by Nick Winter
all rights reserved
Do Not Archive
Professor Cummings titled his head, smirked. "So, Miss Allen what you're saying is that gender is little more than a self-selected social group?"
Miss Allen sat up just a little bit straighter. Her red hair was trimmed scandalously short, but her blue eyes were sharp and unyielding. "Yes, Professor, that is exactly what I'm saying."
"Really?" Professor Cumming's rubbed his chin with thumb and forefinger. The classroom held no empty chairs and even though only five of the hundred some odd students were female, it was a graduate level class, and not a person had the nerve to snicker at Allen's outlandish idea. "You probably think that being French or English is simply a self-identified social group as well."
Cheeks bright as her hair, black hardback notebook held firmly to her chest, she cleared her throat, swallowing visibly. "Actually, yes. It's easy enough to find people who will change their allegiance."
He moved to the front of his desk, hands resting on the polished wood behind him, ankles crossed casually. For a professor, he was dressed well enough in a crisply pressed white shirt, a worn black brocade vest that probably won't have been fitting for less than a formal dinner, even if it had long since passed any semblance of ideal condition. The silver chain that hung from his waist to the pocket watch concealed shone nicely against the black. His slacks were pressed, creased well even though the class was late afternoon. The ephemeral spring sunlight hardly made a dent through the classroom's many windows, though it was enough to bring out highlights in his sandy blond hair. "So exactly how do you plan on putting this idea of yours to the test, Miss Allen?"
"Sigmund Freud has the answer for you," a dark haired student snarked from the back of the class.
"Oh and what would that be, Mr. West?" Professor Cummings asked, head tilting in the other way, after just the slightest pause. He hoped no one noticed he was being very careful not to look out the window. Nervously, his thumb rotated the ring on his left pointer finger, around and around, noting the carved roses under his fingers. Daily had really left him, made it permanent, gone off to Asia like a fool. It was not possible that the clumsy brunette could be standing outside his classroom widow. "Well? Share with the class, Mr. West."
"It's just," Sojourn West, an American student, said his own cheeks suddenly bright, "I understand that Sigmund Freud believes that when a woman wants to be a man, it's just penis envy."
"Is that what it is," Professor Cummings asked, looking to the rest of his class, spreading his hands. "Penis envy?"
Muttering went through the class. Professor Cummings went back to rotating his ring. "Come now. None of you are virgins, I hope. The word penis should not be shocking to graduate students studying in London. Perhaps if we were all from Boston. I understand people are a little repressed there, but we're in London, boys and girls."
"Professor," another male student started, "It's just a little bit delicate to discuss with the fairer sex present."
"So you're a gentlemen?" Professor Cummings turned then to look at the window, forgetting in a moment of pique that there was something in the reflection he didn't want to see. Why Jonathan was so much more beautiful in his memories, in reflections of memories than he had been in person certainly had to be something for poets more than minds of science. That did not mean he wasn't there, in the reflection, so real he could almost just step through the glass, brown hair tousled by the sunlight, collar undone, a smile on his face that sent emotion to places, evidently, unmentionable in mixed company. His favorite specter reached out for him and his heart skipped, just simply forgetting life in favor of the sweetness that obviously wasn't really reaching out for him. He made a decision.
"We," he said firmly, "Are anthropologists. We study humans. We should not be bound by human myths to the extent that we fear studying what actually is. So many prefer to study that which supports the dogma of the day. I have been offered an expedition to the Valley of the Kings. I had been of a mind to reject it, I must confess. Egypt is rather hot and inhospitable. Now, I feel duty must compel me to accept. Miss Allen, Mr. West, I would invite both of you, as you seem to be able to form opinions, to accompany me. The rest of you will be reading my recent book and completing a project on a subject that I must approve. You have one week to get your proposals to me. Class dismissed."
If that wanker, Jonathan, could run away to Asia and never come back, well, a better man could go to Egypt for two months. That would solve everything.
"Certainly not," Jonathan Daily said, closing his book with a page subduing thwap. "Isn't it hot enough here for you? Mr. Whitehall hardly needs 'Pharaoh's Treasure'. He's doing quite well, as it is."
Leaning back against the thin wicker lounge chair, Jonathan closed his eyes and titled his head a little more into the shade. The Bejing summer trickled slowly down his temple, turning neatly trimmed brown hair to a darker color.
Perversely the advent of June seemed to have lightened London's hair to a very pale blond, pulled the blue from his skin until he seemed nearly a normal man. Elbows propped on Jonathan's lounge chair, his blue eyes sparkled with mischief and eventual triumph. "It's 1928. Do you know what that means?"
Jonathan rolled a bit. His book, an olive linen shape of solidity against his chest, grounding him even though the summer had long since defeated his tie and the top two buttons of his shirt. "It means we live in a remote part of the world where time does not pass and no one cares a fig for who I live with. It means that I get to see you every day, sleep with you held close at night, and lie around all summer reading books that wash up in China like the flotsam of the world. Here in Bejing, my dearest London, 1928 means nothing at all."
"I have a car," London confessed, smiling brightly. "It's not my car. I think I may have broken it, just a little, only one part, really."
Eyes wide, Jonathan sat up, upper lip between his teeth as he set the book down on his lounge, keenly aware that he might not get to pick it back up again. Such a lovely story. Fingers templing, he licked his lips and asked, "Whose car is it, London?"
London's cheeks filled with air, ruining any attempt at innocence.
"Come on," Jonathan prodded, "Where did you get the car?"
"So, before I saw you," London started.
"Christ in a biscuit," Jonathan hissed.
"It was my job," London protested. He stood, backed away just a step, hands in his pockets, "That if a human killed another, I was to visit bad luck on them for the number of years that the murdered person had lost."
Jonathan ran a hand over his hair. "I hardly expect they'd live that long with that kind of bad luck."
London touched the tip of his finger to the curve below his lip, blue eyes thoughtful. "Few people ever received the full measure of the bad luck they had coming."
"But that's not your job anymore," Jonathan said firmly. "You're a human being now."
"Yes, yes, but the temptation was so strong."
"Did you see someone kill someone," Jonathan asked, worry in his voice.
"There were two of them. They went into Mrs. Long's Tea House and opened fire. I just happened to be bringing out a pot of tea for Mrs. Long. Her son hasn't been feeling well and so she was short a waiter."
"You're working in a tea house? Two men came in with guns," Jonathan asked. He told himself he was not confused.
"The guns suddenly got quite cold," London admitted.
"Why were they in the tea house with guns?"
"Mrs. Long said they were gangsters."
"And how did you get a car?" Jonathan coughed, patting his chest for a moment, before asking, "Does the car belong to the gangsters?"
"Mrs. Long said it was very unseasonable that there should be ice on the floor. I suppose that's why the gangsters didn't see it, before they slipped. I could see right into their souls that they had killed people before and that they were the ones that broke Mrs. Long's son's hand."
"I thought you said he was sick."
"A broken hand makes one feel very unwell."
"Yes, I suppose it would do." Jonathan laid a hand on his book.
"It was terrible luck for their car to get stolen while they were trying to run from the police."
Jonathan nodded. "Now that I am utterly sure would be the case. One of the problems with gangs is that they tend to be made up of more than two people. Let me see if I have this right. Mrs. Long is your friend. You were helping her out in her teahouse. Gangsters broke her son's hand and then they came to cause more trouble."
"I'm sure they were going to kill someone."
"I think that is one of the things that makes gangsters so scary," Jonathan said.
London hid his face against his shoulder, blue eyes watching his lover. "So you're angry?"
"I'm not angry with you for doing what it is in your nature to do, London." Jonathan rose and reached out. Normally clumsy fingers took on a soft grace as he brushed blond hair back from London's face. "I don't think I could ever be angry with you. You are too wonderful, my dear."
"I knew you'd understand," London said, throwing his arms around Jonathan's neck. "So that's why we should go to Egypt with Dice and Dr. Black."
Holding him close, Jonathan gave into laughter. "I think it should be very hot and unpleasant in Egypt." Jonathan kissed London's forehead, then his temple. "Why don't we just stay here. They'll bring us back some sand and bones."
Shivering, London pressed closer to Jonathan, fingers slipping under the back of his collar. "Well, you see, I'm human not a sprite of winter and fate anymore. You've always been a human. Both the police and the gangsters are looking for that car and it doesn't go anymore."
"Just exactly which part was broken?"
"Hey boys," Dice yelled, letting himself into their backyard, "You know there's a car out in your front yard with a cracked engine? Broke right through?"
Jonathan fastened his collar, stood up a touch straighter. "You don't say. I expect that's not a good thing," he said, without much confidence.
"Yeah," Dice said, hands in his pockets, vest undone, tie possibly never even put on in the first place. Emile 'Dice' Whitehall had repaired his standing with his family a great deal since Christmas. He was no longer just a clerk employed because his father had asked. Now he was an archivist first class, working towards his PhD in archeology. "A busted engine is a bad thing. Whose car is it, London?"
"I didn't know them," London admitted, "But their intent to kill was seething all over them."
Dice ran a hand over the back of his head, ruffling black hair. "That's a very useful thing to know, London, but I got to tell you that if you know a couple of guys with machine guns are murderous, it's just not a good idea to steal their car."
Jonathan nodded. "I fear that in this case, Mr. Whitehall is spot on. What are we going to do with the car?"
"Did you take the car with some more tricks from your village?" Dice asked, "Do you think they know who took the car?"
"Of course we know," a very elegant female voice said. Bai Lian, tall woman, with dark hair pulled into a bun, pinned with jade spikes, silk dangles swaying very slightly as she entered the garden. She held out her hand, gloved in thin black leather.
Dice swallowed, violet eyes instinctively searching for an exit. Jonathan stood up straighter, as if that were possible.
She smiled. "The god of winter passes me by and I must notice or I shall count my skills as nothing."
"Bai Lian," London said cheerfully, taking her hand with both of his, and kissing her knuckles. "Those men were mean. You should teach them better."
"Yes, my dear," she said, laying her other hand over his. "Those men are my responsibility. This city is my responsibility. "
Dice fidgeted. Jonathan took a step forward.
"So you're not going to let them go around murdering people," London asked, looking her in the eye.
"Xiàxuě, I will take care of what I need to. You take care of your love and your friends. Mrs. Long has graciously allowed me to buy her teahouse. I will be taking care of all her son's medical bills. Is that not gracious of me?"
Still holding her hand, even though little snow crystals aura'ed around their hands. "It's in you too, murderous intent," he spoke in Chinese, lips darkening to blue.
"Oh dear," she said, dark eyes glittering. "You've seen through me. The age of gods is over, Xiàxuě. You have given your heart to a Christian and a man at that. I do not fear you. You can't be with him all the time, now can you, my dear."
Ice grew over London's hair, traveling as fast like a growing crack. "If Jonathan comes to harm bad luck will follow your line for a hundred generations."
Elegantly she pulled her hand back so that she could pull off the frozen leather, a finger tip at a time. "That is why you no longer frighten me, Xiàxuě. You are no longer the god of snow and justice, but only just a man. Your desire for this strange little man and his books and his foreign ways has stripped you of power. I suggest you get him out of China before I introduce you to mortality in a much more personal way."
London's smile chilled the air around him. "You are going to be remembered for such a long time." Behind blue lips his teeth had sharpened into tiny blue diamond razors. "You are going to have such bad luck, Bai Lian."
She dropped her frost-damaged glove and rubbed her fingers. "I don't believe in magic, not even the magic of a petty little snow god. Your time is over."
"Just exactly who do you think you are," Jonathan snapped, coming up next to London. "Madam, you may not come into my home and threaten either me or my partner."
Dice coughed, but stepped up to London's other side. "Your gangsters were threatening his friend, so of course he did something. He's a man after all!"
"That's everything that makes China weak right now. A creature that was a god is taking it up the ass from a skinny, cowardly Westerner."
Jonathan's right eye twitched. "Now you see here," he growled, a finger thumping right between her breasts. "I don't care a fig for your nationalistic ideas, Madam. You've let yourself into my home uninvited and displayed the lowest level of grace. I expect you are little more than a thug yourself and probably a woman of low moral standards in all ways. Take yourself hence, Madam!"
London, blue gone from his face, teeth a nice normal square shape, smiled with complete adoration at his lover.
"You have no idea little man," Bai Lian snarled back, her red lips curving in a dangerous smile.
"Oh? I have every idea," Jonathan continued, finger still jabbing at her chest. "I know a bully when I see one. What would be best for you would be for justice and the rule of law to settle firmly around your heart!"
"Poetic." Her smile had gone though. In it's place she'd produce a small pistol from the small reticule at her wrist. "Do you know the Arthur legends of your people? I think you should be the lady of the lake. I know just where to plant you, foreigner!"
London's hands raced through symbols. Her finger squeezed. Ice exploded around him, latticed in front of Jonathan. The bullet hit, ricocheted, hit the very small sundial on the side of the house, came back and hit Bai Lian's hand. She dropped the pistol, one hand clutching the bleeding one. Cursing in Chinese, she took a cautious step backwards. "One day! I will give you one day! Then I'll be back and I'll put you all at the bottom of the lake."
"I like lakes," London said softly, motioning the small, swarm of ice butterflies back to his hand. "I bet I know more lakes than you do."
"You better go get that looked at," Dice said. He shoved his hands in his pockets, lifted his chin dismissively. "Be bad luck if it got infected."
"I am going to kill all of you." She lunged forward, grabbing her pistol, then backed away with it aimed at them. "Tomorrow!"
The three of them stood there, in the suddenly chilled garden. Dice eyed the icicles hanging from London's hair. Impulsively, he reached up and caught one, breaking it off. "I need a drink. Jon, where's the scotch?"
"I'm not sure now is a good time!" His attention was very much on London, his hand caressing a blue cheek, leaving tracks of flesh tone behind it.
Smiling, London broke off another icicle and held it out to Jonathan. "You're not hurt, right?"
"Of course not," Jonathan said, slightly indignant. "No such scoundrel shall ever cause a proper man any harm."
"Here it is," Dice shouted from inside the house.
London leaned into Jonathan though, arms going around him, face hiding against his neck. "I don't want anything bad to ever happen to you."
Jonathan held London tight, protectively. "I have never been loved like you love me. We can go back to the village where we met, if you want. I'll come with you back to your people. I'd rather be ice than live without you. I want to give you anything you want or need, London, forever."
"I don't care where we go. China is the whole world. I will go with you to England."
"Now there's a crap idea," Dice said clinking his ice and scotch around. "I'm thinking Egypt. Let's go to Egypt."
"I'd like to see Egypt!" London said cheerfully. "I hear they have giant buildings where kings live forever."
"Now," Jonathan said, brushing soft blue hair away from London's face, "I won't believe everything you hear."
"So, Jon my man, Egypt?"
"Egypt it is," Jonathan agreed.
Note: Just wait till they all get to Cairo!