She doesn’t look happy to see that I’m the one tending the fire, and I don’t blame her. “Anderson. Did Washuu send you to get me?”
“I’m hardly the best candidate for that.” I toss another log in, being careful to avoid the sparks. “She did blackmail me into tracking you down, but she didn’t say anything about bringing you back.”
“Oh.” She raises an eyebrow as I offer her a drumstick. “Should I ask where you got that?”
“Supermarket. This is a national forest.” I start sawing into my steak. “Besides, I don’t have the patience to wait for some schmuck deer to show up and volunteer itself for dinner.”
That got a short chuckle out of her, but the rest of the meal proceeds in non-profound silence.
“So,” she begins as she finishes off the last wing. “I hear you’re interested in me.”
I almost choke on my coffee. She isn’t supposed to find out, not so soon. “The thought’s crossed my mind, yes. But I’d rather not get arrested.” Or get strung up in Washuu’s lab for making untoward advances.
She leaned against a nearby tree. “Funny, you don’t seem the type to care about consequences when you’re really going after something.”
This is not happening. I am not having this conversation. (There is no spoon, dammit!) “I guess the problem is I don’t know what I want.” Yet.
She smirks. “Only crossed your mind, hm? You’re not at all tempted?”
The universe hates me. “I’m a horny old man pushy fifty and I think I’m hearing a nubile young thing hit on me.” I wash my hands with my canteen, being very careful to avoid looking anywhere in her direction. “Of course I’m very fucking tempted!”
“Me, hit on you? I just had to make sure that I wouldn’t need to sleep with one eye open or something.”
“What do you mean–” Oh, no. Oh, hell, no. “You better not be serious about spending the night here.”
“Do I look like I’m kidding?” She sighed. “Besides, I know Washuu better than you do. She thinks her technology is perfect, so the fact that I’ve managed to find a loophole in it must be driving her bonkers. If you can’t talk me into returning tonight, she’ll be here in person to collect first thing in the morning.”
“–because even if she couldn’t find you, she sure as hell could track me down,” I finish. Fuck. I knew I should have brought something alcoholic. Or at least an extra tent.
She seems to read my mind. “I’ll find some tree nearby. You’ll hardly know I’m here.”
“Too late for that,” I mutter. “So much for ‘girl easily forgotten’. Washuu should have picked a name that suits you better.”
That gets her full attention in a hurry. “What do you mean?”
Oops. Ah, well, no harm in telling her this much. I think. “Washuu collects stories from around the universe, and she named you after this princess from some legend.”
She crosses her arms. “Could you be a bit more specific?”
“I only heard it once, so my memory’s a bit spotty, but it goes something like this: Once upon a time, there was a King whose only child was a girl. Since that country’s society was mostly barbaric, and sexist to boot, this meant that the King had no heir.”
She scowls. “You can skip the socio-political commentary.”
I almost return that with a snarky ‘yes, dear’, but think better of it. “If you insist. Anyway, the King finds some street-rat and manages to convince the world that the kid’s royalty and engages him to the Princess. This infuriates her, of course, because she thinks she’s perfectly suitable to take the throne, and therefore feels that the King has abandoned her. But eventually it all works out because she falls in love with the ‘Prince’, helps him rise to the throne, and bring in a new golden age.”
She doesn’t seem convinced. “You sure you didn’t just make that up?”
I raise my right hand in mock solemnity. “Cross my heart and hope to die. Supposedly, this legend does have historical truth to it, too, but succeeding generations reduced it to mere myth for various reasons.”
“Hm. Well, true or not, it’s a nice story.” She smiles. “Thanks.”
I begin putting out the fire. “Yeah. Too bad real life doesn’t wrap up so conveniently.”