Author: Guede Mazaka
Gawain finished unlocking the door and pushed it in to find a dark, empty apartment. Once again. His sigh had a little edge to it as he walked inside.
He really was sympathetic to the demands of Tristan’s job, and he’d meant everything he’d said about being patient, but he wasn’t a saint. And Tristan had been on the day shift for over a week now, and he still wasn’t home for much more than a fast shower and a few hours’ sleep. Supposedly things should’ve gotten better by now, but they hadn’t and no matter how hard Gawain tried, it was getting on his nerves.
He just wanted a firm date for when he’d start seeing Tristan—really seeing him—on a regular basis again. That was how he liked living. He liked schedules and planning ahead, and unlike Galahad he wasn’t any good at just living day-by-day. He sucked at improvisation.
But while he did have a plan for the evening that’d keep him busy, it also didn’t include Tristan at all, because Gawain had gotten so used to the other man not being home. And frankly, realizing that depressed him more than anything else, but standing around like he was just wasted time.
On the other hand, fifteen minutes of aimless poking around in the kitchen wasn’t exactly leading to dinner. Gawain couldn’t concentrate on what he was doing because every time he opened the fridge or picked up a package of meat, he was thinking about how much he needed and then he couldn’t help thinking about how he automatically decided that based on one person—
“All right, all right, fuck this,” he said. He stood up and paused for a moment, then closed the fridge door. This wasn’t getting him anywhere. Just being in the apartment wasn’t doing a damn thing except getting him more and more upset, and never mind the work he needed to do. He did have the whole weekend for that…and he rarely saw Tristan then either, since the other man was always getting called away or sleeping.
Gawain needed to get out and get some air, and maybe do something brainless. He grabbed his keys and headed for the door.
* * *
Even before Tristan opened the door, the warning bells were going off. He couldn’t hear any muffled TV or cooking noises going on behind it, and when he did walk into his and Gawain’s apartment, the place was dark and silent. Gawain’s bag was on the floor just inside, where he usually put it, and there was a pan out on the stove as if he’d started to think about dinner, but otherwise there wasn’t a single sign of the other man.
Tristan didn’t immediately assume the worst; sometimes Gawain had to go out unexpectedly, though usually he tried to leave Tristan a voicemail when that happened. But if he’d been in enough of a rush, or maybe if it was just an errand he’d almost forgotten and had run out to do, then he might not have had the time. But he still would’ve left some other kind of note.
Ten minutes later, Tristan had thoroughly checked the whole apartment and hadn’t found one. He took out his cell phone and tried calling Gawain, only to have Gawain’s bag ring. After ending that call, he phoned Arthur, but the other man told him as far as he knew, Gawain had headed home for the day. He’d also asked if Tristan was all right and if he needed to do anything, but Tristan just told him that he’d accidentally deleted a message from Gawain that probably would’ve told him where Gawain was.
Arthur didn’t sound like he entirely bought that, but he got off the phone so Tristan could sit down at the computer and also switch to one of the cell-phones that was safer for secure calls.
Within a few minutes, Tristan had a fix on Gawain, but it just…Gawain was at the house of another grad student. Not one he really knew that well as far as Tristan knew, and not someone who was in his department or the School of Education, where Gawain had been spending more of his time lately.
A couple more calls turned up an explanation that didn’t make things any clearer: said grad student was currently hosting a big house party, and while Gawain was sociable, he wasn’t really one for that kind of thing.
Well, maybe Galahad had dragged him to it. Though something about the way things were still bugged Tristan…he shrugged and got up, getting ready to head out to that address.
* * *
Galahad whooped, then grabbed Mariette around the waist and hugged her close, nuzzling her ear. He just had to demonstrate his appreciation of the sheer coolness of what he’d just seen, and since he didn’t think she’d like him blowing holes in her wall, he went with the next most fitting thing. “Jean Reno is a badass.”
“No, no, wait till Vincent Cassel comes in—wait, see? Keep watching. Mon Dieu, he has the best fight scene…” Mariette happily let Galahad man-handle her for once, and then returned the favor by glomping onto his arm and jerking at it every time Cassel’s character made a smart-ass remark. She wriggled her ass against his thighs and bobbed her head. “I’m so glad you don’t need the subtitles on now. It’s so much better in the original French—”
Somebody’s cell-phone went off. For a moment, Galahad just sat there. Then it rang again, and he turned to see the same look of exasperation on Mariette’s face that he knew he was wearing. She made a face at him.
“It’s yours,” she grumbled, reaching for the remote. Then she added something about irresponsible and always turning it off before a film and blah, blah, bitching, blah.
She paused the movie while Galahad fumbled around on the floor till he hooked up his coat. He dug out the phone on its last ring and pressed the ‘answer’ button before he had a chance to see who was calling. “What?”
*Uh, Galahad?* Jack. Huh? Why was Jack calling? He was supposed to be glued to his couch watching some English soccer game on cable. *Listen, I’m sorry to interrupt your date, but Gawain just showed up asking for you and…and well, he seems…inebriated.”
“What is it?” Mariette pouted.
Galahad glared at her before he realized she couldn’t hear. He tried to make a ‘sorry’ gesture with his hand, then gave up and just hissed, “It’s Gawain—he’s drunk at my place.”
Mariette immediately looked guilty, then switched to concern and snuggled in so she could hear the conversation too. “But he doesn’t drink! And when he does, he needs a lot.”
*Oh, hello, Mariette. I…um…sorry about this. I’d try and call Tristan’s number like you told me, except Gawain’s also upset and from what I can tell, it’s about Tristan.* Something banged in the background and Jack hissed like he was wincing. *I think he just locked himself in the bathroom. Gawain, I mean.*
“Go get a screwdriver—you remember how I showed you how to pop the lock? Make sure he didn’t pass out or do anything stupid like get his hair caught in the fucking toilet—we’ll be right over,” Galahad said. Then he realized he should probably ask, but by then Mariette was already off him and scooping up their coats. Honestly, sometimes he did kind of like her pushiness and inability to stay out of other people’s business. It did keep her trying to think ahead. “And, um, call Arthur—do you need his number? Ask him very nicely if he’s seen Tristan and don’t hyperventilate on him. Uh…just tell him what you know, and don’t say anything that’s just a guess. He’s pretty good at that by himself.”
Jack took a deep breath, held it, then let it out. He checked off items in a voice that was tense, but in a concentrating way, not a panicking one. *Yes, I can pop the lock. I’ll check on Gawain. I just found Professor Pendragon’s number. Okay, I’ll do that. All right. Thanks for not being upset.*
“Just…keep Gawain from doing anything till we get there,” Galahad muttered. He checked to make sure he had his keys and wallet, then turned off the TV while Mariette got the lights. “See you in a sec.”
He flipped his cell shut while going out the door. Mariette followed him a moment later, delayed by the problem of getting into strappy heels—first pair of shoes she’d grabbed, apparently, because it definitely wasn’t that kind of occasion—and locked up.
“What do you think’s wrong?” Mariette asked.
It was still so early in the night that a group of teenagers was playing kickball beneath one of the street-lamps. The ball skittered Galahad’s way and he absently punted it back towards the nearest boy as he walked towards Mariette’s car. “Tristan’s skulking somewhere around the city and I haven’t broken his neck yet.”
“Galahad!” Mariette grabbed his elbow and yanked on his arm, glowering at him. Then she nodded sharply, like she’d made some kind of point, and clattered ahead of him to get to the car first. She got the driver’s door open, plopped herself inside, and then stared pugnaciously out at him.
Rolling his eyes, he got in at the other side. “Okay, you can drive. Jesus.”
“No, the other one. We don’t know what happened yet, so we shouldn’t make judgments,” she muttered, starting the car. She put her hand on the gear-shift and pushed at it. The engine’s roar suddenly went crunchy and loud and Mariette swore in French, hastily adjusting it to reverse-gear. Then she hit the gas, peeling the hell out of there so Galahad had to grab for a handhold.
She usually was a cautious, careful driver to the point of making Galahad crazy, so yeah, he was staring at her funny. He was also trying not to shout for her to see the red light, and then trying to keep himself from hitting the dashboard. Actually, fuck this. If he didn’t say something, they were going to die and they only had six blocks to go. “Mariette! For God’s sake—you get us killed and you’re never getting to drive again, goddamn it!”
They screeched to a stop at another red light. For some reason, Galahad didn’t remember there being this many stoplights on the way…maybe they should’ve walked instead. Jack probably could’ve handled Gawain for an extra fifteen minutes.
After a moment, Mariette tipped her head to the side. She looked a little bit shocked, like she was just realizing what she was doing. “You believe there are cars in the afterlife?”
“Look, my thesis is about how Maynard Keynes’ economic philosophy’s really played out in the world economy, not about theology. Who cares?” Galahad had been bracing himself against the dash, but when the light went to green, Mariette accelerated at a nice, non-human-pulping speed and he decided it was safe to sit back. “What was that all about, anyway?”
“I think I just realized that I really was looking forward to tonight since we haven’t seen each other much, and I was annoyed,” Mariette said, voice a little faint. She sounded like she was having an epiphany, though thankfully she didn’t space out enough for her driving to go wacky that way. “But still you shouldn’t jump to conclusions.”
They turned onto the right street, so Galahad began to scan for parking spaces. He thought he spotted one farther down and briefly pulled himself up to look. “I’m not. This is totally an educated guess here. Gawain’s told me how much he misses Tristan and Tristan’s been on day shift long enough for his schedule not to be the problem. He’s doing something else wrong.”
“Not…necessarily.” Mariette found a place herself, but it was pretty tight so she had to spend a few minutes on inching her car into it. “It could be something else.”
“Yeah, but it’s not likely. I mean, what else could Tristan do that’d get to Gawain that much? Short of cheating on him, but even I don’t think Tristan would do that. He’s freaky like a wolf or whatever—you get his craziness for life,” Galahad said, rolling down one window. He leaned out to check how close she was to the car in front of her, then waved an okay at Mariette. Then he got out of the car and closed the door, turning around to hit the power window button and quickly removing his arm afterward so it wasn’t caught.
“It could be something Gawain did, and now he feels guilty—look, I’m just…um…” she switched to French “…playing devil’s advocate.” Back to English. “It’s just why are you thinking it’s Tristan first?”
Galahad just looked at her over the top of the car. If she didn’t know the answer to that by now, then he seriously had to wonder about her observational skills. And her long-term memory. Maybe she had a medical condition he should be watching.
After a moment, Mariette made a face at him. Her hair suddenly fell in her face as she bent slightly to lock the car door. She straightened up and irritably shoved at it, then pushed her fingers back to gather it up as she turned around; her bun had come undone. “I know, I know, but I thought you were okay with him now. You don’t even mind when he asks you to pass something on to Gawain…oh, wait, does this have to do with Gawain moving out?”
“Of course not.” Why would she think that? Where the hell had that idea come from? Had he been bitching about Jack?
No, not that he could remember. Except for that little bit about Jack building up DVD-towers of taped soccer games that he’d watch in late-night marathons, and that was only bad because he tended to leave them where Galahad would trip over them in the morning.
“Really?” Mariette skeptically said. She let him get the door, then slipped in and had the elevator so Galahad could walk straight from the door into it.
“Really. I don’t have a problem with them living together—I just have a problem with Tristan being a jackass.” And Galahad knew he hadn’t been whining about Tristan lately. In fact, he’d made a point not to. Everyone seemed to think he had a problem with the guy and he wanted to make it clear that he didn’t, and so if he was pissed off right now, it was totally Tristan’s fault.
Once they got to Galahad’s floor, he got the door while Mariette fended off a curious neighbor who’d just wandered down the hall by playing up her accent and pretending not to understand English. She really had too much fun with that sometimes.
“Your hallmate is creepier than my hallmate,” she murmured, grabbing onto his arm. She pressed up and rested her chin on his shoulder.
“That’s why I don’t call ‘em hallmates.” Galahad carefully poked the door open and peered through the gradually-widening slit. He saw the kitchenette, a slice of couch, a whole mess of paper towels stuck to the floor…oh, God, if Gawain had puked on the carpet, Galahad was going to hold it over his head forever. The moment he sobered up. “Jack,” he hissed. “Jack.”
A foot moved into Galahad’s view, and then suddenly Jack’s relieved face was pressed right up to the door. His sleeves were rolled up and the hair around his face was wet and plastered to his skin. “Oh, thank God. I just got him into the shower.”
“Is he awake? He’s not going to drown, is he?” The shower wasn’t running, Galahad realized. At least, he couldn’t hear it going, so he was extra careful not to make any more noise than he had to getting inside the apartment.
The moment he did, the sour smell of vomit hit him: man, Gawain was really drunk. It took him forever to get to the puking stage, but once he had, it was all downhill from there. Not that Galahad had really seen him like that very much, but the few times he had, they’d been pretty damn memorable.
Actually, the last time Gawain had gotten that wasted had been on the anniversary of Grandma Yvie’s death a couple years ago, when they’d still been waiting to hear back from Avalon and Gawain had just gotten fired from some shitty job.
“He accidentally spilled once before I got him into the bathroom,” Jack delicately said. He nodded towards the mess of paper towels on the floor.
“Ew.” Nose wrinkled, Mariette pushed off of Galahad and went into the kitchen area, where she started opening cupboards. “Do you have any…any…ah…club soda?”
“You deal with this, I’ll go handle ‘wain,” Galahad muttered, rolling up his own sleeves. He started to go, then paused. “Oh. Thanks. I—he almost never does this.”
Jack shrugged and ducked his head, rubbing at the back of it with his hand. “I thought it might be that. Eh, it happens.”
It shouldn’t, though. With a sigh, Galahad headed towards the muffled thumping sounds in the bathroom.
* * *
Arthur walked past the study, then stopped. He went back and leaned in the doorway. “Lancelot?”
The other man had been flopped back in his chair, absentmindedly rumpling up his hair while staring at a piece of paper he was holding over his head and at arm’s length, but the moment Arthur spoke, he straightened up. “Hmmm?”
“There appears to be a problem with Tristan. I think I probably should go find him,” Arthur said.
After a moment, Lancelot put the paper down and sat forward so he could rest his elbows on the desk. The diamond-smuggling ring case had moved to the judiciary arm of Interpol, but he and Guin were still spending hours on it getting their evidence into shape. Right now Guin was coordinating a meeting downtown while Lancelot prepared for another one in a few days. “Problem like you need someone to alert law enforcement?”
“No. No, it’s not that bad, so don’t feel like you need to stop working. I just would feel better if I knew where he is right now, so I’m going to go out for a half-hour or so.” It probably wouldn’t even take that long, except lately Arthur had been trying to be more circumspect; normally he could’ve done this without leaving the house. “I might end up needing to talk with him—if so, I’ll call and let you know.”
“Well, this isn’t that important, and I need a break anyway—”
“I really don’t want to interfere with your—”
Lancelot put his hands down hard enough to make sharp rapping sounds against his desk. He looked exasperated. “Arthur, it’s fine. If you don’t want me to come because it’s Tristan and you want to be one-on-one with him, say that.”
“I—” Well, Arthur was feeling suitably chastened by now. He did try to put away the polished manners when he came home, but for a while now that’d been getting more difficult.
Something at the window grated, distracting both of them. It was a familiar enough sound to Arthur so that he merely withdrew so he wasn’t in its direct line-of-sight, but Lancelot was startled enough to jump completely out of his seat. He stumbled a bit, catching himself on the edge of the desk, and then stood up. After a good look at whoever it was, he relaxed with a half-ironic smile on his face. “Well, what do you know? Perfect timing as usual, Tristan.”
Tristan didn’t answer, which was slightly unusual for him. He typically ignored smart-aleck remarks, but he did tend to respond to Lancelot most of the time. Instead he walked around to where Arthur could see him, not looking very surprised at how close Arthur was, and then out into the hall.
Arthur glanced after him, then turned back to Lancelot for a moment; Lancelot was shutting the window
“I suppose I should break out the tea set?” Lancelot asked. “His car’s out front.”
“That’d be very helpful, thank you,” Arthur said, stepping back.
He followed Tristan downstairs and then into the kitchen, where the other man started to make himself a sandwich. Tristan lifted his head when Arthur came in, then went back to concentrating on what he was doing. His taste wasn’t all that picky, but even for him, combining peanut butter and ham seemed rather odd.
Arthur took a seat at the island and folded his hands together on the counter. A couple moments later, he heard Lancelot come in; the other man started taking tea-cups out of the cabinet. He passed behind Tristan and Tristan absently reached across the island to hook over the tea-pot for him, then continued working on the sandwich, which now had three layers.
“Am I hard to live with?” Tristan suddenly asked.
“No,” Arthur immediately said.
Lancelot paused, then finished setting the kettle on the stove. He wandered back over to Arthur and stretched out his arm to trail his fingertips over Arthur’s arm, though more as just touching base than inviting anything. From the sound of it, he got as far as the living room before he took a seat.
“You take getting used to, yes. You don’t have regular habits, yes. But I wouldn’t say you’re difficult.” Arthur picked up the jar of peanut butter before Tristan’s sandwich tower got so tall it toppled over of its own accord. “Did someone say that to you?”
Tristan shrugged and prodded his sandwich. “Not that way. Just that living with me’s easier to do when not sharing an apartment.”
Apparently Jack Hammond had been more than a little discreet in describing what he knew, because that took Arthur by surprise. He’d been under the impression that Gawain had been more than taking Tristan’s eccentricities in stride. “In what way?”
The right corner of Tristan’s mouth flicked up and then down, and at the same time, he ducked his head so his eyes couldn’t be seen. He moved his right shoulder around, trying to convey casualness, but instead it came off as stiff and angry. “In that I’m never around and he’s done as much as he can and he’s still miserable and I haven’t done as much as I can, and I haven’t been making up for what he had to give up in order to—yes, this is about Gawain. Have you heard from anyone yet? I think he headed home to ask Galahad if he could move back.”
“I…heard from Galahad’s roommate,” Arthur had to admit. He straightened up and put his palms flat against the counter, getting ready to get off the chair and around if he had to. “He said that Gawain was extremely drunk, to the point where he didn’t really know who he was talking to half the time.”
“Great. So there’s an even better chance that he was being dead honest with me.” Tristan suddenly stabbed his finger right through the sandwich so the pile started to fall away from him. He grabbed for it, then grimaced as the top third fell apart on him, getting peanut butter all over his hand.
At that point, Arthur slid out of his seat and started around the island with his hand out. When it was five inches away, Tristan flinched and Arthur paused, then lowered his hand for the moment since it didn’t look like Tristan was about to do anything else. “Would a game of pool work right now?”
“No,” Tristan snapped. His face still was set in an emotionless mask, but his eyes were beginning to flicker. “I like your pool set and I don’t want to break it.”
The kettle started to whistle; Arthur quickly moved over to it and poured it over the leaves in the tea-pot. “Tristan. What happened?”
Tristan stood there for another minute, still holding the disaster of a sandwich in his hands. Then he grimaced and lifted his hands, shaking them to get what he could off his fingers. He moved over to the sink and started to wash his hands. “I think Gawain broke up with me.”
The water flicked off his fingers so hard that some of the drops ricocheted almost all the way out of the sink. Arthur had been half-watching the clock for his tea, but now he just forgot about that and went over to stand behind Tristan. He reached up, but Tristan suddenly turned around and shoved his head into Arthur’s chest and…Arthur slowly put his arms down around the other man. He gave Tristan one squeeze, then loosened up and just let him lean.
* * *
Actually, Jack had gotten Gawain half-stripped and mostly rinsed up, which made Galahad revise his valuation of his roommate up a couple notches. Not that he didn’t think Jack was a nice guy, but he hadn’t figured on this much…well, ‘grit’ seemed the wrong word. Stoicism? Stiff upper lip? Just plain Britishness?
Whatever. Galahad sighed and knelt down by the side of the bathtub so he could brace himself enough. He reached over, pushed aside Gawain’s hair till he found the other man’s shoulders, and then yanked him up. Hard.
“Fucking bastard,” Gawain snarled, ripping himself away. He did that so hard that he banged right into the other side of the tub, then slumped, cursing to himself. After a moment, he lifted his arm, but instead of rubbing the back of his head—which had slammed the soap-holder pretty hard—he pressed it to his face. “Who…?”
“Me. Jesus Christ, you look like shit. You look like you drank a whole frat’s worth by yourself.” And then went to a couple funerals afterward. Honestly, Tristan had better have hit Canada and be communing with the wolves by now, because if he was still in town, Galahad would…would…it would be pretty fucking bad. “What happ—whoa, Gawain! ‘wain!”
Gawain had started to slide over again and Galahad made a frantic grab for him. He got Gawain’s arms, but the other man still was pulling downwards, and after a moment Galahad realized that was deliberate and not the alcohol getting to Gawain. He tugged at Gawain, but all that came up was a muffled sob.
“Galahad?” Mariette called through the door. “How is—”
“Water, icepack, lots of towels,” he snapped. Not over his shoulder, so he hoped she’d managed to hear him.
Well, she didn’t come in, but he didn’t hear if she left because he was busy getting first one leg and then the other over the edge of the tub. Galahad dug his hands down and got them hooked under Gawain’s arms, then hiked the other man up so he could fit in the tub as well.
“Okay, what did he do?” he grunted.
The moment he got near enough, Gawain basically collapsed on him. He’d still been squatting and that sat him down hard so his ass hurt, but Gawain was this big, booze-smelling puddle of misery so Galahad just ignored that. “I told him I wanted to move out. I—Galahad, I was trashed. I think he thought I meant move out move out, and now I can’t—call him.”
“What? What did he do?” Holy shit. Just…holy shit.
“He just…wasn’t around,” Gawain muttered. “I don’t know—I was tired and he wasn’t home again, so I went to a party so I wouldn’t feel lonely and I drank too much and then he showed up and it was so bad. God, Galahad. When did I turn into an idiot?”
He still was sniffling, and his hands were fisting in the back of Galahad’s shirt; Galahad hugged him as best he could, but frankly, he still was kind of flattened. It just—it just kind of was like Gawain and Tristan had turned into a real thing, and maybe it’d been only a year and half, but somehow it’d ended up just as hard to picture Gawain without Tristan as to picture life without Gawain. “Um, I don’t know.”
“You are so goddamn awful at comforting people,” Gawain half-snarled, half-choked. He dug his fingers into Galahad’s shoulderblades and moved his head so he was pressing his brow into the point of Galahad’s shoulder.
“So you guys fought? Was it in front of everyone—which party? And hey, why didn’t you call me if you were—”
“Because you and Mariette were having a night and you get to see her only a little more than I get to see Tristan.” Gawain slowly stopped moving, except for his fingers that were still kneading Galahad’s shoulders. His voice got softer, too. “How are you two, anyway?”
Didn’t lack for bitterness. “We’re fine. Mariette’s in the kitchen with Jack.”
“Oh, shit. ‘m sorry,” Gawain mumbled.
Galahad suppressed a sigh and patted Gawain awkwardly on the back. Yeah, he was bad at this, but he usually wasn’t the one doing it, after all. He thought he was doing okay just not freaking out at the sight of Gawain…well, freaking out. Because Gawain never freaked out. It was like a law somewhere. But the universe hadn’t ended yet, so…life still sucked. “It’s okay. What did—”
“I’m not used to being by myself. My God, even during all the gang wars and when we were running around with bullets in us and everything, you were still around. You have—you have no fucking idea how terrified I was, and it wasn’t ‘cause I thought I’d die. It’s ‘cause I thought you might, and then—and then I wouldn’t know what to do.” The words just came tumbling out of Gawain, low and almost incoherent because of how he was smushing them into Galahad. But even if Galahad hadn’t been able to make them out, he still probably would’ve understood them because of the emotion pulsing through every one. “I know he is. I know he’s been making it on his own for a long time, and I’m trying but I’m not him, okay? I can’t do that. I’m sorry but I’m not that good.”
“Well, it’s pretty shitty to ask you to be—”
“I know it’s different for him to live like this, and I was so fucking happy when he asked if I wanted to try moving in together because I really, really love him. Really, Galahad. Like, for forever I was kind of glad you were dating around like crazy because I didn’t want you to move out and leave me alone, but then there was him and I was okay. I’m totally happy for you and Mariette.”
“—um, me and Jack, kind of, since me and Mariette aren’t exactly living—”
“And I tried to live like him, so I wouldn’t stress him out too much because really, he doesn’t need me. He’s proved he’s okay without anyone, and I’ve proved I’m not and I’m just a lot of extra baggage and I just wanted him to come home first for once. I told him that on the driveway, because even drunk I don’t want to hurt him in front of people, and he just…he…he was ‘I can cut down my hours after I talk to my boss but it’ll still be another week because I just moved to day-shift and they won’t want to change them again’ and I was ‘I don’t want to ruin your life’ and he was ‘well, that’s the only way I can come home more.’”
Galahad just stopped trying to say anything and held onto Gawain while the other man rocked, spilling out flood after flood of words.
“And I don’t want to do that to him! But I was drunk, and I was pissed off because nothing was working, no matter which way it was, there’d still be a downside and I just said that when I was living with you, it wasn’t this hard. And it wasn’t, but I didn’t mean it like that. I didn’t. But he just went blank and I was too fucking angry to stay and figure out what his reaction really was and I left.”
After that, Gawain dug his chin into Galahad’s chest and pressed forward so the bridge of his nose started to really hurt Galahad’s shoulder. He sobbed a couple more times before finally going limp and just lying there, exhausted. The echoes of his crying quickly died away, leaving behind a strained, heavy silence.
“You’re not moving back in with me,” Galahad finally said. He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then opened his eyes to stare at the tile. The soap looked all smashed on one side, and when he checked the back of Gawain’s head…yeah, soap smear all over the hair there. He reached over and turned on the faucet just enough to get a trickle, then started rinsing that out as best he could. It was a good excuse for shoving Gawain’s head back down when the other man tried to look at him; this was hard enough without having to deal with that. “You can crash on the couch for a few nights if you have to, but really? You need to go find Tristan and apologize, man.”
Galahad took another deep breath so he’d be able to get it all out before Gawain recovered enough to interrupt. “No, look. You love him. You’re like, crazy in love with him, God knows why…but anyway, I kind of have a feeling that Tristan said the wrong time at the wrong time and he didn’t really mean it like changing his hours again would fuck up his career. But even if he did—the guy loves you back. He’s kind of a moron sometimes, but that’s fucking life. Relationships suck sometimes. You can’t just leave them alone and think they’re gonna be nice all the time.”
The bubbles stopped foaming up, so Galahad figured all the soap was out. He turned off the water; he had to take his hand off Gawain’s head to do that so Gawain finally lifted it to look at him. Oddly enough, he didn’t seem pissed off about the bitching he was getting. “Are you sure?”
“About what? You and Tristan’s whole weird thing? Well, yeah—he’s a fucking nutball who makes you really happy most of the time. About relationships being a pain in the ass? Yeah,” Galahad said. He stopped to think back and see if he’d missed anything, then remembered. It kind of hurt to smile, but he did it for Gawain anyway. “If you moved in, you’d be so fucking depressed I’d probably end up killing you. You’d never see Tristan then, and just right now…”
After a moment, a weak smile pulled at Gawain’s mouth. His eyes were still wet, but he seemed to be getting himself back to—he suddenly grabbed the back of Galahad’s head and yanked him forward into a rib-crushing hug. “Thank you,” he fervently whispered.
“No problem,” Galahad said after a moment. “And goddamn it, next time call me before you decide to get fucking wasted.”
Then Gawain tried to get out of the tub, and that was an entirely different comedy of screams. In the end, they had to call in Jack to help. After Gawain did go out, he and Jack stumbled down the hall to see if he could borrow something clean-ish from Galahad’s closet while Galahad sat in the bathtub for a little longer.
Mariette wandered in, saw his face, and immediately came over to sit by the side. “Are you okay?”
“I really hate being the adult sometimes,” Galahad finally said. He ran his hand restlessly along the edge of the tub. “I miss him, you know. I’m not that used to living without him there all the time. But I can’t…I want him to be happy. I don’t know, maybe I’m turning into a non-selfish person. Which is kind of scary.”
For some reason, she didn’t bring up their earlier conversation. Instead she just grabbed his hand and held it in place, then leaned so she could put her head on his shoulder. “You do a very good job of not letting him see.”
“He’s been having a hard time. I gave him tons of trouble when we were younger, so I guess I’m kind of making up for it? I—oh, fuck this. I need to get out; Jack’s all nervy and Gawain’s still too drunk to drive, and I know he’s gonna want to get to Tristan right away now,” Galahad snorted, getting up.
Before he could straighten all the way, Mariette grabbed him by the face and gave him a sweet, long kiss. She started giggling halfway through for no good reason, but it was infectious and he chuckled a little, too. Her nose bumped against his, and then she slid it up and down the side of his nose while her lips rocked over his mouth. They ended up standing up together, still playfully kissing.
“I love you,” she whispered, sounding a little more serious. “I know I complain a lot about your habits, but you’re so—so good inside, I’m only wanting to see it.”
“Well, the outside’s not leaving any time soon.” He kissed the tip of her nose.
She wrinkled it, then gave him an arm to help him out of the tub. “I suppose it makes sure I have things to talk to you about all the time.”
“Oh, man, don’t start now…”
* * *
Tristan rarely ever cried, and when he did, he always seemed to feel ashamed that he had and immediately retreated into his flattest monotone and most expressionless face. It predated when Arthur had taken over caring for him, and no matter what Arthur did, he hadn’t been able to persuade Tristan to change, so he’d stopped trying. For all he knew, it might just be an intrinsic habit.
“And that’s what happened,” Tristan finished. “I didn’t make it work.”
Arthur looked down at his tea-cup, which he was rapping rather hard against the saucer. “I don’t think that’s the problem.”
“Considering what he said?” Eyebrow raised, Tristan reached for the tea-pot.
He looked startled when Arthur knocked away his hand, but that crack wouldn’t last long enough by itself. So Arthur then grabbed his wrist and pulled him forward, speaking fast and urgently. “What he said wasn’t pleasant. Neither was what he’s apparently been going through, but it isn’t always pleasant. Sometimes it’s downright horrific. And then when that happens, you don’t know that it’s over just from how awful it was. You know when they don’t show up again afterward. You know it’s love when they do, and when after all’s said and done, they’re still willing to look you in the face and go again, whether that’s another fight or a reconciliation or a…or anything. Anything except walking away.”
“So I should go to him? Wait for him?” Tristan asked. He was struggling to put the deadpan back on, but his emotion was coming out in his eyes and the tightness around his mouth. “What—”
“I can’t—” Arthur took a breath “—I can’t tell you that. I’m not you or Gawain, I don’t know what’s gone between you. All I can say is that it’s not a matter of making it work—it’s a matter of making it keep working. But whether you think that’s still possible or not…you have to decide, Tristan.”
He let go of Tristan then. The other man wavered, then put his hand down on the counter next to the other one. He leaned on them, looking at the tea-pot but not really seeing it, for several minutes. Then he finally nodded and turned towards the front of the house just as a car screeched outside. Tristan went stiff, then headed out at a near run.
Lancelot ducked in almost in the same second, looking a bit wary. “So…everything all right now?”
“I have no idea.” Arthur pressed both hands to his face, then slowly dragged them back over his hair. His chest hurt for Tristan and he was wishing very hard, but it was almost physically painful not to call out a clear suggestion to the other man. “God. Parenting never ends, does it? And I only started when he was seventeen, but it already feels like it’s been from birth.”
“Well, the gray hairs are how you know you really care,” Lancelot said, sidling up to Arthur. He ruffled Arthur’s hair, then leaned up against him. “Not that you actually have any, wonder of wonders. You should.”
“I’m not that old, I’d hope.” The front door opened and Arthur heard a flurry of voices, then a sharp drop in noise. He waited a while, and just when he was about to go out and check, Galahad wandered back into the kitchen.
His eyes shot to Lancelot and he backed up a bit, then stopped. “Oh, hey. Just wanted to see who was home…um, Gawain and Tristan are talking on the stairs, and they’ve gotten past the ‘I was a jackass’ stuff so I think they’ll be okay. But I kind of…Mariette and I took her car here, and Gawain’s still a little…”
“Tristan drove here. If he doesn’t feel like he can drive back, I’ll take care of it,” Arthur said.
“Oh. Okay. Okay, I guess.” Looking uncomfortable, Galahad wandered back out. He wrapped his arm around Mariette easily enough once he was in the hall, so Arthur decided he was fine, too.
Lancelot squeezed his arm around Arthur’s waist. “All’s well that ends well?”
“The point is that it doesn’t end,” Arthur muttered.
“Well, yes, but there’s also the point where you need to drink tea yourself and have a moment’s rest. Come on, they’ll be awhile,” Lancelot said. He let go of Arthur and walked around to get himself a cup, then nudged Arthur’s barely-touched one towards him.
After a moment, Arthur took it. He did need it.
* * *
“I’m sorry. I don’t want to move out—I don’t want to ever leave, but the thing is—it felt like I had. Like you wouldn’t have noticed.”
“I know, I know. I’m sorry that…it went that far. Gawain, I can have my pick of jobs. I can quit right now and still be fine doing other things. And I will—”
“—but you really like this one.”
“I like you more.”
“…I’m really stupid. I’m going to be hung-over soon, too. I’m just…sorry.”
“…I thought you were fed up with me for good. The last time I felt that awful was when my mother died. I…I love you, and I know that I’m not normal and I don’t
understand why you want that when you could have a regular life, but—” “God, c’mere--” long, fumbling-desperate kiss “—God, I taste bad. I can taste it in your mouth. I’m sorry. I’ll—look, soon as I get some toothpaste—”
“I don’t care.”
* * *
Guinevere came home during Arthur’s third cup and Lancelot’s second, looking tired and puzzled and exasperated all at once. “Arthur, Tristan and Gawain are dangerously close to having sex in the stairwell.”
“They had a fight. Leave them be—we’ll just screw Arthur there on the way to bed and rechristen the place,” Lancelot mumbled, greedily stuffing biscotti into his mouth.
Arthur had to put up his hand to keep from laughing. After a smack at Lancelot’s head, Guinevere slumped into a chair. She gratefully accepted the tea Arthur offered her, then leaned her head against his hip.
“So they’ve settled it?” she eventually asked, looking up at him.
“For now,” he replied.
“Well, that’s the best you can do sometimes.” She sighed and turned her head so she was resting it on her cheek, then sipped at her tea. “But really, can we chase them out now? I’d like to work on us before I fall asleep.”