Tangible Schizophrenia



Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: Gawain/Galahad, Arthur/Guinevere, implied Arthur/Lancelot.
Feedback: Good lines, bad lines, etc.
Disclaimer: Versions from the movie, not me.
Notes: Post-movie and supernatural, but not AU. For the Dias de Los Muertos challenge.
Summary: In the middle of the night, an uncertain Galahad has a decisive visit.


Galahad turned around and nearly screamed.

It figured, was what his numbed mind finally managed to come up with a long few moments later. Dead or alive, it figured. “Tristan?”

The ghost lightly pushed off the rail upon which it had been sitting and silently landed on the ground. As far as appearances were concerned, this might as well have been any night before Badon Hill, when Galahad was making a late-night trip to the stables and Tristan was being a bastard on cat’s paws. Could have been a trick of the torchlight, but there were almost roses in the other man’s cheeks. “Galahad.”

“You’re looking well,” Galahad muttered, keeping his distance. He suddenly noticed that he was trying to hold his torch in front of him like a sword, as if Tristan were a wild beast to be fended off in that manner. Old habits, but at the moment, he couldn’t particularly recall how else to keep away a ghost. Or even if he’d ever learned how to handle such a matter; oddly enough, in all his years in Britain, he’d never heard of such a thing happening outside of a drinking story. Once someone was dead, they stayed dead. They didn’t half-grin and rock back on their heels, faintly amused.

“Would you rather I was a rotting corpse?” Tristan took another step closer, which in turn moved Galahad back. Frowning, the other man stopped where he was and held up his hands, then slowly pivoted completely around. “I’m not, by the way.”

Maybe it was some Christian thing. From what Galahad could gather, that religion did involve worshipping a man who had come back to life for a little while. On the other hand, unless Arthur had taken up witchcraft or Tristan had secretly converted, that wasn’t really a good explanation. In fact, it was an incredibly bad one.

Galahad decided he needed to back further into the stable and see if the horses were still there. So he did, and stuck the torch in a holder while he was at it because his hands were trembling so badly. “I can see that,” he called back, voice straining high even to his ears. “Don’t suppose you could tell me why you aren’t? Because you were very definitely dead. Fuck, Tristan—that Saxon chopped up your back like firewood.”

“I know.” He sounded more than a little touchy. If he’d been anyone else, Galahad might have even said Tristan sounded pained. “And I can’t. But I only have until sunrise.”

A moment’s thought pegged that event as still being some hours away. Another saw Galahad ensconced in the nearest stall, vigorously currying a sleepy, completely unconcerned horse. The stallion briefly lifted its head to observe Tristan leaning against the stall entrance, then dropped it and snorted itself asleep once more. While that was somewhat reassuring as to whether Galahad was having a nightmare or merely a rather weird dream, more helpful was the bracing earthy smell of the horse and the straw, which was real and familiar and certain. He leaned forward and inhaled, then brushed a little harder, trying to raise more of the scent.

It was hard to reconstruct the exact train of events, but it was quite simple to summarize them: the horse woke up again. From his new position crumpled against the far corner of the stall, Galahad froze with his arms over his head and waited for the next kick.

“Sometimes it’s hard to remember you’re from the same country I am.” When Galahad lowered his arms and looked, Tristan was staring back with one hand slowly stroking the horse’s neck. Naturally, the stupid animal was calming down.

“Well, right now it’s hard to remember that you’re dead. I almost think I’d rather be talking to a corpse,” Galahad snapped, pushing himself up the wall. He slashed a hand over his mouth, then used it to chafe the side of his jaw, as if that would help his nerves. “Damn it, Tristan, you died. We buried you. Weeks ago.”

The other man’s eyebrows went up, and he let his palm slide off the horse. “Weeks?”

Galahad nodded, sharp and curt.

Tristan blinked, then raised his hand to his face and pressed two fingers against the side of his forehead. He started to turn around, then halted and instead, leaned against the wall. When the horse nickered and nudged at his other hand, he petted its nose, but didn’t otherwise react.

For once, Galahad understood why Gawain complained about headaches. The sheer amount of inexplicability about the whole situation was like a swelling in his skull, pressing at the backs of his eyes and drawing up tight the muscles in his jaw so his teeth ground back and forth as he struggled against that. “Jackass.”

“Good to know that some things haven’t changed while I was—dead.” As Tristan said the last word, his voice lilted with a trace of uncomprehending disbelief. “You still don’t like me.”

Before he remembered about the horse, Galahad threw a fistful of hay at the other man. Then he froze, only his gaze moving, ripping back to the stallion.

Fortunately, the horse had apparently resigned itself to playing host, and didn’t even flick an ear in response. With a sigh of relief, Galahad sagged down into the straw. “What does that have to do with anything?”

Half of Tristan’s mouth twisted into a sarcastic smile. “Don’t tell me you missed me.”

“Don’t make me throw more. There’s horse-shit back here, too.” Which stank and which Galahad was carefully avoiding while he tried to think of a decent response to Tristan’s implied query. The problem was, he’d had too many damned weeks trying to heal and deal with a grieving Arthur and wary Britons to figure out exactly how he felt about Badon Hill, and no time at all to learn how to tell himself about that. And if he didn’t hit on the one right way to say it, Tristan was never going to let him—ow. Galahad rapped the heel of his hand against his temple, trying to dull pain with more pain. “What do you mean, till sunrise? How do you know?”

Tristan shrugged and squatted down at the same time, blurring himself in a way that, oddly enough, only made him stand out even more against the solid oak planks behind him. He gave the horse one last rub on the nose, then waved it off and folded his fingers together so he could stare at them. “Because I know. It seems you just know some things in…death…as you do in life.”

“Wonderful. Really wonderful,” Galahad mumbled, now pressing at both temples. He started to chew on his lip as well, but then caught himself and mentally scolded himself for acting like a damned woman. A thought occurred to him. “Tristan? So is anything Arthur says about what happens after—”

The look was enough to cut him off, and after the first reflexive moment of irritation, he had to admit that it was an unfair question.

Quiet, but not silence. Horses restlessly shifting, undertone of crunching hay. Unspeaking figure on the edge of Galahad’s vision, where it hadn’t been for days and days, and despite the headache and the sheer incredulity, he was relieved. But on the heels of that feeling came the slow acid realization that this was only temporary, that everything had in fact changed and that nothing was going back to how it used to be.

So that was why he found Tristan annoying at the moment.

“You remember Bercilak?” Galahad didn’t wait for a reply. “He told me once, after he’d lost his hand, that sometimes he thought it was still there. His finger would hurt, or something like that, and when he reached out to rub it, then he’d remember it was gone.”

“He told me the same thing. And then he got drunk, went off and died.” Tristan spoke slow as the time crawling around them, and his sharp gaze was like a cut down to the bone.

Irritatingly enough, Galahad’s hands were still shaking. He plunged them into a clean heap of hay and started ripping at the straws, watching the little red lines appear all over his fingers. The cuts hurt a bit. Just enough to remind him once again that this wasn’t a dream. “Prick. Why the fuck did you go after that one Saxon, anyway? Weren’t there enough other ones for you to hack at?”

“He was the leader. Arthur was busy somewhere else, and someone needed to see to him.” A faint jagged irregularity surfaced in Tristan’s voice, almost but not quite laughter. It certainly wasn’t good humor of any kind. “Or weaken him, at least.”

“And I thought Arthur was bad. You stupid fucking idiot, you—you—”

Hay-throwing, Galahad decided, might be childish, but it was also immensely gratifying. Seeing yellow bits haphazardly sticking out of Tristan’s hair and taking in the shocked look on the usually imperturbable man’s face quelled some deep itch within Galahad, which for all he knew could’ve been developing for years.

And of course, he would only get to satisfy it now. Because who cared, when this meeting had about as much substance as the little motes of dust rising from Galahad’s frantic straw-shredding? It was—unfair. Grossly unfair, and no one could do a damned thing to right it. “I did—I do miss you. We all do. You fought with us and lived with us, and you died just because you thought you had a mission to do. Idiot.”

Tristan was methodically picking the hay out of his hair and flicking it back on the ground, but when Galahad looked closer, he could see that the other man’s hands were trembling ever-so-slightly. And when he thought about it, he realized that Tristan had been careful to keep the same amount of space between them.

“I wasn’t very kind to you,” the other man observed.

“And what’s your idea of being kind? Letting me puke on you and fixing my gear when you think I’m not looking? You’re not Gawain.” Galahad paused for a moment and checked his next thought, lest it end up as stupid as his other ones. His mind appeared to be back in functioning order, and contrary to popular belief, he didn’t need someone to tell him how to use it. “It would scare me if you did that. Honestly, most of the time I want to smack Gawain for doing it.”

That stopped Tristan for a more than a few breaths. “Really.”

“Yes, really. He does that because he thinks I can’t—no, I mean, he did that because he thought that I couldn’t take care of it myself. Like I’m a fucking manchild, tagging along with the soldiers. But since Badon Hill, everything’s…” The words wouldn’t come, but lifting his hand and floating it about in the air seemed to convey what he’d wanted to say fairly well. Once Galahad was sure Tristan understood, he dropped his hand and rubbed it on his knee. The many little slices from the hay were starting to itch rather badly. “Yes, you were a bastard, and I could’ve done without you sneaking up on me all the time. But…look, I never took much from the Romans without taking back as much, so why would I let you do any more than they did? For that matter, why would Arthur?”

“You speak much more nicely of him than you used to,” Tristan noted, plucking the last piece of hay from his hair. His eyes slid over to Galahad, then jerked back to the stallion.

Sighing, Galahad rolled his shoulders in an effort to release all the tension that had been building up there. Not only was he not going to get any sleep tonight, but he was also getting as many cramps as a woman in labor. “I never said he wasn’t a good leader. Just too damned devoted to the wrong cause. But he did do a lot to—well, protect us. As much as he could, anyway.”

Tristan straightened up and pivoted on his toes in one fluid motion, staring directly at Galahad. “He was?”

“Did you know Lancelot died, too? Saving Guinevere—that Woad woman. Of all people. And duty calls too loudly for Arthur to ignore, but he’s…I’ve never seen a man grieve so hard and still stay standing.” The muscles in the back of Galahad’s neck were wound particularly tight, so he reached up and attempted to massage them loose. It gave him an excuse to duck his head and pretend he wasn’t remembering how much it hurt just to meet Arthur’s eyes. “Gawain’s worried. He spends most of his time trying to—you won’t believe me, but he’s trying to help Guinevere keep the rest of the Britons off Arthur’s back.”

“No, I can believe that. Gawain has sense.” A whisper of mockery slipped back into Tristan’s tone as he looked at Galahad, but it wasn’t grating. Familiar, more like. “I didn’t know Lancelot was dead as well. Bors?”

Galahad rolled his eyes. “Vanora finally has a date for her wedding.”

“Does Guinevere?” When Galahad glanced over, Tristan lifted and dropped one shoulder. He tilted his head so his hair fell out of his eyes, giving Galahad a rare look at the man’s whole face. “I don’t remember much of her, but she didn’t strike me as the kind to do things half-way.”

“No, she doesn’t,” Galahad reluctantly conceded, though he was careful to keep his tone reserved. “It would be nice to be able to hate her.”

A sudden crackling made Galahad look up, just in time to see Tristan lying down on the hay. The other man shifted twice and then was still, having apparently made himself comfortable in less than half the time anyone else would have needed. His fingers were absently rubbing along his arm, spending much attention on his wrist, which he scratched at over and over.

No hawk.

Galahad tucked his knees under his chin and pinched at the bridge of his nose, resigning himself to a long, most likely confusing ramble. While he didn’t like being teased for not being any good at words—and Tristan had always been the one to lazily point out any flaw—sometimes those just came. If Galahad bottled it up, he knew it’d just explode out in an even worse mess later.

Besides, he thought darkly, Tristan was no longer living. A better confidant than most. “Same problem with her as with you, you know. You went and got yourself killed. On purpose. Because you thought you had to. And she thinks—well, whatever she thinks, but the upshot is that Arthur’s clinging to whatever he can salvage out of Britain, and she’s clinging to Arthur. Sometimes I think that’s all that’s holding him up.”

“I can imagine his guilt must be difficult to handle,” Tristan said in a neutral tone.

“Don’t you dare ignore the rest of what I said.” Temper rising, Galahad uncurled and crawled over to shake Tristan by the shoulder before he could even think about ghosts and solidity and such. By then, his hand was already firmly clasped on a cold arm, and Tristan was staring up with an uncertain expression. “Why? Why, damn it—you didn’t have to. You knew that.”

Tristan’s eyes abruptly slashed to furious, and he actually jerked a few inches off the ground before he got himself under control. But he did yank his shoulder free of Galahad’s grip, lip curling in frustrated contempt. “Galahad, of course I knew. I did it because I chose to. We all did.”

“But why—”

“Because I thought it was worth it.” Galahad’s dubiousness about the veracity of that must have shown, because Tristan chopped a hand through the air to cut off any interjections. “Not Britain. Helping Arthur. And I thought that I had.”


A genuine snarl came out of Tristan’s mouth as he shoved himself back, first onto his knees and then onto his feet. “Listen for once. One way or another, we were going to all be scattered. To die. Or did you think going back to Sarmatia would take care of everything?”

Galahad opened his mouth to reply, but found his words sticking to the roof of his mouth. Angry and raw and aching, he fell back against the wall and glared.

“It wouldn’t have. We’ve been here fifteen years, fighting under the Romans, living with the Britons—you think they would’ve welcomed us with open arms? They wouldn’t have known what to make of us. And anyway, you and Gawain would’ve gone west and I would’ve gone east, and Lancelot would’ve found some way to stay with Arthur—” In the middle of his astonishing tirade, Tristan abruptly cut himself off. He hissed in a breath and looked over his shoulder, then blew out air in an explosive sigh that slumped his shoulders.

When he spoke again, he used the tone of the bone-tired. “Galahad. I don’t know how you saw it, but for me, Arthur gave me a choice about leaving. And I took it. I…I only want to know that it wasn’t in vain.”

Thinking didn’t come easily to Galahad. Not in the way of true idiots, who couldn’t put reality to life, but in the way of the men who seemed to see above everyone else, who could jump from tree to tree while people like Galahad had to plod along the trails below. Normally it didn’t trouble him too much, because high-flying ones like Lancelot and Arthur also had farther to fall when they stumbled, but at the moment he keenly felt the difference between them and him. So for once, he sat back and went through everything first before he opened his mouth.

Fortuitously, Tristan was patient. And the man had a stare that somehow raised Galahad’s hackles and helped crystallize his thoughts all at once.

“None of us have killed Guinevere yet,” he finally said. “I ran into her last night in the kitchens—she was swearing and banging things around, trying to make some special food Arthur had mentioned, as if he really cares about that kind of thing. It’s that bad…but she worries about him. And we both know our great and self-blind leader needs someone to do that.”

Tristan was still scratching at his wrist, digging his nails beneath his gauntlet. He didn’t blink, and every word Galahad said seemed to soak into him.

“Gawain doesn’t want to leave. Something about having done so much, it’d be stupid not to see it through. Bors is happy, since Vanora always wanted to stay—they’re finally naming the eldest after Dagonet.” Galahad paused to arrange his thoughts into coherency, then subtracted as much of the exasperation as he could because he was exhausted as well. His back as well as his shoulders was beginning to ache, and his eyelids were heavy with the soreness of insomnia. “Arthur hurts. But…well, he’s not Roman. Hard to believe I ever saw him like that. He’s…home here. And he’s not dead. I think he’ll remember that soon—he still can’t stand to see wrongs unrighted. That always drags him out for a little while, and those little whiles are getting longer and longer.”

“And you?” The slight sardonic grin was back on Tristan’s face. “If you missed me, then it’s only polite that I ask after you.”

This time, Tristan ducked the straw. “Son of a bitch,” Galahad grumbled, only half-heartedly. “I don’t understand any of it. But I’m not going to give up and leave.”

Tristan noiselessly stood up and ambled around the horse to the door, then swung himself outside while Galahad belatedly caught up. “It was good to see you, Galahad. I can always depend on you for an honest opinion, even if it’s not the most intelligent one.”

“You—” And instead of snatching at the other man, Galahad had to stumble to a halt as soon as he exited the stables. Half-blind, he threw up his arm and pressed it against his eyes till the dancing lights stopped. Only then did he lower his arm and squint into the brilliant sunrise, looking about for someone he knew wouldn’t be there.

Nevertheless, he spent a few minutes casting about, searching for at least some sign of Tristan’s appearance in the physical world. Finding nothing left him less surprised than sourly amused; the other man was true to self as always.

It was in that frame of mind that he made his way toward the main hall and thus nearly tripped over Guinevere, who was sitting on the steps. Oddly enough, she didn’t snap a coolly derisive insult at him, but instead merely gave him a distracted, annoyed look. Galahad went two more steps, cursed himself for taking on Gawain’s more annoying traits, and turned back. “What are you doing up?”

She made as if to wave him off, then shoved her hand in her lap and pressed her lips together. “I…were you out all night? Did you see anything odd?”

It might have been the lack of sleep that made Galahad do it. Or maybe some of Tristan’s residual weirdness had remained. “Like Lancelot?”

Guinevere’s eyes went huge as eggs, and she nearly knocked herself off the step. Galahad gleefully let himself grin smugly at her for a moment before correcting her obvious misunderstanding. “No. I saw…someone else. But I take it you—”

“He’s much more direct than I remembered.” She crossed her arms over her breasts and hugged herself against the cold morning. Though her chin didn’t betray the slightest bit of weakness, her head was slightly angled downward so strands of hair slipped out of her bun and half-veiled her face. When she started speaking once more, she did so in a fast, clipped tone. “You would do anything to help your people. So would I. It’s a natural feeling.”

“Where do you put Arthur, then?” Galahad asked, scuffing his foot along the step. After a moment, he sat down next to her and nearly moaned at the way his tired body settled.

When she looked at him, it was without the tinge of superiority that had colored their few previous interactions. “If I only wanted him for Britain, then I would court all of you as well. The more men I have to stand with me, the stronger my position is.”

Her answer gave Galahad the feeling he was walking on someone else’s ground without a clue as to where he was. Then again, that wasn’t an uncommon experience with him, and it’d never seemed to affect things too much before. “Are you happy Lancelot’s dead?”

A smile cut across her face, then disappeared under her teeth as she caught her lower lip on them. Her eyes held the same kind of knowing irony Tristan’s had, but they also had an edgy, challenging gleam that, oddly enough, made her look very young. “I find it hard to believe that you need an excuse to attack me. I’ve known Arthur for weeks. You’ve had years.”

“Are you answering me, or Lancelot?” Galahad demanded, too tired to put up with the tangential nature of their conversation.

Taken aback, she stared at him, and then through him, as if seeing someone behind him. Galahad pointedly didn’t turn around.

In the end, Guinevere turned to look at her palm, running one fingertip over the calluses bow and garrote had left. “I would use up all my fingers and toes, and all the strands of hair on my head, if I were to name people I knew that you or your friends killed. That Arthur killed. Did those deaths make you happy? No, I don’t think they did.”

“You’re not answering the question.” After its initial intensity, the dawn had quickly settled into the kind of depressing gray that both eased strain on the eyes and weighted the heart with lead. Damnable country, and yet Galahad wasn’t moving to leave anymore.

“Arthur’s never going to be the same,” she retorted, a bit brittle in her sharpness. Her fingers twisted around each other till the knuckles turned white. “Who he was before—the man he was that even the Britons respected—that man’s gone to the fire. Who he is now is the king of Britain, and he’ll be a good one. A great one.” Guinevere abruptly stilled, eyes fixed on Galahad with an uncanny steadiness. And a hurt as strong and sturdy as the proudest tree in the forest. “But I met the man that had Lancelot. Can you understand that?”

And it was a grim realization for Galahad to look inside himself and acknowledge that yes, he did. Now. “Will you stand by him?”

“Till I die, or Britain ends.” She made it a vow.

The buildings around them were beginning to stir with life, so it was not long till Guinevere smoothed her skirts and slowly walked back inside to meet the day. Galahad, on the other hand, remained sitting on the steps until he heard a familiar footstep behind him, and even then he didn’t immediately rise.


“I’ll stand,” Galahad murmured, and then he turned to face Gawain’s face, watching it change from concerned to welcoming.