Rumour has it that a shipment of rum from the Indies has reached the Colony, rumour that is confirmed when Professor Javier takes Scotius and Werner aside to remind them that his earliest students -- that the two of them, for some reason, in particular -- are seen as models of morality and good behaviour. They should, he says, in all their actions be mindful of this role. The boys agree -- as one always agrees with the Professor -- and go about their work.
Scotius is surprised, then, later in the day, when Werner approaches him with the news that he has charmed a full wineskin of the stuff off of some amiable housewife. On reflection, his news should not be a surprise. Scotius has no doubt that Werner could have charmed absolutely anything off of an amiable housewife, if his affections had inclined that way. Nonetheless, he protests -- didn't Werner hear what the Professor said? Werner calls Scotius a Scottish Puritan, and Scotius calls Werner a Bavarian drunkard; Werner replies that his mother was in fact from Westphalia, and his father an Englishman, and Scotius asks how he came to believe that the latter fact is anything at all to take pride in.
Werner wins the argument, of course. He claims that Javier never said they should not drink, only that they should not do it where others could see them. Werner knows a place where they can remain unobserved. Scotius only raises a token protest: Robbie and Hal should be invited, so as not to exclude them from the group. Werner claims that the others have run off somewhere and cannot be found. His manner suggests he has not looked very hard -- if at all -- but Scotius accepts the excuse. If Werner wants so badly to talk with him, alone, it is only fair to give him the opportunity.
Besides. Scotius suspects that this conversation may be overdue. He has already worked out his part in his head, has rehearsed and polished it to a state of near perfection. In the past year, Friend Werner, our relationship has changed. We have become better acquainted, and I have grown to rely on you, as a counselor and companion. I have, in fact, grown quite fond of you. However -- and you must understand that when I say this, I mean it with no personal disrespect to you -- I am not, and cannot be, fond of you in the same manner that you may have grown fond of me.
It is, in his mind, a very good speech, one that could be followed with a respectful handshake and no increase in hard feelings. The reason that he has not given it yet -- despite, he admits, numerous opportunities -- is that he is considering his approach from all angles and possibilities, like the master tactician he is in battle. It is certainly not that Scotius Summerisle is a rank coward in regards to his personal choices. This problem between himself and Werner is a matter of team relationships, only. A little rum and a walk in the woods is well worth the price of getting this matter sorted.
They don their traveling clothes, and Werner gives the Professor a pretext about observing the migration of deer; listening to him try and lie to Javier almost makes Scotius blush, as he is never fool enough to attempt it himself. But Javier only wishes them a good journey. Werner's damned charm again; even the Professor is not immune.
They make the first league or so on foot. Then Werner, with hardly any prelude, spreads his wings, takes Scotius by the arms and lifts them both to a clearing on the top of a hill. There are trees on all sides, and no path leading through them, but here there is a wide clear meadow, and the beginning of a stream. They both set their feet in the water, strip to the waist, and expose their bare skin to the brilliant Virginia sunshine as Werner produces his flask.
The demon rum lives up to its name -- too well, perhaps. They have both drunk beer and wine, sometimes past the point of moderation, but neither has had anything that tastes so sharp, and works so quickly. They have run out of drink before they realize it and, while Scotius had the foresight to bring water, Werner did not. And so they are both lying in the grass by the stream, Werner on his stomach with his glorious wings spread, Scotius on his back. They are both lightheaded, and trying to share the last clean water. Werner leans over, holding the spout of the flask to Scotius' mouth, letting a few drops fly out. Scotius catches them with his tongue. Then Werner sets down the drink and lowers his wet hand to the other boy's chest, right above the welts branded into his skin. His fingers linger, their eyes meet, and Scotius knows this is going to be a problem.
"Werner -- " he says.
"Yes?" the boy runs the back of his hand across Scotius' forehead, brushing the top of his heavy glasses.
"In the past year, Werner, our relationship . . ." He trails off, looking up to watch the sunlight play in the boy's hair. Those locks are almost gold in themselves. Lit by the sun and tinted with the red hue of Scotius' ruby glasses, they seem to dance like fire, to have a life of their own. He thinks of a burning girl falling from the sky, and somehow the memory burns brighter because Werner is touching him. But he has no words to say this, and so he reaches a hand to Werner's forehead, and brushes upwards. "I like your hair," he says, catching it between his fingers.
"I like your eyes," Werner answers, leaning close. "I cannot see them, but I think they are -- what does our English poet say? -- something like the sun." He holds a hand over Scotius' ruby lenses. "So warm and so bright --" Scotius opens his mouth to disagree. His eyes are nothing like the sun. They are dangerous, not warm and welcoming, and in any case, he is half sure that Werner has the verse wrong.
But he can't correct himself, can't say anything at all, because as soon as his mouth is open, Werner leans down to cover his lips in a kiss. Werner tastes sharp and spicy, like the rum but also, indefinably, like himself. He remembers Jean's kisses -- the few he had stolen -- how they had always carried a flavor of her, that was distinct from the mint leaves she liked to chew.
Scotius moves his hand over Werner's hair, then down his back to touch the soft, feathery wings. "In the past year, I have grown very fond of you --" he begins, but the well-prepared speech is suddenly all tangled up in the rum, and the sunlight, and Werner's touch, and another realization. The only aspect of this problem he hasn't considered is that it might not be a problem. He isn't sure that he understands, but he knows, at that moment, that he wants to kiss Werner every bit as much as the other boy wants to kiss him.
Scotius presses his hips closer to Werner, surprised at the new ways his own body is stirring, but not about to fight the sensation. Werner's kisses move down his jaw, stopping at his neck. Scotius tilts his head back, as lips touch his Adam's apple. Then Werner pulls his mouth away and says, "I have thought of this moment a great deal, as well. If it eases your mind I believe that she -- that Master Grey -- would have wanted it this way."
And maybe it is a fault against the dead, maybe it is only two boys believing what they want to believe, but Scotius is certain that Werner is right. As he buries his fingers down to the knuckles in the deep rich feathers on Werner's wings, he almost imagines that he can bridge the gap between the two people he has ever thought about loving, a dead girl and a living boy.
He thinks that if Jean were alive, she would not only smile on them, but might settle easily in between them, run her hands over two bodies, and place soft kisses on both of their necks. Perhaps people do not live this way, in Christian nations. But Scotius no longer judges himself by the laws of people who seared a mark into his chest, who drove the woman he loved to her death, and tried to burn the man he now loves, for the sin of his beautiful wings.
The eyes of the world and the laws of nations are not watching them, here in this meadow. There is only, somewhere above them, the spirit of a girl who gave herself for them both, smiling over them, warming their skin, sharing their happiness.
Something like the sun.