Tangible Schizophrenia


The Art of Roasting

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: R
Pairing: Arthur/Guinevere(/Lancelot), mentioned Galahad/Mariette and Gawain/Tristan
Feedback: Good lines, typos, etc.
Disclaimer: Characters from the 2004 film, not me.
Notes: Cameos by Horatio Hornblower characters.
Summary: Faculty social events are always great opportunities for interesting trades in information.


Arthur stared into his cup of…he supposed it was punch. It had the right color and the right faintly fruity smell, and when he sloshed it about, the consistency was also correct, but he remained wary. Perhaps it was only mid-afternoon and at thirty-six he was among the youngest present, but that didn’t necessarily mean there couldn’t be surprises. Faculty barbecues tended to be excuses for all sorts of stupidity to come out.

He winced and hoped the inner-Lancelot he’d developed wasn’t showing too badly. The events were good for bringing together faculty members from all departments. They nurtured the tight-knit, interdisciplinary atmosphere for which Avalon College—officially a University, but no one called it that—was rightly known. They did have a point.

When they weren’t boring, they were incredibly annoying.

“Ready to jump the fence yet?” Kitty strolled up with cup in hand. She was about two yards away and closing in, but Arthur could already smell a distinct tang. She grinned at his raised eyebrow. “It’s a touch of gin. Preventative measure—I believe a forensics professor made up the drinks this time, and I don’t trust them to have washed their hands first. Want any?”

“No, I’m fine.” Occasionally Arthur regretted being responsible, but it had to be done. He screwed up his courage and took a sip. “Taken straight, it’s not entirely horrible.”

Laughing, Kitty tucked her arm through his and started to usher him towards the fountain, presumably because the tinkling of the water would drown out her bitingly witty remarks. She squeezed his arm. “I do love your sense of understatement. And how are matters with you and your brood? I’ve been so busy lately that I haven’t even had a chance to pester Mariette or the secretaries for the gossip. Which cat did you bring with you?”

It took a moment for Arthur to remember the reference, but fortunately by that time, they had made it to the fountain so his stifled laugh wasn’t overheard by many.

“The more socially acceptable one?” Kitty suggested, a touch of serious query inserting itself into her voice.

Arthur shot her a look. “The one that wasn’t working.”

“Oh, you know I’m joking.” She patted his arm as she scanned the milling crowd, looking past the group of decidedly drunken biology professors and the blonde from…Anthropology?...that had attempted to attach herself to Arthur earlier.

“I know you are.” Come to think of it, where had Guinevere gone? After the second time she’d scared a white-haired old fool senseless, she’d muttered something about finding the bathroom. But even Lancelot trying to gel down his hair didn’t take this long.

Kitty clucked her tongue. “And is that resentment I hear from our resident gentleman? Surely not.”

“Does Guinevere look like a grad student? Actually, it doesn’t matter. Those idiots shouldn’t be leering at grad students, either,” Arthur muttered. He’d knocked back the rest of his punch before he’d even noticed.

“Tsk. If you’re going to be all darkly bitter and handsome like that, you should do it with this.” Before he could move his cup, she’d topped it up with gin. Her smile said not to thank her.

“Oh, Arthur!” caroled a familiar voice.

The one disadvantage of standing by the fountain was that it was relatively centered, so fleeing unwelcome visitors was impossible. Arthur flinched, hunched his shoulders, and then swung himself around to face Morgan, the one forensic science professor about whom Tristan had anything complimentary to say. Of course, he wasn’t her type.

She was certainly an attractive woman, and with her formidable intellect also had to possess more than her share of drive to have gotten tenure so early in her career. But nevertheless Arthur found his hackles rising ever so slightly whenever she came around. Possibly it was her way of looking at him like she wanted to bite down hard. “Morgan. It’s always nice to see you.”

“It’s always nice to hear you say that, even though I’m sure you don’t mean it.” Her tone was light and so were her eyes, but not from ignorance. She liked seeing men squirm. “You know, you’re the hottest talk of this little gathering. We finally get to meet the lovely unknown you’ve been squiring around for the past few months.”

“Guinevere?” Kitty raised her eyebrows and smiled with her lips together. “Dear me, but she’s quite the regular around my end of campus. Why, I even know how she likes her cream.”

On Arthur’s neck, and God, he’d thought he’d shut the door tighter that time. But now was not a good time to blush, so he fought it down. He also wrestled away the urge to just make a break for Merlin, who was walking by with some important alumni who’d dropped in. “I’ll be sure to pass the compliment along to her.”

“I’d think the compliment of having you all to herself would be enough to keep any girl spinning,” Morgan purred. When she leaned forward, she surreptitiously twitched her low-cut blouse southwards.

Arthur stared into her eyes. “She doesn’t, actually. Lancelot couldn’t make it, or else you’d have met him as well.”

Well, at least this barbecue had gotten Arthur a look at what a flustered Morgan was like. She blinked rapidly, frozen awkwardly in place. Then she leaned back and narrowed her eyes, scrutinizing his face. “Lancelot? Isn’t two boyfriends a bit greedy of her?”

“Not really. He’s more mine than hers,” Arthur said in a carefully modulated voice. He sipped casually at his gin and watched Morgan put the pieces together. She was, after all, a highly intelligent woman.

Morgan opened her mouth, closed it, and then nodded stiffly. “How very sophisticated of you. A pleasure, but I see my department head wants a word…”

Kitty was damn near cackling as Morgan made her exit. “Now tell me you don’t get a tiny bit of a kick out of doing that. I utterly adore your take on ‘I cannot tell a lie’ sometimes.”

“I’m glad someone enjoyed that, then. It’s getting rather tiresome for me.” And to be entirely truthful, Arthur still wasn’t altogether comfortable with discussing it so nonchalantly. He was certainly not going to lie or hide, as Kitty had observed, but he didn’t yet have a clear explanation for it all formulated. He wasn’t even sure how to refer to Lancelot and Guinevere: ‘boyfriend’ or ‘girlfriend’ struck him as too topical, but ‘significant other’ was too depersonalized. ‘Lover’ was simply too romantic, considering their personalities.

“I know.” For a moment, the glow faded from Kitty’s face and the years came to the forefront. After all, she’d gotten her divorce back when women had still been fired for such social transgressions. Then she tilted her head and smiled up at Arthur. “You do realize that that’s only temporarily set Dr. Fay back, don’t you? Morgan’s much more resilient than, say, the poor fawning undergrads in your classes.”

Arthur grimaced and allowed himself another sip of gin. Every year said undergrads seemed to resort to even more ridiculous clothing to get his attention, and every year he had to book a section of the u-brary so he could hold office hours without enabling some kind of compromising situation. “Well, at least this year my grad students are drawing off some of them.”

Dimples formed in Kitty’s cheeks as she downed some of her drink; she had an astonishing capacity for her diminutive size. “Oh, I know. Mariette’s come in annoyed more than once. Though of course she’ll deny it’s about that if asked. I’m curious—does Galahad also keep claiming that it’s only coffee?”

“He’s stopped answering that question.” Thankfully enough, because Mariette’s parents did keep in touch with Arthur and did keep asking probing questions about their daughter’s love life. In that situation, Arthur felt that some omission of truth was more fair to Mariette, but he did appreciate how much easier Galahad’s silence made holding to that principle for him. “I think it annoys Tristan as well, but so far no animal guts have turned up in students’ dorms.”

“And how is Tristan? I…” Kitty paused “…Bors told Vanora who told me an odd story about Tristan jumping out of a window a few nights ago.”

Frankly, Arthur didn’t really know. He didn’t ask, either, though of course he was quite worried about that situation. That was because he deemed it an unprofessional mixing of private and professional life—if they were still fighting, he didn’t want details so he wouldn’t be forced to choose. “Gawain seems all right, and Galahad’s not pestering him about anything from that corner, so I think they’re fine. Mostly. The idea of moving in together had come up.”

Kitty hummed and waited for him to go on. Across the lawn, Guinevere emerged from an admiring group of humanities lecturers and walked towards the fountain, sun binding gold into the dark waves of her hair. She looked tense beneath the dazzling smile.

“Gawain jumped a bit ahead of himself—accidentally.” Arthur glanced at the fountain, then poured the rest of his gin into it when he was sure that Bors had moved out all the goldfish that had used to live in there. “I don’t think Tristan would mind, except…it goes back to his mother, a little.” Since Kitty didn’t know anything but the innocuous about Arthur’s past profession, he took a moment to edit history. “She had a job that made them move a lot, and he never really had a choice in the matter. Or in…I hate to speak ill of the dead, but some of the men she let live with them were less than ideal.”

“Ah. Boy forgot to ask. Well, that’s a problem easily fixed once the pride’s out of the way. And I don’t think Gawain would have much of an issue there—he’s a nice young man,” Kitty said with mock-primness. “The important thing is that they talk.”

“Yes, well, Tristan doesn’t often talk about his mother to anyone. And I include myself there.” Which was why Arthur occasionally itched to intervene, but if he did that, he’d lose—rightfully—any trust he’d gained with Tristan over the years. When Tristan wanted to talk about something, he talked about it. Trying to hurry that only led to booby-traps in the bathroom, and that room was dangerous enough when Lancelot and Guinevere fought over it in the morning.

Speaking of, Guinevere had finally extricated herself from her followers and was hooking her arm through Arthur’s. She pressed close in a rather indecent manner…at least according to Merlin’s look at Arthur. Merlin could have an archaic view of etiquette sometimes.

“And I think that’s my cue to let you two elope,” Kitty muttered, having also spotted the Dean. “Hope my colleagues didn’t bother you too much, Guinevere.”

“Only when they were trying to stare down my blouse, or up my skirt. Have you been keeping Arthur free of irritations?” Guinevere murmured, more to Arthur than to Kitty. Her hand was starting to roam.

Arthur delicately shifted so it dropped away and began looking for a reasonably secluded area. Not because he was necessarily going to join the ranks of the rude and lusty, but because Guinevere tended to get physically flirtatious when she was feeling insecure and he probably should get away from the crowd before he found out which of the faculty he’d want to strangle. “I’ll see you tomorrow at lunch, Kitty.”

“Try not to break anything,” was Kitty’s amused response.

Guinevere stayed close and cuddly all the way out of the Dean’s garden. It was a weekend, but midterms were starting so there were rather a lot of students on campus. After a moment’s consideration, Arthur directed them towards the Conservatory. “You don’t have to go to any more of these if you don’t want to.”

“Oh, I’m coming to at least one more. I want to watch Lancelot rip into those damned…” She glanced up at Arthur, then smiled in a more relaxed manner and let her head rest briefly on his shoulder. “No, I’m fine. No need to get into your shining armor and mount up on my behalf. I took care of myself.”

“That, I don’t doubt,” Arthur said, pressing a kiss to the top of her head. The side-door of the Conservatory’s greenhouse was propped open, so he led them through that and into the flowery section. “You really think Lancelot deserves to experience that? I know you’ve been irritated with him lately, but even I try not to go to these more than four times a year.”

She made a face and tugged him to a stop. Then she slowly came around to face him, taking both his hands in hers. “I overheard this woman named Morgan complaining about you,” she murmured, tipping up her head.

“Don’t do anything to her,” Arthur snorted. “Tristan thinks she’s the only forensics professor that cares more about the students—”

A few strands of her hair were trapped between them as they kissed. They smelled better than the flowers, and she certainly tasted better than the punch or the gin.

After a moment, Arthur put up his hands to cradle her face and pull her closer. Her hand bumped at his arm and he moved it so she could stroke over his chest, slow and firm. His breath caught and he suddenly found himself kissing harder, deeper, and Guinevere rose to meet him instead of asking him to ease off. In a matter of moments, they were dangerously near to ruining their clothes on a pile of potting-soil bags.

“Bors—is probably in here somewhere,” Arthur panted, barely holding himself back.

“And I like this skirt.” Guinevere’s eyes were sparkling as she pretended to survey the situation.

A low brick wall held back a raised bed beside them. She tossed one arm around his neck and suddenly she was laughing, tossing her foot up onto the wall so she could wrap her other leg around his waist. Her foot slid off almost immediately, but by then his hands were holding her skirt clear of the soil and she was pulling at her pantyhose so she could perch on the wall without getting them dirty. It was utterly mad and reckless, and Arthur couldn’t stop himself from burying his head in her breasts. He rubbed his nose against them like an over-eager teenager while his fingers played over her cunt and hers over his fly till suddenly they were crushed into joining, kissing messily.

“Have to be fast,” Guinevere gasped, giggling. Then she sucked in a breath and clutched at his shoulder, yielding and unbreakable at the same time. It was a combination Arthur always found irresistible.

About ten minutes later, when they were hastily trying to make themselves decent, she smiled lazily and sighed. “God, I needed that. Work’s been absolute hell. Oh, but we’ve got a name now, so I can complain in specifics. Benedict Clayton.”

The greenhouse was normally on the steamy side, and their recent activities had only enhanced that, but nevertheless Arthur felt a bit chilly. He concentrated on doing up his tie. “Clayton?”

“Know him?” Guinevere idly asked. Her pantyhose had developed a short run and she was preoccupied with trying to adjust her skirt to cover it.

“I know of him.” Which was true enough. Arthur hadn’t heard from him in ten years. But it was surprising…Ben had been a good, morally upright man who’d believed that medical treatment should be offered to everyone, even those that worked crimes in the government’s name. A decade could see a good deal of alteration in a man, but nevertheless…a diamond-smuggling ring? Arthur would have to look into it.

Guinevere shrugged and pecked Arthur on the cheek. “Well, we’re doing fine so far, so I don’t think we’ll be needing any inside information. Just go on enjoying the perks of academia.”

In light of her warm eyes, he couldn’t do anything else but shake off his chill. “Like faculty parties?”

“Like debauchery on university property,” she shot back. “Now, did I taste gin on you? I think I’d better have another try, just to carry out proper due diligence…”