Author: Guede Mazaka
Galahad did manage to get a roommate barely three days before the next rent was due, thanks to Bed’s contacts. According to him, he’d talked to the guy for about twenty minutes during the interview, and then seen him for five seconds during the move-in part. The new guy had blitzed his stuff in, then locked himself in his room with snacks, a TV and a German flag.
“Total soccer fanatic,” Galahad summed up. “But I guess that’s pretty harmless, so I’m not gonna push it. Hey, Mariette, pass the fries.”
Mariette…had her eyes fixed on the large-screen TV in the corner of the bar, and seemed to be mumbling names over and over. On the screen, France just missed a goal and Mariette squeaked out a breath, then slumped, looking utterly crushed. Then she started mumbling again. Gawain finally deciphered her words to be the last names of all the French players currently on the field.
After a second of staring at her, Galahad rolled his eyes and just grabbed the fries. “God, I might as well be single now.”
She smacked him pretty good, considering she wasn’t even looking in his direction. “Allez, allez, Henry,” she prayed.
“So what’s he look like, at least?” Gawain asked. He got the ketchup bottle and upended it, then sighed. This place had the most amazing thick-cut fries anywhere in New York City, but the bottles weren’t the nice, easy-to-use squeeze ones. They were glass, and they always seemed to be half-empty so you had to shake and shake and hope to God it went on the plate and not on your face.
On the TV, one of the players took a dive that even Gawain, who was totally a basketball man, could see was faked. Galahad’s pained expression as he rubbed his head was on the same level; his hair had to have padded most of the blow, but he still wasted plenty of effort shooting wounded looks in Mariette’s direction. “He’s really young. Like, a fucking sophomore.”
“And he can afford to share an apartment with you?” Gawain raised an eyebrow. Then he swore and dove for the napkins as the ketchup abruptly splurted out. Man, it looked like that icky experiment Tristan had forgotten about and left on the kitchen counter two days ago. “Hell, if he can afford to do that, then why’s he going for your place?”
“Because it’s actually a very nice neighborhood, and that’s why we got stuck with such a ridiculous rent in the first place, hence why I needed a new roommate after you left?” Judging from Galahad’s smart mouth, the raised eyebrow and burping ketchup wasn’t a very intimidating combination.
But still, that’d been kind of sharp for Galahad…Gawain looked a little more closely just as France apparently made a big play and Mariette threw up her arms, cheering. And in the process, hit Galahad in the nose. That one looked like it really did hurt, and for the next couple of seconds, Galahad was totally obscured behind a bunch of flailing limbs as Mariette tried to apologize and keep one eye on the game. Absolutely failed at working.
“Jesus Christ, just—here, sit here.” Galahad tugged her across his lap so she was braced in the corner. Given the size of the booth, she probably had one leg still thrown over him, but in that position, she could hang over the top of the bench without any danger of elbowing him. “Okay? You can watch without killing me now?”
“Non! That wasn’t a foul! Oh, this is fine.” Mariette glared at the screen some more, then abruptly caught herself and sheepishly dropped back to peck Galahad on the cheek. “Thanks.”
He actually looked a little embarrassed, though whether that was in a good way due to her affectionate gesture, or in a bad way because he thought his badass rep had just gotten belly-kicked, was completely up in the air. In the end he just sort of knuckled down and rubbed the side of his face, staring at the food. “Man, you better make this up to me later…”
“She probably has to put up with worse during March Madness, knowing you. And basketball games can run a hell of a lot longer,” Gawain snorted.
Okay, that was a natural set-up for a shut-up look from Galahad, but again, he looked a little more pissed off than he normally would’ve. Maybe Gawain was seeing things…except Galahad looked away really quick, like he knew something was wrong, too.
The rest of the bar seemed to be mostly international students tonight, so Mariette blended in pretty well. The noise also tended to cover up whenever an awkward silences dropped between Gawain and Galahad, like one did now. They didn’t usually have a lot of those. Granted, Gawain had seen less of Galahad than he had before, but they weren’t living together now. It happened.
“I don’t know what the whole story is, but Jack—that’s his name—wanted to stay on campus, and his family wanted him to move to that fancy-ass country-club frat-house. You know, the one where the rich alumni’s brats all stay. So sharing with me’s some kind of compromise.” Galahad made a disgusted face. He obviously thought he was being used on some level as the ‘ghetto kid’ again, and that had always been a surefire way to touch off his pride and temper. Pretty weird that he’d accepted this Jack, then.
“How’s he know Bed, if he’s a legacy?”
Shrugging, Galahad finished off his beer. He ducked as Mariette cursed out the TV in French and pounded the bench-top a bit, then blatantly stole one of Gawain’s last jalapeno poppers. “Dude, just say that Bed gets around and leave it at that. You really don’t want to look too closely at how he does it.”
“Half-time! Be right back,” Mariette chirped. She was already out of the booth before she’d finished talking, and by the time Galahad got around to answering, she was scooting her way to the restrooms. Probably a good move on her part, since it looked like a lot of people had been soothing their nerves with alcohol and now were suffering the consequences of that.
After a second, Galahad closed his mouth and snorted, slouching back. He stared at her retreating back with a surprisingly resentful expression. “You know, I’m not even sure if Jack’s parents really know what kind of place he’s gotten, and that’s just fucking great. My roommate and my girlfriend think I’m something to stuff under the rug.”
“If you don’t like it so much, why’d you even agree to him?” Gawain said, blinking. That had been a bit left of center.
“Because I needed to make the goddamned rent,” Galahad snapped. He looked like he was sorry about it a beat afterward, but that was a little late.
God, was that the problem? Gawain had thought they’d worked that out, but here Galahad was, shoving things down till they popped out again under their own steam, and then blaming Gawain for it. For God’s sake, he couldn’t know it was still a problem if Galahad never even mentioned it. “Hey, I said I wasn’t going to leave you in the cold—”
“Yeah, but look, we know what the rents on Tristan’s—you two’s new street run to. And you couldn’t have made both.” Now Galahad was sullen and mumbly, stuffing fries into his mouth whenever he wasn’t avoiding Gawain’s eyes.
“I think Tristan could’ve made ours by himself for one time,” Gawain pointed out.
And when Galahad did meet Gawain’s eyes? He looked like he wanted to smack Gawain for being stupid. “Yeah, probably, and he’d even be happy to. But you wouldn’t have been, and—hey, don’t pretend I’m not right. You would’ve gone guilt-tripping over it, and he would’ve thought it was something wrong with him, and then you’d both be doing that annoying moping thing till me or Arthur knocked some brains into you.”
“Tristan doesn’t mope.” He didn’t, really. Though okay, he could get very quiet and depressed, and when he was like that, he talked even less so it was hard to figure out what was wrong…but that wasn’t moping. And Gawain should know.
Of course, Galahad just rolled his eyes again, like he knew it all. But then he shrugged and flipped his fingers in a leave-it gesture, his irritation going to resignation. “Oh, forget it. Jack’s an okay guy. And it’s not a big deal as long as when his parents do come storming down, they don’t blame me, and they make sure the money, at least, lives up to the contract he signed.”
He obviously was lying, and that didn’t even begin to explain how Mariette had gotten into this conversation. She’d been kind of weird about going with him in public for the first few weeks, but she seemed pretty happy to snuggle up to him now. He couldn’t be talking about Arthur, either, because like everyone else, Arthur had seen their hook-up coming way before Galahad ever had.
“So how’s Tristan?” Galahad abruptly asked.
For a moment, Gawain wasn’t going to go with the conversation change, but then a scuffle broke out by the far end of the bar and everybody including them looked over. Opposing jerseys, so it was just fans beating on each other, but by the time Gawain got back to their table, it was too late to casually go back to the earlier conversation. Anyway, the fight had reminded him they were in kind of a crappy place for a talk that definitely was going to involve personal digging, so he reluctantly let it go. He’d have to remember to corner Galahad later, maybe after their meeting with Arthur.
“Tristan’s okay, I think. His paperwork finally went through, so he’s starting work next week. They’ve got him on the graveyard shift.” Which didn’t make Gawain happy, since it meant he’d be seeing even less of Tristan than he’d figured on, but it wasn’t going to be forever. Besides, grad students tended to operate during the same hours, so it shouldn’t be too bad.
“I would’ve thought he’d be bouncing off the damn walls. I mean, he’s actually getting paid to be the creepy lab rat he is anyway.” Galahad raised his arms over his head and stretched, then dropped them with a thunk. He yawned without bothering to cover his mouth. “Well, you know, if Tristan can bounce.”
Gawain shrugged off the sniping. Nowadays, Galahad barely tried to sound like he meant it. “He’s busy. You wouldn’t believe the hoops they make you jump before they even let you into the place.”
“That why he couldn’t make it down?” For some reason, Galahad had straightened up and was staring hard at Gawain, like he saw something wrong.
“Did it start again?” Mariette breathlessly said, rushing up. Somehow she got herself over Galahad and tucked back into the corner without ever looking away from the TV. “No? Good. Oh, there’s Thierry walking back on!”
Galahad opened his mouth, closed it, and finally just signaled for another beer. “Okay, at least I don’t fangirl guys during basketball season…”
“Nah, but you’ve been known to chug yourself sick just to get in to see your favorite team practice,” Gawain snickered. “Thank God I don’t have to clean up the bathroom after you now. I’m not gonna miss that.”
“Oh, fuck you,” Galahad mumbled, sinking down again. That weird resentment had flashed over his face again, but before Gawain could call him on it, his beer came and nearly got dumped over him as a shouting soccer-fan jostled the waitress. That led to Galahad taking offense, and then that almost turned into a brawl…except the game ended and France was declared the winner. The entire bar blew up, and that pretty much was the end of coherent conversation for the night.
Somewhere along the line, an exuberant Mariette managed to down some beer and quickly ended up giggly and flopping all over the place, so Galahad left to take her home. Gawain stayed a little longer to finish his food.
And, if he wanted to be totally honest, because he didn’t want to head back to his new place yet. Tristan had gone deep into the Bronx on some errand and wouldn’t be back for another hour, and without him in, the apartment was just…weird. When Gawain had been living with Galahad, he’d never had this problem. Even if Galahad was out, his stuff had been tripping up and exasperating Gawain for so many years that it was comfortable, kind of, to have around.
It was stupid, Gawain decided. It wasn’t like he hadn’t spent a few days over at Tristan’s before, and Tristan hadn’t been attached to him 24-7 then, and he’d still been fine.
* * *
Ever since they’d finally done it, Mariette had turned into a fucking grabby drunk. Okay, normally Galahad was all for that, but not when he was trying to lead them home through streets clogged with soccer fans either partying or crying on the corner. If he wasn’t trying to step over some sniffling heap of facepaint or dodging the flags, he was trying to yank her hands out of his jeans. Thank God they’d gone to a place near her apartment instead of their usual hangout, which would’ve prolonged the torture by about ten minutes.
Thank God she got tired fast, too. By the time he had to get out her keys, she was slumping on him more because she wanted his shoulder as a pillow than because she was trying to rub up against his crotch. He managed to get her in and dropped off on the bed without making enough noise to attract the nosy woman down the hall.
“We won,” Mariette mumbled, curling up around her pillow.
“So you’d better be in a good mood tomorrow, because the rest of the day is going to suck.” Galahad waited a moment, then bent over for a closer look.
She was completely out.
It was annoying, yeah, but he was kind of surprised by how much so. Then again, some of that probably was due to having the new roommate thing hit, and then Gawain being a lousy talking partner during dinner earlier. Only the second time Galahad had seen him since he’d moved out, and he’d spent half the time staring at the door. The other half, he’d spent looking like he was gritting his teeth at Galahad, and for what?
“Man, if I’d wanted company to make up for you being all nuts over the Cup game, I should’ve called Bed for all the good Gawain was,” Galahad muttered. He leaned his shoulder against the wall and stared moodily down at her. Then he squinted.
A little bead of saliva was growing at the corner of her mouth. He bit back a snort and wiped it off, then poked her over so if she was going to drool, at least it’d get soaked up by the pillow right away and not run all over her face.
It looked like the soccer parties were concentrated around a couple bars, so getting back to his own apartment just took a little creative usage of backstreets. It still hadn’t hit full dark—or as dark as the city ever got—when he finally stepped inside his own door. “Hey—”
Something clattered and there was a gasp. Then Jack popped out of the kitchenette, holding a bowl of oatmeal in one hand and a napkin in the other. “You startled me. Can you stay out of the kitchen a moment? I just dropped oatmeal on the floor.”
“Sorry.” Galahad was full anyway; at least that part of dinner had worked out. “So you’re finally out?”
Jack flushed a bit, which dropped his age appearance from twelve to eight. “Eh, sorry about that. I just—”
“It’s okay, my girlfriend’s French and she’s turned into a podperson lately for the same reason.” It wasn’t really okay, at least not in the sense that Galahad wasn’t annoyed by it, but it didn’t bug him enough to be worth bitching about.
He wandered out into the living room and his toe turned up a bundle of papers. When picked up, they ended up being the analyses he was supposed to have read and taken notes on by nine, tomorrow morning, so Galahad carried them over to the sofa and sacked out.
“Well, I still feel like I owe you an apology,” Jack suddenly said. He’d gone back to the kitchen, so all Galahad could see was the top of his spine as he mopped up the floor. “I think you were asking if I wanted to go out earlier?”
“Uh, yeah.” Technically, Galahad had been practically shouting to be heard through the door and over Jack’s TV, but whatever. He had two hundred pages to crash through right now. “Me, my girlfriend and my best friend ate out—she wanted to catch the France-Brazil game on a big screen.”
God, that’d been funny to hear coming from Mariette. Normally she was all, “If you can see the players, then what difference does the screen size make? It’s just bigger.”
“Oh. Good game, that.” Jack straightened up, then put his bowl down on the counter and started eating again. “I’m sorry, really. I would’ve loved to come out, but I—well, I was being a bit stupid. England got booted out earlier.”
Galahad marked his current spot by dog-earing the page, then dug his hand into the sofa cushions till he found a pen. It was purple…must’ve been one of Mariette’s, then…but he figured it’d do. “I was wondering about the German flag. No offense, but you really don’t look like that.”
“Huh? Oh, no, I don’t go for England. I was happy they got kicked out. As for the flag…well, they’ve turned out better than people thought and Ireland’s not in the running, sadly, so this Cup I’m cheering for them. It’s just that Portugal gets to advance, and I hate them more than I do England.” Most of that had been in a mushy mumble, but Jack swallowed in time to sound clearly sheepish. “Sorry. I’m rambling, and I think you said you don’t really follow soccer…”
“Nah, I’m more for basketball.” Really, Jack wasn’t all that bad. Of all the people Galahad had interviewed, he definitely was the least likely to have any habits that might one day make Galahad snap with a butcher knife in hand. He was all right.
Till whatever family problem he was running from came back to bite him and Galahad in the ass. Honestly, with Mariette still too terrified of her parents’ disapproval to tell them she was even dating, Galahad should’ve known better. And to that his inner-Gawain voice said—
--his inner-Gawain voice could go fuck itself. Gawain wasn’t living with him anymore. Fine, it wasn’t as if they could’ve roomed together their whole lives, and Gawain probably was happier now that he didn’t have to go as far to jump Tristan, but…but…but fuck. This was whining, wasn’t it?
“I’m supposed to be the whiner,” Galahad muttered. Hell if he knew why he was trying so hard not to.
“What? Did you say something?” Jack looked up from the sink. Apparently he’d finished eating while Galahad had been brooding around, like he was some dumbass tragic hero.
Galahad waved a negating hand in the air, then scribbled a margin note. Then he squinted at it. After ten seconds, he decided it was too illegible even for him and scratched it out, but when it came time to rewrite it, he couldn’t remember quite what it had been.
The water in the kitchen turned off. A few moments later, Jack walked across the room and into the bedroom hallway with a muttered, awkward “’night.”
Couple days till the next round of games started, if Galahad remembered right. Maybe he’d just make Mariette come over, and she and Jack could yell at the TV set while Galahad tried to figure out how he was going to talk to Gawain now. It’d just been weird earlier; a couple times Galahad had started to say something, only to realize it depended on Gawain knowing something that he would’ve without any explanation if he’d been still living with Galahad. And Gawain hadn’t even been out a month yet. Was Galahad going to have to spend half his time updating Gawain now?
Maybe Galahad could just leave Jack be, and do the whole polite distant thing instead of trying to make him into a sort-of replacement for Gawain. ‘cause that was kind of redundant when Galahad was still also trying to make Gawain stay Gawain. And this was making no sense now. Too bad they didn’t know any handy Psych majors.
Galahad sighed and rolled his pen between his fingers. Work first. He had to finish this because this was due to kick his ass first if it got screwed up. Other stuff later. Hopefully.
* * *
The coffee machine beeped just as Gawain stumbled out of the hallway into the kitchen, rubbing at one eye and blinking sleepily with the other. He yawned, stared, then yawned again before any kind of comprehension made it onto his face. “’morning.”
“It’s three-thirty. You don’t have to be up for another three hours,” Tristan said.
“Really?” Gawain grabbed a few times for the clock on top of the fridge before he finally got hold of it and brought it down to look. He shrugged, then put it back and opened the fridge. “Huh. Well, I’m up now, so…um. Tristan.”
He’d trailed off to stare at something on the egg-shelf. Tristan leaned forward to look, then suppressed a wince. “Sorry. I forgot it in the lab—Avalon’s lab, and they called me to pick it up yesterday. I’m taking it to work tomorrow.”
“It’s not going to…leak, is it?” Gawain muttered, warily poking at the bag.
“It shouldn’t.” It’d been double-bagged, and Tristan had used the heavy-duty plastic, too. But he reminded himself to keep browsing the student move-out ads for a cheap second fridge anyway; Gawain sometimes went looking for a snack when he was still too asleep to notice he was dragging half the blankets with him, let alone what he was taking out to eat.
After a moment, Gawain seemed to accept that and pushed the bag back to get at the butter. He tossed that on the counter, then pulled out the milk as well. Toast, then.
“Turns out Galahad couldn’t get his new roommate to come along,” Gawain said. “But now we know the guy’s an undergrad, follows soccer, has a rich family, and is named Jack Hammond.” He started to get out the bread, then stopped. “Uh. Don’t take that as a signal to run a background check on him, okay? I’m sure he’s fine.”
He probably was, but Tristan decided he might just do a little general fact-checking. Not enough to qualify as a full profile, unless something really odd stood out. “How are they getting along?”
The toaster clicked as Gawain pushed the bread down. Then he settled back against the counter, waiting for it to pop back up. His fingers drummed along the edge, and occasionally he’d pull his lower lip back into his mouth to chew on it.
“Should I get to know the people in Homicide better?” Tristan asked.
The side of Gawain’s mouth pulled up, and then he laughed a little. But he didn’t look any less pensive. “No, I think they’re fine. It’s just—some things Galahad said.”
The first thought Tristan had was that Galahad had finally blown up over Gawain moving out. He’d been relatively…all right, impressively mature about it so far, but Tristan had been counting the days. But then, if that had been the case, Gawain would’ve come back pissed off and feeling guilty, and he would’ve told the whole story by now.
“You talk to Mariette much?” Gawain suddenly queried. He glanced over his shoulder and saw Tristan’s confusion, and was starting to make a sheepish face when the toaster dinged. “Sorry, that came out of nowhere. It’s just that Galahad said something about her not telling her parents about him.”
“That’s probably true,” Tristan decided after a moment’s thought. “I don’t speak much with her, but her parents are very strict and righteous. She’s very different from how she was in France. It wouldn’t surprise me if that’s because she thinks it’s all right now that her parents can’t find out.”
Gawain grimaced as he slathered butter over his toast. “Shit.”
Tristan got them some coffee. He felt a yawn coming on and belatedly swallowed it back, mildly startled. He hadn’t thought his night had been that exhausting; all he’d done was get his new desk and lab space in order.
“Galahad’s touchy about his background—well, you’ve seen that already. He might act like he doesn’t care, but getting into college, and then into grad school? That was huge for him.” Some of the butter melted and ran off the side of the bread slice, so Gawain swiped it off with his thumb before it hit the counter. He sucked the butter off, glancing up. When he saw Tristan watching he paused, then grinned a little and licked more slowly. But then he turned serious again. “He just hates it when people think he’s a smart ghetto kid. And you know, he’s right. It’s fucking arrogant to just write us off like that, as if that’s the only thing we could ever be.”
“Mariette probably doesn’t mean it that way. She’s just terrified of her parents,” Tristan said. He downed some coffee, but didn’t feel any caffeine buzz afterward. He experimentally drank some more with the same lack of effect: he really was tired. “I’m not positive they would put their love for her above their principles, like Arthur would.”
Crunchy bits of toast scattered over the counter as Gawain chowed down. He chewed and swallowed, then noticed the crumbs and made a face. “I can buy that, I guess. But still, it’s not really fair to Galahad…I’m kind of surprised he hasn’t called her on that yet, considering how she goes on about honesty.” He paused in thought, then looked up and across the room. “He must really love her.”
And if Galahad figured that out without it coming in the middle of a tearing fight, then Tristan would be truly impressed by his progress.
“So you think Arthur’d do that?” Gawain abruptly asked. “’cause you know, when Lancelot and Guinevere pop in to visit him now, they always look a little…strained.”
Tristan just looked at Gawain. The problem never was what Arthur would do, when push came to shove. It always was whether he’d be able to get over it afterward.
“Just checking. That’s good. Happy Arthur means less undergrads hanging around.” Gawain glanced up, then snickered. “Slightly less. At least they aren’t always asking if he’s okay and if they can do something for him.”
“Do you think Galahad will let Mariette slide much longer?” The coffee really wasn’t doing any good, so Tristan poured the rest of his out in the sink. The yawn finally caught up with him then.
He closed his eyes and leaned against the counter because it made him a little dizzy. Then he turned a little as a hand touched his side. It smoothed down and Gawain molded himself against Tristan’s back, nuzzling the nearest ear. Tristan hummed a little, tilting his head so Gawain’s tongue could move further forward…and yawned again. And at the same time, Gawain drew back to yawn himself.
After an awkward, regretful moment, Gawain laughed softly and squeezed Tristan. “Hell. We’ve got to figure out better hours.”
“Sorry,” Tristan mumbled. He started to reach for him, but then Gawain pulled away and it turned more into a grab. It was rushed and he could feel Gawain stiffening up in question, but it just was…it’d been a few days since Tristan had been awake enough, and at the same time as Gawain, to do this. “Schedule should settle down in a week or so.”
Gawain had been patient, as usual, but a sign that that was running out was the slight beat before he replied. “S’okay. I just hope it’s a week—it gets weird here without you.”
Tristan was too tired to wince. At least physically. He knew he wasn’t normal and the stuff he kept around wasn’t normal, and he didn’t generally care what other people saw when they looked at the evidence of his life. But the move had been a big deal for Gawain, and it’d been just as much about moving out on Galahad as moving in with Tristan, so he’d wanted it to go well.
“It’s not you, it’s your stuff,” Gawain added. He made an irritated noise. “Okay, bad way to say that. I meant it’s not your stuff when you’re not around…well, it is, but it’s not the same. When you are around—”
After the first moment, Gawain relaxed and kissed Tristan back. Then he moved to rub his cheek down the side of Tristan’s face. His eyes were closed; Tristan could tell by how the lashes were tickling his skin. “I’m not sure, actually. If Galahad doesn’t blow up right away, then I really don’t know when he might bring it up,” he said.
“I’ll be around more in a week,” Tristan promised.
Gawain didn’t say ‘okay’ or ‘I hope so.’ He nodded. Then he gave Tristan another squeeze before stepping back, yawning. “Gonna finish my breakfast. Grocery run today—you need anything I don’t know about?”
“No, I’m fine.” Tristan actually wasn’t—not completely, but sometimes bodily exhaustion just won out. And he could tell Gawain had a little patience left, and just relying on that for now was something he had to trust on.
Once he crawled into bed, he slept deeply and soundly. But that had everything to do with necessity, and once he was rested, he spent a long time staring at the clutter of dissection kits and glass jars he had on the dresser across the room from the bed.
* * *
Vaguely remembering something about a new roommate, Mariette carefully pushed open the door. A quick peek around Galahad’s apartment told her this mysterious person was nowhere in sight, but Galahad’s feet propped up on the sofa arm were. The toes curled slightly as she watched, then flopped out of sight as he turned. Papers spilled over the side and drifted to the floor as a soft slurring snore filled the air.
She would’ve snorted to herself, but the aspirin had only just kicked in and she was a little wary of provoking her receding hangover. So instead she eased herself inside and went into the kitchen area to do something about breakfast. The sink was empty and the drying-rack was full, which had to be the roommate. It seemed like he was at least as tidy as Gawain, which was good. Galahad didn’t let things go to the point that they became health hazards, but he did let them get to a state where it was a wonder he could ever find anything.
He woke up right around when she’d finished the crêpes and moved on to the sausages. She didn’t bother looking behind her when the cursing and mad paper-rustling started, though she did jump when something thumped heavily to the ground.
“Jack, what—oh, Mariette.” Loud whuffing noise. “Hey, you’re cooking?”
“You have a meeting with Kitty in forty minutes, and I knew you would save all the work for the last minute. Did you finish, or do you have more to do?” she replied.
He mumbled grumpily and threw more paper around, which she thought meant no, he was done with that, but he still had to hurry because of other things. It was on the tip of her tongue to scold him for being a procrastinator again, as if it’d been any less painful in the past, but then the sausages started to spit fat and she had to turn it down.
Well, no, that was an excuse, just as the cooking was an excuse.
“Well, did you finally get a good night’s sleep? Didn’t wake up yelling ‘Allez les Bleus!, did you?” Galahad retorted, somehow tapping into her current train of thought. “Gah. It’s over by this weekend, right?”
More like driving a jackhammer into it. But as much as Mariette bristled at his comments, she held her tongue. She just banged the sausages onto a plate a little bit hard.
One of them jumped out, then rolled nearly to the end of the counter. Galahad stumbled up to that end and stared blearily down at it, then absently picked up the sausage and popped it into his mouth. She made a face at him and he made one right back, trying to rub off the grease-trail with his hand. Mariette did throw the towel at him.
He let it bounce off his face before he half-heartedly scrubbed at the counter. “Jesus. We didn’t even get to the sex part and we’re already having the make-up breakfast, with a side of sniping. Isn’t it pre-feminist to think that a couple of skinny pancakes can fix everything?”
“You’re such a jerk sometimes. Why do I cook? You can do it for yourself,” she muttered.
“I don’t have the slightest idea. Maybe you’re a masochist?”
“Maybe you’re an—asshole.”
“Maybe—fuck it, I’ve got a meeting to go to.” Galahad turned around and stomped back to the couch, where he started grabbing and ordering papers.
Mariette irritably turned off the stove and got herself a plate and a fork and knife. Then she sat down and put food on her plate, but though it smelled delicious, she couldn’t quite bring herself to eat it. And a couple moments later, Galahad stopped what he was doing and staring at his fistful of papers in the same way she felt.
“Hell,” he sighed. “I can cook, but not much. Gawain did most of that, but now that he’s gone I’m really…”
“He’s not gone. And you always get other people to cook for you.” She just barely managed not to mention specific people. She wasn’t sure whether he was going with this, but Galahad suddenly looked so depressed…she had to kick her heels into the floor to keep from getting up.
Galahad snorted. Then he shoved the papers into his backpack and carried the whole thing over to the table. He sat down across from her and stared at the food. “He’s not like, right there now either. All my life, he’s been the only one who’s always around. Everyone else goes. And now he can leave, too, and look, that is fine with me. He’s got his own life. I’m just kind of bitching here, okay?”
“I’d be here,” Mariette impulsively said.
He looked up fast then and she blushed, but didn’t blink even though he was staring so hard at her that she thought the back of her head was turning red, too. “No matter what happens and what anyone says?” he skeptically asked.
Mariette opened her mouth and stuttered. Then she ducked her head and squeezed her fingers.
“Fuck—never mind. No, really. It’s not like—” Galahad briefly was a little green “—we’re gonna get married tomorrow. So it’s a stupid question. Don’t answer it.”
“But I want to be that to you.” Now her flush was a full-out burn, but Mariette managed to lift her chin after a momentary hesitation. She did mean it.
Galahad blinked in surprise, then stared at her. His gaze slowly went from shocked to thankful to regretful, which didn’t make sense to her. Then it did.
He beat her to the talking. “Hey, your parents are your parents. Whatever.”
“It is not whatever,” she snapped. Then she put up her elbows on the table and pressed her hands against her face. “It—I can’t just now, but I want—”
“Mariette. It’s fine. I don’t care.” But he sounded like he cared a lot, only he was ignoring it.
Suddenly Mariette felt very small and guilty and young, like when she’d stayed a few weeks with her very religious aunt and had been taken to confession for the first time, with that terrifying old priest and the small stuffy cubicle. “Are you going to eat my breakfast?” she finally said.
She incredulously looked up, and Galahad stared back with a half-stuffed mouth of food. He shrugged at her as he swallowed, then glanced back at his plate. “Hey, these are good—I mean, better. You added something to them.”
Mariette opened her mouth, then closed it and shoved her chair back from the table. She got up, walked around, and dropped onto Galahad’s lap, slinging her arms around his neck, and then she kissed him hard and hungrily while he was still trying to ask her something. He had bits of crêpe stuck in his teeth, and they got knocked loose and rolled between their tongues, which was a little weird, but then his hands shoved up under her shirt and he had cold fingers—Mariette yelped and he took them away. She bit at his lip and grabbed them back; he snorted under his breath and—
--“Oh, God—I’m so sorry. I’ll—bathroom—”
Galahad half-held in his groan as footsteps hastily retreated and Mariette more or less died of embarrassment on top of him. “That was Jack, by the way,” he said. “He’s rooting for Germany.”
“Oh?” She gathered a few scraps of dignity. “Invite him to come over with you Saturday to watch the game. Then…then you can stay for the weekend? Just in case my team loses?”
“Both of us?” Galahad asked. He hissed when she hit him. “I’m kidding! I’m kidding! Okay, Jesus…at least it’ll give you somebody to pound on besides me…”
Mariette just grumbled and shoved her face into his shoulder. He tugged at her arm, then let out a long breath and patted her head.
“Eat,” she muttered. “You’re going to be late.”
“Kitty went to university in England, right? So she’ll understand if I say I got delayed by the World Cup--ow!”
* * *
Outtake: After the 2006 Final
Gawain: How’s Mariette?
Galahad: *looking frazzled* You know, if every sportswriter in the world wasn’t already doing it for me, I’d be punching Zidane in the face right now. And he isn’t even her favorite player. At this rate, if I ever meet Thierry Henry, I’ll have to kill him just because I’m so damn sick of hearing her moan his name.
Gawain: What, the comforting part isn’t fun?
Galahad: Not when she won’t let go of that stupid flag.