|Rumor Propagation IV: Hearsay
Author: Guede Mazaka
After checking two or three rooms, Arthur finally located an unoccupied office. He walked all the way in before realizing it was devoid of any furniture except for a large desk, but by the time he turned around, Lancelot and Guinevere had popped in after and shut the door.
Lancelot glanced around…and continued to glance around, presumably for a chair. In the end, he finally took the desk and pushed himself up to perch on the edge. “All right, we’ve put up with matters for months now. But I, for one, am getting rather tired of it.”
“Lovely start—he doesn’t even know what you’re talking about,” Guinevere muttered.
Arthur did have an idea, but for the moment he decided to refrain from floating it. His guesses usually were accurate, but these two surprised him regularly enough that he wasn’t inclined to bet on it. And when he was wrong about them, he tended to be spectacularly wrong to boot.
“Would you stop undermining me?” Lancelot hissed to her. He raked his hand through his hair, then abruptly turned to Arthur. Anger and then fear and then frustration flashed over his face. “All right, how about we start at the beginning? If I heard correctly, Tristan’s advisor has gotten pushed into some dirty dealings by his corporate snake of a girlfriend.”
“More or less.” There’d been a slight chance at the beginning that Mark might have been an innocent victim or a dupe, but it’d gradually become quite clear that he had a perfect comprehension of what he’d been doing. He had seemed to lack a real understanding of it, of what the consequences of his actions could potentially have meant to his department and to Avalon at large, but that wasn’t enough to excuse him.
He did seem to be genuinely in love, and not only in lust, with Isabel, which earned him a little pity from Arthur. Not enough to regret Merlin’s probable decision to have him fired, though, and not enough to make up for the warning chill that particular undertone of the situation held for Arthur.
“And someone sent you advance notice?” Lancelot sounded less certain of himself here; Tristan wouldn’t have come out and said it directly. “For example, a certain London-based agency who’s been very quiet lately regarding this area, even though you’ve been living every damn day as if they were about to show up on our doorstep?”
“Don’t blame him for that. That’s a perfectly reasonable reaction, given the circumstances,” Guinevere said under her breath.
Arthur briefly wondered if this one was going to degenerate into yet another side-squabble that he’d be forced to mediate. A hopeful feeling welled up in him and he disgustedly crushed it as soon as he realized; Lancelot and Guinevere weren’t usually like this, and that was because they weren’t usually so stressed over him. His life was ruining theirs again.
“And now he’s guilt-tripping. Stop distracting me, Guin,” Lancelot snapped. He leaned forward, then sat back again. When he waved at Arthur, Arthur understood the other man had been trying to pull him up, but was sitting too far away. “Look, Arthur, we’re not going to be idiots and be angry because you’re worried about preserving your life, all right? But you know, we’d appreciate the occasional update. Even if it’s just for professional interests, since we could actually arrest a threat—”
“What he’s trying to say is that do you have a problem right now?” Guinevere interrupted. She had remained standing by the door this entire time, but after checking the lock again, she came forward and grabbed Arthur’s hands, looking earnestly into his eyes. “Why’d they send you the file?”
Because it was step one in trying to force his hand, and suddenly Arthur was furious again. He’d told them so many times exactly what his opinion was, made it clear that he wasn’t interested and yet they were still trying, still believing he’d let them drive him into that corner. They were still interfering with his damned family, and by God, it almost was enough to make him take out a pistol and go hunting.
Guinevere sucked in her breath, eyes widening a little. She didn’t let go of Arthur’s hands even after he realized how he was crushing them and let go of hers. After a moment, he carefully clasped his fingers around her hands again.
“It’s not a frame on Mark—he’s truly guilty. But they’re pointing out that they’re watching me very closely for a chance to push me out of Avalon. Presumably in a way that would leave no choice but to fall back on my old profession,” Arthur finally said.
Lancelot swore viciously and drummed his fingers on the desk like each one was a small punch. He didn’t look surprised at all—neither did Guinevere—but he still had worked himself up into a rage over it anyway. Again, because it was Arthur and God, the file had been an infuriating tactic, but it was also looking to become an effective one.
“They couldn’t, could they? Haven’t you taken precautions?” Guinevere asked, still looking up at him. A hopeful, desperate quaver was threaded through her otherwise firm voice.
“I have. And I’ve been waiting for this sort of approach for a while. I’m afraid that might’ve affected my behavior…”
“Well, we did notice, but we put up with it. And contrary to what Guin seems to think, I’ll keep putting up with it as long as I know why it’s happening,” Lancelot said, getting off the desk. He tucked one hand in his pocket as he swung himself across the space, all insouciance up till his eyes, which were dark with worry. “Okay. They fired a warning shot. Sadly, I’m pretty sure we can’t prosecute on this.”
Guinevere opened her mouth, then closed it. She lowered her head after a moment, thinking.
“What next?” Lancelot finished.
Arthur absently checked his watch, which immediately caused the others to tense up. He shook his head and put down his arm, giving it a little shake so his sleeve came down. “No, no, they won’t push on this soon. They waited so long to take this step; they’ll wait for me to over-think over it and then presumably drop my guard.”
“So…what next?” Lancelot was standing too far away for Guinevere to elbow him or stomp on his foot. Not that she didn’t take a stab at it anyway.
“I have some thinking to do, clearly.” Of course, Arthur was stalling, but as much as he wanted to give the pleading in their faces something to work with, he didn’t think he did have much of anything. He’d have to figure out where priorities lay, what sacrifices he could make and still continue to live with, and they simply couldn’t help him with that.
Guinevere seemed to understand or sense at least part of this, because she sighed and dropped her head to press her face into Arthur’s shoulder. She still held onto one of Arthur’s hands, and now she squeezed it hard before slowly letting up on the pressure, her thumb stroking the hollow of his palm.
“About what?” Lancelot asked.
“Then let’s go get Tristan out of there and go home,” Guinevere said at the same time. She lifted her head and glared at Lancelot, who backed up a bit and looked both startled and annoyed. “You’d better do your thinking while you’ve got some peace. God knows you tend to be too ascetic even then.”
Lancelot opened his mouth again, but Guinevere hissed something Arthur didn’t quite catch and the other man closed it. His expression changed to mulish, but he did get out of the way of the door.
“All right, but I’ve got a friend of the court brief to submit about this whole situation and I am going to say my piece sometime,” Lancelot muttered.
Both Guinevere and Arthur had to stop and look at him for a moment. He twitched and spread his hands, silently asking them what the new problem was.
“I had no idea you were getting that into the judicial end these days.” Guinevere sounded deeply amused.
And Arthur was too, but his amusement was tempered by the sudden knowledge that she was obviously referencing some sort of incident at work and he couldn’t place it. He’d been completely neglecting what was going on in their lives.
“I think it’s always a good idea to stretch your horizons.” Lancelot’s tone was unbelievably lofty.
He turned the knob and pushed the door open, then half-turned back to let them pass. Whereupon Guinevere reached out and delicately flicked his nose before sashaying down the hall, her slim skirt clinging tightly to perfectly outline the curves of her arse. Snorting and rubbing at his nose, a slightly-flushed Lancelot grabbed Arthur’s arm and stalked after her.
* * *
Merlin let Tristan go with a side-promise to Arthur to keep his and Arthur’s names out of things as much as possible, given Tristan’s innocence in the matter. It looked like Merlin was far from done with either Dr. Fay or Dr. Kernyw, for which Arthur couldn’t help being a little grateful. A run-in with Morgan was one of the last things he needed at the moment.
Tristan still didn’t seem to have completely gotten over the events of the day, but the last Arthur saw of him, he and Gawain were talking about renting a movie and Gawain was promising tacos, so it seemed as if he was being taken care of. So Arthur stopped over at his office, Lancelot trailing behind him, to collect his briefcase and then he went home.
Dinner was relatively quiet, though he did make an effort to inquire more into how work was going for Lancelot and Guinevere. Afterward, he normally went into his office to finish up whatever he’d had to bring home, but tonight he moved into the living room instead and spread his papers over the coffee-table. Fortunately, he’d been ahead anyway on everything that could be planned for, and the semester wasn’t sufficiently advanced enough yet to toss many unexpected problems into his lap.
Arthur was very near to done when the couch dipped on his left side and then an arm dropped around his waist. Lancelot nuzzled at his neck, stubble scraping first and then mouth soothing after, before turning to put his chin on Arthur’s shoulder. “I still need to talk to you.”
“I’m listening,” Arthur said, putting down his file.
For some reason, Lancelot frowned at that. He pulled at his nose, then dropped his hand between his knees. “You’re being unusually cooperative.”
“Am I? I’m not being facetious, Lancelot. I am listening.” Arthur shifted so he could better see the other man.
“Well. All right, then.” The other man straightened up and looked Arthur in the eye, and proceeded to do nothing but that for a good thirty seconds. Then he irritably pulled away to turn forwards, pulling at his hair. “For Christ’s sake, how do you do that? All you do is look at me and I—I just can’t—look, obviously it’s your life and you’re the only person who can decide what to do with it, but—but I love you.”
The words came out in a frustrated burst, as if Lancelot had actually meant to slap Arthur, but had thought slightly better of it. Then the other man dropped his face in his hands. He stayed like that for a moment before running his fingers over the top and down the back of his head, tiredly exhaling.
“Right,” Lancelot muttered. He sounded marginally more collected. “I love you, and I’ve decided to go with it and take whatever comes my way because of it, except possibly you going under again. Because that would more or less negate the point of being in love with you, and don’t talk to me about Odysseus’ faithful hound waiting for him to come home.”
Did…had Arthur ever used that metaphor on Lancelot? It sounded vaguely familiar…no, that was because he’d used it as an illustrating example in one of his classes.
“On the other hand, I’d also rather that you didn’t stupidly stick it out and die merely for the sake of proving someone like you should be able to have a normal life, because that’d come up with the same unhelpful result. Unfortunately, I have absolutely no alternative ideas to offer.” With a sigh, Lancelot put his head back in his hands. Then he twisted around to look at Arthur, his mouth quirked in a fairly dark humor. “Well, that came out a little more understandably than I thought it would.”
Arthur gazed at him for a moment; really, the only reasonable thought to have was what Arthur might have done in a past life to deserve that much. But ponderings of that sort weren’t terribly pragmatic, and the current situation seemed determined to require nothing but that.
“I can’t say that I haven’t considered either of those two possibilities as options,” Arthur slowly started.
“Bastard. Don’t you dare--”
Arthur grabbed Lancelot’s arm and held the other man in place. “But I’ve rejected them.”
Lancelot paused. Then he settled back, picking at his shirt cuffs till they came undone. “Why?”
It was clear from the other man’s face that he wasn’t merely going to assume the best, and frankly, Arthur couldn’t blame him for taking that tack. “Honestly? Joining MI6 again would do no good because I know—and they haven’t accepted—that I’m not mentally fit to make those sorts of compromises with my conscience again. I’d turn on them and I’m not entirely sure whether I’d be able to keep from hurting innocents while doing it.” Arthur lifted his hand to cup Lancelot’s cheek; Lancelot’s eyes briefly dropped, but then rose again to fix Arthur with their steady gaze. “I don’t think you really know what you’ve done to me. I did a very good job of acting like a normal person before I met you and Guinevere, but now I’m not acting.”
“So much?” Lancelot suggested, though more ironically than unkindly. He turned his face into Arthur’s hand and brushed his lips over the hollow of the palm, a whisper that echoed in Arthur’s shiver. “And scenario two?”
“I don’t like the idea of waiting for someone to kill me. Yes, I know, you and Guinevere kid about my martyring tendencies. But that doesn’t seem like martyring—it’s odd, but when it comes down to it, I’d rather die fighting,” Arthur said, trying for wry and probably coming off more melancholy. He shook his head at himself. “And I like to say I have pacifist tendencies.”
Lancelot snorted and started picking at Arthur’s cuffs. He had them unbuttoned in less than a minute, but somehow made the way he shifted over to undoing Arthur’s tie casual. “You’re no hawk, Arthur. So…?”
“So…” Arthur hesitated, wanting to get this said correctly after all the time he’d spent thinking and rethinking over it “…Lancelot, I love teaching and I love being a professor at Avalon. But my work there isn’t what was responsible for giving me back everything I lost to being a covert operative. If MI6 forces me back into their arms, Avalon won’t be the greatest loss in my life.”
He reached over and traced his finger over Lancelot’s neck, following the line of the shirt-collar, and down along the graceful winging collarbones. The other man raised his hand, then lowered it. Then he cursed and pushed at Arthur’s side. “Stop distracting me and…and are you done? I’m not sure I know what you’re saying.”
“Because he just complimented you, you idiot. You never seem to understand those unless they’re about your looks,” Guinevere said. When Arthur turned to see, she smiled sardonically at him from the doorway.
“What—oh.” Lancelot’s hands went still on Arthur. His eyes flashed dark and hot, and then he was pulling furiously at Arthur’s shirt, digging the tails out of Arthur’s trousers and then pushing to straddle Arthur’s lap. “Oh.”
Arthur opened his mouth to clarify himself just in case, but since Lancelot’s tongue promptly inserted itself, that apparently was no longer necessary. He twisted sideways, pulling one leg up on the couch, and grabbed at Lancelot’s waist to steady him just as the other man arched, slow and sweet so his mouth slid up to work on Arthur’s upper lip and his hips rolled forward, provocatively pushing his groin up against Arthur. A glance at Guinevere showed her still at the doorway, arms crossed over her chest and cheeks beginning to flush. She caught Arthur’s eye and grinned, waving back at Lancelot.
“Take off his shirt,” she suggested.
Now sucking at Arthur’s ear, Lancelot made a muffled noise—not quite a protest or an endorsement. Actually, he mostly sounded confused, though he seemed to regain his focus after Arthur had gotten to the third button. His hands came down on Arthur’s hips and he rubbed his face into Arthur’s neck, purring like a cat as Arthur skimmed off the cotton shirt, letting his fingers linger on the silkier skin beneath. Lancelot’s muscles lazily shifted and flexed beneath, seeming to flow along with Arthur’s caresses.
Guinevere had uncrossed her arms and was biting one index finger. She restlessly crossed and uncrossed her legs. “Now let’s see the belt.”
“His or mine?” Lancelot said, languidly easing his way up Arthur. He draped one arm around Arthur’s neck and dangled the belt—when had he gotten that off—over the couch. Then he flipped it at Guinevere.
She snorted and took a few steps into the room, moving so she was standing behind him. Her eyes met Arthur’s and something wicked and fiery flashed between them, something that worked itself deep into Arthur to spread into a restive, liquid feeling that nevertheless was enormously gratifying. He’d missed this—this ease, this ability to turn and bury his cares in the feel and taste and look of them.
He nibbled at Lancelot’s throat and jaw, lightly and not really with any intent except to serve as a contrast when his hands suddenly squeezed down between them and cupped Lancelot’s rising erection. The other man did hiss and jerk, clutching hard at Arthur for just long enough to steal his belt. When Arthur tossed it, Guinevere snatched it out of the air and stretched it between her hands, looking speculatively at it long enough for Arthur to have to suppress a growl in Lancelot’s shoulder.
Lancelot snarled back, his nails scratching at Arthur’s shoulders. He twisted around and glared till Guinevere dropped the belt and stepped back, her hands raised in mock-surrender. Then he turned back and seemed rather startled to find that Arthur had managed to get their trousers down; he gasped and shuddered as Arthur stroked his hands up between his thighs, fingering the way hard muscles turned soft at a touch, pressing palms up towards the thinner skin where the heat burned through more fiercely. Sweat was beginning to dampen the area and it smoothed Arthur’s way as he ran his fingers around Lancelot’s balls and lilted one fingertip up the length of the other man’s flushing prick, his other hand moving down and back to cup one buttock. Lancelot groaned and desperately spread his knees. “Damn it…where’s the…”
“Men,” Guinevere sighed, but her eyes were bright and she’d pulled at her blouse till it hung out of her skirt, loose enough now so when she bent over to hand Arthur what he needed, the gauze drooped to show the white swell of her breasts. “Always starting things where they couldn’t possibly finish them, unless—”
“Thank you, Guin,” Lancelot snapped, hauling himself up for Arthur. He was so eager that he forced himself down onto two fingers when Arthur had only intended one; his face contracted in a grimace and his breath came harshly, but he refused to rise till he’d started to move with the twist of Arthur’s fingers. And even then it was only so he could grab Arthur’s prick in one hand—his hand was cold; Arthur sucked in his breath—and drop himself onto the tip. And hold himself there while Arthur’s hands spasmed on him. Lancelot grinned. “You are not giving this up.”
The coffee table creaked as Guinevere sat down hard on it, eyes bright and lower lip red not from lipstick, but from nervous chewing on it. She hiked up her skirt and put her hand up it, twisting around so a moment later the lace of her panties had been shoved down beneath the hem, and the sheer brazen unconsciousness of it made the breath catch in Arthur’s throat, made him buck a little and then the promising pressure around the tip of his prick made him remember. Lancelot looked a little annoyed, but he never got the chance to voice a protest before Arthur had taken advantage of his hold on the other man and simply pulled down.
“Oh, Christ,” Lancelot gasped.
Arthur didn’t trust himself to be able to say anything useful or meaningful or even coherent, so instead he leaned down and sucked at the point of Lancelot’s shoulder. He dropped his hands to Lancelot’s hips and pushed the other man up, then yanked him down. When he repeated that, Lancelot helped him along. He was biting the other man’s shoulder after the fourth thrust, and after that he lost himself and didn’t know what he was doing because he didn’t know where he ended and the other man began.
His climax was almost shattering the way it forcibly divided them into bodies again; Arthur wrapped his arms around Lancelot and held on tight, trying to forestall the separation a little longer, but Lancelot thrashed too much and Arthur was forced to loosen up. But then Lancelot gasped again, and gave the side of Arthur’s neck a sloppy openmouthed kiss, and the regret lessened.
A disappointed voice penetrated the haze. “Is that all?”
Lancelot grunted, then lifted his head with an effort Arthur could feel, given how it rippled through the man’s whole body. He hissed a little, shooting a satisfied smile at Arthur, and pointedly ground his hips down so Arthur’s prick began to stiffen again inside of him. “Well, if you’re going to sit all the way over there and not even put up a fight about it…” he said, holding up his fingers and cracking his knuckles.
Guinevere huffed and promptly switched to the sofa, perching herself on the sliver available beside Arthur and looping one arm around Arthur’s neck. She leaned up for a kiss, which Arthur was happy to provide and then to take it further so she drew back moaning. “Do something with those instead of just talking about it,” she suggested, glancing contemptuously at Lancelot.
He made a face, then darted his hand down between her legs so suddenly that Guinevere squealed a little and jerked up. Arthur dropped his arm to hold her back and she began to shoot him a mock-betrayed look, only to abruptly gasp and go soft and yielding against him. Her hips began to move.
“Anything else, milady?” Lancelot looked utterly innocent.
Arthur sighed and pushed up into the other man till Lancelot dropped the act to go wide-eyed and shuddering again. Then Guinevere was grasping Arthur’s chin and turning his head for another kiss, and he really had to pay attention to them and only them.
He still wasn’t certain of what he was going to do, but he knew what he wasn’t. And that…that was freeing. That was enough for now, so he wholeheartedly gave himself over.