Truth be told, Jacob Stone was a hopeless romantic.
Sometimes the phrase had been tossed his way as an insult, or a dismissal, but it was true, and he was certainly unashamed of it. He’d spent his life studying art and poetry and language and music, studying the most beautiful of humanity’s creations throughout history – the vast majority of which were inspired by love. He was a passionate individual himself, and he admired that trait in other people as well.
That being said, he recognized that while artistic creations were often inspired by and depicted love, not everybody associated them with romance. Like, if he were dating someone like Baird – hypothetically – or like Cassandra – equally hypothetically – he wouldn’t try to use medieval Spanish poetry or Victorian flower language or comparisons to Vittorio Reggianini’s paintings to woo them.
Because while such things might work on him (and have, in the past), they weren’t the sort of things that people like Baird or Cassandra were interested in. Romance wasn’t just about flowery epithets and grand gestures; it was about knowing what the person you love loves most, and using that to your advantage.
It was almost like a game in that regard, which suited Jacob just fine. Especially considering the target of his affections.
Because Ezekiel Jones was not a fan of poetry or art or flowers or anything like that, though he often indulged in such things to flirt with and seduce Jacob, since he equally knew how romance worked.
No, Ezekiel Jones loved a challenge. It was why he and Jacob argued as much as they did – not because of actual hurt feelings or fallings out, but because they loved pushing each other to expand their perspective and see things differently, to consider an angle that they had previously been unaware of.
It was why they had standing twice-a-month game nights, for everything from video games to board games to stuff like laser tag or mini golf. Both of them were competitive, but Ezekiel positively thrived on being able to gloat over others. And if he lost? It just gave him a reason to try harder next time.
It was, honestly, the biggest reason why he still stole as much as he did. He didn’t need the money, and once he’d finally been worn down and confessed to Jacob what he actually used the money from his ill-gotten gains for, they’d set up recurring donations to a dozen different charitable causes from his salary from the Library.
No, he still stole because it was fun, because he loved sneaking around and breaking into things and being damn good at it. He loved seeing whether or not he’d get caught, what new security technology would try to bar his way, and what the most expensive or enormous or ridiculous item he could get away with was.
Ezekiel Jones loved the thrill of the chase. So, Jacob was going to make him chase him.
It was almost too easy. Several years of dating and several more of working together had made it so that they knew each other inside out and backwards. What’s the most infuriating thing to a thief?
A container they hadn’t seen before, with something inside, something important, that they didn’t know what it was.
The box was custom-made, just like the object it held. It was small enough to fit comfortably in Jacob’s palm, rectangular, and made from purpleheart wood. The lid and sides were covered in intricate Celtic knotwork, which were inked in black and gold. The same knotwork curled around the box’s stubby little legs. A mother-of-pearl flower was inlaid in the lid of the box.
It was fancy and pretty and easily pocketable, and it caught Ezekiel’s eye the moment Jacob pulled it out of his bag and set it on his desk.
He didn’t bring it with him every day – just three days in two weeks. He tried to make it so that there wasn’t the same amount of time between the days that he brought it with him, too, so that Ezekiel couldn’t figure out the pattern. He sat it on the desk in front of him, within arm’s reach and in his direct line of sight, so that Ezekiel couldn’t steal it right from under him.
Every time Ezekiel got anywhere near his desk, his eyes went right to the box. He kept walking by or stopping to talk to Jacob, way more than usual, in order to take another and another and another look at it. He never asked any questions about it, nor did he try to pick it up and turn it around in his hands. At the end of each of those three days, Jacob slipped the box into his pocket and kept his hand over it as he left the Library.
The fourth day, the first day of the third week, Jacob left his desk unattended for all of thirty seconds. All he did was get up and walk over to the shelves in the Annex, ostensibly to grab a book. He smirked into the bookshelf when he heard soft footsteps behind him. Give the thief an inch and he’d take anything that wasn’t bolted down.
Which was exactly what he’d been counting on.
“Wait… Stone, you – what? Is that a ring?”
Jacob turned back around and quietly walked back over to his desk. He knew exactly what Ezekiel was seeing.
The interior of the box was filled with soft, cream-coloured velvet. A matching mother-of-pearl flower to the one on top of the lid was inlaid in the inside of the lid as well. More knotwork bordered the hollow of the box.
In that hollow, on that velvet, was indeed a ring. It was rose gold, set with an Australian opal, flickering in all shades of blue and teal and green. If he picked it up, he’d be able to read the inscription on the inside of the band: steal me, and never give me back.
Ezekiel finally looked up. Jacob was before him, on one knee, smiling wide. He reached out and took the hand that wasn’t holding the box.
“Ezekiel Jones,” he said, warm and rough and just a tiny bit smug, “the years we’ve been together have been the best of my life. I’ve never been happier, I’ve never smiled or laughed as much, and I haven’t been as heartbroken or as blisteringly mad, as I was without you.
“You’ve changed me; you pushed and prodded me into seeing the world a different way. You pulled me out of the safe little box I’d put myself in and made me live. You’ve challenged me in the best sorts of ways.
“Would you grant me the absolute honour of being your husband? Will you marry me?”
Jacob barely managed to get the last few words out before Ezekiel was dropping to the floor, onto his knees in front of him. He grabbed his face, pulled him towards him, and kissed the ever-living daylights out of him. He chuckled against his lips.
When they finally had to come up for air, he plucked the ring from the box and slipped it on to Ezekiel’s finger. Ezekiel looked down at it with a grin, and then turned that look to Jacob.
“I hope you realize this means that I’m gonna have to make some spectacle of a proposal for you, now,” he said. He smiled the whole time, though his eyes were beginning to grow wet.
Jacob chuckled and leaned in, hovering just before his lips touched his fiance’s. “You’d better blow me away, darlin’,” he rumbled.
“Oh, you know I will.”