Tangible Schizophrenia


Five Miles and Candy Corn

Author: Guede Mazaka
Rating: PG-13
Pairing: Galahad/Mariette, Gawain/Tristan, Arthur/Lancelot/Guinevere
Feedback: Good lines, typos, etc.
Disclaimer: Characters from the 2004 film, not me.
Notes: Cameos by Horatio Hornblower characters. The palindrome is from Biochemistry, Donald and Judith G. Voet.
Summary: In which you learn about Tristan’s mother, Mariette’s issues, and get vague hints about Arthur’s past while Lancelot plays with food.


“Sometimes reading hurts me,” Galahad muttered. He laid back on the couch and put the coursepack over his head like a tent. That way, the knowledge stored within its pages would hopefully drip into his brain without him ever actually having to suffer looking through it. It was a long shot, but Halloween wasn’t that far away, and besides, it was a full moon tonight.

Papers rustled. Some squirrel dive-bombed a student below the window and the resulting mad chittering and yelping entertained Galahad for a couple seconds. Mariette started tapping her fingers on her pen-cap again.

“What are you talking about?” she finally asked.

“The examples of wordplay—the one for palindromes. ‘Sex at noon taxes’? Christ. That’s more than I ever wanted to know about whoever wrote that section.” Seriously, textbooks were meant for learning, not for showcasing how bad the ivory tower was at cracking jokes. If Galahad wanted humor, he had cable TV. “I’m already hearing it. Half my discussion group’s going to snicker, and the other half—”

“—will lean forward and stick their boobs out at you,” Mariette sniped.

Galahad took the binder off his head and looked at her. Somewhere along the line, she’d finally come up with a pair of jeans and was curled up in a nearby chair, marking up the midterm essays. She’d pulled back her hair into a high, loose ponytail that could’ve used some curls around her face, but it was still just about the most casual Galahad had ever seen her.

She moved her hair to brush back the one tendril that had dared work itself loose and caught him staring. “The laundry room in my apartment building is flooded.”

“It’s not like I was complaining. I like girls in jeans.” He quickly put up the binder to deflect the pen she threw at him, then rolled into a sitting position. “What? It’s a compliment!”

“We’re not—”

Rolling his eyes, he reached out for a fresh stack of papers. “—having sex. Yeah, whatever.” Galahad scooped her pen from the floor and uncapped it, then glanced down the top paper. He spotted two spelling mistakes and a crash-collision with semi-colons in the first paragraph alone and groaned. “God, I don’t want to do this. It’s only half a day till Halloween.”

“Two days.” She finished another one and dropped it on the stack on the floor beside her chair, then held up the next one. Her eyebrows drew together in a pained grimace. A little bit of her tongue poked out from between her tightly compressed lips as she fought with her sense of dedication.

Grading freshmen writing had to be the universal soul-crusher, because after a moment, Mariette let her head fall on the back of the chair and her arm swing down to the side. She swore in French.

“Yeah, exactly. I should be out stocking up on vodka and Jell-O. Or trying to pry Gawain out of his funk. Or hell, both. They do kind of go together…and it is half a day. Screw it that Halloween’s on a Monday this year—today’s Friday. I’m starting this afternoon.” It couldn’t be that many papers left on the table. The Intro to Philosophy class was pretty much required for every freshman coming through Avalon, but it had two GSIs per professor that was involved and that should have ended up dividing into smaller chunks for each. There was no fucking way there was that many.

A peek through his fingers showed Galahad that yes, there was that many. Or…he riffled the pile in his lap, then blinked. Okay, so the paper was there, but the number of staples seemed improbably low.

“Dieckmann gave them a suggested paper length,” Mariette wearily explained. “I just finished a twenty-pager.”

“Fucking hell.” Well, that was yet another reason to hate Dick-man. Even Arthur, champion of individuality that he was, understood that maximum paper lengths were a necessary restriction on the average college student’s incredible ability to bullshit.

According to the wall-clock, Galahad had another three hours to go. He groaned again and slowly made his first mark on the top paper. He’d made another six before he had to give in and flip through to see how many pages were left.

Mariette made a weird noise. When Galahad looked up, she was poking at the floor with her shoes. “Want to make out?” she asked stiffly.

Galahad was already over. A couple frantic, messy, surprisingly hot moments later, he pulled back to grin breathlessly at her. His fingers twirled a piece of her hair. “Hey, you’re catching on. Best kind of procrastination, or what?”

“You are so annoying.” But she wasn’t exactly pushing him away. Actually, she seemed pretty interested in getting his neck back. “Why is Gawain in a funk? Is this still about that thing that no one will tell me about?”

“What thing?” Galahad snorted, leaning in. He wasn’t exactly surprised when she moved away, but that didn’t mean he wasn’t annoyed. “You know it’d be really clichéd and reflect badly on women if you were to try and bribe me to gossip about Gawain with sex.”

She wrinkled her nose and pushed at him. Thanks to the wideness of the chair, she didn’t manage to force him off, but they had an uncomfortable few minutes of elbowing and squirming before they’d figured out how to fit both their asses in it. Mariette finally gave up on trying to close in Galahad’s sprawl and huffily perched on top of him.

“I’m worried. I like him, so I want him to be all right,” she said, trying to fix her hair. A ridiculous number of bobby-pins came out of her hair before she realized she was just going to have to take down the whole thing and redo it. “He’s moping.”

“He is not. He’s just being nervous as hell all the time. I opened the window this morning and he nearly freaked out when it squeaked. I was this close to getting a faceful of half-cooked eggs.” Galahad held up his hand and illustrated his point.

Mariette wrinkled her nose at it and slapped down his hand, then shoved a handful of pins into it. While she was rewinding the band around her ponytail, Galahad casually let a couple of the pins slip to the floor. With any luck, the rabid dustbunnies would steal them and…and then probably take them back to Tristan, their God and supreme leader.

God, Galahad hated drama. He’d tolerated Tristan—with a lot of patience on his part, even if Gawain would beg to differ on that—because Tristan tended not to start that kind of shit, unlike some of Gawain’s other boyfriends. “You know, I don’t get it. They went and had some talk so I couldn’t come home for the whole goddamn night, but they’re still weird around each other. And Bed’s…put it this way—he wasn’t named after the high quality of his spare bed. Worst sleep I ever had.”

“Really?” Mariette snorted. She obviously didn’t believe him. “Wait, so they talked and you weren’t there? So you don’t actually know what’s going on with them?”

“Hey, stop trying to pry.” Galahad handed her the pins and watched as she struggled to pin down everything in sight. He had to snicker at how frustrated she got.

She turned around and looked at him.

He stared back. “This is where you tell me to get off and go back to grading, right?”

And indeed, it was, but now that he’d said that, she couldn’t say it. Her cheeks reddened with frustration as she stabbed her last few pins in place. “So we should take him out.”

“Gawain or Tristan?” Galahad facetiously asked. But actually, that wasn’t a bad idea. There was no way Galahad was staying in Friday night, but this year he couldn’t do what he normally did and try to hit every single club in town.

Well, he could, but with Gawain the way he was, the kind of hang-over support Galahad would get wasn’t going to be all that great. And Mariette would bitch, even though they were mostly making out in tiny individual study rooms and not really a couple. And the tiny voice in Galahad’s head would whine, too—it had no problem with him playing around as long as it was serial and not simultaneous, and it’d apparently decided Mariette sorta counted as the current…whatever. Considering Galahad hadn’t even seen Mariette’s breasts, he was going through an awful lot of trouble for her.

“Which one’s free?” Mariette was serious. “I told my parents I’d stay with safe friends and not wander into dangerous parties.”

“I thought your parents had met Tristan,” Galahad muttered, pushing out of her chair. He stubbed his toe around till he’d found where his pen had gone, then bent over to pick it up. “And I am not safe.”

“I was talking to my parents.” For once, Mariette sounded like the average weary young adult instead of a stridently insecure girl. “Do you ever stop being so vain?”

Galahad refused to dignify that with an answer. “Gawain’s free. I have no idea about Tristan. He’s probably hanging out in the trees, figuring out how to drop water balloons on unsuspecting trick-or-treaters.”

* * *

Arthur picked up a box of chocolates and scanned the list of contents for raspberry-filled ones. There were only three, so he put it back and continued looking. “Tristan, I sincerely hope that bag doesn’t have a package of balloons in it. Merlin’s very close to figuring out who annually bombards the drunk undergrads on Halloween.”

“He’s still two Halloweens away from having concrete proof, and I won’t be here next year.” A nearby display of haunted-house equipment had caught Tristan’s attention. He fingered some particularly realistic rubber rats in a way that made Arthur nervous. “I won’t be here,” Tristan repeated more softly.

Then again, possible midnight pranks were minor things compared to the ongoing issue between Tristan and Gawain. The initial incident seemed to have been forgiven and smoothed over, but Arthur had a suspicion that the concerns it’d raised weren’t dying away so easily. Certainly Gawain hadn’t seemed as sunny for the past two weeks, and he’d been letting Galahad get away with so much that Galahad had actually stopped trying to pull things over Gawain.

“Are you only referring to being enrolled at Avalon, or—” Arthur started. Then something smacked him in the side and he was too busy trying not to fall into a gigantic life-size pumpkin made of chocolate to continue.

“Pixy Stix!”

Arthur blinked, pasted a smile on his face, and turned around to face…a handful of said candy. He pushed it aside to find a manic Lancelot, grin wide and eyes crazed enough for Arthur to check for possible drugging.

“No, I haven’t been hitting it,” Lancelot irritably said, batting away Arthur’s hand. He snickered and stuffed the candy into the bag Arthur was holding. “At least, not yet. Not until we drag Guin out of the office. I swear, she’s positively tolerable when she’s had a few of these.”

“I thought that’s what she was when she’s drunk.” Over Lancelot’s shoulder, Arthur could see Tristan attempting to hide a smile. Of course he could—he wasn’t suffering from the low-grade worry of knowing that a mammoth-size box of the damned Pixy Stix had already shown up in the pantry at home. It had enough sugar to keep Lancelot going till Christmas…when the candycanes came onto the market. Dear God.

Lancelot snorted and pushed past Arthur to eye the rows of chocolates. “Oh, God, no. When she’s drunk, she only gets worse at aiming. It doesn’t make her any less violent. But Pixy Stix? Pixy Stix are a blessing on mankind.”

“They’re nothing but colored sugar,” Arthur said under his breath.

“Hence the utter simplicity of their brilliance.” Something was jiggling against Arthur’s side: Lancelot’s elbow. The jiggle rippled up Lancelot’s arm and down to his toes, which he was incessantly tapping.

“Five,” Tristan suddenly said.

Arthur cocked his head so he could see Lancelot’s eyes again. “Six. And mostly the blue raspberry ones. You still have a little bit—”

At first Lancelot glared at him, but then the other man’s demeanor swiftly lightened. He smiled sweetly and wiped his finger across the corner of his mouth. Then he stuck it in and slowly sucked off the powder traces, swirling his tongue obscenely around the tip.

Tristan pointedly turned around to stare down the aisle. Arthur swallowed hard. Lancelot smirked and swiped a couple loose sticks from Arthur’s bag. He ripped off the top of one and offered it to Arthur. “Cherry? Though I suppose it’s a bit late for that when it comes to me…”

“You are not answering the door. You’ll scare the children.” Before that damnable tongue could mock him anymore, Arthur pivoted his back on it and determinedly went back to chocolate-shopping. Vanora and Kitty were easy, Guinevere’s chocolate he’d already ordered online from a specialty producer, but the annual box Arthur sent to Merlin was proving elusive. Raspberry chocolates tended to put the Dean in a better mood when it came to stamping off on Arthur’s requests or ignoring the grad student conniving with the campus fauna, but the brand Arthur had bought for Merlin for the past five years had apparently been discontinued this year.

“I would not. I’d be educational. Everyone’s always complaining about how commercialized Halloween has gotten, and…oh, jawbreakers. Or as I like to call them…” Thankfully, Lancelot had wandered out of hearing distance before Arthur had heard the rest. Or before he’d thrown a permanent new light on Arthur’s ideas of educating the young.

“The holiday season’s just started,” Tristan said.

Arthur grimaced and doggedly poked at the boxes. One of them nearly toppled to the floor and he snatched it up just in time. “Don’t remind me. I’m still trying to make myself unavailable for any parties. And somehow I ended up agreeing to let Guinevere make Thanksgiving dinner.”

“Any relatives coming down?” Something at the end of the aisle caught Tristan’s eye and he started to move towards it. Then he stopped, paused, and then he turned around to walk back to Arthur.

His behavior was odd enough for Arthur to glance over. It seemed to be innocuous enough, just a display of candy—oh.

That and Tristan’s question collectively managed to throw Arthur for several minutes while he pulled his thoughts together. He realized Tristan wasn’t referring to relatives of him, who no longer were of this earth, and shifted the question’s meaning to its proper context. And he discovered the box of chocolate he was holding would do nicely to satiate Merlin’s sweet tooth.

“From what I gather, Lancelot’s not terribly fond of his father and that’s the only relation he has. Guinevere alternates—this year she stays here and someone’s visiting for Christmas, but they haven’t figured out who yet. I suppose I’ll have to spend an afternoon letting Kitty’s grandchildren terrorize me, but that’s it.” Arthur tucked the box beneath his arm and began to walk down the aisle.

He heard Tristan start to follow, pause again, and then restart more slowly. For a moment, Arthur debated whether or not to push this right now, but by then he was nearly to the display and it would’ve been awkward to turn around. He continued till he was standing in front of it.

“I remember she left me hanging on a stake-out once because she wanted to go buy some of these. Never could understand it—to me these taste more artificial than even Pixy Stix,” Arthur quietly said. He picked up a bag and hefted it, listening to the small bits of candy rearrange themselves inside. “Are you going to drop by on the first like usual, or should I just send over some aspirin?”

After a moment, Tristan reached for a bag. He only held it a moment before he dropped it back on the display and pushed his hands into his pockets. “When was the last time I had a hangover?”

“More times than I’ve seen you with one, but I’m not entirely oblivious to what students get up to.” Hopefully Arthur wouldn’t have to be any more specific than that. He really was not comfortable in interfering with other people’s lives, but sometimes he didn’t see how he couldn’t step in, unless he wanted to watch a wreck in slow motion. “I’ll get this one—did you want a bag?”

Tristan eyed the candy. “I don’t know what Kitty has been putting up as a theory, but Gawain and I are fine. We talked. He and Galahad are moving as soon as they can get out of their lease. I’m not.”

“Kitty doesn’t have the faintest clue, though she’s been prodding.” It occurred to Arthur that Lancelot hadn’t bounced back in a while, and he edged around the shelves to peer down the main aisle. He didn’t see Lancelot, but he did hear a couple women laughing in artificially flirtatious tones.

“It was just a misunderstanding,” Tristan muttered.

Arthur looked heavenwards, then picked up a second bag. “I was always grateful that you seemed to not need the teenage stage of emotional development. Please don’t force me to gain overbearing fatherly skills now.”

“Are you sure that this doesn’t qualify as an ethical transgression?” Normally Tristan didn’t resort to that sort of thing if he didn’t want to talk; he merely refused to answer.

They stared at each other till Lancelot suddenly popped up out of nowhere with a jar of chocolate caramel dipping sauce and the faint scent of perfume clinging to him. The second detail made Arthur swivel and look pointedly at him.

Lancelot hadn’t lost his crazed smile, but it faded a little bit as his eyes curiously ran over them. “My clothes aren’t messy. Stop looking like that, buy me this and go vigorously reaffirm our relationship in the parking garage.”

“I’m not letting you answer the door because I’m not sure who’d be a worse influence on the other,” Arthur retorted, desperately resisting the urge to drop his head in his hands since those were full. After a moment, he put the second bag of candy corn back and began to head for the cashier. They’d definitely spent too much time in this store.

Once the cashier was ringing Arthur up, Lancelot sidled up next to him and leaned in to whisper in Arthur’s ear. “So what was—God! Don’t do that!”

Tristan barely didn’t smirk at him, and clearly avoided looking at Arthur as he dropped the second bag of candy corn on the counter. “Sorry.”

“Don’t…” Arthur started, then shook his head. “Just be careful. And make sure they’re careful—I still want to have grad students come Monday morning.”

“I’ll work on it,” Tristan guardedly replied. He took the candy corn and shoved it into his backpack, then began to walk off. After two steps, he turned around and nodded. “And I’ll be there on the first.”

As soon as Tristan was out of the store, Lancelot shoved an elbow into Arthur’s side. “Meet him where?”

“I’ll tell you later.” Arthur caught the wary flash in Lancelot’s eyes and turned to look fully at him. “I will, I promise. But right now, I need to finish shopping tonight. I’m more or less going to be living in the office till Sunday morning thanks to midterm grading.”

“All right,” Lancelot reluctantly said. He walked a few steps with his head turned nearly completely around so he could watch Tristan disappear into the crowds. His hand slid into Arthur’s bag and pressed through it against Arthur’s hip. “So how many years did he go trick-or-treating as a ninja?”

When they turned a corner, Arthur jerked his bag off of Lancelot’s hand, which he gave a light slap for good measure. He hid a grin at Lancelot’s hurt look. “Stop sneaking those damned Pixy Stix or even tying you down won’t keep you still enough.” He dropped his voice, speaking out of the corner of his mouth as he casually looked around. “And then I’d have to send you in for your weekend of work without a good fuck to tide you over.”

Lancelot’s eyes briefly went dazed and he nearly walked into a streetlight. Of course, he managed to make avoiding it look completely natural, but nevertheless, he was flushing to his ears by the time he rejoined Arthur. “I suppose you used to go as an evil-doer, since you’re a good, guilt-stricken boy the other three hundred and sixty four days of the year.”

“Actually, I was doing my imitation of you.” Arthur ducked into the next store before Lancelot could hit him and started examining lettuce heads. “Why are you going in this time? Last time I talked to Guinevere, I had the impression that you had made a break-through.”

“Well, it broke. They’re better than we thought. Though their timing still is terrible, damn it all. They’re really starting to get on my nerves—on Pellew’s nerves, for that matter. He’s pestering London for more background info. Gotten it into his head that they’re holding something back about this ring.”

Fortunately, the spray over the vegetables started up and neatly hid Arthur’s expression. He’d been doing a little prying about himself regarding the diamond-smuggling ring Lancelot and Guinevere were trying to break, and about his old acquaintance Clayton, but most of the trails within easy reach had long since gone cold. If he wanted more, he’d have to dig, and that would require more…involvement. If Tristan hadn’t been preoccupied, Arthur would have asked him to help out and that would have provided several layers of distance, but things were as they were.

“Personally, I think he’s just gotten paranoid this year. Some covert ops blow-up happened in the Caribbean with some old friends of his, and ever since he’s been getting pricklier and pricklier about London. If anyone’s holding back info, it’d be those wankers in France,” Lancelot went on. He shrugged a shoulder and reached out to finger some carrots. A lady in the next aisle abruptly coughed and hurriedly walked away, shielding her face.

Lancelot snickered. Arthur sighed and tried to hurry up his shopping. “Stop fondling the food.”

“Then give me something else to play with,” Lancelot purred. “Oh, sausages.”

Dear God in heaven. There was no way Arthur was letting Lancelot get the door on Sunday night.

* * *

The refrigerator door made a nice wall, but it was too bad the fridge itself was too cold and full for hiding. “Mariette, you want anything? There’s milk, orange juice, beer…Galahad, why do we have a third of a bottle of vodka in here?”

“Because goddamn it, I knew I forgot to buy something.” Paper rustled and things clunked as Galahad plopped his bag on the counter. He reached in and started pulling out enough alcohol to fuel a frat house for a month. “Oh, well. You can still make Jell-O shots with other stuff.”

“Do I want to know how much you just dropped for that? Especially since we had the damned time coming up with the deposit for the new place?” Gawain closed the fridge and sat down on the floor, resting his arms on his knees. If he got up, he had a feeling he was going to hurt Galahad.

Who made a face at him and waved a hand as if to fan him. “Chill, would you? I spent all of twelve dollars for the Jell-O boxes. Everything else I got from Bed in trade—I just got his Mac and graphics software fixed, remember?”

“Graphics software? I thought he worked with metal,” Mariette said. She couldn’t seem to make up her mind whether to stare at how Galahad’s arm muscles were bunching or at…

Gawain ran his hand over his face, then glanced at his reflection in the chrome of the stove door. Nope, nothing wrong there, and his clothes were fine, so he didn’t know what she could find so interesting.

“It’s for the garage. He can do these models of car engines and show you how he’ll soup up your ride—awesome stuff. Here, stick these in the fridge, okay? Thanks.” Galahad pushed a bottle at Mariette, head still deep in the paper bag.

She picked it up, skimmed the label and then cautiously walked over to the fridge. After Gawain had moved aside for her, she opened the door. “Did you come in at all today?” she diffidently asked.

“Just to pick up my share of the grading. I don’t have classes or office hours today, so I figured I’d work from here. And I did actually work, okay? Unlike some people, I don’t use going back to my place as an excuse to—”

“Hey!” When Gawain looked up, Galahad was scowling at him. “Look, calm down. Just because you’re in a shitty mood doesn’t mean you have to take it out on Mariette.”

Mariette jerked up her head and shot Galahad a look that said something in big block capitals. “I think he was more attacking you.”

“Well, whatever. The point is, he needs to knock it off.” Now that Galahad had emptied out the bag, he quickly sorted the various bottles and boxes into two groups, the larger of which he began transferring back into the bag. “He’s the one that needs a beer.”

“He’s right here,” Gawain muttered. He pressed his hand against his forehead, then looked up. “But Galahad’s right. Sorry, Mariette.”

She blinked at him, then hurriedly put the bottle away. “It’s fine. Are you doing anything tonight?”

“What she means is: we’re going out, she wants company that isn’t just me, and you need to get out for a bit before you start getting moldy.” Galahad put in the last bottle, then collected up the stuff that was still left on the counter and stashed it away in a cabinet. “I know you two are glaring at me. Knock it off. If I’d let you guys talk it out, we’d be here all night, and the first party I know of starts in a half-hour.”

“There’s no point in saying no, is there?” Very slowly, Gawain got to his feet. He looked over himself again, then decided to hell with changing. He looked okay, and since he didn’t really want to go in the first place, he wasn’t going to make the effort to look good. Mostly he was about to agree to this because Mariette was actually looking at Galahad as if she was a tiny bit scared out of her wits. “This doesn’t mean you can depend on me to drag your ass back if you pass out.”

As usual, Galahad ignored the sarcasm and focused on the part that sounded helpful to him. “Great! Let’s go.”

“Do I need to change?” Mariette asked, worriedly patting at her hair.

Galahad gave her a once-over as he picked up the bag, then shook his head and went for the door. “Nah. This is college, not a ballroom. No one’s ever seen you in jeans before, so there’s your costume.”

“Excuse me?” She started to charge after him, then turned back. “Gawain?”

“I’m coming, I’m coming,” Gawain sighed. “And yeah, go ahead and hit him. As long as he’s still alive when we sign the lease papers, I don’t mind.”

The party was loud, drunken and had way too many fake spiderwebs up for Gawain’s peace of mind. He got his one drink from Galahad so he knew it wasn’t adulterated, then beat a quick retreat to the nearest quiet spot. That turned out to be the roof.

He got snuggled down in his corner and sipped at the beer. Listened to the music thud up through the concrete, and the people laughing, and told himself for the millionth time that he was really, really stupid. He’d messed up, and even if he and Tristan had talked about it, talking didn’t reverse time. The fact that it’d happened and Gawain had been such a moron was still there. The fact that he still didn’t quite get what’d happened also was still there. So he’d jumped the gun a little bit, and apparently it’d been a lousy day for Tristan—that was still a pretty strong reaction for Tristan to have.

He’d thought about asking Arthur about it, but Arthur was so good at avoiding any reference to Tristan that Gawain had always forgotten during their meetings. Which was a good thing, because that would have been really stupid of him. But he was getting just that desperate. On the surface, everything was okay, but beneath they were just letting this thing get bigger and bigger, and if Gawain didn’t figure out what to do soon it was just going to…

…he stared at the chipmunk. Then he turned around. And around, but the roof was empty; it was pretty windy tonight and it was still too early for people to be drunk enough not to care about that, so he wasn’t surprised. Just a little disappointed.


“Jesus!” Gawain scrambled back and made sure both his knees and his hands were on the ground. Then he slowly crawled to the edge of the roof and looked over.

Tristan stared back up. He was standing on the balcony with what looked like a bag of candy in his hand, and he was getting pushed around by the other people milling about there. A girl suddenly fell—well, sort of past him, but she was far gone enough in her beer that she probably didn’t feel it.

“What are you doing—oh, that’s where he got to?” Galahad pushed his way through till he was beside Tristan and squinting upward. “Gawain, get down already. And help me find Mariette before you go, okay?”

“Right. Right.” God, Gawain was slow tonight. He got up and—and almost stepped on the stupid chipmunk. After a quick hop, he made for the door.

* * *

Galahad cursed again, then knocked on the door. “Mariette?”

Vomiting sound.

“What did you drink? Did anyone give it to you? Did it taste funny?” For Christ’s sake, it wasn’t like he could have ignored Helen without coming off like a total dickwad. He’d already spent a week as the campus jackass and he hadn’t felt like repeating that experience, so he’d stopped to say hi. And anyway, when that one guy had asked if Galahad and Mariette had come together, she’d said no so fast the word had burned a streak across Galahad’s cheek. “Come on. Give me something to work with, here.”

The door suddenly swung open and Mariette’s glower shoved into Galahad’s face. Her hair was down and it looked great; the rest of her face was the scariest thing he’d seen all year. “I did not drink anything. I had a brownie. It tasted awful.”

“Oh—oh, fuck. Um. How fast did you throw it back up?” Oh, great. And of course Gawain and Tristan had to take off on some midnight road trip right when Galahad could have used some help. He hoped he was remembering right about pot taking longer to work if it was eaten instead of smoked.

“Two minutes later.” Mariette backed into the room and tried to slam the door in Galahad’s face, but he slipped in fast. She seemed about to complain, but then she turned around and started splashing water on her face.

Galahad thought a minute. “You’re probably okay, then.”

“No, I’m not,” she snapped. The water smacked off her hands so hard that some of it splattered Galahad. “I’ve been here six months and I still don’t know anyone and people only pay attention to you if you drink and I want to go home.”

And then, of all things, she put her head down and sobbed into the sink.

For a moment Galahad stared. Then he realized his mouth was hanging open and pulled that shut. He felt like he was supposed to say something, but damned if he knew what. “Um…”

She lifted her head. Her reddened eyes darted around, landed on the cup he was holding and she grabbed it. Drank it before he could even yelp.

“That—that was a quadruple Jell-O shot!” Galahad finally said. “Christ, Mariette. Everyone gets homesick, but you didn’t have to do that.”

“You’re just upset that it was yours. And you think you’re going to have sex with me. Well, you’re not.” The alcohol got to her fast, because by the time she had straightened all the way up, she was swaying. Mariette sort of danced forward and fluttered her hands on Galahad’s shoulders. “My parents would hate you, if they knew I was seeing you. So you’re not.”

God, she really had no tolerance. And goddamn it, Gawain was so much better at dealing with the drunken confessional mood than Galahad was. “Okay…”

Which was when she kissed him. Her tongue came out and went in and generally just went wild; Galahad made a muffled protest and her hand suddenly grabbed at his crotch.

“Holy shi--okay, no, no, no.” He whipped her off of him and backed up fast, only to hit the door. His elbow banged right against the knob and he cursed and made the mistake of not moving.

She was on him again, and if she hadn’t been so damn drunk and, well, tearstained, he might’ve gotten into it. But there was one rule Grandma Yvie had managed to get into Galahad, it was that sex didn’t help clean the tears off a girl’s face. Given his mother’s track record with that, he’d long since figured that was damn right.

He got Mariette by the shoulders and pried her off again. This time, he wedged her to the side while he scrambled to get the door open. “Look, it’s not that I actually wouldn’t if you were sober and not so annoying, but Professor Cobham and Arthur would kill me. Gawain would kill me once he and Tristan make up. Hell, Vanora would kill me.”

“My parents are snobs. I thought New York would be far enough, but they’re still so irritating!” Mariette was saying. And squeezing at Galahad’s ass, and plastering his jaw with sloppy kisses. “I never had friends because of them, and I still don’t even though they’re not here.”

“Uh, well, Gawain does kind of like you. And—okay, stop grabbing at my fucking balls,” Galahad muttered. At that, a couple heads started to turn and he swore in Spanish. He looked around, spotted a fast-closing hole in the crowd and squirted them through it.

“And you know what they did? With the first boy I ever brought home? You know what—” Right about there, Mariette broke into French and kept on in it while they stumbled down the sidewalk to her car.

This was mostly a Puerto Rican neighborhood, so the people giving them weird looks probably didn’t understand what she was saying, but that didn’t stop them from loudly giving Galahad suggestions about what to do with Mariette. He ignored them and flopped her into the car, nodding whenever she seemed to be demanding an answer from him.

“Jesus fucking Christ, this is great. This is just great,” he muttered as he started the car. “Would you just fucking pass out?”

Mariette had started making gestures to illustrate her points. She was in the middle of a big complicated waving one when Galahad began to pull away from the curb. A couple suddenly stumbled in front and Galahad slammed on the brakes, which started a chain reaction that ended in Mariette slumping over his lap, a bruise swelling on her head.

Galahad leaned forward and banged his head against the steering wheel. They might as well fucking match, given their non-relationship relationship.

* * *

“Want some?” Tristan offered the bag to Gawain.

“Oh, candy corn! I love this stuff.” Which sounded really cheerful and really fake, which both were really, really out of place if one was standing in the middle of a cemetery like they were. Wincing, Gawain dumped a bunch of the candy in his mouth so he wouldn’t be able to talk himself early into the grave.

But even then it wasn’t all right, because the place was dark and chilly, and the shadows kept shifting in ways that made him stare constantly about them. He wanted to keep close to Tristan, and not only because he’d missed him, but Gawain couldn’t quite work up to it. His chewing seemed to echo weirdly as they silently walked across the grass.


“Holy fucking—” Gawain dropped like a shot towards the ground and started to spin to face the voice, but something caught him by the elbow.

After a moment of mutual staring, Tristan awkwardly pulled him back up. “Aaron? It’s me.”

“Tristan? Damn it, should’ve been expecting you—I was going to have some cider ready, but then I heard some hooligans tramping around and came out to check. Goddamn kids…no respect for the dead.” A man materialized from behind a towering gravestone. He was carrying one of those skull-crusher metal flashlights and a shovel, so of course he looked terrifying.

“I’m early anyway. Arthur and I will be around tomorrow, so you’ll catch me then.” A little wave, which was returned, and then Tristan was pulling Gawain towards a dark hunch of a building. His hand gradually worked its way down Gawain’s arm till they were holding hands.

Gawain cautiously wrapped his fingers around Tristan’s. “Was that…the caretaker?”

“Yeah.” The door to the building was locked and Gawain was expecting the usual lockpicking magic, but instead Tristan pulled out an actual key. He slid it in, then pushed the door open and pulled them through.

Thankfully, there were lights and the lights went on. When Gawain’s eyes had adjusted, he saw that they were in some kind of…he didn’t remember what it was called, but it was a place that stored ashes. Neat plaques lined the walls, listing names and dates. Some of them had quotes, some had little decorations like angels and flowers on it.

Tristan dropped Gawain’s hand; Gawain jerked his head around, but Tristan was staring fixedly at a spot on the wall. He raised the bag of candy corn and took out a couple, then put them one by one into his mouth, more like a ritual than like he was doing it out of enjoyment.

Gawain leaned forward and squinted at the plaque. “Lizabetta…Cornwell.”

He checked the dates. Did some half-assed math in his head. Then he looked at Tristan.

“We—guessed for the last name. It’s the best Arthur could do—she never told me that,” Tristan muttered. He tilted the bag so a few bright candies dropped into the little flower holder installed by the side of the plaque. “We used to light candles for whoever my father was on All Hallows’ Day. Now Arthur and I do it for both of them.”

It was on the tip of Gawain’s tongue to ask if Tristan had ever found out who his father was before his mother had died, but growing up with Galahad had taught him better. He kept his mouth shut, but his hands kept moving. After a lot of debate, he hesitantly reached for Tristan’s hand.

“There’s no ashes back there. But when Arthur decided we were going to stay here for…a long while, anyway, he thought we should put something up. I—didn’t thank him.” Tristan didn’t seem to notice Gawain’s hand, but he was squeezing it very hard. His face remained mostly expressionless, but something was struggling behind his eyes. “I—can’t talk much about—her. And—but she told—you’re supposed to keep moving. Stay too long—it’s dangerous. It was dangerous.”

“I’m sorry,” Gawain said again. Lamely, but that was what he had. “I really shouldn’t have—”

Tristan lifted his head and stared straight ahead. “I love you,” he said, very clear and distinct.

Gawain dropped his head and resisted the urge to shuffle his feet on the ground. “Um. Maybe I should step outside—”

“I was talking to you,” Tristan replied, turning to look at him.

“Oh.” Well…Gawain would have slapped himself if he hadn’t been holding Tristan’s hand. “Christ, I…you know I love you, right? You always seem to know…it’s just I didn’t know whether you can…you know, say that kind of thing. That’s asskicking stuff back in L. A., but—yeah. I do. I love you. I’m just really bad at talking right now…”

“I know.” Tristan put his hand up so his fingertips just touched Gawain’s cheek. Then he dropped it, but leaned forward so their foreheads rested against each other. “I am, too. I can’t—about her and the apartment you were talking about—it’s—closer than anyone’s ever—”

“It’s okay. Really. I can wait. And I’ll be less stupid this time,” Gawain said, cupping Tristan’s face in his hands. He slid his fingers into Tristan’s hair and pressed his lips gently against Tristan’s mouth, then slid back. “I…damn. I feel like I should have dressed up, or something.”

The laugh that came from Tristan was quiet but unrestrained, and suddenly it really was okay. It was all good again.

* * *

Galahad lifted the icepack from Mariette’s head. “The swelling’s going down. You feeling up to swallowing some aspirin?”

“You’re good at this,” she groaned. Her hand flailed around on the couch, then settled on the glass Galahad was resting on his knee. After a moment, she got herself up and drank a little of the water in it.

“Well, I’m a nasty mother-scaring hoodlum, remember?” He turned around to get the aspirin, and when he turned back, she was laughing into his leg. It tickled and did some other things so he had to yank down his shirt-tails. “Oh, good. You’re back to bitchy. I didn’t know how I was going to explain to Cobham how her grad student suddenly turned normal.”

She stopped laughing and looked plaintively up at him. “Am I that bad?”

Oh, fuck. Goddamn his mouth sometimes—Gawain was occasionally right about that, Galahad had to admit. Instead of answering, he passed her the aspirin.

“I am, aren’t I? Mon Dieu…tu sais, when my car broke down that one time, it was because I was driving around because I was out of work and I didn’t know anyone I could call. I was in your neighborhood on purpose—you were the only people I really knew, other than Kitty and Arthur. I should go home.” Her head flopped back into the couch as soon as the aspirin was down. She went on mumbling French in a depressed tone.

Galahad picked up the aspirin bottle again and shook himself out a couple, then dry-swallowed them. He hadn’t done it in a while and choked a little, but they went down. “No, you’re not…you look better with your hair down. I mean literally, not figuratively. Figuratively, you’re scarier like this than you ever were when you were throwing feminist philosophy at my head.”

“I wouldn’t throw it if you respected women better. You fuck and you fuck and you fuck—what are you looking for? If you’ve already fucked so much, then it is obvious that it is not there, right?” It sounded like her head was getting itself back together. Pretty quick, but then again, Mariette wasn’t exactly the kind of girl that broke in a light breeze. Actually, it must have taken a lot to make her snap like this.

“For your information, I haven’t fucked in a couple weeks.” He stared down her arched brow. “Because ‘we are not going to have sex,’ remember?”

Mariette tilted her head to squint at him. Then she turned over on her side and walked her head out till it was covering Galahad’s. “My parents really would scream if they knew about you. They might even make me come home. I don’t need their money anymore—well, probably not. I have a scholarship.”

“Don’t do that. Having no parents isn’t just about having no bankroll to save you,” Galahad said. He stared at the wall and wondered how much of this was her baring her soul and how much of it was finally rebelling against her parents.

“You’re nice when you try,” Mariette finally replied, voice barely above a whisper. She tugged at his hand.

He pulled it away and got up. For a moment he stood around like an ass, and then he spotted a blanket to toss at her. “You can crash here.”

When he walked into the kitchen, he saw that it was almost morning. So much for Friday night.

The door opened behind him, and Gawain came through looking like he’d been recharged and given a mint afterward, just because. He stopped and looked Galahad up and down. “You’re sober? And Mariette’s car is still out front.”

“Shut up. She’s sleeping it off in my room, so keep it down or she’ll hurl CDs at us.” Galahad opened the fridge and started thinking about breakfast. “Are you going to stop being a dishrag about Tristan now?”

“Shut up. And here, give me that. You make awful pancakes,” Gawain said cheerfully, reaching for the milk.

* * *

After the candles had burned halfway-down, Arthur and Tristan lifted their heads.

“Thanks,” Tristan said.

“You’re welcome.” Arthur stooped to pinch out the candles, but was stopped by a hand on his arm.

“No. Thank you,” Tristan repeated. He put a different emphasis on the words.

Arthur smiled, then took care of the candles. “You’re welcome.” He handed one candle to Tristan and kept the other one for himself. “She’d be proud of you, you know. And he would.”

Tristan ducked his head and paused, then turned away. “Galahad finally got his hang-over. I was going to pick up some aspirin for Gawain.”

“Then I won’t keep you. I need to get home anyway—both of them have indigestion. No surprise considering…” Shaking his head, Arthur led them back to the car.