Claudius is bent over a tiny desk studying Latin verb declensions. The semester at the elite Continental university won’t start for another week, but he already fears he’s behind.
The door to the tiny double room opens. Claudius looks up, irritated to hear the shouting and banging in the crowded hallway. The boy standing in the doorway is the most beautiful creature he’s ever seen. He asks, “Are you Claudius Arahir?”
Claudius sits in stunned silence for a moment, then says, “I am.”
“Then this is my room, and we’re roommates. I apologize in advance for my habits and morals.” He smiles and adds, “I’m Tereus Shelawn.”
Tereus quickly moves a quantity of bags and chests into the room. There are two desks and two cots — all laughably small and shabby — and now, with the addition of Tereus’s possessions, it’s impossible to stand or walk about. Claudius finds he doesn’t care — he can’t stop glancing over at the other boy.
Claudius feels a lump in his throat and a pain in his groin. At 16, Tereus is tall and muscular, with the refinement natural to a gentleman. More to the point, his features are stunning: High cheekbones, strong jaw, aquiline nose, deep-set eyes with strongly marked brows. He’s sublimely fair, with white-blond hair and porcelain skin, but his eyes are a striking violet shade, so dark they’re almost black. His profile has a sculpted, inhuman purity. It’s hard not to stare.
There’s something else that Claudius struggles to name. Though Tereus is graceful, he’s in constant, unstable motion. It’s both seductive and uncomfortable to watch.
Tereus sees something quite different: A tall redhead who is quiet and sober to the point of rigidity. He watches Tereus apprehensively, as if he expects an abrupt change for the worse — to be abandoned, perhaps, or kicked.
Once he’s cleared the floor by stacking and unpacking, Tereus flops down on the unoccupied cot, then props himself up on an elbow and says, “I’ve heard that you’re an excellent scholar — something really out of the way.”
“I hope so,” says Claudius.
“Yes, and mathematics.”
“Same here. I’m nothing special, though.”
“No? You seem very bright.” Claudius says this with an air of anxious concern, as if he fears distressing Tereus.
“It’s because I don’t apply myself. At least, that’s what my tutor tells my father. I think it’s because he’s a dull dog and conic sections are no fucking use to me.” He adds abruptly, “You’re an Arahir. Your father works for my father.” Seeing Claudius’s mortified expression, he adds hastily, “Never mind that. You’re a gentleman, and I hope I’m one, too. The Shelawns have been slavers for ages, so the money’s still dirty in some people’s eyes.”
Claudius still looks alarmed. He’s stunned by Tereus’s manner, and dazzled by the sight of him reclining in his shirtsleeves. Tereus cocks his head, studies the other boy’s half-averted face. “I’m sorry. I’ve shocked you. Perhaps I shouldn’t have mentioned it. I wanted you to know that I know, so that it won’t come between us. It needn’t, you know.” The gap between Tereus’s cot and the desk is just a couple of feet. By sitting up and scooting over, Tereus places himself directly in the other boy’s line of sight. “It was a stupid thing to say. Forgive me?”
It’s a silly exchange. Why should Tereus care if the son of his father’s estate agent is offended? He says it with a certain intensity, though, and clearly doesn’t intend to let it pass.
“Of course,” Claudius says.
“Thank you.” He clasps Claudius’s hand, catches his gaze, gives a brilliant smile. His lashes flutter, and he presses Claudius’s fingers to his lips. It’s an eccentric gesture — outrageous, even. Claudius’s expression of shocked arousal is everything that Tereus could wish. Claudius finds he’s giddy and short of breath. He feels numb. Later he won’t be able to recall how Tereus gripped his hand or how his lips felt — just the sensation of blushing under Tereus’s bold and quizzical gaze.
Tereus laughs, springs up. “It’s time for dinner. I’ll take a piss, then you can show me where the dining hall is.”