A/N: This story is meant to start at Chapter Two
If staring, following, and otherwise stalking fail, and one never manages to partner with desired librarian in spell practice, approach directly in library. Ask for book, any will do. Librarians cannot refuse this request. Conversation starter achieved.
Carlis looked up with a glare, pushing his spectacles back up his nose—but drew up short to see it was Elendt speaking to him. “What?”
“I said, I’m having trouble finding a book, but if I ask that ogre at the central desk again she’s going to put me on a spit and roast me with a nice bit of fire magic, then serve me to all the students.”
The statement was said with so much seriousness, Carlis almost cracked a smile. It was true Head Librarian Kary was not the friendliest of women. Stifling a sigh, because this was only the millionth time someone had asked him for help because it was easier than hunting down the book himself.
Still, Elendt was usually nicer to him than most. For some weird reason, Elendt was never put off by the snapping and glaring and flat out ignoring that drove everyone else successfully away.
He was here to earn his jewels, then a good, solid research position to carry on his private studies and hopefully someday write several books of research on written magic, historical to present. He didn’t have time for messing around like everyone else. Now that he had his jewels, only a year of study was left—it was more important than ever now that he focus.
“What book?” he asked.
Elendt looked startled for a moment, but it swiftly turned into confusion. “Uh—something on wyrms?”
“Something on wyrms,” Carlis repeated flatly. “What kind of something on wyrms?”
“Uh—general history?” Elendt tried.
Carlis wondered what exactly was going on, and if he was being set up for some prank. The bastards had tried that before—but quiet and hardworking and purposely stand-offish did not stupid make, and even now they still sat on the opposite side of the room. He smirked briefly at the memory of that prank gone wrong, but then recalled he had a current Unknown to deal with. “This way,” he said tersely, and led the way through the tall stacks, navigating the maze-like library with ease.
He’d begun working in the library his very first day at university. It was the one place he felt at home, hidden amongst the books—until the people showed up anyway.
Reaching the section housing all the bestiaries, he quickly moved through them to the shelves containing all the books on wyrms, pulling three down after only a moment. “Here,” he said. “These are all excellent general books on wyrms. We can also pull some from the history section, if you like.”
Rolling his eyes, not even bothering to pretend he was anything other than harassed, Carlis stalked off toward the history section, not really caring if Elendt could keep up.
Not that he really doubted it. Elendt was one of the top soldiers in the academy—easily within the top ten, even Carlis knew that, and he made it a point not to waste his time on useless information. No doubt mages were already lining up to bond with him, and go cavorting off to slay wild beats.
He reached the history section and turned sharply to wait impatiently for Elendt to reach him –but wound up crashing right into a broad chest that was hard, but shockingly warm, and books that were also hard but decidedly less pleasant to crash into.
Pleasant? Nothing about crashing into anyone was pleasant. Scowl deepening, he jerked away and hastily pulled down another half dozen books. These should keep the idiot soldier occupied. “Anything else I can help you with?” he asked, in a tone that said the answer had better be no.
Elendt blinked at him, and Carlis noted his eyes were an odd dark blue-gray. Sort of like an evening sky—except that sounded like he’d spent too much time amongst the poetry stacks and really, what sort of glutton for punishment did that?
Scowling at himself, he pushed past Carlis, no longer caring what his answer might be, and went back to his own work behind the safety of the tall, deep desk of a Senior Librarian.
If one completely and utterly fails to strike up a conversation, repeat until one manages to get it right.
“Could you help me find a book?”
Carlis rolled his eyes as he dropped his pencil, then scowled at Elendt, decidedly not impressed by the sheepish smile or the floppy hair or the anxious look in the blue-gray eyes. Honestly, what was Elendt doing? He had never known Elendt to carry around more than class-required texts in all their years at the University—though he had to concede he’d never paid attention, either. In his head, the Combat half of the campus seemed to carry weapons more than books.
Sighing, he shoved back his chair and rose. “What book do you want tonight? You do know you can only check out up to ten at a time, right, Elendt?”
Elendt looked at him in surprise, then smiled in a way that seemed…almost ridiculously sweet and happy. “I didn’t think you knew my name.”
“Why wouldn’t I know your name?” Carlis snapped, irritated for no good reason. He was a jerk, not an ass, and they sat right next to each other in Bonding class and seemed to have as many classes together as was possible for a mage and a soldier to have in common. He wasn’t that oblivious. “Whatever. What book?”
“Tea?” Carlis repeated, actually taken by surprise on that one.
“Yes,” Elendt said, looking pleased with himself. “Don’t you like tea?”
Carlis eyed him, and wondered if it was tea that Elendt liked drinking, and if he’d had any tea in the past hour or so. “Yes,” he replied cautiously.
“I-uh-thought so,” Elendt said, growing hesitant again. “You read a lot in that teahouse at the corner of Elder and Crest. Well, you read a lot everywhere, I don’t think you ever stop reading, it’s really impressive—uh. That is. I just thought it might be nice to know more about tea, seeing as I drink it so much?” He looked rather uncertain about this pronouncement.
Shaking his head, not certain if he should laugh, agree simply to calm Elendt down, or sigh in exasperation again, Carlis led the way through the stacks to where books about tea could be found. What game was Elendt playing, seriously? This was going on three weeks now he’d come in and asked Carlis to help him find some book—and the subjects had no correlation. They seemed to be picked completely at random. Did Elendt even read them?
Reaching the stacks, he perused the shelves a moment, not being quite as familiar with this section as he was others—then he realized the books he sought were just out of reach, and heaved a long sigh of annoyance. It was not worth it to go and find a footstool. Grasping the edge of one shelf, he levered himself up on his toes and stretched—but still could not quite reach.
Then something pressed up against him from behind, and a calloused hand brushed his briefly. “Which one?” Elendt asked, voice so close to his ear, and good gods had his voice always had that gravelly, husky tone to it, and why was he noticing—Carlis yelped in surprise. Then he realized how loud he’d been, and clapped a hand over his mouth.
And only then realized he had totally lost his balance, except not, because he was even more firmly pressed against that broad chest he’d been noticing more than he felt like admitting, and Elendt’s arm was wrapped around him, steadying him.
Jerking away, ignoring the way he could feel his face had gone bright red, he hissed, “The large brown one, and the two smaller yellow ones.”
Elendt nodded, and retrieved the books in question.
“Anything else?” Carlis asked.
“Uh—I’m sorry?” Elendt asked. “I didn’t mean to startle you or anything.”
He looked so perfectly wretched and…well, devastated, that Carlis could not stay angry, even though he tried. “It doesn’t matter,” he muttered, looking away when the blue-grey eyes brightened. Honestly, why did the idiot look so pleased when Carlis was even the slightest bit nice to him?
It made him fight between an urge to be meaner, just to reestablish the proper order of things, and be nicer, which was just irritating. He wasn’t here to be nice to anyone—he was here to become a real mage, and then go on his merry way.
“So, did you need anything else?”
“Uh, well…not, really, I guess. What kind of tea do you like?”
Carlis blinked at the odd, sudden question. He considered telling Elendt something nasty, but honestly, he could not stand when the idiot looked like a forlorn puppy. “Rose,” he said. “I like rose tea.”
Of all the things he expected, it was not for Elendt to look so damned excited. “Really? My mother makes the best rose tea in the village. She just sent me a package of it! I’ll bring you some tomorrow, if you like. Thank you for the books!” Then he dashed off as though on a matter of great urgency, leaving Carlis horribly confused and with the beginnings of a headache.
Attempt to sound intelligent, instead of like a massive idiot. The desired librarian is rumored to be a genius, and would have no interest in a nitwit whose best line is ‘what kind of tea do you like?’. Hide in room like a coward for a week, then sally forth and resume bumbling courtship. Remember – intelligence!
“So did you like the tea I sent you?” Elendt asked anxiously.
Carlis looked up in surprise, having thought that Elendt had finally had enough of him after their parting over the tea books a week ago. He had not seen a single trace of Elendt since, and if he had been crankier than usual according to the rest of the librarians, well, what did they really know? “Yes,” he said.
Elendt smiled as though he had just been offered a small kingdom or three. “Good, I’ll have her send extra next time. Um—”
“What book?” Carlis snapped, irritated. Why did the man keep asking for books that he probably never read, probably never looked at, probably did not even want. Was that the only reason he came in here? To harass Carlis for books he didn’t want?
Not that he cared, because he didn’t, except that his time was being wasted.
Elendt seemed to wilt a bit, but Carlis refused to feel guilty. “Uh—I was hoping for some more on tea, actually. It was oddly fascinating. Oh! More on castles, too. I had no idea so much went into their making, it’s beyond anything. Have you read those ones? Oh, maybe some books on magic, as well. I’m hoping to Bond someday, but I’m usually too tired in class to pick up as much as I should.”
Carlis nodded stiffly, thawing slightly as he realized the full implication of what Elendt was saying. “So…are you actually reading all those books you request?”
“Yes?” Elendt said. “Why wouldn’t I read them? I like reading, I just don’t usually have much time for it. Homework and practice and all that, you know.” He shrugged, then winced and reached up to touch his ribs—but then he seemed to realize Carlis was watching, and let the hand fall again. “Anyway, do you have some more?”
“Of course,” Carlis said, fighting a strange and sudden urge to do something stupid like smile. “It’s a library, there are always more books. Come on, then.”
Did Elendt really like to read? Since when? Wouldn’t he have noticed? Of course not, why would he notice what Elendt did or didn’t like to do? Why should he care? “So what’s wrong with your ribs?”
“Just bruised a bit,” Elendt said. “We always get banged up a bit in melee drills. Kind of hard to avoid it. Not getting bruised in melee drills is like not finding a book in a library.”
Carlis laughed before he could catch himself, but hastily cut it off. He scowled when Elendt decided to look entirely too pleased with himself. “Let’s go find your books,” he said, annoyed that he had to work to interject irritation, wondering if perhaps he’d inhaled too much paper dust or something that week.
He was still wondering that when Elendt left over an hour later, thoroughly confused that they had spent most of that time conversing, and thoroughly annoyed that he was both in a good mood and disappointed that Elendt was gone. He scowled at his homework, grateful that something was at least being obediently scowl-worthy.
Success is close! Do not screw up! Instead, gather courage and ask the desired librarian out for—tea? Dinner? Bookstore? Hopefully inspiration will strike about the same time as courage.
Elendt was late. Carlis frowned, annoyed that he would even think such a thing. But, he had been unable to notice that Elendt always arrived at the same time – exactly two hours after the final dinner bells rang.
It was two and a half hours past, already. Where was he?
Not that he cared. It would be nice to go one night without having to track down the most random books Elendt could contrive.
The sound of laughter, belatedly muffled, drew his attention. He glanced up, but decided the table would be silent—but just as he went back to his own work, they erupted again. Standing up, grateful to have someone to yell at that though he could not say why, he stalked to the table.
By the time he reached it, they were already contrite and fearful. When it seemed they would play mute the rest of the night, he decided a stroll around the perimeter couldn’t hurt. At least it would give him something to do, and take his mind off why Elendt had not shown up. Not that he cared. He was just restless, after working twice as hard to prepare for his exams.
He strolled along the massive floor-to-ceiling windows that formed the northern most wall of the library, glancing idly out at the smattering of students standing around outside—and faltered as he saw a familiar face amongst them. Elendt…
Who had his arm slung around the shoulders of a short, pretty mage that Carlis sort of recognize—he was the irritating one who always laughed at everything and grinned like a halfwit and—
Then Elendt threw his head back and laughed and laughed—and then threw his arms around the ugly, obnoxious mage and hugged him tight.
Carlis jerked away from the window and stalked back to his desk, staring hard at his papers but unable to make any sense of them.
“Good evening,” came a warm voice, making him jump.
He glared up at Elendt, who recoiled. “I don’t have time to find your stupid books tonight.”
“I’m certain your lover will be more than happy to help you,” he said, still furious and not caring that his voice was too loud because really, he was too busy to fetch stupid books for stupid soldiers who showed up late because he was busy flirting with a stupid empty-headed mage.
Fine. He didn’t care. He had better things to do. Throwing all his things into his satchel, he slung it over his shoulder and stalked out. He wanted away, he wanted out, and he hoped a shelf in the oversized section fell on Elendt’s stupid head.
He thought he heard Elendt call his name, but only increased his pace, storming away from the library and back to his dorm room as fast as he could without losing the last of his dignity by running.
Carlis felt miserable. He wished—he wished the stupid idiot—
He didn’t care. He didn’t. Let the nitwit flirt wherever he wanted, it wasn’t like he’d ever wanted more than a fetcher of books from Carlis. Hadn’t he always strived to be so unpleasant that no one would bother him? He should be pleased it worked so well. He was pleased it had worked so well, so there. Elendt could just flirt with his halfwit and find his own books and they would all be happy.
A soft cough broke into his thoughts, and made him jump. Jerking his head up, he glared hatefully at Elendt—who looked so damned depressed and forlorn and wounded puppy, he faltered. Almost. “What?” he snapped.
“I just—uh—” Elendt abruptly dropped a book on the table. “I just wanted to return this. Sorry. Um. For bothering you and stuff. Goodbye.”
Carlis started to acidly reply that he was not the book return station, but before he could get so much as a word out, Elendt was gone. Scowling, he dropped his gaze to the book—then immediately frowned. He hadn’t picked out a book like this for Elendt. It was…
It looked more like a private journal. Maybe, he thought bitterly, the halfwit had chosen it. Picking it up, he flipped it open to the title page—and stared in complete bemusement.
How to Court a Librarian
Frowning, confusion growing and growing, he flipped through the book, reading the small neat print—the ‘instructions’ that had obviously been written by Elendt, all his careful notes—on tea, on other things he thought Carlis liked…
But what about that stupid halfwit?
Had Elendt really been trying this whole time? But why?
Swearing loudly, not really caring that everyone glared at him—his glares were far much worse—he bolted across the library, dashing outside then looking around in vain, oh where would the idiot go and why didn’t he know?
Muttering more obscenities, he whipped around to go ask around the main armory—and slammed smack into a wall. A familiar wall, to judge by the leather and tea scent he’d come to associate with Elendt, even if he had tried hard not to do that.
Rubbing his nose, he angled his head up to scowl. “What are you doing back here?”
“I—sorry? I just…” Elendt sighed. “I just thought I’d try one more time? Stupid as it must seem…” He looked at Carlis, the very picture of misery.
Carlis frowned back, still sort of confused. “You were with that halfwit from Bonding class.”
“Huh?” Elendt said, looking just as confused. “Heath? He’s my cousin, he got engaged last…” His eyes popped open. “Oh. Is that why you were mad?” He looked suddenly the very opposite of miserable. “Um—I’m sorry, I ran late last night because Heath wouldn’t shut up about his engagement and of course I was happy for him…” He trailed off, uncertainty returning as he glanced from Carlis to the book Carlis still held, back to Carlis.
Damn it, he did not want these kinds of distractions. He didn’t. Except, well…maybe he did. A little bit. But only Elendt. Everyone else could go stand beneath a collapsing bookshelf. “You have terrible taste in manuals,” he said sharply, shoving the book into Elendt’s chest. “The next time you require such assistance, you should try asking a librarian.”
Elendt’s smile then made it very, very hard to keep scowling. “Oh?” he asked, reaching out slowly, cautiously, to wrap his hand around the one still holding the book in place against his chest. “What would a librarian advise?”
“Tea,” Carlis said tartly, then added challengingly, “and a kiss, so I know whether or not to get you a book for that—”
No, he decided several minutes later, Elendt did not need a book on kissing.