“Just a moment,” Bookworm called to the rap at the door. She straightened up from her study of her photographs, smoothed down her dress, and ducked around the corner from her bedroom into the main room. Approaching the door, her eyes registered the location of her weapons, an action that had, over the past few months, become habit. “Who is it?”
Bookworm chuckled silently to herself as she unlocked the door. She was only surprised it had taken Mariah this long to come. She opened the door to Mariah’s familiar face. “Do come in, Mariah. Have a seat. Would you like some tea?”
“Tea will be fine,” Mariah replied as she settled down into the couch, setting aside a bundle. Bookworm smiled as she swung the kettle closer to the fire to heat up the water inside. She knew Mariah would have preferred something stronger, but was also well aware she wouldn’t be getting that here.
The two of them conversed amiably as Book puttered about–about the weather, about news of Bookworm’s family. As she handed Mariah a cup and saucer, and sat down with her own, Bookworm caught Mariah’s gaze, and smiled wryly. “So.”
Bookworm sipped at her tea, and then launched into a full account of the ruby and the observatory. She spared herself nothing, detailing the mistakes made, the assumptions based on incomplete data, the lessons learned, what others had said to her afterward. As she reached the end of her recital, mildly surprised that Mariah hadn’t interrupted her at any point, Bookworm looked over her cup to see Mariah staring thoughtfully into the fire. After a few moments of silence, punctuated only by the cracking of the fire, Mariah spoke.
“They’re right, you know. It may not seem like it to you, but you *are* improving. Keep in mind what you’ve learned from this encounter–especially about anonymous notes–” and Mariah turned to wag her finger at Book, smiling wryly, “and you’ll do well.” Mariah tilted her head, studying Bookworm’s expression. “But that’s not all that’s troubling you, is it?”
Bookworm shook her head. “I haven’t told anyone else about this yet, but…as I was about to descend the rope from the observatory balcony, I happened to catch Dr. Obolensky looking at me. His gaze was…well, there was contempt in it, but he looks at *everyone* that way.” Book smiled just a little. “But it was less dismissive than I’ve ever seen from him. Less dismissive and more–” She broke off and turned away, staring into the fire, chewing on her lip.
“More?” Mariah prompted.
Bookworm finally glanced back at Mariah, her eyes shadowed. “Speculative.”
“Speculative,” Mariah repeated, flatly. Her face had gone expressionless; Bookworm had the feeling it was to hide what she was thinking.
“Yes. I got such a chill when I saw it–as if an entire army had marched over my grave.”
Bookworm saw Mariah frown and turn her gaze inward, and waited out the several minutes of silent thinking. Finally, Mariah’s eyes snapped back into focus, and she turned a serious gaze on her and leaned forward a little.
“Sarah. Do *not* leave this apartment unarmed. *Ever.*”
“You think there’s further danger, then?” Bookworm’s tone made this half question, half statement.
“There’s a definite possibility. I’d rather you didn’t leave the apartment unescorted, but that would be difficult to arrange.” Mariah smiled wryly. “And I don’t know that you would stand for that.”
“Hmmm,” Bookworm replied. “*I* don’t know that I’d stand for that.” Mariah chuckled.
“And actually, I’d come to the same conclusion.” Book gestured toward the door, indicating where her revolver was hanging on a nail. “I made sure I’d always be reminded to take it.”
Mariah grinned. “See? You *are* learning.”
Bookworm laughed wryly. “Not the sort of lessons I expected to learn, though.”
“Life has a habit of throwing the unexpected at us.” Mariah stood up, with a brisk air, and took up her bundle. “Now then, I do need to leave, but would you mind if I changed first?”
Bookworm gestured to the bedroom. “Be my guest. Just mind the photographs.”
Mariah disappeared around the corner, and reemerged a few minutes later. Instead of the sober, stylish dress she had been wearing, she now wore a black suit, with a knife sheathed to her leg and a revolver tucked nearly out of sight in her belt. Bookworm raised an eyebrow, but did not ask questions, knowing it was unlikely she’d get any answers at this point.
“I understand you’re coming to visit your parents at the end of the month?” Mariah asked.
“Yes, for nearly two weeks,” Bookworm replied.
“Good. We can get in some training.” Mariah chuckled at the expression on Bookworm’s face. “Perhaps not fighting training–at least, not much–but there are other things you still need to learn.”
Book smiled ruefully as she opened the apartment door. “I’ll see you then.”