He had to admit, the woman had decent taste in pizza joints.
They knew her here, too, and had teased her a little bit about the new boyfriend until she’d made a mock-stern face. “Don’t you dare scare this one off! He’s not like that last one, okay? So be nice.”
The waitress had winked at Leander. “You hear that? We can’t scare you off. So you be nice to her, mister.”
“I wouldn’t dream of being anything else,” he assured the woman. As they were seated, though, he couldn’t help but ask, “the last one?”
“Look, I don’t always have the best taste in guys. Or friends. Or, uh. Well. Anyway. He turned out to be one of those stealth jerks, you know?”
“I have some idea,” Leander allowed. “Do I get to break his face?”
“Only if he shows up someplace where I don’t want to deal with him, how’s that?”
The pizza itself might’ve been the most delicious thing Leander had eaten in a decade. Then again, he was just eating, at a restaurant, with a relatively nice girl who wasn’t telling him what to do. He figured that had to amount to at least a third of the taste.
“I could eat this every day,” he told her, as he was finishing up his half of the pizza with absolutely no shame. The girl put away pizza herself like she knew how to burn the energy; it made him curious to see her spellcasting.
“Well, there’s a couple other places I want to take you to, so maybe every third day?” She winked at him. “And, I mean, Dad does have a cook and stuff, it’s just that sometimes I want to eat, uh, real food.”
He snorted. “You’re not really good at being rich, you know that?”
“So I’m told. Repeatedly. Should I be taking you to places where they serve Haute Cuisine?”
“Not on my account.” He made a face. “Never been my thing, thanks. I’m kinda a meat-and-potatoes sort of guy.”
“Mmm. The joke almost writes itself.” She looked him up and down, then looked away hastily. “Shit, sorry. Sorry, I’m not trying to – I mean – I just -“
“Try a verb?” he offered.
“Urm. Objectify you. I’m not trying to, that is. To objectify you.” She fiddled with her soda cup and didn’t look back up at him. “It’s just that flirting and things that sound sort of objectifying—”
“It’s okay.” He patted her hand. “Not bothered this time.” He cleared his throat. “I mean, thanks for remembering, tho.”
“That’s, uh. That’s just being considerate.” She dove into her pizza and didn’t look up for a few moments. Leander ate his own, already feeling pretty full, and waited.
He didn’t know what he was waiting for, but he still wasn’t expecting what came next.
“So.” Sylviane pointed piece of pizza at Leander. “Formal education?”
He snorted. “Fifth grade. I mean… no. It was fifth grade. Most of the way through.”
“What happened then?” Her brow furrowed.
Lee winced, wondering what she was picturing this time. He really didn’t want her thinking of him as a victim: it would make it harder to bodyguard her if she kept trying to protect him, for one, and for another it was kind of a blow to the pride.
“Oh, I Changed.” He gestured up and down towards himself as if his Masked look would explain it. “The next year was learning all about, you know, the other stuff.” He imagined if anybody was listening who didn’t know about Fae stuff, they would think that he was part of a Mafia family or some other crime organization, and that change was just shorthand for puberty – which, to be fair, it had been sort of a shitty extended puberty. “After that there was work to be done.”
“Okay.” She took a large bite of pizza and seemed to be thinking well she processed it, so Leander took the time to eat more his own pizza as well. The food was there… “So, the best way to do this is to have you in my classes. But that means you’re going to have to be able to fake knowledge that you haven’t had education in yet. Now,” she held up both hands, including the pizza, “I’m not saying you don’t know stuff. I know a formal education isn’t everything. But the question is, are you fine with some…” She looked around tapped her head, then shrugged, as if that was enough of a question.
Leander nearly choked on his soda. Instead, he managed to passable shrug of his own before he pointed out “You’re running this show. Besides, I pick stuff up pretty fast. I might not have any of the base stuff and I might need a little… tutoring.” He waggled his eyebrows at her as if he meant horizontal tutoring, “but as long as the professor’s speaking English I should be able to do okay. Or Russian,” he added as an afterthought. “Or Ukrainian, okay in Polish…”
“I get the point.” She smirked at him as if she was holding in a laugh. “All right. You’ll have to keep your grades up, but since we’re living together, and taking the same classes, we can do most of our homework together. Which just leaves tests, if you think you can pick up the material, then we’ll be fine… I mean… well, the problem is going to be that you might find it terribly boring.”
“Well I guess, if that’s the case,” he smirked right back at her, you’ll just have to incentivize me to be interested in it.” Some small part in the back of his brain screamed at him. That was not how you were supposed to talk to your owner. That was just asking for the start of incentives that left you miserable. That was just asking for them thinking about you like a dog.
But Sylviane leaned over the table, resting on her elbows, until he could see directly down her shirt. “I am certain but I can find a way to reward you for every single A.” she assured him, “and I’m certain, absolutely sure, that I can find something to reward you with that you’ll actually enjoy.”
“Now, Miss,” he found himself grinning right back at her, “that sounds like a challenge, and I’m not sure if it’s for me or you.”
“I hear these things work better if we’re both challenged,” she countered.
“Oh,” he drawled, “I’m pretty sure I’m gonna find this whole thing challenging, for sure.”
Their giggles effectively killed the conversation for a good few minutes. After she’d managed to take a.sip of her beer — Leander had thought for a minute he might have to save her from that— she considered him was a far more thoughtful expression.
“You’re having fun.”
Before Leander could more than start to tense, she flapped a hand at him. “This is good. I mean, well. Not only because you can you know, just be a person and have fun at a pizza joint, but that’s really good too. But because it makes everything… more natural? I like this idea of you being my boyfriend.”
Pretending to be. Leander didn’t say it. She was in too good a mood for him to risk ruining it.
“Good,” he said instead. “Because I like the idea of being able to have fun with it. And you,” he admitted, despite himself, despite the screaming voice in the back of his head, “seem like a lot of fun, Miss.”