|The Theorist Epilogue: Shift
Author: Guede Mazaka
Mariette turned first, her knowing snort alerting Gawain. Tristan probably had picked up on the approach before her, but he stayed facing the stone, hands behind his back and head slightly bowed. It was only the second time Gawain had ever seen him in a cemetery, and the first time had been under fairly stressful circumstances, but Gawain didn’t think it was too much of an assumption to say that Tristan showed the dead a lot of respect. He’d also never really been one for the kind of crass black humor that usually showed up in people who had a lot of contact with corpses.
“Don’t even,” Galahad said, moving around Gawain. He glanced at the stone, then shoved his hands in his pockets and turned to scan their surroundings. “Jesus. My skin is crawling.”
“I checked. Nobody who you don’t want to see is going to show up without us having at least fifteen minutes’ notice.” After a slight nod of the head, Tristan backed up and went to stand by Gawain. His fingers briefly brushed the back of Gawain’s hand.
Gawain smiled a bit, but couldn’t really keep it on his face for too long, even though he wasn’t in a bad mood. He just kind of…well, he knew his grandmother wouldn’t mind either, but the setting was getting to him too. “Well, I’m pretty much done.”
Galahad didn’t answer. It looked like Mariette was going to ask him about it, but she refrained before Gawain had to do any crazy gesturing. Instead she pretended to tend to her hair, and Gawain and Tristan wandered off a little to pretend to read some of the other epitaphs.
“Oh, Jesus. Like I can’t tell you’re all watching.” Snarl firmly in place on his face, Galahad stalked over to stand in front of the gravestone. He had his back to all of them and Gawain, for one, couldn’t hear anything from the other man, but when Galahad walked off a moment later, the frown was gone. Not that Galahad looked thrilled, but he did look more…relaxed.
He kept on going, clearly meaning to head back to the car. When Mariette figured that out, she went after him and gave him a smack on the arm when she caught up. After a brief bickering spell, his arm went around her waist and her head on his shoulder.
“Thanks,” Tristan suddenly said, and from the way he was facing both Gawain and the tombstone, he wasn’t just talking to Gawain. He hadn’t said anything to the grave, but had just waited for Gawain. “I—thanks for bringing me.”
“Yeah, she heard it too.” Gawain put up his hands around Tristan’s face, kissed him, and then tugged him towards the exit. He was done here now, he thought. Time to get on back home.
* * *
“It’s been really nice. These past few weeks with the, ah, the…”
“Sorry! Was I talking over you?”
“…we’ve got to work on this. As much as I’ve prepped my Dad, he’s still going to scare you senseless.”
“…pardon? I don’t—”
Several seconds later
“Can we do that again? That was—that was wonderful.”
“…did you just ask me if you could kiss—”
Several minutes later
“That was amazing.”
“Oh, don’t look so smug. Now, about my parents…”
* * *
Blinking, Arthur stared into his tea. Then he shook himself and turned around, looking apologetically at Guinevere. “I’m sorry, I completely missed that.”
For a moment, it seemed as if she were going to make a pre-morning coffee tart comment. But then her face softened and she smiled, reaching out to grab his hand. “Are you all right?”
He’d left the first job he’d ever really loved, with a subdepartment half-built and advisees halfway through their studies and many cherished friends. And now he was looking at carving out a new career, uncertain of how he’d do and whether it’d work out, and…he didn’t quite know about that. He already missed the university.
“God, that racket in the street last night kept me up.” Lancelot suddenly wandered in, yawning and stretching his arms. He blearily took in their sharp, startled stares without a speck of surprise, then made a beeline for the coffeemaker. “Oh, Arthur, I forgot to ask last night but tell me you’re not going to try walking to work now. I can give you a lift, and then you’re helping to make my commuting more environmentally-friendly.”
“Who says that you’re driving?” Guinevere pointedly asked.
The two of them glowered daggers at each other…and then the coffeemaker pinged and began to drip coffee, and their attention was suddenly, entirely absorbed by the stream of dark brown fluid coming down.
Arthur laughed quietly, the taste of wistful nostalgia still a ghost in his mouth but that of anticipation slowly swelling to crowd it out, and then smiled when they turned to look at him. “Well, I think I’m ready.”