Bookworm was sitting in the window seat, deep in a book, when she heard a scratching at the front door. Glancing to the side, she saw a familiar feline form there, though something about the outline seemed different. She set aside her book and went to the door, opening it to admit Beryl.
As he entered, she said, “Hello, Beryl.” Then she paused, cocking her head to one side and studying his clothing. The brighter light from the gas lamps showed that he was looking rather dirty, and the coat he now wore was one that was much more tattered than she’d seen him in. “Why the change of clothes?” she asked.
“I gave most of the rest away,” he replied in an off-handed manner. “I got rid of most things I didn’t need anymore.”
“Admirable–but surely you could have kept something better than this.”
“I never liked the coats I wore,” Beryl replied, and then added wryly, “Neither did Arnold.”
“True.” Bookworm smiled.
He never stood up as he crouched against the floor, looking up at her with their ears tipped slightly lower. “I came here because I wanted to say that I’m very sorry.”
“Sorry? For what?”
Beryl looked up at her, reluctance clear in his eyes. “You put your trust in me as a hero, and I’m going to have to let you down.”
Bookworm stared down at him, feeling a sinking sensation in her stomach. “What do you mean?”
“I mean that I have never been a hero, and neither was Arnold.” They replied softly while watching her. “And I let you down because I always knew what Janus was going to do.”
She blinked, her jaw dropping a little. “You knew?” she finally managed to ask.
“It had been Id’s plan. I might have acted otherwise, but I remembered her plans. I even told Tepic as much–he and a few others knew, too.”
Bookworm closed her eyes slowly and took a few deep breaths, counseling herself to patience. Opening her eyes again, she said, “So, all those people who are missing–who’d been acting strangely before–they’re going to stay missing?”
“They’re not missing,” Beryl pedantically said. “They are being taken to the Fells.”
“I’d call that missing.” Bookworm rolled her eyes.
Beryl wasn’t done yet though, “It gets worse. Janus isn’t going with them.”
“Wha–where is he going, then?”
“To the sea.”
“To the sea,” Bookworm repeated slowly, through gritted teeth. At his nod, she continued, “Do I want to know why?”
“To be a pirate. So, no, you don’t.” There was an unmistakable note of amusement in Beryl’s voice.
Bookworm, however, was anything but amused. She put a hand up to her forehead, rubbing it. “A werewolf pirate. Or, rather, a pirate occupying the werewolf body of someone else. Wonderful.”
“No, Rasend is himself.” Beryl explained slowly. “Janus is in his old body.”
She quickly dropped her hand back down, staring at Beryl in surprise. “What? When did this happen? And who managed it?”
“Dr. Sonnerstein stitched Janus’s body back together again.” He looked at her with a note of sympathy in his eyes. “This has been going on for a few months now.”
Bookworm sighed, thinking back all the traveling she’d done over that same time frame, since Babbage had seemed nice and quiet. She was certainly regretting it now. “Nice of him to inform me of this,” she said sarcastically.
Beryl shrugged. “I could have informed you, but I didn’t.”
With an overabundance of patience in her voice, she asked, “Why didn’t you?”
“Because it was a deal. Janus fulfilled his part of our bargain, so I helped him achieve his own goal. Telling people who might even consider stopping something is a horrible way to keep a bargain.”
“Even ill-conceived bargains?”
“A deal is a deal,” Beryl stated definitively. “Even if I wouldn’t have made the same deal as Id did.”
“So, thanks to that deal, we now have a wanted criminal on the loose as a pirate, and an unknown number of werewolves roaming the Fells.” She sighed. “I suppose I should chalk that up to this being Babbage.”
“Well, not really unknown. There were seventeen at last count–along with the other boy.”
Bookworm, though, was not entirely listening. Instead, she was rubbing her forehead again, thinking. “I should post a travelers’ alert…” she muttered.
Beryl nodded slowly, though she didn’t see that. After a moment, he said, “Bookworm?”
“Yes?” She lowered her hand and met his upturned gaze.
“I am sorry to disappoint you,” he said intently, as if trying his utmost to convince her, “but I have never been a hero. I will work with villains, and thieves, and anything else to accomplish my goals. I will even help them if need be, as Arnold did before me. That is why I cannot be a hero. When I stand up to defend others, as I have before, I am being what I am. A guardian.”
Bookworm thought back on everything that he’d done, as Arnold and as Beryl, and shook her head. “Oh, you’re still a hero. You’re just not a Hero.” She stressed the last word, trying to convey the capitalization of it.
Beryl looked up at her for a moment, tilting his head slightly, “What is the difference?”
“You’re like most of the others here in Babbage–pragmatic. I, as a Heroine,” she said, stressing that word, “tend to be more idealistic. Which is better…” She shrugged. “Who’s to say? Perhaps neither.”
“Perhaps. It is too late now though.”
Bookworm nodded and sighed at that. It certainly was–Janus was out of reach of justice, and the werewolves were out of reach of help. Another long moment of silence between them ensued, as she stared out a side window. Beryl fidgeted a little, looking at her, waiting for her explosion of anger. Finally, though, Bookworm looked down at him and said slowly, “If it’s any consolation… I don’t know what I would have done in your situation. But I do wish you would have trusted me more.”
“I could have told you nothing and let you remain unaware of the situation. But I felt that for your help you earned the truth.”
“Thank you for that, at least,” she replied, trying to keep her voice level. Beryl turned toward the door, but then looked back at her intently. “It’s coming,” he said.
“P.J.” Beryl replied. “At least, that’s what I’ll call it for now.”
“P.J.?” Bookworm muttered, cudgeling her brain for what that might mean. Then she remembered. “Oh! That note you showed me…” She shivered a touch, remembering the threats in it.
“I’ve done my best to distance myself from others.” It was why they had made such a public display of quitting. “But in the end I don’t think he will be satisfied with ‘heroes’ anyways.”
“Have you heard or seen anything new? Why do you think he–or it–is coming now?”
“There was a man in town yesterday, blue suit and black hair. He passed me in the street, he said, “P.J.,” then walked away. I didn’t chase after him,” Beryl said dryly. “It felt like a trap, like he wanted me to follow.”
Bookworm frowned. “Well, then, I’ll keep a watch out.” She fixed him with a stern look. “Please let me know of anything else that happens.”
Beryl nodded, and went to the door. He paused in the open doorway. “Do you hate me now?” he asked softly, then glanced back over his shoulder, head tilted in curiosity.
Bookworm shook her head. “Of course not.”
“I suppose I was wrong about you, then,” he mused. “I thought for sure you would. Good night, Bookworm.” And with that, he finally left.
“Good night,” she said after him, watching him gallop up the street. ‘No,’ she thought, ‘I don’t hate you. But I’ll have the devil of a time trusting you fully again.’ She sighed, closing the door and walking back to the window seat in the turret.
‘Or is it me?’ she wondered as she sat down. ‘Is being a known Heroine keeping people from me, because I see–or they think I see–only in black and white?’ She picked up her book again and opened it, but her eyes were clouded in thought, and they did not see the words in front of her.