I don't really know what I was expecting to find at the address Lydia had sent me, but really, it should have been exactly this.
Springfield Corner Books, Botanicals, and Antiques was about what it said on the box; sat right on the outskirts of a more subdued shopping plaza, the building itself was decently large, just a little too big for an old bookstore if you thought about it, but not enough so to raise suspicion. It was the sort of building that unless you knew what you were looking for, you'd never think twice about, especially as the two buildings joined on either side of it were so glaringly mundane. But if you were looking, the windows on the second story were all unlatched and open just a little; the abundance of plants displayed outside were all in full bloom, even if April had so far been mostly overcast and cold; and the stone gargoyles that sat watch on every corner of the roof were clear of any bird droppings or moss. Honestly, it was just the kind of haunt that you'd expect of Elves, or any other sort of magically-inclined Fae, really.
I landed in an alleyway near the store and, after quickly checking around to make sure no one was watching, adjusted my glamours; I made sure to hide my ears and wings first, before ending the invisibility enchantment I'd put on to fly over. It took me a bit to coax my hair back to a presentable state since, even with magic, trying to tame curly hair on a humid day was an exercise in patience as much as it ever was in skill. I threw on the sweater I'd shoved into my backpack, (hoping the perfume I'd sprayed over it earlier would mask the smell of ozone,) and made my way out of the alley, and across the street to the storefront.
There was no sign of the Elf outside, but a niggling tingle along my spine let me know there was definitely some powerful Fae nearby.
The closer I got to the store, the worse the sensation became.
Right by the door, I begrudgingly put on the gloves I'd stuffed into my back pocket, once I noticed audible crackles of magic sparking off my hands.
I was still glaring at my hands when Lydia decided to make her entrance, which probably scared a year off my life.
"Yeah, god, was that really necessary?!" I wrung out my hands and tried my best to look stern about it. I failed, obviously, and she just smiled at me, all soft looking and suave without trying to be, arms folded neatly across her chest as she leaned against the shop's doorframe. As much as I didn't like it, I was fully aware that the gloves had been a good call; my hands felt like they were being pelted by hail from the inside.
I don't know if I was frowning, but I definitely noticed Lydia's eyes sharpen to points as she seemed to look me up and down. Her eyes appeared much older than the rest of her as she watched me and finally settled firmly on my hands. She pursed her lips; they tensed downward slightly at one end. As subtly as I could, I tried to get my hands out of her sight, tugging up the sleeves of my sweater to cover as much of them as I could.
"Hi?" I did my best to swallow my nerves and coach my voice into something suitably mellow and tried not to fidget.
"I'm sorry. It was rude of me to stare. Come in." Her entire posture softened at the edges when she looked back up to meet my eyes.
Lydia pushed herself coolly off the doorway and made a quick gesture for me to follow her.
The interior of the store was crowded and packed to the brim with all sorts of probably really interesting curios; none of which I even bothered to look at, because for some reason I was more interested in the way Lydia walked. God, I don't know if it was innate or an effect of having lived so long, but she moved with such obvious grace that it made me wonder how anyone could be deceived into thinking she was human.
Her pace was casual, and every movement was more fluid than I'd seen any other person move with; her posture was definitely not stiff, but undeniably immaculate all the same. I almost asked her if Elves were born with such elegance, (imagine little toddler Elves flopping around but flopping around gracefully,) or if it was another side effect of their long lives. I hadn't really had the chance to watch the other few Elves I'd met like Lydia let me watch her, and I hadn't really wanted to. I mean, I'd never met an Elf that looked old off the bat, but somewhere apparently after year two-twenty-three, they started looking less like people and more like gods imitating people, and they started to take on this annoyingly condescending attitude towards anyone that lived a shorter life. Lydia was, if you were somehow able to avoid becoming a sparking mess, very personable by comparison.
"So uh, why a bookstore?" I cleared my throat and willed Lydia to distract me after I noticed my mind (eyes) starting to wander.
"For books." Lydia smiled coyly at me over her shoulder, making an amused humming noise when I rolled my eyes. "I have a fair deal more research to do before my colleague arrives, and more still before we are prepared for fieldwork."
She led me further towards the back of the store, where there were huge racks of nothing but old books, and I swore some of them had Elvish runes on the spines. Not like I could read any of them if it was; written Elvish was probably three times more of a pain than spoken Elvish.
"You're not cold, are you?" I jumped a bit when Lydia suddenly spoke up, eyeing me curiously from behind a shelf. (I almost laughed; she kind of looked like a cat.)
She smiled again, that annoyingly pretty smile where the corners of her eyes pinched just a little and you could see just a bit that some laughter lines were setting in. Annoying, pretty Elf.
"May I?" Lydia set down the heavy looking tome she'd been carrying and gestured to one of my hands. When I held it out to her she took it in a grasp that was painfully warm, and at once both firm and gentle, but I immediately stiffened when she made a move to take off my glove.
"I wouldn't," she cut me off with a knowing smile, softer than before.
"We're alone save the shopkeeper, but she is hardly a concern; I'd know if there were anyone else. Don't worry." The sudden tenderness in her expression made something in my chest twist. Her eyes shifted and her demeanor turned a bit clinical before I had a chance to really figure out the interaction.
As she pulled off my glove and her skin met mine, the sparking worsened noticeably and produced an absolutely electric jolt right when she touched me; I pulled my hand back and wrung it, but I didn't completely miss the way Lydia had flinched back a little too. Her skin had a bit of a static bite to it, but the acute zap of magic that passed between our hands was an entirely new sensation, like the touch of two live wires.
"Are you okay?" Lydia's concern was immediate, but her gaze turned more curious as I nodded.
"Yeah. Uh, I mean, like it feels like," I rubbed my hand a little more to soothe out the shock. "The best I could come up with is like popcorn. It feels like popcorn, like exploding kernels just all over." I laid my hand tentatively back between hers, and while the sparking once again worsened, I was better prepared for the acute, electric zap that passed from her hand to mine; and it's hard to explain, but something about the unsettled currents of energy felt foreign; they were much older and calmer, and I thought that maybe it was Lydia's magic reacting to raw contact mine.
"Interesting. I don't think I've ever heard of any similar phenomenon, but I also know very little about Fairies." She turned my hand over in hers so her thumbs rested on either side of my palm, and the currents swelled again. Once or twice, larger crackles of energy produced audible pops and Lydia frowned just a little at them. I was fascinated by the flashes of raw energy, and how Lydia's skin would also react, glowing just a little where the sparks of my magic touched her.
I looked up from our hands to take a read of the Elvish woman's expression; my breath got caught in my throat when I found her mossy eyes dead set onto mine. My face started to burn incessantly when our eyes locked. Her stare, as always, was sharp and attentive, and god, such a pretty pale blue-green, like stones that had just started to grow moss. Her eyes played each thought that passed through her head, but I couldn't keep up with their pace enough to translate.
She was still a good deal taller than me, so I can't say that if I moved at all I would have been kissing her, but a knot settled in my gut all the same; I think it was because of how intense her focus was, and maybe even the way she seemed to be consciously stopping herself from moving.
I managed to forget for a second about the fact that Lydia could sense my emotions until I let my eyes fall to her lips and found them slightly curled into a smile that looked just a little sad; it broke me straight out if whatever lull I'd fallen into and I took my hand away from her touch and stuffed it hastily back into my glove. Somehow, it had started to feel like evidence.
I shifted my weight from foot to foot embarrassedly, willing myself to cool down, but not trusting my magic to work properly if I tried it.
"I uh," I coughed again and folded my arms self-consciously against my stomach. "Sorry."
"Just because I know what you are feeling does not mean you are less entitled to feel any way you do. Never apologize for that." She shook her head, her enigmatic smile vanishing like I'd imagined it in the first place;
"I'll do some research on your condition. Maybe I can find something useful." Her voice evened out completely, almost mirror-smooth, but she felt a little more distant, or maybe just thoughtful. I stared at her, a bit unsettled; the way her tone had changed so quickly, so completely, left me with a sour taste in the back of my mouth.
I considered whether or not to ask the question that was bubbling up, because I wasn't totally sure I was ready to hear an answer I didn't like. I figured that was probably the best reason to force it out, though.
"Why did you agree to this? To going out with me? You knew why I asked, didn't you?" I played with the hem of my sleeve as I spoke, lowering my gaze to the old, trodden floorboards, and continued to fiddle nervously during the Elf's silence.
"Empathy doesn't work in any absolutes, but yes, I was as sure as I could have been." Her voice suddenly felt a little too practiced, too artificial, more like the ancient Elves I knew than I had come to associate with Lydia; usually, she was just less guarded, less condescending, less monotonous. It seemed almost like she shut down her youthfulness when she was uncomfortable, which, I think, she kinda was. Her hand messed with the belt loop of her jeans and she didn't seem to realize that I saw it.
"You are," she paused and her face pinched up discontentedly, and it was the cutest thing, even though it made me a bit queasy to be its target, "I don't know how to word it without offending you."
"So this isn't a date?" I tried to separate my voice from the disappointment that weighted my throat and chest. I forced myself to look up at her, but she seemed to be avoiding my eyes while she decided on an answer.
"No, not, not today." She sighed deeply and pinched the bridge of her nose with the hand that had been picking at her jeans. As she became more agitated, her voice came out more rushed and less practiced. "It's not, it's not outside the realm of possibility for us to have a real date in the future, but no, I didn't mean for today to be a date, not the sort you're thinking of, anyway. I'm sorry. I should have made that clearer."
She looked up at the ceiling for a minute and inhaled deliberately, and I think her cheeks had a bit more color to them when she looked back down. "I think I'd actually like to go out with you properly. Soon." Her eyes locked again with mine and the sheer depth in them made me forget to breathe. Heat rushed up all over my neck as she just watched me with those piercing eyes and fuck, I felt like I'd jumped into the ocean, but I'd been expecting little more than a kiddie pool.
I guess I should have seen that one coming, too.