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Oxford Revisited

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Oxford has been a university town for as long as there've been universities. In some ways, it never changes. You walk streets that were named in the Middle Ages, and everywhere, generations have walked there before you.

And yet it does change. It had been ten years since I was last in Oxford, and nearly thirty since I was a student there. There were new shops for the tourists, new pubs for the students, and new housing estates on the gritty fringes of the city. It was all different, and all the same.

I finished my research at the Bodleian Library sooner than I'd expected, and had a couple of hours to kill. First I poked around in my old college, Trinity, until the sight of so many students began to make me feel geriatric. Then I wandered along the Isis for a bit. It was a warm spring day, and the river was crammed with people punting and rowing. The whole scene could have been scripted by the Tourist Board. After a while I sat on a bench in the sun, and remembered my Oxford.

The day I remember best was not a sunny day but a cold, drizzly one in Michaelmas term--it must have been early November. I was nineteen, and in my first year at Oxford.

It was a good day for studying. I was in the Upper Reading Room at the Bodleian, reading a life of the Renaissance scientist, philosopher, and sorcerer Giordano Bruno. As I read, I made notes for two essays--one on the role of the Counter Reformation in early science, and one on the influence of Bruno's work on later magical tradition. The first was for my tutor at Trinity, the second for Mr. Ardyce, the magister who was supervising the magical aspects of my Watcher's training. I tried to overlap my efforts as much as possible, or I'd never have had time to breathe.

Midafternoon, someone sat down in the other chair at my table. I glanced over, and saw the most beautiful and outrageous boy I could have imagined. He was about my age, but otherwise nothing like me. I was shy and conventional, in horn-rimmed glasses and a jacket made by my father's tailors. He looked like David Bowie. He had a striking face, elegant and sensual, with good cheekbones, thin lips, and eyebrows with a perpetual ironic tilt. His hair was short, but it was dyed bright pink and stood straight out from his head. He had a silver hoop in one ear, and wore shiny green trousers and a black silk shirt.

I was stunned. I was amazed that they'd let him into the Bodleian. He caught my eye, and smiled, and I looked away quickly. Not, though, before I'd caught sight of his books--two large volumes on Giordano Bruno.

"W-what a coincidence," I managed to stammer out. "I'm reading about Bruno too."

"Really? How remarkable." For all his exotic appearance, he had a public school accent, just as I had. "Are you interested in magic?"

"Um, magic? Well, er-"

"I'll take that as a yes. I find Bruno very interesting. Complete crackpot, of course. Hardly worth the Inquisition's trouble to burn him at the stake."

"That's a bit strong." I was about to launch into a defence of Bruno, but a librarian was already scowling at us.

The boy smiled at me, a charming smile with just a hint of mischief. "Come on, let's go somewhere we can talk. And have a pint. By the way, my name's Ethan Rayne."

"Rupert Giles."

He didn't take me to one of the student pubs, but to a dim, grubby place I'd never noticed before. The air was heavy with smoke and loud with rock music. Everyone there was as bright and exotic as Ethan. I was as conspicuous as he had been in the Bodleian.

I found us a table in a relatively quiet corner while he got the drinks. These turned out to be two pints of lager and two large whiskies.

"Cheers," he said, draining his whiskey in a single swallow. I followed suit, managing not to choke as it burned its way down my throat. I'd never tasted whiskey before. My father kept a very abstemious house.

"So, Rupe--I have to call you Rupe, Rupert is horrible--you're interested in magic." He quirked an eyebrow at me expectantly.

"Er . . ."

"You do have trouble with words, don't you?" He said this so charmingly it sounded almost like a compliment. "I hope it's not English you're reading. The mother tongue would be in trouble."

"I'm reading history. At Trinity."

"I'm comforted. I am reading English, you see, at Christ Church." It was traditionally the most aristocratic of the colleges. I wondered what they thought of his pink hair. "And it's all right to talk to me about magic. I'm studying it myself. Look." With a discreet finger motion and a mutter under his breath, he levitated his whiskey glass three inches off the table.

"Not bad," I said. Then I levitated my full pint of beer, turned it upside down, rotated it around his still-floating glass, righted it, and set it gently back down. I smiled and took a drink.

"Well." His practised smile turned into a genuine grin, and beneath his plumage I saw a boy like me. "Of course, the glass was just a small demonstration. I didn't want to scare you."

"Don't worry, you didn't." The whiskey had stripped away my timidity. He would not get the better of me. I could be as interesting as he, as sarcastic, maybe even as charming. I could impress him and make him like me.

So we began to talk about magic. We were students in the same tradition, it turned out, though we had different magisters. (Ardyce worked mostly with future Watchers.) I was more advanced than Ethan, who had only started a year ago. My father had begun my studies at puberty, the earliest it's possible.

"How did you start studying magic?" Ethan asked. "Most people don't even believe in it."

"Well, I had to. It's part of my training." We'd had several drinks by now, or I'd have spoken more cautiously.

"Training? For what?"

Belatedly, I remembered my father's warnings about discretion. The Watchers were, essentially, a secret society. I'd promised never to discuss them with anyone. But I knew that if I lied to Ethan, or ignored his question, we'd never really be friends. He'd be excluded, on the margins of my life. The Watchers weren't worth that. I didn't especially want to be one anyway.

Soon I had told Ethan everything--the Watchers, my father's insistence that I follow in his footsteps, even my childhood wish to be a fighter pilot.

"You're giving up an awful lot for the privilege of keeping an eye on some teenage tart with a thing for danger," was Ethan's response.

It was so exactly what I felt, but seldom dared even to think, that I had to laugh.

Ethan told me about his own life too. He'd had a respectable if rather loveless childhood in a London suburb. His father was an accountant, his mother a nurse. A taste for reading and his parents' social ambitions led him to win a scholarship to a minor public school, and then one to Oxford. "I don't even really want to be here," he said. "I want to be in London where there's some excitement. Some friends of mine are in a pop group, and that gets us into all the best parties. I'm only here for the magic." Magisters, who tended to be tradition-minded, clustered around Oxford and Cambridge. "I'm desperate to get back to London. I'm missing all the fun."

London, to me, meant the headquarters of the Watchers' Council, and the theatres and museums I loved despite the fact that my father wanted me to. I was amazed to think of this other, glittering life under its grey surface. I knew there was a world of pop music and parties and drugs and sex (it was 1975 and I was a teenager) but it was hard to imagine it existing anywhere I had ever been. In the back of my mind, a dream began to form.

We stayed in the pub until closing. As we talked, and drank, Ethan began to stir feelings in me that I had tried for years to push away. At school, so many of my friendships turned into aching crushes that I stopped trying to have friends altogether. It was a public school, all boys, so of course there was a good deal of furtive experimentation and even some outright, though discreet, affairs. But I held back. I remembered my father's comments about "queers," and "fairies," and the condescending discussion of "homosexuals" in a sex education book I'd read on the sly. I told myself that soon I'd meet the right girl, and everything would be fine. Before I left for Oxford, my mother had said that I was sure to meet some lovely girls there.

I had, and none of them had excited me a bit, not even the two or three I'd kissed at parties. Being with Ethan, though, made me giddy and unstrung. Meanwhile, Ethan was charming, and flirtatious, and didn't seem a bit nervous. I tried to imitate his manner, ashamed to be so provincial, so formal, so much my father's son.

When the barman chased us out of the pub, Ethan said, "Let's get a kebab and go back to my rooms. I've got some records I want you to hear." I was thrilled.

His rooms were an eyrie at the top of the college; the records were obscure American releases by Patti Smith, the Velvet Underground, and the New York Dolls. We sat on the rug, eating the dubious kebabs, while he told me about a party featuring massive amounts of drugs, a major London gangster, and several ex-members of the Spiders from Mars.

Then he leaned over, took the Patti Smith album sleeve out of my hand, and kissed me. It was far better than any of the girls, better even than my guilty daydreams about the young Peter O'Toole. He tasted of whiskey and spices. The touch of his tongue against mine did impossible things in my belly and groin. His lips were soft, but his chin was faintly, deliciously rough. I clutched at him, wanting the feel of his tongue and the pressure of his body against mine to go on forever. The silk shirt was like water beneath my hands.

Soon we were lying on the rug, kissing breathlessly. He was rubbing my erection through my trousers, the touch so intense I thought I might die. I reached down to unbutton for him, but he said, "The bed might be more comfortable."

We stood, and undressed with urgent speed. He was as beautiful naked as clothed, with a wiry strength to his thin body. He looked at me with desire, and I felt like I was living through a miracle.

In a moment we were kissing again, tumbling onto the bed. His hand stroked me, so different from my own familiar touch that I cried out with the shock of it. I reached for him, but he slid down the bed and knelt between my legs. When his lips brushed the head of my cock, it was the best thing I'd ever felt, and then so was his tongue, and then so was his warm, wet mouth covering me, pulling me in. As soon as he moved on me, I came in a rush that left me gasping and a little embarrassed.

He kissed his way up to my mouth. I could taste my own semen on him, and I imagined the taste and feel of his shooting into my mouth. At the thought, my whole body quivered. "Your turn," he said.

I felt like a child who's been given a new toy to play with. I nuzzled the coarse curls of his pubic hair, breathing in the scent of musk and warm skin. He was moaning even before I pulled back his foreskin and licked him in short, lollipop strokes. His skin there was so smooth over the warm firmness. Then I took him in my mouth, so strange and so wonderful. His thighs began to shake, and he made half-strangled sounds that turned into words, a cascade of "yes," and "please," and "god," and "don't stop." His sperm filled my mouth, tasting salty and bitter and different, somehow, from my own.

He pulled me back up beside him. His pink hair was in wild disarray, and there was a love bite on his neck. "That was amazing. That felt so good."

"I wasn't sure you'd like it," I said, feeling shy again. "I've never done it before."

He smiled, not his sophisticated smile but the boyish grin I recognised from earlier. "I'll tell you a secret. I haven't either."

"But I thought . . . I mean . . . how did you know what to do?"

"Well, I've thought about it. A lot. But there was never anybody I wanted to do it with. Only spotty boys at school, or the sort of greasy old men you meet at parties who try to tell you they're record producers."

"I tried not to think about it at all. I tried to think about girls instead."

"Don't be disgusting." He ruffled my hair. "You know, you're even sexier with your specs off." I could hardly believe he thought I was sexy at all. "You looked so gorgeous in the Bodleian. So serious. Like the kind of handsome young schoolmaster all the boys get crushes on."

It was then that I realised something that should have been obvious. "It was a trick, wasn't it? The books on Bruno?"

"I wouldn't say a trick. A stratagem. How else could I have got you talking?"

I laughed. "I'll never think of Giordano Bruno in the same way again." I kissed him, stroking his beautiful body. I never wanted to stop touching him.

"Rupe, what's this thing I feel poking against me?"

"That would be my cock."

"Oh, goody."

By the morning, I felt endlessly experienced. We had the stamina of young men and the ardour of new lovers. Nothing was enough. I had only to look at him to be aroused again. Everything that mouths and hands could do, we did.

A grey day was dawning when I finally, reluctantly, rose from Ethan's bed. "Get some sleep," he said, kissing me one more time. "You're meeting me in the pub at seven."

As I walked back to my rooms in Trinity, I never even noticed the rain.

I slept like a stone, missing two lectures, and dreamed of Ethan. At five, I awoke with an erection and a bad case of cold feet.

While I bathed and plundered my wardrobe for something to wear, I worked myself up to a high pitch of anxiety. What if it had just been the drink? What if he took one look at me, in my stupid clothes (I threw a tweed jacket to the floor in irritation) and decided he'd made a terrible mistake? What if he laughed, or said something unbearably sophisticated and cruel? What if he didn't want to be seen with me?

Occasionally I felt twinges of shame and guilt, but I pushed them aside without too much trouble. It was as if, when we'd kissed, some binding had been broken. The key had been turned in my prison door, and now I could walk fearlessly into the wide world. Shame was only nostalgia for the cell. The only shame I should feel, I thought in a vague, half-conscious way, was at how long I had consented to my own imprisonment.

Finally I selected a relatively unembarrassing outfit--dark grey flannel trousers, a plain white shirt, no tie. It was dull as dishwater compared to Ethan's clothes, but at least I didn't look much like my father. The weather was cold, so I added a long black wool coat and tried to believe this gave me an air of mystery.

Ethan was in the pub already, sitting at the same corner table. If anything, he was more flamboyant than yesterday. His trousers were purple leather, his shirt a metallic silver. His strong, slim fingers were loaded with silver rings and his wrists with heavy bracelets.

"Hello, Rupe," he said. "You look delicious." And suddenly I knew it was true. It was all true. "And by the way, I think it's your round."

When I came back with the drinks, he said, "Let's not stay very long. We've got better things to do."

I gave him the bold smile I'd been practising in the mirror. "Much better."

"Better even than that." The corners of his mouth twitched up. "I want to do magic."

In half an hour we were back in his rooms. I wanted to throw him onto the bed and do the things I'd dreamed of that afternoon, but I also wanted to work magic. I loved magic, and Mr. Ardyce kept discouraging me. I could almost hear his dry old voice: "Magic is a means, my boy, not an end. You're going to be a Watcher, not a sorcerer. You should spend more time on defences and counterspells, they're what you need."

"So what should we do?" I asked, settling on the rug across from Ethan.

"Anything. I'm only a beginner, there's lots you could teach me." He paused, then laughed. "Do you know what I really want to learn? How you kept the beer in the glass yesterday."

"Oh, that's easy. You do it in your mind, with your mental focus. All liquids have surface tension--they want to hold together. So in your mind, you see the surface tension as unbreakable. The rest is just keeping the liquid in the air, same as the glass."

"I'll try it, then." He filled a glass with water--a small glass, I was relieved to see.

For a minor magic like this, we didn't bother to cast a circle. He worked the spell to raise the glass, turned it over, and water splashed everywhere.

"Damn. Let me try it again."

He spilled four glasses of water, soaking the rug, and began to look sheepish. "I can't quite hold the image in my mind."

"Let's do it together," I said. "That was how the magister taught me. I'll help you."

We joined hands, said the words, and raised the glass. I could feel the raw power surging through us. Ethan was tremendously strong; that was the problem. He was barely trained, and so his power kept slipping its bonds. I focused as sharply as I could, and tried to guide him. Magic isn't mind reading, but people working together can feel the flow of power, and follow how it's directed and disciplined.

We turned the glass, and not a drop spilled.

"Brilliant!" he exclaimed when we righted the glass and set it down again. "I understand it, now." On his own, he raised and turned it again, perfectly.

Magic is like music. It needs both the gift and the training. I had quite a strong gift, and was getting good training. Someday I might play third violin in the symphony. Ethan would be the soloist. Feeling his strength, and watching him learn to use it, I knew.

He was looking at me, glowing with delight. "Come here," I said, reaching for him. The sex that night was a continuation of the magic. Desire crackled along our nerves like electricity, overwhelming, barely under control. I swear we could feel each other's pleasure, the synapses firing, the messages sent racing through the wires of the body. I made him moan, and cry out, and gasp commands and requests and pleas, and he did the same to me. Later, we slept locked together, as though we would never let go.

***

For the rest of the term, we spent every night together, and as much of every day as possible. We skipped most of our lectures, wrote our essays in indecent haste, and worked magic. I soon realised that working with Ethan might make me a better sorcerer than I'd have been otherwise; it was a consolation. We both rapidly improved in skill and control. His magister was delighted; mine was mildly alarmed. We quickly left beer glasses behind for more interesting endeavours. We magicked rare books out of the Bodleian to read at our leisure, and then magicked them back in again; we caused a rain of frogs inside a lecture room; we gave Mr. Ardyce a day-long case of hiccups. Ardyce peered at me suspiciously after that, but he couldn't prove anything.

Ethan also set out to improve my style. Unlike me, he possessed the means to do so. He had a generous allowance from his social-climbing parents, who were eager for him to fit in at Oxford. Also, as I learned later, he had a remarkable talent for shoplifting. He gave most of my clothes to charity and replaced them with his own selections. Fortunately, he didn't try to make me over in his own image; instead, I became a more interesting version of myself, a bespectacled mod-punk in slim trousers and black jackets. (A few years later, when Elvis Costello became famous, I realised Ethan's fashion prescience.) I no longer worried that Ethan might be ashamed to go out in public with me.

That term we drank in half the pubs in the city, and heard all the best groups. We went to straight clubs where we scandalised the patrons by dancing together, and to gay clubs where we laughed at the men who tried to chat us up. If we slept, or ate, I don't remember it.

We fought, too, about clothes and music and what films to see and what clubs to go to, and sometimes, more seriously, about magic. Ethan pushed hard to try ambitious, dangerous spells, and I usually refused, though I was secretly ashamed of my caution. I see now that the elements of disaster were already in place. But that was in the future, and there was only a hint of it yet. Even when we fought we were happy, and our most blazing rows tended to end in bed.

We had a delirious term, and then came the Christmas holidays. My father expected me home. Ethan's parents would have given up his company with barely a sigh, but I didn't dare bring him with me. So I spent a lonely month, phoning Ethan almost every night from the call box near the pub. My father frowned at my new clothes, grumbled over Ardyce's reports on me ("incautious, arrogant and utterly lacking in respect"), and quizzed me rather too thoroughly about Renaissance history. I read a lot, hoping to get some of next term's work done before I was back with Ethan, and practised my magic in secret.

When I got back to Oxford, Ethan was in my rooms waiting for me. His hair was blue now, and he had three earrings in his left ear where there had been one. I was kissing him before he'd even had time to say hello.

"How did you get in?" I asked in a pause for breath.

"Magic. I practised working on locks all month." He'd got me out of my coat and tie and was starting on my shirt. "I missed you."

"Me too." I tugged at the reluctant zip of his trousers. "Every time we talked I had to walk home with a stiffie. I could've been arrested."

"Or raped by some lonely old queen. Oh, that's good, do that again with your hand."

When we were naked, he pushed me onto the bed and pinned me down, kissing me thoroughly. "I want to try something," he said, grinding his hips against me so that I moaned. "I want to be inside you. To fuck you. Will you let me do that, Rupe?"

I thought of tearing and bleeding and pain. But Ethan wanted me, and I couldn't refuse him. I thought again, imagining him fucking me, taking me, coming inside me. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad. "All right," I said.

"It'll be OK," he said reassuringly. "I know what to do. I asked a friend of mine over the holidays." My sudden fear must have shown. "He explained, you fool. I didn't ask for a practical demonstration." He kissed me again and licked at my earlobe. "I've been dying for you. I want you so much."

He showed me the jar of Vaseline he'd bought. "It won't hurt, if we use this and go slowly. Michael said I should do it with my fingers first, to help you get used to it." He turned me over. In a moment I felt a slippery finger touch me there, very gently, and then push in. It felt huge in me, but it didn't hurt.

"All right, Rupe?"

"I think so."

"Good." Then his finger moved, and touched something inside me, and a shock of pleasure went through me. "Is that nice?"

"Mmph. Yes. Yes." He did it again, reducing me to inarticulate sounds. Then he put two fingers in me, then three, and each time he touched that place it was like putting a match to tinder. I wanted him to put his cock in me, and burn me down.

He drew his fingers out of me, stroking again as he went, so that I closed my eyes and pushed my face into the pillow. Then he put the jar in my hand, and I shifted round to slick the stuff onto his cock. He did the same to me, his touch maddeningly brief.

I knelt on all fours on the bed, feeling a hint of ridiculousness despite my excitement, but then he got behind me, and pressed the head of his cock against me, and I forgot to feel anything but need. "Are you ready?"

I made an encouraging noise, wanting him to hurry. He kissed along my spine, and then pushed slowly into me. It stung a little, but there was none of the agony I'd feared. And I knew it would have been worth any agony to have him inside me, so close. He began to move, touching that secret place in me again. The touch travelled unknown passageways, swelling my cock and making me ache to thrust. Then his hand was there, circling me, hot and slick and knowing. There was nothing in the world but him and the things he was making me feel. Every movement brought me closer to some great burning perfection, a feeling that would be not just orgasm but revelation. I was going to crack apart and be remade.

He pushed harder into me, pounding, grinding, annihilating whatever space was left between us. I pushed back against him, wanting him deeper, closer. I wanted to stay in this feeling forever, lingering on the edge I could feel approaching, and I wanted to go over it, and fall into whatever awaited me.

Ethan made a faint, high noise and spasmed against me. His hand convulsed, squeezing my cock almost painfully. There was a roaring in my ears and an explosion inside me and all through me.

After a few gasping seconds, I eased down onto the bed. He stayed inside me, stroking my shoulder blades and playing with the hair at the nape of my neck, while I drowned in satisfaction. When he withdrew, the movement woke a little aftershock of pleasure in me, and I took a shuddering breath.

"Are you all right, Rupe? Did I hurt you?"

Hurt was the farthest thing from my mind. I felt weightless and dizzy, like the best part of being drunk, magnified a thousand times. "I'm not hurt. It was just . . . so much." After a moment's thought I added, "I love you." I'd had the words in my mind, on my tongue, a hundred times, but had never managed to say them.

He held me very tight, wrapping arms and legs around me. "Really?" he asked. In his voice I heard an echo of a lonely little boy.

I ran a hand up his arm, and then reached back to touch his face. "Yes. Do you love me?"

He nipped a finger, then kissed the palm of my hand. "Ever since I saw you in the Bodleian in that awful tweed jacket."

***

Winter passed, and spring came, and turned into summer, and we continued as before. We worked magic together, and studied just enough to have a hope of passing the first year exams, and lived intensely in one another. I let Ethan pierce my ear, and wore one of his silver hoops. Ethan, endearingly, took to wearing my last surviving tweed jacket on cool days. On him it didn't even look absurd, whatever wild outfit he wore beneath. It looked like a mad new style he'd caught on to before anyone else. We kissed in alleyways, and laughed at our private jokes, and danced to David Bowie records at three o'clock in the morning. Once we even went punting, embarrassed by the cliché but enthralled by the romance. We radiated first love. The whole of Oxford must have known.

Inevitably, some murmur of this got back to my father. He appeared at my rooms two weeks before exams. Ethan and I were lounging half-dressed on the bed, smoking marijuana and looking through an enormous fifteenth-century spellbook we'd "borrowed" from the Bodleian.

My father hadn't, of course, bothered to knock. An hour earlier and he'd have caught us having sex. What he did see was apparently quite enough. He shut the door behind him, and looked at me in silent shock.

I dropped the joint into a water glass and got up. For a moment, I saw the whole scene through my father's eyes, and felt hotly ashamed. Then Ethan was beside me, and I got my courage back.

"Hello, father. What an unexpected pleasure."

"I'm sure this is no pleasure for either of us. I've been hearing very disturbing things about you, from Mr. Ardyce and others." He seemed to see Ethan for the first time. "Who is this . . . person?"

"I'm Ethan Rayne," Ethan said. My father scarcely glanced at him.

I took a deep breath. "He's my boyfriend." I wasn't trying to be courageous, or to come out, or even to defy my father. I just couldn't lie about Ethan, or pretend that he meant less than he did.

My father got red in the face. His eyes narrowed and his fists clenched. It's something of a credit to him, I suppose, that he didn't hit either of us. "I'd like to talk to my son, please," he said, addressing Ethan, though he was staring at me.

"Stay," I said, and Ethan stayed.

"All right," said my father. "If you refuse to explain yourself privately, I'll say what I've come to say. You will apologise to Mr. Ardyce, and obey his instructions in future. You will study and pass your exams. You will stay home this summer, where I can supervise your training and behaviour." I'd told my father I wanted to travel in Europe, not mentioning than Ethan would come with me. "And finally, you will not see this boy again." Without waiting for an answer, he turned and walked out.

I threw a glass at the now-closed door, then another, and then kicked over a chair. If Ethan hadn't been there, I'd have torn the room apart. Instead, I stood trembling with rage, fighting to control myself. Ethan quietly found a brush and dustpan and swept up the broken glass.

"So that was your father," he said at last.

"The bastard. He's got no right to interfere in my life. I won't let him do it. I won't!" I tried to calm myself with deep breaths. "I don't care about apologising, and I know I'll pass the exams. But he's got no right to try and break us up."

"Well," Ethan said, putting his arm around my waist, "there's nothing he can actually do. It's not illegal anymore."

"It is if you're under twenty-one," I reminded him.

"You don't really think he'd tell the police?"

I shrugged. "He might. If I keep seeing you, he'll know, and he'll punish me somehow. At least he'll make me leave Oxford."

"In that case," said Ethan, his fear apparent under his calm words, "it depends on how badly you want to stay at Oxford."

I pulled him close, needing to reassure both him and me that we were together. "I won't give you up. Oxford doesn't matter. We'll leave. He can't do anything if he can't find us."

"We could go to London," Ethan said. "My friends would help us find a place to stay. Who cares about Oxford anyway?" He was afraid I would change my mind. I could feel it in his body.

"Let's go tomorrow," I said. "There's no reason to wait."

Ethan hugged me hard, and said, "It's going to be wonderful."

***

It was, for a while. The rest, the things that tore us in two and left us maimed and bleeding for so many years, I try not to think about anymore. Certainly I didn't think about it as I sat watching the students and tourists in their boats. I remembered our year at Oxford, when we were simply happy.

I came out of my daydream at the touch of a hand on my shoulder. "Hello, Rupe," Ethan said, and sat down beside me. "I knew I'd find you by the river."

He was very different now from the brilliant boy I'd loved then. Like me, he was aging, and humbled, and weighed down sometimes by painful memories. Nothing was simple anymore. We would never be young again. But we were together.

"How did it go?" I asked anxiously.

He was silent for a moment, and I tried to find consoling words. Then he broke into his old, wicked grin. "They said yes. Thank God the Mages' Council is less sanctimonious than the damned Watchers. They've confirmed me in the rank of magister, starting immediately." He kissed me, to the open-mouthed shock of a tourist couple strolling by.

"So they'll refer students to us?"

"Yes, as soon as we have somewhere to teach them. We'd better start house-hunting." He laughed. "I never thought I'd end up a teacher."

"It's our punishment for giving Ardyce the hiccups."

"I'd forgotten that. We were very naughty boys, you and I." He stood, and pulled me to my feet. "Come on, I want to see if our pub is still the same."