Title: This Canker of Our Nature
Characters: Jacob Stone, Cassandra Cillian
Disclaimer: Dean Devlin, John Rogers, Christian Kane and Lindy Booth own these characters.
Description: My first fanfic for The Librarians. Episode Tag, Season 1.05 The Apple of Discord—Cassandra has to deal with what she did under the influence of the Apple. Fortunately, she has Jacob to help her. Can be read as friendship or pre-relationship. Medieval manuscripts, Victorian psychoanalysis, and Greek epics make cameo appearances. Jake Stone POV. Not beta-ed, so suggestions are welcome.
This Canker of Our Nature
Jacob Stone stood at his favourite location on the mezzanine floor by the rail, looking down over the work tables below.
The Annex was quiet once more. All the chaos left behind by the conclave had been returned to slightly untidy familiarity. The Librarian had departed again on his quest to rescue the Library from its self-imposed oblivion. Eve Baird, having resigned another round in her quest to outwit Flynn's erstwhile desk, sat sipping a cup of tea with her feet up on its scuffed surface in passive aggressive defiance. Jenkins, looking more shaken than any of them had ever seen him, had retired to his laboratory in silence, but none of the odd smells or startling sounds that typically accompanied his experiments emerged. Ezekiel Jones had slipped the leash of responsibility and abandoned the Annex to discover what Portland nightlife he could disrupt, although the poor city had done nothing to deserve such a scourge.
Jacob's hand hovered reverently over the cover of the heavy codex he had chosen to study, but he hesitated. One item remained uncatalogued in his inventory of the team. Where had Cassandra gone? She typically lent an effervescence to the atmosphere of the Library Annex simply by her presence, but that bubbling effusiveness was notably absent. His scan of the area below revealed not a copper glint of her hair nor a whisk of her floral skirt.
The bound collection of medieval manuscripts tugged at his attention with its green calf leather embossed with the three bees of the 17th century Barbarini papal coat of arms. Its inscription indicated that the contents were far older than the binding, originating in the first Armaria brought to the Archivio Segreto Vaticano from the Castel Sant'Angelo. The intoxicating aroma of ancient parchment and ink overwhelmed his senses. His hands itched to open it and to discover what secrets it held, what voices, long silenced by death, would speak from the 14th century gothica cursiva letters etched on its folios.
The puzzle of Cassandra's absence, however, won the struggle for his attention, and Jacob regretfully abandoned his treasure to go in search of his missing teammate. "Later," he promised the codex, "you and I have a date with an ultraviolet light."
When Cassie wanted to be alone, Jacob knew, she had her own particular hideout in the Library Annex. Against the back wall on the mezzanine floor, the confluence of shelving and architecture had created a little nook into which she had squirrelled a variety of cushions and blankets. There Cassandra would snuggle in with a flashlight when she wanted to immerse herself in Euler or Noether, or when she chose some far fluffier reading material (once he'd caught her sniffling over The Velveteen Rabbit). Sometimes, he'd find her there writing furiously in her notebook. Other times, he'd discover her curled up for a catnap, her curls tangling among the cushions and waving gently in the breath of her soft snores. She generally preferred her time there uninterrupted; however, on the occasions when her doom haunted her a little too closely, and she'd sit staring into the dark with her arms hugging her knees, she would welcome Jacob's presence and his disembodied conversation in the nearby stacks.
One morning, Jacob had surprised her by mounting an adjustable reading light on the wall in her little personal space. Her squeal of delight accompanied by her crushing hug and incandescent smile more than compensated him for the hours of frustration he'd spent with the Annex's antiquated wiring and lathe and plaster construction.
This evening, his instincts had not mislead him. Jacob found Cassandra where he had anticipated she might be, but not in the condition he had expected to find her. They had pulled off a major win this day, not only diffusing the conflict between the warring dragon factions but also preventing another of Dulaque's baroque attempts to put a period to the existence of the Library. Added to that, they had seen with their own eyes the City of the Seven Hills, Rome herself, and stood on the ramparts of the Vatican; they had solved a dragon puzzle, tunneled under the city, and spoken with a dragon—an actual dragon! Usually after the completion of a successful mission filled with adventure and daring deeds, Cassandra was bouncing with cheer and enthusiasm not huddled in the gloom, her face buried in a pillow, her shoulders shaking.
Cautiously, not sure if he would be welcomed or even tolerated, Jacob knelt down beside her.
"Cassie." He kept his voice low so as not to startle her. "Cassie, sweetheart, are you okay?"
Cassandra lifted her head and stared at him, her face like bleached parchment with eyes inked dark and horrified.
"I remember everything," she whispered. "Everything."
"Oh," Jacob said. Of course. Even with his ordinary memory, he could recall his own passionate and uncontrolled experience of the effects of the Apple of Discord. He had been fully prepared—no eager—to commit acts of violence in defense of his artistic theories. Fortunately, he had lacked the skill to do more than embarrass himself thoroughly and get the whole team banned from the museum in perpetuity.
Cassandra, on the other hand, had an eidetic memory. She would be able to relive every moment, every nuance of what she had done with no anesthetic blurring of her recollection. And Cassandra had possessed the skill to cause incalculable harm. No. Not incalculable. Precisely, mathematically calculable.
"Your worst self, Flynn said." Cassandra shivered, looking away. "The Apple doesn't change you into someone else. That was really me."
"I know." Jacob tilted his head and nodded sympathetically, even though Cassandra couldn't see. He reached out to lay a comforting hand on her shoulder, but she flinched and pulled away as though his touch burned her.
"You told me that nothing good ever comes of trusting people," Cassandra said, wedging herself back into the corner of her space, and staring out at him like an injured animal.
Unsure what he should say to her, Jacob shrugged. He could not deny what he had said nor what he believed.
"Promise me," Cassandra said fiercely, clutching her pillow in white-knuckled hands. "Promise me you will never, ever forget and start to trust me again."
Both Jacob's eyebrows climbed for his hairline. "Why do you say that?"
Cassandra remained quiet for so long he thought she might not answer his question, but finally she begin to speak. He leaned closer to make sure he caught her every word.
"When you were evil," Cassandra said, her attention riveted on the pillow, "you got in a tug-of-war with a museum guard about the placement of a painting. Evil Colonel Baird just wanted to control everything. Flynn wanted to rule the world and abandon his responsibility as Librarian." Now she did turn her eyes back to his, and he could see the glint of tears in them. "Even Ezekiel is already as evil as he can possibly be! And none of you tried to hurt anyone."
She rubbed her eyes with her fists and gave a fierce and despairing sniff. "I hurt Lamia!"
Jacob smiled. "Well, she was trying to kill you."
"But I didn't just defend myself," Cassandra insisted with brutal honesty. "I enjoyed hurting her. I wanted her to pay for every time anyone has ever hurt me."
"You didn't kill her."
"Not because I felt merciful," Cassandra admitted. "I simply lost interest in her. Killing her would have been too easy."
Listening to her describe her feelings released by the Apple of Discord, Jacob felt his spine prickle as if ghostly fingers were strumming his nerves. He knew where this was going. Cassandra had gone on to plot the deaths of hundreds of thousands with a bloody-minded enthusiasm that dwarfed the paranoid raging of any 20th century dictator. With no other motivation than scientific curiosity, she would have killed indiscriminately, taking pleasure in the numbers, as though human lives were meaningless ciphers.
He wished Eve Baird were here in his place, because honestly, Jacob Stone thought Cassandra Cillian might be right about herself. And God help him, he had no idea how to help her.
"When it was mathematically challenging," Cassandra whispered, "I found killing people entertaining."
Jacob clenched his fists and stared at the way the bones in this hands whitened the skin. What could he possibly say to Cassie? There was nothing, he decided. Nothing he could say. No words.
The silence between them thickened, cloying the air, drowning them in breathlessness.
Finally Jacob asked Cassandra, "What do you feel now?"
If he couldn't offer her any advice, perhaps he could at least listen.
Cassandra bowed her head. "I think that I am a monster," she said, and he could hear the hairline fracture in her voice. "Or at least that I could become one far too easily."
Jacob felt his heart clench in his chest like physical pain. Not knowing what else to do, he reached for Cassie's hand, and this time she did not pull away, just let her hand lie limp and chill and unresisting in his.
How had the Apple of Discord affected him, Jacob wondered. Was there anything he could remember from his own experience that would help Cassie deal with what she had done, what she had tried to do. Perhaps they could figure it out together.
Jacob reached over to flick on the reading light, driving the shadows back, revealing their faces to each other. He hoped it was a metaphor.
"What the Apple took from me," he said slowly, "was all my concern about how other people saw me and about how they felt about what I was doing. It also eliminated my concern with what might be right or wrong or how my actions might affect other people."
Cassandra nodded, and her hand moved in his, tensing, as though her thoughts were coming back to life and transforming her body. "Freud would say it removed the superego, and perhaps even the ego, leaving only id—raw passion and primitive desire."
"Exactly!" Jacob exclaimed. Treating the subject as academic, rather than personal, seemed to be helping both of them to analyze the experience rather than be submerged in an emotional swamp. "That was why I paid no attention to the legal ramifications of my actions—what museum rules I was breaking, whose property I was stealing, what cultural taboos I was trespassing against. And frankly, if I could have taken out that guard, I'm sure I would have."
Cassandra gave him a look of speaking gratitude, and Jacob smiled at her.
"I guess now I know what my most elemental passion is," he said ruefully. "I want my opinions on and my knowledge of art to matter, to be recognized and appreciated, not to be hidden and separated from myself like something of which I am ashamed. Everything I've repressed my whole life just got unrepressed." Jacob stopped and frowned. "There's nothing all that evil in what I wanted. The only problem was the way I went about getting it."
Ducking her head and peering at him from behind a curtain of red hair, Cassandra asked, "I suppose that means what I did reveals my passions and desires, too."
"Okay," Jacob said, aware that they were approaching perilously close to an open wound and hoping it wasn't a mistake. "Let's ignore the scary parts of what you did and focus on what you wanted."
"The first strange thing I did," Cassandra took back her hand so that she could twine her fingers nervously together, "was take off my dress because the flowers annoyed me." She blushed. "But I like flowers! Please tell me that I didn't do it because I want to be sexualized in some way."
Jacob did his best not to remember holding the scantily clad Cassandra in his arms, but while his memory was not eidetic like Cassandra's, he wasn't going to be able to forget that any time soon. And he knew in his heart that he had to convince Cassandra that pride in her beauty and desirability was not part of the evil. Proceed with caution signs were flashing in his brain.
"I think your actions were more symbolic than that," he said carefully. "The Apple strips away veneers, and perhaps your choice of flowers is superficial, a public choice. But it is just that—your choice. We create ourselves out of many possible options. After all," he smiled at her, "you did also choose that little leopard number when you weren't evil. A private choice. It means you're complicated. And the Apple doesn't appear to do complicated, but it does seem to favour the private."
Cassandra blushed again, but she looked less traumatized now.
"Believe me," Jacob said reflecting, "there wasn't a body part I wouldn't rather have paraded on the football field during a playoff game when I was at home than the fact that I knew anything about art. So the Apple took my most private choices and revealed them to the world. I'm just glad it happened in a museum rather than on the football field."
He noted that Cassandra was looking sympathetic and appalled, and it was his turn to feel embarrassed. That was a bit more personal information than he had intended to betray to anyone at the Library. Ever. Cassie was a little bit of his own personal Apple of Discord. She stripped away his veneers.
He cleared his throat. "Moving on."
"Oh," Cassandra's mouth twisted down. "It gets worse."
"We're not going to look for the worst parts," he reminded her.
"That's not going to be easy." She shook her head. Then bracing her shoulders, she continued. "I used math and science to overpower Lamia—my knowledge of force and pressure and human anatomy. She was an assassin with a knife, and all I could see was every single bully who'd ever made my life a misery because of how academically competent I was and how physically incompetent."
Jacob imagined the tiny redheaded pixie child with visions of numbers dancing in her head being teased and shoved around by thick-headed louts with all the sensitivity of wild boars. He knew Flynn hated time travel, but God, if there was even the slightest chance . . . he was going to go back to Cassandra's school and knock some heads. "You wanted not to be hurt again," he said softly, "and you wanted them to respect your knowledge."
Cassandra flung her head up at that, "And I wanted to show them I was as strong as they were, as well as a hundred times as smart." She paused to replay that sentence. Jacob could see it in her eyes. "That doesn't sound very adult, does it?"
"It sounds pretty human, to me."
"Then there was the power plant." Cassandra stopped. "Jake, I tried to kill people. They were just numbers to me. Equations. Plot points on a graph. Not human at all. Not families. Not people who loved, who felt pain." Her voice was rising and speeding up, and she began to shake again.
"Cassie! Cassie," Jacob gripped her shoulders, forcing her to look into his eyes. "Stop it! Talking about the worst parts is against the rules. You need to understand what's behind this, so you don't have to be afraid of yourself."
He needed to understand. So he didn't have to be afraid of her.
"You said something about the practical being superior to the theoretical. Let's go with that," he suggested.
As he had hoped, the technical question captured her attention. He could sense her collecting her fragmented self together under his hands, her mind coalescing into will and thought again, rather than emotional disintegration. Carefully, he let his hands fall away, not wanting her to feel constrained.
"Practical. Practical. Math used to be practical for me. Balancing the check book in my head, that was practical, wasn't it?" Cassandra looked up at him with that tremulous desire for approval in her eyes just as he imagined she must have looked up at her parents all those years ago. "And then this happened." She pressed the tips of her fingers to the wrinkles that formed in her forehead. "This thing, growing in my head. It mixed the math and science with everything else—colours and smells, hallucinations, seizures. My parents were—devastated."
And everything at which Cassandra excelled suddenly became inextricably tied to her disease—became a symptom to be mourned rather than an accomplishment to be celebrated, Jacob realized. She saw herself as nothing but a disappointment, the broken and defective daughter, rather than the uniquely talented person she was.
"Until I met the Librarian, until I met Flynn, and all of you, I never did anything with math or science. I couldn't attend regular school—not with the numbers, the diagrams flying about my head, not when I couldn't rely on any of my senses, when half of what I saw wasn't even there! My parents expected their daughter to have a Fellowship at Yale or Harvard. What they got was a hospital janitor."
No wonder her heart's desire was for her knowledge to have practical application.
"And so, with all the constraints scrubbed off, you set about to demonstrate just exactly how effective your knowledge made you," Jacob mused. "To yourself, and to us. Your parents weren't there, but we were. You wanted us to see and respect the power of your gift. Fear was better than pity."
Cassandra stared at him, startled. "Oh," she said. "Oh!"
The two of them stared at each other in mutual relief. But that relief was short-lived for Cassandra.
"That doesn't explain why my worst self was so much more evil than the rest of you." She shook her head, denying the comfort. "Am I really so bad?" The tears that had stood in her eyes now glittered on her cheeks.
"By that definition," Jacob snorted, "Ezekiel Jones is a potential saint."
Cassandra glanced back at him in confusion. "The Apple didn't have any effect on him, which means he can only get better, not worse, doesn't it?"
"That boy—that thief—is just a creature of id," Jacob said, grimacing. "He does whatever he wants, doesn't pay attention to what anyone thinks, hasn't the least respect for any law or taboo, and doesn't care what sort of mayhem he causes. The Apple had no handle on him because it couldn't find any repressions to un-repress."
"What does that make me?" Cassandra asked. "Am I a potential fiend?"
Jacob contemplated her in silence for a moment. What was Cassandra? Certainly she had been the one to betray them all. And her behaviour under the influence of the Apple of Discord had been the quintessence of evil. She looked back at him, a soul waiting for him to weigh her in the balances like Anubis in the Egyptian Book of the Dead. He could not consign that soul to the devouring Ammut—Cassandra who was so full of joy to have discovered a purpose for the limited time she had left, for whom the whole world was a wonder.
An idea he'd read ghosted across his memory. "C. S. Lewis once said that there was a reason the Christian devil was described as a fallen angel."
"C.S. Lewis, who wrote The Chronicles of Narnia?" Cassandra asked.
"The very same." Jacob smiled at her. "I loved those books. Anyway, he said that evil is a parasite—all of its power is given to it by goodness. Everything that enables a person to be bad is of itself good. Your ability to do math, to understand the sciences, to use them to manipulate the world—those are good things, not evil. Perhaps you do have the potential to be a devil, but only because you have so much potential to be good. Evil worms do not make demons. Only fallen archangels do."
He reached out and cupped her cheek with one hand, brushing away the trails of tears with his thumb. "The reason the Apple of Discord made you so much worse than the rest of us, Cassie, is because you're so much better than the rest of us."
Cassandra took a deep, quavery breath and smiled at him with something approaching her usual glow. "No, Jacob. I might have the most powerful gifts, but you are the kindest person I know."
Jacob shook his head, uncomfortable, as always, with compliments. Scrambling to his feet, he held out his hand to Cassandra. "Come on. Cassie, darlin', you need to meet some more people."
She let him help her to her feet and opened her mouth to protest his brushing off her praise.
Hurriedly, Jacob interposed, "You know, we didn't do so badly with that damned fruit."
Distracted, Cassandra curled her brows in puzzlement. "What do you mean?"
"The last time the Apple of Discord rolled into human history, Greece went to war with the Trojans, Agamemnon sacrificed his own daughter at Aulis to call the wind, blood flowed for ten years on the 'ringing plains of windy Troy,' Hector was dragged to his death behind the chariot of Achilles, and children were thrown from the walls of the city when Troy fell."
Cassandra looked thoughtful. "When compared to that, we really did succeed." She glanced up at him, the sparkle returning to her eyes, "I guess, as Ezekiel would say we rocked, didn't we?"
Jacob held up his fist, and Cassandra returned the gesture with her adorably awkward fist bump.
"We did indeed," he said. "Now I've got a great idea for the practical application of your gift. We're going to go find us a bar and play a little pool. With your grasp of vectors and forces and such, you're going to be a natural."
"Pool? Really?" Cassandra looked simultaneously intrigued and reluctant. "I've never played pool. There were always too many people, and the math-well no one wants to play with a person hallucinating equations."
"That was when you were just you." Jacob continued herding her down the stairs. "Now you've got me. I can help you focus, and you are going to win us enough money for a really great dinner."
Cassandra pressed her hands to her mouth, but he could tell it was to stifle a giggle.
He grinned back at her. "Let's see if we can distract Baird from her campaign against Flynn's desk and Jenkins from whatever sulk he's fallen into. They can come, too."
The two of them finished clattering down the stairs.
At the bottom, Cassandra stopped. "Wait."
Jacob turned back to her, unsure what new obstacle was arising.
Cassandra was looking serious again. "I still need you to promise me you won't trust me."
"Cassie," Jacob nodded, saluting her, "I promise, Scout's honor, if I see you turning to the Dark Side ever again, I'll knock you out with the biggest, brain-breaking mathematical problem I can muster."