First: Purchased: Negotiation
“This is what you have in mind? You picked this out all by yourself?”
Leander tensed, because Melody’s tone was the sort of thing she could get away with taking with him, but she wasn’t talking to him, she was talking to Sylviane, and whether or not Leander liked the tone — he didn’t, people shouldn’t talk to her like that — Sylviane wasn’t likely to put up with it.
“I’m not twelve.” Sylviane huffed quietly. “Yes. I picked out these options all by myself, Melody. The tux for Leander —”
“Rather plain, isn’t it?”
Leander looked over Sylviane’s shoulder. It looked — it looked like a black tux with a vest. He didn’t know much — okay, anything — about fashion, but it looked like a suit.
“That’s the point. Leander isn’t a peacock, he’s not really the sort to stand out, at least from what I’ve seen. He’s my bodyguard.” She squeezed Leander’s hand. He squeezed hers back, wondering if she was comforting him or taking comfort — and why. “So he’s going to look like — like a lot of the men there. Some of them — Dad, for one — will be showy. Colored tuxes, velvet, ties instead of bow ties. You know. But Leander’s gonna fade into the background. I think he’ll be more comfortable that way.”
“Definitely have no intention of fading into the background. It’s a classic look, but — not old looking.”
Leander looked at the dress on the screen, then back at Sylviane, then back at the dress. If she wore that. If she wore that —
He cleared his throat.
“Do I get weapons for this thing?”
“Bladed or bulleted?” Melody pursed her lips thoughtfully. “I can get you some very nice concealed sheathes for blades, or a concealed-carry handgun.”
“Uh-” Leander struggled to answer. “Bladed. I can handle a gun if Mr. MacDiarmad wants me to, but blades are quieter, don’t cat attention the way guns do, and they make people underestimate you.”
She smiled at him. Smiled. “Smart boy. Okay, I know just the things. I can do that for you, no problem. Now-” she turned back to Sylviane. “This is a lovely dress. Now, I think we have time to get it done up properly, too.”
Leander gulped. “Maybe two?” he murmured. The first one was not going to make it out of the bedroom. It wasn’t racy or anything, it was just gorgeous. Or, more to the point, it looked like it would look gorgeous on Sylviane. It looked like a nice dress on the model. Sort of mermaidy, he thought, with mostly-bare shoulders, arms in long gloves, and this poofy bit down past her knees that made it look formal and swirly even in a still photo.
Sylviane leaned over and kissed his cheek. “It’s already ordered,” she informed Melody.
“You – already ordered it.” Melody glared at Sylviane. “What were you going to do if I didn’t approve of it?”
“Wear it to class on Mondays? But in case you have forgotten, I don’t work for you.” She had steel in her voice all of a sudden. “You may work for my father, but that doesn’t mean you actually get to tell me – or Leander – what to wear. I’ve indulged you, but that’s all it is, indulging.”
“Oh?” Melody’s voice had frosted over, but Leander didn’t think she had a thing on Sylviane’s steel. “And what would your father say about that?”
“We could always ask him. Or you could set up Leander’s tux fitting and let it go. No harm, no foul.”
“No- you are such a difficult child! This is just like-”
Leander stood up. He didn’t say anything. He wasn’t even sure what he’d say. He stood between Melody and Sylviane, looking down at the woman.
Melody took a step back, but recovered quickly. She glared up at him.
“And what do you want? A velvet tux?”
“Sylviane’s an adult. She’s a grown woman who can make her own decisions.” He paused, holding Melody’s gaze. “Yes?”
She backed up incrementally. “She’s a grown woman,” she agreed slowly. “A legal adult. But my responsibility is her father’s image. And if she damages that, then it is my responsibility. Sylviane has never seen fit to care-”
“I don’t care about that.” He cut the woman off. “I work for Mr. MacDiarmed, too. And Sylviane can make her own decisions. All of her own decisions.”
“And what’s Mr. MacDiarmad going to say about his attack dog starting to bite the household? You know, most people won’t-”
“Enough.” Sylviane stood up and stepped forward, her hand on Leander’s arm. “Melody, why don’t you go take a walk, calm down, and come back and tell us what’s really bothering you? Because you’re really going over the top here. It’s inexcusable, but I’m gonna excuse it. Just.. go calm down, okay? Leander and I have studying to do.”
Melody huffed, looked between them, looked between them again, turned on her heel, and left.
The door slammed shut. Leander turned to look at Sylviane, just as she threw her arms around him and squeezed him into a hug.
He was startled to catch a sob before she shoved her face into his shoulder to muffle the sound. He rubbed her back – that much was easy, he could figure that out.
She was – what was she – what was he – he patted her back some more and rubbed her hair. “Hey, hey,” he tried. “Hey, Sylviane. What’s going on? What’s-?”
“I just- I just-” She huffed. “Thank you. I don’t know why she got so bad but it’s just – it’s just too much, you know?”
“I’m not sure I do,” he admitted slowly. “Come on, let’s go upstairs, okay? We can maybe actually study, and if we don’t, well, we can work this out in private?” He kept one arm around her and scooped up all their books with the other, leaving him with an awkward armful and a sniffling armful.
“Here, I can-” She took a couple of the books. “Upstairs is probably a good idea, yeah. I – I don’t know.” She took another book from the pile in his free arm like that was an answer, and untangled herself just enough to walk up the stairs.
Leander, of course, followed. He’d seen Sylviane upset a few times over the months – not counting, of course, when he got shot – but this was sort of over the top. Melody had to have – what? Said something that he just didn’t get?
Once in her room, Sylviane flopped on the couch. Following not so much instinct as guesswork, Leander sat down on the floor by her legs.
It wasn’t until he was already sitting that he realized why he’d done that, and it was too late to move, then.
Or maybe not. “Leander,” she whined. “Why are you – you’re not – I know Melody was being a bitch, but you’re not an attack dog. Come on, come up here, okay?”
He slid up onto the couch and snuggled close to her, arm around her shoulders. Attack dog. He licked his lips and tried to think before he spoke, but he’d never been good at it. “I’m a pretty good attack dog. The trick is I need a big enough bed and long enough leash, that’s all.”
She made a sound between a gasp and a sob. Leander wince. Good job thinking about your words there. “Leander…” Her hand snuck up to his collar.
He fought not to show a reaction. What was she doing? Why was she doing it?
He’d been pretty sure they had a good thing going on. Hadn’t they…?