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15 minute ficlet

Well, haven't written one of these in a while. Can't say I'm all that happy with how this one turned out, but it's good for practice.

I need to get back to regularly doing 15_minute_fic. I've gotten some really good ideas out of it in the past...

Title: Reading Out Loud
Fandom/original: original
Characters: A lady named Lorelei and an unnamed narrator
Rating: PG, if that.
Word count: 827


Reading Out Loud

It wasn't much of a library, as libraries went. The few shelves were made out of metal, faced in an unfortunate shade of institutional avocado green. Wooden shelves didn't survive long in the Corps. The Loups got nervous, and chewed on them, which when you came down to it was still better than chewing on one of their fellow service members. But jaws made to crack bones in half weren't something normal bookshelves could handle.

So they had to be metal. And cheap, because everything the Corps does is cheap.

Books weren't meant to be chewed on either. Which was why there weren't all that many books, and most of them had missing corners, or little bubbly spots on the covers and crinkled pages where a string of drool had landed.

But no one was going to ban the Loups from the library. Because that's the other thing. You don't tell a Loup where it can and can't go. 99% of the time they just let it slide, give you one of those trademark dreamy shrugs while they stare off into space. It's the other 1%, and the not knowing when you're about to hit the magical number, say a word in just the wrong tone and set one of them off.

So yeah, it wasn't much of a library, but I still spent most of my free time there anyway. There wasn't a lot to do between jobs. I'd never been a big fan of movies, and gambling had really lost its charm after the conviction that landed me here. So it was the library.

I liked books, at least. I liked reading. I liked the smell of the pages, at least on the books that hadn't been soaked in Loup drool. It was quiet, it gave me space to brood.

Or it should have, except Lorelei, my Loup, started following me there.

She was old for a Loup, twenty years past date, so maybe that was why she didn't want to hang around with the younger ones. It was hard to know, because most questions just got a smile and a nod if they got anything. Twenty years past date also meant that Lorelei didn't talk. She probably couldn't remember how, after having her neurons scrambled back and forth who knew how many times.

Twenty years past date didn't make it any safer to try to tell her what to do, though. So if she wanted to follow me, and sit down next to me, and even pretend to read over my shoulder, I just let her. It was easier than contemplating someone who looked like she could be my grandma losing her cool and tearing my face off.

But it was still annoying.

I'd found a copy of Snow Crash that had only been nibbled on a little, had just started reading the first smile-inducing chapter when slid into the plastic chair next to mine. She pressed her shoulder against mine; Loups liked physical contact, and it was one of the few things she could do that I didn't mind. I don't like people touching me, but Loups aren't people, and don't spend their time shoving their thoughts into my head.

"Ever read this?" I asked her.

Slowly, she nodded, staring off into the space above the bookshelves.

"Did you like it?"

Again, she nodded.

"You don't strike me as a cyberpunk kind of gal."

Shrug. That stupid, dreamy-eyed shrug.

I looked down at the book, rubbing the rumpled corner of one page with my thumb. "Want me to read it to you?"

Every other time I'd asked that, it had just gotten me another shrug, but had normally also prompted her to leave. But this time, she pulled her gaze down out of the rafters and managed to look me in the eye. She squinted, like she was trying to really examine my face but was nearsighted.

I froze. That's what you do, when a Loup looks you in the eye. Not because they look anything other than human just then, but because it normally means that something was about to explode. Quite possibly something attached to you.

"I'm not kidding," I managed to say. "I'll read it to you if you want."

Lorelei looked down at the book and carefully turned the pages back to the beginning. Then she nodded, almost to herself, and looked back up at the ceiling.

I cleared my throat and started reading. I felt stupid; I didn't have a good voice for reading out loud, and I never got the pacing or the rhythm right. But as I turned the first page on the adventures of the Deliverator, I stole a little glance back at her face.

She was smiling. One of those floaty, weird expressions like her face didn't work right, but it was still a smile.

So I kept reading. And oddly enough, for the first time in two years, I felt almost normal.

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