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In Corpore Sano

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His father had suddenly become fond of quoting "mens sana in corpore sano" at him, and he supposed he didn't have to ask why. He wasn't sound, these days. Not his body--he'd lost muscle while he was gone, and he hadn't kept up with his physical training. He'd drunk too much--he still did drink too much, even if he'd had to give up the drugs when he'd come home, because it was the only way he could sleep--and besides all that, there was the mark on his arm he hadn't let his father see, the one that branded him as forever unsound.

And his mind--he'd laugh at the thought that it was anything approaching sound, these days, if he'd laughed since that horrible moment when they'd realized they wouldn't get Randall back. He was sick of himself, right down to his soul, and he was still desperately afraid that they were all going to meet with the same fate that Randall had.

And he missed them. Diedre, with her black eyeliner and her lipstick-stained fag-ends and her too-tight skirts. Thomas, and the beard he thought was sleek and saturnine but really just looked scraggly. Philip's tendency to get pompous and preachy. Randall's uncertainty--they should have known he'd never pull it off. He missed them all.

All but Ethan, at least. He didn't miss Ethan.

If he saw Ethan again, he'd knock his block off for not even caring about what they'd done.

If he saw Ethan again, he'd chain him to the bed so he could never slip away again.

If he saw Ethan again, he'd beg him to stay.

No, definitely not a sound mind.

He slipped off most mornings before anyone else was awake and went down to the gate that led to the paddock where his father's horses grazed. He'd lean on the gate, and stare out into the middle distance, and wish he were somewhere else. Anywhere else.

He wished he were someone else, too.

But most of all, he wished he'd asked Ethan to come with him, because in the cool grey mist of morning, he almost managed to convince himself that Ethan might possibly have said yes.

He didn't say any of that to his father, of course, just told him that he'd been going for walks before breakfast to clear his head, and his father had approved of that. He was to return to Oxford in the autumn, to resume his Watcher training as soon as his father judged him fit, and he'd need a clear head for both of those things.

He'd chosen to come back, he told himself, and so it would be different this time. He wouldn't feel trapped, stifled. He wouldn't feel burdened with this destiny he didn't want.

And he'd forget all about the boy in the white t-shirt and the battered leather jacket--the jacket he'd carefully packed away in his wardrobe, along with his guitar; he couldn't bear to give them up, but he couldn't bear to see them, either. He'd forget about the exhilaration of the magic, the beat of the music coming from Diedre's hi-fi, the smell of sandalwood from Thomas's incense.

He'd forget all about the mattress on the bedroom floor, and the dark-eyed, drowsy boy sprawled on it, waiting for him to stop reading and come to bed.

He'd forget about how sharp and cold Ethan's voice had sounded when he told him never to come back.

He'd forget how much he'd wanted to stay, even after what had happened.

He'd bury himself in the destiny he'd chosen for himself, and it wouldn't hurt any more. And to his father and the Council and the world, he'd be sound, in both body and mind, and no one would ever have to know that deep inside, somewhere, he thought he was probably broken beyond repair.