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a short history of nearly nothing

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Fenris lingers while the other students file out of the lecture hall, already talking to one another. This is getting to be a routine for them both so Garrett doesn’t react. There are a couple more students, people wanting clarification about the recommended reading or possibly what Garrett had meant by “Queen Meredith was a bit of a shit ruler, really, and no, I won’t be awarding points for witty comments like that on your exams. Pictures of me as an all-conquering hero, forcing back the barbarian hordes who threaten to seize my lands, however…”, but he dispatches with those as soon as he can and then busies himself cleaning up his laptop, waits for Fenris to talk.

“I enjoyed your lecture today,” Fenris tells him.

“You must enjoy them a lot,” says Garrett. “Don’t think I don’t know that you’re in Sociology.”

“We’re allowed to follow papers from other departments.”

Garrett puts away the rest of his handouts, maps showing the boundaries various treaties had tried to draw and the worst of the skirmishes violating them. That’s the thing about history, the bit he likes best – deciding on the parts that make something worse, or better, or more significant than the others, weighing up all the bits left over when everything’s done and sometimes, figuring out what should happen next. It’s not for everyone, he knows that; he used to work with a research assistant called Bethany who hated the idea that they could decide some factors didn’t matter, or didn’t matter enough, but Garrett likes to know that their stories can be controlled, reasoned with, made malleable by someone with either a very sharp sword or a pen.

“Yes,” he says slowly, and finally switches off the projector. “But you didn’t register to take the exam, and you don’t come for the units Professor Vallen teaches.”

Fenris says nothing. After a moment, he leaves – the hall, Garrett, both.

 

"Professor Hawke, I have a question about the reading?”

Garrett minimizes the game of Minesweeper quickly before Merrill can see. She’s the most eager of his grad students and, for whatever reason, has gotten it into her head that academic life means doing the research instead of pissing away her time at Kirkwall University down the pub like the rest of her class. Unfortunately, what would be an endearing little quirk in any other student has, by virtue of Garrett agreeing to supervise her, become that most dreaded of things: Real Work.

Arse, he thinks, and then stands up and gestures towards the seat in front of his desk. He likes to stack files on it, in part so that he looks very busy whenever Aveline sticks her head into his office to mutter dire warnings about the next budget meeting and in part to discourage students from spending more time in his office than he needs. Merrill, though, is the sort of student who needs her subtle hints written in bright red ink and dragged behind a small plane before she’ll ever notice them; she scoops up his papers, plops them on the floor beneath his desk and takes the seat gratefully.

“Oh, thank you, sir. I just had the one question, about this chapter in Dr. Carver’s account here-“

Garrett pauses, and tries to think that one through. “I didn’t assign anything by Carver,” he says. He wouldn’t; Carver’s a prat and a useless historian, besides. He’s convinced that everything boils down to soldiers and warfare and people hitting things with giant phallic symbols, and thank you Isabela for that particular mental image, that’s going to cheer Garrett right up the next time he has to meet with Dr. Stupid-Face Carver and pretend that they haven’t hated one another since they did their undergrad together back at the University of Lothering. “What reading are you talking about, Merrill?”

“Oh, one of the dinners Professor Tethras holds? I met Dr. Carver there and told him about my thesis, you know, how I’m writing about the intersection of industrial capitalism with the changes in women’s rights and how it’s really fascinating-“

“Yes, Merrill,” Garrett says, as patiently as he can. “I’m your supervisor; I know what you’re writing.”

“Oh! Oh, yes, of course. Sorry. Well, Dr. Carver told me all about his book and how he thought I might find it illuminating, but I just had a question about this part.” Merrill holds out the book. After a moment just long enough to emphasize the favor he’s doing, here, Garrett accepts it and skims the chapter. More whining about how he’s under-appreciated, a diagram which probably isn’t even accurate and some waffle about swordsmen in a time of gunpowder.

“And what’s the question?”

“I don’t see how it is,” Merrill says. She’s blushing but trying not to, biting her bottom lip and playing with her arm-warmers. “Sorry, illuminating, I mean. I see what he’s saying about the upheaval technology can represent, and the ways that the theatre of war can find itself doubled in political theatre-“

“-Exactly, that’s exactly right,” says Garrett, who hadn’t seen that part at all.

“-But I just don’t understand why he thinks that’s relevant to my work?”

Garrett looks down at the book, more so that he doesn’t have to watch Merrill twitch and start to burble out another round of apologies than out of any interest in seeing what Carver has to say about the theatre of bloody war. Carver was in the army for all of two weeks before he slipped in the shower, broke his foot and was sent back home; Garrett’s willing to play along in front of other members of staff but he remembers holding Carver over the toilet so he could puke properly after he had too much cheap beer and there are some memories that can’t be erased.

“Well,” he says finally, falling back on the trick Varric had taught him and mentally waving goodbye to the thought of hitting that high score this afternoon. “Tell me what you think of it all.”

 

Two hours later, his office hours are done and there’s nothing he can’t work on back home. As he leaves the building, Anders pokes his head out of the department office. “You had Merrill in your office again,” he says, the Very Earnest Political Cause badges which cover his jacket bristling with barely-constrained righteous fury. Garrett barely suppresses a groan; he remembers Anders being a laugh when he first started but three years of alcohol and caffeine have not been good for his soul, and he’s decided to embark on a mission to save the world from itself through the judicious application of much enthusiastic shouting and furious notes from the Marxists asking Garrett to have a word with his student.

“Well, it’s a very pretty office,” Garrett concedes. “Be a shame to waste it if none of you lot visit. Professor Vallen would want to talk to you all about proper use of resources.”

Anders smiles, but only with his mouth. He’s looking thinner these days and the scruff on his chin that used to look like it could have been facial hair is looking more and more like he scalped a kitten to make a little chin wig. Garrett feels the strange urge to actually do something for the second time that day and makes a note to pass Anders’ name on to the university therapist. Couldn’t do any harm, asking the boy to go talk to someone even if they were the arms of the state-sanctioned cancer that was compulsory heteronormativity or whatever Anders would say they were.

“Did she say anything about me?”

Garrett frowns. “I can’t tell you that,” he says, but gently. “If there’s a problem between the two of you-“

“No!” Anders yelps. His badges click against one another menacingly. “No, no problem. Nothing’s wrong!”

“Good. Right, then,” Garrett says, mystified and ready for a pint.

 

By the time he does manage to make it into their local, it’s almost four and there are two first-years from his Tuesday morning tutorial group drinking vodka and Cokes while they write their essays. They blush when they catch sight of him and Garrett just raises his glass in their direction, not knowing if their embarrassment is because they were just talking about the ruggedly handsome young Professor Hawke or because the essay they’re working on is for his class. He doesn’t mind; as he likes to remark to Isabela, the professor who was just poached by their Sociology Department who has something of a history with Aveline and therefore became Garrett’s best friend and drinking buddy almost immediately, there are precious few parts of university life which can’t be improved by more alcohol.

Anyway, it isn’t as if he plans on being sober while he marks them. Garrett is many things, but a hypocrite is only very rarely one of them, and those matters tend to involve more being pissed off with Carver than mark schemes.

Varric and Isabela arrive together. Garrett isn’t sure whether or not there’s even any real attraction between them – they flirt often enough but Isabela flirts with anyone and everyone flirts with her, so that doesn’t really mean anything – but he doesn’t think they’re sleeping together. Either that or they’re secretly married and trying to mess with them all; he wouldn’t put it past either of them, apart from the way Isabela treats secrets as though they’re dog treats, handing them out whenever she’s particularly pleased with you.

Today, she decides to open with one. “I saw our Aveline’s new boy toy,” she tells Garrett before she’s even sitting down. Varric rolls his eyes and goes to get another round in; Garrett holds up his half-empty glass pointedly and hopes that he sees.

“So?”

“He’s a student,” Isabela sing-songs, and Garrett very carefully does not choke on his own spit. He arranges his face into what he hopes is a suitably scandalized expression, which isn’t hard because Aveline really doesn’t seem like the type.

“No!”

“Yes!”

“I don’t believe you!”

“Cross my heart,” swears Isabela, and pantomimes drawing a little X above her right breast. Close enough, Garrett figures.

Varric sets three pints on the table and slides into the seat besides Garrett. “It’s true,” he confirms, pulling his drink towards him. “But it’s not going to go anywhere. Tragic, really – the lost opportunity, the pining, the love that could never be acknowledged…”

“The making him bend you over the nearest desk and show you what he’s made of,” Isabela added.

“Aveline wouldn’t. Not with a student.”

“Oh, she won’t. He’s one of her grad students, and she’s determined to just moon over him from a distance until she gets some new batteries for her vibrator.”

“Unrequited love,” Varric adds solemnly. “It’s the stuff all great romances are made of.”

Isabela scoffs “It’s the stuff letters to the editor are made of,” she says. “Or it would be, if Aveline would see about getting that high horse surgically detached from where it’s been welded to her backside.”

 

They don’t stay long: Isabela pulled the short straw when they were arranging the timetable and as such has the 6pm seminar to look forward to, and Varric has a lecture the next morning on the influence of the film noir aesthetic on contemporary poetry that he hasn’t actually finished writing. Garrett watches the two of them get into the same cab and starts to wander back towards his home when his phone buzzes. It’s Sebastian.

“Seb, hi,” Garrett answers, resting his leather briefcase on the bench at the bus stop. “What’s the matter?”

“I thought we were going to discuss the Faith Project with one another?”

Garrett curses. “Shit, yes- I mean, yes, we were. I forgot.”

“You’re allowed to swear in front of the chaplain,” Sebastian says. Garrett can hear the way he’s trying not to laugh. “It’s just frowned upon if we try to do the same.”

“Well, I’d hate to lead you into temptation,” answers Garrett.

That forces Seb to laugh properly. Garrett’s never been quite at ease with the church - not with the same fervor Anders likes to rally against it, more a slight discomfort about the whole thing- but he likes the way Seb speaks about his faith with quiet certainty and doesn’t even resent it when Sebastian comes up with stupid ideas like an interdepartmental effort between Theology and History to celebrate Interfaith Week. “Hawke, if I know you, you’d never dream of doing anything else,” Seb is saying, and Hawke rolls his eyes but smiles back.

“Nonsense, I couldn’t do nothing else. Then where would I find the time to torment Aveline and corrupt the youth of today?”

“Oh, yes,” Seb says. “That reminds me, Leto Fenris asked me about-“

“Oh, fuck off,” Garrett tells him, the man of God who can’t swear, and is surprised by how therapeutic it feels.

 

There’s an email from Aveline waiting for him when he gets back home, a note asking if he would be willing to cover a lecture on Friday while she visits the doctor. He doesn’t mind helping out – her Friday group is 19th Century Germany, which is where things start to get really interesting anyway – and sends a message saying as much. Her thank you email, when it arrives, comes complete with the PowerPoint he has apparently agreed to use, along with the entire lecture scripted for him. Garrett isn’t normally the kind of lecturer to stick to a script, or even a few helpful notes – he’s much more the ‘start talking and see what comes out’ kind of man, but it hasn’t steered him irreparably wrong yet – but Aveline’s going to check up on him when she gets back.

While he’s reading what Aveline plans for him to say – and she’s even written out “Good afternoon, I am [name] and I will be covering for Prof. Vallen today” at the top, as though Garrett was really planning on borrowing a ginger wig from the theatre department and trying to convince a hundred freshers that he was their professor just to see what they would do.

Although, come to think of it…

While he reads through the presentation she made, another email arrives. This one is from leto.fenris@kirkwall.ac.uk, and he can feel himself start to smile before it’s even open.

He’s been in Kirkwall a long time, now, and the students with crushes come and go. Fenris is not quite as handsome as he is striking, with hair so blonde that it almost looks white and tattoos his shirt collars only do so much to hide; if he knew when he first applied that he’d risk pissing Aveline off to shag one of his third-years – alright, one of Isabela’s third-years, as though that made it much better – then he’d have thought twice about putting money in the coffee fund, for starters. Spent less time wrestling with the copy machine and trying to find someone who understood how the online enrolment system worked, more time in the pub, playing the drinking games Varric invented for exam marking. (“Oh, look, another mention of Judith Butler- that’s another shot, Hawke!”)

Fenris is asking to meet him in his office the next day. This, Hawke tells himself, is fine, because everyone knows that Hawke’s desk is far too cramped and messy for inappropriate sexual relations anyway, and then wonders who he thinks he's kidding. Sighing, he drums his fingers on the edge of his desk and looks down at the work he has left to do – there’s a paper he’s working on about folk heroes in times of industrial progress and political turmoil which needs more editing if he wants to submit this year, and his students have already caught on to the fact that he takes all of his essay questions from past exam papers. For now, they seem to be under the impression that this is because Professor Hawke is determined to help them pass their exams rather than because Professor Hawke can’t be bothered writing them himself, but they’ll catch on soon enough unless he gives them something different. He has other – better- things to think about than whether or not he’s going to shag a student, and it’s not like he ever wanted to be that sort of professor either. He was going to be the cool kind, who wore jeans and knew how to inspire all his students, even the stupid ones. But that was years ago, and even if Hawke hasn't managed to grow up he's at least grown out of that particular fantasy.

Arse,” he says again, with considerable feeling, and dashes off a quick reply telling Fenris to come in at two.

It’s at times like this, he thinks, he should have taken that job at Burger King after all.