Oh, The Places You'll Go

From the Ashes

Notes: So my screensaver came on and this picture came up:

For context, Chaucer is watching Wat kiss William. As you do. And it got me thinking. And what I thought was this: "Someone should write a wee ficlet about what's going on for Chaucer in that picture, and possibly what he does about it." That person turned out not to be me, because I wrote a not-wee fic instead. It's my thing?

mrs_laugh_track cast her delightful eyes over it, as usual, because she is awesome and she loves me, and here it is before you now (the SON of John Thatcher, Sir Wiiiiiiiiiillll- OK, I'll stop now).

Geoffrey eyes Wat speculatively as he presses his lips swiftly to Will's, then grimaces, spitting, distaste writ large for all to see. Either Wat is a better actor than Geoffrey has hitherto appreciated, or Geoffrey is seeing Wat's true face, and what he had thought was happening between them merely illusion.

He'd thought they'd been in a merry dance, the two of them, the passion of their loins sublimated into fists and pointed words. He'd thought they were drawing closer, step by nimble step, until it was just a matter of time before they fell in with (and into) each other. He'd thought that Wat understood this; he played a clown, right enough, but there was a shrewd head beneath the tangled hair, and the soul of a poet, too, never mind his rapture was mostly directed at food.

Now, Geoffrey's certainty sways and he watches with almost a smile on his face, but his arms are folded tight to his chest and his eyes are grave and he is glad all eyes are on Will.

"This will not do," he tells himself as he watches the team go about their business, something very like misery wrenching at his guts. "It's been too long since I wet my prick, that's all." Perhaps he should take advantage of the joust groupies that follow them everywhere. Will will have none of it, of course--he's a shining knight of purity, waiting for his lady—but there are those who turn their eyes towards the herald, as if by touching him they are touching the golden one.

Still, despite this, when the day's fighting is done, Geoffrey finds himself alone again. Will sleeps, Roland has eyes only for the new tunic he's making for the Victor's Banquet, so certain is he of Ulrich, Kate is fixing an invisible dint in Will's helmet, striving for perfection that's already there. Geoffrey understands this desire, he hones the words he speaks on the lists over and over again until each syllable shines like gold and drops like honey into the waiting ears.

Wat is nowhere and Geoffrey is most certainly not searching for him. He is merely soaking in the ambience as he meanders through the labyrinth of tents and makeshift stalls that surround the stadium. He hears voices calling out in smooth French, in guttural German, even laborious Latin from those trying to speak across countries. They're laying bets and exchanging recipes for sausage stew. They're negotiating prices and spreading gossip, arranging whispered assignations and arguing over favourites. To many the hubbub of a thousand voices would be a cacophony, but to Geoffrey it is music. He listens to a snatch of conversation here, a lament there, and stores it carefully to listen to later. All human life is here, and that is wonderful.

It's a pity he's only interested in one of them, then, isn't it?

He doesn't so much find Wat as stumble over his feet.

"Oi! Look where you're going, you clumsy oaf," says Wat. "Could've had my hand off if my knife had slipped."

Geoffrey looks up at Wat from his unasked for position on the ground. Wat holds his knife in one hand and is palming a piece of wood in the other. At his feet are shavings. Geoffrey prides himself on his mental faculties; he knows how to put two and two together (which puts him among the educated elite).

"Have you been whittling?" he asks.

Wat looks at him, steady and unimpressed. "Bright, ain't you? Can't think how you might have reached that conclusion."

"What are you making?" asks Geoffrey, unperturbed, resisting the grin that threatens to overtake him because this is still them, this is what they do.

"None of your fonging business," says Wat, and Geoffrey could swear he blushes.

"Show me," he says, getting to his knees and reaching for Wat's hand.

Wat whips it away and behind his back. He waves the knife in a vaguely threatening manner. "Did you not hear me the first time? Do you really want me to fong you up the hole of your arse, or are you just that up yourself that you think I won't do it? Again."

Geoffrey's lips quirk. "Why, do you know, Master Fowlehurst, I think I might like that very much." His voice is laden with as much innuendo as he can muster. It's a risky move and he knows it, but Geoffrey also knows that no bird can circle forever without needing to land for food.

Wat scrambles to his feet, Geoffrey quickly following suit. "Youuuuuu," starts Wat, and his face flushes a dull, angry red.

Geoffrey catches Wat's tunic, and drags him into the hay barn, out of sight. He has duel advantages of surprise and height and it is easy work to have Wat pushed up against the wall. Wat grunts as his body hits the wood and he drops the knife, Geoffrey only too aware of the sharp whoosh of the air as the pointed blade narrowly misses his foot.

"You can hit me all day, if you want," Geoffrey says. "And not because you punch like a girl. But I have to do something now and you might not like it."

Wat's eyes are wide and fixed on Geoffrey's, and in the half-light they look entirely black. Geoffrey's hand still grips Wat's tunic and underneath it Geoffrey can feel the wild tempo of Wat's heart. Wat is ready to fight or run. Geoffrey hopes there is yet a third way. He bends his head and leans in close, closer still and then stops. Pulling back again, his eyes rove over Wat's face, searching for the simplest sign.

"What you gave William grudgingly, I would take freely," he says. "Lord knows I want to kiss you, Wat." He smiles and looks heavenward. "I've told Him often enough." He smiles again at Wat's scandalized expression. "And I would happily suffer bruises and maybe a broken bone or two at your hands just to know how your lips feel under mine. But it appears I'm a conceited man, and I want you to want me, too."

"Shut up, Geoff," says Wat, and Geoffrey frowns at him.

"You mean you-"

"I mean you can't kiss if you're yammering, so shut your hole." Wat smiles, then, and the sun bursts across Geoffrey's heart.

He cannot resist another question, though he knows he takes his life in his hands. "When you kissed Will, when you spat him from your lips, I thought perhaps I had imagined this?"

"Blimey, good thing you're not a squire, you're crap at following orders," says Wat, punching Geoff lightly in the arm. "I never wanted to kiss Will."

"Ahhhh," says Geoffrey, enlightened, and Wat raises his eyes and shakes his head.

It turns out that Wat's lips feel warm and soft and his beard scrapes pleasantly against Geoffrey's skin. It turns out that Wat tastes of salt and rye and garlic sausage and Geoffrey reflects that he will never miss food, not as long as he has Wat's mouth to explore. Geoffrey presses his body against Wat's, the curve of his back making his body a question mark. Wat presses back and the answer is yes. Geoffrey feels cool air as Wat finds his way under Geoffrey's coat and then under his tunic. He shivers as Wat's hands touch his bare skin for the first time with warmth and not with anger. There is something strange about his left hand, though, and Geoffrey realizes that Wat is still holding his carving.

He draws back, unruly prick protesting at the interruption, one hand reaching up to circle Wat's left wrist and pull it out from under the linen. Wat's knuckles are white around it and Geoffrey kisses them before he says, "Show me."

Wat squeezes his eyes until they are slits and slowly, slowly uncurls his fingers from around the wood.

"Oh," says Geoffrey. The carving is clearly unfinished, but the shape of it is clear to see. It is the phoenix, their symbol; only its wings curve inwards to hold a slender object that flares out towards its tip. It is pointed to the heavens. It is going to be beautiful when it is done. It already is.

"It's the phoenix," says Wat, irrelevantly, still squinting. "With a trumpet."

"Oh," says Geoffrey again.

"Because, you know, we're the phoenix. And, see, trumpets. Heralds. Heralds. Trumpets." Wat's expression is pained and Geoffrey tamps down the laugh threatening to bubble out of him.

"You're making it for me?" he says, wondering. "You're making it for me." He kisses Wat hard, and when he pulls away Wat's eyes are open again. "Why?" he asks.

Wat shrugs. "We're not gonna- This won't-" He tightens his lips and scratches his cheek. "You're above us, Geoff," he says. "I mean, one day this'll end, in triumph or disaster who even knows, and it'll take all of us with it, Will, Roland, me. Kate, even, maybe. But you, you've got this whole other life we don't know nothing about. Fine court manners and writing and words I don't understand fall out of your mouth like'n if it was nothing. You won't stay. I wanted you to have something to remember us by. To remember me." Wat's lips purse and his eyes shine, but his chin is up, defiant.

"Wat," says Geoffrey, heartsore, kissing Wat's lips and eyes and forehead and anywhere else he can reach. "Wat, Wat, Wat. Don't make me think of leaving you before we've even begun." He clasps Wat's hand over the little phoenix, joining them together.

It is a merry dance they tread, despite the spectre of parting that follows in their wake. They go well together, the writer and his squire, in tune and in step in mind and body, though they still squabble and fight, but now punches are pulled and words softened with smiles. Geoffrey holds Wat's naked body in his, arms wrapped around his waist, chest pressed against his back, as Wat works diligently at the phoenix. The shavings sometimes fall against Geoffrey's hands and he rubs them between finger and thumb, little pieces of them, a kiss in this grain, a touch in that.

The night that Will wins the World Championships, Wat holds out the bird to Geoffrey, a wan smile on his face. "Don't forget," he says. "If you write about it, you won't." He pauses. "Probably not the sex part," he says, and his eyes flash with amusement that dies as quickly as it arrives.

Geoffrey doesn't take the bird. The weight on his heart is too heavy and if he touches it, he fears he will break. "I don't need words, Wat. I need-" And he shuts his mouth over the unspoken 'you'. He isn't ready for this to be over. He isn't ready to wake to a dark-haired head on his pillow. He isn't ready for the rest of his life to crowd in on him and bear him on its waves until he is cast on the shore at the other end, grey-haired and stooped and still looking about him for the man who took his heart and left him cold and lonely.

"I know," says Wat helplessly. He hears the word anyway, as Geoffrey knew he would. "But what else can we do?"

There is no solution. Geoffrey has thought of little else since they arrived in London, save keeping Will from humiliation, and there is nothing either can do. Wat's eyes reflect the sorrow in his own and he stretches his arm out further, the phoenix bobbing on his hand. This time Geoffrey takes it. The wood has been polished to a smooth shine and his thumb slides easily over the curve of the bird's head. It's comforting in a small way.

Wat stares at his empty hand for a moment, before dropping it to his side. "Right then," he says, looking up again at Geoffrey. "That'll be that." He clenches his jaw and then turns on his heel. He does not look back. As last words go they are not eloquent, nor witty neither, but none will ever pierce Geoffrey through and through like these. He watches until Wat is out of sight then walks to the closest wall, leaning his forehead against it. A little time, that's all he needs.

It's been months now, and still Geoffrey hopes that at every court gathering a young knight by the name of Sir William Thatcher will be there to be presented to the king, bringing with him his retinue. If he ever comes, Geoffrey does not hear of it. He writes every moment he is not required to serve, everything he observed during his brief sojourn as herald transforming into poems and tales the likes of which the world has never seen. Or so he likes to think.

Geoffrey pulls open the drawer in his writing desk without looking, reaching in for the familiar shape of the little phoenix. It is his good luck charm and the head is worn even smoother with the constant pressure of his thumb roaming back and forth over it as he composes the next meter, the next epigram.

It isn't there.

Geoffrey wrenches open the drawer, tipping it upside down in frenzy though he can see it's not there. He scours the little room and then hares through the house, yelling for his son. Thomas has asked for it more than once, but Geoffrey never lets it out of his sight. He comes upon Thomas in the Nursery, cowering behind his nurse's skirts, wailing as if Samson himself was beating upon him.

"Thomas," he says, and his voice is awful. "Did you take my phoenix?"

Thomas only sobs louder.

"Thomas," says Geoffrey again, pushing the nurse aside and dropping to his knees. "You must give it to me straight away. Stealing is wrong; you know that. The priest tells you every week."

"I only b-b-borrowed it, Father. I was going to put it b-b-back," says Thomas between piteous sobs. But Geoffrey cannot spare a thought for him.

"Give it to me," he says, and holds out his hand.

Thomas brings out the phoenix from where he has it hidden behind his back. He reaches out, closing half the distance between them but can't seem to breach the barrier between them. Geoffrey leans across and snatches the bird out of his hands. He looks up at the nurse. "No supper," he says.

When Geoffrey realizes the candle has guttered and he has sat away hours clutching a lump of wood to his chest, he comes to a decision.

Three months pass, busy ones, filled with arguments and tension, messengers and missed opportunities. Now, Geoffrey stands at a cottage door in the grounds of a modest mansion somewhere in Southern France. He's been standing there for some time, summoning the courage to knock. He hears pans clanking inside, humming, too, and they're noises of a domesticity to which he hasn't been able to aspire. He does not know if he can be sure of a welcome. He tugs at the pouch around his neck and pulls out the phoenix. It is time.

He knocks at the door. Once, twice, three times.

"Sod off, Roland!" comes the achingly familiar voice. "I told you the sausage won't be ready for a week yet. I don't care what Christiana's craving. Give her a cabbage." The door opens on the last word and Wat's voice dies away as he stares.

Geoffrey's guts lurch and if he didn't know better he'd swear they were trying to strangle him. Wat's face is drained of colour, too; he doesn't look like he's doing any better than Geoffrey.

Geoffrey's arm steals out and he opens his hand. Wat looks down and then up again.

"You'd best come in," he says.

As first words go, Geoffrey's heard more eloquent, more witty, too, but if he lives to one hundred he knows he'll never hear better.

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