Tangible Schizophrenia


Brotherhood VI: January

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: PG
Pairing: Arthur/Lancelot, Arthur/Tristan.
Feedback: Good lines, bad ones, etc.
Disclaimer: Versions started with the movie, not me.
Notes: Pre-movie. Whole poem found here.
Summary: When the Arthur’s gone, the men will talk.


“The anguish of earth absolves our eyes
Till beauty shines in all that we can see,
War is our scourge, yet war has made us wise,
And, fighting for our freedom, we are free.”
--“Absolution,” Siegfried Sassoon.

* * *

The rail rattled dangerously as a sudden weight straddled it. Tristan paused till things had settled once more, then resumed oiling his bow. He did shift so his leg, only a few days free of the bandages, wouldn’t take the brunt of his fall should anything collapse, but otherwise didn’t move.

“For once, you’re where I was looking for you.” Lancelot bounced a few times, testing the strength of the rail, before sprawling out on it. Not that the length of wood was very broad, but he nevertheless managed it, with one foot dangling in the perfect position to kick at Tristan’s knee. “Feel nice to be able to go where you like again?”

“Yes.” Looking for him…which didn’t surprise Tristan in the least. What he did find unusual was that Lancelot had taken so long to do so, given that Arthur wasn’t the kind to withhold a confession. It’d been weeks, and even now the other man was being unexpectedly calm, as if he wasn’t facing another possible divisor between him and Arthur.

At that, there was a little bit of burning in Tristan’s gut, and a slight sting in his throat. He’d never wished to add to Arthur’s burdens, and now he didn’t want to take back what he had given—as if he could, anyway. Irritated with his nonsensical thoughts, Tristan flipped the bow around and started on the other end, rubbing hard so the wood gleamed even in the weak light of the winter sun.

“Arthur’s back in another week and a half. About time—what are they doing, making him do a tour of the Wall? If you’ve seen one garrison, you’ve seen them all,” Lancelot muttered, jiggling his foot.

Tristan resisted the urge to whap Lancelot with the bow. Instead, he briefly stopped to stretch his arms, and in consequence, glimpsed Gawain trudging through the drifts towards the stables behind him. “Lancelot.”

“Yes?” The other man abruptly flipped himself up and perched beside Tristan, so quick that the wind of his movements whipped away his words. He ducked down so as to make sure Tristan saw his irked expression. “I wish people would stop doing that. Whenever anyone says my name, they sound like they’re calling me to be strangled.” His exasperation unexpectedly melted into a fully aware grin, mocking everything including himself. “I’m not that bad.”

“I know many people that would disagree.” Although nearly a foot of snow lay on the ground, it was actually a fairly warm, pleasant day. For Britain. In other words, having his gloves off meant that Tristan only felt his fingers grow chapped and didn’t completely lose them to numbness. He hurried up his work.

Out of the corner of his eye, he absently noted Galahad also going to the stables.

A hand waved in front of his face, so Tristan resignedly looked at Lancelot. Now the expression the other man wore was as serious a one as Tristan had ever seen on Lancelot’s face; Tristan accordingly paid attention while shifting so he could brace himself on the rail, in event of any brawling.

Lancelot tilted his head, looking curiously like the hawk that was currently circling high above. “I think you’re depressed.”

No sensible response immediately came to mind. Tristan therefore kept his mouth shut and reminded himself not to wrench his bow like it was a man’s neck; for all his faults, Lancelot was undeniably intelligent, and when he chose to use that, he could be as deadly with insight as with swords.

Rocking backward, Lancelot swung a leg onto the rail and folded his arms over the knee, letting his other leg hang freely. His keen eyes remained fixed on Tristan’s face. “Well, now I’m certain nothing happened. Arthur panicked, didn’t he?”

“He—” Before Tristan quite knew it, a defense was coiling on his tongue. His sense of truth, however, was quick enough to knot it around his teeth where it could be ground back into senseless nothing. More carefully, he formed a reply. “I kissed him.”

“And I think he returned that. But he gives the tavern-girls a kiss once in a while, and he makes sure it leads to nothing.” For the first time, a ripple of discontent passed over Lancelot’s face. When some clatter broke out nearby, his head snapped around to see and then came back so he could resume watching Tristan so fast that his neck should have broken.

Gawain was storming out of the stables, with Galahad hot on his heels. They tangled together only a few yards outside, then furiously whirled back through the doors.

Sardonic laughter from Lancelot reluctantly brought Tristan back to whatever mess was happening here. “The last thing Arthur tells me, aside from him having to be out there for a whole month—” Lancelot slashed a hand at the looming Wall, mouth twisting around sourness “—is that he’s sorry for betraying my trust. And so I start wondering exactly how well my hands would fit around your throat—except you look like a broken-winged bird. Even now, when your leg’s healed.”

“Are you pitying me?” Tristan asked, lowering his tone because clenching only at the bow in his hands wasn’t enough to relieve the sharpness raking inside him.

“Yes. Yes, I am.” Defiant and jeering, Lancelot met Tristan’s eyes and glowered back. “At least Rome has the backbone to fight for what she fucking wants. Her and the Church—I hate them, I’d like to rip them apart, but they’re facing me. You—damn it, I’ve seen you fight, but when it comes to Arthur you go spineless.”

It would have been extraordinarily pleasing to spear Lancelot through that razor-edged wolf’s grin of his, but Tristan refrained. Because lies were empty, hollow, fluttering things that barely touched it, but this struck deep and lodged in him, solid as an arrowhead. “So now you’d like me to challenge you?”

“No. Yes. Fuck.” Teeth clicked shut, hard, and Lancelot glanced aside. He took two deep breaths, then turned back with a somewhat calmer mien. That wasn’t to say that the fire had disappeared, because it hadn’t. Banked flames were still flames, and those were what Tristan saw when he looked into Lancelot’s eyes. “It’d be easier if you did.”

“Because then you could fight me with a clear conscience? And what if I’d rather not fight you?” Amusement and irony mingled to make a bitter, rancid taste in Tristan’s mouth.

After a moment, Lancelot ducked his head and chuckled, eyes flicking back up to show he was perfectly aware of the absurdity. “You’re good. Very clever, Tristan.”

“Not that clever.” The inherent weakness of black humor was that it was fleeting, but left behind a lingering trace of gray to dampen the spirit. “You’re first, you know.”

“That’s debatable,” Lancelot muttered, staring to the side. Galahad had come out again, and was standing around waving his fists about and apparently talking to himself. Most likely persuasion of some sort, because after a few more snarls at thin air, he pivoted back to the stables.

And in spite of whatever else Tristan thought about Lancelot and Arthur, occasionally he wondered if their eyes still worked. Because yes, he’d been watching closely, but even Gawain had remarked on it a few times, and Bors, of all people, once. “It’s not. He lowers his guard around you—even when you’re arguing. He doesn’t disagree with you the same way he does everyone else.”

“I don’t actually like making him upset, you know. Teasing him, yes, because that idiot keeps forgetting that there are things to do that don’t involve the garrison, but…it’s hard to help. What he says…” Lancelot pressed his knuckles to his mouth, thinking. Then he tugged at his collar, swearing quietly under his breath. “Been in this country too damned long—I’m starting to think it’s too warm.”

“Wait a week and then try to say that,” Tristan snorted, absently checking the sky and the spiraling speck.

When Lancelot smiled, genuinely and without any motives other than pure good humor, it was easy to see why everyone kept forgiving him, even as they despaired—or railed—at him.

But the sobriety soon returned, and so did his stare at Tristan. “And I don’t really want you as an enemy. It’s hard enough dealing with Arthur’s damned beliefs about God and justice and—by the way, you aren’t helping very much there. I’m trying to convince him that martyrs are idiots, and here you are, setting yourself up as one for him.”

“I’m trying to avoid hurting. On either side. On any side,” Tristan retorted, wrapping a rag around the bow. He twisted the cloth tight around the wood and scraped off all the excess oil, then used it to wipe his hands as well.

“Well, is it working?” The other man regarded Tristan with an overly innocent look of inquiry.

Denial wasn’t going to work; Lancelot was too sharp-eyed—denial. The moment Tristan realized exactly all that implied, he wanted to laugh again. He—and, he suspected, Arthur—had been appealing again and again to common sense and to reason, and what was the result? Complete absurdity.

So instead of answering, Tristan asked his own question. “What are you trying to do?”

“Do I look like I know?” Frustrated in a way that Tristan could fully understand, Lancelot glared over Tristan’s shoulder at nothing. “Maybe I’m not as far-seeing as Arthur, or you. But I know damned well what I don’t want, and what doesn’t seem well as of right now, and whatever this is won’t last. It can’t go on like this. Something’s got to happen, and the way it looks now, Arthur will…I want him to see me, and not whatever his Scriptures or books say I am. That’s all.”

From the stables, a horse suddenly whinnied, as if startled. Muffled thuds followed.

“That’s all?” As he pulled on his gloves, Tristan arched an eyebrow.

“For now,” Lancelot admitted, slightly more cheerful than he strictly should have been. “Like I said, Arthur’s the one that specializes in forward planning.”

With a wild, beautiful suddenness that always drew out the wonder in Tristan, she came diving out of the sky, only to pull up and gracefully float onto his arm. He kissed her head, felt the smoothness of her beak against his cheek, and made sure not to jounce her as he got off the rail. “Are you calling truce, or compact?”

“I…” Still on the rail, Lancelot stalled by turning around so both his legs were on the same side. Knees up, he hunched over and twisted his fingers into one another, then was silent for a considerable amount of time.

The world was white and gray-brown and black, either gnarled in death or overwhelmed in monotone slopes of snow. There was splendor, but it was distant and cold and impersonal, even with knowledge of the wind and earth and water such as what Tristan had. For a moment, it seemed like the sky was a huge steel bowl, cupped over the few tiny men that they were. And it was lonely, and it was what Tristan would mostly remember, were he to die right this instant.

He was unhappy with that. He wondered that he’d ever thought himself content with only that, that anyone could be happy with only that.

“I’m calling fight,” Lancelot finally said, lifting his head to give Tristan a look that was equal parts challenge, mockery, and appeal. “Because I’m no saint. I can’t let go of what little I have, and I can’t help but to try and better that. Even if Arthur happens to have a differing opinion on what would be better.”

Clever, indeed. Tristan acknowledged the many hits contained within those few words, but stood where he was. “When will he be back?”

And Lancelot unexpectedly, abruptly, crumpled into a huddle, his eyes huge with wariness and ache. “Eleven fucking days.”

Sympathy for the other man was a strange feeling, but empathy was even odder. After a few moments of struggling with it, Tristan gave up and reseated himself on the fence besides Lancelot.

Gawain wandered out of the stables with a rather satisfied air. He didn’t even notice the men on the fence as he passed by, whistling. Galahad was close behind, and for once, he looked content.

Lancelot let out a quiet snort and slyly glanced at Tristan. “I pity whoever’s got mucking duty today.”

“I’m sure that they’re used to it by now,” Tristan dryly replied, giving the other man a significant look. He was only guessing, but Lancelot instantly gained a flush of red. What lay behind the man’s embarrassment still jabbed deep into Tristan, but it didn’t hurt quite so much to laugh now.


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