Tangible Schizophrenia


Brotherhood XII: July

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: Arthur/Lancelot/Tristan.
Feedback: Good lines, bad ones, etc.
Disclaimer: Versions started with the movie, not me.
Notes: Pre-movie. Whole poem found here.
Summary: And the ways of men weave strange patterns of lives.


“Give me your hand, my brother, search my face;
Look in these eyes lest I should think of shame;
For we have made an end of all things base.
We are returning by the road we came.”
--“To My Brother,” Siegfried Sassoon.

* * *

Something sharp and bony jabbed Tristan in the face, then whacked him in the skull. Without opening his eyes, he pushed back and curled himself closer into the warm tangle of blankets and limbs; even in high summer, Britain could be freezing at night.

The pointed thing retreated, then reemerged in his ribs. Still mostly asleep, Lancelot snuffled and squirmed past Tristan to sprawl more fully on Arthur, tucking his head into the other man’s neck. Tristan briefly thought about shoving Lancelot over, but a quick squint at the purplish sky convinced him otherwise. There wasn’t long before they’d have to wake, and he had better ways to spend that time than quarreling over a trifle. So he nudged away the elbow in his ribs and fit himself around Lancelot’s angles. Arthur’s arm shifted beneath him, then moved to drape around his waist.

Something like an hour later, the dawn had advanced to pink and gold and Arthur was gently teasing himself out of the pile. He laid a hand on Tristan’s head, fingers drifting to pet Tristan’s lips, before pulling at Tristan’s shoulder. “It’s morning.”

Which Tristan well knew, but reluctance was a difficult thing to overcome. It was Arthur asking, however, so Tristan slowly dragged himself up onto his elbows. From there it was a little easier to convince his knees to get him into a sitting position, and then his hands to reach for his armor. Grunting, Lancelot instantly moved to sink into the vacated warm spot.

“Lancelot…” Arthur wore a long-suffering, fond expression as he tugged at the other man’s arm. “Get up.”

“Why?” Eyes still closed, Lancelot latched onto Arthur’s hand and yanked him down, then threw an arm over Arthur’s neck to keep the other man bent over. He twisted around to suck suggestively at Arthur’s lower lip. “Stay here?”

The hand Arthur had on Lancelot’s arm slipped into the blankets to caress Lancelot’s chest, but the line of Arthur’s jaw remained firm. “And what am I supposed to tell the rest of the army? Not to mention the Woads in the forest.”

By the way Lancelot hissed and rubbed against Arthur, Tristan guessed that Arthur was tweaking a nipple. In some respects, Lancelot was entirely predictable.

“That’d you’d rather fuck than fight?” Lancelot offered in a plaintive voice. Nevertheless, he pried himself from the furs and grudgingly started to dress himself. “I don’t suppose you’ve changed your mind about today’s strategy? I still think coming from the left would have the better angle”

Shaking his head, Arthur finished lacing up his boot. Then he turned to Tristan, who was only partially recovered from a near-sleepless week working behind the Woad lines and whose fingers apparently couldn’t remember how to manipulate buckles. A few quick twitches of Arthur’s fingers saw to that, but before Tristan could thank the other man, Arthur was standing and strapping on Excalibur. Whenever he slung that sword over his shoulders, Arthur had a habit of pausing in silent inward meditation, eyes growing distant and hard. There was a story in that cutting shade of green, but Tristan hadn’t learned it yet.

Neither had Lancelot, and one day when they’d been riding back from a long, hard hunt, he’d confessed that that exception wounded him. True, none of them really told Arthur about what life in Sarmatia had been like, but then, that time seemed to fade more and more quickly against the constant red-washed struggle of their current lives. And Arthur knew nearly everything about their lives in Britain, while to be honest, they knew little of his early years. Someday, Tristan was going to find the trail in time and track Arthur backwards through the seasons.

But he could afford to be patient. He knew what kind of man Arthur was now, and that was more than enough to keep him by the man’s side. Enough even to make him put up with Lancelot’s restless sleeping—the thought brought a smile to Tristan’s face that was only slightly sarcastic. In truth, he was growing to like Lancelot a good deal. The man was developing more good points than bad.

“All right, all right,” Lancelot grumbled, shrugging on the belts that held his own swords to him. He adjusted the straps, fastidiously tweaking them into the best compromise between mobility and comfort possible. Then he carefully reached past the hawk perched on the chair back and got his cloak. “As long as you remember there’s a stream around. Wouldn’t want to get us trapped with our backs to it, would we?”

“I’ll endeavor not to,” was Arthur’s dry reply. After all, he wasn’t the one with the reputation for hotheadedness. “But—” sharp look, which fazed Lancelot not at all “—when I say to hold back, I want you to hold back. No solitary charges.”

Lancelot raised an eyebrow and stepped up to Arthur so they were nearly touching. Amused but not interested in watching yet another variation on a familiar theme, Tristan detoured around them to settle his hawk on his arm. She was full-grown now, and the most beautiful thing in the sky. Still young enough to love learning, old enough to know the meaning of cost…his lady, and the only one he’d ever take.

“I’m not the one that makes lonely drives at the mountains.” Though Lancelot’s words were mocking, his voice was surprisingly soft and woven through with genuine concern. “Sometimes I wish you’d just stop trying to change everything at once…it’d hurt you less. And you deserve that least of any of us. But then I probably wouldn’t even recognize you, and we can’t have that.”

And after so many months, Lancelot could still surprise Tristan. He and Arthur were the only ones whose secrets hadn’t fully unraveled after a few weeks’ close scrutiny.

Arthur started to speak, but Lancelot did something to quiet him. For his part, Tristan continued to pet and soothe his hawk, making up for the time she’d have to spend later circling high up above in uncertainty. He kept his back to the other two till Lancelot left—not out of discomfort, because he’d seen that too many times before, but out of…respect. Some parts would never quite overlap, and that should be acknowledged.

After Lancelot’s footsteps had whirled about and strode out of the tent, Tristan turned around to face Arthur. “It’s part of you, but not all of you. I wish you would take rests from it a little more often.”

The smile on Arthur’s face was lopsided to begin with, but now it slipped sideways and vanished into the gleam of his armor. He cradled Tristan’s cheek in his hand and for a long moment, simply looked at Tristan, the same way he would marvel at the constellations in the sky. One of Tristan’s earliest good memories of Britain was of Arthur relating the stories behind those tiny nighttime sparks to a circle of newly-arrived, young, terrified and yet enraptured Sarmatians.

Tristan’s cheeks suddenly burned, and he dropped his gaze to meet his lady’s inquiring eyes. But he had to lift his chin almost immediately after, because Arthur had ducked with him and caught his lips, drawing up his head in an sweet, fierce kiss.

“I know,” Arthur murmured, sliding his mouth away to press their cheeks together. “All the time in the world wouldn’t be enough to even begin to list everything I see in your eyes, or in Lancelot’s smile. But…”

Practicality intruded, and for once Tristan didn’t find it welcome. “The campaigning season is more than half-over. Come September, we’ll be working from the garrison again.”

He said it almost like a prayer. Between him and Arthur, his hawk cooed and rustled her feathers, growing restless.

The mouth left, but the fingers lingered a bit longer. Then Arthur stepped back and glanced one last time about the tent, as was his habit. He never wanted to leave anything essential behind or undone. “That it is, thank God. And then I promise there’ll be less official demands on my time.”

Thank whoever, but an avowal from Arthur was worth any prophesy, in Tristan’s mind. With that to comfort him, Tristan followed the other man out to the horses.

There he found Gawain, who was alone for once. His friend grinned and edged his horse up next to Tristan’s while Tristan was helping his lady aloft, then rode with Tristan to the day’s place of battle.

“Where’s Galahad?” Tristan finally asked, when they’d been some moments without speaking.

Gawain merely widened his smile. “Coming. You know, you should drop by more often—Galahad’s…learned a good deal this year. It’d surprise you how much less annoying he is.”

“Probably not.” Tristan sniffed the air, checking the amount of moisture hanging in it. No rain, he thought. Possibly mist later in the afternoon. Then he grinned back. “Lancelot gave you three months. I disagreed.”

“And when were you two talking?” Gawain asked, only feigning affront. The faint tinge of embarrassment in his face, however, was real. After a beat, he shook his head and scanned the field, shaking his head. “Never mind. I don’t think I want to know.”

Tristan nodded and sat back in the saddle, stretching out his fingers on his horse’s neck so he’d be ready for any quick work that might be needed. He caught a glimpse of Lancelot slowly making his way down the line, laughing and joking with and good-naturedly jeering at every knight he passed. Arthur wasn’t yet out, so Tristan supposed he was having a last-minute talk with some of the other officers.

“Look at that.” Eyebrows up, Gawain flicked his fingers at Lancelot. “Last year, I was wondering why no one had drowned him behind Arthur’s back. And now it looks as if he’ll be promoted sooner than not.”

Which was a conclusion with which Tristan couldn’t disagree. Self-centered as Lancelot was, the man would make a good officer, and Tristan had to relish the irony there. Even if he and Lancelot had come to terms, that didn’t lead to perfect peace.

“Probably you, too,” Gawain went on, giving Tristan a look of admiration and sincere happiness. “Arthur would be an idiot if he didn’t give you say over the other scouts.”

“Gawain.” It was a half-hearted reproach at best, and made mostly because a particle of Tristan didn’t believe in tempting whatever mischievous powers might be lurking about them.

The other man reached across and smacked his arm, looking at him as if he were also an idiot. “Stop that. Really. You deserve it.”

“Thank you,” Tristan finally said, ducking his head. He stared out once more across the field, and this time he saw Arthur. The other man was riding with the standard-bearer, the wind blowing out the vexillation so it streamed a huge red flame above Arthur’s head. Like a comet, sweeping through the heavens and disrupting all the static, old order with its brilliance…only with a much greater duration, if Tristan had much to say about that.

And he did. It was mainly for that reason that he’d made himself worthy of Gawain’s praise.

Something may have passed in the air—a hint of the fall that came early here, perhaps, or whisper of the death that was always over the horizon. Whatever it was, both he and Gawain felt it. Tristan breathed deeply and paid it no attention, for it had come and gone and done nothing, but Gawain seemed more affected. The other man straightened in the saddle and grew sober, pursing his lips. When he spoke again, his tone had lost its earlier ebullience. “You remember when we were younger, and we’d brag about all the things we’d do once we were old enough to have swords?”

Tristan smiled, recollecting that night. He’d given up such foolishness soon afterward, but it had had a certain sweet innocence to it. Nevertheless, it was better in the past than in the present; now he wouldn’t exchange the greatest deeds he’d planned for the contentment he’d found. “You said you wanted to kill a dragon, and I said I would kill a giant.”

“You might yet,” Gawain mused, still oddly solemn. “They say the Woad’s wizard Merlin is a huge man, nearly tall enough to be that.”

“He’s not. He’s shorter than Arthur.” Behind them, Tristan heard the first soft clopping of a couple horses. Lancelot was one, Arthur the other…and Galahad, his peripheral vision showed, was the third. Time to stop reminiscing and to start doing, it seemed. “But if I did run across one out there, I would—well, no one knows how anything will turn out. But I would try to kill him.”

For what Tristan had, he would do anything to keep. That, he’d told Lancelot months ago, and that hadn’t changed.

“I would try,” he repeated, eyes drifting to the lazily spiraling dot in the sky, ears absently tracking the cadences of Arthur and Lancelot’s conversation.

Beside him, Gawain shifted aside to make room for Galahad. “I believe you,” the other man said, just before they all turned their faces forward.


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