“Me? A hero?” he joked with a smile. Oh, how hard it was to smile when all he wanted to do was cry.
He wasn’t lying in the beginning; no, at first he couldn’t believe what they said. But, sometimes, it’s possible to recover lost data after a crash, and, well, his brain did.
When everything came crashing back, it was like a solid gold safe falling on his head. Finally, finally, he had earned what he deserved, but at what cost? His sanity? His wellbeing?
And now… they expected him to be whole. He could do that, for them. He could do a lot of things for them now.
Sleep escaped him. Of course it did. After what he had been through, how could he even sleep? He lived through hours and hours, totaling days, totaling years, all without a drop of sleep.
So how could he sleep now, when everything was back to normal? He didn’t deserve it.
Cassandra got worried. So did Eve. They always asked questions, trying to figure out what was wrong. Like Ezekiel would ever tell them what was wrong. Neither of them needed to deal with all that happened, back then.
Even Jacob seemed to care. He offered to go out and have a drink with him. Though, really, did Jacob expect him to accept? Ezekiel had no interest in the bars Jacob Stone spent his time in.
But it was Jenkins, in the end, who figured it out. He approached Ezekiel when he was alone, reshelving books.
“Oh, hey, old man!” Ezekiel said, pasting a smile onto his face. “What’s up?”
Jenkins just looked at him, and shook his head slightly. “I shouldn’t be surprised by this, really.”
“I’m sorry, what are you talking about?”
“Weirder things have happened to Librarians. I remember reading an account of one being turned into a box. When they reassumed human shape, they had some very interesting perspectives of the world. So,” he continued, plucking a book from Ezekiel’s hand and placing it on the table, “it makes sense that a Librarian could remember something without magic playing a role at all. Also, superconductors do not go in this section. Cassandra would not be pleased.”
Ezekiel laughed, attempting to hide his panic. “Oh, are you talking about that whole ‘video game’ thing? Do you really believe what they say?”
“What I know is that you jump into danger at an alarming rate, you seem to be well acquainted with certain aspects of the other’s private lives, and it looks like you haven’t slept in weeks.” Jenkins hummed and looked through the pile of books by his side. “I believe you may be suffering from too much guilt. Which is troubling, for there is nothing for you to even feel guilty about. Unless, of course, you remembered.”
“Jenkins, old buddy, I think you’re mistaken. If I was a hero, if I remembered everything, wouldn’t I be in total awe of my abilities? Guilt? What would I be guilty about?”
Jenkins just looked at him. “According to the others, you went through that simulation thousands of times. You watched your friends, your colleagues, die around you, thousands of times. Deaths which you thought you could prevent.” Sighing, he pulled out a chair and sat down. “I watch my friends die all around me. It was painful, just to see them die once, but for them to die multiple times? I couldn’t imagine it.”
“Jenkins, I really need to get going,” Ezekiel said, his calm façade slowly breaking down. Jenkins didn’t get up, didn’t try to stop him. He only gave him a look.
“When it gets to be too much, you know who you can talk to.”
Like Ezekiel would do that.
It all came crashing down during a mission. Ezekiel should have been prepared for it. He was on watch-out duty, being a thief. His job was to make sure that no one would get hurt. And he thought he did his job well.
Until he heard a high-pitched scream, a scream he was all too familiar with, after hearing it hundreds of times.
Swearing, he ran away from his post, towards the sound. She couldn’t be dead, not after all this, not after all they’ve been through. If Ezekiel had to see her dead, face her unseeing eyes again, he wasn’t sure that he could survive it.
“Cassandra—” Ezekiel began, only to end up in an empty room.
Turns out he ran straight into a trap. Crap.
When Eve finally set him free, the other Librarians were pissed at him, to put it mildly.
“What the hell were you thinking, Jones?” Jacob growled. “We needed you to keep an eye out for us, and you decide to run off like that? Cassandra could have died because of you!” No wonder Stone was so angry. He was pretty protective of Cassandra.
“Yes, but that was why I left in the first place. I heard Cassandra screaming!”
Stone snorted. “You could recognize Cassandra by her scream? Right. Probably saw something shiny and left to pocket it yourself.”
Something inside Ezekiel snapped. “Do you know how much I’ve done for you?” he said, anger dripping from every word. “Do you know how much I have done for you? I have fought to keep everyone alive hundreds of times, and you think I would let any of you die over something shiny? Who do you think I am?”
“Jones,” Eve said slowly, “are you alright?”
Ezekiel took a deep breath. Right. He wasn’t supposed to remember. He was supposed to be carefree Ezekiel Jones, who would abandon his friends for gold if there was no immediate danger nearby. He was supposed to be shallow and flighty, not heroic or strong or steadfast.
He was supposed to be everything that he currently was not.
“Right, sorry Eve. Don’t know what got over me.” But Ezekiel swore that Eve kept a close eye on him the whole time. There was going to be a talk eventually, right?
Jenkins cornered him three days later.
“Ms. Baird told me of an interesting thing which happened on the last mission,” he said simply. “Something about you yelling about how much you’ve done from the group. Eve was utterly confused, because after all, you haven’t done anything like that recently. Unless, of course, you remembered. But then, you would have told her, of course.” He pulled down a chair and sat down.
“Jenkins, I know you’re getting old, but seriously—”
“Your behavior makes perfect sense if you remember, in my mind. Your friends have been through so much, and now they think everything’s okay. If they knew the truth, then that would be more pain for them. And who would want that?”
“And while I find your will to be commendable, as someone who has lived for countless centuries, there is something you should know.” Casually, he pulled out a book from a nearby pile and reshelved it. “The guilt only gets worse if you don’t talk about it.”
Ezekiel just stared at him. Maybe he should talk about it, but… “You can’t tell them. You can’t.”
Jenkins raised an eyebrow. “I never said I would. Sharing the truth helps heal wounds, in time.”
So with that, Ezekiel began.
Things got better, slowly.
He began to sleep more, though Ezekiel doubted that he would go a week without a nightmare about what happened. Any sleep was preferable over the sleepless time in the simulation.
Jenkins was always open to talking. Ezekiel would find him in a lonely corner of the building, sipping at coffee, and they would talk. Coffee helped. Irish coffee really helped.
Would Ezekiel still jump whenever any of the others disappear without warning? Yes. Would he still throw himself into danger more often than he should? Yes, but it was happening less often. Eve’s yelling was less comforting now, and Ezekiel generally tried to avoid pissing her off. Did he still flinch whenever people made jokes about how flighty he was? Yes.
But if that was the price to pay for their happiness, Ezekiel was willing to pay for it. It was a small thing he had to do, compared to everything else.