Tangible Schizophrenia


The Dating Game V: Cosy Tea

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: PG
Pairing: Implied Arthur/Guinevere/Lancelot
Feedback: Good lines, bad ones, etc.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Notes: Teas from The Republic of Tea.
Summary: In which Kitty has tea, probes for information on Arthur, and mercilessly twits Merlin.


Every Wednesday afternoon, Kitty and Merlin met up for tea and talk on the second-floor of a neighborhood café, which was a café in a fairly loose sense of the term. The downstairs was a store that sold incense, exotic teas, and some interesting books on the merits of substances that had been outlawed in most countries. Upstairs, a dreamy-eyed androgyne manned the tea bar and ostensibly kept watch over the patrons, but Kitty had seen people casually walk off with anything from cups to an entire table, so it was doubtful whether the bar-minder was even on the same plane of existence as everyone else.

Nevertheless, the atmosphere was always serene and lowkey, and the view from the window that took up nearly the whole of the wall facing the street was spectacular. It’d actually been Merlin who’d introduced Kitty to the place—he regularly held interviews here—and ever since, she’d been a regular patron of it.

“So what’s today’s flavor?” she asked, disposing her skirts about herself. Though she was not one of those women who favored underdressing far past their age for it, she saw no point in covering up a pretty ankle. Her knees, however, were a slightly different story…the price of gaining wisdom, apparently.

“I thought ‘Elevate the Senses’ might be a good choice.” Merlin handed her the tray, then propped his walking stick against the wall. His hands were gnarled and spindly, but they didn’t betray the slightest hint of age as they pulled out a chair for him. Sometimes it seemed as if time never touched him. “So what news from the philosophers? I assume current trends in economics or drama haven’t changed much since last week.”

She poured them both a cup and added milk to hers, but left his plain. An Asian colleague from the Drama department had gently remonstrated with her about the criminal act of adulterating good tea, but she cheerfully did so anyway. Milk and the odd splash of lemon were such delicate reminders of her college days in England, and she held onto them. “I would have thought you’d select the Tea of Inquiry in that case.”

“You’re being coy.” It was an observation, not an insult.

“Of course I am. The difference between a woman and a whore is often in the timing; one can’t give up everything at once.” Kitty placidly stirred her tea till it was a rich light tan, then tapped the drops off the spoon before setting in on the saucer. She lifted the cup to her mouth, took a deep appreciative sniff, and sipped.

Amused, Merlin let her have her moment. In all the years that she’d been at Avalon, she’d never quite managed to find out what made him tick, what stories wrote those intricate grooves in his stick. He had always been a calm, efficient mystery—a challenge. But it was nice to have something besides interminable academic quarrels to look forward to.

“If you were a whore, being called a good woman would soon become an insult,” Merlin finally said, trying his own cup. He took down a third of it in a deep, soundless draught; the steam rising from the tea snarled on his beard and turned him into something out of a fairy book. “How goes your joint class with Arthur?”

The one twist Kitty had ever managed to find about Merlin. Occasionally Arthur would mutter about some altercation or the other with Merlin, but when pressed, he’d always blink rapidly and mumble nonsense and slip away before she could stop him. He could be surprisingly slippery. And for such a gentleman, apparently quite inflammatory as well—normally Merlin handled rows with a subtly freezing diplomacy that saw both sides quite terrified of him, but the one time he’d been known to raise his voice, it’d been during a private meeting with Arthur.

“Oh, wonderful. An amazing amount of work, but it’s been quite rewarding. In fact, I was about to look into making it a seasonal offering.” Kitty drank a little more tea before turning her attention to the delightful shortbread cookies the store offered. She always came home brushing crumbs out of her skirts, but she never could help herself. “That’s on my end, anyway. I have to say, I couldn’t tell you about Arthur’s. I’ve barely seen him these past two weeks.”

Merlin hummed low in his throat and reached for a cookie. He thoughtfully cracked it in half and spread jam on it. “Is his professionalism suffering?”

“Of course not. He’d get his work done if his desk was on fire.” Naughty metaphor in light of what Vanora said, but the words just seemed to trip off Kitty’s tongue. She hid her smile in another sip. “Actually, he seems to be more relaxed. And his grad students are settling in.”

Except for Galahad’s running war with Mariette, but so far Kitty saw no reason to bring that to Merlin’s attention. A little verbal friction could do wonders for widening people’s perceptions.

Well, that and the fact that Mariette was, as Arthur’s recommendation had delicately put it, “highly motivated.” If she didn’t have something to distract her, she’d run herself into the ground within the next month. Not to mention wear out Kitty like two children and a footloose ex-husband hadn’t. “Speaking of, Merlin—the philosophy department’s rather buzzing with speculation. And I’ve ended up comforting a surprising number of girls from Arthur’s class—that isn’t to say he’s done anything improper because he hasn’t, but they seem to be under the impression that he’s…taken.”

Of course Kitty knew the answer to that, but she was curious to see what Merlin had to say.

And Merlin decided to retreat into curmudgeonly behavior. “Should be a relief for Arthur. He won’t have to hold his office hours in the undergraduate library’s lobby anymore so Dagonet can be witness if they try anything.”

“Now you’re being coy,” Kitty snorted, pouring herself more tea. Honestly. A few of the drama majors with whom she worked could take a page out of Merlin’s book for deadpan. “Oh, come on, Merlin. You know I’m only an occasional visitor to the Philosophy wing. Economics is never anything but depressing nowadays, and drama never does anything but rehash old spites.”

“A man’s private life is his private life, with the exception of when he makes it his public life. A difficult line to determine, admittedly, but from where I’m standing, Arthur hasn’t yet crossed it.” Merlin bit down into his shortbread as if to seal the discussion with his teeth. Occasionally he could give off an air of ancient wildness that was completely at odds with the old-fashioned gentry impression that usually surrounded him.

Kitty was far too advanced in years to pout, but that didn’t mean she had stopped wanting to. “You’re very fond of him.”

It had only been a hook thrown out on a whim, but surprisingly enough, it caught. Even more surprisingly, Merlin acknowledged that it’d caught. “I happened to head up Oxford’s philosophy department before I was offered the position of dean here. My term there and Arthur’s only overlapped by a year, but I remember him as being one of the most capable students I’ve ever encountered.”

Well, that was a fact Kitty hadn’t known; Arthur hadn’t mentioned it at all, and normally he was more than willing to talk about his years at Oxford. Though come to think about it, Kitty had always had the feeling that he was censoring himself. He could lie, but he almost never did it lightly, and so that made it easy to tell when he was. “I always said academia was incestuous. Brought him over the moment you heard he was looking for a new position?”

“And I always say that academics are kindest unkind people in the world. He was in rather high demand; I had a time getting him to pick Avalon.” Merlin finished his cup and poured a fresh one, then offered to do the same for Kitty. When she refused, he set the pot down and returned to applying himself to the cookies. “Same with you, if I remember correctly.”

“Oh, you know the moment I walked onto the campus, I fell in love. Hard not to, considering.” She winked at Merlin over the rim of her cup.

He received it with stony aplomb as usual. Now there was another pity—she’d never pretended that Arthur, if that had ever happened, would’ve been more than a fling (and he didn’t do flings), but Merlin would have been…interesting. It really was a shame he seemed to be a confirmed bachelor; he’d garnered his share of looks as recently as five years ago.

“Then I suppose I’ll just have to get myself invited to dinner if I ever want to know what’s happening in Arthur’s life,” Kitty sighed. She polished off her last sip before carefully dabbing at her lips with the napkin. “He does seem to attract the most fascinating people.”

Merlin’s composure cracked just enough for a hint of slyness to emerge. “I’d suggest you play the grandmother. Otherwise you’ll be provoking his household.”

“And of course, it’s never wise to make enemies of one’s friend’s…companions.” According to the clock, it was time for Kitty to run. She’d just come back from an economics conference in Toronto, and she hadn’t even unpacked, let alone started to hack at the work that had piled up in her absence. “I’ll be good, sir.”

Finally she got a twitch out of Merlin. “Disrespectful professors are the bane of my life,” he muttered, rising to see her off. He let her peck at his cheek, then stole the bill before she could lay down her half. “Next Wednesday I’ll be a bit late. Interdepartmental meeting.”

“I’ll content myself with a few extra cookies, then.” Kitty shouldered her purse and headed off.