I: Ave Caesar
Harry Percy, even after most of a bottle of Pimms he had managed to bag for himself, and the rest of the one that Lancaster the extremely annoying minor had left behind when he staggered off, was not a total idiot. No matter what his father, his housemaster, the headmaster, and most of his peers thought.
He was also putting a lot of numbers together and coming up with a very annoying equation that was definitely draining away most of his feeling of triumphant victory.
"Hey," he said to the room at large, leaning precariously over the edge of the window-seat towards the floor where everyone else seemed to be leaning on each other somnolently, "Anyone know what that cretin Beaufort was up to today?"
"Snurr?" someone offered.
Percy rolled his eyes to the ceiling. It didn't improve his vision much, but then again, he doubted that anything really would, at this point. He fished for a cushion, and threw it at the nearest body.
"What the hell -?"
"Owain, b-beautiful songster, light of Welsh poetry, most excellent wanker, explain."
"You're wanting me to explain why you're an arse even when you're drunk as five whiskied Scots?"
"'M raisin' an 'jection t'tha," Douglas slurred from somewhere.
"Beau-fort," Percy sing-songed back. "Harry Lancaster not playing today, this ringing any little chiming bells of the Celtic sort?"
"Well now, you can't be expecting him to play after he's learned of Richard dying out there with the rotten bloody Swiss, now can you – Harry - Harry, what the bloody fuck are you – Hotspur, diawl y'r cachu – 'dw i ddim yn – Harry-bach, you better get your drunken self back in this room, or I'll – "
It was a relief to shut the door on him.
It was not a relief, when he finally got into their House through a mixture of bribery and promises, and managed to check their rooms, to find all the blasted Lancasters had up and vanished.
"Oh....God damn the bloody pack of you..."
He raked his fingers through his hair, trying to think of what came next other than a mass expellation that included the room full of drunken cricketers he'd just left, and failed miserably.
Too fed up and drunk and outright worriedly tired to deal with getting out as nicely as he'd got in, he used the more time-honoured means of a handy window-and-drainpipe combination to leave, and dropped down into the courtyard in time to see three figures getting out of an unfamiliar cab.
"Now that one's a trick I'd love to learn," he murmured, and stepped out into the persistent damp to catch their attention.
He wasn't expecting a lightning-bolt of drunken fury to launch itself at him, and in between the extremely good thumping he was getting and giving back - damn right he was giving back, because he certainly wasn't going to stand there and take it, no matter what Beaufort's smug nastiness had stirred up, he wasn't going to take that from one of the bloody Lancasters – he heard words that he really wasn't expecting –
"My father - and your bloody father, and –" A neatly shoed foot came up and kicked him hard just where he'd taken his cup out earlier, and he roared in agony, chopping outwards blindly with the side of his hand and hitting Harry's adam's apple with it, pulling his arm back just in time to avoid real damage.
"All right," he grunted, as Harry choked for air and invective, and got him in a headlock, pinning him up with his face against the wall. "All right. 'S enough." He pushed Harry's face harder into the slimy-wet stones of College's outer wall, kicking the lethal feet apart and wishing he could give in and curl up in a ball. "Enough, damn it. Now." He panted for breath, feeling Harry's struggles between him and the wall start to slacken off. "What the hell. Is going. On."
"Percy, he's drunk –"
"He doesn't mean –"
"Did I ask either of you to speak?" He was still older, he still had a little bit of authority, even here and now when the world was going mad around him, he had the ridiculous edge of prefecture and age over them, and apparently he could use it even now. "No, I d-didn't, did I?" He eased his grip a little. "Harry?"
Lancaster took a deep breath, and his shoulders dropped, so that Percy could step back, hoping his sigh of relief was kept inward. He still wanted to clutch at his nearest and dearest and scream a bit, but it was easing off in a way that told him it wasn't anything permanent.
"I think my father had Richard killed," he said very clearly, turned to the side, and was spectacularly sick all over John's feet. There was a long, nasty silence.
"Harry, damnit -"
My father - and your bloody father, and -
"Floreat fucking Etona," said Northumberland's son, and grabbed onto Harry as he started to slide down the wall. "Oh, stand up straight, damn you, and if you're going to puke again, aim for Minimus this time, make it even."
Harry just looked at him, and swallowed, waiting, and he raised a hand to put it on the white, clammy face, shrugging a little in acceptance and apology and a miserable kind of fellow-feeling, and saw it all reflected back at him for one split-second of recognition. "We'll talk about it tomorrow," he promised, and wondered whether he would have anything to say, when they weren't both piss-drunk.
He took a deep, shaking breath, and managed a grin, because that was what everyone expected of him, and that was what he was going to have to concentrate on being, if it were true.
"Well," he said brightly to the horrified younger brothers. "Hail Caesar, lads."
And morituri te sodding salutans.
II: Gaudeamus Igitur
After the night of fucking-up interspersed with spectacular vomiting, which was what Hotspur had mentally dubbed it, and what no-one seemed about to contradict (given as they had no idea, this was hardly surprising), Hal avoided him.
Strenuously. Hotspur had actually gone to the dictionary to find the precise word he was looking for, so he knew it was right. Strenuously. As in, every time he was in a room, Hal made excuses to leave it within seconds.
Not that he had not done so before, but this was verging on the ridiculous, and while a lesser man might have conceded the need for understanding –
My father, and your father, and -
- well, he hoped John's shoes had been wearable again –
Harry Hotspur did not, for concession was outside his grasp of understanding. Either that, or he was simply a thick-skulled pillock, which was exactly what Hal called him when he barged into his room one morning before even the horrendously persistent birds had got up.
"Right," he said cheerfully, sitting down with his back to the oak, and wishing he could damn well sport it, for if ever there was a need for accepted privacy, here it was, "I said we'd talk in the morning. It is." Innate honesty made him add – "A morning."
"Oh my God, Percy, fuck off back under your stone -"
"Not going to, don't care to, want an explanation."
"None of your fucking business," Hal grunted, and oh, that was it, that was just fucking it, because - and your father -
"Yeah?" Hotspur asked cheerfully, got up from the floor, came over to the bed, and sat on the bastard, solar plexus and be damned to the faint scream. "Try that one again?"
"You have no idea what you're –"
"Oh yeah." Hotspur leant in, and breathed toothpaste at him. "I think I do. I think I know more than you want, Harry-boy."
"M'name's – Henry – m'not y'r –"
"Running out of breath, are we?" Hotspur asked in a friendly manner, and bounced. Just once, as a reminder.
"Piss - off!"
"You," Harry Percy said conversationally, "think our dads killed Richard. Not that I'd put it past the bastard old coots, but I need a bit more than you puking on Minor to make it truth."
Hal glared up at him. Harry smiled back down, sweet as could be. "Yeah. No proof. What if I said I believed you?"
Hal lunged up, then, fully awake and trying to throw him off, and Percy simply made himself heavier, dug his knees into the mattress and sat back on his haunches. After a few seconds, Hal subsided.
"Then?" he asked, and damn but he could pull the fragile card well, all bruised eye-sockets and pallid face. "What? A bit of blackmail?"
"Dunno." Hotspur grinned, and let up, rolling to the side a little so he could sit in comfort rather than on a bony, struggling, teenage carcass of bound hate. "Come off it. Not my style. Offering to help, me."
"Help," Hal said blankly, and Hotspur just kept grinning.
"You'd help me prove – you'd go against – you'd –"
"The two Harrys?" Hotspur laughed. "We'd be unbeatable."
Hal lunged up again, but this time it was to kiss him, all teeth and tongue and too much experience countering too little, and Hotspur pushed him off, after the first shock had gone, blinking.
"Oh, like you don't want -" Hal snarled, and no, true, he did, and fuck but this was better than a quick wank in the bogs with no-one to care, and Hal's fingers were clever, and he –
- that was him gone.
He returned the favour, of course, and thought - Damn, not a bad way to seal a bargain -
- And then Hal pushed him off, and away, and said – "Now we both have to shut up, or else," and Hotspur, whitening with rage and shock, realised just how well he had been played.
Oh, you little shit. Next time, but I'll have you for good.
"S'pose we do," he said, and shrugged, and got up to straighten his clothes. "Good play, Hal."
He walked out without another word, whistling.
Juvenes dum sumus...
He would never know Hal Lancaster's reaction as he broke into song, sauntering down the corridor as though nothing had occurred.
"Vita nostra brevis est
Venit mors velociter
Rapit nos atrociter
But he knew the message had been received.
* Our life is brief
Soon it will end.
Death comes quickly
Snatches us cruelly
It spares no one.
III: Nemini Parcetur
Harry takes to posing in doorways. Not because he thinks he will look any better in doorways, but because in late spring, light tends to gather there, and he wants the informative threat of a silhouette. Possibly a gilt-edged one, which makes him think (and hopefully make intransigent, unnoticing Hotspur, think of them too) of invitations.
He take as well to meaningful intakes of breath whenever Percy walks past, and never gets even a beat of a glance for his efforts.
Knowing that covered flesh is more enticing than bare, because it asks to be exposed, he plays in the newly-opened tennis-courts in the thinnest cotton he can get away with, letting clinging material and heat-glowing flesh speak for itself, and Percy still never looks, other than the one time he was proving with stunning success that a ball played well can break one's opponent's racket.
He never looks, he never sees, he never looks, and Harry is losing a game he thought he'd won with the first touch of hand to cock.
In retrospect, it might have been better if he'd listened, rather than been so confident in his own victory, for oh, that moment of winning had sung.
Now we both have to shut up, or else.
How in God's name can that compare with the transparent offer made to him?
The two Harrys? We'd be unbeatable.
Even after that, defeating the Head Boy, the bloody Hotspur of the Upper Sixth, oh it had sung, it had caroled its way right through him, right into him, made him feel vindicated and just and real in all his thoughts –
- Gaudeamus igitur….
…until then, anyway.
And now he is catching every eye but the one he needed, every attention but the one he wanted, all the lust in the world except the kind he had flung away.
He knows that Percy will never look at him again. Except when he does, and that is so full of pity that Hal wants to spit.
He is better than pity.
He is better than all of them.
He is better than Percy.
And one day, they will see that for truth.
But that mocking voice still echoes in his head –
"Venit mors velociter
Rapit nos atrociter
And he will do whatever it take, he knows that now, to silence it.