I floundered a bit before she finally chuckled, and waved her hand.
“I’m curious; what sort of Fae have you kept in your company?” I took the divergence like a drink after spending days in the sun.
“I’m kinda friends with some Angels? But they’re all over near the School so we don’t actually see each other much. I know a few Pixies and a ton of other Fairies. I’m not like friends with a lot of them, but I know them.” Lydia’s head tilted a bit to one side. She blinked a couple times, questioningly. I smiled. “Takes a special kind of person to tolerate me, I guess.”
Her eyebrows still pinched a little, the Elf put on a face that was undeniably similar to the one she’d made right before she asked me to help with her research; her lips twitched a couple times almost imperceptibly like she was right on the edge of saying something. In the end, she just made that deep-thought humming sound and let the comment go.
“You’ve never met any of the beastly Fae?” She still had a bit of a crease between her eyebrows as she leaned back again; though her movement this time definitely looked slower. Maybe more deliberate.
“I didn’t know you were looking around those too. But sure, yeah, I’ve met a few here and there. The common ones, mostly; you know, gargoyles and dragons. Though sometimes we get the odd Jersey devil or brownie or mischief passing through. But it’s hard to sneak much of anything into even the slowest of human cities.”
“You’ve never heard it?” Lydia shook her head, but her eyes didn’t leave mine for a second. They sort of came into clearer focus when she got interested in something. It was a good look on her. “I don’t know how popular the term is anywhere else, but I’ve always heard it used as slang for like the tiny, annoying Fae; gremlins and certain types of goblins, usually.”
“I can’t say I’ve heard the word used that way before. Though, in all fairness, I probably haven’t been anywhere near New England since the twenties.”
“Oh my god, were you a flapper?” I straightened and turned to fully face her on the bench, folding one of my legs onto the seat. Lydia’s smile was small and amused, but it also looked a little less enthusiastic than I’d been expecting.
“Would it surprise you to know that Elves also tend to have phases of ugly self-discovery?” She shrugged, watching me intensely, but not excitedly, and I realized I might have tripped over another nerve.
“Emo flapper?” I tried a smile, and it seemed to work just a bit. Not much, but I didn’t really know what I was dealing with anyway.
“No. I did my best to look like everyone else. People were noticeably less comfortable with difference then, and I hadn’t gotten the accent right at the time. Not to mention I had already been taller than some men, and probably looked no older than an eighteen year old human.”
“Okay, two questions there; first, was their accent different then? Second, and I don’t even know how to word this, what the hell is your accent anyway? You sound perfectly local here when you speak English, but then you speak Elvish and suddenly you’ve got this really heavy accent.” That actually got a full laugh out of her, and it made my heart do the thing that probably put me at risk of cardiac arrest or something; I don’t know if my heart was stopping or going too fast, but it definitely had a moment of not doing something right.
“Yes, everything has changed, in some way, shape, or form, since I was last in the region.” Lydia’s voice shifted a good bit higher and she adopted the swap in accent without hesitation. I bit my lip so I wouldn’t immediately laugh because god, the whiplash of hearing a drastically different voice come out of her mouth was almost physically dizzying.
“To answer your second question, accents are less a matter of making languages sound like each other, and more about how one is taught to pronounce a character or set thereof; very few Elves speak anything but their preferred dialect of Elvõrä in our sanctums, so there is no real elvõräven version of English,” she paused and I swear there was a flash of something devilish in her eyes right before she spoke that made me completely sure she knew what my reaction would be. “That being said, if you were to learn English, after speaking exclusively Elvõrä for your entire childhood, being unaccustomed to English pronunciations, it may sound something like this, if memory serves.”
Fucking Elf knew exactly what she was doing and laughed, explosive and uncensored and really fucking cute if I’d been able to pay attention, instead I was trying to resume normal bodily functions and pick my jaw back up.
“You are an absolute asshole.” I managed to breathe out; Lydia apparently found this hilarious and covered her mouth with her scarf to muffle the sound. That was definitely a loss, because even if it was at my expense, I loved the sound.
“Sorry,” she had (thank god) returned to the local accent, but was still getting out the remainder of her laughter. “No, I don’t think it’s a good idea for me to teach you any form of Elvõrä.” (Honestly I was still stuck on how her accent might feel on my neck, and I was desperately trying to pay attention to anything else because I was near combustion.)
“You knew!” I tried to look annoyed, or upset, or even mildly inconvenienced, and failed miserably. She started laughing again and I went to swat her knee with my hand.
Unfortunately, that did not happen.
Because my malfunctioning magic decided to act up at that exact moment.
The flash of magic produced a pop loud enough to silence the Elf immediately, and I startled off the bench before I even realized what was happening.
I landed on the floor with a crunch (I’d later realize this was because I’d fallen on top of one of my wings) that was both too loud and too quiet in the tense silence that followed. Or maybe I just couldn’t hear anything over the sudden hammering of my pulse in my ears.
“Are you okay?” Lydia asked slowly, maintaining the distance I’d inadvertently put between us.
“I think so?” My voice came out way too high, and way too shaky for my liking, but I was too dazed to make a difference.
I looked at the hand that had produced the spark.
It was shaking, and I felt it still sparking under my glove, but otherwise it looked fine.
“Are you?” I forced out around the air that was caught between my lungs and mouth. I didn’t look away from my hand, though I was aware of Lydia making some sort of motion in my peripheral vision.
“I’m fine. Only concerned.” She sighed out a painfully long breath. “You need to find out what is happening. I’ll help, if you like, but this is worse than yesterday.”
“I know,” I floundered and looked up at her. She was already watching me with soft, concerned eyes and a stern twist to her lips. “I’m sorry. You’re sure you’re okay?” She didn’t answer; her stare drifted to the hand I now had cradled against my stomach like it might explode again (using the term loosely, but still). I watched as her face pinched up thoughtfully.
“I think it would be best if I did not help you up.” She muttered, still scowling at my hand. “I think touching you makes the problem worse.”
“Um, yeah,” I shook my head to clear out a bit of the shock, and got to my feet. The unexpected pressure of a sharp angle now pressed into my back made me immediately stiffen.
“Uh, you’re like, you’re completely sure there are no humans nearby?”
Lydia nodded slowly, albeit markedly confused.
I tugged off my sweater and released the charm hiding my wings, turning on a heel so my back was facing Lydia.
Lydia gasped something in Elvish (I’m pretty sure it was Elvish because I knew that accent, but not the words) and bolted to her feet almost too fast for me to register.
“Which one’s broken?” I spayed out my wings so she could see the bottom set better.
“Lower left—“ another something in Elvish.
“Great.” I groaned, “almost blow up an Elf and break my wing. And I haven’t even got to the first date.” I put the charm back up, put the sweater back on, carefully over the bottom left of my body, and turned back to the Elf. She’d gone ash-white and her eyes were open as wide as they could, and one hand covered her mouth. “Uh, you’re sure you’re fine?”
“I’m fine? You’re asking—“ she briefly broke into Elvish again and I think it sounded like a curse. “Your wing is broken and you’re asking if I’m fine?!”
“Yes? You looked... pale?”
It took a second before it caught up to me that Lydia had told me (many times) that she didn’t know much about Fairies.
“Lydia, you do know Fairies molt, right?” The look on her face was absolutely priceless, but I was too touched (floored) by her concern to react.
“I figured that was kind of like, common knowledge? Exoskeletal wings mean we have to molt to grow, so like, it’ll be fine in like four days, at worst next week. I won’t be able to fly until the new shell hardens, but it’s not like I’m grounded for life.” I paused and she just kept staring at me. “I, uh, thanks for the concern though?”
“I’m not even five-hundred yet —I’m not even two-fifty— and you almost gave me a heart attack. You molt?” Now it was starting to set in on me that yes, Lydia did not know much about Fairies, and also she was so incredibly cute even (especially?) when she got worked up past her calm disposition. Seeing her flustered was a welcome sign that she wasn’t as god-like on the inside as she looked from the outside.
“Yeah, I’m a Fairy; Fairies molt. I’ll be dragging around a wilty-lettuce wing for a couple days, but like, this happens to me like once every other month. Twice a month between thanksgiving and Christmas. Holiday weight and all.”
“You’re fine?” She still looked really tense and I wanted to reach out and offer some kind of reassurance, but the whole touching Lydia and sparking like a flashbang thing is starting to seem like it might be a little problematic.
“Totally fine. But, ah, can’t fly for a good three days.”
“How are you going to get home?” The Elf had finally started to thaw out and while she was still staring behind me, (at nothing, since I’d restored the spell to hide my wings,) she took a deep breath and her shoulders dropped.
“I’ll probably talk Laur into picking me up.” I shrugged, “and, like, not to be rude or anything, but I’m gonna call her over now. I have to get this shell off before it gets stuck at an odd angle, and that’s not a pretty process.”
“Of course.” The Elf was almost back to her usual composure, but I think she was still a little too rattled for her humor to come back just yet. It would have been amusing on anyone else, but seeing her worried made my heart twist. I nodded and fished my phone out of the book I’d left it in. I could still feel Lydia’s eyes boring into my back as I walked a few paces away from her.
“Hey Laur,” I drawled out after my sister picked up on the third ring. “You busy?”
“What happened?” I could hear her rolling her eyes through the phone.
“Broke a wing; need a ride; don’t wanna explain to parents.”
“Ugh, send me the address. You’re going to have to explain to me, though.”
“Yeah, yeah, you’re my favorite.” She hung up and I forwarded her the address Lydia sent me.
“Sorry for like, zapping you and having to bail. I, uh, I do like talking to you, though.”
“It’s alright. Talk to whoever you can and try to figure out what’s happening though, would you? I would like to see you again, though I might advise against it until we figure out why I seem to make your problem worse.”
Lydia and I then made small talk, nothing particularly interesting, most of it was about when we were available to get together for her work; more than once, I did catch her staring off behind me, like she expected to see my wings there through my glamour. Until Laurel came wandering into the store to find me.
“Your sister is here.” Lydia said right before the bell attached to the door rang.
“LJ!” I called over once I spotted her wandering past. She approached Lydia and I with a weird look I’d definitely be asking her about later.
“Hey again, Lydia. How are you?” Laurel always got quiet around new people, but something about the way she spoke to the Elf struck me as off; it might have just been that she was especially nervous to talk to an Elf, but I had a gut feeling that that wasn’t the only thing on her mind.
“I’m well.” Lydia’s tone also shifted oddly, and I’d wager that was because she could feel some part of Laurel’s discomfort, if not already have an idea of why my sister sounded not right.
“I’ll see you soon, yeah?” I stood from the bench Lydia and I had gone back to sitting on. The Elf nodded and aimed a heart-stopping smile at me.
“Of course.” She turned to Laurel and smiled lightly at her too. For some reason, it looked less intense than the look she’d given me, but I’d file that under things I wanted to see rather than actually saw.
I felt a weird tug in my stomach as Laurel and I left, almost like I was free-falling but substantially worse than when I was actually free-falling. I pointedly ignored it; I didn’t need any other issues to think about after what had just happened.