Nick Rush is no stranger to students having crushes on him. Unfortunately. The one time the department chair strong-arms him into teaching the first-year introductory course (something that will never happen again after he fails half the class), there are three first-year girls --freshwomen?-- who sit in the front row and stare at him throughout the lectures. It's offputting, or would be if it weren't so ridiculous.
He complains about it to Gloria sometimes, in the luxurious knowledge that she won't be jealous, that she has nothing to be jealous of, that she'll just laugh at him. "I don't even understand why," he says. "Much as I'd like to flatter myself, I'm not that good-looking. And I can't imagine that it's my prowess in computational complexity that excites them, not after their grades on the midterm."
Gloria does, indeed, laugh at him. "It's the accent," she tells him. "People in the States do seem to be drawn to it. My fan club is now three times as large as it was before I did that radio interview."
Gloria is also no stranger to music-lovers who seem to be somewhat unhealthily obsessed with her. There are a couple of old men who always seem to get the same seats to the SF symphony, as well as several more who are always striking up conversations Gloria describes as "slightly creepy" at the private receptions the Symphony has for the large donors. Nick has taken to attending these receptions every so often, even though they give him a headache, for the sheer pleasure of seeing Gloria's face light up and these men's faces fall when she says, "Yes, that's my husband."
He has two female grad students under him during his tenure at Berkeley. The first, shortly after he takes the appointment, has a lovely mind, is completely unafraid of him, bonds with Gloria one day when she comes to visit Nick at his office, and gets married the week after her thesis defense. He and Gloria attend her wedding; she hugs them both, and kisses Nick on the cheek, and exchanges a mischevious grin with Gloria when he blushes.
The second also has a lovely mind -- otherwise he wouldn't have taken her on -- but is very reserved. They only talk about algorithms and proofs, not about anything personal. He has no idea whether she likes music or sports or anything else. He likes it that way. He likes having her as a student.
One day, while they're talking about the last chapter of her dissertation, he glances over with a question and surprises an expression on her face of yearning, her heart in her eyes. As she looks at him.
She blinks, and he knows she knows he's seen it. She makes some hasty excuse about having an errand to run and leaves.
After that they both act like nothing happened, but there's a constraint between them that wasn't there before. She finishes up her dissertation, interviews for and declares her intention to accept a job in industry (a waste of her mind, he thinks, but there it is), and defends.
He always buys dinner for his group and their significant others when someone defends successfully, to celebrate. Gloria can't always attend, because of her concert schedule, but she does attend this one. After dinner, as he and Gloria are heading back home, he sighs a little and can't help but say, "Poor kid."
Gloria doesn't ask him what he means. "Yeah," she agrees softly, and that's all they ever say about it.
He, thank God, has an undergrad proposition him only once, apparently in hopes that he'll change her grade. After he finishes yelling at her, he goes home and rants to Gloria about it. "What kind of person did she think I was, to do such a thing?"
Gloria laughs, but only briefly. "I'd always thought such things were a bit of a myth, really," she says. "Students and tenured professors--" She shakes her head. "It just seems very -- sad, somehow, to be driven to something with such an imbalance of power."
Nick takes her in his arms. "Thank God I'm not that desperate," he says with feeling.
Gloria laughs a real laugh and kisses his nose. "Happy to help curb your base desires, my love," she says, grinning, and as he protests that he didn't mean it like that, she kisses his mouth, and he suddenly finds better things to do than continue the conversation.
It's one of the last public conferences Rush ever goes to. The SG scientific staff like for him to go to conferences occasionally, to show that he's still alive, still in the field, plausible deniability and all that.
It's the first conference after Gloria.
It's not so bad, actually. It's much better than at Cal, in the government, where there was always someone who wanted to ooze over him with sorrow, oh, Professor Rush, what a terrible tragedy, if there's anything we can do --
Here, people come up to him and say, Hey, Nick, I heard about Gloria, I'm sorry. And when he doesn't respond, they nod and say, So. QIP = PSPACE, huh? What do you think? Have you looked at the Watrous paper? --
It is, quite simply, a relief.
As everyone is milling around after the last set of talks that day, Ike catches Nick's eye and motions him over. Nick wanders over to see Ike firing questions at a grad student. Strictly softballs: he's asking her to explain Deutsch's algorithm. Rush supposes this is Ike's way of figuring out whether it's worth bothering with her at all.
He leans against a wall, watching them. The girl is not exactly what Rush would call brilliant, but she's at least mildly competent, which, well, Ike gives him a look that says, I'll take what I can get.
The girl makes the last ket symbol with a flourish. Another student, watching her, applauds. Ike gives her a nod of approval. "Come on, I'll buy you a drink." He jerks his chin at Nick. "I'll buy you one too, Nick. You look like you could use it."
"Oh, you're Nick Rush?" the girl asks, looking impressed.
Ike continues, "And I'm sure Dan can use one after that bit-commitment argument he got dragged into, let's go round him up, if he comes we may be able to get John and maybe even Alexei to come, maybe Scott will come as well."
Nick is fairly sure that Ike has engineered this whole thing to make sure Nick has something to do tonight, but part of him admires the hack-and-slash methodology of the engineering, and he does actually want to find out what Alexei and Scott think of the Watrous paper, so he goes.
In the end there are about ten of them, and he enjoys the evening far more than he'd thought he would. Barbara ends up joining them, and she, Dan, John, and Alexei are very quickly entangled in a convoluted and rather fascinating discussion of fault-tolerance. Nick and Scott get into a thoroughly satisfactory argument about the Watrous paper. The grad student -- Christine? he doesn't quite catch her name -- is a fan of science fiction novels, and she and Nick start a loud debate over the merits of Bujold verus Vinge.
At some point Nick realizes that he and Christy -- if that is her name; he's a bit embarrassed to ask her at this point -- are the only ones left. She says, "I've got a couple of books back at my hotel room, want to come look at them?"
Gloria always said he was an innocent in some ways, and she must be right, because it's not until the girl gives him a sidelong glance that Nick starts to understand what the invitation means. What the hell. Gloria's in her grave, and he -- and he -- well, he can do whatever he wants, right? He says, "Yeah, okay." He pushes away the observation that she's just a kid, a student, half his age, she's learning about Deutch's algorithm for Christ's sake --she's not his student, is she?
In her room, they look at each other uncertainly. He gets the impression she's never really done this before, invited a professor back to her room with this in mind. Well, he hasn't either. He raises a hand to her cheek --
-- and suddenly, he sees Gloria's face, her eyes --
-- and he stumbles back. "No," he says. "No. No." He leaves as quickly as he can.
The next day, Christy, or Carla, or whatever the hell her name is, skitters away whenever he comes within a five-meter radius of her. He can't bring himself to be sorry about this.
"I don't mind that you kissed Amanda," Gloria assures him earnestly. "Truly I don't. I like Amanda. She's a good person."
"It doesn't matter whether you care or not," Rush snarls. "You're either Destiny or my own mind, and either way it's not relevant."
"But," Gloria says as if he hasn't spoken, "have you noticed the way she looks at you?" She looks worried. "Remember when we talked about students and tenured professors and--"
Rush thinks he is going to be sick. He remembers that conversation vividly. He remembers the starry look those undergrads used to give him, the same look that grad student gave him at that conference. The same look Mandy gave him. He knows, now, why he had to pull away from her, and it wasn't, as he told her, just because of his experience in the chair.
He pushes the thoughts down. He's simply not going to think about it. Gloria, or whoever it is wearing her face, isn't going to make him. She's dead. He will just think about Mandy, who is beautiful and brilliant and kind, and what's more, alive, and who wants him.
"Are you sure that she really wants you, and not some image of you she keeps in her mind? Does she understand you as you really are?"
Gloria always understood him completely, both the good and the bad, and didn't hesitate to tell him, gently, when she thought something wasn't right. And even when he hurt her, even when she was dying, she still understood and loved --
No. No. He will not think about it. He will not.
The next time Mandy comes to Destiny -- and there will be a next time -- he will kiss her, he thinks savagely, and then he will -- he will --
He can't think any further than that with someone who looks like Gloria in the room.
"This won't end well," Gloria whispers. "If you go with her because you're angry at Gloria-then for dying, at Gloria-now for existing-- Amanda deserves better than that, Nick. And you deserve better than someone who's simply hero-worshiping you. You both do."
"That's not--" true, he means to finish, but his voice breaks on the last word. He says instead, "It will work. It will. I can love her, and she can love me. You'll see."