|The Grand Tour
Author: Guede Mazaka
There wasn’t much chalk left on the rod, so Arthur forewent chalking up his hands before he broke the balls. It was a cool night and anyway, this floor of Avalon’s student union had disturbingly efficient air conditioning, so his palms weren’t liable to stick too much to the pool stick.
Across the pool table, Tristan stared distractedly out the window. Most people would have said he generally looked that way, but normally his slightly distant gaze was actually keener than most people with a magnifying glass. Right now, however, he leaned on his stick and mechanically ground down the small cube of blue cube on the tip, eyes never moving. They should have been restlessly sweeping the room, and they certainly should have noticed the girl walking past the one glass wall before she let a heavy book slip from her arms.
Tristan flinched at the thud, then turned around. “Solids or stripes?”
“Solids, I think.” Arthur walked around the end of the table and bent over, holding himself lightly above the stick. He let the stick slide through his hands a few times, getting the weight of it—Lancelot had snapped the one Arthur usually brought along during an…energetic closet search, and this was a last-minute loaner from Kitty—before he finally took his shot.
It was a nice, scattering break. The yellow ball clunked off the side and neatly toppled into the left corner pocket at the opposite end, and the red one stopped in just the right position for a bank shot.
“Solids,” Tristan repeated. He stepped out of the way as Arthur moved around.
As busy as their respective lives could get, they didn’t always have time for dinner. But Arthur was determined to stay involved in Tristan’s life, thus the alternative of an hour or so of pool when a meal wouldn’t fit. And pool had a significant meaning for them—back when Arthur was shellshocked and running from his former employers, and Tristan was still grieving over his dead mother, Arthur teaching Tristan to shoot the balls had been one of the few ways they’d been able to approach each other. Since then it’d evolved into a comfortable neutral zone where they could relax, catch up with each other, and privately discuss any issues that might bleed from one life to another.
It’d been a while since Tristan had suggested they play pool instead of have a meal somewhere, so Arthur was closely watching the other man. He grew a little more worried when Tristan didn’t call him on it.
As he leaned over the table for his next shot, Arthur tried and failed to recall if Gawain had acted oddly earlier. Then again, he’d been in a meeting with Merlin all afternoon, so the last time he’d seen Gawain had been just before lunch. “How’s Iseult? I think you mentioned you might be imping a feather for her this week…”
He just missed sinking the red: it rolled sideways a bare inch from the hole and stopped on the rim. Arthur made a note that there apparently was a worn spot in that area and stepped back, waving Tristan forward.
“Oh.” Tristan blinked rapidly and glanced at the new layout of the table. “I did that today.”
“Any trouble?” Arthur asked.
After a quick scan, Tristan marked out his ball and slid into position. “Not much. Bors walked in at the wrong time…”
* * *
Tristan softly cursed as he stared upward, watching how Iseult soared just a little crookedly near the top of the aviary. She dipped towards the rising sun, body a sharp black silhouette against the brilliant reds and yellows so Tristan could see the slight gap in her wing-feathers.
“Sorry, sorry, wasn’t expecting anyone in this early in the morning,” Bors was saying. He knuckled at his forehead and hurriedly backed towards the door. “I’ll just go prune the trees in the other cages first, all right?”
“It’s fine. That’s fine.” It looked like Tristan would be a few minutes late for his dissection session. He wasn’t too bothered since he was ahead of schedule anyway, but he had been hoping to do some extra work. Since the forensic science students shared with the premeds and meds, the schedules for the dissection rooms had gotten very crowded and he doubted he’d have another chance for the rest of the month.
Iseult softly cried out, swooping low. For a moment it looked as if she’d land on a nearby perch, but at the last minute she pulled up into another wide circle. Tristan shrugged and leaned against the wall. He could have gotten out a net, but they’d been together so long that he’d rather wait till she was calm enough to come to his hand.
Anyway, it might be better if he slowed down his work on his thesis. His advisor was constantly asking if Tristan was checking his results and being careful with sources of error—and he was, of course. But it was a little annoying.
Pointless as well, since even if he only worked on it three days a week, he still was going to finish months before Gawain did. Even if he took a couple months off after his defense, there’d still be time.
His advisor was also starting to shove job openings at him with increasing desperation. He doubted he’d have much trouble finding a job, and he had a much better than even chance of getting one in New York City, but nevertheless, he really should have been seriously looking. The catch about forensic science was that it was mostly teamwork; he’d lucked out with his research, but once he got into the professional field he’d have to work much more with others. Picking the right job generally was more about picking the right lab group than locale, and while locale, lab reputation and starting salary were negotiable factors, lab group personality was a take-it-or-leave-it quality.
Then again, Tristan still wasn’t certain that he wanted to find an opening in the “public” field. He could have a position similar to the arrangement he had with his research if he were to apply to an agency. Follow in his mother’s footsteps.
Arthur had never said so in so many words, but he wanted Tristan to stay…legal. Well, as legal as was possible. And truth be told, Tristan didn’t particularly want to live that deeply in the shadows. He doubted Gawain wanted to, either.
Iseult abruptly stooped and plummeted; Tristan instinctively threw up his arm and she came lightly to him. Her bright eyes peered into his face as he stroked her wings, searching for the broken shaft. She shuffled uncomfortably and he murmured to her, trying to find it as quickly as possible, but she was impatient.
“You don’t like being at someone else’s mercy, either,” he said. And he wanted to take back the words as soon as he’d voice them because that was not how it was like…and yet it was, on some level. It’d been a while since he’d had to wait for someone else to make a decision before he could move.
He was willing to wait. It was only that he was…surprisingly out of practice, Tristan thought.
* * *
Tristan shot down two balls before he banked one a hair short and had to relinquish the table to Arthur. The layout wasn’t spectacular: all the balls were bunched together so no clear shots presented themselves, and the cue ball was barely grazing the eight-ball to boot.
“You still have plenty of money in your trust fund,” Arthur said. He tucked his stick under his arm and stared at the table, working out angles in his mind. “You could afford to wait till you found a good position.”
It wasn’t a real trust fund in the strict definition of the term, but it served the same purpose. It was substantial. But it was only money. Money would keep Tristan healthy and bored. He was paradoxical that way—patient enough to stalk animals…or people…into exhaustion, yet he never was able to simply loaf about. He always needed something to do.
It was a little bit understandable, if part of his reason for being that way was similar to Arthur’s reasons for his restlessness. Sitting around felt like softening up, becoming an easy target.
“How’s the sub-department coming?” Tristan asked. His eyes lingered on the orange solid ball.
That was the one Arthur had settled on as well. He hiked up his stick and carefully aimed, making sure he wouldn’t bang into the light above the table. Just as he was drawing back for the shot, his tie fell over his hands. Arthur barely aborted and sighed, stepping away to unknot it and throw it in the corner chair with his coat. He made himself wait till he’d relaxed; it was just a game of pool, there was no hurry, and he had no reason to be recollecting the advice his training sergeant had once upon a time given him about the proper way to cut down a man from several hundred yards away. “Fine. Slower than I’d like, but the faculty superstructure is in place. I think we’ll have the outlines for majors done by next month.”
The cue ball spun smoothly from Arthur’s stick to reflect off the far wall. It touched the purple-stripe, barely missed the eight-ball as it came back and finally knocked the orange solid into the center left pocket.
Tristan tapped the heel of his foot against the floor. “Slower?”
“Some days I’d like to dramatically introduce Eric Holberg to the concept of speed,” Arthur muttered. He hadn’t been able to set up for the next shot, so once again he was back to peering at the balls and hoping physics would bend just a little.
A soft chuckle drifted over the table. “From a jet plane or the back of a van?”
“I’m trying not to tempt myself. Is Kernyw giving you a hard time?” Arthur finally just picked one at random and did the best he could. He missed, but the resulting scatter did ensure that they wouldn’t be taking random potshots for the next fifteen minutes.
“He’s eager to get his students placed. We all came in at once. He probably wants to get to picking the next bunch.” With a shrug, Tristan calmly knotted himself over the table corner and made an effortless shot. He gracefully straightened himself, a faint hint of satisfaction around his mouth.
Arthur smiled. “If you’re sure. Merlin’s forcing me to attend that damned faculty barbecue this weekend, so I wouldn’t mind…”
“No, I already saw Mark today. I take this one interview and he’ll back off. He’s a little confused, but he took it well.” Tristan propped his hip against the table and stretched over the green felt for his next shot. “The girlfriend probably helps.”
* * *
Tristan and another man stared at the neat wood-and-glass door labeled as “Dr. Mark Kernyw.” Behind it came an interesting variety of thumps, rustles and moans.
“So. Er. I guess he’s busy?” said the other man.
“New here?” The man’s hair was too neat and the bags beneath his eyes weren’t big enough for him to be a med student begging for more dissection time, so Tristan guessed he must be an incoming forensic science major.
He was proved right when the other man sheepishly nodded. “Yeah. Um…should we…come back later?”
If he wanted to, he could. After having to sneak into class late and then being put in the rare position of asking the person sitting next to him for notes on that part of the lecture, Tristan wasn’t inclined to put up with more inconveniences. Anyway, there wasn’t a point in getting to know all the secretaries if he never asked them for a favor or two.
Luckily, Kernyw’s secretary Lynda was in a mischievous mood. She was a good friend of Vanora’s and for some bizarre reason, she shared Vanora’s opinion that Tristan was “adorable.” He pasted a blank smile on his face, complimented her hairstyle, and ignored the little pats on the arm she kept giving him. Perhaps it kept administrative snarls at bay, but Tristan could never understand how Arthur managed to endure so many inane conversations about blouses, stupid husbands and airheaded teenagers.
“She’s been in there for the best part of the morning,” Lynda snorted. “I think that’s plenty long enough. Honestly, talk about setting a poor example for the students…at least Professor Pendragon has the sense to date professionals—oops, no offense meant, Tristan. But honestly, I’m not even sure this…lady…even has a college degree.”
Tristan mentally reviewed the different stages of decay and pretended he didn’t notice the interested look the other man was sending his way. “Thanks, Lynda.”
“Oh, you’re very welcome, honey. Now let me just find a big stack of files to drop near the door…or oh, I wonder if Dr. Morgan’s in yet. She’s always up for getting Mark’s goose…” Lynda bustled off, still chattering.
In short measure, Tristan had dropped in to have his discussion with a flustered Dr. Kernyw and had convinced him to let matters develop at their own pace. He nodded to a sly-looking Lynda on his way out, thought about taking the door and instead hopped out a convenient window into a tall oak. Lately he hadn’t had time to track the campus squirrels, so he was hoping to make some headway there. They usually knew the best routes into and out of buildings.
He hadn’t been expecting to nearly drop onto Gawain’s head. Tristan swung himself back onto the branch, then looked over the edge. “Did I hit you?”
“Nope. Just…scared the shit out of me,” Gawain laughed. He reshouldered his bag as he peered up into the leaves. “Déjà vu for the second time we met. But anyway, I was kind of hoping to run into you.”
“I thought you had to hold office hours now,” Tristan said, climbing down. A few leaves drifted down with him, their edges already tinged with color. Like a lot of things, fall tended to creep up much earlier than anyone expected.
Gawain shrugged and stepped in beside Tristan. “I switched times with Galahad. Apparently Cobham can’t meet with him any other time for all of this month except for when his hours were scheduled. So anyway, Bed called me this morning saying that he knew about this great apartment…and it turns out it’s actually what he says it is. Wanna come take a look at it?”
“When did you have in mind?” Tristan was still running over the interview he’d agreed to do. It was a bit of a pain, but the interviewer was fairly well-known in the forensic science community, so Tristan wouldn’t have minded meeting him outside of a formal setting. He needed to forward his résumé and fill out the application, which was going to keep him from editing a couple more chapters of his thesis like he’d hoped.
“Next week. Thursday at six.” A pack of girls edged Gawain off the sidewalk; he good-naturedly gave way and eased back to Tristan after they’d passed by. A few were giving him second looks, but he didn’t notice. Instead he was staring at Tristan, barely able to hide his excitement.
The apartment must be fairly impressive, since Gawain normally took everything in stride. Then again, his and Galahad’s current place didn’t have much to recommend it, even considering the average grad student’s living standards. “Thursday…Thurs…I can’t.” And damn Kernyw into the bargain, because towards the end of his talk with Tristan, he’d been getting so irritable that asking for a change in what they’d finally settled on would just result in worse. “I have an interview.”
“An interview?” Gawain asked. He started to shrug it off, but then he realized what Tristan actually meant and did a double-take. “Like a job interview?”
“It’s for a lab in Rochester, so I have to drive up. I’ll probably be gone all day.” The amount of effort Tristan was going to have to put into this stupid side-trip was really grating; he’d just remembered that he’d scheduled some time for a dissection Thursday as well, and now he’d have to rearrange that. And that lab time had been meant for double-checking an important detail for his thesis, which consequently meant he couldn’t touch those two chapters till he’d gotten his lab time. “I’ll be back late—I’m hoping eight o’clock.”
Gawain nodded while looking off into the distance, a curious strain developing around his mouth. When he spoke again, he sounded as if he were trying to fight down a cough. “Okay. Well, too bad. There were actually a couple openings in this place. Two- and…um, three-bedroom apartments.”
“I thought Mariette wasn’t sleeping with Galahad yet,” Tristan said, surprised. He glanced at Gawain’s face, saw the stupefied hurt there, and in a flash the whole conversation came back to him. Only this time it ran without his preoccupation with Kernyw and the interview so Tristan had a wonderful sense of how badly he’d not been hearing things. “I—that—you were going to—”
He tried to hold onto Gawain’s eyes with his own, but the other man ducked to glance at his watch. “Oh, fuck. I’m late—I have to go drop off some stuff with Galahad. Sorry to run, but…”
Tristan grabbed Gawain’s elbow even though he knew he couldn’t fix things in fifteen seconds in the middle of the campus commons. But he could make sure things weren’t left here. “I’ll bring lunch. Sandwiches or pizza?”
“Um, I don’t care—pizza? See you.” Gawain teetered, started to lean forward, and then abruptly pulled away. He took a step backward, looking at Tristan as if he was the one who needed to apologize, and then turned down a side-path with a quick wave.
Damn it to hell.
* * *
“Rochester. Is that the one group…?” Arthur asked. As he did, his cell rang.
Tristan nodded as he stretched over the table, trying for a difficult shot. He’d just begun to open up, but the moment the phone had gone off, he’d clammed up again. Given what he’d been hinting at, it wasn’t going to be easy to get him back to the same state of receptivity.
Arthur fought down an annoyed exhale and dug out his cell. If it was at all possible, he’d just let his voice-mail take it…no, it wasn’t. Caller ID said Lancelot, office phone, and Lancelot only used his office phone when he was calling about serious matters. Every other time, he went with the cell because of the hands-free headset option. “You had to go back to work?”
*Yeah. Some wanker of a Frenchman woke up this morning thinking he’d dump all the info we’ve been wanting for the past two months today. Guin was still around to take it and she pulled out a possible rush job, hence why I’m here.*
Rush jobs generally meant emergency intercepts where Interpol had an opportunity to catch contraband in situ. As far as Arthur knew, Lancelot and Guinevere were on a long-term project to reduce the amount of illegal diamonds smuggled into the country, so Arthur would have to ask them afterward who was involved. Unfortunately, there was a better chance he’d recognize a name in that business than in the artwork smuggling that they’d been investigating before. “Are either of you going to be around for the weekend?”
*Sunday night, maybe. Guin needs to make a run home for clothes and things, so you might catch her tomorrow. I’ve got extras here at the office, so I’m fine.*
“All right. Tell her I’ll try to start putting things together for her.” Arthur watched Tristan calmly sink two more balls and then move around to aim at the eight-ball. “Good luck.”
Lancelot let out a tired laugh. *Can I talk you into giving me a more demonstrative form of that?*
Well, it was good to hear that he wasn’t completely exhausted yet. On the other hand, it was damnably embarrassing to blush in front of Tristan. “I’m out with Tristan.”
*Oh, Christ. Never mind then, quasi-incestuous voyeurism isn’t really something I go for…see you when I get back.*
“Likewise,” Arthur dryly said. He could see Tristan’s shoulders shaking a bit as the other man tried to restrain himself. He flipped his cell shut and walked back to the table.
Tristan missed his shot, but didn’t seem unduly troubled by it. Actually he looked downright amused. “Don’t you ever get tired of Lancelot’s little suggestions?”
“You couldn’t hear that, could you?” Arthur chalked up his tip as he mapped out one possible series of shots in his head. His finger slipped and he accidentally snapped a nail into the ball of his thumb—not deeply enough to bleed, but it hurt enough for him to need a moment. The moment was actually quite helpful, since it suddenly occurred to him that he could answer Tristan’s question and possibly sneak in a little bit of advice at the same time. “I suppose I would if it was anyone other than him. For some reason his imperfections are charming.” That came out a bit wry. “Or if they aren’t charming, they’re something I can live with at the end of the day. Perfection would be…suspicious.”
They were eight-ball to two, so Arthur took his time sinking his first one. The second ball was a little trickier, but it teetered too far on the edge of the hole and finally tipped in, which left the eight-ball.
“Anyway, he puts up with my neuroses—and don’t comment, I have the more recent psych profile—so I can hardly begrudge him a few quirks of his own. If either of us did, there’d be no point in pursuing a serious relationship.” The slightest tap and Arthur sent the cue ball lazily over the table where it ricocheted off the wall. When it finally hit the eight-ball, that black sphere languidly sauntered towards the pocket.
Teeter. Teeter. Arthur looked heavenwards.
“That puts us even for games,” Tristan said in a neutral tone. He laid his stick across the table and started to re-rack the balls. His fingers deftly retrieved about half of them, but then they let one slip free so he had to chase it around the table. “So how fast does Lancelot forgive you?”
“I can’t generalize something like that. It depends…well, firstly on how bad the damage is.” Arthur glowered at the sly look Tristan shot him. “No, following him into the bathroom doesn’t solve everything, and I do not want to know how you found out about that time in the Met’s men’s room. I just want to know that no one else has.”
Tristan carefully lifted the plastic triangle off the balls and set it aside. “No one else has.”
Thank God. Even now, Arthur still had a difficult time walking through the Arms and Armory exhibit without turning red. “And secondly,” he said, positioning the cue ball, “He usually has to wait for me to forgive myself first.”
Not that Lancelot waited, of course—his patience had been short when Arthur had first met him, and it’d not gotten any longer. He generally lost his temper over that before he’d even finished being upset at whatever Arthur had done in the first place. Guinevere preferred the cold shoulder when she wanted to force Arthur to talk to her.
It was rather funny, Arthur thought. He could spot and dissect a strategy to manipulate him without any difficulty, but he had the damnedest time avoiding their snares anyway.
“I don’t think Gawain’s waiting,” Tristan abruptly said. He startled Arthur into smacking the cue-ball sideways so it completely missed the other balls; Arthur started to move away, but Tristan waved him back for a second try. “I had lousy follow-up.”
* * *
Pizza wasn’t really a food Tristan liked—it tended to be too greasy for him—so he sat back on the couch and watched Gawain and Galahad chow down. He always noticed minor details, but now they were skipping out at him, a testament to his nerves. His fingers actually twitched halfway to the threads hanging off the ends of his jean cuffs before he caught himself.
Gawain had sat next to him without any real hesitation, but there was about an inch between Tristan’s crossed legs and Gawain’s hip. And Gawain seemed engrossed in taking notes off the Introduction to Philosophy coursepack.
“Hey, so did Gawain talk to you about the apartment?” Galahad asked.
The air winced. “Yeah, I did,” Gawain mumbled. “Fuck, I don’t want to grade papers three weeks into the semester.”
“It’s a page-long outline for their first term paper. It’s not bad compared to the essay quiz Holberg wanted to give.” Galahad opened his mouth wide, chomped off a corner of pizza and pulled the slice away from himself so the cheese stretched in strings. He twirled them around his finger till they snapped, then scraped those into his mouth. “You coming to see the place, Tristan? The apartments have actual dishwashers. No more bleeding fingers for me.”
“No.” Tristan glanced at Gawain, but the other man still refused to look at him. It probably didn’t help that Galahad was cheerfully oblivious to the whole situation. If he’d just leave, then maybe Tristan could explain about earlier. “I like washing my own dishes.”
One of Gawain’s shoulders moved rapidly forward and back, as if he were shrugging off a strap. His scribbling sped up. “It was just a thought.”
He sounded sharp enough for Galahad to shoot him a questioning glance. When Gawain didn’t explain himself, Galahad looked at Tristan, but Tristan didn’t feel like detailing everything to him, either. “Thanks, but you didn’t have to,” Tristan quietly said.
“Yeah, I guess not. Rochester, huh? You can probably hire someone to do your dishes.” There was a sudden, short tearing noise: Gawain had ripped up his notepad with his pen tip. He exhaled irritably, then tossed down that and his pizza, which splattered some more of his notes with grease. Then he was over the back of the couch and stalking towards the door before Tristan could catch him.
But Tristan was only a second behind, and a little annoyed himself at Gawain’s crack. Both of them knew science wasn’t a high-paying field, and it wasn’t as if Tristan had ever given the impression that he looked down on Gawain. “I’m just going to an interview. I’m not getting a job there.”
“So you just do interviews for fun? That’s a pretty weird job-hunting strategy,” Gawain called over his shoulder. As Tristan sped up, so did Gawain so they banged through the hallway with roughly the same separation.
“It’s not a job-hunting strategy. It’s just something I have to do—I didn’t ask you to look for apartments for me. Am I supposed to have you approve everything I do for my Master’s?” Which was entirely the wrong thing to say, but it’d been there in the bottom of everything and of course it came out at the wrong time. The one to whom Tristan should’ve been justifying his professional choices should have been Mark, but Mark had been wanting to get back to his damned girlfriend so Tristan had had to bottle that up.
Gawain wasn’t a target. He wasn’t, even if he’d apparently made an assumption that Tristan wished he hadn’t; Tristan wasn’t angry, exactly, but he was—
--about to run into Vanora. He pulled up short at the last minute and grabbed for the stack of papers she was about to drop, then dodged around to keep going. But Gawain was already out of sight, and now that Tristan thought about it, maybe he should just let the other man go. Neither of them were capable of fairly holding up their end of the discussion.
Vanora took one look at his face, rocked back with one hand on her hip and jerked her chin at the hall. “Go, you idiot. You never leave an angry man hanging, is what I’ve learned in fifteen years of marriage…”
* * *
“But he was already out of the building. I tried to find him later, but couldn’t.” For the second straight time, Tristan missed his shot. His expression wasn’t any more disturbed than it was normally, except possibly for a trace of self-denigration, but he’d definitely grown more upset over the past few minutes. Now he stepped back with an audible sigh and swung to eye the window again.
It took more than a moment for Arthur to decide how he wanted to answer. Actually, it probably took him a minute just to deal with the revelation that Tristan and Gawain had progressed that far along. He spent part of it mentally reviewing the sections of Avalon’s ethical guidelines that might be relevant, and the rest he spent reminding himself that Tristan and Gawain were grown men. “Did you consider the possibility that he’s avoiding you because he doesn’t know how to start the conversation?”
“I know I could have found him if I wanted to, but that defeats the point, doesn’t it?” Tristan pulled at his hair, then swept it out of his face. “Arthur—did you let Lancelot and Guinevere stay because you wanted them to, or because you were too polite to kick them out?”
“I think I met them under unusual circumstances. They’d nearly died and thinking about that terrified me for a long time—of course it still terrifies me, but not quite so…immediately. It’s hard to think past that, given everything.” And by that, Arthur meant his past experiences and losses, the instincts that those had painfully and to some extent, ineradicably hard-wired into them, and the sheer shock of finding out that he could in fact still fall in love. He had no idea how he’d word that properly, so he trusted that Tristan would understand enough from tonal cues.
Reading Tristan was difficult under the best of circumstances, but when Tristan was agitated, it actually was harder since Tristan and agitation didn’t coincide often enough for Arthur to identify many patterns of behavior. Right now, about all Arthur had to go on was that Tristan seemed more likely to make this shot than he had his two previous ones.
He didn’t. But he only missed by a hair; the ball had stopped on the very edge of the pocket, and Arthur almost felt guilty about taking and making his shot. He’d even managed to set up a good second shot to follow that one. “I suppose what you need to know is that living together isn’t something done lightly.”
“I don’t think he was thinking of it as a fun thing to do. That’s the problem,” Tristan muttered.
More or less. He’d been looking at things flippantly, whereas Gawain had been looking at them seriously. It didn’t matter that they’d been considering different matters; their perspectives hadn’t matched up, and that was why they’d misunderstood each other when their viewpoints had crossed.
Arthur started to lean over for his next shot, then straightened up. He waited until Tristan was steadily looking at him. “Were you? If not, then just go find him and talk—there’s no point at all to who starts first if you never start at all. Moral principles are only of use if they’ve an arena in which they can be aired…and someone’s at the door.”
“Uh, yeah. Hi.” Galahad’s head poked around the corner. His hair was rumpled and he had a careworn, exasperated look that only partly evaporated when he saw Arthur. “Vanora said you two might be here…and God, does everyone owe me for doing this. Tristan, come on. I have a roommate that’s been ripping up car engines for the past three hours and Bed’s starting to run short on things for him to fix.”
Tristan lowered his stick, but stayed where he was. “He’s at the garage?”
“Are you going or what? He’s really fucking depressed, and if you’re not I’m just going to whack him with a wrench and drag him back to the…okay. Wait. You don’t need to—hey!” Galahad swore, then ran into the room and past the pool table to stare out the window. He leaned over the sill for a few seconds before turning to stare at Arthur. “So…you ever get used to him jumping out windows, or do you always freak out for a moment before realizing he’s not actually committing suicide?”
Arthur quietly let his grip on his stick relax and breathed an inward sigh of relief. “Option B.”
“Seriously?” After shutting the window, Galahad wandered back to the pool table where he picked up the stick he’d dropped. He ran a hand through his hair, then shook his head hard as if he were dizzy. “Jesus Christ. Everyone’s such a drama queen. Three-bedroom, hell. It’d still only be two-bedroom in practice, and I’d have to fall asleep with headphones on. Not that anyone’s really asking for my opinion…”
“Did you mind?” Arthur asked. He looked at the abandoned game, then went ahead and finished his turn. The red-stripe neatly banked into a pocket, while the cue ball rolled on till it was angled to send the blue-stripe into the opposite hole. He might as well play out the game, since it wasn’t as if he had anything besides work to greet him at home. Once upon a time that wouldn’t have bothered him, but he was no longer living in once upon a time.
“Uh…well, no. Aside from having to deal with animal guts in the fridge and that kind of thing. Actually, Gawain’s easier to take when Tristan’s around—not so uptight and fussy.” Galahad cocked his head as Arthur shot and missed, then waved vaguely at the table. “So…need a partner?”
Arthur paused, then smiled and stepped aside. “If you’d like. I didn’t know you played.”
“I don’t just play—I used to get good income from this,” Galahad snorted. “You still sure you want me to?”
“And here I thought it was all video games and Texas Hold ‘Em nowadays.” A little exercise against an unfamiliar opponent shouldn’t hurt, Arthur thought. And it’d certainly distract him from his empty house. “Take your best shot.”