First: Purchased: Negotiation
In the end, they wandered aimlessly – or at her aim – around the campus for two hours while Leander learned a whole bunch of things he thought he’d never remember. He also noticed where he’d put himself if he was a sniper, the bottlenecks where he didn’t want to get caught with her if there was a problem, the places they could take shelter and set up defenses if someone came after her.
At one point, she noticed where his gaze was. She pointed up at the bell tower nearby. “That’s completely accessible. You need a university pass, but that’s it. Pretty sure my father does a Forces shield around it every time he’s on campus, and he might renew it when I’m not looking.”
She twisted her face, but Leander nodded approvingly. “It’s a good idea. It’s not just your hide he’d be protecting, either,” he added gently. “If someone does come after you, they might not care about collateral damage. They might want it…” He trailed off. “Tell me about this SpringFest?”
So she did, although she kept glancing back at him, like she was considering what he’d said.
He wanted to tell her to forget it, to not worry. He was supposed to protect her, after all, and so it was his worry. But on the other hand, she needed to understand –
Damnit, no. He wanted her to understand, but that would just make his life easier. She didn’t need to understand anything she didn’t want to.
She was the one he was assigned to protect; it was his job to make sure that she was, not to put too fine a point on it, protected. If she thought her father was being overprotective, overzealous, and ridiculous, well, he could deal with that.
He’d certainly dealt with worse.
“Do you think – do you think my Dad really thinks that someone might shoot me?”
“I don’t know,” he admitted quietly. “I know that he went to a lot of expense – sorry, I’m not cheap, it turns out – and some trouble to make sure you had a bodyguard. I think it’s because he’s in, uh.” He looked around again and then did a quiet Working, barely breathing the Words, just in case, to mask their voices from any listening ears or devices. “There’s a camp, you know, of fae who thing that something is going to end everything and it’s coming soon. There’s not a lot of them, but I mean, I’ve met three now, if your father is one. And if he is, he wants to be sure you’re safe through this, uh, end-of-everything.”
“Yeah, I know.” Sylviane made a face. “Dad’s the fae version of a millennium cultist. There is ‘a storm coming’ and it’s going to be something that we can’t stop. I mean… it’s kind of silly. We can prepare, sure. He is a freaking doomsday prepper, which is of course made easier by the fact that he’s rich.” She wrinkled her nose again. “There’s a place up in the woods, and then there’s another place down south. And it doesn’t really bother me cause, well, there are a lot worse hobbies for a millionaire to have. But then… I don’t know. It might be easier if he was worried about shooters, ordinary stuff, you know? Kidnappers. The stuff rich guys are supposed to worry about where their daughters are concerned.”
Leander snorted. He managed to not turn it into a full-fledged laugh with effort. “So your objection is… his worries are too far off? He has you being followed around for supernatural imaginary threats instead of, like TV imaginary threats?”
He managed not to say do you have any idea how much you sound like a spoiled rich girl right now? He still, it turned out, had at least a little self-preservation.
Not enough to keep it out of his voice, though. She grimaced. “When you put it that way…” The grimace morphed into a furrowed brow. “Yeah. Because when how much is he tilting at windmills? Making up monsters to fight,” she added in. “Fighting shadows. How much will he have me fighting shadows? What if he’s losing it? Three, you said — three fae who believe like he does?”
“That’s three out of the fae who’ve bothered to talk to me about their opinions,” he pointed out. He noticed that he sounded bitter and wondered why. It wasn’t like he’d cared all that much what the last people to own him had thought. “So maybe, three out of five, six. Not counting you,” he added. “You, uh, don’t seem to mind talking about your opinions.”
She snorted. “I could talk about my opinions all day long, to anyone who listened, and only the fact that half my opinions are based on — on our peculiar lineage — keeps me from talking about them with everyone.”
“I don’t feel special, then.”
He actually felt mildly let down, but that was a ridiculous feeling that he told firmly to go jump in the nearest lake — which happened to be not that far, actually; campus had something that they at least called a lake.
“Give it time,” she suggested. “I already like you more than three-quarters of my friends, and we’ve only known each other a couple days. And I mean, only half of that is because you’re smart.”
“I’m what now?” He didn’t bother trying not to glower; he didn’t like being made fun of.
“Have you heard the questions you ask people? You’re really good at getting right to the heart of the matter — oh, I stepped on something.” She bit her lip. “I didn’t mean to.”
Leander pinched his nose. “I — you — i — okay. Where to next?”
“Home, I guess? I don’t have a strong opinion on the matter but we could go through the syllabus for the first day of classes and do a little pre-reading.”
It sounded only very slightly better than turning big rocks into small rocks. “Okay. Let’s go.”
“The car’s back this way—“. She turned slowly in a circle. “Oh, let’s see. We came down that way — sorry, this part of campus is a maze—“
He smiled. “This way.” He gestured. “At least I’m pretty sure,” he added in a mutter.
“We’ll try it. Has to be better than going around in circles, at least.”
“We can be lost with determination,” he agreed. She laughed; he resisted the urge to grin like an idiot.
The numbers of things he was resisting was going to lead to him being worn out by the time they got home, long before they got to the homework stage.
They’d made it all of ten steps — with determination — when a student-aged girl, in clothes that had to be fashionable because they looked slightly ridiculous, stepped in front of them.
“Excuse me, miss, sir? I’m looking for D.D. Harriman Hall? I thought it was in this direction, but I don’t see it anywhere-“