"That's, ah, that's good. Good, good, good." I liked to think she didn’t notice the heat that welled on my cheeks and ears, but I could've sworn I saw her twitch, a barely-there smile pressed in the curve of her lips.
"Uh, you, um, you still haven't like told me what you wanted me here for today?" I nudged her arm gently with my shoulder, pointedly ignoring that muffled tingle of electricity where we made contact. Lydia suddenly looked so much younger as she cleared her throat and took convenient interest in a book. Once she had just a couple seconds to put herself together, her voice returned to its usual cool, but not uncaring, timbre.
"Yes, I wanted to clarify my intentions first, so you know I'm not trying to take advantage of your feelings, whatever they may be." I felt my face warm just a little more at how casually she skated over my attraction because I know she knew full well what my feelings were. Regardless, she looked grateful for the change in topic.
"Okay? So?" The Elf's lips pulled apart into a small, sheepish grin.
"To be honest, I haven't quite figured out how to say it."
"Damn, is it that bad?" My laugh had a nervous waver to it that I hadn't meant to let slip.
"No, not at all," Lydia's eyes pinched at the corners, and damned if the little laugh she let out didn't turn my stomach into a butterfly house. "It's nothing bad at all, but I can't seem to find a way to ask it of you without sounding like an absolute asshole." I giggled involuntarily; Elves were considered notoriously proper, and I thanked whatever gods were listening that I managed to meet one that cursed. There was something absolutely adorable, honestly really hilarious, about hearing Lydia use asshole to describe anything.
"Try me." I nudged her elbow again, ignoring that stupid static. Lydia hummed thoughtfully and turned to examine the racks of old books.
"I study Fae. I like to call it zoology most of the time, but when it comes to more," she paused, putting a finger to the spine of the book she was eyeing, dragging it along as her focus shifted between tomes. "When it comes to the more intelligent Fae species, the word leaves a bad impression." She chuckled there but still wouldn't look back at me. "Imagine, trying to convince a Centaur to allow me to study it if I called the practice zoology." She tapped her finger twice, slowly, against one book before she pulled it out from the shelf.
"I promise it would be nothing invasive, you could stop me if it ever were."
"You want to study me?"
"Not, really not you personally, that would be unprofessional and my credibility is already questionable at best. Objectively speaking, however, yes; you, as a Fairy, are an incredible opportunity." I tried breaking the whole thing down into smaller, more palatable sections but found myself unable to get past the bitter tone she'd taken when she mentioned her professionalism.
"Wait, why are you not credible?"
The Elf, for some reason, found that to be reason enough to face me, and a heavy expression painted her face; a pained smile and a deep, smoldering sort of anger in the clench of her jaw and firm set of her brow. She was still smiling though, I think to try and temper her frustration into a less menacing package.
"I'm young." The answer was simple and curt, but sound that followed was so different from everything else I'd heard from her; it was wet and throaty, and dripping with sarcasm, barely molded into the pretense of a laugh. I got the feeling I'd accidentally poked around a sore spot. It would have been scary, I think, if any of her sudden shift seemed directed at me.
Without thinking (like at all, for god's sake) I felt myself move closer to her. My hand touched hers, a fist balled at one side, and watched as the tendons in her forearm twitched, then started to relax. Her fingers fell loosely back down. I could still feel the static of her skin though, even through the glove.
"I'm sorry. I should have better control of myself." She breathed out, her posture relaxing and her face returning to the suave smile that I couldn't help but want to peek behind.
I pulled the glove off one of my hands.
"Like I'm one to make any judgment about your control." I waved the incriminating hand with a flourish, showing off the sparks of magic that shot off it. Her eyes were still a bit distant, and maybe even a little sad, but her smile still felt genuine. I put the glove back on, still weary that somehow Lydia would miss a human sneaking into view.
"So, this lab rat gig, what do you want from me?" The Elf's brow creased with confusion, then surprise.
"You, you're considering this?" I nodded once, slowly. "I didn't think, I mean," she cleared her throat, "it's nothing hands-on, I try to avoid that when I can. A lot of it is simply providing contacts with more information, and, if you can, add any information of your own."
"Sure, yeah, I'm down." My heart fluttered as her eyebrows climbed, and her eyes widened with genuine shock.
"Yeah? I think I've made it obvious that I enjoy your company, anyway."
The Elf's surprise morphed into a full-frontal grin, and if I thought my heart had been misbehaving before, I was out of words for just how much Lydia's unrestrained happy face affected me. I swear I heard a spark crack even through my gloves.
"Perfect." Her smile remained as she went back to browsing the books. "You've got my number, send me your availability, I'll send you mine, and we can move forward from there."