|Giving Thanks: Leftovers
Author: Guede Mazaka
The same moment Guinevere walked in to make her announcement, somebody whacked Lancelot hard on the elbow. The jolt shot up his arm and jarred his shoulder so when he looked up, he was gritting his teeth and feeling irritation flush heat into his face.
In retrospect, that was a good thing because that nicely covered up his moment of shock. He coughed, then put down his glass and stood up. “About time. Traffic’s that bad?”
Arthur immediately caught on and ducked his head, looking embarrassed for the rest of the room. “It’s picked up quite a bit.”
“At least you’re here. Try the pumpkin mousse. It’s better than Maman’s dark chocolate recipe,” Mariette said, holding out a bowl. She giggled like a little girl when Arthur nodded his approval after a taste.
“Very good, Gawain,” Arthur said. Between the bowl he was holding and the death-grip Guinevere had on his other hand, he took a few minutes to make his way into a chair. He glanced at Lancelot as he did, eyes promising a long talk.
It’d damned well better be, and Arthur had better not think he could put off Lancelot the way he obviously had Guinevere, to which her smeared lipstick and too-bright eyes attested. Speaking of which, Lancelot looked rather idiotic himself standing up, so he sat back down.
“Thanks,” Gawain said.
“Want another serving?” Tristan said.
Lancelot covered his bowl with his hand and shook his head. “I’ll thank you not to give me any more hard cues, either.”
The other man shrugged and passed his own bowl to Gawain for another helping. His hair fell into his face, but it didn’t obscure his expression enough for Lancelot to not be able to tell Tristan found it all pretty funny. Well, he could. He had that strange unwavering faith in Arthur—or maybe he just had a more accurate psych profile of the man.
“I thought I’d spare you Elaine asking if you were going to pass out,” Tristan said. He took his bowl back from Gawain, who had accidentally gotten himself trapped in an argument between Elaine and Mariette over whether some French movie star had gotten work done or not. “Arthur?”
“Thanks,” Arthur said, sliding over something. Just before Tristan’s hand whisked it off the table, Lancelot glimpsed a keyring. So it had been Tristan’s car. “Was everything all right here?”
Lancelot poked at the remains of his roll, pushing them around so the white parts were on the outside and the browner bits inside. He thought about kicking Arthur a few times, but decided against it because one, that was childish and he was better than that no matter what Guinevere said, and two, at this angle he’d probably hit Guin as well. “Oh, fine. Except for the part where we were wondering where you were.”
Arthur winced. He hid it pretty well from the general audience by spooning up mousse at the same time, but Lancelot hadn’t qualified as general audience for at least a few months. Damn the man, he could have at least asked Lancelot to get into the cab. Not that Lancelot would have, but he would have appreciated the gesture.
“You didn’t get a new morgue report landing on my desk Monday morning, did you?” Guin added. She still hadn’t let go of Arthur’s hand or noticed that her lipstick was a bit of a mess.
Though Arthur had. He tried to subtly signal to her, but she was a little too upset to understand why on earth he’d be flicking his fingers over his cheek. Finally, he glanced at the rest of the table—busy talking—then leaned over and quickly swiped it off with his thumb.
“Oh, like I care right now. It’ll get a lot more smeary if I end up working this weekend after all.” She irritably batted away his hand. “Arthur?”
“No. But there’s some things you two should look at, after I’ve retrieved them,” he said. He started to dip his spoon into his mousse, then looked up as half a roasted chestnut went skittering by his bowl.
Elaine blinked innocently. “Oh, sorry about that. And what are you three up to down there? You look so serious—I thought the important conversation stopped after the turkey was carved.”
“Perhaps that’s only when no one can think of any more,” Mariette butted in, sharp edge of her smile pointing right at Elaine. “My family can debate for hours and hours. We never run out of interesting things to say.”
Well, that wallflower certainly had bloomed beneath the sting of competition. Or, Lancelot suddenly speculated, thanks to the lubrication of one too many bottles of wine. He flicked his eyes to the bottle in the center of the table and met Galahad’s stare; Galahad rolled his eyes and quietly stole Mariette’s glass.
“She’s only had two,” Tristan murmured.
“Remember her mother? Down after one.” Arthur cleared his throat, then spoke more loudly. “A little variety never hurt anyone. I suppose I’m still at the office, working. Bad habit of mine.”
Lancelot resisted the urge to snort. “Well, you’re definitely home now.”
Elaine shot him an interested look and too late Lancelot remembered that while annoying-to-the-point-of-homicide ran in Guinevere’s family, stupidity didn’t. But Elaine’s question went to Arthur instead. “So what do you do, Arthur? Guinnie’s just said you’re a professor of philosophy at Avalon College. Is that a full or associate?”
“Full,” Arthur replied, voice pleasant enough. He didn’t show any signs of wanting to strangle Elaine for the attempted jab, unlike Guinevere who had to look at Arthur’s shoulder to keep Elaine from seeing her grinding teeth. “I hold the Monmouth Chair, which is an interesting position because it specifies that the holder remain largely independent of the department hierarchy.”
“So you’re like the in-house rebel. Does that actually work? I mean, you still are part of the Establishment,” Elaine asked. All with a very nice, toothy smile.
For the past three years, Lancelot had had to put up with Elaine’s little tricks at Thanksgiving. It should have been a bit of a relief to not be the target for once, but somehow he wasn’t feeling that and he wasn’t sure whether it was because Elaine definitely didn’t have the higher ground from which to judge Arthur, or because he wanted to be the one needling Arthur. Well, actually he wanted to drag Arthur into a corner and ask him where his goddamned mind had been for the past few hours.
“Were you planning on being a…a…what is the expression—Lone Ranger? I admit to knowing little of law, but I thought Establishment meant all organized groups.” Mariette smiled around her spoon at a visibly discomfited Elaine. She was starting to sway, but occasionally she’d jerk to a stop.
No, that was Galahad pulling on her elbow and looking thoroughly embarrassed about it. Lancelot raised his glass to the other man, then coughed when he noticed that everyone else had tentatively followed his lead. “Oh. Well, I thought it was about time for the toasts. To…to the opportunity to have such a gathering. Because as chancy as life is, the rest of the year we’re never guaranteed to all be together.”
And if Arthur had been a little stupider, they wouldn’t even have had this one, Lancelot sourly thought. He flicked his eyes over to Arthur as he raised his glass a little higher, then downed it. The wine was fine in his mouth, but managed to turn into vinegar by the time it hit his stomach. He didn’t look back up at Arthur after he’d drank. It made it easier to stay mad at the man.
Guinevere kicked him beneath the table and Lancelot shot up, banging his shoulder against his chair back. He flinched and glowered at her, but she didn’t look the least bit apologetic.
“Um, well, to the great cooking. I haven’t had a dinner this good in a while,” Gawain nervously said. He winced almost as soon as he was done, glancing at Tristan. “Oops. Sorry, skipped you.”
“Not really. That was my toast, more or less.” Tristan calmly put up his glass, then downed the one swallow that remained in it. “Except I also need to apologize because I have to go now. It’s time to feed Iseult.”
Arthur immediately stood up and got out of his chair, though he didn’t get any farther than moving around behind it. Guinevere had finally let go of his hand, but her gaze could’ve doubled as a tractor-beam straight out of Star Wars. And if it hadn’t, Lancelot wasn’t too bad at the one-handed grab. “Oh, no, that’s fine. Would you want to…er, do we have any leftovers?”
“Not really. I guess that’s Gawain and me too, and hey, Mariette. Did you bring your car?” Galahad said. He’d shoved his hands in his pockets and if he hadn’t mentioned Mariette’s name, everyone would have assumed that he was talking to the hallway. It was an interesting way to have a conversation.
“Hmmm? Oh, no, non, Kitty’s son dropped me off. My car broke down again…oh! My heel’s broken, too…” Mariette dipped forward so suddenly that everyone jumped up, thinking she was going to break her neck on the floor.
Luckily for her, Galahad was a quick catcher even if doing that just made his complexion redder. He appeared to be having a hard time biting back a different tone of voice. “So we’ll, uh, take her home. I guess.”
“All right,” Tristan placidly said. He nodded separately to Guinevere and Lancelot, and gave Arthur a long look. “Thanks for dinner, Guinevere.”
“I suppose I should be going as well—oh, wow. It has been a while. If I can get a cab right now, I should get to the station in time.” Elaine leaned over and gave Guin a peck on the cheek, which startled the hell out of Guin. “It was a good dinner, Guinnie. Thanks.”
Which was Lancelot’s cue to drag Arthur back into the kitchen. “Go ahead and get her set up, Guin,” he called over his shoulder. “We’ll take care of clean-up.”
* * *
In point of fact, the kitchen was damned near spotless. There were a few splatters on the stove and some dishes piled up in the sink, but otherwise it was clean enough to keep even Arthur from finding fault in it.
“Guin really must have been cracking up,” Lancelot muttered. “Of course, I can’t actually blame her this time. Have you gone completely round the bend?”
Since no cleaning was necessary, Lancelot stalked on through the kitchen and into the back hall. A century ago this area had been part of the servants’ quarters and it still showed in the cramped and dark space, which suited Lancelot’s mood. He swerved around the corner, then turned back to push at Arthur’s shoulders.
“Haven’t we had this argument? You said—you said you were going to try and work with us. You were going to talk, or at least nod your head or shake it or something, anything. But no, you lied.” He smacked the heel of his hand into Arthur’s shoulder, sending the other man back a few inches. Then he curled his fingers into Arthur’s shirt and dragged him back. “No, never mind that. I can—I can actually justify that in my head in your favor.”
Arthur’s fingers brushed over Lancelot’s cheek; Lancelot shook them off twice, but they kept coming back. Damned stubborn man. Damned man that could snap Lancelot’s knees out from under him just by touching his temple. Lancelot tried to grab Arthur’s shirt in both hands, but that pulled too much at his stitches and he ended up having to just hang on with the one hand. He folded his other arm between them to get some space, but of course that didn’t do any good because he still pressed his face into Arthur’s chest.
“Honestly, what really got to me? You just—running off. Goddamn it, Arthur, I am an Interpol agent and your friend or acquaintance or whatever is part of my case. Professional courtesy alone should’ve said talk to me or Guin first, not—not—” This little speech wasn’t coming out of Lancelot’s mouth the way it’d sounded in his head. And for once he’d actually planned it out, working and reworking it so the moment Arthur showed up, Lancelot could lay it on him. “You idiot. Did you kill him?”
The fingers gently playing over the side of Lancelot’s face pressed down so they were cupping his chin. They tilted it up so he had to look at Arthur, whose face was darker than the shadows barring it.
Lancelot’s chest went cold. He’d seen Arthur kill before, but that’d been in self-defense. There’d been someone else and they’d shot first. It was different if Arthur had been the first one to pull the trigger. Different if he’d sought out the other person—sickly flattering to Lancelot, but he was feeling the sickness more than the flattery. “Did you?”
“No,” Arthur finally said. He pulled Lancelot’s head back up when Lancelot began to slump in relief. “No. And I wasn’t going to, which sounds worse than it is. I hadn’t been keeping tabs on Clayton, but after Guinevere mentioned him, I started digging up information. It’s old, not pertinent to your case. But it’d be enough to raise some deadly ghosts from his past. That sort of thing…it’s very easy to have done for men like him and me.”
“So you’ve been planning this?” The rank stupidity of that question smacked Lancelot in the face as soon as he’d voiced it. Of course Arthur hadn’t. Going off to terrify someone on Thanksgiving was the stuff of mob movies, not of real-life struggles between law and justice, past and present.
Arthur ran his thumb just under Lancelot’s lower lip. “In a way. Clayton was a good agent—good in morals as well as skills. But he’s drifted, or some such thing, in the past few years, and what little I know of his present employers tells me to be wary of them as well. I wanted to be ready, just in case.”
“So you were prepared to get someone else to kill him. Is that it? Jesus Christ, Arthur.” Lancelot jerked his head free of Arthur’s hand, then laid it back on Arthur’s shoulder. “Clayton’s crucial to cracking the smuggling ring. If he cooperates, then we have all of them…and damn you, we told you this. I told you I wanted him for a trial. For the justice system that I thought you believed in as well, and all this time you’ve been plotting like some tinpot druglord? What were—”
“I was going to let you have him for your case, if all went well,” Arthur interrupted. He wrapped his hand around the back of Lancelot’s neck, pulling them in so his earnest whisper could fall directly into Lancelot’s ear. “You have to believe me on that. I was. But what I wanted to be prepared for—what Clayton and I were trained to do—what we did do, and why I didn’t ever want to think about him again—I was terrified. I like to think the courts work, I want to do all I can to make them work, but if he went after you and was successful…they’d take too long.”
Goddamn it. The fragments didn’t make sense at first, and then they did. They made the kind of sense that pulled at Lancelot’s gut even though he should’ve known better. He gritted his teeth so he almost chewed a hole in Arthur’s shirt, then made himself relax. Willed his muscles to relax, for all that tension to drain away. Except he really ended up just pushing it into a tiny space till it finally recoiled. He stumbled backward, then caught himself against the wall while Arthur reeled back a pace. The other man touched his shoulder where Lancelot had punched it, then winced.
“That’s an idiotic line of reasoning. Everyone I try to put in jail probably wishes they could kill me,” Lancelot said raggedly. His head hurt. His shoulder hurt. He was actually beginning to wish he’d volunteered to work the holiday shift.
“But I know Clayton could do it. I’ve helped him do it. It’s…it is idiotic, but if anyone else hurts you, it’s someone else hurting you. If he or someone I once knew as well as him hurts you, it’s like I did it myself. Because there’s not that much difference—I was him and I’m afraid I still am him in many ways.” Arthur took a tentative step forward, then another one. The first time he laid his hand on Lancelot’s shoulder, Lancelot shook him off.
The second time, Lancelot let him undo the shirtbuttons and peel back the fabric to poke at the bandages. He caught Arthur’s hand and pulled the other man forward. “You’re not. You know where your idiocy mainly comes from? From making bad analogies like that.”
Arthur snorted a little, strained laugh coming out. He leaned forward, tip of his nose grazing Lancelot’s cheek. Then he tipped his head the rest of the way and kissed Lancelot. Soft going hard, and his hand dropped inside Lancelot’s half-buttoned shirt to run over Lancelot’s chest and stomach. Nails curved around the edge of Lancelot’s waistband, and then they slid down just as Lancelot finally threw his arm over Arthur’s neck and just hauled the other man in. Little hard things occasionally popped out from between them.
“Second damned shirt I’ve ruined today,” Lancelot muttered, wriggling so Arthur could push said shirt out of the way. He backed up against the wall as Arthur closed him in, body a second wall that was very welcome to trap him. And after all that the man put him through…
But it was too much to lose: the hot mouth stroking the length of his neck, the hand squeezing down his trousers. He knew what Arthur meant about the legal way taking too long, when it came to some things. Maybe that made him a worse agent than he should have been, but Lancelot just couldn’t bring himself to care at moments like these. His trousers sliding down his legs, Arthur’s hand on his prick, his hands clutching slick sweat into Arthur’s shirt.
He worked his hand loose so he could slide into Arthur’s hair, pull them back together for a long kiss. Arthur breathed hard into it, as if he were bringing Lancelot to life; his hand pressed Lancelot’s prick against their thighs, grinding it between skin and rough cotton.
“…she said it might be in the sink,” someone’s voice said. Kitchen. Gawain. Damn it. Wasn’t a bad sort, but could he leave finally so there’d be no more interruptions or nonsense about being polite in front of company?
Lancelot would have called out, but Arthur was still kissing him, and harder now. He needed to breathe and pushed at Arthur only to have his hand pinned back. His other hand was tangled up in Arthur’s shirt, and anyway, his bad shoulder kept it from coming too far. He tried to make an annoyed noise, but only managed to get himself kissed so soundly that he lost his own sound.
“…she might have put it in the cabinet…” Tristan. “She looked nervous, and if she’s anything like Arthur, she organizes when she’s under stress.”
Finally Arthur was lifting away from Lancelot, and Lancelot would have laughed then if Arthur’s eyes, full of eerie glitter, hadn’t mesmerized him. They said quiet and now and don’t argue in tones that made the finger Arthur laid across Lancelot’s lips superfluous. Though perhaps not, because then Arthur dropped silently to his knees and took Lancelot’s prick into his mouth. Lancelot shoved his wrist into his mouth.
Clanking dishware. “Um, don’t see it here, either. Is she still here? Can you ask…”
“She left to drive Elaine to the station,” Tristan said. “Wait a moment. We spooned it out into the prettier bowl because we thought it’d calm Guinevere down, or at least keep that from raising her blood pressure. Then we…put your dish back in the fridge.”
God. It wasn’t quite the right season, but Arthur’s mouth could make angels descend from heaven. Then again, that perfect pressure stroking the length of Lancelot’s prick was…thinking about it that way was blasphemous anyway, so the season didn’t matter. Or something like that. Lancelot clawed for a grip on Arthur’s hair and tried to keep his knees locked. He nearly rattled the wall as a hard press of Arthur’s tongue against the head of his prick proved his undoing. Well, no, he couldn’t, not yet, he had to—
Bang went the fridge door, and at the same moment Lancelot bucked into the wall, bruised up his hips, elbows and the back of his head. Came like someone was going to shoot him if he didn’t. His right knee came unlocked and he nearly fell on his arse, but Arthur grabbed his thighs at the last minute.
“Oh, there it is. In the back,” Gawain said.
He clinked and rustled around the fridge’s other contents to get at it, which nicely covered up for Arthur easing Lancelot to the ground. Lancelot still had his arms raised for some idiotic reason, wrists dragging along the wall like they were on railroad tracks. He belatedly lifted them away, but couldn’t quite get them to Arthur’s shoulders. In the end he let them drop. Winced at the way that pulled at his stitches.
Arthur marked that and crawled over Lancelot to nuzzle around the edges of the bandages. The tape holding them down was beginning to peel off because Lancelot’s sweat was dissolving its glue, and Arthur wasn’t helping with how he was easing his tongue-tip around the raw patches where the tape had been stuck. Lancelot raised one arm to weakly poke at the other man and got his wrists captured.
“Got it. Okay, now we can go. God, I hope Mariette hasn’t thrown up. She was looking a little green when we left. How much wine did she have?”
“Two glasses. I think Galahad can manage her.” Someone closed the fridge door. “He’d better. He’ll be cleaning my car if he doesn’t,” Tristan said. He paused, as if Gawain had said something. “There’s worse. He could be cleaning Arthur’s carpets. Come on.”
Their footsteps had barely faded before Lancelot had to let his head fall back and just moan. “Oh, God. Oh, God. Damn it, I hate how Tristan does that. Didn’t you teach him any manners—oh, God.”
Arthur had winced a bit when Tristan had spoken, but had quickly gone back to gently mouthing along Lancelot’s neck. He wouldn’t let go of Lancelot’s hands.
“You know, we weren’t done talking,” Lancelot muttered. He arched involuntarily when Arthur’s tongue needled into his ear. “I’m still sitting you down and making you tell me about Clayton. And you don’t get a choice about how much to tell this time—I think Guin and I deserve the whole story for what you put us through this after…that’s a bit distracting.”
The distraction stopped. “I know, and I will. I handled this one badly,” Arthur said.
“Well, that’s better.” After a moment, Lancelot tilted his head. “I didn’t say you had to stop. I just said it was distracting.”
For a moment, Arthur stared disbelievingly at him. Then the other man sighed and pulled Lancelot down so he could bury his face in Lancelot’s neck. He was smiling a little bit, which was even better. It was a funny thing, but at the end of the day, Lancelot wanted Arthur happy more than anything else, like having his pride satisfied or being right and being alone.
* * *
Guinevere stretched lazily so the sheets slipped down to reveal her breasts, nipples still a bit moist and swollen from Arthur’s attentions; Arthur was still in the shower. She smacked half-heartedly at Lancelot when he leaned over to push his head against them, then rolled over so he had somewhere to lie down. “At least the other moron in this house apologizes nicely.”
“I’d be happier if he stopped creating situations where he has to,” Lancelot muttered. He tweaked his bandages so they weren’t itching so much, then swung his legs onto the bed. “I thought he’d figured out how to stop living like every day was his last. I don’t know about you, but I’m not going away that easily.”
She rolled back to hit his hip. “As if I’m going to leave him to your tender care? Please.”
“Oh, stop being a cunt for once.” Lancelot leaned against the headboard and pulled up his legs against his chest. “He was going to arrange an assassination on our account, Guin. That should be a little bit worrying. But short of stalking him everywhere, I don’t know what else I can do. My God, I told the man I loved him. I can’t remember saying that even to my father. Though he’s a right bastard anyway…”
Guin mumbled something. In the background, the shower was still running.
“What?” Lancelot said.
She turned over to focus her eyes somewhere in the vicinity of his chin. Her cheeks were pinking. “I told Arthur I loved him tonight. More or less.”
“Just today? And I thought you were a smart girl.” All right, that might explain a little bit. But not that much, actually—Arthur tended to go on how he felt about something, not how others felt about the same subject.
“Shut up. You don’t have a clue about what you’re talking about,” Guin snapped, shoving her face into the pillows. She pushed at Lancelot’s hip again, then shoved herself up into a sitting position. Her hair flipped into her face so her expression couldn’t be seen. “You think that’ll curb him any in the future?”
Lancelot wanted to say yes right away, but he couldn’t. He irritably blew out his breath and slid down onto the mattress to stare at the ceiling. “It’d better, but I don’t know. But you know something else that’s worrying me? What if we end up having to shoot someone Arthur knows? And not someone he hated the way he did Cedric.”
“Well, I’d think he’s already considered that possibility.” Guin caught Lancelot’s look and made a face. “On the other hand, given today’s performance…”
They fell silent. So did the shower, and a moment later Arthur came out with water still dripping from his hair. He sat down on the bed on Guinevere’s other side, then stopped to look at them.
“Should I move to the couch?” Arthur finally asked, half-joking. The joking half wasn’t very lighthearted.
“Don’t be even stupider than you’ve already been today,” Guin said, pulling him farther into bed. She crawled over him, stealing a kiss along the way, then snuggled up to his other side.
Lancelot felt Arthur’s arm brush up against him, but didn’t turn towards the other man. Instead he pushed himself up on his good arm and looked down at Arthur. “You’re a lot more work than I expected,” he said quietly.
Arthur nodded, eyes briefly shuttering. His hand bumped up against Lancelot’s and Lancelot took it without thinking. That was it, then—no easy life and probably no real end, but a constant process. Oddly enough, he felt grateful for that. Or maybe it wasn’t so odd, since that meant there was a chance.
“Well, you did come back. You’d better make that mean something,” Lancelot added. He started to lie down and winced. Damned shoulder.
Arthur half-sat and helped him down, then leaned over to turn out the light. Lancelot wrapped his arm around the other man and closed his eyes, but it was a while before he could sleep. He stayed up and watched Arthur instead.