|The Small Tour
Author: Guede Mazaka
Gawain reshouldered his bag, wincing at how the strap cut into his shoulder. He’d just gotten the coursepack for the class for which he was GSI-ing this semester, which had already earned the nickname of ‘The Phonebook’ for obvious reasons. “I swear to God, the freshmen get tinier every year. I can barely carry this thing, so I don’t know how they’ll…Tristan?”
Funny. He could’ve sworn that Tristan had been standing right next to him, but when Gawain turned, the spot beside him was empty. He did a slow spin around, looking for Tristan, but all he saw were clusters of students rushing madly all over the campus. Over by the bookstore was the usual mix of lazy and nervy shoppers consulting crumpled lists, and to the right were some professors warily eying them. Past them and staring Gawain’s way was a pack of…he wasn’t sure about the sexes, because between the baggy all-black wardrobe and the uniformly stringy hair and the bad make-up, they all looked alike.
He raised an eyebrow at them and they all jerked, then scurried away. “Weird…”
“I always wonder why we don’t have more heatstroke cases because of them.”
And Tristan was back, materializing from God knows where since the nearest bit of foliage was yards away. He waited till Gawain was done hopping in surprise, then handed back the random pencils and scraps of paper Gawain hadn’t noticed he’d dropped.
“There you guys are,” Galahad called, jogging up. He slung down his bag as he skidded to a stop so he could stretch his arms over his head. His shirt had disappeared somewhere between when Gawain had kicked his sleepy butt out the door and now.
Across the way, two girls caused a fifteen-student pile-up when they suddenly stopped and their bulging bags didn’t, swinging on to kneecap and trip. Galahad flashed them a grin, dodged Gawain’s blow, and grabbed at his bag. He tried to, anyway. It ended up turning into a two-step heaving process to get the strap back over his shoulder. The girls, who’d moved to a less traffic-heavy position, cooed.
Tristan faintly wrinkled his nose. “The coursepacks aren’t that heavy.”
“You’re not even carrying one. I’ve got two,” Galahad grunted. Too late he realized his mistake. “So are we done? Can we go eat now?”
“Why two?” It definitely wasn’t out of dedication, and Gawain didn’t think Galahad was doing it because he inevitably vomited on, ripped, or otherwise ruined any coursepack left with him before midterms arrived. Not that Galahad wasn’t smart enough to think of that—he was—but he simply didn’t believe that he’d be so careless.
Galahad ducked his head and rubbed at the back of his neck, mumbling about pizza and celebrating the last day before they had to grade anything.
He had a point about lunch, but that didn’t mean Gawain was going to let the subject change that fast. “Come to think of it, I haven’t seen Mariette yet.”
In spite of his tan, Galahad was clearly flushed. He irritably jerked a shoulder at Gawain and started off down the path. “She’s getting over a cold. Cobham was telling me about it and somehow the tricky old bitch got me to volunteer to do Mariette’s shopping.”
“Don’t call Professor Cobham a bitch,” Gawain sighed.
“I thought you and Mariette were dating.” Tristan swung up besides Gawain as they followed Galahad, and before Gawain knew it, he’d been lightened of the bag holding the coursepack.
He was going to say something about that, because Tristan had plenty of bags himself and anyway he shouldn’t let Galahad get to him like that, but Tristan leveled a look at him that said ‘I don’t want to give it back.’ So Gawain let him. And cuffed Galahad on the head once they’d caught up with him.
At least it looked like Tristan had gotten his own back on Galahad, considering how Galahad was glowering and mumbling again. “We aren’t. We had coffee.”
Now Tristan was just doing it for fun. He was nearly grinning. “With your reputation, everyone’s learned to assume a second meaning for that.”
“Well, then everyone’s an idiot. We’re not dating. Believe me, every time I see her, she finds some way to remind me that we’re not going to have sex. And anyway, she still throws things at me, so I wouldn’t want to.” The last words were a little under Galahad’s breath, but they still sounded suspiciously wistful. Oh, he was still annoyed by her, but he’d gotten to kiss her at least once if Gawain knew much about people, and he couldn’t just pretend she was a sexless pest. She was an attractive person.
But those two weren’t going to get together on anything but their own terms, so no point in pushing now. Plus when Galahad’s shoulders were hunching like that, Gawain never could help feeling sorry for him. “So about Friday—”
“Can’t. I’m—” Galahad’s jaw defensively jutted out “—consulting with Mariette.”
Okay, now even Gawain couldn’t help himself. “Is coffee involved?”
“Oh, go take your stupid boyfriend and—hey. Where’d he go?” Galahad looked confusedly about them.
So did Gawain, because Tristan had indeed vanished once again. By now they’d walked between a stand of trees, so it wasn’t too hard to guess where he’d gone, but why he’d do that still eluded Gawain. He was pretty sure that the scattered groups of other students and faculty nearby weren’t a threat, and it’d have to be damn serious to make Tristan retreat. But no, all Gawain saw was a couple lecturers he thought were in the English department, some grad students he knew barely well enough to wave to, and a gaggle of goth-ed up undergrads that had spotted the Attic and were chattering excitedly over the weird architecture.
He shrugged and grabbed Galahad’s arm, pulling them down the path. After a moment, he looked to his side and there Tristan was, calm as always.
Gawain reviewed the past couple of minutes and started to formulate a theory.
* * *
Guinevere tucked her arm more firmly through Arthur’s and leaned against him, though they were walking a bit fast for that sort of thing. But he slowed down without asking, looking over in slight concern.
“I’m just enjoying the wonderful weather,” she told him. And it was a lovely day, but the loveliest part was decidedly not related to the state of the skies above.
The girls walking on Arthur’s side all melted, the ones on Guinevere’s side were various shades of green, and as soon as she and Arthur had gone by them, they were nothing but dagger-eyes. She smiled wider and twitched her shoulders so her hair would fall more picturesquely over her back.
“Are you?” Arthur’s expression remained mild, but his eyes moved purposefully from passerby to passerby, clicking down a mental checklist.
They were coming up a short hillock and the slope was getting to be a tad too much for Guinevere’s heels, so she let herself slip off his arm till they were only holding hands. She grinned at him and he briefly returned it before ducking his head, still a little embarrassed by public displays of affection.
“Well, surely it’ll cut down on the chance that one of them will try to blackmail you into a liaison.” Cocking her head, she offered him an innocently concerned smile. Apparently Lancelot had overused his, for all Arthur did was snort and look away. “You’re having your office hours in the library again, aren’t you?”
He nodded and tugged them aside to let a wheelchair-bound man and his friend go by them, the pair chatting too busily to even notice. “And my schedule for my undergraduate philosophy class is the same. I had to give up most of the work for my graduate class to concentrate on putting my sub-department together, so those times you’ll find me in my office.”
Guinevere h’mmed, not quite listening to him.
“That is not an invitation to go invading it whenever you happen to be in the neighborhood,” Arthur hastily added. He hesitated, then sighed. “At least call first, so I can make sure no one else is in the office with me?”
“I always call. You should worry about Lancelot if you’re going to worry about that.” She gave his hand a little swing, just because it was a sunny day and she didn’t have to be back in the office till two. He looked surprised, but after a moment he smiled and pulled up her hand to peck at the back of it.
To the right were two angry mutters—one of them from a man, Guinevere was amused to see—and to the left was one sigh at how romantic it all was. Also from a man, whose female friend looked utterly disgusted with him. She seemed fascinated with Arthur’s hands.
“Speaking of him, is he still held up in Paris?” Arthur asked. He looked at his watch, adjusted his tie and waved to a passing colleague, utterly oblivious to the delight of the girl.
Guinevere snorted. “I can’t understand why Pellew sent him instead of Isolde. Granted, she’s not got two brain cells to rub together, but she doesn’t irritate the French director’s delicate sensibilities. Last I heard, they’d ‘accidentally’ sent the files Lancelot’s supposed to look to Rouen instead. But he should be back by Friday.”
“And how’s your end?” They were coming up on the Philosophy Department now, and he was beginning to look a bit uncertain. Walking around campus was one thing, but walking past Arthur’s fellow professors was another. Especially since at least one of them—Kitty Cobham—seemed cheerfully determined to catch Arthur in the act.
She would have let go of his hand to spare him the decision, but before she could, he tightened his hold on her and squared his shoulders. Then they walked up the steps, Arthur pausing to acknowledge a greeting along the way, and went through the doors.
“I think it’s very good. A little too anxious at times, but overall I’m looking forward to my next case. It’s going to be a long operation—probably lasting till the holidays,” she said, rubbing her thumb over the back of his hand.
“I’ll…try to avoid being out of town often.” He paused again, then leaned forward and kissed her on the corner of the mouth. “Let me just get my briefcase and then we can go.”
* * *
“Sub sandwiches are one of the best foods ever invented,” Galahad groaned. He stretched out in the grass, eyes closed and shirt back on so he wouldn’t sunburn. “So Arthur’s out?”
“Lunch with Guinevere, so Vanora says. Oh, well. I’ll just email him later.” Gawain was about to add that Galahad had better as well, or else he’d botch his first discussion section, but was distracted by Tristan. Or more like the absence of Tristan.
He stood back up and looked around till he spotted the usual black-lipped and –haired girls loitering nearby. Then he tilted his head back till he’d spotted the tell-tale rustle of leaves in the branches above him.
Tristan didn’t appear till the girls had gone, and when he did, he looked a touch…closed up, which was his way of being embarrassed when Galahad was around. He dropped lightly back down besides Gawain and resumed mending his hawking glove. He shifted aside for Gawain to sit down.
“So…” Gawain started.
His reply was an eyebrow-raise.
“Goth girls. Most of them are silly, but then, that’s true for everyone else.” He tapped his fingers on his knees.
For once, Galahad caught on without needing a long explanation. “Hey, if they’re bothering you, just start talking about your thesis. Morgue-work is gross.”
“Not to them,” Tristan muttered. A thread of irritation wove through his words, and he yanked his needle through the leather a bit more roughly than he needed to.
Gawain knew he should be more sympathetic, but his mind would have to give him an image of Tristan scrambling up a building to get away from a bunch of girls. He did his best to hide his smile, but of course Tristan saw it. In apology he ruffled Tristan’s hair, letting his hand stay a little longer on Tristan’s neck than it strictly had to. “Don’t worry. Soon they’ll figure out who Galahad is, and as long as you stay around him, you’ll have no problem keeping them aw—”
He went over, kicking up grass tufts as he did, in a great whirl of streaking colors and Galahad’s cursing. A half-hearted punch, some headlocks, and soon Galahad’s pride had been satisfied enough for them to end the impromptu wrestling bout. Galahad had grass in his hair—so did Gawain, and God knew how long it was going to take for him to pull it all out.
Tristan was laughing quietly at them, needle and thread lying motionless in his hands. “I’m just waiting till they see Arthur. Or the new biology professor.”
“Oh, fuck you both. I’m going,” Galahad declared, pulling himself to his feet. “I—”
“—need to drop that off with Mariette?” Gawain handed Galahad his bag, still grinning.
All he got in reply was the finger. Galahad stalked off, too irritated to even notice that a statuesque blonde was trying to catch his eye.
“I really shouldn’t do that,” Gawain muttered. “He might stop seeing her just to prove a point to me.”
“I think he’s smarter than that. The problem is getting him to realize that when you need him to.” Tristan shrugged and tied off his thread, then snapped it between his teeth. He took a last look around the campus. “It’s full again. No more making out by the fountain at night.”
Gawain choked. When he was done, Tristan passed him a water bottle with a mostly straight face.
“Yeah.” He took a sip and stared at his hands, then at the blue sky. “I’m going to miss that. Especially the sudden run-and-hide from Bors.”
Tristan chuckled again, but he gave Gawain’s hand a tight squeeze when he took back his bottle. After that, they didn’t talk much. Just sat and watched humanity, taking in the last couple of moments before the rush of the school year started.
“If this were a summer fling, I’d dump you right about now,” Gawain suddenly said. He waited till Tristan’s head had jerked up, then smiled reassuringly. “Good thing I’m no idiot, huh. Those girls are going to have to find some other angst-idol.”
Snorting, Tristan let a little teeth dazzle in his smile. “Angst-idol?”
“Old ex of Galahad’s. Long, long story.” Gawain laid back down. After a moment, Tristan flopped down next to him.
“I’m starting on my thesis tomorrow,” he said. He didn’t mention what that meant—one year left for him before he had his degree, if he did everything right, and naturally he would.
Reading up and settling on the topic for his thesis was still where Gawain was, though he was almost done. Even though he didn’t have to do any lab work for his, he still was a good few months away from beginning to write.
Eight months, he told himself. That was plenty of time. A whole academic year before he had to decide on anything. He didn’t have to worry about it now.
Something tapped his arm. When he looked up, Tristan gave a small nod and then curled down in the grass, eyes closing. Gawain watched him, throat suddenly tight. “I’ll wake you in an hour. All right?”
“That’s fine,” Tristan said, and Gawain hoped he was right.