Tangible Schizophrenia


Brotherhood VII: February

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: PG-13
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: Arthur returns.


“But I’ve grown thoughtful now. And you have lost
Your early-morning freshness of surprise
At being so utterly mine: you’ve learned to fear
The gloomy, stricken places in my soul,
And the occasional ghosts that haunt my gaze.”
--“The Imperfect Lover,” Siegfried Sassoon.

* * *

As was typical, Tristan found Arthur in the graveyard. The other man was still dressed for traveling, the day’s journey written in the faint lines of his face and the down-slope of his shoulders, and his expression was solidly unreadable as he regarded the stone markers. Those were reserved for officers and regular legionaries; the Sarmatians were buried in a different section, with only their rust-riddled swords to mark them.

Having risen to high rank, Arthur’s father had a marker here despite his actual grave being elsewhere, and Tristan knew enough Latin to recognize his name as the one carved on the stone before Arthur.

“You always seem to know when I come in, even before Lancelot.” Arthur didn’t turn at Tristan’s approach, though the sound of frosted grass crunching beneath Tristan’s feet would have been warning enough for a duller man. “Or…no, he has guard duty today, doesn’t he?”

“And the officer of the shift isn’t very flexible about trading.” Careful to step between the grave mounds, most of which had been eroded nearly flat, Tristan came up beside Arthur. He concentrated on the worn epitaph, stringing together in his mind what letters he could make out and then making guesses at the missing ones. The sharp wind bit at his cheeks to draw up the blood, and at his spine and joints to make them tremble.

After another long moment of contemplation, Arthur turned and stepped onto the path out in such a way that it was obvious he wanted Tristan following beside him, and not behind him. Tristan hesitated, silently mocked himself for doing so, and obligingly walked up by Arthur.

It was too cold to take her out if he wasn’t planning on letting her warm up with a long, blistering flight, and he missed the weight on his arm. Swinging empty alongside him, the limb seemed too light and bent wrong, as if he should be tilting into the snow for a quiet sleep.

“Has anyone taken a guess at what I was doing?” Arthur asked. His voice was low, but had grown rougher and fuller, so it was easy to hear him over the whine of the wind. An indistinct warmth moving over the side of Tristan’s face gave him the impression that Arthur was searching his expression for some kind of sign, but Tristan didn’t quite feel like checking the truth of things.

Lancelot had had a point. In less than two months, the fighting season would begin and there would be no time for internal unease. During the years he’d been in Britain, Tristan had seen many successful and unsuccessful units, and he knew very well how the lifespan of a soldier depended on his fellows. But on the other hand, it was hard to tell what way would do the less harm.

When he answered Arthur’s question, Tristan was still debating. “Coordinating the next campaign, most say. A lot of the knights think you’re going to be promoted, and that’s why they’re sending you round to meet all the commandants.”

“And how do they feel about that?” There was a surprising undertone of urgency to Arthur’s voice, which finally made Tristan look up.

Green. The only green around for another month, and now Tristan couldn’t look down. Eleven fucking days had been one of Lancelot’s more apt statements. “They’re glad. We’re glad. We all love and honor you, Arthur—whatever betters you betters us.”

Arthur slowed, then stopped and slewed around in the snow to stare down into Tristan’s eyes, like he intended to drag something out of them. “I hope so. It’s what’s deserved to you, but too often I can’t give that.”

They had halted near a tree that had wide, tangled branches that even without leaves provided an effective shield against watchers from anywhere near. Especially on a day like this, where the mist rising blended with the snow and trapped itself in the knots of twigs so the tree seemed to cradle a huge cloudy moon. The trunk was a cold, definite presence behind Tristan, and Arthur a hot, wavering one before him.

Tristan’s foot tentatively slid back, but the loud skruch of the snow told him that any further movement that way was not a good idea. His tongue fumbled around behind his teeth, clicking out and seizing the pause while he listened in incredulity and some disappointment in himself. “You should talk to Lancelot.”

The intensity of Arthur’s eyes momentarily softened with sardonic knowledge. “The moment I was past the gate, I was damning myself. There was no way a month would pass without Lancelot mentioning…”

“He did.” The words were slow to come, but Tristan managed to wrestle his unruly tongue into obedience. “We’re both still whole and hale, so that shouldn’t be a worry.”

“Thank you.” One side of Arthur’s mouth lifted in something like good humor.

“And…and there’s no dispute between us. Maybe a disagreement, but no open quarrel,” Tristan added, fighting to wrench the congealing words from his throat. His fingers were twitching, so he curled them around his wrists under pretext of chafing some warmth back into them. It wasn’t a very bad excuse, given that his cuffs and gloves didn’t quite meet—apparently, he’d grown a little more since the winter had commenced.

Arthur sighed and glanced sideways, blowing the steam of his breath past Tristan’s cheek. Then he made something like a growl in his chest and looked back. “I won’t pretend nothing happened.”

In truth, Tristan couldn’t have done that even if he still wanted to. The memory was too deeply burned into him. “I won’t, either. But…Arthur, you don’t force us. And it would be disrespectful of me, at the very least, not to do the same. I can live with only knowing, as long as nothing was forgotten.”

“But it would hurt,” Arthur observed, some recollection shading the shadows of his face.

Something grazed along Tristan’s cheekbone, startling him backwards a pace so his foot collided with a root hidden beneath the snow; he unbalanced and fell against the tree. But instead of the touch dropping away, it followed him and grew firmer, till he could distinguish the thumb almost touching his lower lip from the index and middle finger brushing his lower lashes, from the little finger trapping a strand of his hair against his face.

Then Arthur bent down and kissed him.

Tristan froze. Pressed up—and pressed the other man back. His breath seemed to have caught on Arthur’s lips, because it tugged and slipped from him so he had to gasp. “I don’t want your pity.”

“I’m not doing this out of pity. Lancelot—” Arthur winced. He took a deep breath and started, a little more calmly. “Lancelot has done a good deal towards discouraging excesses of that in me.”

“And you’re not giving him up,” Tristan muttered. Arthur’s hand was still on his face, warm and slightly rough and tingling. The bark of the tree was splintery and hard, but Tristan dug his nails into it anyway.

With a sigh, Arthur leaned back. His thumb slipped beneath Tristan’s chin, thus ensuring that their gazes didn’t drop away from each other. “No. Sometimes I think he could be state and church to me. But—” his nail jabbed into the underside of Tristan’s chin, keeping it up “—but I would be lying if I said you were like any other knight to me. You’re…restful.” He winced again. “Damn it, that wasn’t what I meant—”

Arthur’s hair was too short for Tristan to get a good grip, so he dropped his arm down around Arthur’s neck and pulled, trying for as much as he could. Some obstinate particle of his mind was still arguing that he shouldn’t, that from hereon out it was going to be nothing but another painful struggle on top of the ones he already had, but he couldn’t refuse any longer. It was too much.

His back smacked against the tree again, and then fingers were in his hair and a tongue was sweeping the moan out of his mouth. When Tristan’s knees started to give, Arthur pushed forward to pin him standing.

“I take back what I said,” the other man eventually said, chuckling and gasping. “Not restful at all.”

“I take back what I said,” Tristan echoed. He put an elbow back and braced himself against the trunk. “Now I will force it.”

The laughing glint in Arthur’s eyes slowly died, and he wore a meditative expression as his fingers continued to stroke Tristan’s face. Then he chuckled once more, but not in a pleased way. “For someone that wishes for peace as much as I do, I seem to be the cause of a good deal of strife.”

Tristan swallowed, wishing his damnable tongue would follow his spit, and clutched his fingers around the outline of Arthur’s shoulderblades. After a moment, Arthur kissed him again, slow and thoughtful and not without a trace of bitterness.

“I need to speak with Lancelot,” the other man said some time later, when his breathing ragged loud in Tristan’s ear and his body had burned its shape into Tristan’s front. “But I won’t turn you away.”

It took several seconds for Tristan to convince his arms to release the other man. He turned his head so that their faces remained pressed together for as long as possible.

“And this is not exactly the ideal place for trysts,” Arthur added, looking about with a wry face. “I must be getting old; my joints feel like they’re freezing in place.”

They returned to the path and walked at a steady pace the rest of the way to the garrison. It was cold out, but just before they parted ways, Arthur gave Tristan one last look that warmed him from face to toes. In a better mood, Tristan directed his steps toward the barracks. He needed to feed his hawk.

Lancelot walked out just as Tristan was about to open the door. The other man glanced at him and started to move on, then stopped and looked again. An unpleasant emotion twisted his lips. “So.”

“Arthur’s back. He’d like to see you—I take it you managed to get off early.” Tristan put one hand on the doorframe and took a step inside, but a sudden warning ripple in his head made him look over his shoulder.

“You know…” Shaking his head, the other man uncoiled and took off at a rapid pace. But he did fling back a few last words. “Well, better you than something else. You’re sensible, anyway.”

Once inside, Tristan was scraping at the snow that had caked to his boots when someone else made their presence known. Galahad leaned out of a nearby doorway, curiously eying him. “What was that about?”

“Fighting.” And Tristan truly had been underestimating Lancelot, whether that was the man’s ability to be rational or his determination to keep Arthur from coming adrift. He should have known better, or at least trusted in Arthur’s judgment.

“I see no blood, and all your blades are sheathed,” Galahad commented, eyebrow raised.

Tristan rolled his eyes and pushed past the other man. Gawain’s taste…never mind. “There’s more to fighting than skill with weapons. You should consider learning that.”


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