Home > The Burning Page (The Invisible Library #3)(17)

The Burning Page (The Invisible Library #3)(17)
Author: Genevieve Cogman

‘I’m not impressed.’ She’d run through dozens of versions of the conversation in her head. None of them really had a happy ending. At least he was addressing her by the relatively familiar Winters, rather than retreating to the more proper Miss Winters.

Vale looked away from her. ‘Not all of us have your strength.’

‘I don’t understand.’

He sighed. ‘One single night’s indulgence, and for that I have you and Strongrock occupying my rooms and preaching abstinence. It seems rather unfair.’

Leaving aside the moral aspects, there was a major logical fallacy in that statement. ‘One single night’s indulgence does not result in a week’s worth of injection marks,’ Irene pointed out. She’d inspected his arm while he was unconscious.

Vale snorted. ‘And now you’ll attempt to play the detective at me, Winters? That isn’t a game that you can win.’

‘It’s not a game at all,’ Irene said. ‘I’m just . . . surprised.’

‘You aren’t,’ Vale said. He rolled over to look at her, propping himself up with one elbow. ‘You’re unhappy, but you’re not surprised. I wonder why?’

Unwelcome as the question was, Irene would have liked to take it as a sign of improvement. But he spoke languidly, rather than with his usual keen interrogative tone, and she could see that his pupils were still too wide and unfocused.

‘Are you being forced into it?’ she asked.

Vale stared at her. ‘Do you honestly think so?’

‘No,’ she admitted. ‘But Kai thought it was possible.’

‘Strongrock is a good man and refuses to accept some things as probable. He wouldn’t understand why a man might need drugs to sleep.’

‘Which would be?’

Vale flopped back onto the pillow. ‘Oh come now, Winters. If I choose to take morphine, that is my business and not yours. And you’re clenching your jaw now, in that annoying manner which suggests you’re going to make a personal issue of the matter.’

Damn right I am. ‘You know perfectly well that morphine is an addictive drug.’

‘Of course,’ Vale said. ‘That is, naturally I am aware of this fact. Your point being?’

‘Merely that I am quite sure the criminal classes of London will be overjoyed to learn – no, to see the results – of you sliding into addiction and self-destruction in this manner.’ She kept her voice low, but didn’t try to take the edge off it. ‘Quite besides the feelings of your friends on the subject.’

‘You have an advantage over me, Winters.’ Vale sounded genuinely tired, rather than simply muzzy with the after-effects of the drug.

‘What would that be?’

‘An ability to admit your own failings.’ He stared at the ceiling. ‘Of course women are more prone to discussing their emotions than men. But even so, you have always been willing to acknowledge when you have made a mistake, or when your competency lies in areas other than the current situation. Almost too ready. Your opinion of your own abilities is frequently lower than it should be. Did you have the virtues of humility drummed into you at that boarding school you remember so fondly?’

Irene bristled, trying to work out if that whole little speech amounted to an insult, or if it was honest truth. ‘If you’re trying to annoy me so that I’ll walk out of this room, then I must tell you it’s not going to work.’

Vale sighed. ‘What a pity. But my point remains. You seem to find it quite simple to confess to error.’

‘Not really,’ Irene admitted. ‘I don’t like being wrong any more than anyone else. It’s more that I can’t allow my pride to get in the way of my function as a Librarian. I have a job to do, Vale. If that means letting someone else take over who can do things better, well . . .’

A cab rattled past outside in the darkness, wheels grating on the road. ‘If you truly believed that,’ Vale said, ‘then you would have permitted your colleague Bradamant to take charge of your earlier mission – to find the Grimm book. From what Strongrock told me, you were quite firm in refusing her help.’

Irene flushed. She still wasn’t comfortable discussing the other Librarian. While they had agreed to a degree of truce at their last meeting – at least Irene had proposed one, and Bradamant hadn’t actually said no – they hadn’t seen each other since. And they had years of bad feeling to overcome. Then she realized the purpose behind Vale’s words. ‘You’re trying to distract me. The sooner you’re honest with me, the sooner I can let you get back to sleep.’

‘Ah, and there lies the problem. Since that little trip of ours to Venice, I have had trouble sleeping.’

If Vale was admitting that he had any sort of problem, then the problem in question was probably already too big to handle. ‘And therefore the morphine?’ Irene asked.

‘And therefore, as you say, the morphine. Though . . . I must admit that I have increased the level of the dose in the last few days.’ Vale looked up at the ceiling. ‘Are you now going to tell me that you have used that Language of yours to remove the drug from my body?’

‘Frankly, I wouldn’t dare,’ Irene said. ‘I could try telling it to come out of your body, but heaven only knows how it would come out or what damage it might do to your bodily tissues. It’s the sort of thing I would reserve for emergencies. Please never give me cause to try.’

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