Guy observed the game of cricket from a distance, watching Fowler take up the bat and test the grip. There was something almost reverent in the way his fingers moved along the smooth wood, in much the same way as Guy had seen him handling a cane often enough, when Fowler was delivering a beating to whichever unfortunate boy had failed to meet his standards. Out on the sunlit meadow, he turned and walked towards the pitch, ignorant of Guy's eyes burning holes into his back.
"You're staring at Fowler more than you used to stare at Harcourt," Judd's familiar voice came from behind him, the usual air of mild admonishment in his tone.
With a scowl, Guy turned to where Judd leant against the bench. "That's a ghastly comparison! And I'm not staring, I'm glaring."
"Is there a difference?"
"Don't be crass, Tommy! It's nothing like that. Fowler is a despicable bully."
He'd have been a God next year if it hadn't been for Fowler's interference. Ultimately, it might have been Menzies's spinelessness and Delahay's hypocrisy that ruined things for him, but the fact remained that none of it would have happened if it hadn't been for Fowler intercepting that note for Harcourt. Guy blamed all of them equally, but his anger would surely have been wasted on the likes of Menzies, who was too unflappable and slick to even notice, and glaring at Fowler was certainly more rewarding.
"Whether or not he looks fetching in cricket whites is completely irrelevant," Guy added, his eyes drawn back to the players.
Judd snorted. The bench's tired old wood creaked when he settled down next to Guy. "Of course it is. I know it's probably pointless to ask you to be careful, but even you have to realise that messing with Fowler won't end well."
Guy scoffed. "That's just the thing, Tommy. Once you've fallen from grace, there's only so much power they still have over you. It's very liberating, if you think about it." He kept his tone mocking, lest the bitterness creep in.
He watched as Fowler got into position at the end of the pitch.
Just as the bowler threw the ball, Fowler's gaze darted towards where Guy was sitting, as if sensing the weight of Guy's glare. Distracted for just a split second too long, he missed. The bat swung empty, the ball hit the wicket behind him, and Guy found himself smiling as Fowler's expression turned thunderous.
James wasn't going to be there tonight, of course. Not after what had happened. Guy knew that. James was brave, but not foolishly reckless.
No, tonight it would be only Guy, alone with his thoughts, down on the pathway headed towards the lake. Perhaps coming out here had been a mistake. He was being maudlin and bitter, never a good combination, and one that called for a bottle of expensive champagne and getting terribly drunk rather than a depressingly lonely late-night stroll through the school grounds.
He kicked at a stone, sending it rolling down the grass, where it listlessly bounced off a tree trunk. As Guy rounded a corner, he was suddenly grabbed from the side. A pair of hands emerged out of the darkness, pulling him towards the building.
It happened too fast for him to fight off the grip, and the next thing he knew, his back was colliding with the bricks. The air was driven out of his lungs by the force of the impact, and then there was Fowler. Right in his face, his arm square across Guy's chest, holding Guy in place with his weight. He was heavier than he looked, Guy realised as he tried to struggle. Through his jacket, he could feel the jagged edges of the stone scraping against his back, digging painfully into his shoulders.
Fowler's eyes were blazing with anger, almost black in the moonlight.
"I should have known it was you, Bennett. Sneaking around after curfew again like you're above the rules. You know that's worth at least three strokes." His voice was like thunder, but he sounded far from unhappy at catching Guy out of bounds.
He had been wrong, Guy realised. It wasn't anger he was seeing in Fowler's eyes. Not just anger, anyway. It was triumph. Anticipation, perhaps. Of course it was.
Letting his body go lax under Fowler's hold, he rested the back of his head against the brick wall and regarded the other boy through half-lidded eyes.
"No need to get too excited, Fowler. I'm afraid your cane will have to wait. I've got a pass from Barclay." A lie, but Fowler didn't know that, and Guy was confident enough that Barclay would back him if push came to shove. Barclay preferred him over Fowler, despite everything – and even if that weren't the case, their soon-to-be-departing Head of House had clearly lost the stomach for punishment. "You're welcome to ask him for permission to beat me, of course, but we all know how well that went last time."
For a moment, it looked like Fowler wasn't going to bother asking for permission to thrash Guy, like he was going to do it right then and there, foregoing the cane and using his fists instead, protocol and consequences be damned.
Guy knew he shouldn't provoke Fowler further. The sensible thing would be to duck his head and stand down, trust in Fowler's respect for order to keep him in line. But Guy had never been one for sensible choices. An odd kind of thrill fluttered in his gut. He had no interest in another beating – of course not, not from Fowler or anyone – but the idea of breaking down Fowler's righteousness and his rigid worship of rules was enticing. Guy couldn't imagine a sweeter victory.
Well, perhaps one.
He leant in, as close as Fowler's arm trapping him against the bricks allowed. "It must have upset you terribly, I assume. Watching me take a beating and not being able to deliver it yourself."
"A punishment is about proper order and conduct, Bennett. It's not about who administers it. Not that I expect someone like you to understand."
So sure and unforgiving. Guy would almost have believed him, if it hadn't been for the way Fowler's eyes had flitted away when he spoke, the tell-tale sign of a lie, or if Guy hadn't witnessed him taking a little too much pleasure whenever he beat someone.
Guy wetted his lips, pleased when he found Fowler's gaze drawn towards the motion for just long enough to give himself away. Maybe there was hope of tempting Fowler away from proper order and conduct after all.
"Oh, I understand plenty. Perhaps not about proper conduct, but I know enough about how a man looks when he gets excited that I can see that your enjoyment of those beatings goes beyond punishment and order."
He keenly watched as the words sank in and Fowler's face twisted first into shock, then rage. "You wretched little—"
Guy didn't let him finish. He'd been called all kinds of names. After a while, the insults became so boring and unimaginative that they lost their sting. He doubted that Fowler possessed the originality and inspiration to come up with a slight Guy hadn't heard before.
"I know, I know. I disgust you. And yet you can't wait to get your hands on me. Or your cane, I suppose, if there is a difference."
Fowler's grip on him had loosened, and Guy was standing so close to him that he could feel the other boy's breath on his face, warm and tinged with the minty scent of toothpaste. Fowler's jaw was clenched so tightly that it had to hurt, and Guy almost felt sorry for him.
With a vicious push, Fowler shoved him back against the wall, his face twisting. "I won't stand here and listen to this. Get away from me, Bennett. Go back to the house."
Guy mockingly snapped to attention, raising his hand towards his head in a parody of a military salute. "Sir, yes, sir!"
The glare Fowler levelled his way, and the way his fists were balled in mutinous rage, made it obvious that he took the gesture as the insult Guy intended it to be. It wouldn't take much, Guy thought, to make him snap. Just a little push. A flutter of eyelashes. A few insinuations. And oh, Guy was tempted.
But no, not tonight.
He brushed himself off and took a step backwards instead of closing the distance between them, stuffing his hands into his pockets to stop himself from reaching out.
When he turned to go, he felt Fowler's eyes on his back all the way, until he disappeared around the corner towards the path he'd come from.
A twinge of excitement fluttered in Guy's chest at the idea of continuing last night's stand-off. He might have preferred a more private venue for the kind of confrontation he had in mind, and if Fowler was sending Wharton to summon him rather than seeking him out, this was more formal than Guy would have liked.
But then again, Fowler clearly hadn't gone to the Gods to inform them of Guy's late-night stroll, or else the order would have come from Barclay or Delahay, and they wouldn't be expecting Guy in the trophy room. Perhaps the display of formality was just pretence.
Judd looked up from his reading with a frown. "What does the bloody tin soldier want now? He can't order us around like we're at his beck and call."
Wharton jumped at Judd's temper, his shoulders slumping. "He didn't say. I'm sorry, Judd."
"No, of course he didn't. He'd rather play dictator than actually explain himself."
It would have been heartwarming, how angry Judd got on his behalf, if Guy hadn't known that his ire was more about Fowler wielding his power like a heavy-handed sword than about Guy specifically.
He huffed and loftily waved it off. "Don't worry about it. I'm sure it's just the usual. I broke some kind of rule, and he would like to berate me for it, so I'm sure to know how objectionable my behaviour has been."
Of course, Fowler already had berated him last night. He could still feel Fowler's arm tight against his chest, pinning him in place between Fowler's body and the wall at his back. Guy wouldn't mind another lecture like that. What a pity that it was unlikely that Fowler would return to the same hands-on approach in broad daylight and within the school walls. Perhaps if Guy managed to goad him just enough...
Bennett blinked the fantasy away. "Yes, Wharton?"
"Why do you keep breaking the rules if you know you'll get in trouble for it?"
Behind him, Judd snorted and muttered, "Why, indeed". Guy chose to ignore him. He shrugged. "I don't know. Why are you always running in the halls, no matter how many times Menzies tells you not to?"
"Because it's fun!" Wharton exclaimed.
Guy raised an eyebrow and watched the realisation sink in.
Once the boy had left, no doubt back to hurrying along the corridors at a hazardous pace, Judd spoke up again. "There's a difference between running in the halls and antagonising someone like Fowler who can make your life hell. Especially now that you won't be a God next year."
It was a low blow, bringing up Guy's ruined ambition to make it to the top, and Guy almost resented Judd for it. "We each take our enjoyment where we can, Tommy. Perhaps I won't be a God, but corrupting the incorruptible? That's the real prize."
Judd shook his head and went back to his book.
Fowler was standing at the edge of the long table, polishing a trophy – not his precious Jacker Pot, of course; Guy had lost that for them. He wondered if Fowler had ordered him here as a reminder. If so, it was a futile exercise, because whatever guilt he might have hoped to stir, Guy felt none.
At Guy's jeer, Fowler lowered the brass cup and glared.
"Barclay didn't give you a pass the other night."
Ah. Right to the point. No insults and manhandling tonight. How dreadfully disappointing.
"Is that so?"
"Barclay's been with Matron since yesterday. You would have had to ask Menzies for a pass."
Guy shrugged. "Maybe it was Menzies. I keep mixing them up. All the same entitlement and hypocrisy. It's easy to get confused."
Even across the distance, he could easily see the clench of Fowler's teeth and how his hands tightened on the trophy until his knuckles turned white. "You lied."
"So what if I did? They still wouldn't have given you permission to beat me." He saw that Fowler was getting ready to object and pressed on, stepping around the table towards where Fowler was waiting. "You know why? Because they despise you more than they hate me. When Devenish's parents were thinking of taking him out of school and Farcical was going to ask you to stay on as Head of House, Menzies and Barclay and all the others were willing to do everything in their power to stop that from happening. They even asked Judd to be a prefect, can you imagine? Just to get rid of you."
He stopped in front of Fowler, close enough to see the little vein above his temple pulsating. He was gripping the trophy so hard that he might have broken it in two, if it hadn't been made of sturdy metal, and his mouth was a thin, rigid line. All that rage, barely contained. He wasn't denying that Guy was right, however.
"You'll never be one of them," Guy told him, calm and matter-of-fact.
When Fowler set down down the cup, his hands were trembling, and Guy half-expected him to lash out with those clenched fists. And lash out he did, even if he chose his words for a weapon.
"Neither will you, Bennett." Fowler's tone was cutting, a vindictive kind of satisfaction swinging in it. "Especially now that Menzies is going to make Devenish a God instead of you."
Was everyone determined to rub in Guy's fall from grace today? He sent Fowler a dark look. "Oh, believe me, I know. But at least I'm enjoying myself. Are you?"
He put the challenge out there, expecting Fowler to fold or raise: hurry off like he had last night, or claim that he was content with the status quo. Instead, Fowler only held his gaze in wordless defiance, like he thought Guy would blink first and back down.
Guy had been joking, mostly, when he told Judd during cricket the other week that Fowler looked fetching in his whites. Now, though, flushed with fury, his expression closed-off and unyielding, he did look handsome. Not the soft, winsome beauty of James, whose smile was warm as sunshine and made Guy's heart leap. No, Fowler was all hard, rigid edges and angry lines, bottled-up temper that Guy, against his better instincts, wanted to release.
Desire made him bold and reckless; it always had, but with Fowler, it was a different sort of recklessness. He slowly raised his hand to Fowler's face and cupped that pink-tinted cheek. The skin felt warm under his palm, a hint of stubble rasping against Guy's fingers.
The moment seemed to last forever, as if they were frozen in place, and Guy held his breath for the precious seconds that Fowler allowed the touch. Then at once, like he had remembered where they were and who was touching him, Fowler twisted away, almost violently.
"Don't you dare, Bennett!"
He was breathing hard, staring at Guy with wild eyes and his half-raised fist balled like he wanted to hit Guy. Hit him, or perhaps stop himself from grabbing him.
Guy sank his teeth into his lower lip, nerves frayed like the seams of his parade uniform he couldn't bother to get fixed.
"You want to punish me, Fowler? Put me in my place? You don't need the Gods' permission for that. Just say the word and I'll be on my knees, doing penance."
The sharp intake of breath suggested that Fowler understood what it was that Guy was suggesting, or offering, perhaps.
"You'd enjoy that," he hissed, like it was an accusation.
Of course Guy would enjoy it. This wretched place was already filled to the brim with things that made him – made all of them, really – miserable. Why add to those when instead you could find something to make it all bearable?
"So would you. That's the purpose."
He held Fowler's gaze, his heart thrumming in his chest, fast as a hummingbird, waiting for— something. Fowler's jaw worked, and his hand was still suspended in the air, like he was hovering on the edge of decision.
From somewhere along the corridor, Delahay's voice called out, sharp and loud enough to be heard through the heavy wooden doors. He was probably merely admonishing some Juniors, but it served as an uncomfortable reminder that, despite the illusion of privacy, they weren't alone.
Guy jumped, and Fowler's head snapped around towards the door, whatever tenuous connection had been there a moment ago broken.
"That was all, Bennett," Fowler said, without turning back towards Guy. "Don't let me catch you out of bounds again. Next time I won't be so lenient."
His tone was dismissive, or at least aiming for it, but he couldn't conceal the slight tremor in it. The warning lacked the forbidding hostility that Fowler had likely intended, and the chill of anticipation Guy felt wasn't entirely unpleasant.
"No, of course not," he said, uncommonly agreeable. "I wouldn't expect you to be."
The school grounds were vast, and running into a patrolling prefect when you were out walking was exceedingly unlikely. Of course, that was a circumstance most rule-breaking students welcomed. Most of them probably weren't out hoping to be caught, Guy expected.
But Fowler, ever the reliable, routine-loving soldier, always took the same route on his nightly patrols. It had been invaluable knowledge when Guy had been sneaking towards the boats to meet James, trying to evade being spotted, and it was as helpful now when he was actively looking to cross Fowler's path.
All he had to do was plant himself at the corner where Fowler had apprehended him the other night and wait. Sure enough, it must have been barely past midnight when Fowler came along the path, the light from his torch skipping along the bushes and trees, casting strange shadows.
Guy lazily lingered at the wall, one leg bent with his foot propped against the bricks. When Fowler turned the torch beam on him, he squinted and held up a hand to shield his eyes from the glare.
He heard Fowler take a sharp breath. "Bennett."
"You sound surprised. We had an appointment, did we not?"
"We most certainly did not."
Not in so many words, perhaps, but no matter how much Judd liked to mock Fowler, the other boy wasn't stupid; nor was he naïve enough, like Wharton, to miss the implications of their exchange in the trophy room earlier that day. Guy pursed his lips. "That's not what I remember. You promised me no leniency, if memory serves."
The torch light wavered, and Guy was immersed in darkness again. He lowered his arm, but his eyes were still too sensitive, and it was impossible to make out Fowler's face. His voice was hard as steel, anyway.
"I should be taking this to the Gods," he hissed.
Guy couldn't help noticing that Fowler had said should, not will. He tried, not entirely successfully, to suppress the twitch of his lips, forcing himself to act nonchalant.
"If that's how you prefer to handle it. Shall I take my leave, then? Wait for Barclay to summon me? Or, more likely, not summon me, once he dismisses your report."
He pushed himself away from the wall and made as if to go. He didn't get very far. A rustle of leaves and then Fowler was right there, one of his hands clamping down on the tense muscle where Guy's shoulder met his neck, pushing him backwards with no less force than last night. His thumb stretched across Guy's throat, pressing down with just enough pressure to make Guy feel it.
"Shut your bloody mouth, Bennett!"
Guy observed Fowler through his lashes. "I'd rather you did it for me."
The hand on his throat tightened as if in warning. But they were standing so close that Guy could feel Fowler's stiff cock against his thigh, so close to where his own hardness was straining inside his trousers, and he longed to feel that firm, rough touch all over.
With anyone else, he would have gone for a kiss, but he doubted Fowler would react well. What Fowler wanted from him was surrender, not seduction.
He sank to his knees, as gracefully as his position and Fowler's hold on him allowed. A small twig cracked under his knee, pressing uncomfortably into the tender skin, but he ignored the twinge of pain.
Fowler didn't stop him when Guy reached up to unfasten Fowler's trousers, nor did he recoil when Guy pulled his cock free. Guy closed his hand around the widest part of it, enjoying the weight and firmness of it against his palm, and Fowler made a choked sound.
When Guy looked up towards him, Fowler was staring back, his eyes almost black in the darkness. Guy held his gaze unblinking, watching Fowler's reaction as his fingers moved up and down the stiff length with firm tugs, just the way Guy enjoyed it when he took himself in hand.
"You like that?" he asked, voice low as a whisper.
Fowler's grip on his throat had loosened when Guy went to his knees, but now his fingers grew tighter again. "I thought you were asking to be shut up? You're still talking."
It almost made Guy giddy, hearing Fowler talk like this, finally past denial and protestations. He licked his lips and leant in to close his mouth over Fowler's cock, the salty taste of arousal and the acidic hint of soap invading his senses.
Fowler's hand slipped around the back of his head, fingertips tangling in Guy's curls, and then Guy was being pulled forward harshly until he was choking. The stifled noise that escaped his throat was half-protest, half-moan.
"That's what you wanted, isn't it? What you have been asking for all along." Fowler's voice was vicious and implacable like a cane snapping through the air, sharp despite the breathless catch in it. He held Guy in place with ruthless fingers and snapped his hips up, thrusting into Guy's mouth without mercy.
Guy tried his best to hold still and relax his throat, allowing Fowler to use him as he saw fit. His eyes were watering. His throat was burning. He was almost unbearably hard.
He reached down to relieve some of the pressure, but before he could palm himself, Fowler's booted foot kicked his hand away. Smooth black leather pushed between Guy's thighs, pressing snugly against his groin. It was too cool and too inflexible to be comfortable, but Guy couldn't stop himself from rutting against it, shamelessly, like a dog in heat. He didn't know what to do with his hands, helplessly reaching for Fowler and clenching his fists in the coarse fabric of his uniform trousers.
Fowler kept pushing into Guy's mouth, his thrusts no less forceful but shallower now, and his breath was coming harshly. It was almost too much, nearly overwhelming. The taste of him, the cruel stretch of Guy's throat, the rough pressure of the boot shaft against his cock.
At last, Fowler's thrusts stuttered and lost their rhythm. It was the only warning Guy got – not that it did him any good; with Fowler's hand on his head holding him in place there was nowhere to go. Fowler didn't make a sound as he spilt in Guy's mouth. It was hot and bitter on Guy's tongue, dripping from the corners of his lax, open mouth.
Guy felt light-headed, frantic. He rubbed himself faster against Fowler's boot, desperately seeking friction, half-afraid that Fowler would pull back now before Guy could finish. But either Fowler had chosen to display an uncharacteristic kind of mercy, or – more likely – he was simply too bowled over and shaken to react, because he kept his leg where it was nestled between Guy's legs, letting Guy get himself off against his boot.
Guy came with a muffled groan, making a proper mess of the insides of his trousers. He slumped forward, letting Fowler's body break his fall, his forehead resting against Fowler's hipbone as he caught his breath. The unexpected touch, it seemed, was enough to finally stir the other boy from his stupor.
Fowler hastily stepped away, hurrying to tug himself in and fasten his trousers. His hands were shaking when he tried to smooth down his uniform.
Guy sat back on his heels and watched Fowler, running a hand through his hopelessly tangled hair. He could still feel the phantom sensation of Fowler's fingers there against his scalp. His grip had been too tight, urgent to the point of discomfort, but now that it was gone, Guy wanted it back.
He kept his eyes locked with Fowler's as he wiped his mouth.
"Now, wouldn't you say that was more satisfying than a beating?" It was meant to be a taunt, but his voice was wrecked, too hoarse to deliver the ridicule, making it come out more like an invitation.
Fowler narrowed his eyes. "If anything, watching you disgrace yourself like this makes me more keen to give you six of my best, not less."
To Guy's satisfaction, Fowler hadn't quite recovered either; the sting in his words was lost in his quiet, almost wry tone.
Guy smiled. "Six of your best, is it? So confident in your skills with the cane! Perhaps I should sample them, see how you compare to Delahay." He wasn't serious, not really. Taking a beating was hardly his idea of fun, even though it did give him a little thrill to think of bending over for Fowler, of watching him come undone as he wielded the cane. Maybe— "Make it three and choose a venue less public than the common room, and perhaps I will consider it."
Fowler drew in a surprised breath. He closed his eyes for a brief moment, like he needed to collect himself. When he opened them again, the old relentless firmness was back. "Stop it, Bennett. Go and get yourself back inside. I don't have the patience for more of your antics tonight."
Guy hummed in assent. Truth was, he was done for tonight as well.
"I'll see you at Matins then. Good night, Fowler. Sweet dreams."
Before Fowler had a chance to respond, Guy blew him a cheeky kiss and went.
He wondered what he must look like. Moss stains on his knees, his hair mussed, his lips bruised and swollen, the front of his trousers soiled. The light in the library was poor, but it wasn't so poor that it would conceal the evidence of Guy's late-night tryst.
Under the judging weight of Judd's stare, Guy shifted uncomfortably.
Judd huffed out a snort. "Bennett's Law strikes again?"
"I told you, everyone gives in."
Almost everyone – but Fowler, as it turned out, wasn't that rare exception.
Shaking his head, Judd turned back to his textbook. "If Fowler comes down on us harder than ever because he regrets whatever you tempted him into, and he tries to wash away his sins by being twice as vicious as he already is, I hope it was worth it."
"I can deal with Fowler being hard," Guy quipped.
Judd pulled a face. "Don't be disgusting. You called him a despicable bully only last week." He turned a page, too quickly to have read it.
Guy was about to pull himself up and take his leave when Judd looked up to him again. "Was it worth it, though? Corrupting the incorruptible? Harcourt didn't leave you like this when you were out together."
Worry swung in his voice, and Guy felt a rush of affection towards him.
"He didn't," he agreed with a shrug. He was still figuring out whether that was a good thing or not. "As for whether it was worth it... I don't know, Tommy. Ask me again in a few days."
He liked to think it was, but Fowler was volatile like an explosive. Push him too far, and he'd go off and wreck them both, so Guy had to curb his recklessness, at least a little.
"Perhaps you should quit while you're ahead," Judd suggested.
Perhaps he should. Guy shrugged. "You know me. I'm not a quitter. You didn't quit Marx when he got difficult, did you?"
"Marx didn't leave me with bruises and ruined trousers."
Guy huffed out a laugh. "You know, maybe I'd understand him better if he did."
Judd made an indignant sound, and Guy left. He needed to get cleaned up. Find himself a new uniform for tomorrow. Get some sleep. Perhaps reconsider the offer he had thoughtlessly made to Fowler earlier, once he had a clearer head.
He went down the corridor to get to the dorms and stopped in his tracks when he saw Fowler rounding the corner, doubtlessly returning from his patrol. Not that he would have done much patrolling tonight, of course.
Fowler, too, abruptly stilled, staring at Guy. He looked— different; less untouchable, less forbidding. His hair had come loose, no longer slicked back but falling into his face. His uniform was rumpled, and his cheeks were pink. Evidence that Guy had gotten what he wanted.
It should have been enough. He had expected this to be a one-time conquest, an exercise in corruption ripe for future blackmailing purposes, but he found that he wasn't quite done with Fowler yet.
He raised his hand in a silent salute.
Fowler didn't return it, but as he motioned for Guy to hurry along, his lips faintly twitched. It was almost a smile. Barely there and hard-won, but a smile nonetheless.
Yes, Tommy, Guy thought, almost giddy. It was.
Whatever happened tomorrow, this moment alone had been worth it.