"Remind me again how I ended up here?"
Diana Glendower grinned at her lover and curled her arm through his, despite--or aided by--the close confines of the narrow school bus bench. "I worked my wicked charms on you and once again talked you into something against your better judgment."
"That much is obvious."
Spending his day off chaperoning a high school field trip was not Graeme Shepherd's idea of fun, especially since he'd had to get up early. He had few vices he indulged in--these days, at least. Sleeping in was one he refused to give up without good cause. This was not a good cause.
"Once we get you some coffee, you'll have fun. It's history, Graeme; you'll love it."
"American history is not history."
Diana snorted. "Nothing elitist about you at all, is there?" She squeezed his arm. "Besides, you're the one who decided to move here how many years ago? It's time you learned something about your adopted country."
"Diana, do you think I'm going to learn much on this trip aside from all the most convenient make-out and smoking spots?" He glared over his shoulder at the rows full of high school sophomores and juniors filling the bus behind them.
Her eyes danced with an impish gleam. "The downside being?"
Graeme chuckled in spite of himself. "In playing the responsible adult," he tipped his head and whispered in her ear, "I have no opportunity to explore those 'make-out' spots myself."
"Oh, you'd be surprised at what opportunities might present themselves."
They were interrupted by Leo Krasinski, who leaned over from the seat across from them. "Would you two mind not flirting in public? You're freaking out the teenagers." His grin belied the stern tone in his voice.
Diana slumped down in the seat in a pretend huff. "Oh, fine."
Leo laughed. "I appreciate both of you agreeing to come along on this. Despite their attitude, these kids would have been really disappointed to miss out on this trip."
"I'm certain they would be, considering they get a day out of school," Graeme commented.
"It's more than that." Leo planted his feet in the aisle and rested his elbows on his knees to lean closer. "This trip almost didn't happen half a dozen different times. These are city kids, and they don't get a lot of the extras as it is. Diana knows. It's the reason she's been helping out with the arts education initiative we started. There's kind of an unspoken belief these kids aren't worth it, that they'll waste the opportunity and probably get in trouble while they're gone. Then with all the budget cuts, just getting the bus and driver turned into a major hurdle. So when Andrea, the other teacher chaperone for this trip, burst her appendix Monday, I was desperate. These kids need to feel like a part of their heritage." He glanced back and surveyed the group behind them. "Yeah, right now they've got a lot of attitude and energy, but this is going to impact them. Seeing the place where Lincoln stood, surrounded by all those graves, walking across the field to recreate Pickett's Charge, or crouching down in Devil's Den, they're going to feel it, and it's going to make boring history more real to them."
Leo made a solid argument, which Graeme agreed with. In principle.
It wasn't that he thought American history was unimportant, particularly the American Civil War. He ... well, it bored him. As an academic with his focus on obscure cultures, it was the last judgment he should be making. Yet he was. "I'm glad to help out," he lied.
Leo grinned, seeing right through him. "You are not, but it's still appreciated. And I'm sure Diana will more than make it up to you, won't you?"
She eyed them both. "It all depends on how much of a grouchy bastard he continues to be."
"As soon as the grouchy bastard gets some coffee, he'll be more tolerable." If Graeme hadn't been dragging his feet, trying everything in his power to talk his way out of this, he knew they could have stopped for coffee before rushing to catch the bus. The lack of caffeine didn't help his mood.
She kissed his cheek with a laugh, drawing groans of disgust from the students behind them. "Another hour and a half and we'll be in Gettysburg. You can get all the coffee you want then."
"Promises promises." He slouched down, trying to make himself comfortable in the rock-hard seats. "Wake me when we get there."
Surprisingly, Diana did have to wake him when they arrived.
"Time to play responsible adult, dear," she teased.
"As soon as Leo lays out the itinerary, we'll haul our group to that cafe across the street, get us all caffeinated, and head out."
Scrubbing his face, Graeme adjusted his glasses and prepared for the hell that lay ahead.
They had just gathered when a petite blonde with too much eye makeup slipped in to stand beside him. He vaguely remembered her sitting at the back of the bus with a group of giggling, overly made-up girls.
"Here you go, Dr. Shepherd." She held up the extra large, heavy paper cup as if it were an offering. "Two shots of espresso, half a sugar, all the rest coffee."
Diana was conspicuously not looking at him.
"Mr. Krasinski says thank you again for helping out." She blushed.
"Ah, well." He took the cup, familiar with the reaction. "Thank you for this."
"I want to say thanks too," she went on, ignoring his attempt to escape. "If it weren't for you and Dr. Glendower, we'd have been screwed." She folded her wrists behind her back, with the effect of thrusting her chest forward. "I'm really grateful."
It was worse than dealing with his own students. His accent wasn't that exotic. Bloody Americans. And Diana was being no help whatsoever.
With no other ideas, he saluted the girl with the coffee and started drinking, despite it being far too hot.
She looked ready to make a more overt assault when one of the boys called to her. "Casey, cut it out."
With the lightning-fast fury only a teenage girl could exhibit, she turned on him. "Mind your own business, Michael Jones."
"I am." He grabbed her arm and dragged her away from Graeme. "Sorry about Casey, Dr. Shepherd."
"Yes, well, no harm done."
"Talk about a deep subject with water in it," Diana said, finally joining him.
"'Well.' You used it twice in that conversation. I happen to know your vocabulary is usually more expansive."
"What on earth was I supposed to say?" he hissed.
She slipped her arm through his with an innocent smile in Casey's direction. "How about you're taken?"
He followed her gaze and saw the girl glaring daggers at Diana until she noticed him looking. Then her expression dissolved into a coy smile. "Somehow I suspect she considers herself to have the upper hand, considering your relative ages."
"Good thing you prefer older women."
"Good thing indeed."
The next few minutes proceeded without further incident as Leo laid out the day's itinerary and Graeme grew more caffeinated. By the time the group headed into the visitors center for the no doubt dismal introductory video, Graeme felt slightly more human.
"You've stopped glowering. I'll take that as a good sign," Diana said as they filed in behind their contingent of students.
"The coffee's not half bad," he grudged. Though having burned off half his taste buds with the initial sips probably hadn't hurt.
"I'll make sure to let Casey know."
Diana laughed at him. "You're intimidated by a little girl!"
"You are. You have no idea how to deal with her."
Now he glowered with purpose. "Most of the inconvenient women in my life I kiss into submission."
She remained unrepentant. "Not a good idea in this situation."
"Yes, I had rather figured that out for myself."
The movie began playing and they fell into silence. It wasn't as horrible as Graeme had feared, but it was close. Diana's fingers threaded through his helped.
Following the movie, their group was herded outside and loaded back onto their bus to begin the tour of the park.
One of the park rangers joined them for this part of the trip, standing at the front of the bus droning on with an endless list of names and dates, all the while pointing out the significant sights as they drove through the park. To Graeme it looked like empty farm land dotted here and there with enormous granite monuments standing out incongruously against the fresh grass with increasing regularity, until it seemed the crop of the season was memorial markers rather than something more edible.
The farther into the park and battlefield they rode, the more uncomfortable Graeme became, but it wasn't boredom making the fine hairs on his neck and arms prickle to attention. Psychic sensitivity was quite common in the area, as it was in any place of great tragedy and loss of life. However, he had never been particularly receptive to the energy. Not even during at the height of his magic practice.
Back when they'd first started running together, and in one of his more charitable moments, Peter Oberon, who was sensitive to psychic energy, told Graeme that contrary to popular belief, magic and the realm of the psychic were not one and the same. There could be overlap, but they were separate as well. "Like infrared and ultraviolet." Hopped up on an amalgam of substances at the time, the explanation had been a revelation.
"The coffee's not wearing off already, is it?"
Graeme snapped to attention at Diana's query, realizing with embarrassment he'd fallen into a faint doze. "Sorry," he apologized. There was something almost oppressive in the air.
Diana's look turned from amusement to concern. "You look pale, Graeme. Are you feeling all right?"
"I'm not sure. Something feels ... off."
"I feel it, too," Diana admitted. "Like something's pulling at my ankles but can't quite get a grip. It must be the ghosts."
"It's not ghosts," he stated. He was convinced of that now. Something else was going on.
"I suppose there's no such thing," Diana muttered. "Magic is real and possession and demons, but heaven forbid ghosts."
"That's not what I meant."
"Should we call Peter?"
Part of Graeme thought bringing Peter in would be a very good idea. Diana was still too new to this aspect of reality and Graeme too out of practice, though they had been working to remedy the situation after things with Cassandra and then the string of murders last fall.
But the other part of him thought he was overreacting and didn't care to have Peter mock him for trying to drum up excitement on a rather boring field trip. Besides, the man was somewhere in Europe or Asia right now getting up to trouble Graeme was better off not knowing about, especially since it was likely a hell of a lot more exciting than the field trip he was presently on.
"No. Not yet. It's probably nothing." The farther they went into the park, however, the more that felt like an outright lie. "If there is anything, we can deal with it later."