Arthur doesn't remember the first time he saw her. It had to have been in the geography class they shared, but, well... He was a third year in a first year course, why did he care who was sitting around him, talking about how early they had to get up for the 10:30 AM class, or instant messaging instead of listening?
What he does remember is the first time they talked.
~ ~ ~
"I don't know why you dragged me into this, frog," he grumbled at Francis.
"You know perfectly well why, mes sourcils." Francis smiled out at the sea of new students. "If you hadn't wanted to be part of my magnificent plans, you should not have renewed the lease. Or run for member-at-large."
"That's exactly what I'm talking about!" His hand slammed down on the table, causing the rainbow-coloured pamphlets to shift and two delicate blondes to lean away. "Two years of my life is enough to spend on a weekly club, Mr. President."
"Now now, it hasn't been all bad, has it?" That smile turned into a leer, and Arthur wanted to punch it right off his mouth. "I know for a fact you've had some dalliances as a result of the Alliance. And by the sounds they were quite satisfactory."
"Mais oui. After so long, I don't know why you're surprised."
"Hmph." He crossed his arms and turned away. Watched the students look at their table and then look hastily away, and- Oh, that one was on his third circuit, getting a little closer to the table each time. Probably trying to raise the courage to sign up for the campus gay-straight alliance. Not that he was having an easy time of it, with the crowd starting and stopping and generally getting in his way. "Francis?"
"When did the first years become so small?"
"When you became a second year." Francis pointed across the aisle, to the tall loud blond standing next to a dour blond at the Beer Appreciation Society table. "Any bets on those two?"
"Hockey team," a woman said from the side of the GSA table.
Arthur raised an eyebrow, trying to place where he recognised her from.
"Oh, I'm sorry!" She flushed, let her chin-length hair cover her face. "I just kind of butted in there, didn't I?"
Human geography class, that was it. "It's all right," he said. "Practices on Tuesday, then?"
"Monday-Wednesday-Friday mornings, so our options for other clubs are pretty small."
"Your options?" Francis cooed, flipping modes like someone had turned a blasted switch. "Surely someone so lovely as you wouldn't be part of a sport as violent as hockey."
"Left winger," she said with a smile. "Appearances can be deceiving." The crowd parted, pushed. "Good luck with getting sign-ups."
"Thank you," Arthur said, hesitated. "And good luck with the reading for Tuesday."
She laughed as the crowd carried her away. "You too!"
She was hardly three tables away when Francis turned to Arthur with a grin. "And who, mon beau, is that?"
"Someone." Arthur busied himself with straightening their pamphlets. "She's in my geography class, though we haven't talked."
"Oh? But she has such a lovely smile."
"It's a big class." Yes, the PFLAG brochures looked much better to the left of the anti-defamation handouts.
Francis just laughed, and turned to present a rose to a baffled first year.
~ ~ ~
She sat next to him that Tuesday.
"Is this spot taken?" she asked, half-hopeful smile on her face.
He blinked. "No."
"Then can I-" She gestured, arms full of notebooks, and Arthur glanced at the binders he'd spread over the bench desk.
Oh. "Sorry about that," he said, and scooped his binders into his bag.
"Not used to sitting next to people, eh?"
She hesitated, half-in the chair. "If I'm imposing..."
He shook his head. "It's no trouble. And it is a full class."
She nodded, slid her books onto the desk. Goodness her legs were long... "I'm Mathilda, by the way, but call me Matt. Please."
"Arthur. ... Named for someone?" he asked as the professor walked in, turned on the projector.
"My great-aunt." She made a face.
"Ah. My condolences."
She smiled at him, just a quirk of her lips, and he busied himself with writing the date on his paper.
~ ~ ~
Arthur was not worried when Mathilda didn't arrive on time for the Thursday class, and he most certainly was not considering how to send her the lecture notes.
She saved him the trouble though, and slid into her chair half-way through the lecture. "Sorry," she whispered, digging through her shoulder bag. "I slept through my alarm."
He scribbled a note on a spare sheet of looseleaf. I thought you had an earlier class.
"I-" She pulled out her binder, swore. "Can't find my-"
He passed her his pen, pulled another from his satchel. Her hair was still wet, and her eye shadow was blue today.
Thanks, she wrote beneath his sentence. And I missed that class too.
The professor droned on about the distribution of cholera cases in the 19th century, and Arthur added another note to his paper. Would you like a copy of the notes?
If it's not any trouble.
He slid over the looseleaf. Please bring them back on Tuesday.
Will do. =)
~ ~ ~
Matt handed him a ripped sheet of paper while the professor explained the presentation project. Want to work together?
Arthur tapped his pen on his own paper. He didn't want to do a presentation, Matt wasn't a first year, and she had a decently clear head on her shoulders. Can you speak loudly enough to be heard at the back of the room?
She frowned at him, and he hastily added: I'm joking.
Good. She twiddled her pencil. Where do you want to work on it? Library?
I have a house off-campus, though we would have to contend with perverted Frenchmen.
Do you mean the one that was at the GSA table with you?
He seemed nice, so it's fine. But if you'd rather not do this around him, there're plenty of rooms on-campus we can take over.
If he misbehaves, I'll throttle him. What time are you out of class on Monday?
~ ~ ~
Arthur handed Matt a mug of earl grey, sat beside her on the sofa.
"Thank you," she murmured, then blew on the top of her mug before taking a sip. "This is really good, not like normal tea."
No. No preening in front of his project partner, Francis would never let him live it down. "How do you 'normally' make it?"
"Take the tea bag, dunk it in hot water, wait. It's usually Red Rose brand, whatever that is."
"That's barbaric." She just lifted an eyebrow at him as he continued. "Before this semester is over, I'm teaching you how to make a proper cup of tea."
The corner of her mouth tugged up. "Not right now?"
"Right now, I have a cup." He took a pointed sip.
"Fair enough." She pointed her toes. "When do you expect your housemates back?"
"Tonight. Mariana has a late biology lab, and Francis will be in his studio until midnight. Or later."
Arthur shifted. "What is it?"
"We should take a break."
"That's what we are doing, if you recall."
"No, a longer one. I've been itching to see the new Wallander movie, but I haven't had anyone to watch it with. Michelle doesn't do dramas, and the team sticks to drinking."
"When we were in your room last week, I saw your bookshelf, and it's covered in murder mystery novels." She fiddled with her mug. "If you don't want to see it, that's cool, I get it."
"I, erm, I would like to see it. Not today, but..." He coughed. "Saturday afternoon? We can take pictures of the town for our presentation, and return here to warm up. If you're free."
"Promise to teach me how to make tea?"
"As if I would allow you to continue ruining perfectly good tea."
She clinked their mugs together with a smile. "Saturday it is."
~ ~ ~
"Mariana was serious about offering you her floor for the night," Arthur said.
"I know," Matt said, walking around a puddle of slush, "but I have practice in the morning and I need my stuff. And I was serious when I said you don't need to walk me."
"It's the proper thing to do, to walk a woman home."
She smiled, turned her face up to the clear sky. "Well, it's nice to have the company."
"It's about more than just the company."
"I know. It's just..." She puffed her cheeks out. "I'm not used to it, people fussing over me."
"I would hardly call this fussing."
"It's fussing. I'm a hockey player, I've never had someone walk me home before."
"Not in your entire first year?"
She shook her head.
"It's complicated. But things happened, I changed universities, got a fresh start - and here I am, getting walked home by a nice young man."
The wind must have died down, with how warm his cheeks felt. "And tomorrow morning you'll spend an hour getting hit around by a bunch of prats and chasing after a piece of rubber."
"Mm-hm, and it'll be awesome." She bumped his shoulder. "You should try it sometime, it's cathartic."
"I prefer embroidery: I have something at the end of the day, beside embarrassment." At her blank look, he added: "In the locker rooms. They wouldn't appreciate wandering eyes."
"Wha- Oh." She skipped along for a few steps, splashing slush up onto her jeans. "You'd be surprised. And they don't mind me, as long as I change in one of the offices first."
"That seems a lot of trouble."
"It's worth it, and once I'm on the ice I'm just another team mate. It's nice to belong like that."
"I should hope it's worth it - even I have heard of the hockey initiations." They turned left, started down the hill. "Is it true, about having to eat gravlax without toast?"
"Worse, we have to eat it with other fish. Ever heard of surströmming?”
Mariana plopped down beside Arthur. "I like her. "
"I'm so very glad you approve of my project partner."
She flicked his forehead. "That's not what I'm talking about, meu amigo, and you know about it."
He turned away, determined not to rub at the mark. "I assure you, I don't."
She snorted. "As you like. I think she's good for you - all you've had since we broke up are one night stands-"
"Kiku was more than a one night stand."
"Fine, three nights before you decided to just be friends." She flipped her hair back over her shoulder. "You like her, she obviously likes you... And don't give me that look, she wouldn't have let you walk her home if she didn't. She's on the hockey team, Arthur, she can take care of herself."
He determinedly turned the page of his music magazine. "It was only the right thing to do, to offer."
"That's exactly it! You're happier when you can be all gentlemanly. If you ever want to invite her over for a proper date, just let me know and I'll find a way to get Francis out of the house. Promise." She ruffled his hair.
"That won't be necessary."
Mariana just smiled, and grabbed the TV remote. "You never know."
~ ~ ~
Arthur turned up his coat collar, and couldn't quite hide his smile as Matt capered through the snow, catching the fat flakes in her mittens before blowing them away.
"It's over!" she crowed to the sky. "I don't need to draw population pyramids ever again!"
"What if you end up on a UN task force, and need to read them?"
"Then I'll read them." She grinned back at him, then twirled, her skirt swirling over her leggings. "But no drawing. What about you? What're you happy you never have to do again?"
He considered, leaving footprints on the sidewalk. He could think of one thing he'd miss. "The case study we performed, of that little town. I still don't quite understand why we needed to remember that its primary export was timber."
"And yet it came up on the exam."
"That it did. … Mathilda?"
Oh, sod it all - either Francis and Mariana were right or they weren't, and it wasn't like he had anything to lose. He leaned over, and pressed a gentle kiss to her mouth.
He didn't expect her to pull away, and stammer "I'm sorry! I'm- I didn't mean to- I'm sorry."
"I'm sorry," he said, kicking himself and promising retribution on Francis for getting his hopes up. "I mis-read."
"No! I-" She folded in on herself, shaking her head. "I am interested, I just.. I just can't."
"You never mentioned a boyfriend. Or a girlfriend."
"I'm not with anyone," she whispered, all inflection gone from her voice.
"Then why not? Could you at least tell me that?"
She angled her body away from him, knees bent. "... Because I have a penis."
Oh. Well. Arthur looked at him- her, her, mentally undressing her and (with regret) subtracting her bottom. Imagined a penis instead of the vulva he'd been fantasizing about. Didn't make any sudden movements. Yes, he still wanted her.
"That explains some things," he said instead, forcing his shoulders to relax.
"Why you have trouble speaking loudly, or how even when you were late to class you'd still arrive made up." He spread his hands slowly, then stuffed them into his pockets. "And why Francis fusses so over you."
"But-" She straightened, just a touch. "Francis knows?"
"Francis fancies himself a connoisseur of beauty, in all its forms, and thinks that you are a fine specimen." He shifted. "I can't say I disagree."
"You say that even though you know?"
"I would have said it five minutes ago, and I will say it five minutes from now." If his cheeks were red, it was simply because of the snow landing on them. Of course.
She was blushing, something like wonder on her features. "You mean that."
"I wouldn't say it if I didn't. What, did you not expect anyone to ever find you lovely?"
"Not really. Not with..." She gestured at her pelvis.
He stepped closer, watching her watching him. "I do," he said simply. "If that's your only objection...?"
She nodded, and this time, this time she opened to him, pulled him closer by his lapels.
"Matt?" he murmured against her lips, his hands resting on her waist.
"Let me take you out to supper, before you go home for Christmas break."
He could feel her smile against his skin. "I like the sound of that."