There were many hazards at Unseen University. There were corridors with strange gravity, the Weird Lavatory, the ever-present risk of getting lost, the less common but more hazardous risk of accidentally stumbling into someone's room when they were summoning a demon or other horrible creature. There were the hungrier books in the library and the pot plants on the fifth floor staircase.
Rincewind knew them all. He could have recited them in his sleep and probably often had. Consequently it was very difficult to catch him off guard on this, his home territory.
Ballistic hugs, however, were a new one to him.
Rincewind, hit by a colourful blur going at Luggage speed, stepped back with an oof , nearly falling backwards, flailed for a wall, and collapsed against it for support. Fortunately, he'd got a good look at his assailant before the attack had come, so he wasn't frightened.
"Hello, Twoflower," he said.
"Rincewind!" said Twoflower, slightly muffled by Rincewind's robe. "It's you!"
"I should hope so," said Rincewind, "you've already hugged me." But he was hugging Twoflower, too. Only he didn't want to admit that, or say how nice it was.
"Jolly good thing I had the right wizard," said Twoflower cheerfully, stepping back. "I'm sure it would have been terribly awkward to try and explain myself."
"You never know, with wizards," said Rincewind. "Erm, what are you doing here?" He looked around at the hallway to the Great Hall, which was nearly empty of students at this undinnerlike hour. He'd just come because he was out of teabags, which could easily be cadged from the kitchen.
Twoflower looked around too, with great interest. "I came to find you! I'm emperor now, you see!"
"You wrote me about it," said Rincewind. He remembered the letter. He remembered the casual tone of it. 'Pretty Butterfly stopped yet another assassination attempt and oh, by the way, I'm Emperor now'.
"Yes, I did, didn't I." Twoflower beamed. "I wanted you to know."
"Um...why did you want to see me?" Rincewind remembered abruptly that Twoflower had always been unwilling to see Rincewind's sheer incompetence at magic. All right, maybe Rincewind had convinced Twoflower he was competent first, and maybe that was Rincewind's fault, but Rincewind had told him the truth later on and Twoflower just wouldn't believe it. Just like he wouldn't believe Rincewind wasn't brave.
"Just to see you. Catch up, you know."
"Oh," said Rincewind, with a rush of relief. "Yes. Outside a dungeon maybe, even."
"Hopefully, unless the Ankh Morpork police have got a lot more strict than I remember."
"Well, they have, actually, but not that strict. Come on, I'll take you down to the Drum for a drink, eh?"
Mid Wednesday afternoon was not a wildly riotous time for the Drum clientele. Business hours had only just started, and most of the regular customers were filtering in looking bleary-eyed and searching for their regular seats. Rincewind ushered Twoflower to his own usual table, which he had chosen in the first place because it was in an incommodious corner and therefore wasn't likely to be seized by someone who had taken a shine to it.
He made his way up to the bar and fetched two beers.
"Ah, Ankh-Morpork beer," said Twoflower fondly. "Sustaining."
"That's one word for it," said Rincewind.
"You always complain when other people insult it," said Twoflower.
"Yeah, well, my city, my beer, my job to do the insulting." Rincewind sipped. "So....you're here for what? Exactly? I assume not me."
Twoflower smiled. "Well, it would be worth the journey, but no. In fact, Havelock offered to teach me something about the ins and outs of ruling."
" Havelock ," said Rincewind flatly. "Havelock?"
"You know, the Patrician--"
"I know who he is. I can't believe you call him Havelock."
"He offered," said Twoflower. "After I told him not to call me emperor. I've been writing him, you see. When I first took the throne, he wrote to me to tell me that if I needed any advice, he would be happy to provide. I said I didn't know the first thing about ruling, not really, so I would welcome anything he could tell me. And we've been talking ever since."
"Havelock," said Rincewind again, unable to wrap his mind around this.
"Does no one else call him that?"
"Not and live," said Rincewind. He supposed Vetinari might have friends, other rulers probably, but Rincewind didn't know who they were or what they called him. The mind rebelled. The Patrician was an essentially solitary figure. And now Rincewind was sitting across from one of his........?friends?, and it was Twoflower. Which meant that Rincewind had a friend in common with the Patrician.
"Rincewind?" said Twoflower, looking concerned. He had apparently been trying to get Rincewind's attention for several seconds. "Are you all right? Only you look a bit grey."
Rincewind took a large gulp of beer. "Can we move on from this subject? So you're here because Vetinari offered to teach you something?"
"Well, yes. He said if I felt comfortable leaving, then I could come and meet him and he'd give me a crash course. I'm here for six months, although I can extend that if I need to."
Six months. Six months of Twoflower. Maybe more. Rincewind blinked. "Which means you left your empire in the hands of....?"
"Butterfly, of course. She needs to learn anyway. She is the eldest."
Rincewind relaxed immediately. If there was one person both cynical and terrifying enough to run an entire empire on sheer force of will, it was Pretty Butterfly. "Good, good," he said, taking another, slower sip. "Women can be emperors in your country, then?"
Twoflower considered this briefly. "The current general opinion is no, but I have complete faith that she will be able to change that."
"Me too," said Rincewind. "Oh, me too. Well. Where are you staying?"
"I haven't really decided yet. I suppose I could stay here." Twoflower looked around the Drum with fond eyes. Ah, the rose-coloured eyeballs of nostalgia and romanticism.
"There's always the university," said Rincewind. "We've always got spare rooms for visiting dignitaries, and I should think a bloody emperor counts."
"Oh!" said Twoflower, sitting up straight. "Your university? Me?"
"Yeah, sure, we'll talk to the Archchancellor about it," said Rincewind casually, as if talking to Archchancellors was something he did offhand, and not an activity to be undertaken under extreme duress. Ridcully was one of the best they'd had in ages, but rather too prone to volunteering people for things they would rather not do. Particularly Rincewind.
Twoflower beamed with great joy, and Rincewind remembered another thing about Twoflower: he always made you feel good about yourself, often in spite of yourself. You knew that he had a completely skewed idea of your talents and abilities, and yet, his boundless faith just made you want to think that you were, really, that good.
Rincewind sighed. It was a dangerous trap to fall into.
In fact, they talked to Ponder Stibbons, who, in Rincewind's private opinion, was really the one running the university in the first place. Besides, he was very busy and therefore likely to acquiesce, and also he was much less intimidating than Ridcully.
"The guest suites?" said Ponder, remove his hat to absently mop his brow and stepping back from HEX. "Yes, there are plenty available. So long as you can find your way there, of course."
"It's fine, they're only three corridors and a wall away from the library," said Rincewind.
"Are you going to introduce us?" said Twoflower, gazing with great interest at HEX.
"Oh. Twoflower, this is Ponder. Got about three thousand jobs at the university, but especially does High Energy Magic. Ponder, this is Twoflower, er, emperor of Agatea."
Ponder wobbled a little. "Oh," he said, his voice a shade higher than it normally came out. "Ah. Guest suites. Erm, I'm not sure any of them are really up to that standard."
"Don't worry," said Twoflower, with his boundless golden reassurances. "I'm used to much worse. Prison, for one."
Ponder's eyes widened. "You've been in prison?"
"For political crimes. Not very exciting, I'm afraid I only wrote a book."
"Oh," said Ponder. He blinked. "Well, er, the guest suites are certainly nicer than prison. I think. I've never been in one."
Rincewind said, "I've been in loads, and I can tell you they're all worse than our guest suites, except, I suppose, the one we fetched up in on the Rim. Although, less jellyfish."
"The Magnolia Room is empty," said Ponder. "I think he should be quite comfortable."
The Magnolia Room was decorated with its namesake. Rincewind had forgotten that the UU guest rooms were all named and themed after various flowers, which was a really odd choice in a magical university. He supposed it was meant to convey a touch of normality, or delicacy, or something. It was all a bit much for Rincewind, who was used to whitewash if you were lucky and mud if you weren't, but he supposed Twoflower might like it.
"It's beautiful," said Twoflower, setting down his bag at last. "I'll send to the ship for the rest of my luggage."
"Have you got--" Rincewind waved a hand. "A Luggage?"
"No, I didn't want to risk it escaping into Ankh-Morpork. After all, technically, my old one did. How is the old thing, anyway?"
"Stroppy as ever," said Rincewind. "You can come to my room and visit it if you like. It likes to sleep on top of the wardrobe for most of the day unless there's something it can chase."
"Ah," said Twoflower happily. "Just like old times."
They arranged for Twoflower's things to be brought from the docks, by the simple expedient of giving the nearest kid sixpence and sending her with strict instructions to tell the crew and a promise of another sixpence if the things were delivered as expected. Ankh-Morpork street urchins could be relied upon to be honest when significant money was involved. Then Twoflower said he'd like a nap, so Rincewind left him, and went back to his own room, and sat on the bed.
"You'll never guess who's back," he told the Luggage, and lay down on the bed.
Gods. Twoflower. Rincewind tried to work out how long it'd been since he'd seen him, but time had got rather complicated for him what with Fourecks and all. He still had no idea what year he'd come out of the Dungeon Dimensions into Eric's bedroom, nor did he know what year it had been when he'd been sent to the Counterweight Continent, or really how long he'd been in Fourecks...
Rincewind realized he was mentally rambling to get away from thinking about the problem at hand.
"He's back," said Rincewind. "He's back for six whole months, maybe more. Here, at the university." He put an arm over his eyes, but he could feel the Luggage's eyeless stare boring into him.
"Don't look at me like that," he protested. "I didn't summon him here. I wouldn't have summoned him here. I was doing fine."
The Luggage stared some more, then curled its legs back up and returned to sleeping on the wardrobe.
Rincewind sighed. And now he was really alone with his own thoughts, just him and the inescapable anxiety that was clawing its way up from the pit of his stomach to his brain. Twoflower here. For six months. He thought, why did I invite him to stay at the university? Why didn't I leave well enough alone? He couldn't exactly have let Twoflower stay the Drum, no telling what horrors would befall an actual emperor with no bodyguards there, but the Patrician might have offered something. It might have been better. Less distance to walk, for one thing, not that it was far between the Palace and the University, but still...
What was the problem, anyway? Why didn't he want Twoflower here?
Because Twoflower had a track record of bringing chaos into his life.
Because Twoflower invited trouble on account of his boundless optimism and complete obliviousness to danger.
Because Twoflower thought Rincewind was someone special, and would definitely be disappointed when he realized this was not the case.
Because the last time Rincewind had seen Twoflower, it had turned out Twoflower was married with two daughters, which Twoflower really, genuinely had never told him, and they hadn't really satisfactorily resolved that, not even over letter. Because neither of them talked about their whatever-it-was, vacation fling, situation, over letters. Rincewind had never been up to committing the words "so, you weren't cheating on your wife with me, right?" to paper.
In fact, what he really wanted to ask was "How completely meaningless was this to you, when to me it was the first good thing I'd had in years?" And he definitely couldn't put that down on paper. Therefore, the question remained unasked.
And he wasn't going to ask it now. He wasn't. Six months or no six months.
Rincewind had the rest of the day to himself. He arose from his bed eventually and went to find something to catalogue. He'd been writing up a list of places he'd been lately, with the view of making Geography of it. That would occupy as much time as he could give it. The business of trying to remember a place when you had mostly passed through it at speed occupied a lot of brainpower.
He sat down at the battered desk in his office and shuffled his notes around absently. Where had he got up to?
Oh gods , he realized. He'd been writing about the Counterweight Continent.
Rincewind thumped his head on the desk and lay it there for a while. Narrativium, he considered, was a bugger.
After a while, he shuffled angrily through the notes and tried to find something unrelated to work on. There was still that stuff about the unusual potatoes of Borogravia, that wasn't Agatea-related. But then he remembered trying High Borogravian when Twoflower had come that first time, and that led him down the same path he'd been trying to avoid.
It must be bad if potatoes couldn't distract him. Rincewind set aside his writing and pulled over a box of uncatalogued shells. He'd been trying to come up with a scheme for categorizing shells. His rocks-and-fossils one was excellent and very detailed, but shells were different. They had more colours, and different shapes.
Rincewind poked at the shells. There were all sorts of different sizes all jumbled together, which he thought was very careless. If the box had been moved too much, some of them might have broken. He peered down at the bottom. In fact, yes, one or two seemed have to been casualties of the storage system. Terrible, really. Some people.
Rincewind picked up a very small shell, wedged between two bigger ones, and looked at it. Small, white with little brown spots. Where had he seen that sort of shell before?
Ah. He remembered now.
That horrible little cigarette box house that Twoflower had, the one covered in shells of this sort, with "a Special Souvenir" written on it. The one he'd got from the traveling shop. It played a tune when you opened it.
Rincewind groaned, and shoved the box back into its place. There was no hope for it. "Come on," he told the Luggage. "Let's go for a walk."
The Luggage, always happy at an extra chance to chase people and cause mayhem, hopped down off the wardrobe and led the way out of the university.
Rincewind mooched around the lawn, kicking things. It really wasn't fair. He'd been having a peaceful life here and everything. And now it was probably going to start all over again. He paused to stop the Luggage from treeing Modo the gardener, and got back to sulking. And what if Twoflower went all weird, all Vetinari-ish? Rincewind didn't like the idea. He wanted Twoflower to stay his friend. If Twoflower took lessons from Vetinari he'd learn to see through Rincewind very quickly.
Well, maybe that was better. Maybe he'd realize Rincewind wasn't worth it, and Destiny would go away too. It was just that Rincewind didn't like the idea of the last person with faith in him slipping away.
He looked up. It was getting dark, anyway. He collected the Luggage, which had been attempting to corner a hapless undergraduate, and took it back to his room.
Maybe if he went to bed, this would all have disappeared in the morning.
It didn't, of course. His luck wasn't good enough for that. He woke up and took the Luggage for its requisite morning walk, then went to the Magnolia room to collect Twoflower, who was an early riser. And annoyingly cheerful in the mornings, as Rincewind recalled. Rincewind could and often did get up early in the mornings, but he didn't like it.
This proved to remain true. Twoflower opened to his knock and beamed at him. "Fine morning, isn't it?" he said. "Breakfast?"
"Great Hall," said Rincewind. "This way."
At this hour, the Great Hall was not crowded. Wizards usually didn't like to be up and about until the morning had dimmed down a bit. Ponder Stibbons was there, with the look of a man who had not yet slept, eating pizza.
"Good morning!" said Twoflower. "Can we sit with you?"
Ponder looked up from the pizza with the air of a hungover man who has just had a large pot banged against its lid beside his ear. "Oh," he said, blinking. "Of course."
Rincewind looked at the available food, thought for some time, and took some bacon as well as the usual coffee and hashbrowns. This looked to be a day requiring fortification. Twoflower took tea and a small assortment of the most Morporkian foods available.
"What is it you're working on?" Twoflower asked Ponder, companionably. "I saw something when we went to ask you about the room yesterday, but I couldn't possibly guess what it was."
Ponder looked suspicious. "It's HEX. He's--it's-- a sort of thinking apparatus, with magic," he said. "He does maths. And talks. And he boils spells down to their components, and all sorts of other things."
"How fascinating!" said Twoflower. "How does it work?"
Ponder's eyes widened. "You want to know...how HEX works?"
Rincewind tried to nudge Twoflower, in a nonverbal attempt to communicate that he was getting himself into some very complicated talk, but Twoflower ignored him. "I'd love to."
This caused a Brightening of Ponder beyond anything Rincewind had ever witnessed at 8am. He straightened up and took a deep breath and launched into a technical explanation of the principles underlying HEX. Like the last time he had received this lecture--it happened about once a year because he could never remember it and Ponder kept having to re-explain--Rincewind understood about one word in three. Twoflower could not possibly be understanding more, but he seemed interested anyhow.
Well, it got Rincewind out of having to converse with him before coffee had taken hold. Rincewind ate his hashbrowns and watched Twoflower. He kept asking Ponder questions, not ones that sounded like he really understood but ones that showed he'd been paying attention. His eyes were lit with enthusiasm, the way they'd got when he'd seen that ugly little shell cigarette box.
Twoflower would probably decide he liked Ponder better and would want him as a guide.
That was fine.
It got Rincewind out of the job of showing Twoflower the university.
He hadn't looked forward to that. Not an inch.
And it was better because Ponder knew more things than Rincewind, and was smart, if not very good at explaining things to lesser mortals such as Rincewind. And Twoflower would be happier. It would work out for the best. Twoflower would come to understand sooner that Rincewind was not really anyone important or special. He would leave Rincewind alone, and Rincewind would be back to only having an aggressively homicidal suitcase for a companion. Well, and the Librarian, of course.
It's better, Rincewind told himself, I don't need people. It's safer this way really.
He realized that people were looking at him.
"What?" he said.
"I said, would you be all right with that?" said Twoflower.
"All right with what?"
"I want to see HEX! Ponder said he'd show me."
Ah. Yes. It was starting. "Yeah, sure," said Rincewind absently.
"So we'll go after breakfast, then?"
"Yes, I understand you've seen HEX before, but I thought it would be nice if you'd show me the way and, oh, point out some of the university to me before."
Rincewind blinked. "I...yes. I suppose that's fine."
"I'll be in the HEM building for a couple more hours," said Ponder sliding off the bench. "Rincewind, you know the way well enough, come along whenever you're finished eating."
On the way, Twoflower told Rincewind that he had an appointment at the Palace, but not till afternoon. "He thought I'd need time to get settled, which I do, of course. Do you think you could lead me there, if it's not far? These streets are such a maze, I'm always afraid I'll get lost."
Rincewind almost refused, he'd been to the Patrician's palace in one too many dire circumstances, but then again this might be his last chance to seem like an Expert in front of Twoflower, or at least mildly competent. "All right," he said. "Do you need me to collect you? It's not far at all."
"Yes, please. Perhaps afterwards we can see a bit of the city."
There was plenty to see in the Patrician's Palace area, and some of it was even moderately nonlethal. Rincewind agreed, and took Twoflower to HEX, via his own room so they could stop and see the Luggage.
"It's very nice," said Twoflower, peering inside the office. "Last time I asked, weren't you living in a student room with a mattress on the floor."
Rincewind sighed. He missed that mattress. "Yes. After the, er, Sourcerer, things got a little confused, and then when I came back I wound up Professor of Cruel and Unusual Geography, and then they gave me an office and a room, and it had a whole bed and everything."
"Very nice," said Twoflower again. "Bijou. Cozy. Oh, there's the Luggage!"
"So you came down, did you," said Rincewind to it.
"I'm so glad you kept it," said Twoflower.
"It's more that it's kept me, really."
Twoflower ignored this, as he tended to do with things that didn't fit into his current focus. "Hello, old chap," he said, happily patting the Luggage's lid. "Keeping well, are you? Looking after him?"
"Well, good," said Twoflower. "Someone has to." And he winked at Rincewind.
Rincewind frowned deeply. He had determined not to ask. Flirting was below the belt.
"I am an adult," he said. "I don't need a sentient suitcase to take care of me."
"Well, you clearly need someone. Look at you."
"What's wrong with me?" asked Rincewind, offended. "I'm perfectly fine."
"You're too skinny. Are you eating?"
"Twoflower, the one thing you don't have to worry about at Unseen University is whether there's enough to eat. You saw that breakfast; that was a small meal, suitable only for a few early-morning risers. I don't need you fussing over me--" Rincewind stopped with the realization that he was entirely too wound up. He took a deep breath, and sat down on the bed.
"Are you all right?" said Twoflower, sitting down beside him.
"Fine," said Rincewind.
"Do you need to rest?" Twoflower patted him on the back, which Rincewind wanted to lean away from and lean into at the same time. The net effect was stillness, which he was grateful for.
"No. Come on, we don't have that long til Ponder knocks off. Let's get you to the HEM."
They got there to find Ponder in heated discussion with whichever student it was who had hair all down his face. Rincewind could never remember their names, because they turned up at such odd hours and called each other by such odd nicknames. Rincewind hadn't even been able to keep track of that sort of then when he was a student. Ponder spotted them and muttered some hasty orders.
"Hello, Emperor," said Ponder, smiling, and then hastily added, "And Rincewind. What can I show you?"
"Everything," said Twoflower.
Rincewind followed them around vaguely as Ponder went through the various nature and functionings of the magical devices around the HEM building. He had heard most of this before at one point or another, so he didn't pay much attention. Twoflower was, however, looking very enthusiastic. Maybe he'd finally met someone whose joy in explaining things had matched his joy in seeing and hearing new things.
The tour lasted an hour or so, at which point Ponder looked at the clock and exclaimed something about an experiment and dashed off.
Rincewind took Twoflower to the library after that. "I don't remember if you saw this when you were here last," he said, "but it's worth a look."
"I think last time I was here, I only saw some dungeons and the Tower of Art."
Rincewind shuddered. He still hadn't gone back to the top level of the Tower of Art, not in all these years. "I used to work in the library, after you came back, but before I went to your country. You'll like the Librarian, I think. He's my friend."
Twoflower patted him. "I'm sure I will, if he's approved by you."
"Only you've got to remember, he's an orangutan, not a monkey, and you've got to call him Librarian or sir if you like. Don't call him Mr. Monkey or anything like that."
Twoflower raised his eyebrows. "He's an...orangutan?"
"Long story. The Octavo was involved. Come on."
The Librarian was engaged in a book repair when they got there. "Ook," he said to Rincewind, which meant "Just give me a finger for a minute, will you? Right on the spine." Orangutans were extremely concise.
"Sure." Rincewind put his finger where indicated, and the Librarian carefully did something with a bit of fishing twine.
"Ook. Ook ook?"
"No problem, and that's Twoflower." Rincewind stepped back. "He was here when the, er, Octavo, er, happened."
"Ook," said the Librarian and ambled over to shake Twoflower's hand.
"He says it's nice to meet you and wants to know why you're here," said Rincewind.
"Oh. Well, it's nice to meet you too. I shall be here for six months. I'm the emperor of Agatea, you see, and I'm learning from Havelock how to be a good leader."
The Librarian raised his eyebrows and nodded. He was known to have great respect for Vetinari, who ran the city with almost as much precision and control as he ran the Library, or so he had once informed Rincewind. Rincewind supposed orangutans appreciated authority.
They took a long tour of the library, too. This Rincewind felt able to contribute to. Aside from translation, he knew the dangerous bits of the Library and a bit of the trivia, and it was always nice when the Librarian ooked triumphantly in response to something you'd said.
Then it was time for lunch, and then Twoflower's appointment. Rincewind trudged through the streets down to the Patrician's palace. "I won't come in with you," he said, "I've seen the inside quite often enough and if you've got an appointment you will be escorted into the Presence. You can't get lost. There are guards."
"I'm sure I'll be fine. Thank you for bringing me."
Rincewind made a vague noise of acknowledgement, and walked on. He felt he was wasting the last few minute before Twoflower totally lost interest in him. Or maybe not. Maybe it would take a few days. He could hope.
"Are you sure you're all right?" said Twoflower, twisting to look at him.
"I'm fine," said Rincewind.
"Do you mean that in the actual way, or in the not fine but don't want to talk about it way?" said Twoflower, who could be annoyingly perspicacious when it was inconvenient.
Rincewind wondered if he could get away with lying. "Does it matter?"
"Well, yes," began Twoflower, but they arrived at the palace.
"Here you are," said Rincewind. "I'll see you after. What time?"
"About four. Rincewind--"
"Go on, you'll be late, it'll take time for you to get to the right office," said Rincewind. "Back at four. Have...fun, I guess."
Rincewind hurried off before Twoflower could ask anything more.
When he came back to pick Twoflower up, there seemed to be no change. Except a sort of shocked look, that is.
"He's really quite astonishing in person, isn't he," was the first thing he said.
Twoflower seemed in a bit of a daze the whole walk home. This was not helpful in ascertaining whether he had stripped back Rincewind's veneer of competence. On the bright side, he didn't ask more about what they'd been talking about this morning.
They went to dinner and then went their separate ways without talking much. Rincewind resigned himself to another few days of uncertainty. Oh, well, he was going to be miserable anyway, it didn't matter much.
A week passed. Twoflower got less dazed, and more thoughtful. Rincewind was sure this would herald the turn of the opinion, but instead Twoflower kept asking him questions about Cripple Mr. Onion. He didn't say why, and Rincewind didn't ask. There was a book of rules in the library, so Rincewind checked it out for him.
Another week passed. Twoflower's appointments were only a few times a week, so they had plenty of free time to spend wandering the university and the city. He didn't seem to be showing any differences in his manner towards Rincewind.
The suspense was starting to kill him.
One night they were drinking tea before Twoflower went to bed, as was Twoflower's habit. Rincewind found it soothing, but he kept thinking about how any day now, this could stop. Twoflower could move out. It would be even worse than last time, because last time Twoflower hadn't left because he'd realized Rincewind wasn't worth sticking around with. He'd just left to go back home. This time, Twoflower would be in the city and Rincewind might even see him when he passed. That would be awful. What if Twoflower looked away?
Twoflower was saying something. Rincewind couldn't look up from his teacup.
Look up, dammit, he told himself. This was stupid. Twoflower had already noticed. Look up and make an excuse.
"Rincewind, what's wrong?" said Twoflower.
Rincewind tried to say "nothing," couldn't make it, shrugged. He didn't quite know how to put words around the vast gulf in his chest. He wasn't sure he wanted to. He'd promised himself not to ask.
Twoflower's hand stole gently over his back and came to rest there. Rincewind stiffened but, oh gods, he wanted to be touched, it was nice to remember what it was like. There was so much care in the way Twoflower had always done it, still did it. That in and of itself hurt a bit, because he didn't know how to deal with it.
"Take your time," said Twoflower.
Rincewind calmed himself a little, and found some words. "I'm waiting for you to notice."
"I've been telling you all along that I'm incompetent and I thought as soon as you got a dose of Vetinari you'd see right through me. And then you'd leave and find someone better."
Twoflower looked puzzled. "Better at what?"
"Everything!" said Rincewind. "Being a person! Knowing stuff!"
"You know lots of things. I don't think there's a better at being a person. You're my friend, Rincewind, I wouldn't want to leave. I like you."
"Friend!" said Rincewind, drinking the last of his tea.
"Ah," said Twoflower, "Is that what this is about? I haven't forgotten, you know." He took the mug out of Rincewind's hands and cupped his face carefully.
It took Rincewind a moment to realize what he intended to do. Oh. Oh, no. He jerked back, almost knocking his head against the wall. "No. Don't."
Twoflower moved away. "I'm sorry. I misinterpreted."
"No, you didn't, you were right, I wanted--but it's not safe."
Twoflower frowned. "It's just us, Rincewind. There's no one to see, and besides, you said this sort of thing was fine here. You said it was traditional."
Rincewind closed his eyes. He wished he could just go to sleep. And possibly not wake up until this six months was over. Or, maybe, rewind to the beginning and do it properly. He ran his fingers through his hair and said, somewhat incoherently, "Not that. It's not... cosmically safe."
"Not following you, I'm afraid."
Rincewind sat up and waved an arm. "I told you, didn't I, in Hunghung? Nice things don't happen to me."
"But they did," said Twoflower patiently. "We won a famous victory, for one. And plenty of good things happened on our trip, don't you remember?"
Twoflower smiled a little wistfully and tapped Rincewind's leg gently.
"Not that," said Rincewind, flapping his hands, "that doesn't count."
"Why not? I found it rather enjoyable."
"It's just," said Rincewind rather desperately, "I don't know. I did miss you and I didn't want to and I hated it --"
"I missed you too," said Twoflower, clearly puzzled, "That's why I came to stay here at the university. That's why I wrote."
"But that's not the same thing! You had a family! And then I went there and you didn't even mention it , and you didn't say a single word about it when you wrote, and now you have the damned gall to come here and act like nothing happened!" Rincewind took a breath. "You can't just pick up like that. I can't do that again. I can't risk whatever awful thing following is going to come."
"What?" says Twoflower. "Why would an awful thing come?"
"I don't know, that's the whole point, it's how my life works. I got used to being bored and miserable before you, you know. And then I was less bored and I didn't like it but also slightly less miserable or maybe just a bit less lonely and then you left and I didn't get to be bored again!" Rincewind felt his voice rising to a slightly hysterical edge, but he couldn't stop himself plunging on, not now, not when he was finally beginning to understand what's going on. "You're not the one who had to pay for it!"
"Pay?" said Twoflower, but Rincewind had gotten up to full speed and couldn't stop for love nor money, he just had to listen to what came out of his mouth, which was:
"My life has been a mess since then! And then it turned out that it didn't even really mean anything to you, well, of course it didn't, you were just on vacation, but you had a wife and kids and everything and a whole job and I know your wife is gone and I'm very sorry but, but I knew it didn't mean anything but I wanted it to mean something and I've only just got my life back to nice and boring and I don't want it to get screwed up again!" Rincewind ran out of breath and steam and had to stop, finally.
Twoflower opened and closed his mouth several times. He had the demeanor of a man suddenly mobbed by a rabbit: not seriously hurt, but severely shocked. "Whatever gave you the impression it didn't mean anything?"
"Why would it?" demanded Rincewind.
"Well, because things generally do," says Twoflower.
"Not to me. Important things don't happen to me, I only end up as part of other people's."
"I distinctly remember there having been some saving of the day going on," Twoflower began, but Rincewind cut him off.
"That was all Cohen's, really."
"You were the one who almost dropped off a roof, not Cohen. I very clearly remember holding you up. Almost went over with you, remember?"
Rincewind really didn't want to remember almost falling to his death off the Tower of Art. "But then you just went away, without saying anything, you just went. And then everything during the revolution happened. So it couldn't have."
Twoflower frowned, an expression ill-suited to his face. "That isn't what I meant at all, not by any of it. I'm sorry that -- well, I suppose it doesn't do very much good now, does it."
"What did you mean?" said Rincewind. "By any of it."
"I suppose I just... I didn't want to pressure you. You missed Ankh-Morpork so much while we were away. You walked over a cliff, I distinctly recall."
"I don't remember that," said Rincewind, annoyed at this distraction. "Anyway, it's not the point."
"What is the point?"
Rincewind said, more platively than he wanted to, "I just want to have meant something. For me. To you. Not the saving the world. Us."
Twoflower took his hand. "Of course it did. You only had to ask, you know."
Rincewind, desperately, began to laugh.
The next day dawned, same as ever. The fish outside in the stream were shrieking, as they always did on humid days. The Luggage wanted a walk. But the air felt cleaner, clearer, which in Ankh Morpork was really saying something. Rincewind woke in his own bed--he'd come straight back from Twoflower's out of fear the laughter would turn hysterical--but things were...looser. More relaxed.
He met Twoflower at breakfast, and felt himself smiling a little.
"You look better," said Twoflower. "I should have done all that earlier."
"You tried. I kept avoiding you."
"That's because you're a pessimist. Have some coffee."
Rincewind drank coffee. They were mostly alone again, with only a few straggling students preparing for early classes and Ridcully at the high table, vigorously eating sausages.
"Is it safe?" said Twoflower, neatly cutting an egg in two.
"Physically, or cosmically?"
Rincewind glanced at Ridcully, who was too absorbed in sausages to notice anything. "Physically, yes. Cosmically, probably not, but I suppose I'll just have to deal with it."
"Good," said Twoflower, and beneath the table he took hold of Rincewind's hand.
Rincewind blinked a little, and squeezed the hand very tightly. "You've got an appointment today, haven't you?"
"No, nothing until tomorrow. Perhaps you'd like to show me more of the city? Or we could have, what's that phrase you always use in Morporkian, a 'lie-on'."
Rincewind couldn't think of anything in the city he wanted to see right now as much as Twoflower's room, elaborate decoration and all. "It's lie-in and that would be nice."
"We could bring the Luggage," said Twoflower.
"Only if it's not allowed on the bed. Don't you spoil it."
Twoflower squeezed his hand and patted his leg with the other. "Come on, then."
They walked back along the corridors still holding hands. A student saw them, but only rolled his eyes, in the manner of someone seeing a parent display affection. Rincewind drew away for a moment, half-expecting some kind of cosmic justice for his boldness, but the ceiling didn't fall in or anything. So he took Twoflower's hand again.
At the room, they looked at each other and, without speaking, raced to the bed. Rincewind won, of course. He flopped down triumphantly, spreading his limbs over as much of the surface area as he could manage. Finally, some advantage to being gangly.
Twoflower, laughing, lay down beside him on the small slice of bed that remained. "I see you're still as fast as ever. Not let yourself get out of condition."
"Boy, let me tell you about football sometime," said Rincewind, retracting a few limbs to make room for Twoflower.
"Demon sport. Horrible. You have to be good at running. Maybe I'll take you to a game sometime, they're less lethal now."
"You know, sometimes you say things and even though I understand every individual word, the whole meaning absolutely eludes me."
"That's Ankh-Morpork," said Rincewind.
"You know, it's nice to see you smile," said Twoflower, pushing himself up on his elbow.
Rincewind immediately frowned, and Twoflower shook his head. "I knew I shouldn't have said anything."
"Was I smiling?"
"A bit. I don't know if I've ever seen you smile more than a bit when you're conscious, I mean not a proper happy smile, but a bit is nice. Usually when you smile it's cynical in intent. Er. I'm not criticising. It's just that I'm glad to see you happy."
"Well," said Rincewind uncertainty. He didn't want to tell Twoflower that being happy was bad because it wasn't safe, because they'd been over that. he didn't want to tell Twoflower that unhappy was easier, either, because it sounded stupid. Happy just took... effort . You had to forget everything pulling at your brain, and let yourself stay still. He wasn't good at still. Still was bad.
"Are you getting stuck worrying again?" asked Twoflower, very gently.
Twoflower leaned in and kissed the corner of his mouth with a great and unexpected tenderness. Rincewind had somehow expected their first kiss after being reunited to have more drama. He turned his head a little, so that their lips met properly, and curled one arm around Twoflower's waist.
Why had he not done this before? He'd missed it so much. There was something shocking in the way that they fit together exactly as they had before. Older, greyer, changed, but Twoflower still fit right below Rincewind's chin, could still scoot up the same way so that their lips just met. His hands still felt steady and sure on Rincewind's jaw, though Rincewind's were still restless, laying for a moment on the small of Twoflower's back or skimming up to his shoulderblades. He was quite sure that Twoflower would evaporate if he wasn't careful enough. This was much too vivid to be a dream, but it must be something. Something unreal.
He sighed, and laid his head on Twoflower's chest. Twoflower, absurdly, kissed his forehead. Rincewind wanted to tell him not to, but also to tell him to do it again. He wanted to stay here until whatever Destiny was presently marching towards him arrived at the door. He wanted to open the door and see it and slam the door on it and stay here in this room, and get another forehead kiss for his pains.
There is so much to be afraid of, he thought. Always. There isn't ever any safe. And yet, he was still alive.
Maybe that's a breakthrough.
After that, lessons resumed as usual. Rincewind kept taking Twoflower to the palace, because it was nice to get out and about, when there was something to look forward to. Also, because Twoflower would probably get lost if left to his own devices. He had a terrible tendency to rush forward to look at or take pictures of something completely mundane, standing in the way of carts, and then lose his way when he came back up. Best if Rincewind stayed with him.
One appointment was rather late in the evening. It was, Rincewind supposed, the only time Vetinari could spare. He did wonder why Vetinari made so much time for Twoflower, but then he thought: it probably makes his job easier. The Agatean Empire is one of those places that you just don't want to cross. If Twoflower's running it by his methods, he'll know exactly what's going on.
Sinister, really, but probably for the best.
It was, consequently, getting dark when Rincewind went to pick Twoflower up. He hurried the last few feet and was relieved to see Twoflower just coming round the doorway corner.
"There you are, let's go, I thought we'd-- oh." Rincewind stopped. Twoflower hadn't been the only one to come round the corner. Vetinari appeared in all his thin and ascetic glory, gazing thoughtfully at Rincewind.
"Erm, hello," said Rincewind, backing away. "I just came for Twoflower. Sorry. Hadn't realized you weren't done with him yet."
"We've finished," said Vetinari. This did not explain his presence in Rincewind's duly appointed territory, the sidewalk. Rincewind looked wildly around for an escape route, but Vetinari continued, "I see what you mean, Twoflower. Well, until tomorrow."
"I look forward to continuing our game," said Twoflower, and turned to Rincewind. "What were you saying?"
"Oh. It's late, and I thought we'd just get takeaway and eat it in your room, all right?"
"Lovely," said Twoflower, taking Rincewind's hand.
"What was all that about, anyway?"
"We've been playing Thud lately. I'm not very good at it, but he says it's a useful metaphor. Before it was Cripple Mr Onion, which is very similar to Shibo Yancong-San, same derivation, he says."
Ah, therefore the rules-asking. "Hence the calqued title."
"Never mind." Rincewind picked these things up learning languages and regularly forgot everyone didn't know them, and besides he'd said "calque" in Morporkean when they'd been speaking Agatean, their habit when it was just the two of them. "I didn't mean about the games, anyway. He said he saw what you meant."
"Oh, that." Twoflower smiled, a little bit mysteriously, which was new to Rincewind. "Nothing very important. Don't worry, he won't come out and see you again."
This was no real security, but they got pizza anyway. The Luggage, apparently detecting the scent, trundled into Twoflower's room to demand its tribute. Rincewind gave it the crusts.
"Same old Luggage," said Twoflower, patting its lid. "Rincewind, would you like to sleep here?"
Rincewind dropped a crust in his confusion. "You don't have to," said Twoflower, "I just thought it might be nice, since everything is going so well."
"...let me get my things," said Rincewind, picking up the crust and feeding it with unusual care to the Luggage to cover his feelings.
It was not a very long walk to his room and back, so he took it slowly. He brushed his teeth while he was there, and changed into pajamas so he wouldn't have to do it in Twoflower's suite bathroom, and brought a change of clothes for tomorrow just in case they woke up late and the halls were likely to be populated.
It wasn't like he'd never slept with Twoflower before. Er. Shared a bed with Twoflower before. They'd had to do it all the time on their trip, what with small inns and cold air and not enough blankets and so forth. The veneer, though, had always been practical, even when the intent hadn't been. There'd always been an...excuse.
"Good, you changed," said Twoflower when he got back. "I'll do the same. Feel free to make yourself comfortable."
Rincewind climbed into the unreasonably large and unfairly soft bed and wiggled a bit, just for the novelty of it. The duvet was thick and spattered with flowers, the pillows were crisp white and soft as sponge cake. None of the inns had ever been this fancy. He almost didn't notice when Twoflower came back out.
"Nice bed, isn't it?" said Twoflower. "Far better than prison cells, as you said. I'm not quite used to the softness, though, I grew up sleeping on low little mats."
"Even as emperor?"
"No, but I haven't got used to that either." Twoflower slid under the covers and immediately rolled towards Rincewind to wrap his arms around Rincewind's back.
Rincewind tensed for a minute or two, and then relaxed, the same way he always did. He slid down a little so that Twoflower's face could stick over his shoulder instead of being buried in his nightshirt, the way he always had.
"I suppose Vetinari is helping with that," he said, wondering at how unbelievably normal this all felt.
"Ah, yes. In a way. That man really is unbelievable," said Twoflower. Rincewind could believe this. "Do you know what he said?"
"Something extremely disconcerting, I'm sure," said Rincewind into the duvet. He was already getting sleepy. He'd thought it would take at least half an hour to relax.
"He said you should never plan."
Rincewind thought about this. It sounded right to him. Plans went wrong. They were alright as a stopgap, but you always needed to have a backup, to wit, running. He said as much to Twoflower.
"That's not too far off what he said, except for the bit about the running."
"The bit about the running," said Rincewind, "is the most important part."
Twoflower patted him affectionately. "Havelock said that plans require you to control every variable, which you can't do. He said the best thing you can do is not plan. He said you had to be able to adapt to every circumstance."
"Running is faster."
"But not, you have to admit, something an entire country could do."
"Maybe some sort of wheeled arrangement," said Rincewind.
Twoflower laughed again. He was laughing a lot, thought Rincewind. It was probably a good sign, and it made Rincewind feel strangely warm, as if there was, in fact, something useful Rincewind could do after all. Making one person laugh wasn't very much, but it was something. But then, as previously established, nice feelings only served as brief heralds for prolonged periods of bad ones. Oh, hell, he thought, it's too late at night for philosophizing, I'll worry over it tomorrow. Extensively.
And he did. For six months. Six months of waking up and eating meals with Twoflower, walking him to the Palace, coming back and doing his own work, and picking Twoflower up again. Or taking him to various diplomatic functions so he could establish relationships with other officials. As if they were a godsdamned--working couple. Rincewind remembered the exact moment he'd had that thought: packing up some shells just before going to pick Twoflower up. Just exactly as if Twoflower belonged with him, as if they had settled into this routine on purpose.
That was a thought.
And in between, when Twoflower had no appointments and wasn't engaged in any diplomacy, they'd both take the day off and wander the city. Going to look at Leonard of Quirm's murals. At the places Rincewind had grown up. At the areas around the university, at the docks, at the posh houses where Rincewind had hung around for three weeks trying to develop an Ankhian accent. Rincewind gave an impression of what he'd learned, to Twoflower's amusement and delight. It was, Twoflower informed him, even funnier when he did Agatean in it.
It couldn't last, Rincewind knew that. But he'd decided to try enjoying happiness while it was here, and worrying about whatever horrible consequence would follow later. This was difficult, but shaping up well so far.
The months flew by much faster than Rincewind wanted them to, but nothing bad happened. Nothing but the usual Ankh-Morpork regime of attempted muggings (stopped when they saw a wizard was involved, the pointy hat carried some respect), various supernatural disasters (another shop tried to set up where the Three Jolly Luck takeaway had been and disappeared, but nobody was inside), and not-so-supernatural disasters (the Alchemist's Guild blew up twice).
All too soon, Rincewind was standing on a dock, walking Twoflower and his luggage out to a ship. It was a better ship this time. It was dedicated to the Emperor's pleasure, and therefore Twoflower didn't have to count gold into anyone's hand until they changed their original destination. They could take as long as they liked on goodbyes.
"You're sure you won't have another six months?" said Rincewind. He tried to make it come out joking, but it didn't.
"I can't. I'm sorry." Twoflower reached out and squeezed Rincewind's hand.
"It's all right. You've got an empire to run, and all. Laws to change. People to terrify."
"You could come with me," Twoflower said, just a little bit too fast. He was, Rincewind thought, trying for casual and not quite making it. "If you wanted to, I mean. I could hire you on as court wizard. Nobody would complain, I'm sure - you did save the country. Anyway, I am the emperor. We probably need a court wizard. We don't have very much to do with magic, not since the emperor before last."
"I--" said Rincewind. He had to stop to think. There were two ways this could go: his bad luck streak could have finally worn off after twenty years or whatever it was, and he could arrive in the Agatean Emperor and be the wizard he'd always wanted to be. Respected. Knowledgeable. Or something dreadful could happen and he could get seperated from Twoflower, shipped all over the Disc, possibly killed, never to return to UU.
It was one of those times you could feel Destiny craning its head to watch you. The world holding its breath. A forked road, trouser legs of time, et cetera.
He said, "I don't think I can. Ankh Morpork is my home. And I'd probably get into too much trouble, you know me."
This was not the reason. It was true, but not the reason, and Rincewind knew it. But he couldn't quite put his finger on the real one, whatever it was.
Twoflower gave a wistful little smile. "I know what you mean," he said, and he sounded like he knew, but didn't mind, that Rincewind wasn't telling the truth. "Well, I will come back."
"Yes. You'll have diplomacy to do."
"And perhaps you could visit, sometime."
"As long as it was on a nice safe ship," said Rincewind. "A big one. That won't sink."
"Yes," said Twoflower, although his tone of voice was slightly too soft for what it was supposed to be meaning. "Yes, I could arrange that, I'm sure."
Rincewind watched him board the ship with a terrible sense of familiarity. But it was different this time, and better. He knew he was wanted, this time.
The Luggage came up behind him, and bumped his legs. He turned to look at it, and sighed.
"Come on," he said, "Let's go home."