Tangible Schizophrenia


Day-Planner Dependency

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: NC-17
Pairing: Arthur/Lancelot/Guinevere, Gawain/Tristan
Feedback: Good lines, bad ones, etc.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Notes: Cameos from Horatio Hornblower. Slight mention of Game-verse, but knowledge of that definitely not necessary. For non-British people--‘pants’ means underwear.
Summary: Arthur is a man enslaved to his schedule. Such as it is.


8 A. M.: Review CVs

Arthur looked longingly at the neat stack of papers waiting for him. “I thought you and Guinevere were supposed to be testing some new system today.”

*Oh, yeah, but that’s not for another hour. Probably longer, since she’s got to meet with Isolde to exchange some info. I’ll be lucky if they pry the girls’ claws out of each other before lunch.*

Five résumés, two of which corresponded to interviews later in the day. Starting a new subdepartment was hard work, but Arthur had been looking forward to it for nearly a year. Avalon’s philosophy department was incredibly antiquated and unfortunately burdened with a few hopelessly nostalgic alumni possessed of large bankrolls, so he’d had to wait until after he’d received tenure to even contemplate revamping it. “Ah.”

*Arthur? Are you lusting after your paperwork again?* Lancelot suspiciously asked.

“Of course not.” Damn. Lying wasn’t one of Arthur’s favorite methods, but usually he could execute it adequately enough. Right now, however, he sounded about as convincing as a cat pretending to be a hormonally-challenged mouse. “How’s D. C.?”

There was a creaking sound, which probably was Lancelot flopping about in his chair. *Hot. Steamy. The sweat sticks my clothes to me and itches so I’d just like to rip them off. And give whoever mandated ties as office-wear a good whipping.*

If Arthur was very, very careful about it, he might be able to ease the top folder over without Lancelot hearing the paper rustle. He pinched the file between forefinger and thumb, then delicately lifted it enough so it wouldn’t scrape against the file beneath it. “I thought you were inside most of the time.”

*Only when I have to be. God, the office here is so damned dull. You’d think D. C., capital of over-the-top ego-stroking and under-the-table assignations, would be able to provide a little liveliness, but no…it’s like the office motto is ‘We’re just like Switzerland—we don’t fuck anyone over, but then, we don’t fuck, period.’ I’m desperately bored.*

Success. The file was off the pile and in front of Arthur. He slid his nail beneath the top cover and silently flipped it open. Female name, thirtysomething…he immediately turned to the photo. No, fairly plain. Not that he cared much, but apparently everyone else did, from his lovers to Vanora. Even Kitty occasionally got a bit…pointed…about some of the skimpier-dressed grad students. If her credentials turned out to be the pick of the bunch, he’d feel guilty for not trying to hint to her beforehand about the social factor.

*…seen most of the attractions before as well—I used to be based in D. C. The Smithsonian’s not too bad for repeat visits, but otherwise it’s really all just a bunch of stone columns. Makes you wonder what the Founding Fathers were compensating for.*

“Considering they beat us under improbable conditions, I’d say rather little. Have you been to the Library of Congress yet? I keep meaning to visit there again, but so far I haven’t had the time to arrange for the right passes…” Good qualifications, some interesting papers to her credit, but her previous work experience was spotty. Any new faculty hired would be expected to teach, and since one philosophy class was a mandatory prerequisite for nearly any major on-campus, then a lecturer that couldn’t teach would soon become an issue. Arthur slid that file aside and reached for the next one.

Lancelot blew what sounded like a raspberry at the phone, startling Arthur into an amused snort. *How did I know you were going to ask that? Well, as a matter of fact, I’m in the Library of Congress right now. Private reading room. They have very nice chairs here, and shelves and shelves of neatly bound books just waiting for someone to take them down and handle them…*

The next file was some kind of prodigy—political science/philosophy double major, both in undergraduate and graduate work, and yet Mr. Wellard only appeared to be Tristan’s age. British father, American mother…the longer Arthur stared at the photo, the more aware he became of a strange warning tingle on the back of his neck. He set that file aside as well, but to the side of the first. “Lancelot. I am not having phone-sex with you. Aside from the fact that you’re in the Library of Congress, one of the greatest libraries now existing—”

*You have to get to work vetting new lecturers, I know, I know. Guin made it very clear I wasn’t supposed to bother you.* A contemptuous noise expressed Lancelot’s feelings on that. *Thought it’d be worth a try, anyway.*

He sounded so crushed. Of course it was an act since Lancelot had probably never felt pitiful since he was old enough to strut, but nevertheless, it was a very effective act. Arthur willed himself to resist.

Oh, why not. “I do miss you, if that’s any consolation. Mornings aren’t really the same without someone to bend over the kitchen counter. See you tomorrow.”

Later Arthur was going to feel guilty about that, and much later when Lancelot flew home, he was undoubtedly going to extract payback, but at the moment Arthur was rather enjoying the sound of Lancelot squeaking. Shame that he had to hang up.

Files three through five showed nothing out of the ordinary, so Arthur shoved those with file one and went back to the second. He still couldn’t put his finger on it, but something in that CV was nagging at him.

“Arthur?’ Vanora knocked, then popped in her head. She was nervously playing with a pencil and she tossed her head a few times for no apparent reason. “Kitty wanted me to let you know she can stop in any time before two, but after that she’s completely booked.”

“Oh…” He got out his planner and did a quick check—two interviews, a meeting apiece with Gawain and Galahad, lunch with Guinevere… “Not today, then. Ask her if I can drop in tomorrow, please. Oh, and if you see Gary, tell him I can’t take that Intro lecture in October. Thank you. Lovely hair, by the way.”

Her cheeks pinked and beamed at him. “Thank you, Arthur. I’ll get right on it.”

As soon as she’d closed the door, he let out a minute sigh of relief. Even though he’d gotten relatively good at reading signs of female insecurity, there were still so many possible explanations. Worry about a new hairstyle looked almost exactly like worry over a new pair of shoes, but confusing one with the other could be deadly...sometime when Guinevere was too tipsy to ask him why, he’d have to quiz her on that.

Arthur locked the door, then dug his briefcase out from under his desk. From that he produced something that looked—and actually was—a spare powerpack, but when a certain bit of it was manipulated, it doubled as a security lock on an Internet connection. He unplugged his Internet cable, then replugged it into the lock. That went under the desk, and then he attached another cable from the other end of the lock to his computer. Preparations done, he sat down to do some background research on Mr. Wellard.

* * *

9:30 A. M.: Gawain, abstract approval, project outline

“Uh, Arthur? If this is a bad time, I can come back later…” Gawain looked a bit startled.

Then again, he probably wasn’t used to seeing his advisor jump and then double over in pain. Arthur suppressed his grimace and waved the other man in while rubbing at his knee; perhaps it was time to get himself a new, higher desk. “No, sorry. I was just caught up in a bit of work. Have a seat.”

Which Gawain did, looking rather like he was prepared to take his firing squad like a man. Admittedly, they usually held their meetings under less formal circumstances, but this shouldn’t have been too awful.

“All right, this is just a short meeting to get the paperwork out of the way…” When Arthur found it, that was. His desk was considerably messier than he normally allowed it to be and so it took him a good minute and a half to locate the right file. He left that flipped open over his keyboard and did a bit of tidying-up. “I’ve read through the draft you sent me and I don’t see any problems with it, so I think you can go on and send in your abstract. Don’t forget to hand in a copy to Vanora as well.”

“Okay. Thanks…um…you need to…” Gawain leaned over and got his abstract, then stapled it to the submission form before handing it back to Arthur.

Oh, right. After locating a pen, Arthur dashed off a signature and returned the sheets to Gawain. “And how goes the funding?”

The face Gawain made wouldn’t have looked out of place on a grumpy dog. “Okay, I guess. Vanora says I’m ahead of any other grad student you’ve had, but it’s just…really complicated. I have to make sure it won’t cut into my financial aid and a couple other things, but it should be mostly worked out by our meeting next week.”

“Something I meant to mention but forgot to last time—once the applied philosophy unit gets its feet down, you might be able to reclassify your thesis under that. We’re still working out the details, but that way, you might be eligible for funding through the political science department.” Which reminded Arthur that he was slightly behind on coordinating with that department. Its chair tended to hop down to D. C. for the summer Congressional sessions, which made that difficult.

For a moment, Arthur thought about having a word with Lancelot, but he resolutely quashed that idea. Aside from keeping professional and personal lives apart, it really wasn’t fair to sic Lancelot on anyone. Not to mention Arthur could imagine all too well what kind of payment Lancelot would extract for such a favor…

“I’ll remember to check on that,” Gawain was saying. He bounced his knees, caught himself, and then started jiggling his foot so the orchids on Arthur’s desk looked as if they were dancing. Something told Arthur that whatever was bothering the man probably wasn’t school-related.

A quick check at the door showed that it was shut, but since Arthur didn’t remember locking it, it probably wasn’t. No matter. He’d gotten fed up and installed insulation strips around the door several weeks back, so even if it was only half-shut, most of the noise was blocked out. Or held in.

Sometimes he wished everything didn’t remind him of some sexual exploit into which Lancelot or Guinevere had dragged him. It made it considerably more difficult to keep a straight face. “Is there anything else you wanted to discuss with me?”

“Um…oh. Yeah. I know I said I was going to return the Collected Edicts yesterday, but I got wrapped up at the g-brary yesterday and I haven’t even gotten around to opening it.” Embarrassed, Gawain rubbed at the side of his face and watched his feet. “So can I—”

“Of course. I’ll actually be working from home most of next week, so you can send it along with Tristan.” Arthur pretended that Gawain didn’t blush deeply beneath his suntan, and Gawain pretended that Arthur wasn’t rather amused by the whole situation. Now that the obligatory evaluation dinner had been done with, Arthur found himself able to take the long view of Tristan’s…interesting choice. “Is there some—”

Gawain attempted to look casual, but instead ended up looking even more embarrassed. “That reminds me, actually. Tristan…um…said to tell you he thought he saw an old London friend. But he has mice to deal with, so he’ll call you after dinner if you don’t think you’ve got to call him first.”

It was obvious that Gawain didn’t know what that message sent, and hopefully it was equally obvious that Arthur was sorry for not offering an explanation. Tristan had enough good sense to know what to tell and what not to, so Arthur wasn’t going to override the other man’s judgment. At least not with the little information he had on hand. “Thank you, Gawain.”

They sat there for a second before Gawain nodded and bounded from his seat. “Right. Thanks, Arthur. Same time next week?”

“Unless a disaster strikes.” Arthur saw the other man to the door. Then he shut and locked it, and returned to his chair for a little more frantic searching. If he didn’t find anything by lunch, he’d have to call Tristan.

Guinevere might have had files—for an Interpol field agent, she seemed to have a suspiciously high security clearance—but Arthur preferred not to ask her until he had to. It wasn’t hiding information from her so much as making sure that he didn’t touch off an inquiry when one wasn’t needed. For all he knew, it might be exactly as Tristan had so delicately phrased it—old friends in town.

Nevertheless, Arthur made a note to pick up extra double-chocolate-raspberry ice cream for Guinevere. And some more of Lancelot’s favorite coffee grind.

Kitty had a very witty joke about easing guilt through shopping, and Arthur was determinedly not remembering it right now.

* * *

10:30 A. M.: Interview job applicant, write up recommendation for Merlin

Technically Guinevere was supposed to be reviewing forensic reports back at the office, but she didn’t need two bloody hours to digest a couple of DNA analyses. Anyway, if Pellew really wanted this new long-distance communication system road-tested, then she damn well was going to do that. The fact that she was skipping out early and spying on Arthur interviewing a potential female colleague had nothing to do with it.

Male rivals weren’t much of an issue, since firstly, she suspected that Arthur was mostly Lancelot-indulgent instead of really bisexual, and secondly, Lancelot would slaughter any male competition. He tended to leave the female competition alive because he thought it was funny to watch Guinevere perform deft character-assassination in a few choice sentences over a cocktail.

She supposed she was rather good at it.

*Guin? Guin, are you even listening to me? You’re not driving anymore, are you?*

“No. And quieter, would you?” Vanora was eying Guinevere a bit oddly, and Arthur had done something to his door so conversation was completely drowned out instead of being only muffled. Guinevere bit back a curse, tossed off a compliment about Vanora’s hair and wandered into a back-hallway.

Luckily, the passages that ran from the offices to the lecture-halls and the cramped discussion rooms didn’t have ceiling panels to cover up the plumbing. Unsightly, but useful if one was looking for a new listening post. Guinevere tracked a likely one into a turn that looked relatively unused. She scouted out a box to use as a stool, then got up so her head was beside the pipe. The occasional word could be made out, but the position was awkward since she only could use one hand for balance; her other hand was busy holding the PDA-like gadget that was currently showing a bad slide-show of a room through which somebody’s teenager had rampaged. “Damn it, can’t you take better shots? What am I supposed to be looking at, your fingers or the crime scene?”

*I’d like to see you try working with this bloody camera. Can get cell phones with cameras built in, but try and get one for Interpol work and it comes out like something a poof with a blinking-light fetish would design…* The next couple of shots were somewhat better aimed, but the resolution was bad and the colors were too dark.

Well, the tone of the snapshots couldn’t be blamed on Lancelot, but the resolution probably was his fault. With Guinevere and Arthur both in another city, he had no way to work off his caffeine, so he was probably as jerky as a junkie coming down. “As limited as your abilities are, I’m sure they extend past bitching and getting buggered senseless. So show it.”

“…curiously short stints at other col…” Some rodent rattled through the pipe and cut off the rest of Arthur’s words.

“…wanted a flexible program…” Ah. The interviewee. She sounded prim and annoying. Good.

Lancelot snarled. *Excuse me? I’ve racked up twice your number of field assignments. I’d…Guin? Why do I have this hunch that you’re not obeying your usual work ethic?*

He’d accomplished that because he had a gift for opening one line of investigation that blundered into a second or even a third one, not because it was premeditated. And because he had a prick between his legs and he hadn’t had gender-war issues with his supervisor before transferring to Pellew. *I have more high-profile cases wrapped up. And Arthur’s interviewing one of those candidates. The thirtyish female one.*

Speaking of, she sounded defensive. “…misinterpreted my comments…was prone to hysterics…”

“…but the dean concurred…interviewed the student and found nothing…”

*Oh. Isn’t he doing two today? Who’s the second one—hey, Guin. Stop eavesdropping a moment. I think I found something.* There was a lag of nearly two minutes before the image of what Lancelot was peering at finally loaded onto Guinevere’s screen. First criticism she had was how lousy the wireless reception was—it hardly worked here, and she knew that the whole building was wired for it. *See—damn it. The color’s showing up wrong on the graphics. It should look more like—*

“…like the thieves were using acid to burn through part of the lock mechanism, and it stained the carpet? That would narrow down the suspects a bit,” Guinevere thoughtfully said. She abruptly noticed that the noises from the pipe had stopped so she pressed her ear against it. It must have been a temporary lull, for the conversation started up again, though it was a bit quieter.

And now her hair was dusty. She disgustedly batted it clean and squinted at her handheld screen. “Anything else? I’m about to go off with Arthur.”

*No, that’s it till the lab boys get back to me. And you don’t have to sound so damned smug, you selfish cunt. I know you get Arthur to yourself for lunch.*

“You’re one to be lecturing me about—gah!” Guinevere flattened herself back against the wall and nearly slipped off her makeshift stepstool.

Arthur, on the other hand, merely looked exasperated. He had her steadied and on the floor before she could even catch her breath, and the gesture was done so smoothly that she barely felt more than the warmth of his hands on her waist. Then he nodded at her earphone and the cell clipped to her belt. “Lancelot?”

*Tell him the Library of Congress sparked a bit of inspiration,* the smarmy bastard grinned.

“I don’t even want to know. Some things shouldn’t be made pervy, you…you pervert.” She ended the call and turned off her PDA before things could get any worse. Damn her pre-lunch sluggishness; she would have to make up for it with a truly scathing welcome-back greeting. “Arthur! Hi! How on earth did you guess I was here?”

He was peering at the pipes above her head with interest, and even flicked his fingers against one. “I can’t believe I didn’t think of this before. I’ll have to do…oh, and Vanora emailed me that you had come in, but had wandered down this way. I had a wild guess as to what you were up to. Imagine my surprise when I was actually right.”

Well, when things went pear-shaped, the best way to meet it was generally with chin high and confidence firmly in place. Guinevere slipped her arm through his and pulled him back towards the main area. “I finished my deskwork early, so I thought I’d give this new system a real workout. How are the interviews going?”

“I’ve only done the one.” Arthur carefully didn’t say as you should know, but there was a small touch of it at the corners of his mouth. As they rounded the corner, he ducked in to nuzzle her hair. “Where are we going for lunch?”

She fought down both her blush and her goofy smile, which would hopefully die for good before her dignity went the way of Lancelot’s. “It’s a surprise. Just look out the window and watch the scenery.”

* * *

11:00 A. M.: Lunch with Guinevere. Avoid compromising situations.

Funny how he had a photographic memory when it came to nuances of high-tech security systems, but that he could not, however he tried, remember how he got into these situations. The best philosophy probably was to just lie back and enjoy the ride, except he really did want to know how this sort of thing started.

Well, that and he was actually closer to kneeling than lying down. His back was just beginning to develop a crick and Guinevere seemed determined to whack him with her knees when she wasn’t moaning. Arthur pushed his tongue farther into her folds while trying to keep her thighs apart.

He succeeded with the first, rubbing the flat of it over a small hump of flesh that was directly connected to Guinevere’s vocal cords, but the second goal eluded him. One knock against his left shoulder nearly sent him off the car seat; he had to shove down his leg, dig in his heel and hope the brace would hold. For that matter, he hoped no one wandered into this parking garage just now. Charges of public indecency were, after all was said and done, probably more embarrassing to explain away than something like manslaughter.

Guinevere was clenching around him, and he accordingly prepared himself only to be blindsided by a knee ramming into his armpit. It was…not the most pain he’d ever felt, but it was still quite bad. Reflex dug his fingers into her thighs, which had the effect of jerking them up, changing the angle at which his tongue was wriggling against her clit and turning Guinevere into a spasm with pointy heels, long nails and a tendency to direct both of them into him.

“My God,” she gasped, collapsing backward.

She lay limp and still while Arthur went about the complicated process of disentangling himself from her skirt and dealing with her hose and pants while desperately trying not to hiss in pain. He finally backed out and knelt on the seat, rubbing under his arm. “No one’s come out yet. Either this place has superior soundproofing or it’s terribly trendy.”

“Or this place is more famous for its dinners. Usually half-full for lunch, but I like it best then.” Guinevere’s smile stretched as slowly and smugly as her body did, arching up from buttocks to shoulders in a fluid motion that drew eyes to how her breasts plumped beneath her breast. She waved a vague finger at him. “You’ve got a bit of something on you. No…there.”

Arthur wiped off the offending smear, then cast about for a tissue.

“Oh, here. Give us that.” When Guinevere was particularly relaxed, she occasionally broke into regional slang. She also tended to tease Arthur more effectively, since she relied less on studied effects and more on spontaneous gestures such as sucking his finger clean with an unconsciousness that…

He shifted on the seat. “I think we’re going to be late.”

“Deservedly so,” she purred, sliding up beside him. Her hand smoothed flat his shirt up to his loosened tie before moving pointedly past his belt. “Surprise, surprise. You use your tongue better, for all that Lancelot’s the talker.”

Fifteen minutes later, they were finally ensconced in the restaurant. Fortunately Arthur had decided to wear a dark suit, so the rumples and any stains he might have acquired were virtually undetectable. Guinevere had needed a few minutes in the restroom to deal with her hair, which now drifted in infectious curls over her shoulders. The table was ridiculously small, so Arthur was having slightly more of a problem with resisting the urge to wrap his fingers in it than he usually did. But he was not going to sit on his own damned hands like an errant schoolboy. Schoolboy. Damn it.

“You’re trying not to remember something kinky.” Her eyes sparkled at him over the top of her menu. “Arthur, honestly. How’d you ever deal with this while on the payroll? I can’t imagine that blushing, as cute as it makes you look, could’ve done much for you back then.”

“No, but I had considerably less to blush about back then,” he replied. A glance through the menu was enough to make up his mind for him; he wasn’t in the mood for complex fare and so chose the first entrée that had less than eight ingredients in its description. His life was currently giving him enough puzzles without him having to confuse his tongue as well. “No matter what happened, someone somewhere was taking it dead seriously.”

Either the place had managed to budget a quality of service that their prices miraculously didn’t reflect, or Guinevere had been here often enough for the staff to be terrified of her. Whatever the reason, Arthur had hardly done more than point and voice the first syllable before the waitress was nodding and the menu was being whisked from his hands.

It was probably the second, given how cursory Guinevere was about waiting till their server was out of earsight. Normally she was as careful about that as Arthur was. “I can see how that’d put a damper on your sense of humor,” she quietly said. Her chin rested on her one hand while she pensively watched the other toy with her fork. “I’ve had to deal with the occasional undercover agent. Usually they only do a stint of a few months, and then switch covers. Or they limit themselves to one. You’re very good, you know.”

“Occasionally I can bring myself to acknowledge that ‘good’ could be a fitting word for it.” Arthur scrutinized her for clues as to where this sudden bout of melancholy had originated. He didn’t think it had anything to do with the morning’s possible alarm since neither he nor Tristan had gotten a heads-up till today, and as far as he knew, none of Guinevere and Lancelot’s current cases were remotely connected to him. “How did the test run go?”

She didn’t seem to understand him at first, so he elaborated. Awkwardly, and partially by hand-gesture, since right then the waitress decided to bring them their salads and his tea. “The new long-distance investigation system you were trying out.”

“Oh, the remote-control pain in the arse. It did what it was supposed to and not an inch more—right now, there’s not much reason to switch from cell phones and emailing photos to it. And if we did implement it, I’m sure that Lancelot would find some way to pornify it.” Guinevere poked at her salad and a cherry tomato squelched out from beneath her fork. It went shooting across the table, where Arthur automatically batted it back with his fork, and ended up smacked out of the air by Guinevere. She stabbed it more thoroughly this time and successfully conveyed it to her mouth.

“Pornify? I’m fairly sure that’s not a genuine word…” Something was off in the dressing, so Arthur pushed aside the salad and drank some of his water instead. It didn’t really help.

She wrinkled her nose at him, looking much like the tomboy he suspected she’d been. “Don’t start with me, professor. I’ve had enough of playing by the rules for the moment.”

That raised an eyebrow on Arthur’s part. “I thought that was Lancelot’s line.”

“It is.” Her mutter sounded like it wanted to spit but was too well-bred to. She irritably tucked her hair behind one ear, then tossed her head when half the thick locks immediately drifted loose again.

Arthur tried to exude as undemanding an air as possible and waited. He sipped at his tea and found it impressively well-brewed, which partially made up for the metallic edge to the salad dressing.

“Sometimes I just watch those bimbos and wonder whether ignorance really is bliss,” Guinevere finally said. She spoke to the flower vase instead of directly to Arthur’s face, as if trying to make it a throw-away line. “Not that I’m complaining about Pellew, mind: he’s fair and tough and about as rare as you are. But sadly, not all the people I work with are bloody miracles of humanity. Isolde and her perky-perky nipples—” illustrated with bobbing fingertips “—and damn it, I just want to be able to dress like a damned good-looking woman and get cooperation without having to talk in a breathy Marilyn Monroe voice.”

Which Guinevere also illustrated, and as serious as she clearly was, it was still difficult for Arthur not to laugh at her devastating imitation.

Then he remembered his moment reviewing the first CV and he abruptly felt rather ashamed of himself. After all, he was hardly qualified to cast stones. “When this sort of issue comes up at work, one of the first anecdotes to be brought up is the story of Gawain the knight and the fairy. I—”

“—I don’t want sovereignty over men, thank you. The ancient Romans tossed out divine right to rule in favor of first among equals, and that holds more interest for me,” Guinevere snapped. She eyed him as if she expected him to argue her against the wall.

“Because it’s more meaningful when you work for it, and appearances are a gift of nature, not the result of hard effort.” Arthur paused to think over that sentence. “Well, once one discounts plastic surgery and the like. Modern science has this nasty habit of recalibrating all social scales without leaving adequate time for a philosophical scaffold to arise.”

Guinevere picked up her water glass and gave it a small smile. “You’ve really got this applied philosophy idea on the brain, don’t you?”

He shrugged and let his words speak for themselves. “I suppose I’ve been thinking about it for several years.” After enough time for them to share a laugh, he went on. “It used to be something you did on the streets, something that jumped straight out of daily events. Now it’s relegated to the ivory tower—we quote myths and fables that no longer fit a situation and think our work is done. But really, it’s never left the streets. We just call it political science, and economic restructuring, and ethics of medicine or of the Internet or some such, but it’s really all the same thing at the bottom.”

“Arthur…” Shaking her head, Guinevere leaned back in her seat. She started to laugh at something, but too softly for it to be mocking. Then she stopped herself and simply looked at him in a way that made him wish the table were even smaller, or not there at all, for that matter. “I wonder what it is that I did.”

“In order to…” he said.

But she refused to finish, and by the time the server had brought them the rest of their food, their conversation had strayed too far for it to plausibly swing back. Arthur filed the moment away and let their talk dance wherever it wanted to. Guinevere, he suspected, would not take quite as much pushing as she seemed capable of taking when it came to certain subjects. Not without breaking, and the last thing he wanted to do was that for the same reason that information tricked out of someone was more reliable than information gained by torture.

“Oh,” she said, looking over the bill. “How’s your day been? Anything out of the ordinary with the applicants you’ve been reviewing?”

“Not so far,” Arthur answered. He hesitated, then added a bit more than he would have a few months ago. “I’ve got reservations about one.”

Guinevere hummed and nodded. Then she stopped to look at him. “Oh. I see.”

“It’s probably not,” he said.

“They’d have to be idiots,” she said. And they comfortably left it at that.

* * *

1:30 P. M.: Galahad, abstract approval, project outline. Patience.

“Look, I’m not trying to be difficult, but I fu—I can’t work that closely with her. Mariette and I have…irreconcilable differences.” Galahad’s attempt at convincing earnestness reminded Arthur a good deal of Lancelot, though Galahad was somewhat less skilled at hiding his desperation.

Actually, Arthur wasn’t even sure if Galahad was trying to hide it. He certainly wouldn’t have looked out of place in an antiwar movie, struggling against the brutality of…Arthur was losing his train of thought. He shook himself and held onto his patience. “Galahad, your proposal is an excellent one, but it’s clearly to be a joint project of the Philosophy and the Economics departments, and unless you can submit the name of another Economics professor within the week, your other advisor will be Professor Cobham. Now—”

“I don’t have any problem with her. Really. I respect her a lot. It’s just her grad student I can’t stand.” The other man also lied more poorly than Lancelot did. He did respect Kitty in his own way, but from what Arthur had seen, he also found her intimidating in a way he’d never had to handle before.

Come to think of it, that probably went for Mariette as well. It certainly was true on her side towards Galahad…sometimes Arthur wished her parents hadn’t been so old-fashioned. Their attitude had left her woefully under-experienced when it came to negotiating particular interpersonal interactions.

Galahad was wincing as soon as he’d finished talking. “Shit—sorry. Um. So what we discuss isn’t going to leave this room, right? Because Mariette wouldn’t ever let me hear—”

“Anything you say here is confidential if you’d like it to be so. You have my word,” Arthur reassured him. “But Galahad, I’m afraid that there’s no way you can have Kitty as a joint advisor and not have to work with Mariette to some extent. I doubt you’ll have to spend more time than you normally do, but you will have to spend some time.”

“Seriously?” For some reason, Galahad looked overjoyed. “Oh, man, that’s a relief. The way Professor Cobham was talking, she wanted me to mesh my stuff with Mariette’s. Something about us being a natural fit.”

Which was true—their theses would dovetail neatly into each other—but Arthur had a sudden hunch that that hadn’t been what Kitty had had in mind, incorrigible romantic that she was.

“…and she was muttering about this production of Much Ado About Nothing that she wanted to put on and she kept looking at me or Mariette with this evil glint in her eye…”

No, definitely not. Arthur flipped open his planner and scribbled a note to have a word about that with Kitty. It was one thing to tease him about how his desk-orchids must be receiving extra care to look so vigorous, but it was entirely another to start trying to drag his poor grad students into her schemes—Arthur had an image pop into his head. Then he had a sharp mental wince.

“Oh, Jesus.” Galahad dropped his head into his hands, pressing at his temples as if trying to press out a thought. Then he looked up. “Did you see Gawain and Tristan in Romeo and Juliet, too? Oh, God, my brain…”

“It was A Midsummer Night’s Dream, but the general effect was the same, I think,” Arthur said, still wincing. He loved Tristan, and he wished him and Gawain every happiness, but some things didn’t bear thinking on. Especially how the animals probably would fit into it. “I’ll speak to Kitty. In the meanwhile…”

“Oh, aside from that, I’m good. Is that it for today?” In an instant, Galahad went from slumped in agony to bright-eyed and eager. His eyes flicked at the door.

After this long teaching, Arthur knew better than to take it personally. “I believe so.”

“Great. I’ve got to track down Gawain and ask him how to put a carburetor back together…” Galahad bounced for the door.

Arthur turned back to his desk and began to gather his papers for the last meeting of the day. But when the sound of the door shutting didn’t come five seconds later, he looked up.

The other man had paused by the door, one hand fidgeting with his bookbag. “Hey—um, thanks for not ragging me on being almost late with my abstract.”

“You were on time. Though in the future, I think I’d avoid waking up administrative secretaries after midnight. They have long memories and they control a surprising amount around here.” Once was allowable. Besides, Arthur had the feeling that Vanora, if not the Economic Department’s secretary, had already delivered a dressing-down that would’ve far surpassed anything he could say.

“Right. I’ll…do that.” A second attempt at leaving, which was also aborted. “Still, thanks. I appreciate it.”

The third try saw Galahad through the door as well as leaving Arthur to stare at his desk for a moment. Then he set his shoulders and nodded, and thought that yes, he had made something of himself as a teacher after all.

* * *

2:00 P. M.: Interview job applicant. Write up recommendation for Merlin. Avoid causing undue fuss if things go awry.

Mr. Wellard sat down and Arthur had a final answer.

Occasionally Arthur wondered if covert intelligence left a physical stamp of some kind on its operatives, for it was never too difficult for him to spot another one, no matter how long they’d been out of it. Or perhaps he’d gained some sort of sixth sense during his years in that line of work. He rather hoped it was the second explanation, since the first one left him no hope.

He was a good teacher, he reminded himself. A good teacher, and a sufficiently good person to attract two wonderful people to him, even if he personally didn’t understand what they were seeing. And there always had to be hope.

“Professor Pendragon.” Wellard was a grave, deliberate young man with the same delicate rose-and-cream complexion that one saw in the more lurid Victorian pornographic prints.

“Mr. Wellard.” Arthur closed the man’s file, which had been open before him, and calmly folded his hands over it. “I’m taking the liberty of disqualifying you from the position ahead of time so we can speak freely.”

Though Arthur wasn’t aware of doing anything to deserve it—perhaps he’d hardened his voice a touch, but nothing major—the other man flinched. He recovered soon enough, and nodded his agreement. “I’m to offer apologies on behalf of a mutual acquaintance for not contacting you through more suitable channels, and I add my own as well. But there were good reasons for doing so, and I hope you’ll understand. I’m only here to deliver a message.”

Which Arthur waited for with a serenity that certainly didn’t reach all the way down.

“Norrington’s retired. He and his successor merely ask that you return the favor he did you, as he’d like to spend it in some peace and quiet.” The words came clipped from Wellard’s lips as if he feared that if he did not cut them, they could be used to tear out his tongue.

Arthur let himself blink once. That certainly hadn’t been what he had been expecting, but it was a welcome surprise. “Of course. But I have to add that I will do that much and no further—he can’t expect to call on me. I play no games now.”

“I’ll relay the message,” said Wellard. It seemed that he’d expected just such an answer, and once it was received, he made quick work of taking his leave.

“Well, that was a brisk one,” Vanora said. She came in with a handful of papers that she began sorting into his various in-boxes. “Did you want anything else, or are you off to the airport?”

According to the plan, Lancelot was supposed to take a taxi home—Guinevere was working the evening, and Arthur had intended to track down some of the other professors. And he really should be squeezing in a call to Tristan to let him know there was no alarm after all.

Arthur looked at his desk once more, then sighed. He reached for his coat only to find Vanora handing it to him, a sly smile on her face.

“I’ve conspired with the other secretaries and we’ve got all your appointments lined up for you tomorrow, but they’re back-to-back, so you’d better enjoy yourself today.” She was nearly purring with self-satisfaction.

He tried to pull his straight face back on, but for some reason situations like this always made it slippery as butter. In the end, he had to settle for a slightly-choked “Thank you, Vanora” and a quick exit.

* * *

4:30 P. M.: Sod the office, make the calls from the car, and get there fifteen minutes early. But at least try to keep the pouncing at bay till out of airport and off freeways.

The moment Lancelot saw Arthur, his head snapped up, his shoulders stopped slumping and a wide smile spread on his face. He even bounded up an inch, which almost had Arthur throwing up his arms. Thankfully, it was only Lancelot briefly going up on his toes to see past a pair of tall punked-out men and their even taller hair.

“Relax. This crowd definitely doesn’t deserve a free show.” He jostled into Arthur by way of greeting, then made a face when his little grope was deflected. “I thought I was catching my own ride home.”

“I had some free time come up.” Arthur swung in beside the other man. He found himself angling his stride so it’d match Lancelot’s before he’d even thought about doing it.

Lancelot smirked. “And what, you couldn’t stand Guin any longer? Did she—”

Arthur restrained his smile to something fit for a public setting and casually removed his hand to check on the time. It’d probably be easier to buy something on the way back for dinner, and then he could drop off something for Guinevere while Lancelot was being debriefed.

The other man wasn’t blushing, but only because his stubbornness was probably only exceeded by the hardness of diamond. “Double standard, isn’t it? I can’t, but you can?”

“If you absolutely feel the need to violate someone’s arse in public, you could at least make a better attempt at hiding it.” No point in adding like I’ve just demonstrated. The whole thrust of the lesson was to avoid overkill, after all.

“You’re really in a good mood,” Lancelot said. Mercurial as ever, his tone slid from offended to contemplative in a heartbeat. He sloped off a step and looked over Arthur. “How good?”

Good enough to believe that what had been a means of hiding from the past might, against all odds, turn into a lifestyle that could actually make him happy. Good enough to wish an old colleague well as he started down the same path that Arthur had gone. Good enough that old instincts made him a little afraid of it, and so he thought he needed a moment to cherish the present. “I borrowed Tristan’s car, so no, we’re not taking the subway.”

Lancelot blinked and almost tripped over a small boy. Even after Arthur had yanked him out of the way, he still kept staring at Arthur as if Arthur had lost his mind.

Arthur suddenly realized where Lancelot’s mind had probably gone. “No, we are not in there. Don’t even think about it.”

“Oh, good. I mean, aside from the fact that they’d probably added a coat of polish to the seat-leather, I was afraid you were turning into someone else for a moment. And this is where I shut up so you’ll consider a public loo. Right?” Hopefulness made Lancelot’s eyes frighteningly large. “It’s not like we don’t have precedent. The Met—”

The only real way to deal with Lancelot when he got on that kind of track was to walk just fast enough so his words couldn’t be heard, but slow enough so that he was still able to scramble after. Arthur was getting distressingly good at that art.

* * *

6:45 P. M.: Remember to close and lock front door. Try to get up the stairs. Ice cream…remember whatever it was about ice cream in the morning.

“I was supposed to do…” Something with his tongue and Lancelot’s nipple…no, that wasn’t it. Though the way the other man was whimpering and writhing beneath Arthur was making a convincing argument for otherwise. Arthur lost his train of thought somewhere around the salty taste of the sweat filming Lancelot’s chest, and the delicious way a lick would cause both Lancelot’s nipple and his balls, cupped in Arthur’s hand, to tighten, and probably the sinfully close fit of Lancelot’s arse as Arthur slid back into it.

Nails dug hard into Arthur’s back, and then heels joined them as Lancelot did his damnedest to lock his legs around Arthur’s neck. He couldn’t quite bend that far, but the distance he did bend did interesting things to how Arthur’s prick pressed into his arse, and thus changed the timbre of his moaning in an intoxicating fashion.

“…supposed to fuck me. Bend me over the goddamned…never mind…just…Christ…”

They were far, far too late to make it up the stairs. Not that Arthur particularly cared.