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Wanderjahre

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Wanderjahre (Chapter 01) - ' Fingerspitzengefühl '

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"... Thomas! Thomas, over here!"

From the entrance of Porte Dauphine Station a boy hollered over the Monday-morning rain, waving his hand frantically towards the distance. He had an umbrella over his head, but tiny beads of water were already nestled in his long dark hair, him having waited for nearly ten minutes by this point, but thankfully he wasn't to wait for much longer. Thomas - a boy just as tall as he, yet with a much softer, younger face - hurtled across the road with his satchel over his head the moment the lights changed, running directly towards him.

"Salut, Guy!" he shouted, reciprocating the wave. "I'm sorry I was late - traffic-"

It wasn't usually like him to be late, but in fairness the overhead traffic seemed awful that morning, and they had no time to be discussing such things. The two met each other at the middle, and the older boy quickly put his umbrella over them both as he led them towards the station. It was hardly a large umbrella (and not of much use to Thomas, who was already rather soaked) but it was Guy's and the older boy was usually the one in charge of bringing umbrellas to share. It had always been that way. They made it down to the platform just as the train arrived, and ran onboard.

Despite the rain, that day the Métro seemed uncannily empty - in what would usually be a place so crowded that they often grabbed hands as to not lose each other, today they could actually afford to sit down. The two boys got to doing so immediately, water flecking off their satchels as they tossed them forwards to claim their seats first; a couple of people gave them hard, disapproving stares, but neither of the boys cared as they laughed and collapsed onto their seats. "Oh wow, that was lucky," Thomas exclaimed, almost immediately stretching out his legs - he was going through a growth spurt, they were getting alarmingly longer by the month or two - and leaning his head back with a slight thud on the window. "whew. When was the last time you actually managed to sit down in the Métro? Too long for me, I barely even remembered what colour the seats were."

"Same here. And oh look, someone even left a newspaper. Yesterday's Le Monde."

Thomas glanced over at the older boy. "... This is kind of weird, though, isn't it? Sitting down. Do you think we should move? In case someone needs it more than we do?"

"We'll move when those people appear in front of us, Thomas. I mean, hey, we're only just going to make it even if this train arrives on time. We're going to be doing a lot of running later, might as well sit down and rest when there are seats to spare. How was your weekend?"

"Très bon, très bon. Papa took me out on Saturday and I bought a new record."

The train paused and let in a stream of commuters, and the boys grabbed onto their satchels, ready to get up if required; no one in need came along, however, so they relaxed again as they began to move again. "'Introspective'. I've been waiting to get it for ages."

"'In-tro-spec-tive'! Mince alors," Guy exclaimed. "that wouldn't be the Pet Shop Boys record, would it?"

"The one and very same!"

Guy cursed again, nothing but pure admiration in his voice. He was used to this by now, Thomas buying a new record every week or two and cheerfully telling him about it, but every now and then he came up with something Guy himself desperately wanted and teased him with the barest mention of it. "And I suppose it'd be positively vulgar to ask you if I can borrow it sometime soon."

"Oh, it would be. I'll bring it tomorrow."

"... I - what?"

Thomas swept back his wet hair, a trickle of water running down his cheek, and grinned dazedly. "Tomorrow. I'll bring it for you. I've already listened to it, and even though I shan't spoil, I think it's worth you having a quiet listen or two yourself as soon as possible. I shouldn't let my best friend go without the joys I've had, non?"

"Yes, please. You're a darling."

They looked at each other for a moment, Guy with his neatly-groomed appearance and Thomas already dishevelled from the rain - two friends who'd not seen each other for the entirety of two days - before they began to laugh, both giddy from the adrenaline rush that'd come with running to catch the train. "When we get to school, you're finding a mirror and fixing your hair, I swear to God," Guy cried, and that just made them laugh harder for they knew that the state of them could only worsen once they disembarked; appearances being what they were, however, they managed to calm down and get Thomas's hair to stick up less when the speakers chimed and announced their station. But because they were still both in such a tearing hurry, and because rain had stopped by the time they'd emerged again from the station, Guy failed to notice immediately that he'd forgotten his umbrella on the seat when he left the train. It wasn't as if he minded awfully when he eventually did notice, but - well, that's a story to come. The important thing was that they managed to get to school in time that day, racing each other, laughing, asserted in their already-ruffled uniform and relentless youth as they went through the front gates.

When every passenger was safely in place once more, the train closed its doors and left, onward to its next destination.
But the very last commuter to leave remained standing by the platform even as the rest dissipated towards the exit. He had a leather briefcase in one hand, a grey suit jacket slung on the same arm, and in his other hand he held Guy's umbrella; with expression impenetrable he gazed down at it, then towards where the boy had gone, deep in thought.

-----

A high school was a very odd place to be in, if one really thought about it.

At least, that was Guy's subconscious opinion of his surroundings as he took his notes. The day was way too nice, the teacher's voice droning on and into frankly-terrible ennui; but somewhere in the exact same building, a student couple were wandering the corridors holding hands, the new English teacher had just spilt her coffee all over her desk, and down in the laboratory the chemistry class was collectively being scolded for having left the hydrochloric acid out of the fume cupboard. Even more than those individual occurrences, there were hundreds of people who didn't even have lessons just sitting outside, or in the cafeteria, waiting around.

"- with Danton's fierce speech against Charles William Ferdinand, Duke of Brunswick-"

As for them, they were all stuck here in History class, but they would break for lunch in less than twenty minutes and that was really all Guy cared about.

"- 'de l'audace, encore de l'audace, toujours de l'audace'-"

He felt a nudge from Thomas. Out of reflex, he glanced quickly at him and then towards the far side of the class. Dark-haired René grinned at the two of them - their daily ritual of sorts was ongoing and it was his turn. Thomas passed the tightly-folded note to him from under the desk and he stretched out his left hand for it, keeping the other one writing steadily to conceal what he was doing. Only when the teacher had turned around did he exercise the liberty to unfold the note and read what it said.

René : chips a/r
Thom: crème c.
Guy:
Laurent:

Guy smiled. He liked order, and between the four of them they had plenty of it. Every lunchtime, they would pass around a piece of paper amongst themselves and note down a snack they fancied; the boy with his name underlined would then go down to the corner shop for them. It was never the same boy twice in a row, which evened out their costs fairly well. Aside from that, however, their preferred snacks hardly ever varied, and that was just fine with Guy. Smiling still, he wrote down what he wanted, predicting already that Laurent would go for an Orangina as he had done the past month or so.

Guy: l.a.c.

On went the note, to Laurent at the very back of the class. It was a blessing that all four of them were well-liked and no one in the class ever gave them away. The sky outside was clouded with fluffy white, the morning rain having long since dried. Ten minutes to go.

His hair was getting into his eyes. Guy blinked and brushed a lock of it away, frowning lightly. He'd tie it back in a ponytail if he could, and if Thomas hadn't liked him better with it loose. As if reading his mind, at that moment Thomas reached out and doodled something on Guy's notebook with his left hand. Closer examination revealed it to be an almost-incomprehensible 'Âllo' - for he couldn't write with his left hand - but the older boy smirked down at it nonetheless. Thomas would just do things like that to constantly reassure him of his presence, and he'd done so for a couple of years now; while Guy was forever nervous about lending his notes out to anyone because of this, having such a close friend was well worth it.

"... Monsieur Bangalter, could you give a definition of natural-and-inalienable rights?"

"Oh, um," Thomas exclaimed, jumping slightly as he was called upon; immediately he blushed a deep pink as the rest of the class giggled, but he answered correctly nonetheless. "r-rights that belong to everyone by birth, and, erm, which can't be taken away?"

"Exactement. Some of you will know this from your other classes already. Based on the theories of Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the English philosopher John Locke-"

You did good, Guy mouthed at him, and nudged his wrist playfully. Thomas gave him a bright grin in response. His hair glinted in the afternoon sun.

Returning to what he'd been thinking earlier, though, high school really was a very odd place to be in. Speaking purely in terms of atmosphere, there was something comfortable yet perpetually alien about it, and Guy had no idea why this should be the case. Perhaps it was their uniforms, hiding each individual perfectly beneath the self-same outfits, both ridding them of and bestowing upon them an identity. Wearing it they all had that sense of belonging, for sure, but there was so little one could discover about a person by just looking at a uniform.
Guy looked down and picked at his tie. Save for that, he quite liked his uniform: dark blue and gold-edged jacket, white button-up shirt, and dark trousers. They were meant to be smart trousers, but plenty got past with jeans as well, as he often did. Patting over the knot of the tie, sitting just beneath his throat, he assured himself that it was still fastened well and not too tightly so. He had several different ties, all in conservative shades (dark blue, silver and black, thin golden stripes on solid-dark grey, and so on), but he could never acclimatize himself to them. Too restrictive.

"Guy," Laurent called behind him, tapping lightly at his shoulder, and he looked around. René had already left to run down to the shop, and everyone else was packing up as well. Lunchtime at last.

The sun was still out, so they went out and found a four-person bench and table they could relax on. (Thomas placed his satchel on the other side so that Réne would have a seat waiting for him.) It meant little in this Lycée how many people one ate with, though the consensus that more was better than none - but plenty of people just walked around nibbling on their sandwiches by themselves, or sat by themselves and with a stack of books in the cafeteria. There was nothing wrong about that, though it was a way of school life that neither Guy nor Thomas could identify with, having been together for so long. They were barely settled into their seats and pulling their lunchboxes out when René came running back into school grounds, giving them a wild wave with one hand and bundling a white plastic bag to his chest as he dodged the other students walking past.

"Désolé, coming through - ah, merci! - sorry for the wait."

"Barely," Laurent replied, impressed despite himself at the other's speed, as the usual Orangina was set down before him. Thomas was given his crème-caramel in a plastic cup (who then proceeded to attack it immediately with his spoon, not being a fan of eating desserts last) and René handed Guy his lait au chocolat, who took it absent-mindedly as he rifled through his satchel. "you were the first in there?"

"You bet I was. The price of those-" he showed them the bag of garlic/rosemary potato chips before tearing it open. "- went up by two francs, by the way, need to work that into our budgets."

"Ah, fuck," Guy interrupted at that point, exclaiming in English - the universal signal between the four of them that Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo had screwed up - and slapped his hand to his forehead, pushing his satchel closed. "I don't believe this. What an idiot."

"... Not that I don't share your opinion, Guy, but they're still just potato chips. Calm down."

He blinked and stared incredulously at René. "Potato chips? Who said anything about potato chips, I left my umbrella behind! It better not rain on the way home."

"Left it where? Shall we go look for it anyway?"

"It's no use, Laurent. Sit back down. I left it on the Métro."

Laurent winced, but did as asked, acknowledging the futility of the situation. "On the Métro. Yeah... uh, you're not going to get that back. You didn't leave anything else?"

"Just that. Dieu merci! Thomas, close your mouth. Don't look so worried, I'll buy another. It wasn't even an expensive umbrella," Laurent nodded, satisfied with the other's readily-practical attitude, and that was the end of that conversation. "... can I borrow your notes for English, Thomas, I don't think I've taken any in the past week."

"Mmh," the younger boy nodded towards his own satchel, spooning out some of the crème-caramel and coating the morsel in a generous amount of syrup. "'s not going to be much use to you now, though, there's something like fifteen pages in there you must have missed..."

"I was still physically sitting in the lessons. I'll make it work."

René snickered, folding the potato chip bag lengthwise and then twice over again. "In body, oui, but in spirit?" he asked, twisting it into what seemed like a note square. "if you weren't thinking about it you might as well not have been there at all, Guy, Descartes would have a field day with you."

"No he wouldn't. He can't do anything with me because he's been dead only for the past three centuries and a half, and he's most certainly not thinking about anything."

René laughed and slipped the folded chip bag into the trashcan nearby. "Hey, I'm probably not one to talk, either. I'm willing to admit that I was very much absent-in-spirit during that last lesson, I can't stand Monsieur Viette, he just drones on. I hate History."

"Oh, good. That means you can do without Guy's notes, if you dislike the class so much."

"Don't make this any harder on me, Thom, will you? It shouldn't be this sinful to be French and yet not find the French Revolution all that interesting. It was all too long ago. Guy, if you wouldn't mind...?"

"All too long ago, I see. Hence why you went and took up a dead language."

"Dead doesn't mean useless. Besides I take it a lot seriously than you, say, take the English language. It's already thoroughly been influenced by other cultures and languages, it doesn't need you to batter it around more."

"Ouch. I take myself seriously. Tua mater."

"Mon Dieu! You leave my poor Maman out of this."

Guy chuckled but handed over his history notes nonetheless, smirking to himself because he was still amused by such childlike wit. René and Laurent simultaneously began to pore over them together, History not being their best subject by a large margin, while the two other boys sat back and finished their lunch. Thomas was licking his spoon clean and making a very thorough job of it; he was kind of catlike, the older boy remarked to himself as he uncapped his chocolate milk and took a swig out of it. The liquid was pleasantly cold, rich and sweet on his tongue, the childhood herald of summer yet to come.

Thomas always had the daintiest sandwiches. Guy knew that it was Thomas's father who made them every morning, and never quite ceased to marvel about that.
Was there anything the Bangalter family wasn't capable of doing?

"... prefer the World Wars, personally," Laurent was murmuring quietly, sipping on his Orangina now and then. "we study that next year, apparently. I heard that we get to go on field trips too, actually see the site. You know, at Picardy. At Somme. I heard it was an amazing experience, absolutely unreal - and the good news is that it's not even that far away from where we are."

"So what's the bad news?"

"You'd be in Picardy, that's what," Guy interjected with a snort, provoking a glare from René (who had relatives there). Thomas in the meanwhile leaned against him, giggling; his head rested against Guy's shoulder, his soft curly hair tickling at his neck, and the older boy drew in a quiet breath.

In a brotherly way, he felt protective towards Thomas when they were both together, even when they were amongst friends, purely on account of their age; that's what his own parents had told him once, early on in their friendship, that he was responsible for the other if no other authority figure could be found. Over time he'd also taken that definition to include teenage emotions, though admittedly, Guy was going through puberty with a very stable state of mind compared to everyone else he knew and thus didn't know all that much about how to handle outbursts. He just wasn't the type to dwell on things that had no practical appeal, or didn't help anyone around him, in the slightest. Yet he was still kind, and whenever Thomas sulked about anything or had any kind of trouble, Guy did his best to help out, getting much genuine gratitude in return.

Perhaps that was why their friendship had worked so well.
Both Guy and Thomas demanded little of each other, the former because of inherent disposition and the latter due to his angel-immaturity.

And really, he couldn't help it. Thomas was quite possibly the gentlest and the most harmless person Guy had ever known, cute and kind and spoiled-sweet. He'd been brought up in a well-off household, raised firmly but lovingly like hibiscus in a greenhouse, and it showed in his sunny demeanour and a near-perpetual look of curiosity. He really should have been in the year below, but ever since he was twelve years old he'd been in Guy's grade, having been considered intelligent enough for it. This was by no means unusual amongst the students of the school, but between him and Guy it lent them a perceptive difference: they both considered each other equal, and yet Thomas displayed a near-fledgling dependence towards him at times, for he had come to regard the older boy as his guide. (Guy found it mildly flattering, but really, he fussed more than anything.)

Still, they were friends, and that was one of the few objective facts they knew and understood at that point in time. The bell rang for class again, and they went back in.
When school was over several hours later, Guy lamented the lack of his umbrella once more; but at least he was with Thomas, and for that alone he felt justified in getting soaked in the rain together, even through the drops of water trickling down his cheeks and the long locks of his hair sticking to his face. Never mind the umbrella, he could always get another one, it was no problem at all.

All in all, it was a perfectly ordinary day.
Which was just as well, because it would be the last of those that Guy would have in a while.

-----

"- Mm, so I'll be at school before you today, I'm literally about to go in the next minute or two."

"Oh, yeah, I understand," Guy responded in English, the receiver cradled between his shoulder and cheek as he finished off his breakfast. "we're all cool, see you there."

Thomas was laughing at the other end. "Stop that! You're the furthest thing from cool when English is involved. What're you eating?"

The older boy smirked, now polishing a ripe-red apple on his napkin. "But how would I remind you of the test today otherwise, speak in German? Was willst du von mir? Now that'd be backwards," he then bit into the apple with a crisp crunch in lieu of an answer, making sure that Thomas could hear, and took his time to chew and swallow before speaking up again. "you're bringing that record today?"

"Got it right here. Now I've really got to run, Guy, enjoy your apple."

"Mm-hmm, à plus tard."

The phone was hung up and Guy leaned back, idly thumbing through a magazine and checking his watch. Thomas would get to school a good hour earlier than he would, and if his stint as student library assistant was going to work out, this was how things would be from now on, every Tuesdays until at least the end of the year. He hadn't taken a single step out of his chair and he already felt uneasy about the whole business, thinking of entering the school gates without him. Guy knew that it wasn't very logical of him, but habit was a great deadener, and they'd shared their daily morning journeys for so long. At no point in the past two years had they been apart for this - he could swear up and down that he and Thomas even synced illnesses and off-days together without meaning to.

"Oh, well," he mumbled, tossing the apple core across the kitchen and directly into the wastebasket. "what the hell."

Enough of that, now. They had an English test to get through that day (which he hadn't bothered to study for), it was his turn to buy the snacks, and he needed to pester Thomas for the Pet Shop Boys record later. He found time to tiptoe for an extra bar of chocolate from the top shelf of the cupboard and stash it in his lunchbox before he went to brush his teeth, put his uniform jacket, tie and shoes on and left the house; there he embarked on a leisurely walk along the streets and to the now-familiar, rustic entrance of the Métro station. The ground was wet and glistening from it having rained a few hours earlier, but the skies were otherwise clear.

Everything was business as usual, until that moment when it suddenly wasn't.

Guy went down to the platform just as his train was arriving. He and Thomas had been lucky yesterday. This train was crowded almost to packing point, and because of the rain the air was also thick and mustier than it usually was. Guy didn't so much care for that, though, for he was used to it by now - he merely wedged himself amidst the crowd and found himself an overhead handle to grasp (always a struggle, for he wasn't especially tall). A few people squeezed in next to him, a man in a grey suit to his right and a young woman in a miniskirt and heels to his left, all of them blank-faced and thinking only of their destinations as far as Guy was concerned.

People, people everywhere, and not a single one to talk to. But it would have been erroneous to claim that Guy minded, for he liked to think that he kept better company; once the train began moving, he pulled out a book from his satchel, and flipped it open one-handed, poring over it.

Guy loved to read. But better company didn't always mean that he'd get along fine with it everywhere, and admittedly, he found the Métro to be a dfficult place to read in. For one, it was always too loud, and he always seemed to have the awful luck of only carrying books that were a chore to get through. Such was the case now with this book, which the more he thumbed through it the more he was beginning to think that he'd probably jumped into it too young. (He had no references to go by regarding this, none of his friends had read it yet.) The prose was beautiful, for sure, but it was so beautiful it was lulling him to sleep

Not a good thing to be succumbing to when in a train -

(Something cold brushed over his back)

- and most certainly not when in a train full of people -

(and oh God, it was inside his jacket.)

- one of whom was now touching him.

"...!"

Guy stopped reading. He froze in place, his gaze still fixed on the pages, his entire body tensed like alabaster. All noise and conversation merged into a blur, white noise assaulting his eardrums for several long seconds as he registered that yes, he was being touched by a total stranger and that their hand was running down his body. He had taken the Métro to go to school for four years now, long enough to know that sometimes there were people riding it who sought pleasure in groping others. Oh, he knew what he should have been doing - he could glare, stomp on their feet, or do something to draw attention towards them and make them stop.

But this felt different somehow. The stranger's hand was cool and impersonal, moving so fast that Guy didn't know how anyone would be able to get pleasure out of it. The hand trailed soft and silent up his right-hand side, shot across and squeezed firmly at the side of his chest before withdrawing; the fingers were pale and narrow, almost feminine. Having done so, the hand traced lightly over his shirt and down to his waist, roaming up and down. But those fingers moved with a purpose entirely devoid of sexuality - they were far too quick and calculated, actively edging away from anywhere that might be sensitive, and in fact merely seemed to be confirming in wonder that Guy really was there, from the curve of his raised arm down to his waist and near his hips. They didn't venture below his shirt, nor did they linger in any one place too long; Guy himself physically felt nothing beyond the surface level, merely registering the temperature and pressure of the contact. He was not being violated, certainly not what Guy understood by the term; no, he was being subjected to a clinical examination.

The woman next to him eased herself away, unaware of what was happening behind her. Guy carried on standing there, stunned, his fingers trembling around the handle above his head.

The fingers paused at the top of his jeans. Guy was wearing a belt, but they weren't exactly the tightest jeans around, and a relatively slim hand could still venture between the denim, the fabric of his boxers and his skin if it wanted to. This finally lent him both the strength and outrage enough to turn his head and come face to face with his assailant - only for him to lose them all over again as he locked eyes with him. It was the man in the grey suit: he was clearly young, maybe twenty-seven at the most, with rectangular silver-rimmed glasses and neatly slicked, curled dark hair. When their gazes met the man smiled at him, his expression so innocently honest and joyful that Guy found himself too disturbed to be angry. And yet at the same time the man was handsome even beneath the pale washed-out lights, cleanly shaved, his clothes close-fit and tailored; he had his arm around the boy's waist, but his hand roamed no further in any direction and his contact remained detached until he finally pulled away.

Then, only then, did everything return to place.
The rocking of the train as it came to a stop, the conversations nearby, the faint burnt smell of newspaper ink, the rustle of damp coats and umbrellas - all came back into focus, and Guy gasped out, realizing only then that he had been holding his breath all that time. When he turned his head again the man was just getting off the train; strangely enough, even in his otherwise ordinary attire he didn't blend into the crowd, instead standing still on the platform to give Guy one smile, combined with a slight tilt of the head. He was there, his eyes fixed on Guy's, until the train sped away and into the dark tunnels once more.

"What..." Guy whispered, unnoticed once more. Around him the cologne of the man lingered, pomegranate and ginger-spice, and he felt as if he were about to faint at its scent. "... what the... what just..."

He raised a hand and shakily felt over his chest and back. The man's touch had faded away like ice - there had been no after-sensation, no imprint, no sense of his clothes having been brushed out of place. It was almost exactly as if a ghost had passed over him, and that inhuman lack of feeling brought a chill down his spine. It was a godsend that his stop was next, and he stumbled off the train in a hurry, shaking his head and wanting to get to where he understood how things worked as fast as he could. He began to run as soon as he was back overhead, and didn't stop.

Thomas was waiting for him in the classroom when he burst in; "There you are!" he exclaimed with a bright smile, which quickly faded as he saw how pale the other's face was. "... uh, are you okay? You look really sick."

"No. Yes. I-"

Guy leaned heavily against the doorway, panting and feeling a hot dryness at the back of his throat; he clenched his eyes shut as his legs gave way. He was conscious, just rather frightened and in desperate need of a drink - Thomas crying out his name and running towards him didn't help matters - and he sank down onto the floor and curled up in an attempt to try to get his breath back. Thankfully no one else was around, he really couldn't handle more than just one person being so close to him now-

"Guy. Guy! What's wrong? Oh my God, if you-"

"K-keep it down," he stammered out, weakly pointing to his side. He had quite the terrible stitch. The younger boy fell silent at once. "I'm fine. Honest."

"... If you're as fine as you say you are, then why'd you collapse in the first place?" Thomas whispered; he then blushed almost immediately, realizing how pointless this question was, and the sight of him roused Guy enough that he could manage to get a word in.

"Made a bad mistake and looked at your face," he mumbled, and smirked as best as he could, revelling in Thomas's expression (which was a cross between hysterical laughter and hurt). "I'm only joking, Thom - ugh - could you please... train was late, I ran... all the way... to see you... I... I really... need a drink."

He and Thomas were used to making playful jabs at each other and also sulking a little when things weren't working out; Guy hadn't been expecting him to actually get him a drink, not after that comment, and he knew that he would deserve that denial. But something about him 'having come to see him' seemed to resonate with the younger boy and he jumped to it, running out of the room and coming back within seconds with a plastic cup of water. "Merci," Guy said shakily (by this time sitting against the doorway) before taking the cup and downing all its contents in one go. "ahhh," he mumbled and pressed the cup to his forehead. "... merci. Merde alors. What a start to the day."

"Please don't do that again. You really scared me."

"And you think I wasn't freaked out? I'm fine, Thomas," he mustered up a smile and reached out to ruffle the other's hair, a seldom-seen gesture reserved only for when he was feeling particularly affectionate. That was the definitive step to getting the younger boy to relax, as evidenced when he stood up and Thomas reached out to straighten his tie gently. "I won't let it happen again."

"Promise me."

"Promis juré."

And it didn't. Soon all of their other classmates had filed in, and the two of them went to their seats and pulled out their books as if nothing of much importance had happened. Once he had calmed down a little, however, he gave endless thought over what had happened, and came up with the reassuring but ultimately useless conclusion that the man very likely hadn't been a pervert. It was difficult for him to understand why, but Guy simply couldn't imagine that he was - his earlier fright had come about from that uncanny absence of warmth, not the actual physical contact. There had been nothing about his touch in itself that had been unpleasant. Plus, his fingers had been so cool and dry that he found it difficult to believe that the other had been aroused at any point, as nauseating that possibility was to think about; but that was all it was, thought instead of concrete proof, and Guy wasn't entirely sure which one was worse.

It was a good thing that they had that test, really, even though he'd been semi-dreading it.
Language tests necessitated that no one in the class made a noise for two entire hours, and that gave him time to reflect. It would have been a lie to say that he spent the day being able to focus on anything meaningful, but thankfully, no one noticed nor called upon him for answers that day, leaving him free to think as much as he wanted. He received the record he'd been wanting to listen to, thanked Thomas, and went about the rest of the day in contemplative silence. He didn't divulge what had happened to him to Thomas, or any other of his friends - and indeed, never did so.

-----

Thomas rejoined his daily commute from Wednesday onwards. Guy kept on meaning to buy an umbrella from somewhere, and carried on forgetting.
For the rest of that school week, the man in the grey suit did not reappear, but Guy made zero progress on his book nonetheless. He hadn't been left distressed by the experience, and felt no reluctance in continuing to use the Métro, but he had taken to keeping an eye out for the man every time he was onboard. Every time the train came to a stop he would peer out of the windows and onto the platform, inspecting everyone who got off and on, feeling both relieved and disappointed that the man was never amongst them.

He did want to see him again, just once. He wanted to know, he wanted to justify how to feel towards him. If he indeed turned out to be little more than a filthy pervert, Guy wouldn't hesitate to call him out and look upon him with contempt, but he couldn't do that if he had no idea of the man's intentions in the first place.

René: chips s/p
Thom: crème c.
Guy:
Laurent:

The lunchtime note was coming around, again. Guy wrote down his lait au chocolat as usual and passed it on.
None of his friends had noticed how guarded he had become in such a short space of time. Just as well. He was hoping to get over it sooner rather than later. It was just a one-time thing, a bizarre experience that one day he wouldn't even remember. He could have been most definitely felt up by someone worse, he could have been robbed, other much worse things could have happened. Guy was too young to realize that such rationalizations were both unhelpful and depressingly common amongst everyone in the world; what happened happened, and there was no disputing that, but he didn't understand the significance of this at the time.

Soon Saturday had rolled around, and around ten in the morning Guy was boarding the Line 2 train from Porte Dauphine again, this time to head over to Montmartre where Thomas's father had a studio. He and Thomas were frequently invited there for coffee, and after they would usually be allowed to play around with the musical equipment there. To both boys, who were interested in heading straight into the music industry after school, those were not opportunities to be missed.

"Charles de Gaulle - Étoile!"

Guy closed his eyes for a moment and leaned against the rail, already thinking of joining Thomas and his father in the studio, being permitted to use equipment that he himself couldn't even begin to dream of affording for the next several years. Then he opened his eyes again, and there he was, that man in the exact same grey suit and blue shirt, boarding not ten steps away from him. He couldn't believe it. The boy stared, aghast, frozen to his spot as the man glanced in his direction, and they met eyes again. He too clearly remembered Guy, giving him another sunny smile as if nothing had happened between them as the train began to move. He didn't come any closer this time (that's at least something, the boy told himself in a futile attempt to keep calm) though he kept on glancing at him now and then, clearly pondering on something.

He'd been awaiting the man's presence with curious anticipation all this time, and now that he had it, he had no idea what he wanted to do with it. He most certainly wasn't acting like a pervert, but then he wasn't acting like much of an anything at all. But he was still there and his presence was immensely discomforting; Guy was just considering giving up and fleeing the train at the next station when one of the nearby commuters pushed past him to get to the door, nudging him closer to the suited man in the process.

"...!"

Guy flinched back, his cheeks beginning to flush at the unwanted closeness. The man looked down at him for a moment - then released his grip on the overhead handle as the train halted, quickly drawing out a capped fountain pen and a small notebook (flourished with red and gold) from his pocket. He flipped it open to a random page and wrote down a single word, then held it out gently for the boy to see - and because he was just being so damned polite about it, Guy looked against his better wishes.

[Salut]

Guy blinked, taken aback, at the page. Blue ink in narrow-slanted handwriting shone in the white-LED lighting, having not yet dried. "... S-salut?" he offered cautiously, though he drew his jacket tighter around him and backed away warily, unsure of if the man was going to approach. All he did, however, was to smile and straighten his posture, turning his immaculate visage to the window once more.

They rode past two stations in mutual silence. Eventually Guy couldn't take it any more. Edging closer, making sure that the other's briefcase-holding hand was between them, he inched around and stared at the man until their gazes met once more. "I," he began, though he faltered right there, not knowing what exactly to ask. But what would you even say to him, Guy-Manuel? 'I want to know why you were feeling me up?' You don't know anything about him, or what he could do! Why can't you just walk away, when you still-

The man raised his eyebrows in apparent surprise, but only for a second before reverting to a look of gentle concern. He briefly held up a hand, signalling for the other to wait, before pulling the notebook out again and hastily writing one more line beneath his initial greeting.

[Please excuse me I am mute]

Mute. Now that was something Guy hadn't expected. (Later he would reflect on this and think himself foolish for missing the signs earlier, but really, he couldn't be blamed in the slightest.) It was strange how even after what had happened, Guy's knee-jerk reaction to reading this was one of sympathy; so he was speechless, he'd had no choice but to communicate via physical means! Only after that did the incredulous resentment return. Excuse him for... for what exactly? he thought, throwing the older man what he hoped was a disapproving stare. For being mute, which isn't my fault nor his own in the first place? For touching me? How's being mute a valid excuse for that?

The answer, of course, was that it wasn't. It was then the man spoke. He snapped his notebook shut to get the boy's attention, stashed it back in his pocket, looked straight into Guy's eyes and said but a single word: Proust.

... Huh?

Or more precisely, he didn't pronounce it, but rather moved his lips in what seemed to correspond only to that word. If he meant something different, it wasn't coming through, and no matter how hard Guy stared at his lips, he couldn't think of anything else that could be read from them. "... Proust?" he asked out loud, bewildered.

The man beamed in response. Proust, he nodded, and gave the boy's hand a gentle squeeze. Now what on earth is he talking about, Guy thought frantically to himself, wondering also whether he should snatch his hand away, but the man let go on his own before he could quite finish that thought. His fingers were just as cool as they had been before, their touch melting away swiftly on Guy's hand. He flexed his own fingers to try to recall the sensation, but what happened instead was that he remembered. Of course, Swann's Way, the book that he'd been reading back then - the very book that this man had halted his progress in, the literary equivalent of chloroform! If he too had possessed something to write with, he'd have demanded to know immediately if Proust out of all things had been the sole reason the man had touched him in the first place. He could think of no other reason, after all, and despite everything, Guy actually did feel it unjust to engage this man in verbal questions when he knew he simply could not answer in the same way.

While he was hesitating, however, the speakers beeped in their usual way and the man looked up as the name of the next station was announced. Pulling his briefcase upwards and tucking it between his arm and side, he took out the notebook again - holding the pen lightly between his teeth for ease of movement - and scribbled another message for the boy to see.

[This is my stop]

Guy glanced outside; the platform was just coming into view, the train slowing down, and he recognized where they were. Pigalle, he noted in a murmur, before turning to the man. "I... get off at Anvers," he mumbled, half hoping that he wouldn't hear, but judging by the other's kind expression it was evident that he had. "well, I, um, goodbye... désolé, I don't know your name."

The train came to a halt with a low whooshing noise. The man glanced at the doors as the cheerful announcement - attention à la marche en descendant du train! - sounded and the doors began to slide open; then with sudden assurance he uncapped his pen and scribbled something down for the last time. Within seconds he had torn the page out from his notebook, thrust it into Guy's hands and had followed the rush of commuters leaving the train, silently bidding him an au revoir with the barest movement of his lips and the raise of his hand. Guy stared back at him, mesmerized, even as a new load of passengers got on and crowded his vision, even as the doors closed and the train began moving again.

None of this had taken longer than a minute.

What has happened to me? was his first conscious thought. Blankly he stared around him and down at his jacket and bag, seeing that they were there and yet feeling numb about their continued presence - his parents had warned him so many times about pickpockets in the Métro before, that he was to respect their ingenious craft by remaining ever more alert to what they might do. For years he'd taken that advice to heart and had guarded his possessions most faithfully - and now, within a week he had lost an umbrella and had a lengthy lapse in awareness there.

"Anvers!" the announcement chirped, startling him out of that reverie. Only then did he realize that the piece of paper was still in his hand. He waited until he'd left the train to unfold it and read what it said; only a single word, devoid of coherent meaning, was written there. Guy read it several times over, looked up at the exit sign, then back down at the piece of paper again. Whatever he'd gotten himself into, he knew that he wouldn't be able to make sense of it for a while, and wasn't sure how he felt about that.

[Roulé]