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support, defense. . . love?

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"Tell me I'm being dumb, Leon," Charlie pleads, frantic, the moment he picks up the phone.

There's a silence. If Charlie had demanded the same thing from her parents, she would have gotten an insulting “you are being dumb” first, and then the worrying. Leon isn't like that, well-versed in chirping, but also well-versed in not being an asshole. Charlie thinks it comes with not being a hockey player.

"Is everything… alright?" Leon's voice sounds tiny, worried. Whispers and fast steps, which probably means Charlie interrupted him while he was in the library.

"Tell me I'm being dumb and I have dumb ideas."

"You do have dumb ideas," Leon happily chirps after a few seconds. He sounds louder, either out of the library or cramped up in the bathroom, now. "But maybe you aren't being dumb. What's up?"

"You know how I've been getting death threats?" Casual, or as much as she can manage.

"What?" Leon asks, loud. "No, I― I thought they were just threats and insults? Of the normal kind? Or as normal as a threat can get, I guess."

"They escalated, keep up," Charlie snaps, meaner than she intended. "I just― I know our parents are politicians, but we should not be dealing with this. Why do I have to feel anything other than anger and hunger? Why do I have to be afraid?"

"You didn't mention happiness there at all, Char," Leon muses. "Have you mentioned it to Papa?"

"Lord, no. The moment I tell Marc, whether I go for my idea or not stops being my choice."

Leon makes a noise, as if trying to get her to continue, and then, when she doesn't, asks, "Which idea?"

Leon sounds tentative, almost afraid. Charlie understands that she's had bad ideas through the years, that she has always done whatever she wanted to do without thinking too much about the consequences. Like that one time when she was five and she was telling Leon a story and to illustrate it she tried to climb a tree. Leon does not remember how it happened, but he's been told the story, and he wasn't surprised.

"I've been thinking about hiring a bodyguard."

"Char―"Leon starts, tone indecipherable. There's a second of stunned silence, and then a loud laugh. "Char, that's a good idea!"

***

The choice is taken out of her hands when she tells Marc. He's always been Marc, not Papa, when he does stuff like this, telling her that she should be more careful with her safety, telling her that receiving threats down at the administration desk of her dorm in college is worrying and she should never hide that kind of stuff. That she is the daughter of a public figure, and that she is getting a bodyguard whether she wants it or not.

She had already made the choice of hiring someone, so that's not what angers her―it's that Marc is trying to tell her off for waiting all of three weeks to tell him. She can hear Leon's voice in the back of her mind, trying to put an arm around her shoulders and tell her she should listen to Papa, but she has never done that, and is not going to start now.

Dad is worried, asks her a thousand questions, but he doesn't try to give her a lecture, and that's why he gets a hug goodbye and all Marc gets is a list of requirements her bodyguard should meet if she is going to let them work with her. He grumbles, but Dad makes him take the list with a kiss on his temple, soft, and whisper on his ear, even softer, so that Charlie cannot hear it.

The curriculums arrive three days later. Charlie is almost sure that this is a process that usually takes several weeks, but no one wants to cross Marc when he has that look on his face he always gets when he is determined. 

She goes through them instead of reading her class notes, anxious. Yesterday, another menacing note arrived for her at the administration desk, and she briefly thinks of thanking Marc for being this fast, but she doesn’t want him to get a big head about it.

There are a few things she wanted―she didn’t want people to know she had a bodyguard. Someone who looked more or less her age, someone who was willing to sit at the back of her classes and look innocent, who could pass as a friend if they were seen walking together. Marc thought it was not smart ―the whole point of having a bodyguard was for people to know you’re being defended, he had said, exasperated.

The curriculums are a mix of what he wanted and what she wanted. She puts the ones that adapt to what he wanted apart ―she considers throwing them in the garbage, but decides it would be too petty. 

“I need your help for a final choice,” Charlie says the moment Leon answers the phone. “Jaya or Mike?”

“I― what is this for, a couples project? Jaya, I guess. Sounds smarter.”

“Good choice.” Charlie hangs up, and calls Marc to let her know about her decision. He arranges everything for her, which she’s thankful for, but does it while complaining the whole time, which she isn’t.

***

Jaya arrives a few days later. She seems strong, which Charlie appreciates. She also has a patient air about her, which she doesn’t care about, but her family would probably say was a requirement for her not to quit after three minutes.

“Nice to meet you.” Jaya shakes her hand. “I look forward to working with you.”

“Yeah, right. Look, I’m kinda late to a class I wasn’t gonna go to, but a friend just texted me that the professor said the paper we had to give in should be given by us in person, so we’re gonna run over there, you’ll sit in the back and then we’ll talk?” 

“I― Okay, of course,” Jaya says, overly formal and obviously confused. Not as confused as Charlie might have expected, so Marc probably filled her in on the situation. She looks determined, and not at all like she doesn’t think it’s weird that Charlie’s someone planning on being a politician who deliberately schedules appointments when she is supposed to be learning.

Charlie likes her.

***

“Come in,” Charlie orders, later that evening. Jaya is standing right outside her door, hands behind her back. She’s wearing black jeans and a white shirt, formal, but not enough that she should look out of place. However, she is standing outside in a tense position, which is both suspicious and making Charlie nervous.

“What? No.” Jaya frowns, looking at Charlie like she has grown a second head. “This is the only entrance to your room, and your window is protected. It’s best if I stay here.”

“You’re making me nervous. Come in.” Jaya stays put, with a slightly mocking look on her face. Not mocking enough Charlie can call her out on it, but it’s still enough that Charlie knows her intention is to stay outside. “Ugh, okay.”

She slams the door closed. She has a dumb idea, which is never a good thing, and considers for a second texting Leon so he can give her his opinion. She doesn’t, in the end, just grabs her class notes and opens the door again, in time to see Jaya’s triumphant face disappear. 

She sits next to her legs, on the floor, and starts reading her class notes. “Ehm… what are you doing?” 

Charlie doesn’t mover her eyes from the writing on the page, even though she’s not actually trying to read them. “I’m trying to study, shhh.”

The next day, Jaya goes into the room without saying a word, and stays there the whole evening.

***

They become friends. Charlie knows herself, and she talks a lot. She talks a lot  when she’s on her own, with no one to listen, so it’s even worse when she’s offered a brand new pair of ears that has nowhere to escape. 

Jaya is rational, level-headed. She tells Charlie to calm down when she’s ready to bite a professor’s head off. She also doesn’t want to tell Charlie personal things about herself, which is infuriating as hell.

“Do you have brothers?” She asks, and Jaya doesn’t ask. It’s a no― she has this way of looking all amused whenever Charlie gets something wrong. “Sisters?” Same look. “Do you have a boyfriend?”

This time, the amused look is accompanied by a slight eye twitch. “Oh, you have a girlfriend!” 

Jaya groans, puts her hand against her forehead in what Charlie has learnt is a polite facepalm. “I’m single.” She says it through gritted teeth, all serious. 

“Not by choice, though,” Charlie needles. “You kinda look like you want to scream.”

“I do not,” Jaya says, but her eyes are closed and she isn’t looking at Charlie. Charlie smirks at her anyway.

***

“Whoever is sending these threats always waits until the desk downstairs is empty. Maybe if I waited around, hidden, I would see them and―” Jaya is saying, eyes fixed on the door, like the person is going to come barging in with a knife―which is an option, based on last week’s threat.

“But if you’re downstairs who is with me?” Charlie asks, trying for annoying. Ending up on vulnerable, though, which is the last thing she wanted.

“I will not let anything happen to you,” Jaya says, all serious, putting a hand on Charlie’s shoulder. She doesn’t touch her often, so it’s even more meaningful, and Charlie― 

Oh.

***

“I’m having a sexuality crisis,” Charlie says, as clear as she can taking into account that Jaya is standing right outside, so she won’t have to repeat herself.

“Oh,” Dad says. He sounds confused, but―supportive, maybe? There’s not much support the sound “oh” can convey, but it’s still there. “I―of what kind?”

“Could you email me one of Marc’s pamphlets?” Charlie asks. She doesn’t want to talk about her sexual orientation with her parents, and she doesn’t have many friends, but Marc gave her the talk. He did that, and now she calls at a time she knows he isn’t home, so she can avoid the most embarrassing parts of that. “And then hang up? You aren’t allowed to be supportive right now.”

“Oh, thank God,” Dad whispers, far away from his phone, and then, closer, “Tell me how that goes, Char.”

***

“Dad told me to talk to you,” Leon says. Jaya is in the room, and Charlie sends her a look, scared of what Leon might say in front of her. Jaya is looking straight at her, and starts walking towards the door as soon as their eyes meet. “Said you might need someone to be here for you, and that he wasn’t allowed, apparently. Oh, is that Jaya?”

Charlie looks at her part of the screen, and Jaya is just crossing behind her. All she does is nodding in Leon’s direction, a polite “hi” said way too low for the mic to pic up, and then she’s out the door.

“She’s pretty,” Leon comments as soon as the door is closed.

“I know. She’s also a lesbian.” Charlie doesn’t know if she’s saying this out of jealousy or out of a need to protect her little brother. 

“Oh,” Leon says, a little sad. He then looks suspicious. “You know?”

Charlie slams her head against her desk, full force. She doesn’t care anymore, her life is over. 

***

The next threat is―bad. Worse than most have been. Jaya stopped letting her read them a while ago, but this one is especially violent. Charlie is shaking as she puts the paper back where she found it before Jaya comes back.

Jaya knows the moment she walks in, looking at her bag and then at Charlie. She’s too damn observant for her own good, and apparently for Charlie’s good too. Charlie tries to look nonchalant.

“Move,” Jaya says, and Charlie gets up from her armchair. Jaya sits down in her stead, and then grabs her, so they’re sharing the narrow seat. “I told you not to read them.”

The scolding tone is not working. It might have, any other time, but Jaya’s arm is around her shoulder and she’s obviously worried. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.” 

“You’re gonna be okay,” Jaya mumbles, against Charlie’s hair, and then there’s a kiss being pressed against her head and―she kind of believes it.

***

It’s kind of anti-climatic, when Jaya catches the guy sending the threats. She is doing her rounds near the desk, hidden, and sees him leave a letter for Charlie at the desk. She follows him, calls the police, and he’s soon arrested.

Jaya tells Charlie this with a grinning face, looking all successful, and Charlie―Charlie kind of wants to kiss her.

“I guess you won’t need a bodyguard anymore?” Jaya says. She sounds both full of doubt and full of hope. 

“Maybe not,” Charlie lies. Marc won’t let her go back to being without a bodyguard now, but this is more important. “I might need a girlfriend, though.”

Jaya’s face lights up. “You will?”

“Yeah, I think so,” Charlie says, and they’re both grinning, and standing closer. “Anyone in mi―”

Jaya kisses her before she can end, her lips soft, a hand on Charlie’s hip, and Charlie feels―

She feels safe.