“So let me get this straight,” Ezekiel Jones started, a look of confused derision on his face, “we need to find a non-descript cup used by some knight, one time, hundreds of years ago. Which may or may not be under, one of the most secure museums in Britain.” His eyebrows practically reached his hairline as if to say ‘you can’t be serious, mate.’
“A challis,” Jenkins corrected. He drummed the fingers of his right hand sporadically. His body practically hummed, like a bow string pulled too taught, “But yes," he continued, "that is ‘the jist’ as they say.”
Ezekiel rolled his eyes. He hefted himself up so he was sitting on the edge of their work table and gulped greedily at an energy drink, “and if we don’t?”
“And if you don’t, thousands of people will start acting on their darkest, most suppressed desires,” Jenkins emphasized with a brush of his hand. His voice became more stern; his oft suppressed accent dripping off the ends of his words, “Imagine,” Jenkins explained slowly, almost like he was talking to a small child, “acting out on your darkest desires – the fleeting thought you had about the girl you saw in the coffee shop this morning or the 'dude' that sped past you on his bike - now multiply that by millions. The world will spiral into havoc, again."
“Okay then,” Colonel Baird said. Her voice had taken on the barely there breathlessness it got when she was concerned, "How do we find this cup thing?"
“Yeah,” Jacob Stone added, from where he stood, hands braced on the work table's were braced on the hard surface. The blue plaid shirt he wore made the blue of his eyes seem even more vibrant. "I’ve never even heard of the thing.”
Jenkins huffed. “You’re the librarians. You figure it out.”
They had been on the case for 8 hours when they got their first break, dramatically and accidentally.
After trudging from one end of the British Museum to the other and making no headway the team returned to the Library's Annex. They were sharing a pizza and analyzing documents in one of the Library's common areas when Cassandra tumbled out of her chair and into the floor. The navy blue throw blanket she had had on her lap went with her. It landed on top of her and wound itself between her legs. She fell with enough force to topple the floor lamp that had been beside her chair. The glass shattered loudly.
Stone was up and across the room in an instant, immediately dropping to his knees beside Cassandra. She waved her arms uselessly and tried to bat her hair out of her face, as she struggled to sit up.
"Here let me help you," Stone urged. He looped his arm around her back and pulled her in close.
Cassandra found herself with her head buried against Stone's shoulder. She breathed in the scent of him. He smelled like soap, leather, the beeswax he sometimes used to restore old art portfolios, and something else – something musky and masculine and distinctly him. She found herself wanting to stay there indefinitely.
Cassandra struggled to focus. She blinked rapidly and scrunched her nose; she looked a bit like a newborn kitten seeing the sun for the first time and found that her vision was hazy and unfocused. Cassandra could make out Stone's messy brown hair and his lips, turned down at the corners in concern, but the crisp, soothing blue of his eyes was a blur. Cassandra blinked slowly. She counted to five between each blink, hoping that her eyes would clear. When it didn't help she shook her head to focus her vision.
"Bad idea, bad idea," She mumbled as pain shot through her skull.
“Easy there," Stone said. He gently cupped the back of her head, careful of the bump that was already forming, “that’s a pretty bad bump ya' got there.”
“Ouch,” Cassandra agreed, wrinkling her nose. She toyed with the necklace around her neck, rubbing her thumb and finger across the charm as if it soothed her.
Stone couldn’t help but smile. He brushed her hair out of her face and found his thumb stroking along her jaw. "You scared me Cass" he said, his voice gruff, soft, and low.
Before Cassandra had a chance to respond Baird was leaning over them worry written across her face, "Do you know what happened, Cassandra? Was it the..." Baird trailed off, refusing to say the word tumor.
“I don’t know,” Cassandra said, “I haven’t felt well since we got to the museum. It doesn’t feel like any of my other headaches,” she waved a hand, struggling to explain, “It’s like my whole body was …uneasy. My head felt like it was burning and the next thing I knew …”
“You were taking out the lamp,” Stone finished, over Ezikle's snore. He had fallen asleep on the couch shortly after he finished his pizza and managed not to be disturbed by the commotion.
“I’m going to find Jenkins," Baird said, "Maybe he can check you out and make sure nothing magic-y is going on.”
Cassandra struggled to stand up and Stone rose with her. His hands grasped her waist gently. Cassandra found herself almost sighing in contentment at the contact. When another dizzy spell came over her she braced her hands against Stone's arms. Cassandra valiantly tried to concentrate on standing upright rather than on the feeling of Jake's biceps under her hands. He may have spent his nights reading ancient texts but he had spent his days digging trenches and working on oil rigs. Cassandra couldn’t help but think the work had done him good. He had a casual kind of strength that she found charming. He didn't brag about it or wear tight clothes to show off his muscles. He was just strong.
Stone fought a wave of annoyance at the necessary intrusion. He found he liked the feel of Cassandra’s tiny waist in his hands and the feel of her breath against his collar bone. He caught himself imagining her placing kisses there. He’d wear the lipstick mark like a tattoo. He’d long given up on trying not to trust her and on trying not to let her in. He did trust her. She had earned that trust the moment she chose to save Flynn instead of herself, even if he had refused to admit it at the time.
"Cass - " Jacob started slowly"
"Ms. Cillian, what seems to be the problem?" Jenkins prompted as he turned into the room.
“Punctual as always Jenkins,” Jacob said
“And you didn’t start feeling…wibbly wobbly,” Jenkins said, with a wink in his voice, “Until you went to the museum?"
Cassandra sat on the edge of Baird’s desk, her legs swinging lightly. Jenkins hovered in front of her with a device that could only be described as an odd looking magic detector.
He instructed her to tilt her head up and ran the gadget up and down each of her arms. “Can you turn to the –“ Jenkins stopped abruptly and took a quick step backwards.
Cassandra, who had been leaning towards him, almost face planted. Stone stepped in to catch her and eased her back onto the desk.
“Jenkins…” Eve started, her voice was edged with concern.
“Where did you get that?” Jenkins demanded. He pointed a finger towards the long brass chain that hung around Cassandra’s neck.
He stepped forward and weighed the necklace’s charm, a rose colored tea drop and a brass flower, against his palm. He rubbed his thumb over the jewel in the center of the flower and took a deep breath. He looked at Cassandra expectantly.
“Umm…” Cassandra hesitated, “At an antique store. I got it…right after I dropped out of school. It was the first time I got to pick out an outfit that wasn’t a school uniform.”
“What was the name of the store? Where was it?” Jenkins ordered, the questions coming in quick succession.
Jenkins turned to a nearby shelf and started going through books rapidly. He sorted through them with a vengeance and even threw a few to the ground in his haste. He was going through books on a nearby shelf with a vengeance, practically throwing them to the ground.
Cassandra closed her eyes as she tried to remember, "umm, It was called Le Modern De Morte. Death. The modern death. Death. Darkness. Death chooses me but I choose the date -"
"Cassandra," Jake prompted as he wrapped his arm around her waist to steady her, "easy. focus on the other memory -"
"Where was it? Do you remember where it was?" Jenkins questioned. His lips were pursed tightly.
"Death. Dead. Maine in the dead of winter. On Ava street." She finished calmly.
“Maine, how did you get there,” “he cleared his throat, and then said more loudly, " I believe the necklace is repelling you, is pushing you away, in effect, from the Challis.”
“My necklace?” Cassandra asked with wide eyes.
“But why…how…” Baird asked in confusion while Jake said, "her necklace?" eye brows raised in disbelief.
Jenkins sighed. It sounded like it came from deep in his soul.
“That necklace belonged, well… more accurately, at the very least, that necklace is an exact, "he emphasized the word, “duplicate of one my mother’s sister – cousin technically – but they were raised together, were nearly sisters…for a time…” he trailed off and adjusted his ascot in a nervous motion before starting again, “It was a gift from her almost... lover.” He tapped the fingers of his right hand against his thigh. Looking away from the group, Jenkins took a deep breath. Then another. It seemed to settle him, “Elaine, my mother,” he said in a low, gritty voice, “caused her, great pain. In a desperate moment she,” he said vaguely, “begged her husband, Arthur, to prevent her from all pain,”
Cassandra gasped. She shook her head at Stone’s confused expression. Baird looked lost and Eziekle wasn't even paying attention; he looked as if he was sleep walking.
“Arthur," Jenkins continued slowly, "had his sister Morgan, use her magic to charm the necklace. Morgan agreed. But she hated…Arthur’s wife. The hatred undermined the charm. The result was that the necklace became a sort of compass. It directed,” he took a deep breath, “Guinevere away from pain and danger by making her feel ill. La- My - it was said to make her head feel as if it was burning and make her bones tremble for days even after she averted the danger.”
“Seriously?” Jake asked at the same time Cassandra said “And how would the challis cause her pain?”
Jenkins, visibly winced, “Elaine seduced my father with a heady mixture of aphrodisiacs, at the time where she was most…” he hesitated, “likely to receive child. She had already been banished by Guinevere for her attempted seduction of the High King and knew that my father would do the noble thing. Marry her. And also that he would be forced to leave Camelot – to leave Guinevere. They were very close. Not to mention that Guinevere was …unable to conceive a child. It was one of her greatest burdens,” Jenkins shook his head, “My father had been known for his…resistance…the mixture in the challis caused him to give in and therefore –“
“Caused him to give in to his deepest desires,” Stone finished.
“Wait,” Cassandra said, blinking owlishly, “I’m wearing…this is….Guinevere's necklace? Like the Guinevere? Arthur’s queen? Loved by the knights of the round table? Heroine of women's rights when they didn't exist? Died of a broken heart in a nunnery? That Guinevere?”
“Your father was – is –“
“Care to share with the class,?” Baird prompted.
Jenkins shook his head, “I'm surprised I didn’t notice earlier. I’d know that necklace anywhere. Elaine," Cassandra couldn't help but notice that he didn't say 'his mother', "wore a copy of it as a taunt. The Queen was never seen without it until the day of Arthur’s death. No one knew what happened to it after she passed. I thought it must have been plundered during the war. Elaine was buried with hers- ” he said, turning away, “ the dizziness and confusion will linger but it should pass within a few days.”
“Wait a minute. Theoretically, the closer I get to the challis, the more ill I will feel?”
“In theory, yes. It was said to burn Guinevere when she came too close to something that would cause her pain.”
“Cassandra,” Stone warned.
“It will be quicker this way,” she argued, immediately, “it may be the only way. We can’t find it. The x-ray locator came up blank. If I wonder through the museum – stop when this thing gets hot,” she jangled her necklace, “We devise a strategy around the spot. Ezekiel breaks in tonight.”
“While you rest here with Jenkins,” Baird put it.
“You’re agreeing to this?”
“She’s right. It may be the only way. It’s better than the alternative.”
“It’ll be easy. Lets do this.” Ezekiel piped in.
“Ms. Cillian,” Jenkins sighed as he wrapped an arm under Cassandra’s own and lead her to a chair.
The library had, helpfully, moved the chair in about an hour earlier. It was a plush yellow wing-back and much comfier than the variety of wooden chairs they had lying around it the main meeting room. Cassandra sank into it, letting her head lull against the back. She had taken the necklace off and held it in her clenched fist. Jenkins could see the slight outline of the flower on her pale blue sweater as if it had burned through the woven fabric.
“Close you eyes,” Jenkins instructed gently, “I’ll make you some peppermint tea.”
Cassandra hummed, “Peppermint,” she mumbled blissfully.
Jenkins puttered around the annex gathering the tea pot, tea cup, saucer, and mint leaves. “It detoxes the mind as well as the body,” he explained softly. After a long pause and a longer glance at Cassandra who was curled up in the chair, her legs tucked under her, he added, “My father was known to make this for the Queen – for Guinevere.”
“She was a worrier?” Cassandra prompted, wide eyed.
“She often worried,” he confirmed, “According to my father she worried tirelessly about her inability to-“
“Provide an heir” Cassandra all but whispered.
Cassandra’s head felt heavy and busy. She closed her eyes and sank even more fully into the chair. Jenkins crossed the room with sure but silent footsteps and pressed the warm cup of tea into her hands. He curled her fingers around the cup and helped her raise it to her mouth.
“Sip it,” he instructed.
“Thank you Jenkins”
"You remind me of her.”
Cassandra almost chocked on her tea, “Guinevere?”
“Mmm. Yes. I only met her a few times but the impression of her was well known. There wasn’t a knight in Camelot that wasn’t infatuated with her. She was beautiful. Smart. Clever. Stubborn. She hid her pain from others – ached if she caused even the most un-intentioned harm. She often didn’t feel she was good enough,” he said wisely, his tone was soft, careful. “She was kind. She wasn’t afraid to be herself.”
“Thank you,” Cassandra said quietly. She was a little breathless. It held weight.
Jenkins cleared his throat, fingers dancing around his cravat, “certainly Ms Cillian.”
It was late when Baird, Ezekiel, and Stone returned with the challis. They had, wisely, tucked it away in a museum gift shop bag. Jenkins thanked them, his voice low. He took the challis and with a nod of his head indicated Cassandra where she rested in the chair. It immediately stopped Ezekiel who had opened his mouth to start a loud and animated recounting of what happened.
The librarians separated then. Ezekiel went to the theater to watch late night TV while Baird tucked herself away up stairs. She settled between two long shelves of books. She did this often – hid among the books to call Flynn. There was something about being among the books that he loved that made her feel closer to him. This romantic streak was novel to her, but she was learning to like it.
Stone sat down at the room’s long table, coffee in hand. He opened his laptop and tried to concentrate on the article he was writing, but his eyes kept going to Cassandra.
A book, that had been securely tucked into the shelf beside Cassandra, tumbled to the floor suddenly, causing her to all but jump up. She blinked her eyes, trying to wake up. Stone was already across the room. He gently eased her back into the chair. She smiled at him softly, her eyes still glazed.
“You need to rest.”
She chuckled. “I was.” She rolled her eyes playfully, “The library must have needed something," she smiled, "I’m okay.”
Stone insisted on tucking a blanket around her. He settled on the ottoman in front of her, arms braced on his knees. His hand closed over hers, gently extracting the necklace she still clutched, “You still have this thing?”
“It was Guinevere's” she said, as if that explained why keeping the cursed necklace made perfect sense.
He chuckled. Cassandra crinkled her nose.
“Mmm. That’s different,” she said after a moment, “It’s cooling now. Like…soothing.”
“Well that’s nice of it I reckon.” Jake said.
He dropped her hand and Cassandra immediately noticed that the sensation went away. She had muttered, “it stopped.” Before she was even aware she did.
Jake blinked slowly, his face unreadable. And then with a slow, sure movement, he took her hand and settled it in his lap, “We can't have that. Get some rest darling'"