Tangible Schizophrenia



Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: NC-17
Pairing: Arthur/Gawain/Lancelot
Feedback: Good lines, ugly ones, etc.
Disclaimer: Versions didn’t start with me.
Summary: Sober Arthur, drunk Lancelot and wary Gawain.


Another pebble found its way under Gawain’s foot and he stumbled, sending them all lopsided. When soured breath flushed his face, he quickly turned his head away and shoved Lancelot back towards Arthur before the other man could vomit again.

In point of fact, Lancelot managed to keep what little he had left in his stomach down. Arthur, however, shot Gawain a sardonic look that was uncharacteristically free of politeness, but shifted things so he was taking most of Lancelot’s weight. “Good to know what my knights will take for me.”

As far as Gawain knew, Arthur had taken barely a drop and thus still qualified as sober. While the other man did have a sense of humor about his position and theirs, the strain running through his comment resembled more Lancelot’s sarcasm than Arthur’s self-mockery. Granted, Arthur had had a week that would have flayed lesser men, and now he was looking forward to a night and a morning of dealing with exceptionally annoying Lancelot, but sadly, it could be said that he’d had worse.

Gawain let them lurch on another foot while he silently debated the possibilities behind Arthur’s abruptness. In the end, he decided to take the circumspect way and treat it as the light joke it usually would be until he found out more. “Woad arrows are one thing, but Lancelot’s spew is quite another. Sorry, but it’s true.”

“And he’s been a little more free with it of late,” Arthur muttered, jerking his grip back up Lancelot’s waist so the other man’s flop face-forward was averted at the last moment. His face was in profile to Gawain so the exact quality of the shadows in his eyes was hard to determine, but the hardness of Arthur’s jaw hinted that that wasn’t of a pleasant nature.

So that was it. Possibly Gawain had taken a little too much, because he really should’ve guessed that first of all.

“Free with what?” Lancelot’s head suddenly tilted sideways to look at Arthur, and if his expression came anything close to matching his voice, it was going to be a stormy night. “Free? In Britain? When I have to ask permission to fucking piss?”

Arthur was visibly biting back a sigh as well as various other emotions. “If you’re on guard duty in any army, anywhere in the world, you would have to do that.”

A quick look showed that they were inches from the door to Arthur’s room, which sent relief gusting down Gawain’s stiff back. Though the squabbling between Arthur and Lancelot could sometimes be amusing, their fighting was nothing less than terrifying to watch and disastrous in which to be. Fortunately, another step would see Gawain free of his duty to the other man for the night, and then he could return to the tavern, maybe coax Vanora into one of the spicier songs now that Arthur wouldn’t be there.

“That’s not what I meant, and you know that.” For a man that hadn’t put one foot right in twenty paces, Lancelot was speaking surprisingly clearly. Then again, when his temper was up, it could burn steel white, and never mind the ale in his blood.

Instead of going soft and hurt, Arthur’s eyes clicked opaque and stony. When he dragged them into the room, the set of his shoulders twisted under the weight of the other man and failed to quite right itself. Tiredness creased his face as he stopped to let Gawain get Lancelot’s boots. “You’re drunk. I won’t argue with you now.”

“You never do argue with me. You always break off and stare and stare and stare, like it hurts. And get the fuck away from my feet.” Lancelot shoved back from Arthur and kicked out at the same time, boot-tip sailing a hairsbreath away from Gawain’s ear.

“Fucking son of a bitch!” Gawain instinctively grabbed the other man’s ankle and yanked, which made Lancelot fall half onto the nearby bed. Then he rolled back onto his feet and started for the other man, but an arm slammed into his chest and hauled him back. Irritated beyond belief, he lashed out with one fist, then turned to face his opponent. “Let go, so I can strangle that damned stuck-up…oh, fuck. Sorry, Arthur. Forgot you were here. Truly, I didn’t know it was you, and I’m sorry.”

Strangely enough, Arthur didn’t look the least bit upset about the punch, nor did he make a move to order Gawain’s execution, as was his right. Instead he only rubbed his cheek and glanced at Lancelot, who had either knocked himself out or lost consciousness, and consequently was slumped with his arms trailing over the bed. Then he looked back at Gawain, a rueful smile edging its way around his lips. “Stop watching me as if I’m going to cut off your head. I’m not. It was an accident.”

“Sometimes I think he’s an accident waiting to end,” Gawain muttered, relaxing a little. While Arthur was a fairly lenient commander by Roman standards, he still didn’t back down from enforcing discipline when he felt it was necessary.

Given their loyalty and his almost excessive understanding, that wasn’t often, but it did happen. Whenever he had to order a flogging, or any kind of punishment, his face always winced once, then flattened out into a frozen mask for days on end. As it was beginning to do now, thereby reviving the queasy feelings in Gawain’s gut. “Shit. My mouth isn’t mine tonight, it looks like. Sorry.”

“Then whose would it be?” Arthur asked, briefly shaking himself out of his depression. On the bed, Lancelot suddenly clawed all the way on and then collapsed once more; Arthur turned to watch, and when he turned back, the skin under his eyes shaded from bruise-black to sick gray. “Thank you for the help. Go on and finish our drinks for us; I trust you’ll put them to better use.”

“You’re welcome,” Gawain replied, but he ignored the implied dismissal and stayed. Reason one was that he was still angry at Lancelot and the jackass’ arrogance in believing that his injuries were the only ones that mattered. Reason two was that in moments like this, Arthur was something closer to a friend in trouble than a superior officer.

Reason three was that if right now, Lancelot was actually capable of striking at men besides whom he fought—in clear malice, and not in jest—then Gawain couldn’t leave Arthur to that without feeling as if he were shirking his responsibilities. As unpleasant as it was going to be, it would be even worse if he knew things were festering and let them go.

When he continued to stand, Arthur gave him a sharper look and leaned against the doorframe. “Is there something else?”

And reason four was probably that Gawain was this idiotic, and wasn’t clever enough to just toss in the occasional cryptic comment like Tristan, who could make Arthur and Lancelot flinch to a stop long enough for a distraction to come up. The words were jumbling in his throat, but weren’t stringing together into anything even remotely suiting all the parts of this situation, and in the end, he just twisted his fingers around each other till some sentences squeezed out. “I…why do you let him do this? Say that?”

It seemed as if Arthur had been expecting that question. With a long breath, the man rocked back on one heel and pushed so his temple scraped up the doorframe, readying himself for some kind of lecture.

“Not that. I know, I know, he was born free to say whatever he wants—I’d like to see what could stop him—but you don’t have to listen. Or bring him back here.” Gawain paused to see how that was striking Arthur, then hesitantly dropped in the rest of the thought. “Actually, a night passed out in the dirt might do him some good.”

“I’m responsible for the welfare of all my knights.” The way Arthur said it, he might as well have been reading from a paper. His tone was of course sincere, but weary as a man who’d been worked till he didn’t dare lift his eyes from the ground.

As much as he tried, Gawain couldn’t help but roll his eyes. He flicked his eyes around, looking for support, but found nothing but the empty hallway and the hollowed-out man standing before him. That realization stung deep, because Arthur was one of few men he respected in this land that molded over leader after leader, and here Arthur was, slowly withering away because of one stupid knight’s loose tongue.

Whatever Arthur saw rising in Gawain’s face, it worried him enough to put a hand on Gawain’s shoulder and press the weight of his next words into Gawain. “If I closed my ears to the complaints of the men under me, to the truth, then what kind of man would I be? Not the one you’ve all learned to follow.”

“Well, if you’re dead or broken, we’ll not be following you, either. There’s complaining and then there’s…it’s not as if you’re the only Roman officer. Or even the one that thinks up our orders. I hate being here just as much as he does, but I don’t hate you.” Before he could think about it, Gawain stepped back into the room and thus made Arthur back up.

“He doesn’t hate me,” Arthur snapped, but as soon as the words were out of his mouth, he looked like he wanted to swallow them back up. It was painful to watch the uncertainty in a man Gawain had seen leap in time and again after a knight in trouble without hesitation. “Anyway, that’s immaterial. He has the right to—”

Boot clunking on the floor, and Lancelot suddenly translating himself from crumpled heap to upright string of tension, trembling the very air with the feverishness in his eyes. One hand on Arthur’s shoulder and one on Gawain’s, he swayed in to peer at each of them in turn. “…do whatever I want. Really, Arthur? So I can desert? So I can wander outside and go drink myself to death? So I can sleep with everyone in sight—fuck, even Gawain here?”

Long years of listening for the slightest change in the rustling of leaves had given Gawain excellent reflexes, but even he couldn’t compare with furious Lancelot. His hands were only halfway into a block before he had a tongue sloppily pushing into his mouth and a vicious growl ringing in his ears.

It was debatable whether he pushed first, or Arthur pulled, but either way Lancelot went skidding across the room to smack into the wall. And the cocky son of a bitch was still grinning as if he’d just done something very clever. Drunkenness or not, Gawain had had enough. “Look, you damned whoreson fuck, I’m not going to help. Whatever you’re doing is your business, but I’m not part of it and I’m not going to let you turn into a war between all of us. We do enough fighting with the Britons.”

Lancelot’s lip was bloody, and when he shoved himself into a semi-standing position, he moved like a lamed horse. “Protective of our great leader, aren’t you?”

“Because I don’t want to get a new one that’s a complete bastard! Because I consider him a friend and—honestly, we all know you want him and that you’re a blind, jealous jackass. It’s not worth my time to deal with that.” Gawain’s hands were hurting like he had nails driving through his palms, and he had to take a moment to force his fingers to uncurl. “But I treat my horse better than you do Arthur, and it’s not even my favorite one.”

“Lovely how you compare—” Something behind Gawain caught Lancelot’s attention and doused the other man’s vitriol like a pair of fingers snapping out a candleflame. Lancelot suddenly pushed himself away from the wall, nearly fell to his knees and then steadied himself, groping for a shoulder that wasn’t there.

When Gawain turned around, Arthur had already stripped himself to his waist and was busy splashing water on his face, rubbing hard like he wanted to peel off his skin. “Get out.”

“What?” Lancelot whispered, his voice soundly socked in the gut.

“Get out. Both of you. Please, before I either lose my mind or kill you. I can’t—Lancelot, it’s one thing for you to come after me, but it’s another for you to pull Gawain into this.” Arthur raked the droplets off his nose with a rag he wielded like a razor, then threw the rag down and made for the bed without looking over. “I’ll see you both in the morning, when we’re all thinking clearly.”

For the second time, Lancelot lunged and ended up pressed against Gawain. The difference this time, however, was that he had been going for Arthur and had lost his balance midway.

Gawain reflexively caught the other man, wrapping an arm around his waist, and he was about to set Lancelot on his feet when the surprise wore off. Then he considered dropping the bastard on his face, but Lancelot abruptly went limp, with the exception of one arm that remained stretched towards Arthur. “Wait…”

“Yes?” It was peremptory and curt, clearly indicating that Arthur wasn’t in a mood for any more talking. For which Gawain couldn’t blame him.

“You can throw me out? Just like that?” Fingers flailed and clawed at the space between the two men, then sank down to nearly scrape the floor while Lancelot raised his head. His expression was angry and disappointed and pleading all at once, a concentration of meanings so strong that Gawain could almost see it, even if he couldn’t understand half of it.

Arthur went so still that he wavered into the background, and Gawain had to blink and strain to see the other man. He closed his eyes and muttered something to himself while Lancelot, now having to clutch at Gawain for support, fairly shivered with nerves.

A second later, Gawain had an excellent view of Arthur’s mouth coming down on Lancelot’s. He hadn’t even noted Arthur moving, but somehow the other man had crossed the space and jerked up Lancelot by the forearms into a ferocious meeting of mouths, so quickly Gawain didn’t have time to withdraw his hands before Lancelot’s elbows pinned them to Lancelot’s side.

Rough as a backhand slash, Arthur pried himself away and shoved Lancelot down. When he spoke, his voice was low enough to rasp the ground, and deliberate as a judge. “No, not ‘just like that.’ Is that what you were looking for?”

He pushed himself back, but Lancelot dove after him and caught one sleeve; some strap on Lancelot’s clothing had gotten itself twisted around Gawain’s hand, so Gawain was forced to follow for a few feet. Then he slammed his heels into the floor and yanked till his hand came free. Pain sliced across his hand as the sound of leather snapping filled the air, but Gawain didn’t look at what damage he’d done because it couldn’t possibly be significant, besides what the other two were doing to each other. “When you two start, you really don’t notice anything else, do you? I don’t know why I bothered trying.”

That got both of their attention. Eyes going from hot rage to freezing guilt, Arthur opened his mouth, then closed it. Still hanging off his arm, Lancelot absently grabbed at the long rip Gawain had made, uselessly trying to keep the ruined piece of clothing from completely falling off his side. For once, he looked uncomfortable.

But Gawain wasn’t nearly done spilling out the words boiling up in him. “In case you haven’t noticed, there’s more here than you. We’re all stuck here, getting shot at every time we go past the Wall and having to scrape the blood off of our hands, and on top of that, we have to put up with—with—I don’t even know how to describe this.”

Lancelot rallied a little, but his sarcasm was a mere shadow of its usual acid. “So what would you know about it?”

“Besides that I’m a man and I’m not blind?” The words weren’t excising the irritation fast enough, so Gawain threw up his hands as well and felt the heat pass through his skin into the chilly air. “Oh, stop thinking about it that way, Lancelot. I’ve been living with you for the past ten years and you’re both better-looking than the few women that aren’t trying to kill us. Of course I’ve thought about it, but that’s not why I’m here right now.”

“Gawain, I apologize for—” Arthur started, but Gawain raised his hand and stopped that before he could be exasperated any more.

“Don’t, all right? It’s not your fault Lancelot’s an idiot—it is your fault that he’s still an idiot, but that’s neither here nor there. Just…stop. Stop.” One last time, Gawain cut his hands through the air. When they leveled with his hips, he had to breathe in, and in doing so all his anger cooled away into resignation. “Or at least do it where we don’t notice, because when you think you might die in the next few minutes, you don’t want to do it with the sound of bickering in your ears.”

Arthur slowly sat down on the bed and rested his head in his hands, fingertips rubbing at his temples as he groaned. “I didn’t realize it was affecting you like that.”

Head bowed over the other man, Lancelot remained standing. His one hand was clenched into a fist against his hip, but his other was drifting over Arthur’s head, then sloping to follow the curving of the side of Arthur’s face. It stopped by the chin, then curled its fingers to make another fist. “Gawain, if he ends up shoving me out the door, like you suggest, the first thing I’m going to do is kill you.”

“I didn’t say that!” Gawain retorted, startled by the change in Lancelot’s tone. It’d been fierce before, but alloyed with that now was a quiet, eerie determination that gave the other man an air of menace he’d been lacking.

Equally surprised, Arthur looked up, but not in time to stop Lancelot from walking over and shaking Gawain by the shoulders. “Yes, you did! Because if something goes wrong he always thinks it’s because he’s been too weak and that he needs to sacrifice something, and damn it, I’m not a fucking sacrifice!”

“No, you’re too much of a thick bastard for that.” Gawain scrabbled and shoved at Lancelot, but he couldn’t break the other man’s hold. Even when he ground his heel down onto Lancelot’s toes and whacked an elbow into Lancelot’s gut, Lancelot would only hiss and tighten his grip. The stench of ale on Lancelot’s gasps reminded Gawain of exactly how drunk the other man still was—probably enough to not feel anything short of a battleaxe—and the constant erratic lurching was doing terrible things to Gawain’s balance.

They were moments away from falling on the bed when desperation finally led Gawain to the last possible attempt: he hooked his fingers into Lancelot’s collar and dragged the other man down into a sharp kiss.

It worked in that Lancelot’s hands went slack and fell away, but it failed in that…apparently, kissing Lancelot was something that grew in appeal upon subsequent trials. And the other man wasn’t helping by sinking his teeth into Gawain’s lower lip and sucking on his tongue.

Someone’s hand was on Gawain’s back—actually, it’d been there for a while, but he hadn’t noticed because of Lancelot’s tenacity. Now it was pulling hard on his shoulder, forcing him away from the other man and making him look up at an Arthur he might’ve called murderous. If he’d ever seen Arthur with that expression before, and thus had something to which he could compare the man’s current glower.

Lancelot went still, then moaned and threw an arm over his face. “How much did I drink?”

“You’re asking now?” Gawain replied, incredulity briefly breaking through his sense of impending catastrophe.

Arthur merely attempted to strip the skin off them with his eyes before letting go of Gawain and turning away. He almost put his head back in his hands, but at the last moment, changed his mind and instead folded his hands in his lap. “This is impossible.”

“It didn’t mean anything. It was only making a point like with the girls in the tavern, except it was Gawain and—ow!”

“You know, at this point it’d probably be more like getting rid of you than sacrificing you,” Gawain muttered, shaking his hand to dispel the ache; it seemed Lancelot had rocks for cheekbones. “You’re asking him to…to what, declare you the most important thing in his life, while you’re tonguing the back of my throat? Why the fuck does he put up with you?”

Glaring all the while, Lancelot rolled over on his side and “accidentally” cracked his knee into Gawain’s thigh. “Your tongue was just as deep in my mouth, and—and I don’t know. I don’t know, so I don’t know when he’ll stop. I don’t know how long I’ve got.”

It was truly amazing how quickly Lancelot’s bravado collapsed into a kind of withdrawn, fearful tenseness that Gawain would never have believed the other man was capable of having, if he wasn’t currently seeing it. He was about to remark on that, but something like real pain went across Lancelot’s eyes as they flicked towards Arthur’s back, and so he didn’t.

“Eight mugs,” Arthur said. He twisted around and raised an eyebrow when he saw their confusion. “Lancelot had eight mugs when I was looking, and sneaked two more when he thought I wasn’t.”

“You counted.” Though it was a small detail, Lancelot’s half-smile imbued it with far more importance than he usually gave direct orders from Rome.

One corner of Arthur’s mouth momentarily flicked up as he reached out and ran his fingers into Lancelot’s sweat-frizzed curls. His amusement, however, quickly vanished under a stinging kind of sadness. “And you can tell Gawain you don’t trust me, but you can’t tell me.”

“Wait, wait—I said to keep me out of this. Besides, you were right here and heard anyway.” Of course, Gawain knew perfectly well that that wasn’t enough, but the weight of the night’s events was starting to press on him, and he wanted to avoid any more…unpleasantries was an understatement, but he’d already used up the little eloquence he had.

“I think it’s too late for that,” Lancelot said out of the side of his mouth, as he had locked eyes with Arthur. “By the way, I’m…ah…sorry.”

Gawain blinked and didn’t reply.

“What? I can apologize, can’t I?” Still not looking away from Arthur, who seemed as if he’d again forgotten Gawain was there, Lancelot flailed out an arm and tried to hit Gawain. His wrist was snagged by Arthur and pinned down to the bed, slightly above his head. A moment later, his other wrist suffered the same fate. From this angle, Gawain could see Lancelot’s already huge pupils grow even larger as Arthur leaned over and stopped just above Lancelot’s nose. Arthur’s free hand stroked down Lancelot’s chest and then curved to slip into the rip in Lancelot’s clothing, making the other man suck in a breath and arch up. “It’s hard to talk to you, all right? I’m always starting the conversation, and you always take things too seriously, and I think you’ll…leave.”

“Oh, you weren’t apologizing to me,” Gawain realized. Which both made more sense and proved Lancelot’s consistency in being an inconsiderate son of a bitch. “Are you still drunk?”

Arthur started, then looked up at Gawain. “He should. We both should. And yes, he is.”

“You already did…twice?” Gawain bent over Lancelot and sniffed, then wrinkled his nose. He slanted a warning look at Arthur as he sat back and pretended he wasn’t twitching out of nervousness and confusion. “You could probably get stone drunk off the fumes of his breath.”

“Fine, I’m sorry about dragging you into this,” Lancelot grumbled, restless against Arthur’s hold. “Now will you leave?”

Before the other man had said that, Gawain had been prepared to make his excuses and exit what was rapidly becoming an awkward position, but the impatience in Lancelot’s voice made Gawain think again. It was too hard to tell if anything had been truly settled, and after everything that had happened, it was aggravating to think that it’d accomplished nothing.

And no, he wasn’t satisfied with being fobbed off like a mere fly. “It depends. Are you going to start up again after I go?”

“Well, what do you want to do? Supervise?” On the last word, Lancelot jerked his elbows as if trying to emphasize with a hand gesture. When he wasn’t released, he stopped struggling and glanced upwards. “Arthur?”

“He has a point. I don’t want to go through this again, and I don’t think you do, either,” was the reply he received. While he spoke, Arthur was scrutinizing Gawain with an unnervingly speculative look. Then he looked down to meet Lancelot’s eyes, and also lowered his voice as well. “I don’t enjoy seeing you with others.”

Once again, Gawain had the feeling that meanings were passing around him and over his head, and he didn’t particularly enjoy it. “It’s nice to know that I’m making the point, and not being made the point.”

Lancelot ignored him and shrugged his shoulders at Arthur, resigned and challenging all at once. “And I don’t like sharing you with a lot of things, like your God and your city.”

“Sometimes I wonder how you two survive, missing the point like this. Or perhaps I’m a bit slow,” Gawain interrupted, his newly-mended patience fraying again. He stared down at his hand, feeling his confusion transmute itself into a dangerous annoyance, and tried to suppress the urge to do something stupid. “How does pretending like you want to fuck me make Arthur more likely to take your side? And how does letting Lancelot do that make him less likely to stop?”

“Because at least then he’ll know what it feels like to—”

Before Lancelot could finish his sentence, Gawain’s temper snapped, and his hand went out to curve around the back of Arthur’s head. He was most likely going to die for this, but he’d know he’d finally gotten through Lancelot’s thick layer of egotism in some way.

Arthur tasted better than Lancelot. That wasn’t a surprise; what was a surprise was that Arthur actually kissed back for a moment before pulling away. Both men were frustrated, and obsessed with alternatives because they thought the other was looking at those, and so it was comprehensible. But it was still stupid.

Fortunately, Arthur was still holding Lancelot’s wrists, so Gawain only had to slam his hand down on Lancelot’s chest. “Well, if you’re keeping tallies, then the both of you are just about even. Did you enjoy that?”

“No, and you’re a dead—” A hand suddenly covered Lancelot’s mouth, then pressed down till he ceased fighting and only stared up at Arthur, hurt brilliant in his eyes.

On the other hand, the seriousness in Arthur’s eyes made them so dark as to almost be pits receding back into his head. Looking at them gave Gawain the impression that he was glimpsing a vast depth that could swallow him alive if he wasn’t careful. “Do you know what you’re doing?”

And for the first time, Gawain saw a meaning in those words and in Arthur’s face that Lancelot didn’t. He had to take a moment to think about it, but it was hard to put aside the clear fact that he’d involved himself with this of his own free will, and that if he left things as they were now, none of them would ever be very easy around each other. Complications were something he’d never needed, and so he’d tried to live his life with as many strings as tied up or tied off as he could.

“I think I’m settling an argument. Do you know what you’re doing?” he replied.

Lancelot’s eyes flicked back and forth between them, faster and faster until they should have by rights whipped out of his head. Then they froze on Arthur, pupils widening with first realization and then a reluctant acknowledgment of responsibility.

“I believe that I’ve let this go beyond Lancelot and me, and that I need to address that.” Then Arthur lifted his hand from Lancelot’s mouth.

As firm as Arthur’s words had been, he still waited for Lancelot’s reply.

“Next time, I’m getting drunk away from everyone else,” Lancelot muttered, clumsily twisting around and ducking up through the circle of Arthur’s arms so he trapped his hands against his own chest. He craned his head to catch Arthur’s mouth and snapped at it as if trying to bite off any traces Gawain had left behind, then leaned back against Arthur’s chest and silently dared Gawain with a look.

The surface childishness almost made Gawain roll his eyes again, but as he moved forward, he glimpsed Arthur’s face, which was tensed with an anxiety he’d never seen in it before. And given that worry was Arthur’s usual expression, that was saying something.

Arthur had, apparently, just realized exactly what he was risking here. While Gawain could’ve told him that an avalanche wouldn’t dislodge Lancelot once the man had gotten his nails into a crack, Arthur was the kind that had a hard time believing solely on the basis of faith. Oh, he wanted to be otherwise, but even in the face of Lancelot’s uniquely piercing verbal barbs, he wouldn’t be so defensive about religion if he had the rock-solid blind belief other Christians had. Instead, he constantly looked for affirmation around himself.

Of course, getting a confirmation of anything that was free of mockery from Lancelot was like herding rats. The man spent too much time protecting his pride.

Gawain had to admit, ravaging Lancelot’s mouth was a rather satisfying way of getting revenge for earlier. He shoved the other man’s tongue out of the way with his own and swabbed at the roof of Lancelot’s mouth, stifling the startled moan the other man made. Against his chest, he could feel Arthur’s fingers flexing around Lancelot’s wrists, tugging Lancelot backwards and thus closer to him.

An instant of wistfulness passed over Gawain, and then a flicker of jealousy before his exasperation returned. The two of them didn’t even know what they had, and they were busily ruining it.

When he finally withdrew to look at what he’d done, Lancelot was favoring him with a look of heightened respect. “I never thought.”

“No, you never do.” As it wasn’t his life that was a mess, Gawain refrained from answering the question in Lancelot’s eyes and moved on to other matters. Like getting his hands down Lancelot’s trousers, which made the other man squirm and curse and push a stiff, heavy prick into Gawain’s hands. One quick check in Arthur’s direction showed that whatever else was going on in the man’s head, he was liking the view. “You’re just lucky it was me tonight and not Galahad. He would’ve skipped straight to strangling you.”

“Galahad wishes he could,” Lancelot sniffed, hips rolling and pushing back into Arthur in a way that had to be doing something to the other man’s cock. Come to think of it, Arthur’s breathing had sped up a bit, and his gaze, which was fixed on the line of Lancelot’s neck, was painfully hot to look at even sideways, as Gawain had to do. “It—oh, fuck—odd how he’s twitchy about—shit, harder—this kind of—oh—reminds me of Romans, really—fuck, Arthur.”

The last exclamation was due to Arthur suddenly sinking his teeth into Lancelot’s throat. He stayed in place for a moment, audibly sucking, before permitting Lancelot to throw back his head and then taking advantage of the expanse of bared neck. “What about Romans?” he murmured, watching Gawain nuzzle aside Lancelot’s torn clothing and mouth upwards to meet him.

“It took me two years to work past you thinking this was a sin.” Lancelot sounded a little sulky, and he kept rubbing his cheek against Arthur’s while Arthur and Gawain were busy exploring each other’s lips. When he actually butted his head against the side of Gawain’s face, Gawain butted him back, then squeezed.

It was extremely gratifying to hear Lancelot squeak and whimper, but sadly, a look from Arthur led to Gawain abandoning that approach. He went back to bringing Lancelot off as quickly as possible, which didn’t take too long.

Subsiding against Arthur’s chest, Lancelot let his head fall back on Arthur’s shoulder and lazily mouthed at the underside of Arthur’s jaw. His attention came jerking back front when Gawain drew a slicked finger up between his legs, and his knees would’ve clapped together on Gawain if Arthur hadn’t stroked the back of one hand along the inside of Lancelot’s thigh. With an uncertain look towards Arthur, Lancelot slumped back and shuddered as he was worked open. His fingers twisted about till they could graze against the hand Arthur had wrapped around his wrists.

When it was time, Arthur put a hand on Gawain’s wrist and Gawain flicked his fingers out of Lancelot, making the other man whine. Surprisingly enough, Arthur then shifted Lancelot off his lap and to the side, still keeping hold of Lancelot’s wrists, and leaned forward to press his cheek up the inside of Gawain’s leg.

Gawain swore in Sarmatian, then in Latin, and just caught himself on his elbows as he tumbled backward. “What are you doing?”

“I find it hard to believe that you wouldn’t know.” Arthur glanced at Lancelot, cutting off whatever the other man was going to say, then faced Gawain again. He calmly began getting Gawain’s trousers off his hips while lightly licking at the newly-revealed skin. “You shouldn’t have had to do this.”

“And now I start to understand why you complain about his guilt so much,” Gawain muttered at Lancelot, who briefly replaced shock with smug knowledge. Wet warmth snaked down behind his balls, shaking his nerves all the way up to his skull, and he grabbed fistfuls of bedding to steady himself. “Arthur, I happen to think—fucking—you’re the man—oh, fucking--who’ll get me out of this country alive. And I like you. That’s why I’m willingly doing this.”

While Gawain had been gasping his way through his words, Lancelot had squirmed up to lean against Arthur’s side, pressing so hard he seemed to merge into the other man in places. He hid his face against Arthur’s ribs, but once in a while one eye would reveal itself to watch, resentful and fascinated and jealous.

For a moment, Arthur stared at Gawain’s cock as if it wasn’t there. Then, frustratingly, he looked up. “I’m not doing this as a penance. I’m thankful. Disbelieving that men like you trust me that much, but grateful for it all the same.”

“That’s bett--fuck!” Gawain’s arms began to tremble so violently he thought they’d come out of their sockets, and he had to drop down onto his elbows. However, he refused to let himself fall all the way back, because then he wouldn’t be able to see his prick sliding in and out of Arthur’s mouth.

On second thought, sight was rapidly becoming something Gawain couldn’t control. His vision went black around the edges and wavered in the melting air, and he simply tried to hold onto his consciousness so Lancelot wouldn’t have a chance to jeer at him. Or to do anything else. The man was not peaceful under any conditions, but when it came to Arthur, Lancelot’s violence married itself to a sincerity that made it…made it…

…frightening. The word burst into Gawain’s brain at the same moment he came, and he snatched at its sharp edges to keep himself in the world.

After a fashion, it worked. He didn’t completely black out, but he was a long time in recovering to the point that he could move. By then, Arthur had turned back to Lancelot and was preoccupied in fucking the other man into the bed.

Nevertheless, Lancelot managed to raise his head and sneer at Gawain. “How’s it feel to have a garrison commander attend to you?”

Hands bruising Lancelot’s hips, Arthur abruptly reared back and shoved into Lancelot so hard the other man nearly hit his head against the wall. That was only prevented because Gawain put out a hand and pulled Lancelot away.

Curiously enough, he wasn’t very angry. Maybe it was the desperate brittleness to Lancelot’s remark, or maybe it was the fact that Arthur had heard and had reacted instead of burying it within him. So when Gawain lifted the other man’s chin to look him in the eyes, it wasn’t with any intention of smashing Lancelot’s nose. Not a realistic intention, at least. “Is that what he is to you?”

“What does—no.” Something Arthur did made Lancelot’s eyes roll back into his head, and he spent a few moments clawing at the sheets before refocusing on Gawain. When he did, a trace of contrition accompanied his demeanor.

“Good. Because he’s always going to be partly that to me. And he’s always going to be that to the rest of the world.” Gawain dropped Lancelot’s chin and sat back to watch while Arthur raked a hand down Lancelot’s chest to wrap it around the man’s prick.

When Lancelot came the second time, he did so with a twist that strained every muscle of his body into sharp relief, his mouth rounded around a silent yell. Then he sprawled over the bed and shivered uncontrollably as Arthur pushed in those last few times before whipping himself into a collapse. Very, very slowly, Arthur eased out and roughly petted the trembling muscles in Lancelot’s back before curling himself over the other man. He hesitated, then tilted Lancelot’s chin up and licked over the bite mark he’d left earlier. Lancelot stiffened in apparent surprise, but quickly regained control of himself and wound himself around Arthur, nuzzling at the other man’s face.

Gawain quietly got off the bed and dressed himself.

When he was nearly to the door, Arthur called out. “Gawain?”

“You’re welcome. And it would be very nice if you excused me from guard duty tomorrow night,” Gawain replied, turning the knob. He paused for a moment and stared at the door, trying to remember, then shook his head and stepped out.

Behind him, both men were laughing, Lancelot louder than Arthur. “Done,” Arthur finally said, just as Gawain reclosed the door.

“That was interesting.”

Gawain jumped and swore. “Tristan, don’t do that. And…wait. No one closed the door.”

“Not generally a good thing to forget about,” agreed the other man, who was gradually emerging from the shadows. His gaze slid up and down Gawain, noting so much that Gawain actually wanted to blush. “Neither’s fighting a losing war. Men tend to listen to their reason less if they believe their cause is already lost.”

As was usual around Tristan, it took a moment for Gawain to put that comment together with its source. “Well, Lancelot shouldn’t be thinking that anymore. And Arthur’s at least pausing before he thinks that. In regards to this.”

“The Woads are a different fight, and less important at the moment.” Tristan took another step nearer, white mist swirling about his hand. When he lifted it, it resolved into a slightly soiled rag, which he passed to Gawain.

A little embarrassed, Gawain took it and hastily wiped at his hand, then at a few odd spots on his clothes. “So what are you doing here?”

“Same reason as you, I think. Though with a different resulting action.” The other man tipped his head to the side, once more scrutinizing Gawain. “How was it?”

“Ah…well, in the end—not the worst night I’ve ever had. But not something I care to repeat.” Gawain shrugged and folded up the rag so the stains were inside. He almost gave it back to Tristan, but at the last moment realized what he was doing and kept the piece of cloth, intending to dispose of it the next chance he got. “What they have could be very good for them, but it’s not for me. And I don’t think I’d want it; too much pain for my tastes.”

Flickering blackness caught Gawain’s attention and made him look up just in time to see the last of Tristan vanish into the dark. “Good,” drifted back to him.

Tristan had spoken with an odd emphasis on the word…mulling over that, Gawain turned around and directed his feet towards his room. By the time he got there, he was starting to grin.