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My limited bandwidth issues continue apace (part of the problem being that I have to download stuff I would otherwise be watching on television, so what bandwidth there is has been eaten by House MD and SPN and things). So once again: if I'm slow to respond to comments, I'm not ignoring you.


Arc was on top of a stepladder, rearranging the usually unreachable things at the top of the stacks. She looked, I saw at once, upset. There was a certain something about her movements, a listlessness, suggestive of disinterest in what she was doing, and her face was set in a way I hadn't seen it set before. I hesitated at the foot of her ladder, barely noticing the shapeliness or silk-clad-ness of any calves in the vicinity. 'Hi,' I ventured finally, and added idiotically, 'Xena's not around, then?'

'Nancy is very much not around. Run away to sea, probably,' Arc said. She didn't sound as if she particularly approved of the ocean, somehow.

I didn't know quite what to say to that, so dropped the matter. 'In the mood for some tidying up?' I said, and could cheerfully have ripped my tongue out for the note of false cheerfulness it'd managed to produce. Why am I so bad at conversation, when I write fanfiction so brilliantly?

'What I'm in the mood for,' she said, sounding odd, 'is a trip to the children's literature section. The classics: midnight feasts in the dorms, boating, catching smugglers on holidays.'

There was a certain chilly something in her voice, and maybe a slight bitterness, and I was almost afraid to speak, or move. Or breathe, really. I was afraid of breaking whatever spell had been woven that had her, apparently--dare I even think this?--confiding in me. 'Was there a particular series you had in mind?' I asked cautiously, thinking that perhaps I could run downstairs and fetch it, every single volume of whatever it was, if only it would wipe that expression off her face. I couldn't, offhand, think of anything with holidaying smugglers in.

She laughed, but not in a particularly happy way. 'Oh, yes,' she said, and I know it's bad form to specify adverbs but it has to be added, wryly. 'What I have in mind is something where your reliable friends matter to you just as much as the glamorous girl who can't be depended on for anything, or else instead of a surplus of diagrams about sails and tacking there are simple, never-fail hints for relationships. Do you think there's a series like that out there?'

'Er,' I said doubtfully, and wondered how outrageous it would be to hold her hand for a minute. I mean, they do in books, especially the sorts of girls' books she was on about, so maybe I could get away with it just this once?

'The Case of the Reformed Reprobate,' she went on. 'The Secret of Contentment Cove. The Mysterious Ability to Move On.' Weirdly enough, she actually was starting to sound better, as though indulging in whatever she was indulging in--nostalgia mixed with nonsense, it looked like--was bucking her up slightly.

'The Clue in the Stacks. The Hint in the Letter,' I suggested, and she smiled at me with sudden warmth.

'You're a dear,' she said fondly, which was so much more openly affectionate than I'd ever known her to be that I blushed from head to foot and stared wide-eyed. She sensibly ignored this and climbed down, smoothing her hair back in an unconscious little gesture of tidying-up that I read as putting the mask back on and pulling herself together. Sure enough, when she spoke again it was with her customary coolth and reserve. 'I think I'll work from home for a couple of days,' she said calmly, although clearly she wasn't back to normal, because she didn't usually discuss her schedule with me or, as far as I know, anyone. I steeled myself not to react, not wishing to spoil this suddenly-confidey mood of hers. She seemed to have said everything she wanted to say, though, because she started gathering up her things in silence, and ten minutes later she left, quite calmly.

Well. That had been something. I wasn't sure what, though. I felt slightly fluttery at the thought that this, whatever 'this' was, appeared to be that most impossible of improbabilities: a problem Arc couldn't solve. And close on the heels of that came an even more fluttery thought. Could I? Because if there was even the slimmest possibility that I could help her somehow, well, then, I mean. I would have to, obviously. And I wanted to, I mean; it wouldn't be an imposition or anything.

But you know, really, when you get right down to it, there's nothing you can usually do for people, is there, aside from giving them the benefit of one's own opinions and advice. Which, while I am usually the living embodiment of self-effacement, I couldn't help but see I could rather excel at, in this case. I mean to say, there was dear old Arc, mooning around in some state of emotional distress that had her displaying actual emotions just as though she had them like anybody else, and here I was, calm and collected, and ideally positioned to remind her that some love is fleeting, but that serious-minded friendships with sound literary bases--as, for instance, that between an author and an archivist who have grown fond of one another--are perennial as the grass, and damned reliable besides. And more important than lots of other things, possibly including whichever other thing it was currently agitating her.

The only problem was, I couldn't quite picture myself telling her that. Well, no, that's not accurate: I could picture it, quite clearly, and had replayed the scene in my head several times, with slight variations, before I finally admitted that there wasn't much chance of my actually getting up the nerve to step into the heroic starring role I'd been visualizing. The other assistants were all trooping in now anyway, so it's not as though I could go running after her to discuss things further even if I had summoned up the nerve from somewhere.

But I'm a writer, after all. The solution was simplicity itself. I'd write her a letter. I spent my entire half-day of reshelving composing it in my head, and left as on winged feet when the time came to go back to my hopefully unoccupied room to write it.

On the way out a non-mourner grabbed me by the arm and mentioned that Mrs.Sev had been looking for me. It was urgent, the non-mourner said, that Mrs.Sev and I have a heart-to-heart. That solved the problem of what to call the formerly-Lilybella, anyway. Muttering a silent prayer of thanks that she hadn't put in an appearance upstairs, I prowled the lobby until I found her.

She was sitting crosslegged, peeling glitter off a binder. Several of her fellows were busily decapitating the heads off photos of a cute young man. Stacks of glossy fliers surrounded them, proclaiming, 'One man. One woman. No puppies.' This would, I sensed, be a bad time to remind Mrs.Sev that the Tortured Tutor himself had a fair entourage of fanwives.

Several of the opposition were sitting nearby, working on scrapbooks, their wedding dresses spilling elegantly across the library floor. A lot of them, I saw, were cuddling marble rolling pins, the kind without handles that are just one smooth long piece of marble, rounded at the ends. 'What are those for?' I asked, curiosity temporarily getting the better of me.

'Trust me,' Mrs.Sev. said, 'you are happier not knowing what those represent.' I took her word for this--I'm not actually very good at baking anyway, so probably it was best I steered clear.

'It's so sexist and oppressive,' said one of Mrs.Sev's friends suddenly. I didn't know whether she meant baking or scrapbooking or some other thing altogether, so I made a vaguely supportive noise.

Mrs.Sev took a deep breath. 'I owe you an apology, Mina,' she said solemnly. 'I can never forgive myself, and what's worse, I don't know if he will forgive me, either. I've betrayed him as badly, and misunderstood him as completely, as that foolish copyright holder of his. Well, almost,' she amended. 'Anyway, I'm almost afraid to ask him for forgiveness.'

There was a pause. 'What happened?' I asked finally, reasoning that the sooner I let her share whatever her latest drama was, the sooner we could stop discussing it. She eagerly explained her trauma.

'I was dazzled, Mina,' she confessed. 'I was led astray, like a lamb to the slaughter, and I have only myself to blame for the part where I forgot my vows of pure, complete devotion to my Beloved Schoolmaster. I willingly joined the polyfannous throngs of dazzled women. It was madness.' That, at least, I agreed with; I nodded encouragingly. 'Madness,' she repeated. 'How could I ever have thought that the Dark Schoolmaster's lordly arrogance could be replaced by some mere boy's fractional dazzle! I even thought, briefly, that I could offer you to my Beloved, Mina, while I joined the hordedom. Can you ever forgive me for tempting you with his love, when he was mine and mine alone all along?'

'Oh, absolutely, old thing,' I said, heartily and sincerely. I felt I'd had a narrow escape, there.

'His Glittering Darkness will forever eclipse paltry sunlight-dazzlement,' she said loudly. I started to wish myself elsewhere. A couple of nearby scrapbookers glared at her from over their lovingly assembled group-marriage photos.

'I'd rather have a sliver of attention from a beautiful man than a singular Astral Marriage to an ugly one,' one woman loudly informed her compatriots, showily adjusting her leg brace.

Mrs.Sev sneered. 'Imagine being so shallow and juvenile one would rather get worked up over dry humping than grow up and have a proper Astral Marriage. It's a complete failure to mature, that's what it is,' she countered scornfully. I made an appalled face, being personally unable to imagine anything much more revolting than either of those two options.

'What does this mean for the new alliance of the Dark Schoolmaster's fans and vampire fandom, though?' I asked, seeing a possible conflict looming.

'It won't affect the alliance at all,' Mrs.Sev assured me, 'as long as we can all agree to stick to traditional definitions of vampiredom.' At this the wedding-dress-clad contingent gasped in shock, and began, with whispers and hisses and outraged expressions, to withdraw, first retreating to a far corner of the library and then flouncing from the building altogether. Mrs.Sev looked deeply satisfied, and her black clothed supporters began pouring past us to offer their congratulations.

'Now that,' one of them said admiringly, 'was chagrin.' Mrs.Sev preened.

'I really have to get going,' I said finally. I needed to go pour out my thoughts in a letter, although now that some time had passed since my initial enthusiasm, I was beginning to wonder if I should really share my thoughts with Arc. Maybe, I thought, I should write a confessional letter just as a form of private therapy, and then once a few days had passed and I had had time to think it over, I could choose which opinions I should share with Arc and which ones were, perhaps, a little too revealing. I mean, editing is the most important step in writing, after all, and I didn't want my impulsive urge to confide in her to overshadow my customary cautious approach to image management. Probably Arc, with her oodles of natural reticence, wouldn't appreciate being gushed over anyway. Most likely she'd be thankful if I exercised some reserve, and whittled down my first draft to something calmer and more arm's-length in the advice department.

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