Bookworm’s trip back to her home, taken at the run, was accompanied by the sound of Myrtil’s flappter. They made it at the same time, though Bookworm rather suspected Myrtil had gone rather slower than the vehicle’s capabilities. Bookworm helped Myrtil and Tepic get Beatrixe, who had been awakened by the noise of the flight, off the vehicle and inside. “Let’s get you on the couch for now, Bea, so you can rest,” she said, and the three of them, working together, settled her down in the main library, on the couch by the fireplace. Bookworm got a light blanket and covered her up.
“That’s where you were sleeping too, Tepic,” Myrtil said.
“Yes.” She peered at him. “You don’t remember at all?” She shook her head. “Seems like you haven’t been yourself in ages…”
Tepic shrugged. “Dunno why…”
“We were trying to get you to rest,” Bookworm put in. “It… didn’t work.”
“You were working like an automaton at the factory,” added Myrtil. “Every time we tried to get you to sleep, you woke up, escaped and went back to work. I’m starting to believe the deal you had with Mister Canergak was some kind of contract with the Devil.”
Bookworm discreetly pulled a face at that, thinking of her own bargain. Tepic, though, reached into his bag and pulled out his cap, looking at it before putting it on. “Reckon he ain’t quite right,” he said. “‘E knew Miss Rouse weren’t there an’ didn’t tell no one.”
“He knew you were killing yourself working at the factory and knew exactly what to do to make you stop and he didn’t either!” Myrtil said indignantly.
“It were a bargain–yer gotta keep yer word. An’ it kept Miss Rouse all right.”
“Still, he doesn’t like to give anything away, it seems,” mused Bookworm.
Myrtil looked up at her. “How did you manage to make him release Tepic in the end?”
Bookworm coughed. “I… I had to make a bargain of my own.”
“What?!” exclaimed Tepic, looking at her sharply.
“It was that, or watch you die, Tepic. I couldn’t let that happen.”
As Tepic thought that over, Myrtil added, “Yes, it was heartbreaking to see you slaving away day after day Tepic. You were completely lost.” She paused. “But… I hope we won’t have to save *you* now, Miss Book!”
“I don’t think I’m under quite the same… constraints,” she replied with a smile. “I’ll be back in a few minutes.” She went upstairs to talk to Mrs. Pritchard and get an extra bed made up for Beatrixe. As she came back into the library, she heard Tepic say, “Well, we’d probably best let Miss Rouse rest?”
Myrtil nodded, and headed for the front door. “Good evening Miss Book, Please take good care of Miss Rouse!”
Bookworm nodded, but asked Tepic to stay on for a few more minutes. The fox-boy agreed, and said, “I’ll catch up, Myrtil!” Myrtil waved and left.
Bookworm led Tepic back into the library, and sat in the loveseat next to the couch. She patted the seat next to her, and Tepic somewhat gingerly perched on it. A moment of silence passed, as Bookworm tried to figure out how to say what she needed to say. Finally, she sighed. “Tepic, I… I owe you an apology. And I wouldn’t blame you for hating me, once I tell you this.”
“Why, Miss? Yer sorted out the debt.”
“Some–or perhaps even most–of the blame for all of this lies with me.”
“It were me as made the bargain, Miss…”
She sighed again. “Very soon after Beatrixe was injured, Canergak came to me with a proposal. He said he didn’t believe you were really friends with Beatrixe–or anyone. He proposed putting you to the test by telling you that you had to work to earn the money for Bea’s care. He didn’t think you’d stick it out for very long. I knew you would, and I thought it would be a good thing to prove it to Canergak, so I agreed.”
“Why did he think that? We made a bargin.” Tepic looked confused, and Bookworm tried again to explain.
“Tepic, it was Canergak’s idea to make you work for Beatrixe’s care, and I agreed. If Canergak hadn’t had that idea, she would have been taken care of some other way. He also wanted you to be so busy with work, you wouldn’t have time to break into the lab again. And again, I agreed, because I thought that would keep you safe.”
“Oh…” Tepic looked a little less confused, but she still wasn’t sure he entirely understood. Nevertheless, she had to finish her apology – guilt had been laying a heavy load on her for weeks. She laid a hand on his arm. “Believe me, if I’d known it would affect you this badly, I never would have agreed to it,” she fervently said.
“But Miss…” Tepic thought a moment. “Mr. Canergak says he knows all ‘bout people as is different?”
“He does say that,” she replied. “I don’t know how true that is, though.”
“Well… wouldn’t he have known ‘bout keepin’ promises? An yer made a bargin ter make him finish mine?” At her nod, he asked, “So what were he *really* after?”
“I–I don’t know.” She blinked, taken aback at Tepic’s question. “He couldn’t have thought, all those weeks ago, that we’d get to this point… could he?” she said softly, mostly to herself. After a moment, she looked at Tepic. “What I gave him was some of Dr. Martel’s other notebooks. His early ones, from Caledon.”
“Wot, the bloke as did Lisa?”
She nodded. “The notebooks I gave him are from well before he started *that* work, so I don’t think they’re too dangerous.”
“Don’t reckon nuffin is safe in Mr. Canegak’s hands,” he said with some disgust.
Bookworm sighed, and rubbed her face. “You may be right, but it was the only thing I could think of to get him to release you.”
“So where’s the others?”
“There are still some left in Militia headquarters. I’ve hidden those. The others, I’ve been smuggling back here, one or two at a time.”
Tepic grinned. “Evenin’s are still nippy, Miss. Yer could probably do with layin’ a fire or two…”
“Oh, believe me, I’ve thought about that. But I also keep wondering if we might need them someday…” Though she never would have admitted it, especially to Canergak, she had rather the same sort of difficulty in destroying information. If only she could find a trustworthy custodian for them, one that would never misuse the information within…
“There’s them as thinks that, Miss,” Tepic warned. “Ain’t never ended well.”
“I’ll keep that in mind.” Bookworm stood up, and Tepic scrambled to his feet as well. “Now, you go and get a good rest,” she told him. “We’ll look after Miss Beatrixe.”
“Reckon I will, Miss, an’ thanks fer everythin’!” He followed her to the door, and waved as he stepped outside. “Bye!”
“Good night, Tepic!” She watched him leave, with nearly the old spring in his step. Whatever else happened, she knew that much good, at least, had been done.