Chapter 1: James
Fridays are always a toss up in terms of general mood at the university. Half the students are either elated for the coming weekend – two days of freedom from responsibilities, the studying, and the stress – and the other half is exhausted to the point of hibernating through their days off from academic hell. Everyone is guzzling a frankly alarming amount of coffee and some students are at the point of showing up to lectures in their pajamas – James even recalls one such student showing up wearing crocs.
Dr. James Fitzjames – professor of history and full-time academic peacock – strides towards the elevators amongst throngs of dead-eyed students milling towards the coffee shop, a spring in his step. The sound of rustling papers from within his leather satchel go unheard to the man’s ears, plugged as they are with earbuds blasting Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’”, and the travel tray of coffees in his hand balances precariously as he mouths the words to the song with his free hand gesticulating wildly to the lyrics. Several students step aside as he enters the elevator, not even batting an eyelid as the tall man continues to hum along to the song currently drowning out all other noise.
He exits with a jaunty wave to the apathetic people left behind in the elevator and cheerfully begins to make his way to the office he shares with the newly minted Doctor Harry Goodsir.
“Well someone’sin a good mood!” Harry comments as he meticulously places his newly acquired degree into the large frame sitting on his desk. “Any special occasion I’ve forgotten?”
James drops his satchel onto his desk with a loud thump and gleefully scoops up one of the coffees from the tray, “Nothing except for the fact that my editor has just approved the first half of my book!”
Harry’s smile lights up the room, “Congratulations! And you know you can just say your brother and not your editor right? I know how you feel about not being technically related to him but seriously, just say William instead of being the massive drama queen that you so clearly are.”
“Because saying ‘my editor’ is so much more academically satisfying! Honestly, trying to spoil my fun so early in the day,” James grins happily over the top of his cup.
Harry chuckles as he places the backing onto the frame, “How much left do you have to research? I know Mr. Blanky has been giving you a hard time lately… even if he isthe best research assistant.”
James scoffs before taking another sip of his coffee, “The man is Crozier’s best friend Harry, of coursehe’s giving me a hard time. I imagine the only time he won’t be doing so is when he’s dead, and even then I wouldn’t put it past the old dog to haunt me from the great beyond.”
Harry looks up, startled, and nearly drops the whole picture frame off the desk, “What? Surely you don’t believe that!”
James snorts and passes the younger man the other coffee from the tray, “Of course I do! He exists to be as sarcastic as possible and to be as much of a bastard as he can be. I mean I do respect his dedication to the task but still, you would think he would’ve grown tired of it by now.”
Harry raises an eyebrow pointedly, “and do youever tire of bothering Professor Crozier?”
James pauses mid-sip, considering the situation at hand. On the one hand it absolutely isone of his all-time favourite pastimes in the entire world, if only to see the grouchy bugger turn red and get flustered as he verbally spars with him. The colour rising high in the older professor’s cheeks, his eyes narrowing with irritation as he snarls out delightful counter arguments to James’ taunts and teasing, the thick Irish accent becoming more pronounced the angrier he becomes. James acknowledges on some subconscious level of his brain that the fights he picks with Francis are entirely designed to rile the other man up, to engage him as an equal, and to keep him on his toes. Strictly academically speaking, of course.
On the other hand, Harry will absolutely use this information to his benefit and will use it to any advantage despite his gentle appearance. Conclusion: Harry must never know the truth.
James shrugs with a confidence he doesn’t fully feel, painfully aware of how perceptive the other man is when he replies, “Harry it’s embarrassingly easy, hardly something I need to try at. Just a bit of fun to keep the days bearable when I need to grade a mountain of subpar essays.”
“If you say so,” Harry says casually, his eyes crinkling with mirth at his friend’s transparency on the subject.
“Have you decided where you’re going to hang your ridiculously expensive university receipt yet?”
“It’s not a receipt! I worked hard for this!”
“Come on, it has a gold sticker, it’s essentially the adult version of a grade school graduation certificate with a star sticker on it. Just with exponentially higher price tag.”
“You’re just jealous that I got my fancy sticker before I turned thirty and you didn’t,” Harry says smugly.
James splutters around a mouthful of hot coffee and glares incredulously at his friend.
“I didn’t come here to be sassed by a cheeky little shit like you!”
“Then why did you come here then?” Harry asks as he grins unrepentantly and chucks a pen at James.
James slips into the back of the lecture hall unnoticed by the exhausted students occupying the large room, quietly placing his coffee onto the desk and pulling out his mobile as he takes in the scene. Crozier is standing at the front of the lecture hall with the laser pointer out and weaving steadily across the screen between English and whatever dead language he’s trying to teach. The cream coloured cable knit sweater rides up his arms where he’s rolled the sleeves up to his elbows, displaying the nautical compass tattoo gracing his right forearm with due north point towards his weathered hand.
Not that James is in the habit of noticing such a thing. Of course not.
Right. Time to liven things up a bit.
“Can anyone tell me what dialect branched out from Latin in Europe after the renaissance?” Crozier’s accent curls around the question as he steadily paces across the front of the room.
James grins toothily from his place at the back of the hall as he calls out, “No professor Crozier, but I doknow that in Latin a raisin is called ‘uva passa’, which roughly translates to ‘a grape that has suffered’ which I believe we can all agree on is linguistically spot on!”
The younger professor beams delightedly as a wave of tired laughter sweeps the room, making Crozier look up to glare daggers into James’ skull. His fingers twitch at his sides like he’s imagining he’s strangling James.
“Don’t make me come up there you smarmy little twit,” Crozier growls, his eyes narrowing dangerously.
James elects not to answer, instead blowing a dramatic kiss over to the other man as the students continue to giggle into their laptops.
“Ahh you worry to much! Just enjoy the Friday jokes and get to the fun part of your lecture! I mean, if you haveone…” James trails off, smirking.
Crozier stops pacing, a wicked smile gracing his face, “Fun part of the lecture? Alright then Fitz why don’t you tell us about Birdshit Island?”
James freezes, his smile growing forced as Crozier grins like the cat that got the canary, and then replies with “personally I believe that Platypus Pond is a much better story to be honest my friend.”
If it’s possible for the temperature to spontaneously lower in a lecture hall capable of holding over a hundred students through sheer force of will, then Professor Francis Crozier manages it effortlessly.
“Class is dismissed!” Crozier barks. “And I want all of your proposals for the final paper submitted to me by Tuesday! If not then you will receive a ten percent deduction from the final grade. If you want to hand them in early then go to my office and hand them in to Mr. Jopson if you must.”
His TA, Thomas Jopson, looks up from the laptop he’s studiously typing onto with a startled look on his handsome face like a deer caught in the headlights.
While the students shuffle out of the room James takes a moment to appreciate the feeling of satisfaction coursing through his whole body like a shot of whiskey, running through his blood and warming him from the inside out. James makes his way down the stairs at a leisurely pace, all the while watching Crozier angrily pack up his briefcase and shut down the projector.
“What’s got a bee in your bonnet Crozzy?” the younger professor asks, propping a hip against the first row of desks.
The man in question slams his briefcase shut, “I would appreciate you butting out of my lectures you absolute twat. The students have enough ridiculous nonsense coming from your own class; they don’t need to be distracted in an advanced Latin course! Most of them are struggling as is and they’re all in their final year! They need to actually pass this class and not risk their futures.”
James loudly slurps up the last of his coffee just to further irritate the other man; “Maybe they would pay more attention if you put a little flourish on your lectures? I mean Latin isa dead language so you definitely need something to spice it up a bit. Maybe recite some dirty poetry in Latin? Perhaps a dramatic reading? Maybe even a little improv to liven things up a bit!”
James grins as he watches Crozier’s eye twitch with barely suppressed rage, the colour rising in his cheeks and his chest swelling with indignation under the thick sweater. His grin falters however when Crozier brusquely rolls the sleeves of his sweater down, covering up the lovely tattoo decorating his arm. A shame really, given how strong his arms look, ‘Now where the fuck did that come from?’James thinks wildly, a blush rising onto his cheeks as he coughs lightly.
“I teach language not drama,” Crozier smirks. “I leave the roll of supreme drama queen to your flouncing self Dr. Fitz. Maybe then your students will actually learn something.”
James blinks, momentarily caught off-guard, “You know, you’re the second person today to call me a drama queen. Why on earth do people immediately assume that about me?”
Now it’s Crozier’s turn to blink, “Fitz,” he begins. “You are the single most melodramatic person I have ever met and for as long as we’ve known each other you absolutely cannot abide not being the center of attention for more than five minutes without going into withdrawals. You had the role of leading lady of nearly every single school production as a teenager, you have an account on every social media platform ever invented, and you always carry a comb and pocket mirror in your man purse.”
“It’s a satchel!”
“I notice you don’t deny the comb and mirror bit there.”
“… You can never be too prepared.”
“And here I thought Iwas the Boy Scout here,” Crozier snorts, before sauntering out of the room.
Chapter 2: Francis
In which Francis saves the day and James is a damsel in distress, ft. Mr. Blanky being Tired Of Everyone's Shit.
I honestly love love LOVE when enemies-to-friends-to-lovers have a moment where one is grudgingly saved by the other and they end up with an experience to bond over so, HERE GOES!!!
Francis sits in his office after a quick lunch, nursing a cup of tea long since gone cold and barely drinkable, an ominous stack of quizzes sits precariously high next to his laptop waiting to be graded. This morning’s lecture had gone smoothly all things considered until that pretty fool decided to drop in unexpectedly. Although, Francis muses sullenly, considering how much Fitzjames seems to enjoy riling him up it makes a whole lot more sense to see his smug face first thing on a busy Friday morning. Not only does he have to deal with the students’ antics but apparently his –supposedly – mature colleague as well. He sighs deeply before opening his laptop to check his email before tackling the quizzes, clicking the school email icon and quickly browsing through his inbox. His eyes land on a particular email and Francis groans, knowing exactly what will come next.
Good morning everyone!
I hope everyone is working hard and gearing up for the long and gruelling road to finals and the Christmas holiday! I know everyone is very busy and it is much appreciated however I took the liberty of booking us all in for a professional development seminar next weekend. It will only be for a half day of events next Saturday and I expect everyone to attend, myself included. I do have some very exciting news to share with the history, language, and anthropology departments so if those involved could all stay after the main program is finished it would be much appreciated. We have a very special opportunity and I would hate to miss it!
There will be coffee and lunch provided to us by the university.
The event details are in the attached document.
Francis scrubs a tired hand across his face and groans dramatically.
“Something the matter sir?”
Francis jumps at the sudden appearance of his TA, “Jopson! Christ almighty I need to put a damn bell on you or something! You just about scared the shit out of me!”
Jopson smiles apologetically, “Sorry sir, you just seemed very engaged in what you were reading and I didn’t want to disturb you.”
“Its fine,” the professor takes a desultory sip of his tea. “Just Sir John giving us our marching orders.”
“We’ve all be voluntold to attend some professional development thing next weekend, and on a Saturday no less! Something about a sparkling new opportunity for the good of the university or some equally trite nonsense.”
Jopson walks around the corner of the desk to deposit a small handful of papers, meticulously clipped together, “Does that mean I have to attend?”
Francis grins, “Seeing as you’re part of the language department it would seem so. At least they’re providing coffee and lunch as part of it. What are these?”
Jopson grimaces, “I’ll be there then sir. And these are a few of the proposal drafts for some of the students from this morning’s lecture. They seemed very keen to not have to work on these during the weekend.”
The professor snorts, “smart move.”
“Would you like some help grading those quizzes? I have some time until my class this afternoon.”
“Jopson, you are an absolute godsend. I dread the day you move on to bigger and better things.”
The younger man smiles happily, his eyes crinkling with joy, “and leave you to drown in a sea of papers? I could never!”
After Jopson leaves to go to his class Francis decides to take a well-deserved break. He hastens out of the office before he can be accosted by anyone in the department, student or faculty, and exits the building to cross the beautifully manicured lawn. He takes a deep breath of the cool fall air blowing gently across the courtyard, bringing with it the scent of pine mingled with coffee wafting from the open windows of the coffee shop. He enters the building opposite from his office and makes for the lower levels where the research department is located.
Walking into the research department is always like watching controlled chaos unfold, a thousand details where missing a single one makes the whole lot unravel, with his best friend Thomas Blanky as the maestro of the maelstrom. The man in question is currently on the phone hotly debating with the person on the other end.
“And I bloody said no! Because, you absolute twat! If you want your research to be accurate and properly sourced from the places where the studies originally occurred then you need to go through the proper channels so no one will blast your dumb arse for taking credit away from where it’s due!”
Francis grins at him and pulls over a chair to get a front row seat to the spectacle that is Thomas Blanky reaming out the unprepared.
“I don’t care what Dean Franklin says professor!” he snarls, rolling his eyes at Francis as he mouths ‘it’s the pretty boy’. “You can either go through me the proper way with no shortcuts or you can go over my cold dead body with what’s left of your academic career. Alright? Fine. Send me that bloody list of what you need and I’ll get on it. Bye.”
Francis giggles manfully as Blanky slams the phone down back onto the cradle with all the gentleness of a bull in a china shop.
“Honestly! How did that man get to be a doctor let alone a professor? I mean I understand he wants to publish his book or whatever but Christ he’s the most annoying bugger I’ve ever met!” Blanky growls.
Francis brings a hand up to his heart in faux outrage, “Even more annoying than me?”
His friend grins, “a different kind of annoying you old turd.”
“What did Fitzjames want?”
“Wants to get his hands on all he can about the Ross Expedition of 1846, the one where two ships and over a hundred men were almost lost. Poor bastards had to abandon the ships and tried to walk to Fort Resolution some eight hundred miles away but they all disappeared. Fuck if I know why that idiot is such a history nerd but he is and here we are stuck with him.”
“We’re stuck with him because he’s Sir John’s personal cheerleader and part-time lapdog. The fact that he’s also a massive history nerd is just a hilarious coincidence,” Francis chuckles.
Blanky snorts, “Suppose so, at least he knows his material I’ll give him that. Half the other sops who phone down here just give me the barest of details expecting me to pull some kind of research material out of my arse for their stupid book reports. At least Fitzjames knows exactly what he needs, even if he’s ridiculously impatient about it, he’s thorough.”
Francis concedes the point; however reluctantly he admits it he does have a grudging amount of respect for the younger professor for his drive and dedication, even if it comes at the cost of dealing with his arrogance and cheekiness on a regular basis.
He sighs, “Suppose you’re right, even if he’s a smug little prick most of the time.”
Blanky shrugs in response.
“So, are you going to go to this PD nonsense Sir John has cooked up?”
The researcher’s eyes narrow, “What’s this? Some kind of field trip for us adults then?”
“Nope,” Francis’ lips pop on the ‘p’. “Apparently its to be held next Saturday for part of the day, something about an opportunity of a lifetime for the university. The history, language, and anthropology departments have to stay after the regular program because the project apparently affects all of us. Will you go with me to keep me from getting supremely bored? It would be cruel of you to make me suffer through Fitzjames’ idiocy on my own.”
His friend laughs heartily, “are you mad? Give up my precious Saturday to sit through an arse-numbingly dull seminar with only you and Fitzjames for company? A hard pass on that one my friend. I leave you to the tender care of Sir John and Pretty Boy.”
Francis scowls, “a right bastard you are.”
“Yes but I’m a bastard who has a free Saturday next weekend, so that’s alright by me.”
“Alright rub it in why don’t you?”
Blanky grins at him as he flips him off.
Francis decides to call it a day after his meeting with Blanky, making his way back to his office at a leisurely pace. The peace abruptly ends when he turns the corner onto the hallway where most of the faculty for the history and language departments share their office space. This owing to the loud and very high pitched screams suddenly emanating from the corner office at the end, followed by a series of rather alarming crashes and thumps.
Francis takes off in hot pursuit, yanking open the door only to find one of the strangest scenes he’s ever witnessed in his life.
“Get it! Good god just kill it already!”
“Harry it’s a cockroach they can’t be killed!”
“Well do something about it!”
“Why don’t you? You’re not squeamish about cutting open cadavers why are you freaking out over a cockroach?”
“BECAUSE I’M A DOCTOR NOT AN ENTOMOLOGIST!”
“YOU REGULARLY HAVE YOUR HANDS IN HUMAN INTESTINES THIS SHOULDN’T BE SO DIFFICULT FOR YOU!”
Francis blinks, and then promptly doubles over laughing raucously at the tableau Fitzjames and Goodsir paint. Both men are perched precariously on furniture – Goodsir balancing on a wobbly chair and Fitzjames crouched on top of his desk brandishing a rolled up newspaper like a sword – while yelling at each other as they frantically scour the room for the offending insect.
Francis’ laughter breaks them out of their spell however, Fitzjames flushing to the tips of his ears while Goodsir simply looks relieved.
“Professor Crozier! Thank god you’re here!”
Barely able to contain his mirth, Francis asks, “What seems to be the problem gentlemen?”
Fitzjames glares up at him from under his dishevelled hair, “What do you thinkthe problem is? Would you just kill the damn menace so we can get down!”
Francis looks down at the perpetrator of all this chaos, a single cockroach sitting in the middle of the room between the two desks, innocently looking up at the older professor as if his entrance is a mild inconvenience to the situation.
So he takes the empty coffee cup from the desk closest to him and grabs a piece of paper, placing the cup gently on top of the insect while sliding the paper under the cup. He opens the window and tips the intruder out into the weak autumn light, watching the critter scurry away into the bushes a floor down. Turning around, Goodsir has climbed down from his chair and Fitzjames is sitting on the edge of his desk – his long legs spread and dangling off the edge, the delicate fingers of his hands spread across his thighs as he takes deep calming breaths – Francis blinks. Why is he thinking of Fitzjames thighs at a time like this?
“Thank you professor, we have no clue how that thing even got in here!” Goodsir looks about ready to topple over.
“It was no trouble at all,” he smirks over at James, who flushes deeply in response. “I was happy to be your knight in shining armour. I was just returning from the bowels of the castle after you decided to rile up Mr. Blanky once again.” Francis hums thoughtfully; “If I told him about this he would probably work twice as hard to get your research done-“
“If you tell a single soul what you saw in this room I actually willtell the story of Platypus Pond to your students. Birdshit Island be damned,” Fitzjames growls.
Francis grins at the younger man, and then winks at him as he saunters out of the office.
Chapter 3: James
In which James is a hot mess, Goodsir judges him as only a best friend can, and Peglar makes a guest appearance.
I've talked about it on my tumblr about what cars I think everyone would drive in this AU and the image of James trying to get his long legs in and out of a tiny little Smart Car is frankly the most hilarious thing ever. Francis drives a Rover Mini and Sir John drives a Honda Civic coz he's boring as fuck lmaoooooooooooo!
Goodsir of course is eco-friendly and rides his bike everywhere :3
Monday morning finds James rushing out the door, late for the first time in years, because his trusty alarm clock from his university days has finally decided to go and die on him. It seems to be the first sign of disaster for the day, especially since the next thing to happen is his tiny little Smart Car refusing to start. Cursing profusely James grabs his satchel – it’s not a bloody man purse dammit– and runs as quickly as he can to the nearest bus stop, just barely making it on time.
Next is his coffee, or rather the lack of it. His usual order of coffee from the shop on campus – one sugar no cream – somehow gets mixed up with someone ordering cream and what seems to be several large scoops of sugar. Gagging slightly at the overpoweringly saccharine taste coating his mouth, James stumbles into the lecture hall fifteen minutes late and to his first class of the day while attempting to pull the USB stick containing his PowerPoint presentation out of his bag without spilling his coffee. Tossing his bag onto the desk without any further preamble he immediately begins talking even before the slideshow has booted up.
“Good morning class! Can anyone tell me what the most common danger British sailors faced when traveling on the open sea? No? Well I will tell you anyways!”
Later, once James is safely ensconced in his own office to go over the events of his day, he will be able to look back on this and laugh. As it is, he powers through his opening speech without ever once bothering to look up at his audience.
“One of the most dangerous things to happen to any sailor was scurvy! Yes it sounds simple enough once you know how to combat it, for example: any kind of citrus juice will provide the necessary vitamin C to make up for the lack of a varied diet while at sea. “
The room shuffles at large, quiet whispers sounding out around him. James takes no notice and continues attempting to hook up the projector.
“The main symptoms of this lovely disease are: weakness, feeling tired, changes to hair like bleeding at the scalp or bald patches, sore arms and legs, gum disease, and easy bleeding and infection. Without treatment, scurvy can lead to poor wound healing, personality changes and hallucinations, and finally death from infection or bleeding. Now, it takes at least a month of little to no vitamin C for any symptoms to occur. But once the patient starts taking vitamin C supplements – whether by pill or simply having a glass of orange juice –improvement often takes effect after a few days and a complete recovery in a few weeks.”
“Scurvy has been recorded in human history since the time of ancient Egypt, and during the Age of Sail it was assumed that fifty percent of the sailors would die of scurvy on any given trip. Scottish surgeon James Lind, surgeon with the Royal Navy, is generally credited with proving that scurvy can be successfully treated with citrus fruit back in 1753. Regardless, it would be another forty years before anyone actually used their brains and before the British Royal Navy would routinely give lemon juice to its sailors.”
James plugs in the USB key to the laptop sitting on the podium, attempting to find the port to the projector, when he notices it: the sound of a dry, rasping chuckle from further into the room. James looks up, confused with the reaction – usually his lectures on the effects and history of scurvy induce a more morbid fascination from his students rather than hilarity – and freezes in place.
Professor Francis Crozier is half way up the stairs leading up the middle of the lecture hall, leaning casually on the desk of a young woman who looks rather baffled by the whole situation, and is wheezing gently as he tries to contain his laughter. It is at this point that James takes a good look around the lecture hall, recognizing absolutely none of the faces of his usual students and feels a wave of embarrassment slide down his spine like a single drop of icy water. But he’s come too far to back down now, so he takes a deep breath, plasters a winning smile on his flushed face, and bows at the waist.
“And that concludes my very brief lecture on scurvy, Professor Crozier will now translate the entire thing in Latin for your educational benefit,” James finishes, proud of how his voice wobbles only minimally.
One last look up at Francis before he tucks tail and flees the room reveals the older man absolutely purple in the face from holding back laughter, while tears stream down his weathered cheeks into his beard as he wheezes. James tunes out the multitude of giggles that follow him out the door and strides out of the hall with as much dignity as he can muster.
Later, when he’s giving the exact same lecture to his own proper students, James can’t get the image of Francis’ delighted and happy face out of his mind. Oh well, must be the residual embarrassment, James reasons, at least he’ll have one hell of a story to tell that crotchety old wet blanket of a friend of his down in research.
Harry, of course, is one of the most sympathetic people James knows and does what only the best of friends does in this kind of situation.
He laughs himself sick when James returns from his lecture.
“You!” the doctor wheezes, barely managing to get the words out through his laughter. “You walked in, without looking to see if it was the right class, and started teaching? About scurvy?” Another wave of hysterical laughter bubbles out of his friend while James sits at his desk with his head in his hands, his face burning. “God I can only imagine what Professor Crozier’s face must’ve looked like!”
James groans while Harry continues to giggle, “Thanks for the vote of confidence doctor, you are positively the best friend one could ever wish for.”
Of course, this only sets Harry off on another round of fresh giggles, his warm brown eyes crinkling at the corners and his slim shoulder shake as he laughs.
“I’m sorry James but really! You definitely know how to start the week off with a bang,” Harry scrubs a hand over his eyes, wiping the tears away. “Christ I needed that, that was a good laugh.”
“Well I’m glad someone enjoys my idiocy,” James snarks back, a wry smile creasing his face. “Crozier’s students probably think I’m some unbalanced scurvy-ridden fool after that whole display.”
“Hmmm, no I don’t think so. You haven’t lost enough hair for that yet,” says Harry, grinning impishly when James snorts and throws a pencil at the young doctor.
A knock at the door interrupts their antics, “Professor Fitzjames? I wonder if you might have a moment?”
“Come in!” James calls.
And in comes Henry Peglar, his cheeks pink from the cold under the auburn beard gracing his face. Slipping the thick scarf off from around his neck, he unbuttons his coat in the warmth of the tiny office.
“Thank you sir, it’s only that, Professor Bridgens wanted me to ask you if you had a spare copy of The Historiesby Herodotus? The library’s only one was damaged when the pipe burst last week in the east wing. Ruined a near a whole shelf of classics,” Peglar shrugs ruefully, his handsome face casting a wry smile.
“Of course he can!” James replies, standing up and turning to rummage through the titles in the massive bookshelf dominating the wall behind him. “If I can just find the copy I have, I know it’s here somewhere.”
“Thank you sir,” Peglar says, his shoulder relaxing. “You should’ve heard Professor Bridgens swearing up a storm when he heard the news, could’ve curled your hair with the language he used.”
Harry blinks owlishly at the news, “I didn’t even think Professor Bridgens ever raised his voice, let alone swore.”
“Oh good god, if you get him worked up enough about something he’s capable of swearing like a sailor. I have to admit it is pretty funny,” Peglar grins.
James turns slightly to catch Harry’s eye knowingly, and gets a raised eyebrow in return. The secret – if you can even still call it that, considering everyone and their dog seems to know about it – of Professor John Bridgens and his brilliant protégé Henry Peglar being involved is less a secret and more of a barely concealed truth. Less scandalous because of the people involved or even the age difference, but the fact that they can barely keep their hands off each other even at the university. Harry still swears to James even five years later that he’s still scarred from the time he’d gone to Professor Bridgens’ office to hand in a final paper only to walk in on Peglar on his knees in front of the older man, enthusiastically sucking him off while Bridgens looked like he was ascending to heaven. Harry had simply backed right out of the room, shoved his essay under the door, and hightailed it away as fast as he could, his ears and cheeks burning.
“Peglar, you’ve nearly earned your PhD haven’t you?” James asks, his long fingers skimming delicately over the books on the shelf.
“Very nearly professor. I just have to finish out the year teaching the latest undergraduate class and then present my final dissertation before the faculty committee and then hopefully I’ll have my PhD in hand,” the young man says tiredly.
James smiles sympathetically, “God I can remember the years I spent earning my PhD, seemed to take an ice age to get, especially considering my advisor was Sir John Franklin. He pushed me to work as hard I possibly could and it was absolutely worth it, even if I had no social life and slept less than was probably healthy given my workload at the time.”
“You lived off of instant noodles, red bull, and coffee for nearly two years straight!” Harry interjects indignantly. “I distinctly remember having to tell you as both a friend and medical professional that living off of processed food and energy drinks could kill you!”
James laughs, “True, it probably didn’t help that I was also running on maybe, what was it? Something like four to six hours of sleep a night? I remember being tired all the bloody time, even fell asleep with my eyes open in the middle of one of the research seminars that was given by that old bloke visiting from McGill University.”
“I know, I had to elbow you awake because you’d started snoring.”
Peglar laughs heartily while James splutters indignantly.
“Excuse me doctorI was exhausted from the research I’d been doing the night before! My dissertation wasn’t going to very well write itself now was it?”
Harry snorts dismissively, “The only researchyou were doing was of the naked kind in bed with Le Vesconte, and I remember thatbecause of the frankly ridiculous amount of noise you two were making down the hall. Almost made me regret rooming with you for so long.”
James’ delighted laughter cuts through the room clear as a bell, “I was attempting to branch out in the study of human anatomy!”
Harry raises a single judgemental eyebrow in response as Peglar cackles.
“Aha! Here it is! Now, it’s my only personal copy of Herodotus so I would ask you take good care of it,” James hands over the large leather-bound book to the Peglar. “I know you and Bridgens treat books like treasures but still, this was a gift from my sister.”
Peglar looks mildly surprised, “I thought you only had a younger brother? Isn’t he the editor for your book?”
If James’ smile looks a little forced, no one comments on it, “half-sister, we have the same father and she’s the youngest of his children, so I have to be her semi-respectable big brother.”
“You? Semi-respectable? Sounds fake but alright,” quips Harry from behind his laptop, quietly observing how tense his friend has become.
“I’ll have to concur with Dr. Goodsir on that front,” Peglar says, smirking. “Given what I’ve heard about you heckling Professor Crozier on the regular and from the lecture on scurvy you apparently gave to his class this morning.”
James whirls around as Harry bursts into delighted peals of laughter behind him, “Where did you hear that?”
“Um… basically all the students in that class have been talking about it, word spreads quickly. Professor Bridgens had a good laugh about it with Dean Franklin,” Peglar says, looking confused at the outburst. “I was down in the research department and heard professor Crozier recounting the whole tale to Mr. Blanky.”
James swears and Harry only laughs harder.
Chapter 4: Francis
In which Francis awkwardly attempts to flirt with James, their students get an eyeful, and honest revelations are had.
Historically speaking James was about 35 when he disappeared and Francis was 52, but for the sake of this fic I’ll be lowering the age of Francis to maybe mid 40s coz I pictured Sir John being the older bastard, meanwhile Francis has maybe a decade on James in terms of age. As opposed to the 17 year difference in reality lmao.
That being said I also have no idea what happens to someone's dissertation research once they've earned their PhD, whether it gets published or archived or whatever, so for this story's sake we're going to pretend it all gets digitized and filed away for students to request a copy, hence James being so surprised and all that lol
Francis chuckles to himself as he climbs the stairs out of the research department after lunch, Blanky’s laughter still ringing in his ears. His friend had been absolutely delighted with the news of professor Fitzjames making an arse out of himself in front of the whole class, even if he had pulled off a decently smooth exit from the whole situation. Still, the shade of pink that had graced the younger man’s features as he hastily packed up his bag weighs heavily on Francis’ mind, the flustered packing of his laptop and James’ long fingers deftly closing up the straps on his satchel.
Still lost in thought, Francis doesn’t register his surroundings until he hears a loud thump and a muffled curse further into the courtyard. Looking through the closest archway he sees Fitzjames trying to gather an armful of papers that have fallen to the ground, the chilly air making the man’s cheeks turn pink. His movements are jerky and erratic, grumbling to himself under his breath while he kneels on the frozen ground and Francis feels suddenly like he’s intruding on a personal moment, unguarded as Fitzjames is in comparison to his usual pomp and circumstance.
“Trying to grow some final term papers are we?” Francis comments drily. “Bit cold this time of the year.”
Fitzjames starts at the sound of Francis’ voice, dropping a handful of papers back to the ground, “I’m trying to play catch-up considering it’s been one hell of a Monday. This is just the cherry on top of an already wobbly pudding for me,” he says ruefully.
Francis feels a pang of awkwardness for making Fitzjames feel put on the spot, “Here, let me help.”
“No it’s alright-“
“… Oh alright. But mind the ones that aren’t stapled together!”
“Aye aye Captain Scurvy,” Francis quips, grinning.
Fitzjames groans, lifting his face to the sky, “I’m nevergoing to live that down am I?”
Francis manfully holds back a giggle when he replies, “It was a rather amazing performance if I do say so myself. Even if I was laughing too hard after you left to do as you said and translate the whole thing into Latin. The students enjoyed it though.”
The younger man laughs, “God I wanted to just melt into the carpet and die. It was like one of those dreams where you’re on stage and suddenly you’re totally naked and all you can do is despair about it until you wake up.”
Francis laughs as he hands over a stack of papers, “Why on earth were you so out of it anyways? I don’t think I’ve ever seen you less than perfectly coiffed and ready to take on the world on any given day. Especially given your love of storytelling and drama.”
Fitzjames stands up and folds the rest of the papers into his satchel, catching the amused look Francis throws it and scowls back at him half-heartedly, “it was rather a series of unfortunate events starting from the moment I woke up I’m afraid.”
“Oh? Do tell.”
“First there was my faulty alarm clock, then my bloody car wouldn’t start. The bloke at the coffeeshop mixed up my order with someone who wanted at least a pound of sugar in their cup of coffee and on top of that I was already running late. Combine all of this together and imagine me running into what I thought was going to be my Age Of Sail 1050Aclass.”
“Oh I don’t have to imagine. It was a beautifully delivered performance,” Francis chuckles.
Fitzjames flushes deeper, ducking his head a little, “Well I do love a good show, both giving andreceiving so that’s good to hear.”
Francis’ brain stutters to a brief half when hearing the younger man talking about giving and receivingand then quickly comes back online in time to hear himself say, “You should’ve become a Shakespearean actor, would’ve been better for your ego.”
Fitzjames scoffs, playing along, “Please, there is in fact such a thing as too much drama and that would be the career for it. That and I don’t fancy myself dressing up in tights to play Hamlet or some such nonsense.”
Francis snorts, “I find that hard to believe.”
“Now, if I got the part of say, Lady Macbeth or Juliet, I would absolutely be able to work it in a hugely ruffled gown,” Fitzjames says, his eyes sparkling not-so innocently.
Francis of course, like the massive cock-up he is, manages to choke on nothing at the thought of the younger man donning some frilly monstrosity of a gown, his long legs encased in some silky stockings hidden underneath in the fabric of the skirts. His face flushes involuntarily at the thought, his beard doing little to conceal the colour of his face reddening. And damn itif it isn’t a thought that will absolutely get stuck in his head for a good long while.
Barely remembering to pull his mind out of the gutter, Francis replies, “I don’t think you have the breasts necessary to fill out any of the corsets.”
James’ mouth drops open in faux outrage before dramatically grabbing his chest with both hands, “How dare you tell me my breasts are inadequate!”
A cough from behind them draws their attention to a small group of Francis’ students trying desperately not to laugh while they wait in line for the coffeeshop, all of them either hiding behind their cellphones or their textbooks. Francis turns back to James to admonish the younger man for starting such a weird conversation out in the open when he’s interrupted by the strangest sound Francis has ever heard in his life. A small rumbling emanates from James’ stomach and quickly tapers off into a high pitched squeal, the younger man looking deeply mortified and clutching his satchel close to his body.
“Now,” Francis says slowly. “Either you haven’t eaten lunch yet or you’ve done an excellent job of hiding a dog’s squeaky toy in your coat pocket.”
“Haven’t had anything to eat today,” James mumbles, embarrassment writ on his face. “And I threw that disgustingly sweet coffee in the bin after I left your class this morning so that doesn’t even count. Then I was rushing to get to my own proper class and then after thatHarry spent most of my lesson planning time ribbing me for being a massive idiot earlier today.”
Francis laughs softly at the memory of James rushing out of his lecture, flushed and flustered and far more adorable than he had any right to be.
“Right, we’ll head to the cafeteria so you won’t die of malnourishment or scurvy.”
“I hate you.”
“I hear they have a discount for orange juice happening today, you know, buy a sandwich and get a decent dose of vitamin C as well.”
“I will murder you and no one will ever find the body.”
“I imagine if you have scurvy it would make it difficult to play your part in a Shakespearean melodrama, you’d probably have to wear a wig or something.”
“You would either be the jester or some other equally ridiculous role.”
Next to him, James is all but vibrating with barely suppressed indignation and laughter, Francis smirks and says, “all right you tosser, let’s get some food into you before I need to get some smelling salts for your delicate constitution.”
James huffs out a laugh, “you sound like you have experience with using those old man.”
Francis splutters, “I’m in my forties how is that considered old!?”
“Well I’m a young whippersnapper so anyone older than me is an old man,” James replies cheekily.
And if Francis happens to shove James into a wall on the way to the cafeteria then who cares, the little shite deserves it.
In hindsight, Francis muses, the cafeteria may not have been the most ideal place for a heated discussion of Sir John’s merits in academia. Especially with Francis’ rather lukewarm opinions of the man’s merits as a human being in general being situated firmly between ‘utterly oblivious’ and ‘condescending prick’. James seems to hold him in a higher regard, which doesn’t say much considering Francis’ already low opinions of the Dean’s abilities.
On the other hand, Francis can’t deny he enjoys riling up the young professor, if only to see the fire in his eyes and the flush rise high on his cheeks as he defends his former advisor.
“I wouldn’t have gotten my PhD without his guidance!”
Francis scoffs over the rim of his cup of coffee, “you did fine on your own with your research about the Age of Sail and the many attempts to find the Northwest Passage. If I recall correctly you didn’t even cite from any of his material just to prove a point to the faculty committee that you weren’t using him to get your PhD.”
James stops, freezing with his sandwich stuffed in his mouth as his eyes go comically wide.
Francis grins at him, “What? Didn’t think I’d read your dissertation? Please, I may not have specialised in history but that doesn’t mean I can’t go to the library same as anyone to get a copy.”
“What- I just, what?” James hastily swallows a mouthful of water before he chokes on his bite of ham and cheese sandwich. “Library?”
Now it’s Francis’ turn to be confused, “You… didn’t know it was in the library? I mean it’s not published as a novel or anything, just filed in the research section. You have to specially request a copy through the library’s printing department because it’s considered copyrighted material but it’s there. Quite a fascinating read too, much as it pains me to admit it. I’m shocked you managed to go for essentially an entire book without telling a dramatically embellished story.”
James continues to look at Francis as though he’s just been knocked over the head by a baseball bat, half incredulity and half amazement. Of course the effect is rather ruined by the bit of sandwich hanging out of the side of James’ mouth.
“What? Didn’t think I would be able to find it?” Francis teases.
James swallows audibly, a look of deep consideration etched on his handsome face, “No it’s not that, honestly I’m just shocked that you actually read it. Much less found it an interesting read.”
“Well it was indeed interesting, even if you felt the need to wax poetic about the structure of the arctic vessels themselves.”
“Sorry it’s just,” James says, his voice strangely small. “One of the reasons I didn’t think much of my dissertation at the time was how dismissive so many of the faculty were, Sir John in particular. He kept trying to point me to more successful expeditions as an area of study rather than the ones that ended with most of the crews dying or having to turn around. But those were the ones I found most interesting because so many of the ships and crews that turned back did in fact return, sometimes more than once, to try to discover the passage.”
James stops to put his sandwich down, his eyes bright and his hands moving enthusiastically through the air as he speaks. “I found that tenacity absolutely fascinating, and that’s what I wanted to explore when I was going through old archives for ships logs, diaries, artefacts, hell, anything I could get my hands on really! To be honest I’m almost entirely sure that that’s what annoys Mr. Blanky so much about me whenever I phone down to him, a lot, and I mean a lotof the material I request is fairly out there in terms of documentation so it’s not like I ever come to him with anything that one would consider a normal request,” James laughs gently, distractedly running a hand through his hair.
“Wait, so,” Francis begins, unsure of when exactly the conversation shifted away from Sir John’s obvious shortcomings to James’ perceived ones. “You wrote about that, all of it, despiteSir John’s urging you otherwise? Because most of us thought you wrote what he wanted you to write, that that was why you got so far so quickly academically.”
Francis regrets the words the second they leave his mouth, because despite the honesty and genuine curiosity behind them, James’ eyes have gone cold and steely, all the warmth gone entirely from his expressive brown eyes.
“I researched what I wanted to write about because it was mydissertation, notSir John’s,” James says, his tone even and unyielding. “He did insist many times that it would be far easier to write about and to find research material, but I wanted to explore the setbacks and the failures that made the discovery of the Northwest Passage so meaningful and important. Besides, I respect Sir John for pushing me to do better, always to do better regardless of who was telling me to do the easy thing, even if that person was Sir John himself.”
Francis considers James in an entirely new light, not the ingratiating lapdog he’d always imagined, but the unrelentingly passionate historian needing to tell everyone’s tale, and not just the victor or the great hero.
It’s equally disconcerting as it is humbling.
“Well then,” Francis says, a slow smile taking over his face. “Perhaps you should mention that to Thomas and he wouldn’t give you such a hard time over your research requests. He appreciates honesty and hard work more than you know.”
The angry fire in James eyes recedes at Francis’ acknowledgement, replaced by a wary respect, “I would, but you know how I like a good fight now and then. I need something to cheer me up during the build up to Christmas finals.”
At this, Francis laughs heartily, with James joining in hesitantly.
“Well,” James says regretfully. “Much as I would love to stay and argue historical semantics with you, I need to catch the bus back home so I can phone the garage to see what can be done with my useless car.”
“I could drive you home,” Francis blurts out, the offer hanging precariously between them. “I mean, it’s not too far out of the way.”
The younger man blinks, and then nods slowly, “Only if you’re sure…”
“Would I have offered to be trapped in a car with you if I didn’t mean it?”
James responds immediately and with total confidence, a grin firmly in place, “Yes you absolutely would, if only to be the most stubborn and contrary bastard in the entire universe.”
“… Point taken. Alright, come to my office when you finish for the day and we’ll head out then.”
“Or, I could just text you. Provided you’re not a true old person who doesn’t have a mobile.”
“If you get any cheekier I’ll give you a detention.”
James ignores this and cheerfully swipes Francis’ phone off the table, deftly entering in his number while Francis feels a strange sense of victory. Whether from the newly acquired information or the phone number, he cannot say.
It’s only after the younger professor has said goodnight and gone into his building that Francis wonders when he’d stopped being ‘Fitzjames’, and simply became James. Such a seemingly small thing to notice after well over half a decade of working together, and yet so disconcertingly obvious now that the name holds an uncharted new familiarity.
Francis peels away from the sidewalk with unnerving clarity and the lingering scent of James’ aftershave clinging to the passengers’ seat.
Chapter 5: James
In which Francis has a moment of road rage, and James' sister roasts him as any younger sibling should.
The “Puddle-Jumper” reference is a throwback to The Red Green Show as what he called Smart Cars when they were first introduced, still makes me laugh even years later lmao.
James canonically was raised like a brother with William Connington, even if Louisa and Robert weren’t actually related to him by blood I’ve made them his aunt and uncle for the sake of the drama in this story. Fitzjames is just a surname made up by his asshole of a dad in this fic because he panicked and just wrote whatever he wanted on the birth certificate. I’m quite excited about the inclusion of James half-sister! Even if she and Daniel are OCs for the purpose of this fic, apparently James dad and his wife had like 15 children together lmao. I just felt it was a really great way to explore James’ background and his family life :)
James pulls his shoes on while a piece of toast hangs out of his mouth, the jam sliding precariously towards the crust before he stuffs the whole thing in his mouth. The tinny sound of a car horn honking through the window draws his attention, grabbing his satchel and thermos of coffee, James hurriedly makes his way down to the waiting car currently hosting the world’s grumpiest professor. As it is, he spies Francis sitting in the driver’s seat staring blearily out at the world with all the joy of a rabid wolverine.
“Looks like someone got out on the wrong side of the bed today,” James remarks cheerfully, taking an annoyingly loud slurp of his coffee before buckling himself in. “Come on! It’s Friday! Everyone should be ecstatic knowing the weekend is tomorrow!”
“How the hell you manage to be so full of sunshine and rainbows so early in the damn morning will forever escape me,” Francis grouses.
“You know,” James says, eyeballing the older man as one would when approaching a tiger. “You didn’t have to drive me to and from work every day. I could just as easily take the bus or a cab.”
Francis snorts, “please, it’s already Friday thank Christ, and your tiny little puddle-jumper will be fixed by this afternoon and you can go back to whizzing around town in a glorified go-kart.”
“Am I wrong?”
“… I mean no, but it’s eco friendly!”
“James you knowingly purchased a vehicle that makes your already ridiculously long legs look even more hilarious when you climb out, it makes it look like you drive a clown car.”
James looks down at his legs and then smirks up at the older man, “who knew Francis Crozier was a leg man.”
James is suddenlyveryinterested in the exact shade of red that Francis’ face turns, especially considering how very little his beard does to hide it.
“I just mean you’re already a ridiculous caricature of a giant stick insect masquerading in a human’s body so I- Jesus fucking CHRIST!”
James feels a split second of absolute pants-shitting terror as Francis swerves wildly to avoid some arsehole cutting in front of them, the back bumper of the car in front just narrowly missing the front of Francis’ car by an uncomfortably small margin. Once James can feel his heart rate return from a fight or flight response he’s able to finally take stock of the state of rage Francis seems to be inhabiting, slowly turning his head to look at his colleague in wary astonishment.
“Are you absolutely BLIND you useless little PRICK!” Francis yells, the earlier gentle flush on his face now turned3 purple with rage. “I ought to ram your stupid fucking car just out of PRINCIPLE you dumb fucking bastard! Teach you a thing or two about proper driving considering the bloody turn signal is RIGHT NEXT TO YOUR FUCKING STEERING WHEEL!”
James can feel his earlier panic morphing into incredulity, then hilarity, and before long he’s doubled over in his seat absolutely howling with laughter. The sheer absurdity of the usually calm and terminally grouchy Francis morphing into some sort of rage demon summoned directly from the deepest circles of hell to descend on unsuspecting drivers.
“Jesus-“ James wheezes, clutching his stomach and laughing.
Francis looks over at him, “What? He was being a complete ARSEHOLE!”
“Yes but,” James wipes a tear away from his eye. “I didn’t realize I was being chauffeured to work by the patron saint of road rage.”
The saint in question huffs out a laugh of his own before relaxing his hands on the steering wheel.
“He’s still a bastard.”
“Yes indeed,” James leans back, still giggling periodically.
“Speaking of bastards, what do you suppose Sir John has in store for us at this conference thing tomorrow?”
“And here I thought you were his second in command you useless twat.”
James smirks, “Oh I am, it’s just that he’s been deliberately avoiding me all week and dodging my emails and phone calls so I know it’s something big.”
Francis narrows his eyes, “Just because he didn’t tell you anything himself doesn’t mean you don’t knowanything. So spit it out.”
“Well you’re definitely learning how my delightful mind operates so that’s a plus!”
“I just know that you’re a slippery bastard when you want to be so I figured you would’ve had a plan B some time ago if Sir John didn’t let you in on the details himself.”
“Quite true. It also helps that all the TAs love me and some of them owe me favours so I have quite the spy network at my disposal.”
The language professor looks over at James with an uncomfortable blend of amazement and suspicion, “You know far more than you’re letting on, don’t you?”
James shrugs this time, growing serious, “Not really, the most I know is that it’s a joint project that we’ll be working on with an international team. Some folks from Queens University and McGill University over in Canada, something to do with translating ancient languages and an arctic wreckage so we’ll both be heavily involved.”
Despite his reservations about the Dean’s plans, Francis finds himself cautiously intrigued, “Would they be coming to us or would we be going to them? I haven’t been to Canada in years so it would be a welcome trip if they did decide to send us over.”
“I’ve never been there myself, so I couldn’t say. And to be honest I wouldn’t even begin to know where the funding would come from for us to be shuttled over there just to look at artefacts. Seems to me it would make more sense to have someone or something flown over here for the entire department to work with. The one thing I doknow is that it’s something the higher ups in command are heavily invested in, monetarily and for publicity.”
“Hmm,” Francis muses, turning into the faculty parking lot. “Well knowing his love for the spotlight it will definitely be something big and gaudy. We’ll just have to rein him in if it turns out to be some kind of documentary on aliens building ziggurats or something. It would be just his kind of bad luck to do a serious interview for some crock of shit like that.”
James laughs uncomfortably, scratching his neck, “Actually…”
“When I was still his TA I had to vet several TV programs he was asked to be a guest of. Turns out the one he most wanted to attend was in fact, some conspiracy related network who wanted a legitimate academic voice to weigh in on their wild alien related theories. He wasn’t very pleased when I provided proof of their harebrained scheme the next day, even if he did enjoy the spotlight of the history network program he ended up co-hosting later.”
Francis feels his face pull up into a totally involuntary grin, his body shaking with the laughter, “Oh my god. Wait; was this back when he was still trying to obsessively dye the grey out of his hair? Was that whyhe kept trying to get rid of it?”
James giggles next to him; “You didn’t hear it from me, especially since I was the one he always sent to pick up his hair dye from the salon.”
Francis wheezes gently before unbuckling his seatbelt, “Oh god that was the best Friday morning news I’ve ever had.”
A muffled curse and a loud thump are his only reply. Rushing around the car to help, he finds James sprawled out in an ungainly heap on the pavement next to his Rover Mini, satchel and coffee still sitting innocuously inside the car.
“Not a single word Francis.”
“So, what’s it like walking on stilts all the time?”
“When I manage to get up, I will murder you and stuff you in the trunk of your own car.”
“Well let me know when you plan to do that, looks like you might be down there a while,” Francis says mildly, as though commenting on the weather.
James glares up at him, unhooking the seatbelt from where it’s wrapped around his elbow before taking the hand being offered by Francis. He tries not to show how affected he is when the older man effortlessly hauls him to his feet, the muscles in his arms going whipcord tight and bunching up his leather jacket in all the right places.
James blinks, no, don’t think those thoughts. You’ll fall over again you twit.
“Thanks for the lift Sir Rage.”
“Would you like me to walk you to class?” Francis asks innocently. “You know, just to make sure you get to the right one.”
“Oh piss off,” James says lightly, shouldering his bag and striding purposefully away.
James turns neatly on his heal and promptly marches right back to snatch his thermos right out of Francis outstretched hand, trying and failing to ignore the delighted spark in his colleague’s eyes.
The older professor’s laughter follows him to the door of the building, and only increases when James turns around to blow a wet raspberry in his direction before sauntering proudly inside.
Several hours later James is sitting in his office enjoying some time to catch up working on his book, having several chapters to revise and edit before sending them back to Will for his perusal. He’s in the middle of a tricky paragraph about arctic navigation when his mobile rings, the obnoxiously familiar tones of Rick Astley blasting through his quiet office.
“Really? Never Gonna Give You Up?” James asks irritably.
His only reply for several moments is his younger sister’s delighted laughter filtering through the phone.
“Listen, if I can’t rickroll you on a regular basis then what are cellphones even for?” and James can easily picture Eliza’s face, her freckled cheeks turning pink as she laughs.
“For taking embarrassing photos of your younger siblings, next question.”
“I swear to god James if you ever show dad that picture of me at that old barn…” Eliza half-heartedly threatens, knowing full-well James will do no such thing.
“Please, as if I would ever give that old bastard the excuse to stop in to try and lecture me at work. Tell me, has he died yet?”
“No,” she sighs. “More’s the pity too considering mum is finally divorcing him.”
“What!?” James asks, dropping his pen to the desk and turning his attention fully to the conversation at hand.
“Yeah that’s why I phoned you,” his sister says gleefully. “She and him had a massive row on the weekend and I only found out about it when mum showed at work to bring me some takeaway for dinner last night.”
“You sound oddly cheerful for someone who just found out her parents are getting a divorce,” James notes cautiously.
She scoffs, “Please, they’ve been heading towards this for years. And it’s not even got anything to do with you, which is the crazy part considering how wild everything was back when we were kids.”
Now it’s James’ turn to scoff, “Right, because finding out that your husband had a child with another woman while you’ve been busy raising the two of your own legitimate children is such a positive bit of news to receive.”
“Don’t forget the bit about when she found out you were being raised by her older sister and her husband. Important bit to remember,” Eliza says breezily.
James laughs, “Of course, how could I forget?”
He looks towards the large framed photo sitting on his desk, propped up between his laptop and the old desk phone, the faces of his adoptive family staring up at him happily. Technically speaking Louisa and Robert are his aunt and uncle respectively, with William being his younger cousin instead of his brother, but James can think of them only as the closest family he’s ever known. He’d never met his biological mother, sure he knows her name since it’s still written clear as day on his birth certificate, but he’s never felt any particular inclination to seek out the woman who gave him up.
He’d thought of Louisa and Robert as his mother and father until he was ten, whereupon they’d sat both him and Will down and told them both the truth of James’ parentage. They’d been unable to conceive and when James was born it was the opportunity to start a family that they could never have passed up. It was nevertheless still a shock when Will came along, but they’d simply shrugged and raised the boys as brothers.
Understandably, James was incredibly upset when he found out who his father really was, but he’d taken it in stride knowing how much of an arsehole Uncle James – no, his father– truly was. The true hullabaloo came that very same year when his father’s wife found out who their darling nephew truly was after Will accidentally let it slip… right smack in the middle of easily the most awkward family Christmas dinner in known history.
Feelings had been hurt, yelling abounded, and several Christmas puddings had been thrown. All in all, easily the most eventful Christmas holiday James had ever had. Eliza of course, being younger than James by only several months, had been delighted to gain another older brother. Daniel, on the other hand, resented the presence of another sibling to contend with – especially considering the fallout that basically made the next decade appallingly awkward at assorted family gatherings – and ignored James from that point on. Sure, they exchange cards at birthdays and Christmas, but that’s the extent of James’ relationship with his older half-brother.
James doesn’t blame him for the distance considering the family powder keg he lit simply by being born, but it’s hard to care about someone who quite frankly can’t even remotely compare to the wonderful sibling relationships he has with Eliza and Will.
“So if I wasn’t the reason, then why did they finally decide to split?” James asks curiously, having fully abandoned his editing.
“Well it turns out he’d invested some money into what he thought was a legit company.”
“Oh yes! Turns out they were working some kind of Ponzi scheme and he lost basically all the money he’d invested and then some. But the real cherry on top is that the police are investigating him and mum had had enough so she literally threw his shit out onto the street- “
“Noshe didn’t!” James exclaims gleefully.
“Oh my god.”
“Yeah! He was apparently out there yelling and being a massive tit and then mom called the cops on him. They told him to clear off or he’d be arrested for domestic disturbance.”
James leans forward, grinning wildly, “And? What did he do?”
“He tucked tail and ran, as far as I know he’s staying with uncle Robert and aunt Louisa for the week but after that he’s on his own,” Eliza’s voice is breathless with laughter.
James cackles, “And he hasn’t tried phoning you to crash on your couch for a few days?”
“Oh he did, I just told him that Sophia was already staying the week and that we’d already made plans. He didn’t like that very much,” this time, James hears the harsh note of bitterness clear in his sister’s voice.
On top of being a massive snob and otherwise detestable human being, Sir James Gambier – obnoxious arsehole extraordinaire – especially dislikes his daughter’s girlfriend Sophia Cracroft, despite how very much in love the two are. James once found it awkward for the simple reason that Sophia and Francis used to be an item once-upon-a-time, but has since moved past this to an amazing bromance with Eliza’s girlfriend, each taking turns to mess with Francis on a regular basis.
“How’s she doing by the way?” James asks, moving smoothly away from the topic of their errant father. “Wasn’t she supposed to be going on some major archaeological dig out in Greece? I thought that they’d uncovered some untouched city or something.”
Eliza can never stop herself from talking about her girlfriend’s many achievements so the next few minutes are spent with her waxing poetic about Sophia, from her taste in food to her ability to reconstruct someone’s face simply from a dusty old skull found in some ruins. James finds himself smiling as she recounts their latest expedition to the British Museum for their latest date.
“Oh! And we saw your old squeeze while we were there, what’s his name, that bloke with the weird French name.”
“Le Vesconte? You saw Henry? God it’s been ages since we’ve caught up with each other!”
Eliza whistles cheekily, “Oooooooh is that what the kids are calling it nowadays? He’s quite the silver fox now I might add.”
James barks out an embarrassed laugh, “God no it’s been years since we were dating. I got over him ages ago.”
“So? Are you seeing anyone right now then?” Eliza asks curiously. “I mean the last date I remember you going on was with some blind date that ended horribly or something.”
At this, James tosses his head back and guffaws loudly at the fond memory, “Christ I’d almost forgotten about that! No, someone at work offered to set me up on a blind date because they’d apparently found the perfect person for me. Turns out they’d set me up with Harry Goodsir, you know, the friend I roomed with in uni? Anyways, we both showed up to the restaurant wearing the red roses in our collars as per our instructions. Harry looked like he’d just been told Christmas was cancelled.”
Eliza’s raucous laughter bubbles through the phone into James’ ear, “Oh my god!”
James wheezes, “I mean we both enjoyed the dinner but nothing came of it obviously.”
“That was an excellent distraction big brother, but,” Eliza says, her voice dripping with mirth. “Don’t think I didn’t notice that you didn’t answer my first question there. So? Are you seeing anyone?”
James’ brain grinds to a halt, frantic to throw her off, “Technically no.”
He sighs, he’s not getting out of this one anytime soon, “I don’t honestly know if we’re friends, or arch rivals, or people who work together so I don’t- “
“Wait so you work with this person?”
“Yes. And noI am absolutely not telling you who it is.”
“Probably some hot older bloke since that’s your type.”
James splutters indignantly, “What? No!”
He can practically feelhis sister grinning through the phone, “Oh really? Me thinks the maiden doth protest too much!”
“I’m hanging up now.”
“No you have to tell me who it is!” Eliza whines.
“Bye Eliza! Do let me know when you and Sophia can drop in for a visit!” James says with false sweetness.
“Not fair!” she pouts.
“Life isn’t fair my dear sweet baby sister!”
“You know I’ll eventually find out who it is right?”
“And may that day be far from today!”
“Maybe I’ll ask Sophia, she’s bound to have some kind of inkling as to who you’re crushing on,” his sister replies calmly.
“And maybe I’ll send the barn photo to your dear mum,” James replies, equally calm.
“I only promised I wouldn’t sent it to dad, never made any mention of your mum now did I?” James says smugly.
“… Alright I’ll lay off for the time being, but you have to promise to tell me if things get serious!”
“I will,” James promises seriously. “I honestly don’t know if anything is going to come of it but if something does, you will be the first person to know. I promise.”
“Good,” Eliza says, apparently satisfied. “And Sophia actually has some conference thing for a Canadian project tomorrow so you might see her then.”
“Wait… the conference here at the university?”
“Oh you’re going too? Neat! Yeah she’s been super excited about it all week because it’s some big secret reveal for the history and anthropology departments and she’s been bouncing off the walls all week!”
James smiles, “Yeah it’s top secret right now but we’ll find out tomorrow morning.”
“Tell her to phone me as soon as she knows!”
“I will, now bugger off and let me do important professor work.”
Eliza ends the call with a cheerfully loud, wet raspberry blown through the phone.
Chapter 6: Francis
In which we finally attend dean Franklin's dreaded conference.
Now, I know I said I would like to introduce Silna in this chapter I felt there was already so much going on and to have so much plot dumped out all at once with a bunch of new characters making their first appearances I thought it would be best to spread it out. That being said, I also have plans to write Silna's introduction from Goodsir's POV, and the rather... lackluster first impression he makes to her lmao
Also! Sophia and Sir John are finally introduced!
***EDIT: I had to go back and change some of Blanky's dialogue about the Ross expedition from ch. 2 in order to fit the plot here, not much was changed but I went back and intentionally made things more ambiguous so we can find out more later on in the fic***
Saturday mornings are supposed to be for the recuperation of the soul after a long week of academic hell. And of course, enjoying a steaming pot of fresh coffee, to be sipped leisurely throughout the morning, and maybe a delicious plate of bacon and eggs to go with it. The wonderful peace of enjoying breakfast while reading a good book, with the radio playing softly in the background. You’re supposed to be able to wake up whenever you want without your alarm clock yelling at you to get up, and you can even spend the entire day in your pajamas if you want to.
Unfortunately for Francis, this Saturday is not to be one of those idyllic Saturdays.
It’s nine o’clock in the morning and he’s gingerly holding a cup of lukewarm coffee from the breakfast spread across the foldout table in the anthropology lecture hall, of course calling it ‘breakfast’ may in fact be going too far. The assorted trays of fruits, croissants, and cold cereals are a mockery of what could have been a true English breakfast, and Francis deeply laments the lack of bacon, eggs, and some decent coffee. It certainly doesn’t help when he gets a cheerful text from Thomas that wishes him well today and includes a delectable looking photo of a stack of pancakes with bacon and eggs. Absolute bastard.
The only true enjoyment he gets is when he looks across the room to where James is standing beside Sir John, staring dispassionately down at the sad little croissant sitting on the small paper plate in his hand while the older man gestures pompously to the small group clustered around the dean.
Francis snorts at the image, James petulantly glowering at his subpar food while being forced to listen to Sir John prattle away about whatever tripe he’s talking about now, and of course James looks up right into Francis’ eyes to glare knowingly at him. Francis raises his coffee in a silent toast, mocking the young professor with a sly grin.
Francis is interrupted from his musings when someone bumps into his back, nearly making him spill his coffee.
“Oh! I’m so sorry professor!” exclaims a soft voice from behind him.
Francis turns around to see Goodsir staring up at him, mortification writ clearly on his face.
“No harm done Dr. Goodsir,” Francis replies, smiling knowingly. “I’ve been so busy lately I haven’t had a chance to congratulate you on your new title. You’ve worked hard to get where you are.”
Goodsir flushes crimson from under his beard, but looks pleased, “Thank you professor! It’s still strange to hear others call me doctor though, even though I’ve got my diploma hanging in my office now. James never lets me forget it either.”
“That I am a doctor now, medically speaking of course. I still remember when he received his PhD and was lording it over all his friends at every opportunity,” Goodsir smiles at the memory.
“Good lord, he must’ve been insufferable.”
“Oh he was,” Goodsir agrees cheerfully. “But we all knew how hard he’d worked for it, so we didn’t mind much.”
“Oh right, you two were in university together weren’t you?” Francis asks, intrigued by the notion of a young James flouncing around proudly with his brand new PhD, eyes bright.
Goodsir chuckles ruefully at the mention, “Flatmates too actually. God he was the weirdest person to live with.”
Francis laughs, “Oh I can imagine.”
“Did you know James can sleep with his eyes open? I unfortunately didn’t. I very nearly had a heart attack when I found him sleeping with his eyes open in front of the TV one night. I thought he was having some kind of fit, sitting there in the dark watching Coronation Street and not moving a muscle. Had to shake him awake because I thought he was dead, he woke up thinking we were under attack. He did laugh after I explained what happened, though he’s never let me live it down.”
“That’s… a terrifying ability actually,” Francis admits.
“Indeed,” Goodsir laughs. “He also couldn’t cook a healthy meal to save his life. He was always using these oddly successful ways to cook things and I had to remind him repeatedly to please eat a vegetable now and then.”
“Did he blow anything up?”
Goodsir takes a fortifying sip of coffee, “No but he used to use the coffee pot to make hot dogs.”
“We had to buy a second coffee machine because he used our first coffee machine less for actual coffee and more for cooking food. He used to cook spaghetti noodles, hot dogs, and even hardboiled eggs in it. Kind of disgusting really.”
Francis blinks at this information, utterly baffled, “How on earth do you cook actual food with that?”
Goodsir shrugs, clearly used to James’ shenanigans, “He got very creative. Our microwave broke once and we didn’t have enough money between us at the time to replace it. So he went and brought out his hair dryer to heat up a slice of pizza while he was studying for winter finals in our third year. Took ages but it worked perfectly.”
“Does… does he still do that now?” Francis asks apprehensively.
“No,” Goodsir laughs. “Thankfully his sister forced him to take cooking lessons with her so he does actually use his kitchen for proper cooking now. Although whenever I visit him I never drink any coffee he makes since I can never be sure if he’s used it for hot dogs, and trust me when I say hot dog flavoured coffee is indeed as disgusting as it sounds.”
“What’s disgusting?” asks Jopson, once again having emerged seemingly from thin air.
“Hot dog flavoured coffee.”
“I… see,” the young man says, looking apprehensively between Francis and Goodsir.
Francis chuckles at his TA’s baffled expression before clapping a hand on his shoulder “No worries Jopson, you’ll never have to face professor Fitzjames’ culinary skills from his university days. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Dr. Goodsir here,” gesturing over to the man in question, who sips from his own coffee with a hilariously glazed over look in his eyes, clearly reliving the memory.
Jopson laughs and Francis finds his eyes unconsciously drifting over towards James once more, and finds a new face has joined the conversation where Sir John is holding court. Surprisingly, James looks enraptured as the man speaks – brown eyes wide and riveted to the speaker’s face as the man moves his hands smoothly through the air – clearly telling a thrilling story. Francis frowns, not recognizing the mystery man but interested in James’ sudden and intense fixation on him.
The stranger is tall, his well-peppered hair slicked back with gel, giving his thin face an uncommonly savage appearance. His hooked nose is set above a well-groomed beard, giving him a distinguished look, only intensified by the strong jaw. He looks to be maybe Sir John’s age or possibly older, the beard making it difficult to determine his exact age.
“I see you’ve noticed our new guest.”
Francis jumps at the familiar voice, whirling around, “Sophia? What are you doing here?” quickly overcoming his shock and embracing her warmly. “I thought you were in Greece at some old ruined city!”
Sophia smiles, “I was, but I’m only back here visiting my girlfriend for two weeks. It just so happened that uncle John phoned to say he had a surprise for me and would I mind terribly if I joined him at a secret conference. Something to do with more local history so I assumed it would be something ridiculous, but the turnout seems to suggest otherwise.”
Francis chuckles, “so it would seem.” He turns to Goodsir and Jopson, “gentlemen this is Dr. Sophia Cracroft, she’s the dean’s niece. She specializes in antiques with a particular fascination with Greek and Roman history.”
They’d scarcely started in on the introductions when Sir John interrupts them.
“My darling Sophia! How are you? We’ve all been so worried for you and your adventures in Greece,” his eyes crinkle at the corners as he smiles at his niece fondly.
Sophia sighs, smiling, “I’m hardly in any danger uncle, and I’m not Indiana Jones. But if I happen to find some kind of booby trap that would be very exciting.”
Francis barely remembers to turn his laugh into a cough as Sir John’s face goes tight and pinched, especially with James grinning knowingly at him from behind the dean.
“Yes, well, let us hope it will never come to that. Now come! Everyone find a seat, we’ll be starting shortly,” and without further ado, Sir John sweeps away towards the podium at the front of the room.
“My darling Sophia!” James coos dramatically.
“Dearest James,” Sophia smirks.
Francis blinks, “You two know each other?”
“Well considering she’s dating my dear sweet baby sister I would certainly hope so. How goes the fresco restoration? I know you said those tiles were in excellent condition for their age but it does make for rather slow work when you want to preserve them as best as possible.”
Sophia very nearly growls, “Slow going, and not only because of the age of the fresco but because of the idiot tourists who keep trying to sneak into the damn site. Honestly I just about punched this one man in the face, he tried to sneak in to take some photos of this beautifully preserved old bathhouse and actually fought back when one of the security guards caught him!”
James bursts out laughing, “Indiana Jones indeed.”
“It’s enough to drive me insane!”
“Oh well if you want insane, you should really take a leaf out of James’ book and give a lecture on scurvy to the unsuspecting,” Francis says with a grin, watching James whip his head around to glare half-heartedly at the older man.
“We agreed never to talk about that again.”
“Actually you agreed to that, I never did,” Francis says smugly.
James’ cheeks have gone and turned that delightful shade of pink once more, “It was a mutual understanding.”
Sophia giggles, “What’s this then? James made an arse out of himself again?”
James splutters indignantly, “What? Again?”
She delicately raises an eyebrow at him in response; “You accidentally walked in on me and Eliza in bed once and instead of just leaving you blurted out ‘oh it’s lesbians!’ and practically fell out of the room. Honestly I thought Eliza was going to die laughing from a lack of oxygen.”
At this point Francis is nearly doubled over laughing, with Goodsir and Jopson wheezing on either side of him.
James shakes his hair out of his face, clearly striving to retain some semblance of dignity, “Yes, well. It’s a tad difficult to be coherent when you unsuspectingly walk in on your sister pegging one of your colleagues.”
Sophia throws her head back and laughs heartily, while Francis can feel his face heating.
Sir John once more interrupts them when he clears his throat meaningfully into the microphone to the waiting faculty milling about the room.
“Excuse me may I have everyone’s attention? Yes if everyone could please be seated we will begin this morning’s program!”
Everyone dutifully shuffles towards the seats; and Francis is suddenly pulled closer to the front of the auditorium by James – who enthusiastically chucks his plate with the sad croissant into the bin – as they weave through the aisles.
“James what on earth could possibly be so important?” Francis chuckles at the younger man’s enthusiasm.
“Francis do you realize who that man is?” James asks breathlessly, his eyes impossibly bright.
“No, some old friend of Sir John’s I presume?”
James huffs impatiently and tugs more insistently on the sleeve of Francis’ sweater, his delicate fingers holding tightly to the soft material, “I was entirely wrong about the project! I thought it was one thing but if I’m right it will be one of this century’s greatest historical finds. Francis do you realizewhat this means?”
James rolls his eyes and pushes Francis into a chair before hurriedly sitting down beside him, leaning forward onto his elbows eagerly, his fingers drumming impatiently against the desk.
Sir John clears his throat again; “Thank you all for taking time out of your undoubtedly busy schedules to attend this conference. It’s for a rather remarkable project, as one might have already guessed, but has reached a rather extraordinary peak as of just last month that I felt was absolutely vital to the preservation of history.”
Beside him, Francis can feel James practically vibrating with barely suppressed excitement, equal parts anticipation and frustration.
“As you all know, the Age of Sail was a rather crucial point in English history,” a deferential nod to James from the podium. “Later in that time period was the mad scramble to discover and chart the Northwest Passage, stretching from the eastern most edge of the Canadian arctic and the Atlantic Ocean, all the way through the ice and snow to connect to the Pacific Ocean. Meant originally to serve as an important route through to India and China for trade and commerce, which obviously didn’t happen overnight.”
Sir John pauses to smile benevolently down at the audience, many of whom are laughing politely, “A rather remarkable expedition in 1845, the Ross Expedition, sailed from England past the south of Greenland, and was last seen by whalers in Baffin Bay in 1846. They were never seen or heard from again.”
“Someone should’ve paid him to write melodramas,” Francis murmurs into James’ ear. His colleague’s response is to shush him impatiently, evidently hooked on the dean’s words.
“In light of the rich history between the arctic and the British Navy, we were recently approached by Sir Jacob Ross – one of the last living descendants of Sir John Ross – the very same brave explorer who led the mysterious expedition.” At this, Sir John raises a hand towards the aforementioned stranger, “Sir Jacob is eager to discover the fate of the expedition, with particular interest into the ultimate fate of his forbear, and has very generously offered to fund our own arctic expedition this summer. Our goal is to follow the path Ross and his crew had taken, right past Baffin Bay, and then to try to suss out what route they could have taken after they disappeared.”
James’ grip on Francis’ arm is now iron-tight, “Francis!” he hisses, eyes glimmering like jewels in the morning light. “This is the biggest goddamn opportunity of our entire professional careers!”
Francis merely nods, shocked and dazed at the announcement.
“We will begin a period of research into the history of the expedition to better prepare our team to go to Canada. This will of course involve Dr. Fitzjames, who is our resident Age of Sail expert, as well as Dr. Crozier, who will be liaising and consulting with the team from McGill University on the Inuktitut language and the possible first hand accounts of contact between the sailors and the native inhabitants of the north. I do believe you have some background in the language don’t you Francis?”
Francis quickly clears his throat, still stunned, “I do indeed Sir John, and I can only hope to learn more about Inuktitut from this project.”
Sir John nods decisively, apparently satisfied with the varied responses, “Several months before our journey will begin we will be hosting one of McGill’s finest experts on the subject of Inuit language and culture, I believe she will contribute a great deal to the progress, and ultimate success, of this mission.”
A firm cough interrupts the dean, “If I may speak Sir John?”
The dean graciously descends from the podium to make way for Sir Jacob, who mounts the stage with all the poise of a jaguar on the hunt.
“Thank you for your attendance today, it is much appreciated,” Sir Jacob says, his quiet demeanour at odds with the militant gleam in his eyes. “For so long I’ve wondered what became of my family on that fateful voyage, and I at last have a chance to find out. The last that was heard from them was indeed, as Sir John mentioned, the whalers in Baffin Bay, who spoke briefly with the captains of both ships before they continued on. In one of their records it is mentioned that Sir John Ross constantly carried his pocket watch, a gift from his wife with their initials engraved on the inner lid. I would be most grateful if, if you do indeed find anything, you could keep an eye out for this family heirloom. If not, well, there are always two massive ships to look for,” he smiles ruefully at this, the crowd laughing along with him.
“I understand the importance of your work here at the university, however I would be hard pressed to find a more capable and knowledgeable group of people in the entire world for this expedition,” Sir Jacob spreads out his hands in supplication. “Please do take the time to consider my offer, and let dean Franklin know if you wish to be involved in the project. I will be delighted with any help offered. Thank you for your time.”
If anyone says anything else, well, Francis certainly doesn’t hear it. The only thing he can focus on is the warm feeling of James’ grip on his arm, and the absolutely breathtaking smile gracing the man’s face, making him appear ten years younger as he babbles on excitedly about research and preparations.
He only realizes he’s staring when he hears a quiet cough right behind him, clearly amused. Francis turns around only to look into the knowing eyes of Sophia Cracroft, grinning down at him as she also watches James ramble on. Francis knows he’s utterly fucked when she winks at him and looks back at the podium.
Chapter 7: James
Where Sir John has yet another bad idea, and James seriously considers professional mutiny.
I've finally brought Sir John into the spotlight of this story! I wanted to show just how complicated his relationship with James is after their years spent going from a teacher-student dynamic to being colleagues, because that power imbalance is still there and it's finally making James question his devotion to this guy who doesn't seem to give a fuck about anything except his own ego. It's an interesting change for James to shift from hero worship to hmmmmmmmm maybe this guy doesn't really have my best interests at heart? I needed to advance the plot so there isn't as much of Francis in this chapter as the previous chapters so I do apologize :(
Also I got the title of this fic from Matthew Byrne's song "What Fortune Guides a Sailor" and it can be found here :)
The pleasant autumn weather rapidly fades into the first cold wisps of winter, the amber hued leaves dying and falling off the trees, and the wind bringing the fresh icy smell of oncoming snow. Not that James can actually enjoy any of it mind you, what with all the bloody midterms and papers to grade. Between sifting through mountains of term papers, writing his book, and also continuing his research for their summer expedition, the days bleed into weeks and suddenly it’s December and winter finals are upon them.
Francis has been a steadfast companion throughout, occasionally dropping by James’ office with a sarcastic quip or two and a paper cup of mediocre coffee as a peace offering. Harry sitting quietly at his desk and sighing dramatically whenever the two of them dissolve into laughter or heated debate, one often following hot on the heels of the other. They areacademic professionals after all.
“James that’s not the point!”
“Then what exactly is your point?”
Francis huffs irritably, watching James rifle through the papers haphazardly strewn across his desk, “My point is that the pros of studying leopard seals far outweigh the cons!”
James snorts, “Well then be my guest and hop into freezing waters just to swim with a creature that outweighs you by several hundred kilograms and that multiple sources of research have shown to have zero problems with killing humans.”
Francis growls, throwing his hands up in the air, “But National bloody Geographic did it! Made the whole thing look so easy too!”
James scoffs, “The man was nearly eaten and the only thing that stopped it was a predator’s misplaced motherly instincts. It thought the man was an absurdly large and stupid fellow predator who somehow couldn’t catch any food! I wouldn’t go into the ocean with that creature for love or money, the queen herself could offer me tenure and a million quid and I’d tell her to eat my entire arse.”
Francis blinks, momentarily distracted by this tidbit, “Wait, hold on, I thought you already hadtenure?”
The younger professor freezes, a deceptively blank look covering his handsome features, “No. No I do not.”
At his desk, Harry coughs awkwardly in the ensuing silence.
“Well why don’tyou?”
A spike of white-hot irritation surges through James’ blood, having asked himself that question many times in the privacy of his office.
“Too young,” James answers shortly. “I applied last year when I completed the mandatory five year teaching contract, and the answer I received was that I was too young for tenure.”
Its mildly satisfying to watch Francis swell up with indignation like a puffed up toad, his eyes narrowing and his chest expanding as he breathes deeply to calm himself, “That’s absolute horse shit and everyone knows it. Who was assigned to review your application? It has to have been a few of the senior faculty at least.”
“I haven’t the foggiest.”
“You mean they didn’t review their decision with you?”
“Of course they did! The decision was that I’m too young,” James snaps.
“And who told you that?”
“Sir John, he thought it would be best if he were the one to break the news to me,” James mumbles. “It still stung, of course it did, but it wasn’t such a huge blow coming from him. I know he’s always had my best interests at heart.”
Francis looks sceptical, to say the least, his eyebrows drawing low and his jaw clenches angrily, “Well you know what you must do then.”
“What? Put on a sparkly thong and give someone a lap dance? I wouldn’t be above trying that but it would be slightly awkward to- “
“No you twit! Use the expedition to carry your application this year!”
James scowls impressively up at the older man, the lines carved into his handsome face deepening with the hard set of his mouth, “Francis if I thought that would make any difference then I would’ve already started on my application. At this point I just want to finish my damned book and get it published, I’d rather have an achievable goal than some farfetched possiblefairy story. Besides, I’m still one of the youngest professors on staff and that’s not likely to change anytime soon.”
It hurts. Of course it does, to admit that even with all his achievements, all the research and studying, the late nights and long conferences, all of his hard work amounted to nothing in the face of the university’s rejection. The long hours spent slogging through old books to enhance the lectures given to his students, and the even longer hours spent in his office offering extra help to any student who asked it of him. It stings to know that the one thing holding him back is the one thing he can neither change nor control.
“Besides,” James continues, letting Francis angrily stew in his seat. “It’s almost time for the annual Christmas party and I don’t want to be thinking about who amongst the staff were responsible for killing my hopes and dreams.”
Francis snorts, “You speak like they just told you Father Christmas wasn’t real.”
James gasps dramatically, putting a hand over his heart, “You mean he isn’t?”
Harry laughs, “Good God you’re both ridiculous.”
“Don’t worry Harry, I know how excited you are to parade around in your collection of hideous Christmas sweaters.”
“Whatever happened to that old one? With that hideous fuzzy Christmas tree on the front! It came with a little battery pack and the lights on the tree actually lit up, you looked like a walking pile of tinsel,” James smirks.
“I’ll have you know that was a gift from my mother.”
James looks over at Francis and smiles – the older man snickering from his place on the extra chair in the office – he looks good smiling, much better than scowling.
“I would pay good money to see the two of you dressed in the most hideous Christmas sweaters you can find,” says Francis, barely in control of his laughter.
Harry’s eyes twinkle dangerously and, too late, James realizes his mistake.
“What?” Francis asks warily.
“What say we choose the ugliest possible Christmas sweaters to wear to the party? Only the catch is that I choose one for you, and you choose one for me. We’ll cast votes on whose is the most hideous and the winner gets the other person featured in the school paper!”
“Oh god,” James puts his head in his hands despairingly.
“Sounds like fun,” Francis grins. “I’ll send out an email to the faculty.”
The younger man glares up at him through his fingers, “Don’t you dare!”
“Too late!” Francis singsongs cheerfully, waving his phone at James. “I do so love the new university app, so much more convenient than a desktop computer.”
James groans dramatically, lamenting his colleagues for the umpteenth time.
“All I’m saying James is that we need to breathe a bit of life back into the department! History is a dry subject and we mustn’t let the iron grow cold after Sir Jacob’s proposition, we must capitalize on the situation as best we can.”
James considers his boss and the immediate situation with a sense of trepidation heretofore only experienced by an experienced Sherpa attempting to lead a clueless group of tourists who have never climbed anything higher than a hill of a manicured golf course, all the way up to the top of Mount Everest. His sigh of resignation goes unheard in the continued passionate speech made by Sir John.
“We’ll be the subject of international scrutiny once the expedition gets fully underway so we need to bring some positive attention to the university in the meantime, so we can showcase just how well-suited we are to this expedition.”
“By… hosting a bake sale sir?”
Sir John’s smiles indulgently, “Yes of course! Students love sweets and this will be good publicity for the university. The money we raise will be split between the history department and the rest will go to our graduate students and their research. This will bring some fresh public interest back to the field!”
“I do have one concern,” James says hesitantly.
Sir John frowns, “Yes?”
“Who will be providing the baked goods for this bake sale? Will it be catered?”
“Of course not! That would defeat the purpose of the bake sale being wholesome, the faculty will be doing the baking!”
Later, when he looks back on this meeting, James will kick himself for not trying to dissuade the dean from this course of action. Instead, he pastes a professionally bland smile on his face and mentally prepares for the absolute disaster this whole event will no doubt devolve into.
“Well then,” James says mildly. “We’d best get that email sent out and start planning.”
“That’s exactly the kind of attitude we need,” says Sir John, evidently satisfied with his plan. “Now, I must be off, I’ve a meeting with the board of education about the accessibility of test taking at the university. Do let me know how you’re getting on!”
“I will Sir John,” James hesitates, thinking back to Francis’ suggestion. “Sir, I wonder if I might run something by you? Before you go.”
Sir John turns halfway through putting his coat on, “Of course, what is it?”
“I was thinking… of using the Ross Expedition to carry my application for tenure for next year, seeing as how I’ve already missed the deadline for this year’s application process. That will give me plenty of time to work on my book and also refine the expedition’s research goals.”
James’ lunch curdles in his stomach as he looks up to see the pity in Sir John’s face, and he braces himself accordingly, his hands clenching tightly around the arms of the chair he currently occupies.
“James,” the older man’s voice is syrupy sweet with feigned sympathy, and James can feel himself choking on it. “You are very ambitious and talented, however there is just no rushing experience. You are still young and you just need to push the boundaries of what you already know, and translate that into something tangible. By all means, use the experience you will gain on the expedition to further yourself and your research but I would recommend against re-applying for another few years. Build yourself a solid base to stand on and then make your case.”
“Of course,” James hears himself respond, the words hollow and painfully subservient. “Yes that makes sense.”
“Good, now if that’s all, I’ll be off. Do let me know how the planning is getting along!” and without further ado, the dean strides out of the office.
For the first time in his professional career – years spent smiling at the appropriate time, carefully cultivating all the right acquaintances in academia, and working on all the perfect projects to advance his standing – James feels disconcertingly like he’s about to commit mutiny against Sir John.
“A… bake sale?”
James sighs, walking alongside Harry through the congested halls of the student activity center, “yes, and yes I am well aware of my own limitations when it comes to cooking.”
Harry snorts, “That’s something at least.”
“Oh come on Harry!” James whines. “You’re the only person I know who can bake something edible and delicious that won’t immediately send someone to the hospital.”
“This coming from you is a form of irony I feel the world isn’t quite ready to handle.”
“I’ll give Jopson a call, he’s bound to know something or other about baking. Do you think your sister could give you some recipes? Even if you can’t bake them yourself she might be able to give us some simple ideas.”
James hums speculatively, “Possibly, I mean if it’s simple enough I should – in theory at least – be able to make something on my own.”
Harry grimaces, “Please don’t.”
“I’m saying this as your friend and because I love you, but pleasedo not bake anything on your own.”
James huffs with faux indignation before throwing an arm around Harry’s shoulder, “Darling, I have big plansfor this bake sale and I intend it to sing.”
James’ laughter carries brightly through the hall at the sceptical look on Harry’s face.
Chapter 8: Francis
Where exams are graded, songs are sung, and shortbread cookies spread love.
I wrote this whole chapter in a haze after finishing a massive project for school so if there are any weird bits or spelling mistakes please let me know lmao. I just started listening to Matthew Byrne's music and got into A Mood and this chapter practically wrote itself!!! Francis is starting to catch a clue and it's glorious to watch :)
The song James sings is "What Fortunes Guide a Sailor" by Matthew Byrne and please please PLEASE listen to it while reading this chapter because it's romantic as FUCK. Alternatively, listen to "Banks of the Bann" also by Matthew Byrne.
I was basically listening to those songs on repeat the entire time because they put me in this soft romantic mood and I was blushing the entire time I was writing coz these two assholes have me FEELING THINGS!!!
"What Fortunes Guide a Sailor" --> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79StWiQvWqY
"Banks of the Bann" --> https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WrrIZ4iaXQ8
Francis scrubs a hand down his face, exhaustion finally catching up with him as he places the final graded paper on top of the precariously wobbling stack. Beside him, Jopson is nearly drooping with the effort of staying awake. They’re only halfway through the week and still have two more days of exams to proctor before the students, and exhausted faculty, get a well-earned break.
“Thomas,” Francis begins.
To his credit, Jopson’s head immediately perks up and he responds immediately, “sir?”
“Go home and get some rest,” Francis says gently. “We’ve done more than enough work tonight so pack up and relax for the evening.”
“But sir I can still help with the- “
“That’s an order Thomas,” Francis grins tiredly. “You’re no use to anyone dead under a mountain of crap essays.”
Jopson smiles gently, “they weren’t all crap.”
“Maybe not but there was a mountain of them.”
Jopson gathers his things and is halfway out the door when he turns back, “Oh I almost forgot about the bake sale. Goodsir asked me if I knew any simple recipes to help out and I told him I’d drop some off by the end of the day and I forgot-“
“I’ll drop them off in his office before I head out,” says Francis, watching the young man sag against the doorframe. “Should you even be driving if you’re that tired?”
Interestingly, a bright flush of crimson blooms on Jopson’s pale cheeks and spreads up to his ears, “Uh, no sir. A uh, friend, offered me a ride home and I told him I’d text when I was done for the day.”
Francis’ eyebrows rise nearly to his hairline, a knowing grin spreading across his face, “quite the dedicated friend who would wait up so late to drive you home, good for you son.”
Jopson shrugs, a small smile gracing his handsome features, “you could say that sir. Goodnight.”
“Goodnight, and to your friendas well,” Francis teases gently.
Jopson rolls his eyes good-naturedly but doesn’t disagree, shouldering his workbag and closing the door behind him gently as he leaves.
Francis considers his TA and the time he’s spent mentoring the lad, and sighs deeply as he realizes that Jopson will be sorely missed once he’s finished with his schooling.
A small chime sounds from his mobile.
James: weirdly enough i think some of our grad students may be hooking up!!!
Francis snorts, James always does love a good bit of gossip.
Francis: You don’t say. You know, for a professor you sure text like some kind of delinquent teen.
James: that’s not the issue here francis!!!!!! earlier today i was walking by the research department, also blanky is still a arsehole btw, and i s2g I heard some Goings On in the broom cupboard
Francis: James they’re students, of course they’ll be going at it like rabbits when they’re stressed!
James: yes but i want to know who it is! i need the juicy gossip
Francis pauses, and considers once more his TA.
Francis: Could one of those grads be Jopson? When did you hear this “fraternisation”?
James: haha very funny old man! and it was maybe 2hrs ago, whoever they were they absolutely didn’t care about getting caught lol. why did u ask about jopson?
Francis: No particular reason, he was getting a ride home from a friend a few minutes ago and was cagey about the details of who it was. And it wouldn’t have been him in the broom cupboard since he was half buried under a mountain of mediocre papers.
James: damn! i thought for sure we’d solved the mystery of the sex cupboard. i’m barely halfway thru my grading for this class coz of that damn bake sale
Francis: Speaking of which, Jopson asked if I could drop off some of his recipes to Goodsir at some point. Would you mind if I came by to leave them on his desk?
James: do you think i would be able to bake any of them?? :D
Francis: I don’t think the university’s fire insurance policy covers baking accidents so best not to tempt fate.
James: rude :( also fine, come over whenever
Francis laughs heartily at James’ response, pocketing his phone and trying to scrape his desk into some semblance of order after the tidal wave of essays. He grabs his briefcase and stuffs his laptop, notebook, and pencil case inside of it before scooping the neatly stapled recipes off of Jopson’s desk.
The halls are silent and deserted and Francis’ footsteps echo in the great cavernous space, the lights dimmed and the school devoid of the usual hustle and bustle of students and staff rushing about their day. A left turn sees Francis down the history department’s main thoroughfare, dark except for the warm golden light spilling out from beneath the door to James’ office, the heavy oak door doing little to keep out the soft sound of a baritone voice singing slightly off key.
Through many dangers unforeseen,
And bitter storms to try us,
Cold icy winds and towering waves,
And the faintest star to guide us.
Darkening skies around us close,
‘Neath Greenland’s cliffs forsaken,
Ten thousand miles away from home,
And a heart that’s nearly breaking.
Fast on the breeze,
To the northern seas,
What fortunes guide a sailor,
To earn a share of oil and bone,
Is a hard life for a whaler.
Francis considers the soft crooning of James’ voice and the warmth sliding down his spine, memories flowing unbidden into his mind of the shores of Ireland where he was born and raised, the sea crashing against the rocks and sand. He stands outside the door with his hand poised to knock, completely enraptured by the song like a sailor trapped by the melody of a siren.
The song fades out into the late evening air with the delicate sweetness of spun sugar, and Francis finds himself broken out of the spell.
“Instead of a bake sale I think Sir John would be better off going with a talent show, with a focus on singing perhaps.”
James startles in his seat – his earphones coming loose and entangling with the pen in his hand currently grading papers – and flushes a delicate crimson, “Shit, sorry, didn’t mean to subject you to that.”
Francis frowns at the younger man’s matter-of-factness, “Subject me to what? Excellent singing? Please, I’ve never known you to be shy James.”
A soft laugh, “I’ve been told I’m more of a drama person rather than a singer, my talents lie in speeches and monologues.”
“I call bullshit.”
“Call it whatever you like but it’s just a plain old song.”
“Itmay be a plain old song but your singing was anything but plain,” Francis says decisively, staring the young man down.
James’ fingers curl loosely around the pen, his lovely brown eyes turning wide and liquid in the molten glow of the lamplight from his desk, “Thank you Francis. It’s been a long time since I’ve sang for anyone, although I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing really.”
“It most certainly is a good thing,” Francis says, injecting as much warmth and honesty as he can into the words, he needsJames to understand how true it is.
He’s rewarded by a brilliant smile spreading slow and sweet over James’ face; the tiredness and self-deprecation melting away to reveal some soft, hidden thing in the gentle lines of his face, and by GodFrancis wants nothing more than to dig past the bravado to the golden light inside this wonderful man.
It’s only the memory of Sophia’s impish and knowing face at the conference that abruptly pulls him out of his musings, and James’ face splits into a delighted grin.
“Well? What kind of recipes do we have to work with? My baking skills are sadly limited I’m afraid,” James quips.
Francis scoffs, “I’m sure even youcould make some shortbread cookies or banana bread without an international incident.”
“You think so?”
“Why not? Each of those recipes only has a few basic ingredients. It can’t be rocket science.”
“No but technically it is chemistry, and I’ve never gotten top marks in any science class.”
“This coming from the man who pioneered the food industry when he realized he could cook hot dogs in a coffee pot.”
“But it works!”
Francis laughs at the indignation in James’ voice, the laughter carrying through the small office and blanketing them with gentle camaraderie.
James stands up from the desk and stretches his lean frame, muscles and joints popping as he moves, and if Francis’ mouth goes dry at the tantalizing glimpse of skin above James’ slim hips as his soft sweater rides up then, well, no one else has to know about it.
He coughs once to clear his throat, “When were you thinking of holding the bake sale? We need to figure out when we have to have everything baked by.”
James hums as he flips through the stack of recipes, “Well I was thinking by the end of next week. Exams finish this Friday and most of the students will be going home for the holidays next weekend so we need to use the momentum of the Christmas break to carry the bake sale. I mean worst-case scenario is the students don’t buy anything, and the best case is that they’ll buy some of the baked goods to bring home to their family as a way to pretend they’re fully functioning adults so, who knows? We’ll either make a killing or be killed but either way once it’s over we have the Christmas party to look forward to.”
“And the ugly Christmas sweater battle.”
James throws him a dirty look, “I am notdressing up in some hideous jumper just for the sake of a bet.”
“What if I asked Blanky to get you all your research materials before the party so you can work on your book during the holiday? Would that sweeten the deal?”
“…. You’re a man who fights dirty Professor Crozier.”
“So it’s a deal then?”
James laughs softly as he scrubs a hand through his already dishevelled hair, making him look less like a professor and more like one of the bedraggled students roaming the halls, “Fine, yes, all right I will! Christ this will be the most embarrassing Christmas party ever.”
“I promise to only take a hundred photos,” Francis says solemnly, placing a hand over his heart.
“Oh good god.”
Francis feels his face soften as he chuckles, “Goodnight James.”
And if it sounds like the other man’s voice is curling intimately around his name then, well, there’s no other song Francis would like to hear more.
On Friday morning just before lunch, Francis walks into his office and slumps down into his chair with little care for the wreck it makes of his suit. Exams are finally done and all that’s left is to grade the papers from each of his classes and then he’ll be scot free for the Christmas break. Even Jopson is at his desk determinedly grading papers with a renewed vigour, as if marking will bring in the holidays faster.
Unfortunately, Thomas Blanky has other plans.
“Are you absolutely mental?”
“In general or at this particular moment,” Francis snarks.
Blanky snorts irritably, “Both! Why do I have to get Professor Pretty Boy’s research material done up all pretty-like before the Christmas break? I’ll have you know I’ve got much more pressing concerns than whether or not he can keep himself occupied with something other than his many great achievements. Do you know how many projects I’m juggling right now Francis?”
“Well I have lots! Especially with that damned expedition coming up this summer! Do you know how many grad students have some whining to me in the past month begging me to be their guardian research angel?”
Francis hums, “More than two but less than a hundred.”
Blanky narrows his eyes, “Alright you cheeky little shit, have it your way. But at least tell me whyI’m putting his nonsense above everyone else’s.”
“Because I’m asking for a favour Thomas,” Francis finally says, almost pleading. “This means a lot to him and Sir John is being an even more oblivious moron than usual, so he needs something to lift his spirits.”
The silence of the office rings loudly in Francis’ ears, with the ticking of the clock echoing ominously in the empty space.
“You’ve gone soft in your old age.”
Francis’ head whips up in anger, but fizzles out at the soft look in Blanky’s eyes, crinkled with silent laughter.
“Oh shut up you old sea dog.”
“Sorry? What’s that? Sea god? Why Francisyou smooth old flirt,” Blanky teases.
Jopson and Blanky laugh softly at Francis’ faux outrage, but their laughter is interrupted by a knock at the door, with James popping his head in.
“Sorry! Am I interrupting something?” he asks, cheeks pink from the cold outside and his eyes bright.
Blanky grins mischievously before replying, “Oh nothing, Francis was just filling me in on what materials you’ll need for your research during the break. I’ll try to get it all together before the Christmas party but I can’t make any promises. You’ve got an academic wishlist a mile long Professor.”
Francis is deeply satisfied at the look of genuine astonishment and excitement lighting up the young professor’s face, “I, oh, thank you Mr. Blanky. I know I’ve never been an easy person to work with but I do appreciate it, truly.”
Francis immensely enjoys the look of surprise on his old friend’s face, clearly never having expected a heartfelt response, “Mr. Blanky and I were just talking about the staff Christmas parties of the past, especially the time he spiked our eggnog and we tried to drunkenly build a snowman at two in the morning.”
James blinks, “… And did you succeed?”
“Less a snowman than a snow beast,” Blanky says, barely able to coherently tell the story through his laughter. “We didn’t have any carrots or whatever for the face so we tried to use snow for its nose and such, didn’t realize it would get top-heavy, so we were in for a nasty surprise when it toppled over on Francis like a small avalanche.”
A loud bark of laughter cuts through the office as the trio look back at Jopson hunched over his work and turning purple through his laughter, “I’m sorry sir it’s just, the idea of the snowman falling on you,” but he dissolves into more delighted peals of laughter before he can finish his sentence.
Francis chuckles ruefully, burying his face in his hands despairingly.
“And! The best part was Francis on his back pinned like an overturned turtle waving his arms and cursing the world,” Blanky says, tears of laugher now streaming down his weathered face.
“Oh god,” James laughs, his smile broad and bright. “Well, on the subject of swearing and cursing the world, is there anyone brave enough to try my first ever attempt at making shortbread?”
Jopson and Blanky freeze like deer in the headlights while Francis slowly reaches out to take a cookie from the container James is holding, taking a cautious bite and chewing thoughtfully. He’s pleasantly surprised by the rich, buttery flavour, the flaky texture and the sweetness of the pastry, James watching his face anxiously the entire time.
“Really James,” Francis takes another cookie. “Very well done indeed, although you’ll have to take those away from me or I’m liable to eat the entire container right now.”
James’ eyes crinkle as a radiant smile splits his face, the pride of a job well done shining through and giving him a warm glow as though lit from within, and Francis finds he just can’t look away from the sight. Like a moth drawn to a flame he watches the soft lines of James’ face move as the glow continues, offering the container to Jopson and smiling even brighter when the young man enthusiastically devours a cookie.
Francis polishes off his treat and wipes his hand on his trousers before glancing up at Blanky, only to find his friend watching him with a small knowing smile, born of over two decades of friendship and trust.
“Francis my friend,” says Blanky, clapping a hand on his shoulder. “You are well and truly fucked. Good luck.”
Good luck indeed, thinks Francis.
Chapter 9: James
In which Edward has no game, James gets (lovingly) roasted, and Sir John is trying to ruin Christmas for everyone.
I love adding Will's dialogue into the fic because the Fitzjames' siblings/cousins whatever dynamic is SO much fun to write! I also love watching Little struggle to even try to flirt let alone speak coherently in Jopson's presence so there's that too lmao.
ALSO!!! The inspiration for James sitting on baby Will is 100% inspired by the real-life baby stories of the wonderful francienolan on tumblr, and she can be found at boniface on ao3! :D
“Jesus Christ on a hot pink tricycle.”
“Excuse me?” James asks, walking into the office and immediately bewildered at the first words spoken to him on Monday morning.
Harry sits slumped at his desk with his face in his hands, and simply points to his laptop, “Email from Sir John.”
James mentally prepares himself for whatever tomfoolery the dean has in store for him so early in the morning, hanging up his coat and scarf with deliberate care before handing Harry his coffee and placing his own cup beside his laptop. He opens up his email as one would an armed briefcase full of explosives.
Thank you and well done to everyone’s very hard work in grading exams and final papers, your efforts are much appreciated! I know everyone has been preparing for the bake sale this week and I would like everyone to put their best foot forward for the sake of the university. I have ordered several boxes of Christmas decorations for the event and they are currently stored in my office. I would like some volunteers to decorate the student lounge later this week before we bring in the baked goods, the more festive the better! Please RSVP to this email with when you can drop by to help decorate and we shall coordinate accordingly. I expect everyone to take part to show some good old-fashioned solidarity for the coming expedition!
James’ eye twitches involuntarily as he scans the email a second time, his hand clenching dangerously tight around the cheap paper cup in his grip.
“I thought it was just the bloody bake sale,” he grouses, running a hand through his hair. “I mean I thought I’d be able to skate by just by baking some shortbread but he wants us to decorate as well? We’ll just have to take it down right after the event so why bother?”
“You know Sir John, he’s always had a flair for the dramatic. You do tend to take after him in that regard.”
James throws Harry a dirty look, “Yes but I don’t throw extra work at people just before the damn Christmas break!”
Harry winces, “true, very true. Well hopefully the bake sale will be enough of a success that he’ll be generous with the Christmas bonuses at the party?”
James scoffs, “please, I love that man but with money he’s as tight as my great aunt Mildred’s arsehole.”
Harry chokes on his coffee, laughing thoroughly at James’ words, “give a man some warning why don’t you!?”
James laughs heartily as he watches his friend mop up spilt coffee from his desk.
“Speaking of warning,” James says, voice deceptively soft. “I’ve chosen your wonderful jumper for the Christmas party and it is spectacular. Have you chosen from the multitude of hideously festive monstrosities in your closet yet?”
“Why do I have the distinct feeling that everyone at the party will regret this whole challenge?”
“Harry you were the one who started this whole thing!”
Harry blinks, “Oh right, forgot about that bit.”
“Besides, I’ll be bringing my shortbread to the party because it’s the first thing in years I’ve been able to make without burning. It will be a testament to Jopson’s recipe that I can actually bake something without the fire department getting involved.”
“Now that isa Christmas miracle.”
“Oh fuck off,” James laughs, getting up to answer the knock at their office door.
“Excuse me professor, I wasn’t sure if you had a spare moment?”
“Ah! Edward! Do come in, is this about your final dissertation? I know you were a bit behind on it because of all this exam nonsense.”
The man in question huffs out a laugh, his beard doing little to hide the rueful smiles gracing his handsome face as he adjusts his hold on the stack of books in his arms, “No actually, although I’ve been able to catch up on my research even with finals. I was just wondering if it’s mandatory for all of us to attend the bake sale? It’s only that I have a meeting with some of the other grad students and I don’t want to get in trouble with Sir John.”
James groans dramatically, “You should be fine, you’ve got a legitimate reason to be missing out on some of it but Sir John would probably appreciate a token appearance.”
“I mean if I can’t help out with the bake sale itself I can definitely help set up or clean up after.”
“That should work, just email Sir John and he’ll be fine with it,” James sighs. “Oh, and that reminds me, you’re more in the know about the students and the goings on around campus correct?”
“Professor?” Edward asks, brows drawn down in confusion.
“What professor Fitzjames is asking is if you know the juicy student gossip like the massive busybody he is,” Harry says, deadpan.
“I see,” said Edward, clearly not seeing. “What goings on in particular sir?”
“Well I consulted with professor Crozier about it and apparently there’s a particular closet near the student lounge that rather operates as a den for some more scandalous adventures. I was just wondering if you knew anything about the people I last heard going at it in there? Because they clearly had more important things to do rather than study.”
Clearly Edward has no idea how to answer this salacious query, if the absolutely blank look on his face is any indication, “I… am not sure professor. I myself have not seen or heard of this closet before.”
Edward startles violently, dropping the handful of notebooks in his arms as he turns to see the newest visitor to the office.
James’ eyes sparkle mischievously at the sight of Jopson carefully bringing in a box of Christmas decorations, “Why, the sex closet of course!”
Jopson blinks, “Oh, do you mean the one just around the corner from the student lounge?”
Behind James, Harry chokes on his coffee for the second time this morning, “Youknow about it!”
“Well,” the young man says, embarrassment colouring his cheeks. “I know ofit, but not firsthand.”
James’ eyes track the way that Edward’s eyes suddenly and intensely zero in on Jopson’s face, the gears in his mind begin whirring rapidly with plans.
Of course, Harry knows him all too well and doesn’t miss a single second of this interaction.
“I’m just surprised that James never used it considering how many sordid affairs he had in uni.”
“Excuse me? Who was the one who decided to hook up with that terrifying cougar from the nightclub?”
“That was one time!” Harry snaps, his face turning a rather alarming shade of crimson.
“Erm, professor, I was just wondering where we could store these decorations?” Jopson awkwardly asks.
“Decorations? For what?”
“The bake sale?”
“I thought Sir John was storing them in his office? Surely there aren’t more that he’s bought?”
Jopson shrugs, throwing the box in his arms a dirty look, “He does have some boxes in his closet but there are still a few more that won’t fit. I was just wondering if it would be alright to store the rest in your office until Friday?”
“Might as well, given how important this whole debacle is for Sir John,” James scrubs a hand down his face tiredly.
“I can help you bring the other boxes,” Edward blurts out, cheeks pink and watching Jopson warmly.
“That would be great! Thanks for the help!”
James looks at Harry, who raises an eyebrow in return, both of the men grinning widely at the smitten look on Edward’s face when Jopson smiles winningly at him.
“It’s really kind of you to offer,” Jopson says sheepishly. “Especially after I put you through the trouble of driving me home so late at night last week.”
“A late drive you say?”
Harry elbows James in the ribs with not inconsiderable force.
Even from behind several notebooks and his beard, the blush gracing Edward’s face is still visible to everyone in the room, “Well, it’s just that, I mean… I’m glad I could help.”
“I didn’t realize how much time we’d even spent grading papers,” says Jopson, cheerfully unaware of the open longing on Edward’s face, while opening the closet and shoving the box between several coats. “So there I was near midnight looking up at the clock and realizing I was close to using my laptop as a pillow. Thank goodness you were there to rescue me!”
James shakes with silent laughter as he watches Edward struggle to find a response to Jopson’s praise, beside him Harry simply watches on while grinning.
“You’re very… welcome.”
James wheezes silently.
“There are still a three more boxes if your offer is still open?”
Edward immediately snatches up his notebooks and moves to hold the door open before Jopson has even walked two paces, “still very open! The offer I mean, not the door, I just. Jesus let’s just go.”
Jopson trails after him, laughing softly as he goes.
“Christ, and I thought youhad it bad.”
“I don’t have anything Harry I have no clue what you mean.”
Harry leans in conspiratorially, “mhm.”
“I don’t! I am tragically single and very much available at the moment!”
Harry wordlessly reaches over to tweak James’ nipple through his sweater, earning him an indignant squeal in the process.
“Wait, so why aren’t you wearing that hideous old reindeer jumper that auntie Ruth made you years ago? I mean that thing is ugly as sin and it should do the trick to win that bet of yours.”
James deftly twirls a pen around his fingers as he listens to the sound of Will chuckling through the phone gently pressed to his ear.
“For two reasons, one, because it’s so hideous that PETA might come after me for animal cruelty. And two, because she made it for me when I was sixteen and a twig.”
“I’m sorry did you say twink? Because you are still very much a twink.”
James snorts, “Please, the last time anyone actually called me a twink was in uni and it was Henry making fun of me.”
“So a guy you were shagging calling you a twink invalidates the fact that you are still currently a twink?”
“I’m too muscular to be a twink Will so fuck off.”
“Yeah because being a pillow princess is just somuch work,” says Will, his shit-eating grin clearly audible through the phone.
“Listen, just because your wife knows what she likes doesn’t mean youknow what she likes.”
James cackles, “Not so fun now is it?”
“God, the shit we used to get into as kids. It’s amazing no one called child protective services on us.”
“To some degree, although I don’t rightly know what they could do for me at age two not understanding why you were now using my old bouncer and trying to reclaim my clearly stolen property.”
“James you tried, on multiple times I might add, to sit on me whilst I was a baby and also while I was still inthe fucking bouncer!?” Will splutters through his laughter.
“A minor detail my darling brother.”
The pair of them dissolve into hysterical giggles over the phone, taking several moments to collect themselves before they can continue.
“So,” Will asks, loudly wiping his nose. “How did you manage to wrangle all those academic resources from that mangy old research bloke? Doesn’t he have a mortal grudge against you or something?”
“Well, it’s complicated.”
James huffs out a soft laugh, stretching out further on the old sofa in his living room an tucking his feet more comfortably under the blanket, “Well, originally he’d been running me in circles trying to make me work for everything, which I bloody well already do. But then, Francis mentioned the usual staff Christmas party.”
“Right,” his brother says suspiciously. “Because there was absolutely no hidden clause or catch involved.”
“I… may or may not have agreed to wear the ugliest and most inappropriate Christmas sweater that Harry can find to the staff holiday party this Friday. The trade off is that I’m choosing his sweater for him, and he’s choosing what I’ll be wearing. ”
“… And?” Will prompts.
“And… the person with the worst sweater gets their photo published in the holiday edition of the university’s newspaper.”
James pinches the bridge of his nose as he listens to Will’s howls of laughter filter through the phone, only startling a bit when a loud thump signals that his brother has dropped his mobile onto the floor. He listens as the laughter dissolves into quiet giggles as Will scrambles to pick it up off the floor to resume their conversation.
“Oh Christ, James you were really having me on there!”
“I’m not having you on Will, I’ve already chosen the sweater I’ll be making Harry wear,” says James delightedly.
“No that’s not what I meant you great loon,” Will says affectionately. “I mean that’s absolutely notenough of a reason for some old research arsehole to suddenly change his tune and suddenly bend over backwards to make sure you’ve got all the materials you need for your book! There’s no way this man is doing all of this out of the goodness of his heart.”
James pauses, considering just how much to tell Will since it’s clear that Eliza hasn’t spilled the beans to him.
“He and Francis have been best mates for over twenty years so he pulled some strings for me.”
God bless Will for being able to detect even the most miniscule of cues from James, but also damn him.
“Oh, Francis, is it? I thought he was professor Crozier? Hmm?” Will digs slyly.
James scoffs more confidently than he feels, “Yes Will, heaven forbid we take the liberty of using our Christian names with each other! What willthis do for my pure virginal reputation?”
His brother giggles once more before quieting down, “As long as you’re sure James, then that’s all the reassurance I need. Just make sure you’re doing what makes youhappy, and damn whatever that pompous prick of a boss of yours wants.”
James’ silence gives him away, Will’s intuitive nature picking up on the change in mood like a hound with a scent, “What? What is it?”
“Sir John,” James begins, hesitant to speak aloud his most private concern as of late. “Has… once again rejected my application for tenure.”
James sighs, “I asked him if I could use the expedition to carry next year’s application, not even this year! And he said he strongly recommended waiting another few years before I re-apply.”
The warm feeling blooming in his chest upon hearing his brother swear up a storm on his behalf from across the country away does wonders to soothe his ruffled soul, and James buries himself more deeply into the blanket as he settles in to hear the end of Will’s angry tirade.
“… That smarmy, self-indulgent PRICK of a man! Who does he think he is? David Attenborough? That useless idiot nearly went and did a serious interview for those conspiracy nuts years back and the only reason he didn’t ruin his reputation is because yousaved it! The absolute nerve of that man!”
The young professor huffs a laugh down the phone, “Really Will, it’s alright.”
“No it bloody well isn’t!”
“I plan on finding the ships that were lost and getting world renowned fame andif that doesn’t get me tenure, then I’ll move to Gjoa Haven to work full-time on the expedition research. I can always find work with the research vessels or the Canadian Coast Guard.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“Oh I am.”
“You’d move to the North Pole just to spite him?”
“No, I’d move to the Arctic to prove to the world that I was right and that he can suck it.”
Will snorts, “Nowthat’sthe James I know! Sticking it to the world and looking good while doing it!”
James grins at the old photo of him, Will, and Eliza standing arm in arm with each other on the banks of the small fishing pond next to the house they grew up in – their arms linked and the three of them covered head to toe in mud and proudly holding up a brace of freshly caught trout. He’s only pulled out of his reverie by the unmistakeable sound of his brother yawning enormously, “Well, I’d best be off. It’s my turn to drive the girls to school tomorrow and since it’s their last day before Christmas break I have been tasked with the very serious duty of making sure everyone’s hair is perfect for the occasion.”
“Taking on hair styling as well as editing? What willyou do next? Competitive baking?” James ribs gently.
“I’ll break into your flat and shave you bald is what I’ll do if you keep that up you twink.”
James laughs brightly even as he watches the screen of his mobile go dark when Will hangs up on him.
Chapter 10: Francis
In which TA's get testy, Francis contemplates swearing off Christmas, and James falls head over heels. Literally.
I just wanted to say I am SO sorry for the delay in this chapter! After Christmas my school and work load got crazy and this fic took a seat at the bottom of my to-do list, but my hopes are to update this more regularly now that I'm done school. Thanks for reading! :D
Friday comes and goes with surprisingly little fanfare all things considered.
The multitude of boxes purchased with Sir John’s enthusiasm are carefully stacked in the student lounge come Friday morning with a simply worded sign from Jopson to not touch anything. His words are summarily obeyed not by conscious choice, but by the complete lack of interest from the student body in general, much to Sir John’s rather vocal consternation in the faculty lounge.
“I just do not understandit Francis! We’ve been hyping up the event for weeks, why is no one interested?”
Francis sighs and continues stirring the sugar into his coffee, “Because the students are emotionally drained after their exams. Give them some time to regain their enthusiasm for the bake sale and then they’ll be once more full of Christmas cheer.”
Sir John looks sceptical, his brows drawing down ominously.
“If nothing else, we can always post signs saying that the venue has been changed from the student lounge to the Admiralty,” Francis says optimistically, referencing the campus’ pub. “The promise of alcohol and sweets will be very tempting to exhausted grad students. We can see about selling eggnog or some such holiday themed drink, I doubt anyone would say no to a proper hot toddy in such cold weather.”
“What with the pipes still being fixed in the east wing and my office being colder than the arctic, I know I wouldn’t say no to a hot drink and a biscuit,” Professor Bridgens chimes in from his position on the lumpy old sofa.
The militant light in Sir John’s eyes lessens slightly at the admission; “I daresay
it would be too late to move everything over there if the change in venue would actually work?”
Francis shrugs noncommittally, “Personally? I’m craving some gingerbread and mulled wine.”
Bridgens hums thoughtfully, clearly enthusiastic about the new development.
“Well then! I suppose I’d better text James to let him know of this new development,”
Francis cringes, thinking about James’ reaction to yet anotherchange in plans for the event, “I can email Jopson, he’s got contacts in the student council and they’ll be able to get the word out to the students better than we’d be able to.”
“Excellent! Well gentlemen I’ll head over to the Admiralty to let them know to expect a busy evening.”
Francis waits until the dean’s footsteps have faded from their hearing before turning to Bridgens with a weary sigh, “I’ll have to make this up to James somehow, I know he’ll be getting the brunt of Sir John’s disapproval should anything go wrong with this whole debacle.”
Bridgens winces sympathetically, “I know Henry has been on edge all week, between finishing his dissertation and juggling everything Sir John has been throwing at all the grad students all week I can only imagine the strain they’ve all been under.”
Francis sends the email to his TA, dreading the resulting reaction, “Jopson may actually try to murder me for throwing yet another wrench into the whole plan,” he admits ruefully.
Bridgens laughs, unconcerned with the possible death and destruction, “I doubt it, the boy hasn’t a mean bone in his body.”
“Mean? No. Murderous? Very possible,” Francis says darkly.
As if summoned by magic, said TA arrives at the door in a flustered whirlwind of files, boxes, and haphazardly arranged decorations.
“Ah, Jopson!” Francis starts guiltily at the politely mutinous look on the young man’s face. “What brings you here?”
The younger man smiles blandly, while his eyes promise fire and retribution and Francis can only thank the stars above that his terrifyingly competent TA is holding something other than a weapon at the moment.
“Well sir, seeing as how you so helpfully suggested an alternative to the student lounge-“ Francis shrinks back in his seat at the cold venom injected into each word, “I was wondering if you could possibly be spared to help move the boxes of decorations over to the Admiralty? Mr. Little is busy at the moment with his meeting and Professor Fitzjames is otherwise occupied.”
“Of course! Let me just dump my coffee and I’ll- “
“I’ll see you at the lounge sir.”
Francis wonders at the speed with which his TA exits the room, considering all the random paraphernalia currently weighing the slight man down, and thanks whatever deity is out there that he is still living to tell the tale.
“It’s safe to say I’ve never seen Mr. Jopson that… chilly,” says Bridgens, his voice a curious mix of wonder and fear.
“Let’s hope we never have to see that again.”
There are too many bloody decorations for a simple fucking bake sale, Francis muses irritably as he shoddily tapes up yet another strand of garland around the already festive bar. The place looks less like a festively organized bake sale and more like some kind of Christmas monster had projectile vomited up sparkly red and green decorations everywhere it could.
Francis feels vaguely like he might do the same.
Across the room he sees James perched precariously on a ladder whilst trying to hang decorations on the Christmas tree propped up in the corner of the room, his heart in his throat as the younger man leans further and further out in order to hang a shiny red bauble at a branch rather too far up than it should be.
“Excuse me professor but we still have some more decorations to hang up.”
Francis nearly leaps out of his skin at Jopson’s voice in his ear, the young man’s eyes shining up at him knowingly with a mortifying level of cheekiness.
“How many more bloody things do we have to put up? I swear we must’ve cleaned out what store Sir John bought all these from.”
“We just have to finish hanging up the expedition banner and then the rest of the prep is just putting out cups and plates, and also labelling the sweets.”
“A decent turnout from the look of the food table, is that fruitcake I see at the end? That’ll still be here next Christmas by the look of it.”
“I’m fairly sure it isthe one from last year’s Christmas party.”
“Oh… well then, we’ll label it at a discount and maybe finally get rid of the damn thing.”
“Just don’t let Sir John hear you say that.”
“Why ever not?”
“I believe that’s the fruitcake that Lady Jane made.”
“Ah, Edward, how was the meeting?”
“Oddly enough, very straightforward now that finals are out of the way,” the man’s eyes lighting up under the dark mop of hair tousled by the chilly winter wind. “I managed to convince the whole group to come out to support the event even if just for a few minutes.” He smirks crookedly, “They were much more receptive to the idea when I told them of the new location.”
“Oh look! People are just starting to arrive!” Jopson chimes in, excitedly grabbing onto Edward’s arm.
Francis grins, watching the star struck expression on Edward’s face as he looks at Thomas, “Well maybe this evening won’t be a complete disaster then.”
Edward splutters at his tone and ushers Jopson towards the last of the decorations.
With the expedition banner firmly in hand, Francis makes his way over to James to get help hanging the monstrosity somewhere public and gaudy.
The man in question is still balancing on the ladder, now holding several strands of tinsel as he tosses them artfully onto the Christmas tree.
“Toss any more of that onto that poor tree and it’ll collapse under all the weight.”
James turns to glare at him, “I’ll make this the most festive damn event this university has ever seen, even if it kills me,” he growls, totally unaware of how nonthreatening he appears with pieces of tinsel stuck in his hair. “I swear to god if I have to hang up another garland or ornament ever again it will be entirelytoo soon.”
Francis chuckles at the ineffective vitriol, “Well, we do have one more thing to do before the evening is ready to go.”
If looks could kill, James could give John Wick a run for his money, “I beg your pardon?”
Francis cheerfully waves the expedition banner as an explanation, watching James’ expression shift from murderous to sulky, the harsh lines of his face softening in the light of the Christmas tree. James sighs, his shoulder slumping, and moves to right himself on the ladder.
Which is, of course, when things go tits up.
Francis has a brief moment of clarity when the world slows to a crawl around him, as he watches James turn on the ladder to move to climb down. He sees the ladder wobble and James move to correct his position, only to misplace his left foot and slip off the step currently holding him up, his ankle twisting at the sudden shift and his body falling backwards.
His arms move without conscious thought and Francis doesn’t even register dropping the banner as he moves to catch James, completely disregarding the fact that the man is taller than him and nearly six feet up in the air. James’ eyes widen in panic as he realizes his predicament, and the terror sets into his face as he falls back – arms flailing –
Right into Francis’ waiting arms.
Time resumes its usual pace – the room around them once more coming to life as its occupants realize the narrowly avoided situation – and Francis realizes with no small level of shock that he did actually manage to successfully catch James without major injury to either of them.
The man in question has his arms around Francis’ neck and his one leg is sticking out at an odd angle for balance, looking for all the world like a startled cat having just been dropped from a great height, and is still looking mildly panicked despite being safe in Francis’ arms.
He notes with detached amusement the strands of tinsel still stuck in James’ hair despite the recent fall, and hoists the man up more securely in his arms – suddenly very interested in the deep shade of crimson James is turning – before carefully depositing him onto his own two feet.
“I think that’s enough near-death drama for one evening,” Francis says, his voice rough with nerves, as his hands leave the lean muscles of James’ shoulders and legs where he had just been holding him.
“I agree,” says James, looking incredibly shaken despite being back on his own two feet. “I think Sir John would forgive us if we left the rest of the preparations to the students. I need a good fortifying drink before I can process my most recent brush with death.”
Francis snorts, but obliges James by leading him towards the bar with a hand at the small of his back to guide him, “But you’re not hurt? No twisted ankle? No pulled muscles or bruises?”
James shakes his head, “No, mainly startled. It could’ve been much worse had you not caught me.”
Francis rubs a hand up and down James’ back comfortingly, hyper aware of the subtle shaking in the man as the adrenaline wears off, “Thankfully I did catch you.”
James gives him a watery smile, his warm brown eyes open wide and honest, “Thankfully.”
Francis orders their drinks – hot mulled wine – and watches the younger man like a hawk until his shaking abates.
Eventually, James turns to him to give a tentative smile, “At least the bake sale seems to be a hit. Honestly thought it would flop and die and that would be the end of it, but the students do seem to be enjoying themselves.”
“Who can resist a hot drink and a biscuit? It’s a stroke of genius if I do say so myself.”
James’ eyes crinkle at the corners as he sips from his cup, the wine warming his cheeks a lovely dusting of pink and a smile blooming slow and steady over his handsome face, “Genius indeed.”
Francis finds it hard to think beyond the bright gleam in James’ eyes, until –
“Another refill for you both? Seems a fine evening to celebrate such a historic event, especially with such distinguished professors.”
Francis snaps out of his reverie to turn to the speaker, the man’s gleaming red hair catching even his own distracted attention. Beside him, James starts almost guiltily and turns to look at the new person.
Recognition blooms, “Mr. Hickey, I didn’t expect to see you here.”
A fox-like grin spreads over the young man’s angular face and he shrugs, “Wasn’t originally planning on going to the bake sale sir, what with my shift here at the pub. Suppose I got lucky with the event being moved, means I can join in on the festivities and get paid to be here,” gracefully pouring them each another cup of mulled wine.
Francis snorts, “I wish I was getting paid to be here, but sadly I am not. Are you looking forward to the holidays?”
Hickey shrugs noncommittally, “Don’t have much in the way of family to be visiting but I’m always glad to have a break from my studies. It’s nice to be able to spend time with friends and plan for the future.”
“I suppose planning for the future right before the New Year is an auspicious way to begin with the coming year,” James says, nodding approvingly.
“My thoughts exactly professor,” Hickey says, his smile widening.
“Any plans in particular?”
The redhead shifts from foot to foot, more excited than nervous energy, “Well, I wasn’t sure how to go about asking, but seeing as you’re both here I may as well take the opportunity. I was wondering… if it would be at all possible to sign up for the expedition? I know it’s many months away but it’s a once in a lifetime opportunity, and I would be a fool to pass up the chance.”
Francis sips his drink, considering the request and not entirely sure how to respond, “Well, the official expedition party hasn’t been formed yet but if you would like to go I would recommend submitting a formal request to Sir John or myself. That way we can keep track of who and how many people will be going.” He turns to James, “Does that sound fair?”
James lifts his cup in a toast and grins toothily, “Like I said, an auspicious start to the new year.”
Hickey sighs theatrically, “I suppose one more bit of homework is a fair price to pay to be part of history,” the young man says, his Cheshire grin more than enough of a response to bring set professors laughing heartily.
“Homework indeed,” Francis says, watching James continue to laugh under the Christmas lights.
Chapter 11: James
In which Harry gets devious, Henry goes with the flow, James gets flexible, and Francis gets flustered.
I am SO SORRY for the delay! Work has been crazy and I've been struggling a bit. I wanted a big more of a connecting chapter between the previous one and the next big plot filled one. So this chapter is a bit shorter to bridge between two big ones. I'm hoping to have the next chapter up next weekend. Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoy it! :D
James leaves the bake sale entirely later than he’d originally planned, drawn in by the warm closeness with Francis at the bar and the memory of the older man holding him securely in his arms. Damsel in distress indeed.
“What are you grinning about?”
James startles, not having noticed Goodsir appearing at his left seemingly out of thin air, “Nothing!”
The other man narrows his eyes; “It didn’t seem like nothing when professor Crozier rescued you from a near death experience.”
James blames the flush creeping up his face on the mulled wine, “Oh come now, you’re a doctor! Clearly I was in shock!”
“Clearly, then perhaps we should get the smelling salts out for your delicate constitution.”
James laughs softly, “I honestly thought I would fall and get a concussion so it’s a nice change to end the evening not in an ambulance on the way to emerge so I count this entire day as a success. Leastwise not because I thought this godforsaken bake sale would be a complete disaster and Sir John would sulk until the Christmas party and need his ego tended.”
“Shhh! What if he hears you?”
James throws caution to the wind, exhausted after the evening’s festivities, “Oh fuck off, he left ages ago. And besides, Idid most of the work even though he’ll make it out to be all his own brilliant scheme when the man hasn’t had an original thought in his head since the eighties.”
Goodsir turns sharply to look at him, clearly caught unawares with the amount of vitriol in James’ clipped tone, “I… wasn’t aware you hated bake sales so much”
A deep sigh, “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to dump all that on you.”
“It’s alright, you’ve been under a lot of stress and-“
“Sir John denied my application for tenure again,” James blurts out, unable to control the bitterness coloring the words.
Goodsir stops in his tracks and gently grabs James’ shoulder to stop the taller man from continuing his brisk walk away from the pub, spinning him around to face the doctor even as he fastidiously avoids eye contact.
“But I thought you were using the expedition to carry your proposal?”
James scoffs, “So did I. Apparently I should wait a few years and try then, because an international level historical expedition isn’t quite up to snuff.”
“But… that’s, he can’t do that!” Goodsir blusters, his curly hair waving indignantly in the crisp evening air. “You’re still allowed to apply!”
James laughs at his ruffled friend, touched at the concern, “That’s what Francis said, though I doubt he’ll even pass along my proposal to the board, let along actually open the damn envelope.”
James takes a moment to enjoy watching his friend stew away with this information, and is mildly concerned when the doctor’s face slowly smoothes out and he smirks conspiratorially. Alright, maybe he’s more than mildly concerned.
“What is it?” James asks, immediately suspicious and wary knowing full well that even as mild mannered as he is that when roused, Harry has a devious streak a mile wide. “I don’t like that look, the last time you had that look on your face we got kicked out of Tesco when you argued with the butcher about how he was wrong about the names of each cut of meat.”
He shrugs, keeping his face deceptively innocent, “Well, just because Sir John won’t listen to your proposal doesn’t mean that someone else won’t.”
“What? Who the hell else am I going to hand my proposal to? Father Christmas?”
“No you absolute walnut, Sir Jacob! I mean he isfunding the expedition entire. If he doesn’t carry weight with Sir John and the board then who else does? Go and submit your standard proposal to the faculty and then e-mail Sir Jacob with your request. Write it like you did your dissertation, include references and fight your damn corner!”
James feels his brain freeze like a skipping record, having never considered an alternative path to his goal.
“Make it a condition of this expedition! He made it very clear he wants you and your expertise, you andprofessor Crozier, he never made any mention of needing Sir John. And once he knows that Sir Jacob is on your side? Do you really think he’ll want to piss off the person who’s footing the bill for the entire trip? Please, he’ll bend over backwards trying to please the man.”
“But, what if it doesn’t work? What if he boots me off of the team?”
“Then you can say peace and fuck off to Gjoa Haven to be more of an expert then either of them ever will be.”
James bursts out laughing at the matter-of-fact tone in his friend’s voice, his chest filling with warmth that yet another someone is on his side, “Oh Harry, what would I do without you?”
Goodsir grins, “Crash and burn darling.”
“Indeed,” James says, eyes turned skyward through the fresh winter air.
“So, I’ve been thinking- “
“That’s a change from the usual.”
“Oh fuck off Dundy, this is important!”
James laughs at the gusty sigh he hears through his mobile as he turns on the speakerphone and places it on the counter away from his current project, sequins and sewing needles and string littering his kitchen counter.
“Alright, what is it this time?”
“As it happens, it’s something that Harry came up with.”
“Oh, so an actual plan thought out by someone with self-preservation instincts?”
“Well, only if you don’t count the fact that his plan centers around pulling the academic rug out from under Sir John in order to forcibly make him consider my application for tenure on terms that are not his and that he does not agree with.”
“You heard me.”
“Well you made it sound like he was planning to commit treason against the crown! Isn’t that like, I dunno, against university rules or something?”
“I mean technicallyit isn’t illegal, but I will admit it is a dick move.”
“… Excellent! What’s the plan?”
James continues to sew sequins onto the monstrosity of a sweater that will be Harry’s Christmas party sweater as he explains his plan of attack, Henry listening with equal parts fascination and apprehension in the wake of his oldest friend’s most professionally daring escapade.
Henry waits patiently until what he imagines is the end of the plan before daring to ask the one question he needs James to consider.
“And what if it doesn’t work?”
“I’m one hundred percent serious James, if this plan goes sideways and Sir Jacob doesn’t take the bait, not only will you not have gotten tenure but the board may consider it an impertinence trying to one-up a senior member of the faculty. We’re talking about a man who has dedicated his life to academia and, while not always on the right track, has considerableclout within the university and – let’s be real here – within the entirety of academia in England. He could make or break your professional life if you piss him off enough and no matter how much he dotes on you even Franklin has his limits. God knows I wouldn’t want to test him enough to find out what he would do in such a case.”
James frowns, his fingers stilling with the needle through the wool of the sweater, and considers this word of caution from his oldest friend.
“I know he could kill my entire career if he felt like it, but at the same time I feel like I’m stifling in his great shadow right now. You should’ve seen how dismissive he was, killing me with kindness either way. He was never cruel or condescending but by God, I sometimes think it would’ve just been kinder to come right out and say I will never get tenure. Put me out of my misery rather than dangle the hope in front of me like a carrot before a mule, knowing how much of an ass it makes me look.”
Henry sighs, “James, I just want you to consider how this could backfire before you go racing off to your glory. You’ve worked so very hard to get to where you are now and I would hate to see you lose it all on a risk that could’ve been easily avoided. I’m just worried about you is all.”
“I know, and I appreciate your worry and support in equal measure, but I just feel like he’s stopped encouraging me and started bogging me down.”
James has a brief moment where he thinks he’s gone too far, but then Henry replies, “Just make sure all your bases are covered and that you give Sir Jacob all the best damn reasons he could ever need to be on your side.”
James grins, his eyes a touch wet, “As if I could ever give less than my best performance Dundy! He’ll be paying me a king’s random to bring back whatever trinkets I can find on King William Island!”
His friend laughs fondly, “Now that’sthe James Fitzjames I know.”
“Exactly! Now… is it too tacky to bedazzle a thong onto Santa?”
“Is it what?”
Now that all the exams have officially been finished and the term ended until after the holidays, James has a bit of room for a breather. Even considering the deadline for grading all the final papers. He’s able to sit in relative peace and quiet in his office with a pot of coffee and a tin of his own homemade shortbread by his side.
Grimacing at the waiting stack of papers left to grade, he takes stock of the time, entirely too late for his liking. James puts his pen down and stretches, his long arms stretching upwards while his spine cracks ominously in the relative quiet of the office. He glances over to where his yoga mat is rolled neatly on top of his gym bag, the deep blue nearly black in the low light of the office. Well, no time like the present for a little self-care.
He slips his shoes off and tosses them to the side before shrugging out of his cable knit sweater and quickly swapping out his dress slacks for the comfortable pair of worn sweatpants from his duffel, leaving him in a well worn t-shirt and the softness of his workout clothes. He unwraps his yoga mat before tossing it to the floor between his and Harry’s desk, rifling through his desk drawer for the CD containing his usual yoga music.
James turns the CD player on and forces himself to breathe deep and relax as he does his warm-up stretches, working the stiffness out of his aching muscles and getting ready to go through his usual routine. Starting off with a relaxing deep breath in the lotus position before standing up straight and smoothly moving into the mountain pose with his arms stretched as far up as possible. Bringing his left foot up to rest on his right knee and his arms arched up to connect above his head, he completes the tree position, breathing deep as James concentrates on balancing his body.
James gracefully places his left foot a step ahead – bringing his knee to a right angle and raising his hands together in the warrior pose – before leaning forward to slowly lower his torso to lie along his thigh in the low lunge. So into his routine is he that the young professor doesn’t hear the footsteps coming towards his office as he smoothly moves into yet another position.
“James? What in blazes are you listening to? Sounds like some god-awful spa music, Christ. Anyways, I needed to ask you about this document from the- “
“Yes Francis? What is it?” asks James, a little breathless from where he is in the downward facing dog position. “Sorry, needed a bit of a break from grading those papers. God if I never have to see a red marker again it will be entirely too soon.”
Francis splutters, unable to form a full sentence, and James finally looks up as he twists his spine to sinuously lower himself into the cobra, lying with his hips and legs flat on the floor with his arms steadily holding his torso off the ground.
“Francis? Are you alright?”
He watches the older man turn a furious shade of red before coughing, “Of course, it’s just, I just, I didn’t know you were so – er – flexible.”
James tracks the way Francis’ eyes never leave the curve of his spine, and to test his theory, raises his body away from the porous surface of the yoga mat. He stands to straighten his legs – bending at the waist to reach down and place his hands along the back of his heels, his torso resting flush with his legs as he completes the half standing forward fold.
Francis chokes on nothing and proceeds to look as though he was caught with his hand in the cookie jar, simultaneously hungry and guilty. Interesting.
James finally takes pity on him and raises himself up slowly to a resting stand, breathing deep as the last song comes to a close.
“Something I can help you with?” James asks innocently as he rolls up his mat.
“No! I mean, yes but, not… With this. If you could just look at this document that Thomas asked me to bring you, he didn’t know if it would be relevant to your, erm, research. I guess I’ll just, leave this here then? Right, well. Best be off. Goodnight James.” And before he can respond, the older man is off out the door like a shot.
James grins slowly as the endorphins course leisurely through his body.
Very interesting indeed.