carefully out from his sides, shifting gently as if to step forward. He didn't. Not yet. He let the unicorn shy at the visible intention, and waited for further permission. "I am not here as bait. There is no-one waiting with spears in the forest behind me. We didn't know you were here, beyond knowing that something new had come to the forest. Now that we do know, we would rather help you. If you allow us, we can help you return home, protect you in the process. I know it is a lot to ask you to trust that, but I give you my word, my solemn vow, I am telling you the truth. We have no wish to harm you. We did not come here to cause you pain."
... It moved towards him. Not a drive, this time. Not a warning lunge. It almost sidled, turned side-on towards him, a huge form inching warily closer to him. Almost like a child, Eve thought absently. Something scared and abused. It visibly took its courage in its hooves, and lumbered cautiously near. Jenkins didn't move. He let it do as it willed.
"Be careful," he warned it softly. "If what I've heard is true and my touch would lull you to sleep, then you shouldn't touch me yet. I don't think we would be disturbed, but I would prefer to be able to move if necessary." It bobbed its head up and down, looking definite askance at him, and he shrugged in mild aggravation. "I'm sorry. For all I've read, I've never met one of you before, and telling fact from fiction with your kind has always been difficult. Excuse me if I err on the side of caution, won't you?"
The unicorn huffed. Eve would swear it was a laugh. It straightened up, coming back to its full height, now right next to him, and then it came forward that final step and nudged against him with one massive shoulder. Jenkins stumbled, unable to help it, but made no sudden moves. The unicorn, its mind apparently made up just like that, pressed forward against him, pressing its chest to his. Encouraging him, maybe, to sling his arm around it. Encouraging him to touch.
Jenkins blinked. Several times. It was hard to tell from here, but there was something ... there was something almost stricken about his expression. A nameless thing she hadn't seen before. He wrapped a bracing arm across one giant shoulder, and reached up with his other hand to almost, not quite, touch the unicorn's face. He rested his fingers a few centimetres from the creature's nose, and watched with a strange sort of wonder as the unicorn closed the space and pressed its lips into his hand. It nuzzled lightly at him, and the tension flooded out of him in a great, sudden rush, leaving him leaning dizzily against its side.
"Hold me up for a second, would you?" he asked it faintly. "It's been a while since my last siege perilous, and I was at least sitting down for that one. Legs are appalling unsteady things to have to await judgement on."
"... Oh," Flynn said, beside her, and Eve tracked her gaze around to look at him. He blinked back, a startled realisation on his face, that expression he wore when the pieces visibly slotted into place behind his eyes. "He's still ... Oh."
"... Are you going to fill me in?" she asked him tiredly, sitting back down and swinging her legs over the edge to be ready to climb down. "I'm assuming his deciding to waltz up to a unicorn is suddenly making sense to you. You want to let it make sense for me too?"
Flynn actually hesitated. He opened his mouth, looked back at Jenkins where he leaned against the unicorn's side, and closed it again almost immediately. He twitched, uneasy, and glanced between them worriedly.
"Tell her," Jenkins called over. He'd leaned his face into the unicorn's neck so as not to have to look at them, but his voice was as bland and steady as always. He waved the hand he'd slung over the unicorn's back encouragingly in their direction. "She's figured out a lot of it anyway. This little tidbit shouldn't make that much difference."
Flynn grimaced skeptically, but shrugged in agreement. He sat beside Eve, swinging his legs out to dangle cheerily in the air beside hers.
"You know who he is, right?" he asked, just to check. When Eve raised a cool, prompting eyebrow at him, he had the sense to nod and continue hastily. "Galahad. The Grail Knight. I've been wondering ... Well. I guess now I know how we got it. Anyway. He was ... I mean. The Knight of the Grail had to be pure, to be worthy of it. In ... you know. In body and mind? There were tests. That thing he mentioned just now, the Siege Perilous. If you weren't worthy when you sat down in it, it kind of fried you to a crisp. The original electric chair. You had to be pure. And he's still ... Enough to risk it. If the unicorn and the Grail had close enough criteria to count. If you, ah. If you follow me?"
Eve blinked at him. Her brain wasn't working so well, she thought distantly. It took a little second to parse that out of nervous-Librarian-speak and realise ... Well. And realise what exactly Jenkins had been saying about unicorns when he'd had his little epiphany.
"You're a virgin," she said slowly, looking down at their caretaker in oddly distant amazement. "You're a thousand years old, and you're still ... Wow. That is just ..."
Jenkins huffed loudly, raising his head from the unicorn's neck to look up at her, that familiar, placid expression back on his face. Distant amusement, and blithe unconcern for their opinions. The unicorn looked up at her beside him. It had almost the same expression, she thought.
"And what," he asked mildly, "has my age got to do with it? There's hardly a time limit, Colonel Baird. Some of us had other things to do before we remembered to get around to it, you know. You should be grateful. You'd be in some trouble if I hadn't kept hold of it this long."
He smiled at her. Their stupid ... Their idiotic knight in his rubber boots, standing draped across a unicorn, admittedly blithely that he'd just risked his life on a thousand-year-old purity that may or may not even have been applicable. Because that was sane, obviously. That was entirely a smart thing to do. Eve stared at him, and couldn't for the life of her figure out what the hell she was supposed to be feeling.
Probably not fury, she thought distantly. Probably not more than a hint of blind rage.
"... You didn't know that would work," she said softly, and the unicorn shied at the sound of it, accidentally forcing Jenkins back a step. Flynn, beside her, looked rather alarmed as well. "That thing has two feet of bone to shove through your chest, and you wandered out here based on ... Are you insane? It could have killed you."
She clenched her fists, almost vibrating forwards off the ledge. Which would have been unfortunate, at twelve feet up. Jenkins stared at her. He wasn't surprised, she noted distantly. He wasn't caught out by the accusation. There was something calm and solemn still in his eyes, the same look that had reassured a unicorn used to violence.
"It's nothing I haven't risked before," he told her softly. "I wasn't sure it work, no. Every story I've come across with a unicorn and a virgin, the virgin was female. There was no guarantee I would be close enough to count. And even if I was physically pure enough, there was still ..."
"They sense intentions as well," Flynn finished quietly. "The heart has to be pure too. Did you really doubt ...?"
"It's been a thousand years," Jenkins said quietly. "I haven't been that knight in a long, long time. I was good enough for the Grail once, but that was ..."
"A long time and a lot of dog tags ago?" Eve asked, while the anger ran down her spine and out into the rock beneath her. Her hands loosened out again. Something echoed them in her chest.
"... Yes," Jenkins nodded, an open understanding blooming between them. He looked away, to the equine face next to his. To the unicorn who had apparently accepted him. "A long time and a lot of dog tags ago. There's ... a lot that can tarnish a soul in a thousand years of bloodshed. All the physical purity in the world won't make up for that, once its gone too far."
Eve stared at him. He looked so small, all of a sudden. Maybe it was just that the unicorn was so very big, but still ... He looked small. Something ached inside her chest, and Jenkins looked abruptly very frail to her. She glanced at Flynn, beside her, asked him a silent, helpless question, and he shook his head slightly. He took her hand in his, an odd expression firming on his features, and abruptly swung himself out in front of her. He braced himself over the edge of the shelf, one hand still on hers for half a second, and then glancing pointedly down at the two figures beneath them, and set about climbing down the cliff. After a startled second, Eve followed him, almost kicking him in the head in the process.
The unicorn rumbled nervously at them as they landed. It moved itself between them and Jenkins, its loyalty apparently pretty absolute once granted, and watched them warily while they approached. It didn't attack them. Eve was pretty grateful for that. But it watched their every move with ancient, suspicious eyes, and kept its body between them and their knight.
"I think you'd have noticed if you'd fallen that far," Flynn said quietly, stopping a foot or so away from them, determinedly calm in the face of the unicorn. "Even if you didn't, I think the rest of us would have. Intentions have to count, I think. Grails, unicorns, people. If you don't think you're good enough, but do the thing anyway, just because it has to be done, I think most people would trust that more than just if you just presumed you'd automatically be that awesome."
Eve snorted faintly. Jenkins too. He glanced over at her, a suspicious brightness in his eyes, and she just knew that he'd pictured Ezekiel Jones at exactly the same moment she had. She could see the echo of their irrepressible thief in his eyes.
His face softened a second later, though. Something old and tired and very warm looked out at her from it, something with a thousand years of blood on its hands. Something that, even still, even despite that, still found hope enough to fight anyway. Something that still found hope enough to try.
"He's right," she told that thing gently. She looked at the unicorn. There was wonder in her for it now. There was something in its eyes for her, too. Something familiar, that she thought might well agree with her. "I'm pretty sure the fact that you knew what it was afraid of, that you could admit you might be part of it, was what made it easier to trust you. A good heart and someone who knows what the hell he's talking about when it comes to the evils of the world. I think those are easier things to trust than an empty purity that's only there because someone managed to forget to get laid for a thousand years."
Jenkins cracked a grin, at that. Rueful, a little offended, but it was there. The unicorn nodded under his arm, leaning sideways to nudge his hand gently. It glared at her a little bit, possibly for critiquing its tastes as far as virgins were concerned, but it seemed happy enough that Jenkins was smiling, at least.
"Some of us don't really have the urge," was all Jenkins said, with steady amusement. "I understand that you and Mr Carsen would not be among them, Colonel Baird. In my case, though, I have to say I've never really felt the lack. You'll not be too offended, I trust?"
Eve shrugged, slinging her arm around Flynn's shoulders, her own rather more adventurous unicorn, and grinned back at him.
"Not at all," she said. "What you do in your own time is your business. And, in future? If we could all refrain from discussing that particular business with each other, that would be fine by me."
Flynn coughed, flustered agreement on his face, and Jenkins nodded serenely in his turn.
"I couldn't have said it better myself, Colonel," he agreed, gently steering the unicorn sideways to let them come around beside him. He held out his free arm in a little bow, gesturing back up the hill towards the ranger station two miles distant, and the door that it contained. "Now, if you all don't mind? We do have a unicorn to repatriate. We should probably hurry up about it."
"Yes," Flynn agreed, curling his arm slyly around Eve's waist and smiling innocently at them. "As the resident Librarian here, I think that's a very good idea indeed. It's getting chilly out here."
Eve shook her head, happily exasperated with just about the lot of them. It was a very familiar feeling, now, becoming more so all the time. The joys of being a Guardian. She was getting better at them every day.
"Shut up, the pair of you," she said, with that strange sort of contentment inside her. "Get moving, huh? Knowing our luck, if we stay out here any longer and somebody actually will show up with spears. How about we go somewhere where we can just lock the door on them when it happens."
And didn't it say a lot, she thought, didn't it just say everything you needed to know about this job, that neither of them chose to disagree with her.
The Library. Whatever else you said about it, it sure did a number on the way you viewed the world.