Tangible Schizophrenia



Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: NC-17. BDSM.
Pairing: Lancelot/Arthur
Feedback: Is v. appreciated.
Disclaimer: Versions originated elsewhere than me.
Summary: Arthur loses his temper, and the ensuing argument exposes some different facets of both men.


“The problem is, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Arthur watched his fingers slow and tangle themselves in the leather strips he was braiding, feeling distant and detached as if they were someone else’s hands that had just clenched in white-knuckled fury. He noted how the orange light of the fire in between him and Lancelot inked the tops of his hands with lurid shapes that abruptly dropped to black in the shadowed parts.

Through the haze of the flames, Lancelot wavered and rippled like a spirit come to give voice to the darkness that lay mere feet beyond. Relaxation never fully gained hold of him, but as he was now, lying on his bedroll with knees up, he was as calm as Arthur ever saw him. That possibly made matters worse, because the man wasn’t speaking out of his usual restless discontent, but out of quiet thoughtfulness.

Perhaps Arthur had heard wrongly. “Pardon me?”

“I said, you don’t understand what you’re talking about. You’re not falling asleep on me, are you?” Lancelot sat up for a moment, then laid back, apparently satisfied as to that query. He didn’t seem to care that Arthur’s engagement in the discussion, while fully aware, no longer derived solely from intellectual interest. “Listen—what made Rome great? Really. Not her art, her laws, her religion. Your Empire was built on the bodies of soldiers, and it’s maintained on the bodies of soldiers. Fallible men.”

The bit of tack that Arthur was trying to fix wound itself more and more tightly around his fingers, biting the flesh beneath it white and turning the fingertips beyond a dark, angry red. He registered the pain a moment later and forced himself to unwind the leather in time to the extreme slowness of his breath. “In that case, then why Roman soldiers? We’re hardly the first to try and conquer the known world, yet we’ve succeeded where other peoples have failed.”

“And now you’re going to say something along the lines that the Roman culture’s given its armies something we don’t have,” the other man snorted, words nearly obscured by the crackle of the burning wood. He abruptly got up and rounded the fire to drop at Arthur’s feet, resting elbows on Arthur’s knees and turning up a baiting, insulting face. “Let me remind you that I’m not Roman. When it comes down to it, I don’t think you’re much of one, either.”

Once again, Arthur bit down on the roaring in his throat and told himself to wait for an explanation. Lancelot was an intelligent man, and he nearly always had a reason for behaving the way he did. While that reason might not seem important or logical to Arthur, it obviously was both to the other man, or else Lancelot wouldn’t bother with it.

“You’re getting upset.” Shadows dipped down Lancelot’s forehead and draped to his chin, making him look almost regretful as he sat back. “Never mind.”

“I think I do mind.” Arthur spoke before he could catch himself, but once he’d started, he had to finish. “What, exactly, did you mean by that?”

The other moved in a manner that might have been described as uneasy, except it had the result of sprawling Lancelot on his back, held up only on his elbows. Behind him, the fire unexpectedly blew low, then rose up to flicker tarnished gold around Lancelot. As disturbed as Arthur was by their conversation’s content, he had no trouble seeing the motives that lay behind it.

He looked away from glittering black eyes and wished that for once, Lancelot would simply ask. What the other man didn’t seem to realize was that for Arthur, these conversations didn’t simply wisp into smoke when they were cut off by other activities. They lingered, and they blanketed Arthur with a kind of spiritual soot that seemed to color his entire view of the world. Britain had once been green and blue to him, but his mother’s death had paled the land, and now the constant antagonism surrounding all parts of Arthur’s life was draining it gray. In contrast, Rome became whiter and brighter in his memories.

“Arthur, you make a point of acting differently from all the other Romans. You’re upstanding, honorable…extremely concerned about justice and personal liberties…and you don’t treat the men under you as degraded humans simply because they don’t share your beliefs.” Lancelot shrugged with his whole body, rolling the liquid motion from his shoulders to his feet. He lifted his chin, letting the firelight dapple his long neck.

“And those are characteristics of Romans that are true to the ideal of the Empire.” Ignoring the other man, Arthur concentrated on finishing his repair work. Once he’d tied off the ends, however, he found that he’d thoughtlessly braided too much leather. Cutting it shorter and then making it fit wasn’t difficult, but fatigue was creeping into his bones and making them grow in weight till he had to exert all his will in order to make his hands stay on his lap.

Breath suddenly blew over his wrist, startling him into looking up, then down. “I beg to differ,” Lancelot grinned.

“You don’t need to beg to differ with me. And let me remind you that I’ve intimate knowledge of three peoples, and that I didn’t reach my choice blindly.” Irritation bubbled up Arthur’s blood, giving him enough energy to wrench himself away from the other man and reach for his own bedroll. Any other time, he would have laid his on Lancelot’s side of the fire, but tonight, it seemed better to keep a barrier up.

Before he could get it half-spread, a wrist wound itself into the leather rope he still held and used that to yank him into the dirt. Lancelot jerked himself on top of Arthur and glared down, all his earlier tranquility vanished in the rage that ruled him now. “But you always had that damned choice, Arthur. I didn’t. It wasn’t learning Roman ways—it was being carved into them, and not gently in the least.”

“And you think that having choices is easier? That’s there’s somehow less pain in having to discard something that way?” Arthur demanded, reins on himself snapping one by one against the backdrop of the warping night. He shoved upwards and was on the other man before Lancelot could do more than begin to part his lips around some surprised exclamation.

It was simple to lash the other man’s hands behind his back and then flip him over; they’d come to know that dance too well. Moving through its motions, wresting an unresisting Lancelot into position, was like swimming very far beneath the surface where the all-enfolding pressure seemed to desensitize Arthur into a dream-like state. Or perhaps he truly was dreaming—the sharp breath that gutted him when he deviated from their routine certainly had the shock of waking embedded within its sensation.

His anger found its usual expression in roughly skinning as much as Lancelot’s clothing off as possible, but when it came time to flay his hands over Lancelot’s skin, Arthur hesitated. Palms hovering over smooth and scarred planes, he thought. The heat of the fire beside them and of the long-building argument between them seemed to shiver through everything, subtly distorting so that the outlines were just familiar enough to be dangerous.

As Arthur reached for the oil he used to keep the tack supple, he shifted to straddle Lancelot as the other man had him just a few moments before. That confused Lancelot, and he started to sit up. “What are you doing?”

“You said I didn’t know what I was talking about, saying that I understand your feelings. So I should rectify that.” It took a little longer than usual for Arthur to strip off his weapons and trousers, then to loosen the rest of his clothing so he didn’t suffocate. He supposed he’d become too accustomed to shoving Lancelot’s overeager fingers out of the way, and was now overcompensating for the absence.

As he laid each item neatly to the side, he took a moment to think about what he was planning to do with what little sobriety he had left. “Free will doesn’t exempt one from responsibility. If Rome was to cease to exist this instant, all the problems of the world wouldn’t be miraculously solved.”

“No. For one, we’d still be stuck thousands of miles from home.” Lancelot’s eyes flicked to each patch of skin that Arthur revealed, showing more attention than he customarily did. Sometimes their couplings seemed nothing more than a ferocious but brief outrushing of energy.

Most of the time, Arthur accepted that as an unavoidable consequence of their lifestyles. Most of the time, he found the mindless tangling of limbs and life a relief. But once in a while, he wanted a slower, more reflective pace—only Lancelot’s nature always precluded that. Tonight, however, Arthur was tired of capitulating to that desperate speed.

“Yes, we. Whatever you think, I’m not any more at home in this land than you are. I’m not and I’ve never claimed to be an ideal, but I think there are such in the world, and I try my damnedest to reach them.” The frustration was starting to shake into Arthur’s fingers, and he spilled about half the oil on the dirt. What remained was just enough, if he were careful, and considering everything, he intended to be nothing but.

It was a little amusing to see the hunger flare up in Lancelot’s eyes as Arthur dropped the vial to the side and rubbed the oil around till it thoroughly coated his fingers, and even more so to watch uncomprehending disappointment seep into Lancelot’s face as the fingers did not drop between the other man’s legs. Arthur struggled to hold onto the lightness of that humor as he rose on his knees and reached behind himself. “I try. My rank doesn’t make life any easier for me than it is for you, though that may be in different ways—”

Longer than he’d realized, Arthur distantly thought. He didn’t try to probe any deeper, but simply held himself still and breathed in as deeply as he could.

Lancelot hissed out a long string of Sarmatian curses, slow as mist crawling inland from the sea. He pushed himself up on his elbows and violently yanked at his bound hands. In doing so, his knee hit Arthur’s and nearly sent Arthur off-balance. The collision also had the effect of jarring Arthur’s finger entirely inside.

Pain immediately radiated up to Arthur’s vision and fractured it with white so brilliant he flinched and squeezed his eyes shut against it. The resulting blackness was addictively soft and soothing in comparison, and by letting himself sink into it a little, Arthur managed to relax. He felt the pain receding and experimentally slid his fingertip along the edge of that front, pressing out twinges that were almost pleasurable.

“You’re hurting yourself,” Lancelot breathed, voice broken up by small gasps. He’d frozen the moment Arthur had winced, but the slight creak of leather indicated that he was still trying to get his hands free.

“Don’t tell me this doesn’t hurt for you as well.” Arthur added the next finger as slowly as he could, noting the way his muscles stretched into long rippling prickles. A drop of sweat was tracking his profile and slicking his nose with unpleasant dampness, but he didn’t have the hands free to wipe it away: his one was currently worming half-pleasing, half-hurtful sensations from his passage, and his other was clamped to his knee for much-needed support.

The other man drew in a breath so sharply that its edge lacerated Arthur into opening his eyes. He found Lancelot self-caught in a strained half-sitting position, muscles trembling with the effort of maintaining the awkward posture, gaze nailed to Arthur’s face. Tension seemed too simple a term to describe the way Lancelot’s expression seemed on the verge of breaking before the force of all the emotions it trapped. “We’re not competing against each other. I never asked you to do this.”

Before foolish words could find a path around the stone in Arthur’s throat, he shoved in the third finger. This time, the pain was familiar and even a little welcome in how it helped push his mind to rationality in order to ignore it. “You don’t want me to hurt? Well, I don’t wish you to, either. Except you do. I look in your eyes and I see bruises, and I know very well who put them there.”

“Arthur.” The name coiled around Lancelot’s tongue and slapped Arthur in the face with its pleading. “Stop. Whatever you’re trying to prove—look, you don’t need to prove anything to me! I know you’re—”

“Better? I hope that’s not what you were going to say.” With an effort, Arthur closed his eyes against the rawness he saw before him and continued what he’d started. His legs were beginning to weaken from holding the same pose for so long, so he rocked around on his knees until he found an alternate one.

That nudged something that sparked a low, liquid warmth inside that was very different from the white-hot hurt that had been corkscrewing through him. He cut his teeth into his lower lip and crept fingertips after that trace of dark bliss, bracing himself against the pain of finding it. “You’re one of the best men I’ve ever met, Lancelot. In war, in friendship, in everything that’s worth mentioning—so why pursue something that obviously makes you suffer so much?”

“Why do you?” Harsh, shallow breathing was fragmenting Lancelot’s voice, but a thread of grudging lust still rose through it. He made very tiny, very erratic movements that gradually shifted him nearer to Arthur. “Why do you do this to yourself? Why can’t you just accept—”

“Accept what? That my duty forces men against their will to uphold a government that I admire for its ideals of law and justice? That you hate everything I represent? That separately my religion, my command and my friendships all seem to be wholly admirable things, but that taken together, they seem to want to destroy each other?” Blood pounded in Arthur’s ears, drumming the increasing rate of his heartbeat against the rising speed of his breathing. He spoke faster and faster in order to fit all the words he had to say in the diminishing amount of breath with which he had to say them. In concert, his fingers worked more and more furiously. “It’s not that simple, and I’d hate myself if I tried to pretend it was.”

Thumping sounds made Arthur open his eyes again to find that Lancelot had fallen backwards, though the man’s gaze remained pinned to Arthur. Sweat gleamed over every piece of exposed skin Lancelot had, skimming the firelight over it so that the other man’s whole body seemed to glower his vivid discontent. His cock was red and swollen and already leaking, and he was devouring Arthur with his eyes, but the lines of his face were graven with misery. “So according to you, we’ll never find a meeting ground.”

“I don’t know,” Arthur snapped, and in the same instant, he flicked his fingers out of himself. The world swayed for a moment, then steadied enough for him to wrap his hand around Lancelot’s prick. His body felt as if his bones had been filled with lead, but he nonetheless dragged himself till the tip of Lancelot’s cock was just touching him. “I don’t know. Just as I don’t know that I’ll ever be the man I wish I were. But I try, and yes, it hurts, but…”

“The crumbs gathered along the way are enough. The dream in front’s enough,” Lancelot finished, so quietly Arthur barely heard him. He finally looked away from Arthur and stared aside at the dark for several long moments. In Arthur’s hand, Lancelot’s prick twitched with impatience, but the rest of the man was still as the night.

In the end, an ironic but genuine smile slid across Lancelot’s face as he turned back. His eyes were crackling with a shade of their former vitality, and his hips bucked up in silent acquiescence. “Disproves what you just said. We do agree on something.”

A snarl tangled in Arthur’s throat as he gritted his teeth and dropped down. “Infuriating--God.”

Lancelot’s eyes briefly rolled back in his head as he went limp beneath Arthur, and guttural Sarmatian rasped out of his lips. For a moment, they both breathed in the same panting, airless, staggering rhythm as they adjusted to each other. Arthur willed his hands to move to the side so he could hold himself up.

“Yes, God can be that.” As could probably be expected, Lancelot recovered first and went on to show that bound wrists were only a minor obstacle. He propped himself up on his elbows and slowly began to roll his hips up into Arthur.

Every thrust unraveled another piece of Arthur’s already fraying muscles, and he gradually slumped down till his head was resting on Lancelot’s shoulder. The other man immediately licked at the sweat on Arthur’s cheek, then drew a long loop with his tongue to Arthur’s ear, where his teeth grazed moans that rattled through Arthur’s entire body.

One bite made everything contract; Arthur stiffened till he thought he could feel his bones coming out of his skin, and only then noticed that Lancelot had gone equally rigid. Some perverse bit of humor wove through the dissolving parts of Arthur’s mind and reached his vocal cords. “Pleasant, isn’t it?”

“I think I’m rubbing off on you in the wrong ways,” the other man grunted, bestirring himself in a manner that sent lightning spasming through Arthur’s legs. He rebraced himself and began pushing into Arthur in earnest.

Bright dots came and went in Arthur’s sight, and the earlier pain faded so quickly that it seemed to excise itself from his memory. His knees slid out from under him, compressing the minor storm of heat between them into a fierce whirlwind that whipped out his nerves and sent them flying to all ends of the earth.

Very dimly, he heard Lancelot crying out and shuddering against him. More immediate to Arthur’s senses was the strange feeling of someone coming inside him, like leaving a brand there, and then the suddenness of the loss when they collapsed apart. It echoed the beginning hurt and reminded him that nothing came easy, but also that lasting pain was difference between reality and dream. And man couldn’t live in a dream, though he might strive for it.

For a few moments, he lay still and let himself recollect into a breathing, thinking person. Then he crawled over and clumsily jerked the leather from Lancelot’s wrists.

The other man was on his side with eyes closed, and his breathing was so slow that at first, Arthur thought Lancelot had passed out. But when he took a closer look, Lancelot’s eyes snapped open to reveal too much awareness for that to be true.

Lancelot lazily squirmed over and molded himself to Arthur’s front, then held up his wrists to display the red chafed strips that banded what looked to be considerable bruising. “You see this and you feel guilty.”

“I do.” Arthur leaned over and ran his tongue over the tender flesh, trying to apologize in a more concrete way than words would have provided.

“Well, I see these--” Lancelot ghosted his thumb over the furrows of Arthur’s brow “—and I feel helpless. It’s not a feeling I’m used to. Or that I like.”

The thoughts were slow in coming, but they still arrived. “And when you’ve provoked me into tying you to a…what was last time…a tree, and taking you?”

“That’s different. That’s trusting you. That’s knowing you. And that, I like.” The corners of Lancelot’s smile were already gathering mischief, and his other hand was skating casually down Arthur’s chest and stomach to tickle at Arthur’s cock. “Speaking of…”

“Already,” Arthur muttered in a dubious tone, disbelieving both at the unexpected calmness they’d managed to find and at the ridiculous quickness with which his supposedly exhausted body was responding. Then again, he had to make all kinds of exceptions wherever Lancelot was involved.

That was difficult, and it caused more conflict in his life than anything else did, but in the end, the worth exceeded the trouble. By now, he knew it would never simplify, but only grow more complicated and more upsetting, and he could only hope that he would continue to be capable of meeting that challenge.

Lancelot lightheartedly shrugged and played his fingers over Arthur’s thigh, a considering look on his face. “You had your say for the night. It’s only fair to allow me mine.”

And in light of what had happened, Arthur couldn’t disagree with that.