It started as a slight twinge on the left side of his head, just below his hairline. Ezekiel flinched as he ate the last bite of cake. Baird had left a few minutes ago now that the party had wound down. She had offered to help clean up, but even Ezekiel, who admittedly could be insensitive about some things, knew it was wrong to have the birthday girl help out with cleaning up after her own party. So it was Jake, Cassandra, and himself left to clean up after their small surprise party for their Guardian. Jenkins had made himself scarce about a half hour into the party; he still had that whole anti-social attitude when it came to hanging out with the L.I.T.s after hours.
They made quick work of the small mess the five of them had made. Grabbing the trash bag, Ezekiel went out back to throw it away, squinting against the overhead lights that seemed to be trying to blind him. Had they gotten brighter? The light was causing the slight pain in his head to turn into a full-blown throbbing migraine. Dumping the trash in the bin, Ezekiel felt his stomach roll at the odors wafting up from garbage. Holding his stomach as he made his way back into the annex, Ezekiel prayed that the sudden onset of nausea wouldn’t lead the two slices of cake he ate to make a reappearance.
Straightening the papers on the main desk into some semblance of order, Cassandra thought back on the last couple of hours. The party had gone well; their Guardian was so serious all the time, but they had really seen a more relaxed side of her at the party, laughing and actually opening up some. Baird had even shared some stories of her life before the Library! As a sudden chill went through her, Cassandra shivered and grabbed for her coat. She had just started to put it on when she noticed Ezekiel walking back into the room with one arm around his torso and the other rubbing his head. In concern, Cassandra stepped in front of her fellow librarian.
Seeing how pale he was and how he winced when he looked up at her had Cassandra asking “Are you all right?” The longer he took to answer, the more her worry grew.
She watched him swallow several times before he gasped out, “My head hurts.”
Just speaking made Ezekiel’s head feel as though it was going to explode. When he heard Cassandra shout out a panicked, “Jake! Jenkins!” the sound pierced through his head and the pain increased ten-fold. Ezekiel’s knees buckled and a whimper escaped from his lips as his stomach emptied itself all over the marble floor of the annex.
Cassandra jumped back as Ezekiel vomited. Looking up as Jake and Jenkins ran back into the room, she motioned them over.
Ezekiel wiped his mouth with his sleeve when his stomach finally stopped cramping. Sitting back and trying to take in some deep breaths to stop his stomach from going for round two, he felt two sets of hands grasp his arms and gently pull him up off the floor. Squinting up at his helpers, Ezekiel saw Jake and Jenkins actually looked concerned, which was odd. He had been pretty sure they both could care less about him.
Jake put Ezekiel’s arm around his shoulder and took most of his weight as Jenkins lead them to Jones’ room. In his peripheral vision, he saw a very alarmed Cassandra wringing her hands and talking a mile a minute about Ezekiel not feeling well and a headache. Then she broke off on a tangent about some sort of number theory. Great now he was worried about both of them. Gently laying Ezekiel down, Jake watched as the younger man curled in on himself and put a hand over his eyes to block out the light. Now that he got a good look at his fellow librarian, he looked awful, he was pale and his breathing was labored. But it was the fact that Ezekiel was quiet that tipped Jake off that he was really hurting, the man was never quiet he always had some sort of smart-ass remark to make. He placed a hand on Ezekiel’s arm and squeezed gently to let the suffering Librarian know he was not alone.
Grabbing the wastepaper basket, Jenkins placed the bin next to the bed in case Ezekiel needed it before sitting and placing a hand against Jones’ forehead.
“How long have you felt this way?” Jenkins asked brusquely as he pulled the covers from the bottom of the bed over the younger man.
Ezekiel heard Jenkins through the pain and but his skull hurt so much it took him awhile to figure out what the older man said and bit longer for him to remember how to answer. “Since the party but it got bad a few minutes ago.”
Jenkins hummed softly in acknowledgement, before he withdrew a violet gem from his pocket and placed it on Jones’ forehead. When it flashed green he relaxed a bit picked it back up, and said quietly, “Mr. Jones is suffering from a magically induced migraine.”
Jake scrunched up his nose. “Someone gave him a headache through magic?”
“What?” Jenkins snapped, but toned it down when Ezekiel with a whimper curled in on himself even more. “Does no one listen to me around here?” he asked, not bothering to wait for an answer. “Magic is not free. It comes at a price, there are side effects. Santa’s hat exhorted its will over Mr. Jones for over 8 hours, and knowing him, he was more than likely fighting it the entire time. That type of conflict going on in the mind is going to cause fatigue and stress. Fatigue and stress can cause a migraine. So although the hat did not directly set out to give Mr. Jones a migraine it was a result nonetheless.”
Cassandra stepped fully into the room as she felt guilt wash over her. She had thought it was adorable that Ezekiel was acting against his grinchy ways and had really gotten into the spirit of Christmas but hearing that his will had been subjugated to the point of causing a migraine made her feel bad for ever thinking it was okay. But in a glass half full kind of way, she knew how to deal with headaches.
“So he’s going to be alright?” she asked just to be sure.
Jenkins stood up and adjusted his jacket. “Oh yes, he just needs some time”
“Okay everyone out. I will take care of him,” Cassandra said quietly but firmly as she made shooing motions towards Jake and Jenkins.
As they walked past her, Jake stopped, gently grasped her hand and with a worried frown on his face whispered, “Let me know if you need anything?”
Smiling her acquiescence Cassandra shut the door behind them. She stood still for a moment trying to remember what she used to do when her migraines got bad back before she was diagnosed. Seeing Ezekiel curled up in so much pain made something in her chest hurt. Going over to the window, she closed the blinds against the light, knowing light could be a trigger for more pain. Sound, too, so she walked as quietly as she could across the floor to the bathroom, grabbing an empty glass off the dresser as she passed it. She searched the medicine cabinet while she debated whether to give Ezekiel the Tylenol she found. It would help, but acetaminophen on an empty stomach could make him throw up again. Deciding to ask the man himself, she grabbed a clean washcloth and wetted it, filling the cup as well, and went back out to the darkened bedroom.
Sitting carefully on the bed, she gently placed her hand on Ezekiel’s back and leaned in, whispering as quietly as she could, “I found some pain meds. Do you want to try to take them?”
Ezekiel blindly reached out for the pills, not wanting to open his eyes as it just hurt too much. He felt Cassandra place them in his outstretched hands; the bed shifted underneath him as she curved her arm around his shoulders and helped him to sit up. Just the slight change of altitude between lying down and sitting up had his brain throbbing, causing him to gasp for breath as a wave of pain swept through him. He heard Cassandra whisper a “sorry” as she brought a glass up to his lips. Drinking just enough to get the pills down, Ezekiel sank back down and starting praying to any deity that was listening that the pain would just stop.
He jumped a bit when he felt a cool wet washcloth placed over his forehead, and then Cassandra’s fingers gently combed themselves through his hair. They started at his temple then slowly and softly moved through his hair to the back of his head. Instead of focusing on the pain, he made himself focus on those gentle movements as they repeated the gesture over and over. He could feel himself drifting away from everything the pain, the nausea, consciousness itself. Before slumber claimed him completely, Ezekiel thought he felt a kiss placed softly against the crown of his head. Unsure of what was real and what was a dream he let go and was soon asleep.
Moving into the bathroom, Ezekiel took a shower and brushed his teeth before getting dressed and going to find the other inhabitants of the annex. In the main room, he found Jake sitting at one of the desks surrounded by books showing assorted art and artifacts some Ezekiel recognized from his various exploits.
Jake was reading up on ancient art of the Etruscans, wanting to be ready should he ever have need of the info for the Library. He was enjoying reading about the different influences of both the Greeks and the Phoenicians when he spied Ezekiel walk in. Seeing the man’s smile, Jake felt the tension in his shoulders relax a bit. He had never seen the normally effervescent man as low as he had been yesterday. It had been a revelation to him that Ezekiel, who seemed to skate through anything and everything with nary a scratch, could be hurt. Although Jake didn’t always agree with how Ezekiel went about things, he never wanted to see the man in pain.
“How are you doing?”
Stopping in front Jake, Ezekiel answered brightly, “Great! In fact, I am starving. I am going to head over to the kitchen and get me something to eat. Do you want anything?”
Moving towards the kitchen he was surprised, when Jake got up and placed both hands on his shoulders, looking into his eyes as though searching to see if he was telling the truth. He was even more astonished to see the worry and concern reflected in them.
Feeling the strange urge to reassure the older man, Ezekiel said in a more subdued tone, “I really am okay you know.”
Jake blinked, cleared his throat, and released the younger man with a gruff, “Of course! Yeah, I know I was just concerned for a bit, that’s all.”
Watching as Jake returned to his desk and start shuffling papers and books rather brusquely, Ezekiel couldn’t help but think that something important had shifted between them, but he wasn’t sure what. Unsure of what to do next as the continuing silence turned awkward, Ezekiel once again turned towards the kitchen. He made it about half way across the room when Jake’s voice stopped him.
“You should probably tell Cassandra you are alright. She was pretty worried about you.”
Turning around he couldn’t keep the surprise from his voice “Really? She was worried about me?”
First Jake and now Cassandra. Ezekiel didn’t have anyone in his life that worried about him and it felt…different, maybe even good to have someone do so.
Jake looked up from his desk and stated with concern tingeing his voice, “Yes, very worried. She stayed with you for a couple of hours and then continued to check in on you overnight.” Jake paused, and ran a hand through his already rumpled hair and continued with a frustrated sigh, “At first she was okay but the longer you slept, the more she started slipping into her zones, and it got harder and harder to pull her from them. If you had slept much longer, she threatened to throw you over her shoulder and take you to the hospital herself and make them run an MRI with contrast.”
Ezekiel felt his heart sink into his stomach; he liked Cassandra a lot. Out of all of them, she seemed to accept him the most. He didn’t want her to worry unnecessarily, so he asked, “Where is she now?”
Jake smiled slightly as though he approved of Ezekiel wanting to find her right away, “She’s outside, soaking in the sunshine, and trying to keep her mind occupied with things other than you or math.”
As Ezekiel walked outside, he tried not to think too hard about the fact that Jake’s approval made his chest constrict just a little bit. It was probably indigestion.
Shading his eyes from the mid-day sun, he saw Cassandra sitting on a blanket under the shade of an oak tree. He lightly touched her on the shoulder before sitting down next to her. She jumped, before giving him a smile, but it wasn’t her normal sunny vibrant smile; it was dimmed, just a bit.
“So, an MRI with contrast?” he asked with a grin, but seeing her flinch just a bit Ezekiel realized he probably stuck his foot in it again. He really needed to work on that.
Cassandra looked away, taking in the view; she had hoped that he wouldn’t have heard about that, it was not one of her finest moments. She had been plagued with anxiety and terrible memories that overcame her logical reasoning.
Dodging the question she asked instead, “How are you doing?”
Ezekiel studied her profile. She had her red hair up today in a messy ponytail, dark circles under her eyes, and her clothes although nice weren’t up to her usual standards. Cassandra had a very understated yet charming way of dressing, but today it was haphazard at best. There was something else going on beyond his migraine.
“I’m fine, never felt better in fact.”
Seeing her nod but continue to stare off into the distance, Ezekiel felt a rare moment of self-doubt unsure of how to get her to open up. Finally he decided maybe the direct approach was the best, “How are you doing?”
Cassandra finally turned her head and looked into the concerned brown eyes of her fellow Librarian…no, her friend, and any resistance she had crumbled.
“That’s how it started for me. Headaches that grew into migraines, and eventually as the months passed, those migraines turned into hallucinations.”
She felt the tears that she had been trying to hide fall onto her cheek, which made her angry. She hated to cry, especially about her “brain grape.” Reaching up she harshly wiped them away with the back of her hand. “And eventually I was in the ER because I had passed out at school and they couldn’t wake me up. They checked me into the hospital and ran some tests, including the MRI with contrast that told the legion of doctors who had been poking and prodding me that I had a brain tumor.”
Hearing the catch in her voice, Ezekiel placed a hand over hers, and when she turned her hand over and gripped his, taking in a deep breath, he couldn’t help but take in a deep breath of his own at the contact.
Ezekiel’s steady presence helped her to regain control of herself. With a stronger voice, Cassandra said, “So when you collapsed yesterday with a migraine…” Reaching up, she lightly brushed her fingers over his forehead. “I couldn’t help but think that there might be more wrong with you.”
“That’s understandable,” Ezekiel stated as he gently wiped away the last of her tears.
“So you don’t think I’m crazy?” Cassandra asked incredulously.
“No, definitely not.” Noting the black circles under her eyes he continued with, “Maybe a bit tired, but not crazy. Did you get any sleep last night?”
Just the mention of the word sleep had Cassandra yawning as exhaustion washed over her. “No, but I don’t want to be alone right now.”
Ezekiel had an idea but was unsure how it would be received (but lets face it that had never stopped him before). So, he leaned up against the tree they were sitting under and shifted his legs until they were stretched out in front of him. Giving her a lopsided smile, he patted his thigh, not sure if she would take him up on his offer. Seeing her smile though, Ezekiel was glad he went with his gut. As Cassandra laid down and put her head on his leg, he was thankful that she was so comfortable with him. Uncertain of where to put his hand because he didn’t want to get fresh, Ezekiel eventually decided on her shoulder. Hearing the Library door open, he looked up and was surprised to see who was walking outside with what appeared to be a sandwich.
Cassandra, feeling the warmth of Ezekiel’s hand on her shoulder, relaxed for the first time in 24 hours. Ezekiel would be okay, everyone she cared for was going to be okay. She repeated that mantra with her hand lightly resting on her friend’s knee, as the heat of the sun made her body feel heavier. Cassandra felt Ezekiel bend over slightly and place a kiss on her head. Smiling softly and closing her eyes, she heard the sound of footsteps; without looking, she knew Jake had joined them.
She heard him settle on the other side of Ezekiel and then heard him start a softly whispered conversation with the other man. It was just small talk, but for the two of them, it was a giant leap in their friendship and she let the conversation wash gently over her. Feeling completely secure now that they were all together, she let herself drift off, knowing the two of them would guard her against any nightmares she may have. Maybe, just maybe, her dreams would be beautiful things, containing possibilities of a life they could live here in this new world they had discovered.