Irene flushed. ‘You think so?’
‘He sounds a practical man. I think he’ll prefer to have you on his side.’ She paused for thought. ‘You probably won’t get Aubrey’s office, so you must notify us once you have lodgings. That way any future visitors to the alternate will know where to find you. You will be the Librarian-in-Residence, after all.’
‘I will?’ Irene said, and blushed again, this time out of genuine humility rather than simple embarrassment. Librarian-in-Residence was a post of some responsibility. It was something she hadn’t even thought about handling for decades yet. Excitement began to give way to panic. ‘I don’t know what to say – ’
‘Thank you and goodbye should cover it,’ Coppelia said briskly. ‘Come now. Here you are, sitting around, with Kai fretting over you and worrying himself. A word of advice. Don’t get yourself hurt if there’s a possibility of him throwing himself in the way. He’ll be far more upset about it than you will.’
‘Coppelia.’ Irene took a deep breath. ‘Why?’
The old woman closed her eyes for a moment. She was frail, even for the Library, and her wooden arm and legs were the only solid things about her. The rest was all fragile flesh, spiderweb white hair and eyes as cold as black stars. ‘Don’t ask,’ she said, her voice tired. ‘Don’t say anything, then I won’t need to reply. And then later on, we can both answer truthfully that nothing was shared. You’ve always avoided asking questions in the past, but we’ve run out of time for that. It’s true that we need to know more. You know the questions. Go and find answers, and let me report back that I sent you to investigate. It’s true that you’ll be safe there from Alberich. He’s got bigger fish to hunt, that one. Let him do it. Let the rest of us throw ourselves in the way this time. Go and play detective, Irene, and do a good job of it. Make me proud of you.’
There was a rustle at the door, then a brisk rapping.
‘That will be Kai,’ Coppelia said. She opened her eyes again. ‘You’d better be going. He knows the way from here to the alternate’s entrance.’
Irene swung her feet down from the couch, and stood up. ‘Thank you,’ she said. It came out grudgingly, and she tried again. ‘Thank you, Coppelia. I do appreciate it. That is, I am grateful.’
‘You don’t, but you will,’ Coppelia said. She sighed again. ‘Your hands have been pieced together – I dragged old Wormius away from his runes to reattach all the bits and pieces. Another reason for you to be out in real time. They’re not going to heal here in the Library.’
Irene realized that was true. Her hands might be stitched up and bandaged, but unless she left the Library, they’d never actually heal. ‘Thank you again.’
Coppelia waited until Irene was almost at the door, before saying, ‘Your shoes are under the couch.’
‘Couldn’t you have said that earlier?’ Irene snapped, losing a lot of her gratitude. ‘Just a moment!’ she called to the door, then trotted back to the couch to sit down and put the shoes on.
‘I’ll be expecting regular reports,’ Coppelia said, watching Irene fumble at the bootlaces with her bandaged fingers. ‘And don’t get too involved. Remember who you are.’
‘I’m not likely to forget that,’ Irene said. She finished knotting the laces and sat back. ‘I’m a Librarian.’
‘So you are,’ Coppelia said. She didn’t speak again, but nodded in dismissal, and Irene could feel her eyes on her with every step that she took towards the door.
Kai was waiting on the other side.
Irene managed a few confident paces down the corridor, once the door had been safely shut between them and Coppelia, before her purposeful walk slowed to a halting stumble. Kai frowned, and offered her his arm. Maybe he really thought she was that badly injured. Or possibly possessiveness was a characteristic of draconic affection. They were supposed to be hoarders, after all. Not so different from Librarians.
But just for the moment – just for this single moment, on their way back to this alternate that was now her home – she could relax and appreciate what she’d been given. It was all hers. Her territory, her open treasure-box of new books to read. A new world of great detectives, zeppelins, Fae and dragons. She wasn’t going to complain.
And she certainly wasn’t going to run away. She had questions to ask, and answers to find. She just hoped she lived long enough to enjoy it.