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I Saw Him Like A Silver Star

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As the night steals down to snuff the last of the glow from the skyline, Galahad enters the tavern with Gawain in tow, eyes searching through the gloom and noise. After beating him soundly in the practice yard earlier, Gawain had insisted he accompany him: as is customary, the loser buys the wine. It burns like a fever under Galahad’s skin - the humiliation of losing so easily, and knowing his distraction is entirely his own fault.

The source of it is currently favoring his own drink at a rickety table with Bors and a few of the other Knights of the order, not visibly concerned- but Galahad sees Tristan glance at him out of the corner of his eye, and smile. It’s all Galahad can do to control his blush. Gawain sees him and laughs again.

"Here is my valiant brother-in-arms now, lads, come to soothe his bruises with wine and song."

"No women?" Lancelot laughs from his own place.

"And spoil his reputation?" Gawain thumps Galahad's shoulder. Now he does blush, but it’s disguised by his wince away: Gawain hit him on that shoulder earlier too.

"Now, go easy on the boy," Tristan finally speaks up. "I need him in one piece for the scouting trip tomorrow."

Startled, Galahad jerks his chin to him, eyebrows raising. This development is news to him: lately Tristan has rarely been around, even more rarely with Galahad. He’d written it off as strategy, as Arthur mining Tristan’s not inconsiderable talent for evasion tactics and geographic intelligence, but a creeping feeling inside him has him half convinced Tristan has been keeping his distance.

"You’re taking Galahad this time?" Lancelot asks, shades of Arthur in his voice. He sounds approving, though.

"He needs to do something besides look pretty," Tristan shrugs. His eyes flick to Galahad again, a bare suggestion of a smile at his lips.

Bors emerges from his mug for long enough to hear him and laughs. "That’s not what the local girls say."

"One of us has to do it, and you lot have got no chance. Besides, I have not your talents for brutishness," Galahad claps back.

"So, you’ll learn Tristan’s woodwitchery instead." Bors surely means it harmlessly, but Galahad still bristles. Tristan gentles him with a glance, and he composes himself before he replies.

"Woodwitchery that has kept us alive for all these years."

"Did I say different?" Bors toasts Tristan with his mug. Tristan nods into his own.

"You should get some sleep," he tells Galahad, mildly, "we leave before dawn."

"I’m only here for Gawain's wine," Galahad sighs.

"I dare say it's time he bought his own."

"Heresy!" Gawain calls, throwing a nearby roll at him. Tristan catches it and takes a bite, to a few scattered chuckles. Galahad just watches the flash of his teeth and bites his own lip.

He waits out his comrades' ridicule a few drinks longer, and eventually heads unsteadily across the courtyard and to the living quarters, Tristan's counsel weighing on his mind.

Now the shock has worn off, Galahad realizes he’s eager for what the journey might bring. The brotherhood amongst the knights is strong, but even brothers long for solitude sometimes. He cannot entirely pretend he feels the impending trip to be a brotherly sojourn, however: Tristan's quiet, hard-won companionship is a balm like no other Galahad can think of.

Much like his hawk, Iseult, Tristan is a constantly circling watcher. Often, he disappears into the woods for many nights, arriving back at the Wall with mystery wounds and strange secrets. Sometimes, Galahad could swear he feels his gaze even when his chambers are empty, his horse long gone. Being without it now as he undresses in his own is a cold, empty feeling.

He'd be more troubled by all this it if it weren't for somehow knowing that of the many things Tristan is, indifferent to affection is not one of them. Galahad is often visited by the fleeting feeling of his hands on him in passing; his eyes following him at night. It’s one of the things that has made his recent absenteeism harder to swallow: they’ve been friends since they were knock-kneed, skinny children, fighting with sticks in the courtyard. Adulthood forced some independence on them, but it’s still Tristan that Galahad thinks of when the nights are dark, and the weariness of their existence weighs on him.

Nostalgic, Galahad thinks of bickering with him; of coming to near-blows with the heat of it. He knows himself well enough to know that passion walks many lines. Tristan sees much and says little, as ever. Will he speak when there’s nothing to listen but Galahad and the mountains? He muses on it as he climbs into his cot, savoring the relative quiet.

It’s still dark and cold when he’s roused by a knock on his chamber door. "What?" he grumbles. He feels like he's slept all of ten seconds.

"It’s time, boy. Before the wind changes."

Tristan. Galahad sits up, catching sight of him peering around the battered door, his hair hanging in his eyes. "I'm coming," he assures, climbing out of bed.

"Didn’t seem so just now." He wonders if Tristan means to stay and keep watch, but he withdraws. Muttering, Galahad pulls his clothes on and grabs his pack. Tristan is waiting with his horse when he gets outside.

"Next time, provisioning us will be your chore," he says quietly, handing Galahad the reins.

They mount up at the open gates and set off, Galahad still rubbing sleep from his eyes, glad for the cloak around his shoulders as the frost crunches with each falling hoof. Above them, the stars sing. It’s the type of clear that presages bitter cold, but Tristan seems immune.

For the most part they ride in silence, the clouds becoming bloodied with a crimson sunrise. As the forest wakes around them, Tristan says a few words here, a few there. Deer tracks. Cloud shifts. Trail signs. Galahad commits the sound of his voice to memory with the shift of the light. If he were to say anything at all right now, it might only emerge as a maiden-like sigh.

The autumn sun warms the ground the longer they ride. The trees grow thinner, straggling amongst the rocks, the horses occasionally faltering with the growing incline. Eventually, Tristan steadies his horse and dismounts.

"Breakfast," he explains. They’re still well within their own territory, Galahad understands, hence Tristan’s easiness.

He slides down to the ground and busies himself building a fire while Tristan calls for the bird. She swoops in on a graceful arc and lands on Tristan’s wrist, allowing him to stroke her head. Watching him croon to her, soft and conspiratorial, is nearly enough to drive Galahad to envy. He has no doubt that they are communicating more fully then he could hope to understand.

"What does she see?" he asks, softly as though he's not sure it's the right question.

"Cookfires," Tristan answers. "Travelers to the east. We’ll have to get a closer look."

"Could be Woads," Galahad murmurs, to their own unfurling fire. An obvious statement, of course. He colors and looks away.

"Spoiling for a fight?" Tristan murmurs back.

"Not for glory," Galahad mumbles.

"Or pleasure, eh, pup?"

"Of course not."

"Pleasure's not always such a terrible thing to take from surviving."

"We wouldn't have to 'survive' at all if we weren't here."

Tristan sighs gently. "You didn’t have to come with me."

"That's not what I meant," Galahad interjects quickly. "This is a respite."

"Is it?" Tristan sips from his water skin before turning to the small fire. He's giving Galahad that crooked, small-toothed smile.

"You know it is," he murmurs. He tenses incrementally, watching as Tristan raises his arm to send the hawk on her way, before coming to sit beside him on the rocks.

"Why do you think I suggested to Arthur that you came? I hardly need help."

"To teach me, so I might be of further use to Arthur?" Galahad says weakly, shamed by his uncertain tone.

"That," Tristan allows, "and for your company."

"You can have that at any time," Galahad points out.

"Like this?" He gestures at the empty trees; the solemn cliffs rising behind them. "Not so much."

"No," Galahad says softly. "Nothing is like this."

That gets him another grin. Tristan nudges their shoulders companionably. They heat porridge over their small fire, then chew on strips of dried meat while they kick dirt over it to put it out. Nothing more is said. Nothing more is necessary for now.

They ride on for most of the day, their silence easy again, like most things are between them. Galahad spends the daylight watching Tristan's movements, his fluid grace as he rides, and doesn't know what to do with all the pleasure at the sight. And then the rain comes. Tristan rides on gamely for some miles, the fringe of his hair lacquered to his cheeks, seeming to drink it in. Galahad shivers behind him - the wind is changing too, bringing damp cold from the coast.

"Looks like there'll be a storm following," Tristan tells him over the wind, dark eyes trained on the horizon, "we should start looking for shelter."

Galahad nods. They haven’t come any closer to the source of this morning’s cookfires; no traps either, that they’ve seen. Tristan seems content enough to skirt the edges of the area and read signs. Had the weather been fine, they’d have kept up the ride a while longer, until they’d laid a perimeter.

They’re in the mountains proper by the time slate-grey dusk settles in beyond the thick clouds. They pick their way amongst the rocks in the near dark, getting down from their mounts as the climb gets trickier, the rain slicking the ground, turning spots to mud. Tristan never looks worried, so Galahad does not allow himself. He even seems to know where they're heading, leading the horses through a narrow pass in the rock until they come to the open mouth of a cave.

"We’ll be safe and dry in here."

Galahad nods, leading the horses under a sheltered rock form outside and pegging them into the mud, hauling his pack off to give them water and grain. His stomach is tight with nerves as he relieves them of tack and brushes them down. Tristan is in the cave, rustling amongst the leaves and laying down bed rolls. He’s almost silent as usual. When Galahad goes to join him, he notices with a flush that the bed rolls are close together at the back of the cave, where it'll be warmest.

"We can have a small fire," Tristan murmurs.

Galahad obediently starts to set up for one, noticing the way Tristan's grin stretches, knowing and a touch smug. He feels himself blushing again. Outside the cave mouth, the rain starts to pour. Galahad shivers.

"We should eat," he murmurs, opening his pack.

Tristan goes to the cave mouth and whistles for Iseult. She comes swooping in only moments later. Galahad rummages out the makings of dinner after cleaning his hands under the rain, setting out bread and cheese and honey.

"You'll make someone a lovely wife one day, Galahad," Tristan teases, nudging his bare thigh with his boot. Galahad makes a rude gesture and keeps working. He can't help the way his ears burn pink at the remark, the flush spreading across his face once more.

Iseult has brought them a rabbit; Tristan alternates between crooning to her and skinning and cleaning it. Jealous of a bird, again. Galahad sighs.

"This will turn to snow before long," Tristan says quietly, coming back from the mouth of the cave and handing him a skewer of meat to put over the fire. Galahad takes it without looking up, feigning indifference.

"Of course."

Tristan touches his shoulder. The heat of his skin is like sunlight through Galahad's clothing. He looks up from under his hair.

"Tristan?"

"Galahad."

He looks down again, licking his lips. He startles a little when he feels Tristan's fingers brush into his hair.

"Why are you avoiding me, then?"

"You are actually touching me," Galahad points out with a touch of acid.

"And you still find the fire more interesting."

Galahad bites his lip, hard, and pushes himself to his feet in a quick, graceless movement. They're close suddenly, chest to chest. "I've noticed you avoiding me too, actually."

"I do not think -"

"What don't you think?" Galahad fails to keep the scathing out of his voice: he's always had an easy temper, and now it flares- never violent, easily quelled, but effervescent.

"That I have ever avoided you, pup." Tristan's expression is abruptly soft.

"Then where have you been? I’ve barely seen you in weeks."

"Arthur has been keeping his eye on things. Stirrings in the West. You know if I had a choice…" he stalls, uncommonly vague. Galahad sheds his anger like a skin at the sight of the warmth at the corners of his eyes.

"If you had a choice, what?"

"I wouldn’t go without you."

That quiets him, voice and mind in one. He stares for a few long seconds, the painful thump of his heart louder than a tabor.

"I thought you were just- weary of me," he says finally, brow creasing at the words in dismay: the words of a child, not a soldier; not a knight.

Tristan touches his waist with one hand. "I couldn’t be," he murmurs. "Not ever." At Galahad’s bewildered silence, he sighs. "You must know how I feel about you."

"Tristan..."

"What, you don’t?"

"It’s not that."

"Then it’s just me?"

"No-!"

"Then what? You needn’t keep being coy, Galahad. There's no one here to laugh at you. I certainly won't."

That makes him swallow a bit, every bit of emotion he has crawling toward his throat. "I couldn’t bear it, not from you."

A shadow of softness crosses Tristan’s face. His hand drifts up. "I won't make you."

"It’s not coyness," Galahad whispers, forcing himself to keep eye contact. "I don’t know what I’m doing."

Tristan's eyebrows shoot up at that, and Galahad colors again.  "You think I don't know that? I've known you since we were boys."

"You were more than a boy. I remember quite well."

"And here you are, still a boy, after all this time."

"Oh- that’s unfair, Tristan," he pouts.

"On the contrary," Tristan gives him that grin again, his little cat teeth on show, "take it only as praise."

Praise from Tristan was always the rarest, most lovely feeling in the world. Galahad swallows his nerves.

"Praise? You like it?" He tries to disguise his pleasure as a huff of disbelief.

"I do."

That's a new one. Their brothers have relentlessly teased Galahad about his supposed 'purity', though it's never bothered him enough that he took it upon himself to change it. He wonders now if it weren't for wanting something more than just satiation.

"Tell me why," he says insistently, swaying a breath closer.

"Because... it makes it easy to pretend that you're mine."

"Why have you ever needed to pretend?" Galahad says, tenderness clamping around his heart like a chain.

Tristan thinks, sucking his teeth in thought so that his facial hair warps. "To avoid losing you."

Galahad stares. "You thought I would..."

"Surely you thought the same."

"Well, in your case it makes sense! Why would you-?"

"Why would I what?"

"Why would you want me, Tristan?" Galahad demands.

Tristan's hand skates up to his jaw, wringing his breath in his chest. "Because when Arthur talks of going home when all this is over, I only think of you. I've come to think of you as a place I miss but cannot touch."

"No, Tristan- please touch me, please…"

He does, his hands curling into hair and cloth alike, pulling Galahad close. He smells of pine and clay, his hair falling unruly into eyes as black as the wet earth outside their rocky haven, yet filled with heat. He leans into Galahad's body and, with the first warm press of lips to his, sets him ablaze with tenderness.

Galahad clutches him right back, linen shirt and strong shoulders and tangled braids under his fingers. He lets Tristan crowd him back against the stone and kiss him again, over and over, until the sound of the rain is swallowed by the thunder of Galahad's heart.

Their dinner doesn’t burn, in the end, but only because of Tristan’s faultless senses. Galahad feels like he could float off into the rapidly falling darkness when he lets go.

"How- how long have you wanted to do that?" he asks, watching Tristan rescue the meat.

"Many, many years."

His heart wrenches. Before he can stop himself, he pushes Tristan back from the fire and climbs into his warm lap, kissing him soundly. Tristan makes a noise, half surprise, half appreciation, and his hands slide surely up Galahad’s thighs.

"Full of surprises as ever, aren't you, boy?"

Galahad doesn’t feel an answer is really required. He stops up his words with more kisses, savoring his travelling hands and ignoring the tremor of his own.

"You have been kissed, haven’t you, Galahad?" he murmurs.

"Not like this."

"How so?"

"Don’t you know?" Galahad pleads. "Must I say?"

"I like to hear it."

Galahad pulls back far enough to touch his fringe, the tattoos on his cheeks. "Not by anyone I didn't imagine was you," he admits. Tristan's breath hitches barely, his hands tightening on Galahad's thighs. Galahad’s head swims at even these smallest signs that Tristan is affected. He's knocked sideways by the easiness of it; how it had been some fearful preoccupation, overcome by a simple touch of skin. There’s no mistaking either of their relief. "This is madness," he tells Tristan's mouth, thumbs brushing at his jaw.

"No," Tristan murmurs. "Madness was knowing you were not for me."

"I- why didn't you tell me sooner?"

"This I regret." Tristan sighs before he continues. He brushes their noses together gently. "It grew over time, I didn't always feel it- or I didn't always know it for what it was."

Galahad can understand that. He spent a long time in agitated confusion, his temper boiling over frequently. They had gone through stages of barely speaking at all. Sniping at one another. The moments in between, though, they'd been the ones Galahad remembered. Tristan peeling him an apple off a tree he'd passed that morning; saving him bread and honey he'd traded in local villages. All innocent, all illuminating now.

He can tell Tristan is thinking of the same things. The nights of his returns, shoulders brushing together, throwing knives in the tavern with the taste of honey still rich on his tongue.

"I thought I was depraved," he mutters, into Tristan's cheek, "I thought it would be the worst thing I could tell you."

"No, love. Never."

He can't get enough of him, solid and warm beneath his thighs. He spreads Tristan’s collar and slips his hands inside. He lets him, and it's as gratifying as terrifying to touch his warm shoulders; the muscle and hair of his chest.

Tristan has always had a wild beauty to him. Galahad can't stop touching him with both hands now, from the cut of his cheeks, to his chin, down his throat. He skims a thumb over his lower lip and shivers when Tristan surges up to kiss him again, impatient and gentle in one. His hands skate up to cup Galahad’s arse all at once, pulling him as close as he can get him. It startles a whine out of him, a stinging whiplash of want striking him. Tristan’s own breath goes thready and rough.

"Always with so much skin on show," he mutters, "it drives me to distraction."

"It’s not…" Galahad blushes.

"Not for me? I'm disappointed."

"I'm a knight with dozens of honors, not a tavern maid," Galahad protests.

"Have I ever shown interest in tavern maids?" Tristan chuckles.

He hasn't. Galahad has never really considered it until now. "That's hardly the point of it."

Tristan laughs. "I should have known you'd fight me on this too."

"I cannot help it!"

"You like it."

"So do you."

Tristan rings Galahad’s throat gently with one hand, calloused fingertips tapping against his pulse. "Of course I do."

The want nearly boils over then and there, scalding in his belly. Galahad clutches Tristan's wrist, half to keep it there, and shudders. "Tristan..."

"Tell me."

"I just... I want more." He can feel Tristan hard and insistent against him already. He knows he’s not alone.

"More is a lot. I need you to be specific."

"I need you inside me," Galahad tells him, to watch his lips part around a soft gasp.

"That is more," Tristan agrees breathlessly.

"I'd say I've waited long enough, wouldn't you?"

"Yes," he says it with a laugh. "Quite long enough."

Galahad touches his cheek tattoos delicately. "Unless you don't want that..."

"No, my boy, I very much do."

Warmed by his words, Galahad bends to kiss him once more. "Show me."

Tristan nods. "All right." He guides Galahad off his lap, reluctance to be apart evident. "Lie down."

He does, though not without grabbing Tristan again as soon as he can. "Please. Don’t make me wait, I cannot bear it."

Tristan takes both of his grasping hands and holds them gently. "Take off your clothes."

"You take them off."

"Brat." Tristan beams at him. "I will."

Galahad grins back, grabbing at his hands for a moment in a playful wrestle, laughter bursting out when Tristan leans in to nip at his throat, pinning him with his weight as he unlaces his leathers, breast piece first.

"This is the part that I dislike. It takes forever."

"I'm so sorry," Galahad rolls his eyes, "yours isn't any better."

"No, I suppose not. I shall just try to enjoy it."

"If you possibly can."

Tristan’s slow smile gives no doubt that he can. They undress one another hastily, and Galahad doesn't feel the uncertainty he thought he would. He's aching, already hard in his under shorts, body keenly receptive to every brush of Tristan's hands. When he finally unties the strings and pushes the fabric down, all Galahad can do is whine at the drag of damp linen and the sudden touch of cool air. Tristan looks down at him for a minute, taking him in.

"Tristan..."

"Hush."

He’s just looking, but nothing could possibly be more arousing. Galahad wriggles, and Tristan leans down to kiss the centre of his flat, shivering stomach. He’s already naked, and Galahad dearly wants to stare. He pulls him down to lie beside him, crushing in close to kiss him, hands smoothing up his lean belly, over tattoos on his ribs and flanks. He’s seen it all, here and there - they have no great opportunity for privacy, especially not out on patrol. But now...this is all for him. Everything, from the dark trail of hair on his belly, to the steadily filling weight of his cock, to his pink, smiling mouth. The smile is the most brilliant part. Galahad gathers him close and kisses it to feel its warmth.

He feels Tristan's hands slip down to the curve of his backside, pulling him against his body. He hisses as their skin slides together. It's so much and not enough all at once.

"Please, Tristan," he whispers. He's obliged by his hand curling around him, stroking rough and slow. "Gods. Why is that so much better than mine?"

"Your hands are too fair for such work," Tristan murmurs, lifting one to kiss his knuckles.

Galahad snorts. "Pull the other one, Tristan."

Tristan gives a dirty giggle at the double entendre. Galahad pushes into his touch, his hips moving into each stroke. "Let me touch you, too."

"I am not stopping you, pup."

He kneels up, hands drawing back down Tristan's body, toward his cock. "Then I shall," he says pertly.

Tristan relaxes obediently into the furs, watching him indulgently. Galahad can't keep from kissing, but he leans back again, curling both hands around his cock to stroke him, experimental and careful. It feels so good to have Tristan in his hands, he never wishes to stop. Better yet to see him bite his lip and close his eyes, hips rolling with his touches.

"This will be inside me, I know," Galahad whispers to him, "and I still cannot imagine it."

"Perhaps I can help with that."

"I want nothing more."

"Come back down here," Tristan pats the bedding, "I'll show you. There's time for the rest."

Galahad melts into him. It's all much easier and altogether less serious than he imagined. Tristan leans over him, kissing his eyelids, and then his palms, seeming so utterly assured of it all. He leans for his pack, and Galahad can't resist skimming over scars with his fingertips. He’s been there for most of them, likely helped to bandage a few. He kisses those he can reach, moving onto tattoos when Tristan settles back over him for a second, beaming soft and warm. He’s holding a small clay jar, and Galahad bites his lip.

Tristan kisses him again, opening the jar, dipping two fingers in and rubbing the oil into his palms carefully. He curls one back around Galahad's cock, stroking slickly down. Galahad moans, hips jerking instinctually when the other hand presses back between his thighs. All his youthful experimentation and adult daydreams have never prepared him for the feeling of Tristan starting to work one finger inside him. He’s never felt so joyfully, awkwardly, breathlessly close to anyone.

"Tristan," he breathes, as a thought occurs to him, "how many other men have you been with-?"

"Not so many as you are thinking," Tristan murmurs. "More than you."

"Not exactly difficult," Galahad mumbles.

"You might as well ask how many sunsets I’ve seen. They are all gone, but for the one in my eyes."

"There'll be more sunsets."

"No," Tristan whispers, stroking softly. "This sun will shine for me for the rest of my days."

Galahad would sneer any other time. Now, he pushes a braid back from Tristan's cheek, shivering at the motion of his finger inside him. "Sounds like you'll never get any sleep," he allows finally.

"I will accept that risk." Tristan turns his head to kiss Galahad’s palm. His finger pushes deeper, and Galahad gasps, arching to make room for the teasing press of another. His heart feels fit to gallop out of his chest.

He grips at Tristan's shoulders as he stretches him open, the space between them growing hot and damp, sharing breath. Tristan, normally so quiet, murmurs endearments between kisses and small, teasing bites. Galahad feels uncharacteristically stoic himself, breathing through everything he feels, committing it to memory. Tristan’s eyes stay similarly fixed on him.

"More," Galahad whispers, when he feels the slide get easier. Tristan lets go of his cock and reaches for the jar again, slicking himself this time. "Gods," Galahad murmurs, watching, "I have thought about this moment..."

"And I," Tristan mutters. He curls one hand under Galahad's nape, fingers teasing at the hair there. "Ready?"

"Yes," Galahad whispers, drawing his knees back. Tristan's palms fit against the brackets of his knees, easing him wider while he presses in with his cock, the head stretching Galahad open. He hisses, but the pain eases somewhat after the first push.

Tristan leans toward him, their foreheads resting together. "Galahad?"

Galahad shakes his head. "Keep going."

"You have to relax," Tristan tells him, one hand dropping to his chest, stroking slowly, "I don't want to hurt you. It's just you and I, nothing to fear. Just relax. Close your eyes if you must," Tristan whispers, shifting his hips minutely.

Galahad doesn't want to stop watching him. Instead, he takes a few long breaths, until he feels less likely to reverberate out of his skin. Then he nods, and Tristan kisses him softly and rocks more strongly with his hips. It shocks a gasp out of him, the way his body opens up to make space for Tristan, like he was always meant to be there. Tristan gasps too, eyes gone black as pitch in the flickering firelight. Outside the rain is still pouring down, nearly invisible in the endless, inky night. It hisses as it hits the branches, starting to freeze, but Galahad feels like a furnace is kindled in his chest.

He folds his calves up against the small of Tristan's back, groaning at the weight of him, everything he's wanted. The consummation of his fantasies thrums inside him like their twin pulses mingling into one.

"Galahad," Tristan breathes. He keeps repeating it, softer every time.

"Move now," Galahad urges, cupping his face and kissing him, one hand sliding up into his hair.

Tristan does, with the same fluidity and grace he does everything. They both moan this time, loud enough to fill their small stone chamber. Stretched full, sweat slicked, Galahad clutches at Tristan's hair, eyes clenching shut. His mouth falls open with the strength of the sensations, Tristan’s lips shifting to sear hot breath against his throat. The stroke of his hips triggers a feeling like a chiming bell. Galahad chokes on the fierceness of it. The pulses spread slowly outward until his fingers and toes tingle as with cold.

"Tristan," he whimpers.

"I feel it," Tristan’s voice is gravel under snow. "Let it come."

Galahad groans into his shoulder, hiding his face against the indignity of his desire for a moment, hips pushing impatient for more. Tristan’s thrusts take on a rhythm and a reality all their own, an answering desire in the rasp of his breath. He's a paradox, simultaneously gentle and punishing once again. He reaches between them for Galahad’s cock, startling him into a groan.

"Good?" he asks, like it could be as simple as that.

"Please," Galahad begs.

Tristan quiets him with more gentle kisses as he strokes and fucks him into raptures. Galahad holds onto him with nails cutting in as he holds back. His body winds slowly into the kind of tension that has only one release. He fights it down, over and over, until Tristan is panting hard into his skin. His own free hand has gone wild and grasping, twisting into Galahad’s crown.

It's when Tristan pins him down that he loses himself, caught beneath his weight, the constant friction of him so deep and perfect that Galahad sees sparks when he starts to shake apart beneath him. Tristan’s hand moves from his cock to his hip, fingers biting into the skin as he bows his head and thrusts deep and wild. Galahad can only hold him to his chest, taking everything he can from him. He can feel it when Tristan releases inside him, his movements stalling with overwhelm. He groans at the realization, clutching at his narrow hips. It’s nearly enough to make him believe in a god.

He looks up at Tristan, sweat-sheened and glowing in the firelight, and silently vows to worship at whatever altar he can make of him. Tristan leans down to kiss him again and again.

"Don't go," Galahad murmurs.

"Not far."

"How far?"

"Just to clean up."

"Too far," Galahad murmurs, "I knew it."

"Very well," Tristan laughs and dips down. Galahad’s eyes practically roll back when Tristan licks his belly clean.

"Fuck," he breathes, touching at his hair. He feels empty and yet still replete. Tristan slides back up to lie on top of him, their bodies soft and still now.

"Galahad," he breathes.

"Tristan."

"I’m so - I have no…"

"No what?" He gentles him with warm palms sliding down his back. "What is it?"

"No words for my love."

Galahad buckles a bit under the weight of it. He feels humbled by it. "Tristan..." he turns his face into his neck, pressing a kiss to the skin there, still stroking the tangles of his hair. "I don’t need them. I know you."

"I know you do. I know." He presses his nose under Galahad's ear, breath and beard tickling his skin. Galahad soothes with his touch the best he can.

"I'm already missing having you inside me," he murmurs, into the warm, hard lines of his shoulder. "How can that be?"

"How can it not," Tristan whispers back.

Galahad sighs, brushing their cheeks together. "I have loved you for so long I can barely remember to say."

"I wish you'd told me."

"I tried to show you." Galahad touches his cheekbone.

Tristan kisses the inside of his wrist. "I was always watching."

Galahad thinks of eyes on him. He sighs. "You've always felt like my shadow."

"Yes," Tristan agrees softly. "I am that."

Galahad doesn't know what to say. He feels used up and exhausted. But Tristan’s body heavy against his own is everything he needs. "Can we sleep?" he murmurs.

"Are you not hungry?" Tristan nuzzles his temple.

"I could eat."

Tristan kisses his forehead. "Our bodies need fuel. As does the fire. Then we can sleep."

They peel apart, cleaning up as best they can. Every minute they aren’t touching feels longer than three. Galahad can't stop looking at Tristan; touching his mouth at the sting of stubble burn. He wonders if everyone feels like this after their first time. There’s only one person here to ask. Tristan glances, like he too can feel the delicate finger trail of Galahad's gaze.

"Are you well?"

"I'm thinking."

"About?" Tristan turns back to him, hands him a skewer with a few chunks of meat on it.

"You," Galahad tells him easily, thanking him, starting to eat.

"Because?"

He nudges him with his toes. "Because I like to."

Tristan wraps a hand around his ankle. "Good." They grin at one another again. Galahad feels filled with light, like it might leak from under his nails or behind his eyes.

They eat in relative quiet, like always, but it's different now, like they’re nursing a powerful secret between them, still unconvinced of its significance.

When they’re finished, Tristan goes to the mouth of the cave with a dish and lets the rain fill it, then comes back to the fire and sets the water on to warm.

"What’s that for?" Galahad asks.

"I don’t know about you," Tristan says, rummaging out a wash cloth, "but I could freshen up."

That sounds indecently good. Galahad watches Tristan wash himself down with the cloth and the hot water and does the same, shivering a bit at being exposed to the air even with the fire nearby. Washing away Tristan’s scent feels almost sacrilegious, but he’s sure he won’t go long without it.

When they finish, Tristan stokes the fire and slides closer to where Galahad has retreated to the warmth of the furs. He's still unconcernedly nude himself, covered in nothing but a scrap of bedding and his mysterious ink. Galahad wets his lips at the sight of him stretching out, muscles of his ribs in high relief.

"You’re beautiful," he tells him. "I feel drunk on it."

Tristan gives him the grin again, the one he likes best. "Come here," he murmurs.

"You come here," Galahad protests, laughing, but he’s moving anyway. Tristan handles him into his lap again and pulls the bedding up around them, fingers teasing at the dip of his spine where his hand spreads against over his skin.

"You look like you were put together just for me, you know."

Galahad spreads his hands questioningly, looks down his body, to Tristan’s face. "How so?"

"It's everything. The way you look, the way you talk. I'm a soldier. I was born for this." Tristan shrugs. "It never meant anything to me, before you."

"You’re more than a soldier," Galahad protests.

"Maybe. I don't know. Everyone has to be something."

Galahad touches his sternum gently. "You have something in you that’s - otherworldly, unique. The others know it. They let you keep your distance. I’ve never wanted to. I want it even less, now."

Tristan covers his hand with his own. He looks over at Iseult, a sentinel perched on a formation at the mouth of the cave. He looks back at Galahad. "I could say the same."

Galahad scoffs gently. "I'm feeble. Nothing otherworldly about me."

"You are fierce, and beautiful, and somehow you’ve decided to be mine. Much like her." He nods at the hawk.

Galahad feels himself flushing with pleasure. He brings his hands up to Tristan's jaw. "I will follow you until one of us dies, and if it's you, I will lie down with you and wait."

Tristan gathers him close. "No, love...you cannot."

"This is the part where you promise not to die so I don't have to," Galahad says helpfully.

"I would rather not break a promise."

"Then I will not break mine, either." It feels binding. It feels right.

Tristan's hands mirror his, curling against Galahad's nape. "You're some kind of god made flesh, I'm sure," he whispers.

"We may have to agree to mutual worship."

"Mutual worship sounds very promising."

Galahad touches their cheeks together. "Should we discuss it further?"

"I think we should." Tristan rubs gently down his back.

"I’m listening, love."

"The usual, then, first." Tristan whispers. "Candles at your feet, flowers and an offering at the solstice."

"Very well, keep talking."

Tristan kisses his throat gently. "Prayers for your favor."

"You'll always have it, be it a plentiful harvest, or a drought."

"You are a benevolent deity, then."

"All gods are jealous, loyalty is their only demand."

"You have my undying word," Tristan whispers.

Galahad shifts in his lap, closer, stroking through his hair. "And you have mine." He studies Tristan. "I shall have to bring your offerings deep into the woods." He strokes his cheek. "A wreath to thank you for the rains, apples for the harvest."

"Perhaps I’ll feed you the apples myself." His voice is low and rough. Galahad winds his arm around his neck, his other hand taking Tristan's so that he can suck one finger gently into his mouth.

"I'd like that."

Tristan takes a wobbly breath. "Getting brave, pup?"

"Is that a problem?"

"Gods, no."

It feels good to have Tristan’s fingers in his mouth. He spends long moments tracing them with his tongue. Tristan's other hand twines in his hair, breath coming harder.

"I find myself quite mortal, to want you again so soon," Galahad pulls away, kissing the oyster of his thumb.

"We must both be mortal, then."

"I thought perhaps I felt so much because it was my first time."

"It depends on who you're with, in my experience."

Galahad shifts his mouth to his wrist. "Is that so?"

Tristan watches him with eyes as dark and bright as Iseult's. Like a predator, waiting for his moment.

Galahad kisses the pale inside of his arm until he hits his elbow. Tristan's fingers curl into his hair, and Galahad diverts his kisses to his heaving chest. Silvering hair crinkles against his lips. Galahad has seen it at his temples, too, and the sides of his beard. It all too readily reminds him of the dangerously swift passage of time. They’ve lost so much of their lives here at the wall. Galahad can only be grateful they’ve been together. Especially now. The thought of being parted again makes him feel dizzy. He leans up to kiss him again, unsettled by it.

"Show me something else, Tristan."

He smiles, happy to oblige him. "Lie down for me."

Galahad sighs and stretches back out. The sigh goes strained when Tristan dips down to nip at his stomach with his teeth. It feels ridiculous, and amazing. Less ridiculous when his hands come into play. They stroke ceaselessly against his skin, down his belly and hips and to tender inner thigh. Galahad is arching before he knows how to stop. Tristan keeps moving, and then slowly takes him into his mouth.

"Tristan- gods."

Tristan hums softly. He's gentle but determined, swallowing him down deep with a hum of pure delight. The soft heat that had been building in the cradle of his hips springs sharply into life. Galahad grips at his hair, holding himself still.

Tristan makes a soft noise at the tug. He's as gentle and firm as he ever is. Galahad is lost in the sensation immediately. He squirms, lips parting as he breathes harder. He’s known about this - has stumbled upon Gawain or Lancelot in a few too many blind corners while drunkenly winding home - but the feeling is nothing like he’d imagined. He swears under his breath several times, hips stuttering under the attention. From what he can see of Tristan’s face, he’s smiling. The sight of him taking his cock into his mouth, moving slick and easy, is enough to make him tense up. "Tristan-"

Tristan pulls back slightly and looks up. Galahad whines at the loss.

"What is it, love?"

"Come here, I want-"

Tristan pushes himself back up over Galahad’s chest. He gives an approving grunt when Galahad wraps his hands around his straining cock.

"I want you to use my mouth," he insists.

Tristan bites his lip. "My love-"

"What? You don't think I can?"

Tristan chuckles softly. "Of course you can."

"Then what?"

It feels familiar - Tristan reserved, Galahad argumentative. How silly of them. Tristan sighs, shaking his head fondly at him. "Very well, boy. Do what you wish to me, I am yours."

"Good. Lie down. Boy ."

That makes Tristan’s eyes glint beneath his messy fringe. He does as he's bid, hands travelling once more. Galahad sighs with the pleasure of it. Gently, touch exploring, he runs his tongue over Tristan's hips and lower belly. His skin tastes rich and tinged with salt. When he reaches his cock, he's struck by the scent of him, the way he reacts to quick, soft strokes of his tongue at first. His hips quiver beneath Galahad’s hands, his knees nudging gently. When he closes his mouth over the head and sucks, he feels Tristan's groan through his skin. It makes him shiver with pure need. Is this why Tristan sounded so delighted by the same?

He sighs through his content, his own cock aching. He wants Tristan deep inside him again. First though, he wants him writhing. Galahad strokes him slowly a few times, until he can whirl his tongue gently around the exposed head of his cock. That makes Tristan’s hips jerk up.

"Fuck," he spits. He touches Galahad’s curls gently, though. His whole body is curved toward him, thighs trembling. Galahad feels clumsy and foolish, but it's worth it. Every taste and twitch and moan makes it so.

He keeps stroking, keeps sucking, until his own cock is aching, and Tristan's hands are getting almost uncomfortably tight in his hair. Tristan gasps his name. Galahad pulls away gently.

"Tristan."

"Close," Tristan grits.

"Too close to be inside me again?"

"Are you sure you won’t be too sore?"

"If I am, you can roll me back down the mountain tomorrow."

Tristan smiles up at him, eyes hot but still crinkling at the corners. "My sweet boy, I will carry you."

It’s unexpectedly romantic. Galahad's cheeks hurt with the force of his smile. "Where is that oil?"

Tristan helps him search it out. They get it open and spill a considerable amount in the process. He slicks Tristan this time as Tristan slicks his own fingers.

"Ride me this time," Tristan says softly.

Galahad nods hard. He can do that. Tristan’s fingers slip back inside him, their entry easier this time. The oversensitivity pulls a shivering cry out of him at once. Tristan gentles his touch as much as he can, but it’s still a lot. Galahad squirms his hips around slowly, accustoming himself to the feeling again. Watching Tristan watch him is a dreamlike thing.

"So beautiful," he breathes.

"Are you all right?" Tristan asks him.

Galahad can't find the words to express just how all right he is. He's never felt so right as now, taking Tristan into his body. He just nods and leans down for a kiss, hair hanging in his eyes.

Tristan bites at his lower lip gently, tugging it between his teeth. His fingers work steadily to stretch Galahad’s tender flesh. It's so much.

"Tristan. I can- I'm ready."

Tristan licks at the flesh he’s been biting. "All right."

They ease into position, and Galahad stifles a cry as he sinks down. He is sensitive, but Tristan has been so gentle that he only wants more: being conjoined like this is worth any feeling of overwhelm. Rising above Tristan like this, Galahad does feel like an object of desire and worship. He watches Tristan’s face as he rolls down, breath hitching. He’s in control of their pleasure now, Tristan giving him the reins and watching with shining dark eyes as he takes them where he wishes to go. It's a heady, deep pleasure, Tristan’s hands resting gently on his thighs, eyes burning into his.

"Gorgeous boy," he murmurs.

Galahad just stares down at him, breathing hard, speechless. He leans down and spreads one hand over his heart. Tristan clasps his own over it, gripping his waist so he can rock up gently. They both make soft noises.

It's hot and slow this time, without the urgency of the first time. The only desperation Galahad feels is to stay joined as long as possible. He presses their foreheads together, breath collecting humid and swirling between them. Outside, the rain falls harder. The wind howls and Galahad wants to howl with it, to release what he feels into the world before it bursts inside him. He kisses Tristan instead, and pours all he can into it. Tristan still rocks up with his own kind of desperation. It's constant, raw, wildly good.

As the pleasure builds inside, Galahad pulls at him to get himself closer, nails scoring his shoulders. Tristan cradles him close, shifting, and fucks him harder. He mutters a few breathless endearments as he does. Galahad can't keep from moaning into his skin. The angle, the drag and push of their joining is causing him to lose his mind slowly. Tristan grips him and handles him like it's easy; like he knows just how to make his skin sing. Galahad moans again, louder.

"You feel perfect," he breathes.

"Yes," Tristan agrees tightly, shifting one hand to circle Galahad’s cock.

He chokes on a gasp. He’ll surely come in instants like this. He tries to tell Tristan; to hold back. But it’s impossible. All it takes is a fractional squeeze of his fingers, and Galahad is clenching up and spilling over. He chokes on the first half of Tristan’s name.

He's still stroking him, still rolling his hips up. Galahad groans and pushes his hand away, rocking down hard. Tristan grips his hips, teeth bared. His eyes are open, but far away, lost in his own pleasure.

Galahad loves the look of him like this, solely focused on taking pleasure from his body. He wants to give him so much. He feels saturated by it, a wave of need inside him that makes his eyes sting. Breathing in great gusts, he rides it out until Tristan bucks up and bares his teeth. He bites into Galahad's shoulder, clutching at his flanks as he comes.

Galahad winces, more from overwhelming emotion than from pain. They clutch at one another again, slowing into stillness. Tristan kisses the livid mark he’s made on Galahad’s shoulder.

"Are you well?" he mutters, kissing again gently.

"Never better in my life," Galahad murmurs.

Tristan smiles, burying his face in his chest for a moment, tracing the smooth line of his sternum with his nose. His kisses trail back up Galahad’s throat, to his ear, to his forehead. He basks in it.

Finally, they draw apart, enough for a half-hearted cleanup. Then, Tristan wraps Galahad up in his arms and the furs, drawing him back against his chest. "My love," he says softly.

Galahad stretches slowly, savoring the contact.  "I don't know how I'm going to go back to pretending when we get back," he murmurs.

"Must we, though?"

Galahad peers at him over his shoulder. "What do you mean?"

"Why must we? Perhaps we cannot show our whole truth, but we cannot pretend to something false."

"Who amongst the Romans would be accepting, truly?"

"We may not be purely slaves, but neither are we free men, to be limited so."

"So we should give them another reason to hate us, then." Galahad stutters out the argument half-heartedly, but Tristan lays fingers over his lips.

"Fuck the Romans or anyone who might detest us." That quiets him for a few moments. He covers Tristan's hand with his own, kissing his fingertips.

"You mean that."

"Entirely."

Galahad goes quiet and thoughtful. Everything in him points in only one direction: "I won't give you up."

"Nor I you." Arms tighten around his middle. Lips find the nape of his neck. Galahad shivers and clings to Tristan. He finds he likes being claimed. Tristan has done so in every conceivable way. He hopes he’s done the same.

At the thought, he turns in his arms to wind their legs together and kiss him. Tristan welcomes him like home. His fingers brush behind Galahad's ear, thumb cupping his jaw. His eyes are warm.

Galahad swallows. "Tristan..."

"I am here."

Galahad nods, swallowing hard. "That’s all I need." He sighs, pushing his face into Tristan's chest. "I don't think I ever loved anything before I loved you."

Tristan’s lips curve. "So many times you shouted at me and stormed away."

"You're infuriating is why."

"I do not disagree." He shifts minutely as Galahad touches his chest. "Feeling for a heartbeat, pup?"

"Is it mine?" he whispers.

"It always was."

"Then be as infuriating as you wish."

That gets him chuckling. "Thank you for your permission."

"You will be regardless, I may as well take responsibility."

"Consider it a divine right."

Galahad smiles and leans their foreheads together. "I will."

He breathes out and in again, taking in their mingled scents. A day on horseback, a night fucking, it's a particular blend. He can still smell Tristan, though, clean air and branches and feathers. He looks up at him where they're tangled, feeling his eyes heavying. Outside, the rain is turning to snow.

"Sleep now?" he murmurs.

"Yes, brave one."

Galahad falls into it, and lets Tristan catch him.

 

He wakes to the cold, bleak whiteness that promises a whiteout. Wrapped in Tristan’s arms, he has little motivation to move. Even though very little of him is exposed to the air, he still feels the chill just beyond their pocket of body heat.

"Tristan," he whispers.

"Mm?" Tristan snuffles a bit beside him.

"Did I truly wake before you?" It’s nearly unheard of.

"Of course not."

"So you’ve been embracing me since...."

"First light, if not before." He shrugs. "I like to watch you."

"Mmf, perhaps you could have made me breakfast instead." He’s teasing, but Tristan starts to move. "Wait-!" He grips him. "Just a moment more."

Tristan laughs and allows himself to be held, but his voice takes on a measure of seriousness.

"We should get going soon; we could try to return here tonight if the weather is still poor."

Another night sounds like paradise. Galahad wonders if it's just him that's distracted from their true purpose here. Tristan seems to find it a much easier balance. But that smacks of doubt in Tristan’s feelings. Maybe he's just not as easily ruled by them. The stars and winds can be persuasive, possibly more so than Galahad. Then Tristan kisses him, and he knows he has his own power as well.

"Ready to make a move? It's cold in here."

Galahad scans the cave for where his clothing has ended up. All over, mostly. He curses and gets up to retrieve it, tying his shorts as he goes, the floor icy beneath his toes. Tristan is doing the same, cooing to the disgruntled lump of Iseult at the same time.

"Come on, beautiful," he murmurs, brushing down her ruffled chest feathers with one gentle knuckle, "go and get yourself some breakfast too."

She squawks and flaps her wings, and he laughs and steps out of the way. Galahad feels the air from her wings buffet his hair as she departs.

They put together a cold breakfast to save time, rolling the furs and bedrolls and feeding and saddling the horses. They’re surrounded by ice-glazed branches and heavy wet snow. Galahad is about ready to mount up before Tristan touches his shoulder. He slings a spare cloak around his shoulders, undoubtedly one of his own.

"You'll be no good to me if you freeze to death in that skirt."

Galahad laughs, short and bright. He doesn’t bother with the usual it is not a skirt, you fucker.

"I haven’t yet."

"And it's a miracle," Tristan says dryly. He gives Galahad an appraising onceover as he goes to his own horse.

"Admiring how much better it looks on me?"

"I was thinking about taking it off later."

"I welcome you to."

Tristan gets up on his horse and grins. He looks amused at the prospect of Galahad having to do the same. "I know."

Galahad sighs and mounts up, controlling his wince. It's only a slight stiffness, but enough that he's catapulted back to last night for a moment. Tristan, the bastard, is smirking. Rolling his shoulders, Galahad nudges his horse into a trot, setting off with a slight huff. It’s not comfortable in the least, but he’s ridden with broken limbs and sword gashes, so he thinks he’ll survive. He can feel Tristan's smile against the nape of his neck the whole ride back down into the forest.

Tristan’s attention has meanwhile turned back to tracking. They wind deeper into the woods, following Tristan's inexplicable knowledge of their trail. The travel isn’t terrible, but Tristan is marking the passage of yesterday’s travelers, Galahad assumes. Eventually, he gives Galahad the signal to stop, and they dismount and continue on foot through the melting snow.

Galahad does his best to match Tristan’s silence. Iseult circles and drops to his wrist and they have one of their moments of otherworldly communion.

"A tribe," Tristan whispers to Galahad, "just beyond those trees there, by the river."

"How many?"

"A few. They seem to be travelling independently of the others, like us."

Galahad hums. "Doesn't sound too intimidating."

"We’ll give them their space," Tristan murmurs. Galahad nods agreeably, all too happy to follow his lead in this area, as all others. "I will send Iseult back up to scout, while we get a count of these."

They move through the snow, as silent as possible. Tristan doesn't seem to possess the components necessary to make sound at times like this. Galahad does his best to ape him, keeping his breathing slow and measured. They creep around the edges of the clearing, until Galahad can peer through the undergrowth. He signals back to Tristan - six.

Tristan nods, and gives him the signal to pull back. Six shouldn't be a problem, but they’ll need to wait to spot the others. They should be able to avoid them altogether, just the two of them- it’s when he whole Knights watch thunders through it becomes a problem.

They keep treading. When they reach a clearing, the hawk sweeps in. Tristan raises an arm to her, catching her where she lands.

"Tell me, sweet girl," he hears Tristan murmur. Galahad waits, watching the weak winter sun hit his eyes, turning them green as spring. He’s determined to ask, sometime, if she really speaks to him. If his woodwitchery is more than an idle phrase. Galahad could believe anything of him, is the truth of the matter. He can't see how it can be anything but true, looking at him now. He looks on, soft-eyed, until Tristan focuses back on him.

"Just a little further, and then we'll head back."

Galahad nods. He catches Tristan up to lean into him a little. Iseult is still resting on his shoulder, and she gives Galahad a beady onceover. He eyes her right back.

Tristan chuckles. He gives her a bounce, and she takes off. "She'll get used to you."

"She ought to be already."

"She's young, and she sleeps with me most nights. She won't be used to sharing."

Galahad laughs softly. "We shall exist in mutual jealousy then."

Tristan turns to him, eyes bright with amusement. "You're jealous of a bird?"

"Desperately."

Tristan grips the front of his cloak, pulling him in and kissing the sourness out of his mood. When he pulls back, he's grinning. "I don't do that to my bird, pup."

"I should hope not."

Tristan chuckles under his breath and gestures him onward. They circle back around to where they left their horses. Galahad quietly bemoans getting back on his. She’s not much happier with all his shifting.

They start the journey back through the woods, the sun starting to drop low in the sky.  

"We won’t make it back tonight," Tristan says softly, red illuminating the high points of his face.

Galahad nods, and pretends to be unaffected by the slight flare of pleasure in his chest. "Thoughts, Tristan?"

"We'll go a different way home to check that route, there's a place I stay there sometimes, it should be safe."

The route he leads them on skirts the edge of where they suspect the rest of the group to be camped. They make it past undetected, with Iseult gathering intel on the wing. Tristan frowns, and Galahad knows he’s keeping a tally in his head. He does the same, keeping note of the way the wind is blowing: they have dogs. It’s not the largest tribe they’ve encountered in the area. And they're just passing through, hopefully no reason for them to come into conflict.

They increase their pace once they're past the camp. Tristan is following the river now. Galahad falls into step beside him, taking in the serene flow of the water; ice floats sliding along the rocks. The ground is soft here, muffling their hoof beats. With the changing light, it's hard to see where they're going. They pick up their speed to get to Tristan's hideaway.

When they finally stop, Galahad sees another cave, this one carved out of a rock formation by the edge of the water. In spring time, he imagines, it would not be useable. But now it is enough, and the open water helps retain some of the day’s relative warmth. They lead the horses to shelter again, on foot, and tend them in exhausted silence. Tristan finishes first, gathering supplies for a fire as he heads back toward the shelter.

Lingering behind, Galahad peers out into the falling dusk, listening for any sounds beyond the usual. Just animal sounds, drawn out by the approaching dark. Not even smoke trails rising to the stars. He follows eventually, favoring himself slightly where the day’s riding, on top of last night’s activities, has rendered him fully sore. Tristan is starting on dinner again.

"Any meat tonight?" Galahad asks, squinting for Iseult.

"I'm sure she'll bring something."

"I can go, if not."

"You may start a fire," Tristan tells him.

"Permission to do anything else, your majesty?"

"Come here."

Heart skipping a beat despite himself, Galahad does. Tristan’s hands find his waist. One smooths down his thigh, bare and lean. Galahad sighs in content at the touch.

"How do you feel?"

"I feel fine," he grins, "are you that convinced of your own strength?"

Tristan narrows his eyes, lips lifting at the corners. "You've just been wincing at every bump by coincidence?"

"You’re not supposed to notice."

"I didn't, then."

He’s not at all believable. Galahad leans against his chest anyway, fingers finding the waist of his leather trousers. Feeling Tristan's skin is its own special triumph. Galahad leans in to scent his throat. It’s a moment he can savor. He pulls back after a moment to go and build the fire. Tristan steps out to the bank of the stream, looking up.

"Is she there?"

Tristan whistles, the call blending into the general night sounds. After a moment, he gets an answering cry. "Just on time."

Iseult returns. They cook and eat in relative quiet, watching the river move beneath the fingernail moon. It seems an entirely different country from last night, even within a day’s ride. Galahad likes it even more than the beat of the rain, alone beneath the heavens, the night crisp and cold and bright. He likes seeing Tristan’s silhouette against the sky. A patch of infinity without stars. His face lighted by a shaft of firelight, picking out half of a smile.

Eventually, Galahad goes to the water's edge to wash his face and hands. The water makes him gasp. It's bitingly cold, and he goes back inside almost as soon as he can. Tristan is waiting, which makes it much more appealing. He's skinning another rabbit. The blood on his hands looks worryingly at home.

"For her, and for tomorrow," he says softly.

Galahad watches him feed her scraps of viscera. It’s about as domestic as Tristan gets. The softness in his eyes is warming, despite the grisly scene. Galahad sits down to watch and warm himself by the fire.

"You usually do this all alone," he muses.

"I'm not alone, I've got Iseult. She's surprisingly good company."

"There you go with the bird again," Galahad teases.

Tristan nudges him, eyes bright. "You must know how exceptional a creature you are. There's no need to feel threatened: I much prefer this arrangement."

"The one where you have us both? I suppose I have no complaints."

"Well, I'm pleased to hear that."

"You look pleased."

Tristan rolls his eyes at him fondly. He finishes his work eventually and tidies up, going out to wash himself. Galahad just waits, until finally he feels Tristan's hand in his hair again. He looks up and smiles.

"We should get some rest and set off early."

Galahad bites his lip. "Yes."

Tristan smiles at him, probably at his uncertainty. "Are you all right?"

"I am," Galahad murmurs. He accepts Tristan's arm around him; a kiss against his ear that makes him shiver and smile.

"I do not wish to cause you any pain," Tristan says softly. "Last night I - had little control."

Galahad blinks at him, surprised. "It was nothing to complain about at the time. I- it's been good to be reminded."

"Reminded?"

"Uh-" Galahad flushes, "that it was real."

Tristan’s face softens. "It was."

Galahad nudges him. "Good."

"It was that as well."

"Better than that," he murmurs.

Tristan kisses his ear again. Galahad turns to intercept the press of his lips with his own. They both sigh. When they part, Galahad can't help but smirk a bit. "I never thought we'd be sighing at one another, hiding in the woods."

"Life is full of many surprises."

"So far, I haven't thought much of the options, but if all roads trodden lead to this, with you, then I defer to fortune."

"I am filled with delight," Tristan says, only a bit sardonic.

Galahad nips at his lower lip. Tristan plays with his curls. It feels easier than last night, no guessing, no awkwardness. It’s a feeling of contentment he’s not often found outside of a wine jug. Galahad wants to drink it down in the same way, until it's too much, until it renders him mindless. Tristan seems inclined to let him. He's already starting to undo Galahad's shin guards, the tattoos on his knuckles flashing.

Galahad feels the flush rising to his face. Tristan doesn't falter. He kisses behind Galahad's ear, hands cupping the back of his bared calf for a moment, following to his ankle to push off his boot. Galahad is helpless to his hands, letting Tristan push him slowly down to do the other. He wants to be nowhere else, after all.

Tristan’s fingers keep drifting slowly, up Galahad’s thigh to the crease. "I told you I was going to take that cloak off you later."

Galahad gestures, palms up. Be my guest. He’s feeling rather like he wouldn’t mind being spoiled.

Tristan leans over to unclip it. He lets the thick material fall behind them, then does the same with Galahad’s own.

"Better?" Galahad murmurs.

"Somewhat."

He touches at his hair, his jaw, eyes taking in every inch. Tristan’s own eyes are warm, focused on his flesh. He touches at mud specks on Galahad's knee, following them up.

"Would that it were the season for swimming," he muses.

"I would give my kingdom for a bath," Galahad mutters. They eye one another with mutual agreement. Galahad toys at some of the rattier braids in Tristan's hair.

"I do still remember your favored swimming spots," he murmurs.

"We'll go in the spring."

"As good as incentive as any to make it until then."

"I should think so."

Galahad smirks a bit as he watches Tristan work the rest of his clothes undone. He doesn’t make much of an effort to assist, nor to return the favor initially. Tristan glances up at his face again and again, looking quietly amused but rather more aroused than expected.

"Are you enjoying my supplications?" he asks, mildly.

"Very much, Tristan. Are you?"

"Oh yes." He smiles. "I’m rather more used to a Galahad who scolds me."

"I can't scold you for reverence, or I'd be found guilty myself."

Tristan looks up warmly. "I see." Galahad smiles, and finally reaches to tug at his surcoat. Tristan stops his fingers. "No, I will continue."

"Now you are asking for a scolding."

Tristan smiles and continues to undress, removing items until he reaches crinkled linen. "I think your hips might be made for my palms," he muses idly.

"Do you." Galahad looks down at them. Sure enough, the way Tristan's hands fit to the muscle and bone seems predestined. He squeezes gently but stays on his knees looking down at Galahad.

"What is it?" He asks, with a bit more bite than he meant to: impatient.

"I rarely have the time to admire. If only I had a midday sun above me."

Galahad holds back from saying he does, at least. He thinks it very hard, shivering a little as Tristan’s eyes travel. He starts to untie his shorts with a hum. Galahad licks his lips automatically, but Tristan doesn't humor him with a response. He’s just watching, the linen falling away from his hips and leaving him exposed, flushed dark and hard. Without a word, Tristan leans over him, lips a perfect heat against his skin.

"Oh," Galahad sighs. He reaches down to twist his fingers into Tristan's hair. Yes, he thinks supplication was the right word, and it makes his skin sing.

Tristan takes him into his mouth, the first slick flash of heat a blessing. Galahad can’t help making a soft, relieved noise. It's so good to be close to him. He makes Galahad feel full of rushing sensations, pulsing blood, too big for his skin. It's a happiness he never thought he'd know, fierce and tender.

He watches Tristan’s face as he caresses with his tongue and lips, the way his eyelashes shade those wickedly sharp eyes of his. His gaze is heady when he looks up. Galahad is breathless to behold him. His hands squeeze Galahad’s hips like a wordless reminder of their interconnection. That, coupled with the motions of his mouth, urges a soft cry out of him. His soreness is forgotten with the rush of sensation. Despite it, Tristan is so sweetly gentle, sucking him in long strokes, his own breaths stalling.

Galahad strokes through the tangles of his hair, hips lifting as Tristan urges him on. He's not used to it, and it's so much, he slows every now and again to breathe through all the noise in his body. Whenever he does, Tristan’s eyes find his face to track his expression until it eases.

"It's- you feel so good-" Galahad breathes.

Tristan hums. He looks endlessly pleased with himself. Galahad just touches his face, overcome.

"Might I touch you, too?" he murmurs.

Tristan pauses, then pulls off, licking reddened lips and pushing himself up to lie chest to chest. He finally allows Galahad access to his skin, and he takes it with abandon, shoving up his clothes and kissing his dirty ribs, teeth scraping. He smells wild and warm and the hair leading from his chest to his groin tickles Galahad’s lips. He comes back to it over and over as he undresses him, until they're both bare, skin afire even in the cool air.

It’s Tristan’s turn to lie back and be ministered to. Galahad takes him in hand as he kisses him, swallowing his low noise of encouragement. He revels in the sudden assumption of power, having his hands on Tristan like this. It's all the more intoxicating for knowing with inexplicable certainty that Tristan would indulge him mostly anything he wished. It makes him wish he were more creative. There's time for that, though, he realizes. It’s all he wants - time, and this.

"Tristan," he whispers it, just to taste the word in this way. "Tristan."

Tristan makes a soft noise, not quite a question. Galahad can only kiss him, and touch him, and be humbled by the way he smiles for him. The way his body bows inspires him to crowd closer, to try to get a hand around them both. Tristan gasps at the touch, bringing his own hand up, letting their fingers tangle.

"Yes," he groans, like he’s in pain. But only like.

They take a moment to synchronize their movements, but then Tristan hisses and it seems to click, a smooth, rolling rhythm between them both. Galahad moans, eyes squeezing shut. The slide of their skin gets slicker with every push. He can feel the building tension in himself, and in every gusting breath against his neck. Tristan thrusts up, quick and fluid, teeth bared and his chin on his chest as he watches their hands.

Galahad presses his mouth against Tristan’s temple. Heat hits him in the base of his spine, making his hips buck forward sharply. Tristan swears under his breath. They both seem to surge closer at once, arms flexing and bodies pressing. Galahad feels the pressure building, the friction hot and sweet and utterly perfect. He's so close he aches, so close their hands make wet noises as they stroke.

"Tristan," he groans, the word falling from his mouth like a prayer.

"Show me, my love," Tristan breathes, squeezing around them. Galahad cries out, brimming over with noise and coming in their hands with a rush. His release floods through their fingers, over Tristan's lean belly, making him gasp under his breath. His fingers flex. He can't stop, not with Tristan arching like a bow. His entire body shakes with the stimulation, but he doesn’t release their hands until Tristan has also spent, the hot flood accompanied by a growl.

"Galahad," he chokes, gripping at his hair with his clean hand. They collapse into one another, touch drunk and shivering.

"My love," Galahad echoes him. He feels lips against his throat, and jaw, and ear. Turning his head rubs their bearded cheeks together, which makes Tristan hum happily. Galahad sighs and keeps him close.

They stay still and entwined until the fire starts to crackle. "We should sleep," Tristan says eventually.

"Yes," Galahad agrees. He pulls away to stretch and search for some means of cleaning them up. He settles on a corner of his own tunic. Tristan watches with amusement, chuckling when Galahad throws the tunic at him. He cleans up too, and Galahad notes he’s left a few finger marks. He probably has some as well. He certainly hopes so.

He checks his hips just in case. Just pink so far. He gives them an experimental press of his own. Tristan catches him doing it.

"Wanting marks?" he asks, with a grin.

"If I were?"

"I'm happy to oblige you."

Galahad shivers a little but doesn’t try to hide the desire it sparks. Tristan draws up onto his knees, reaching for him. Galahad goes all in a rush. He shivers as Tristan pushes him down, first kissing him and then following a line down his throat. He groans softly.

The scrape of Tristan's teeth isn't unexpected, but the slow suck over his jugular is somewhat.

It feels so good he’s startled. He writhes a bit even so. Tristan would hardly expect less. He grabs his hands, pinning them down, and Galahad squirms. Now his breath is starting to come quicker.

Tristan pulls away, but only to suck another dark bruise into his collarbone. He supposes he asked for it. He doesn't really mind. "Do I get to return the favor, my love?"

Tristan hums an affirmative around a mouthful of flesh. Then Galahad goes back to moaning softly. When Tristan pulls away, his lips are flush.

"Is that enough, pup?"

"You tell me."

"This was your request."

"I want them to be obvious. For me."

"They will last for a day or two..."

Galahad sighs. "You'll have to do them again."

"Consider it done," Tristan murmurs, kissing his throat.

"So indulgent."

"Aren't I always?"

"When you want to be." Tristan sniggers a bit. Galahad strokes his shoulder. "I know you."

"I know you do."

"You don’t always care to indulge me."

"Of course I do."

"Then you hide it well."

"Do I? I've never noticed that to be the case."

Galahad smiles. "You hide it well."

"Well, that's sometimes necessary."

Galahad tucks his face against Tristan’s neck. "Don’t do it anymore."

"As you wish," he murmurs.

Galahad laughs softly. "A good start." He feels drowsy with the afterglow of his touch. He pulls at the furs, staying close to Tristan. He draws his nails lightly down Tristan’s chest. It elicits a shudder from him. "You like that, then."

"I like anything you see fit to give me, but your strength is the most familiar thing."

"Mine," Galahad hums. He wishes to bite.

Tristan smiles, obligingly stretching out beside him. "Yours."

Galahad does bite this time, into the meat of his shoulder. It's humbling and inspiring, the way Tristan arches into the press of his teeth. He reaches for a handful of curls to hold him there.

Heat crawls up Galahad's spine and makes a fire in the pit of his stomach. They just had one another; he feels insatiable. He hears Tristan murmur his name softly, hands clutching at his hair and his side. He makes a mark with his mouth; gouging and sucking, rolling his tongue around his own mouth to savor the taste of Tristan’s skin. The way his body bows up to maximize the touch of their skin is telling. He wraps his legs around Tristan’s to bind them together all the more effectively.

He wishes they could be lashed together at the wrists and ankles, twined and dependent always. Tristan is the missing piece to him. He can only hope it is the same for Tristan. They move together until slowly, the heat subsides, giving way to tenderness beneath like deep-running water. Tristan strokes long fingers through Galahad's hair as the curl together, the crackle of the fire the only noise in the cave. Galahad presses an open mouth against his throat, his breaths repeatedly heating and cooling the damp skin under his lips.

"I could stay here forever," he mumbles, when shadowy sleep touches the corners of his vision.

"All right," Tristan murmurs back. "Shall we?"

Galahad thinks woozily of Arthur, of their duty, of their hazy, promised freedom and how it yawns in his imagination like the void of the sky. "We will."

Tristan squeezes his arm around his shoulder gently, and his voice is barely tinged with doubt when he says, "Of course."

It rings in Galahad’s ears as he flutters into sleep. Of course. It’s as right as the river outside.

 

The sun streams in through the opening of the cave, birdsong reiterated in its cavernous depths. Galahad wakes with Tristan's face in his shoulder and the sun in his eyes and allows himself to doze in the novel warmth for a few minutes. Strange that Tristan isn't already up. He can smell rain. The only thing that finally gets him onto his feet is the rough squawk from Iseult, perched on a broken log just outside the cave.

"I'm coming," he mutters, pulling on Tristan's mud-stiff britches for modesty. He washes himself in the frigid water again, running his hands back through his hair, and then moves to retrieve the rabbit remains from last night, pausing before he holds out a rubbery strip of flesh to her.

He can’t help a slight grimace as she eats, nor the slight flinch every time her sharp beak snaps uncomfortably close to his fingers. But the thought of Tristan sleeping so soundly is recompense enough for the good deed. Outside of that: no such altruism. Iseult is part of Tristan, and a selfishness in him wants to know and love every place where his soul is moored, be it bird, earth or mortal flesh.

"Those trousers are trying to escape to your ankles," a soft, amused voice says from behind him.

"They keep making for the river, begging to be washed," Galahad glances at Tristan over his shoulder, jumping when Iseult sets her talons into his wrist to hold his hand steady. He opens his palm to let her eat, eyes drawn back to her.

"Not so jealous this morning, then," Tristan says approvingly. Galahad is...not entirely sure to whom he’s speaking.

"She was... she looked hungry. She gets the same way you do: bossy."

Tristan smiles. "Yes."

Galahad keeps watching her. He shivers when Tristan crowds up behind him, naked and apparently unconcerned. "You'll freeze, you madman."

"Someone stole my clothing."

"I have no remorse."

Iseult cocks her feathery head, fixing one eye on Tristan. He makes a quiet noise at her. With a fluffing of her breast, she snatches the last of the meat and takes off with it. Tristan’s hands settle at Galahad’s waist. "We ought to dress and eat as well. We’ll be back before dinner time if we ride soon."

"That's a shame," Galahad murmurs, leaning back against him. He feels Tristan sigh.

"You are a terrible influence, pup."

Galahad laughs. "Do you blame me?"

"I didn't say that." Tristan buries his nose in his nape, inhaling deeply.

"I know we must go," Galahad tells him. Even so, it's hard to believe it when Tristan's rough hand settles on his stomach, a gentle sweep upward.

"At the fort," Tristan murmurs reluctantly, "we may have a hot bath, and a jug of wine, and a mattress." As he knows these are things that concern Tristan relatively little, Galahad can only assume this is enticement meant for him.

"You'll stay with me?" he murmurs.

"Always," Tristan says.

Galahad leans back to kiss him over his shoulder.  "Let's get going then."

It’s quick work to pack up this time. They set off within the hour, the bright, bleached day having hardened the ground with frost overnight. This ride is as quiet a revelation as the ride out was. Nothing world-shattering, just a quiet uncurling within Galahad. He's still sore, he notices, without compunction for the enjoyment that accompanies the fact.

By the time several more hours have passed, he's enjoying it much less. Tristan knows, he can tell.

"Not far now," he utters to Galahad, as their horses come astride the hill that preempts the last road to the wall.

"Small favors," Galahad grumbles. Their horses have perked up at the sight of the road as well. He thinks Tristan might be smiling. They ride the last stretch in silence, until finally the gates come into view.

They’re hailed by the sentries and clatter straight into the courtyard. As the announcement of their arrival is shouted down the ranks, Galahad slips off his horse to hand it off, bandy-legged for a moment, feeling it more keenly than he normally might. Tristan pulls his saddle bags off and drapes them over his shoulder, then looks to Galahad.

"We’ll be expected at the Table."

"Of course." Galahad follows him unsteadily. He’s all at once exhausted.

Arthur and the others are waiting for them in the chamber of counsel.

"Everyone’s here, did you miss us that much?" Tristan jokes.

It’s Lancelot who supplies: "We were discussing the next move, you’re right on time."

"Good to see you back safe," Arthur adds somberly, ever the curmudgeon. "What have you to report?"

Tristan debriefs, Galahad permits himself to shift where he's stood, from foot to foot. He tries not to startle when Arthur asks him his own assessment of the traveling party.

"Nothing we couldn't handle, but it shouldn't come to that. They've got scouts out to the east of the track, but they're obviously migrating. We might not even see them by the time we leave." I hope we won’t, he doesn’t add.

Arthur nods, satisfied. Beside him, Lancelot is lending Galahad a great amount of attention, head slightly cocked. Galahad clenches his jaw and ignores it, keeping his eyes on Arthur. Tristan is zero help, chatting amiably. Lancelot isn’t giving him the same scrutiny, the bastard.

"So… you came into no contact with anyone on your travels?" he asks Galahad on an aside, eyes coolly assessing. Galahad sets his jaw.

"We avoided the enemy," he retorts.

"The bruise on your neck... fall off your horse?" Lancelot says, innocently. Galahad colors. Gods above, how big is it, that Lancelot can see? He automatically glances at Tristan, even as he knows he’s handing Lancelot exactly what he wants. Tristan, the bastard, just looks amused.

They’re both bastards, and Galahad is only inclined to think kindly of one of them.

"It’s nothing. What are you, my dad?"

"It doesn't look like nothing."

"Just a training injury. Why, want to kiss it better?"

And then Bors chips in. "Training," he repeats, shaking his head sadly.

"What?" Galahad feels his face heat.

"Does he need a lot of that, then, Tristan?"

Tristan glances at him, tongue working at his lower lip as he considers his answer. His eyes slide to Galahad as his mouth opens in a grin. Galahad closes his eyes. Gods. Bors starts to snigger into the silence.

"Not so sure you’re the one who’ll be kissing it better, Lancelot."

"Arthur, are we dismissed?" Galahad asks curtly.

Arthur, who is many things but seldom facetious, gives him a nod.

"You all are. Get your rest, brothers."

As they all file out, Galahad notices Tristan avoiding his glance, gone sheepish as laughter follows behind them. Bors claps him on the shoulder, coming into line with them as they walk, Lancelot and the others close.

"I wondered when you two were going to stop staring at each other from across the moors," Bors says, eventually.

"I believe you lost the bet, though," Lancelot chimes in.

"Blast it, I didn't think they'd hold out so long."

Galahad's face sets on fire. "What are you talking about?" he snaps. Not that he doesn’t know. Or can’t guess.

"Who did win?" Bors continues, scratching his chin. "Was it you, Lancelot? You look far too sour for it to be you."

"I think it might have been Gawain." 

"It was Dagonet," Gawain supplies. 

"If I kill you all, the money becomes mine," Galahad hisses, temper fraying. 

"Perhaps you can buy a cushion for your saddle then," Bors snorts, doing an uncharitable impersonation of a stiff walk.

Galahad’s hands clench into fists. He lags back a few steps and kicks Bors squarely in the small of his back, irritation barely alleviated at watching him comically stumble. Lancelot just laughs - no help to either quarter there - and when Bors regains his balance he turns back to Galahad. Galahad growls. Tristan steps smoothly in between them.

"I think that's enough teasing for today, at least until he can chase after you, Bors," he says, and Galahad hears the gentle warning: Don't make me chase you.

Galahad thumps him, gently for all his irritation. "I’m not an invalid."

"No," he agrees, voice dropping for just Galahad's ears, now, "but you're tired, and you need to rest."

"What happened to dinner and a bath?" Galahad replies. He ignores the little chorus of noise that goes up behind him. Tristan gives him a grin again.

"Did I say I wasn't coming with you?"

Galahad narrows his eyes at him. Tristan smiles wider.

"Come." He puts his arm around him gently. The noise pitches louder. Galahad looks behind them, and everyone goes quiet. He’s caught between blushing and considering punching someone.

"Anyone got anything they'd like to share?" he challenges. Lancelot actually snorts.

"We can tell when we’re not wanted," Bors complains.

"Well that's obviously not true."

"It’s really not; Vanora would agree with me," Lancelot takes the opportunity for a jab.

Bors feigns affront, good-natured under all the bravado. Even Galahad can’t stay angry with him.

It's Lancelot who meets his gaze finally. "Galahad. We are your brothers. We've known you half your life. There's no need to be unsure."

"The Romans..."

"Fuck the Romans," Bors volunteers.

"Fuck the Romans," the rest of them repeat in unison.

Galahad looks at Tristan, who is giving his usual solemn, knowing smile.

"Fine, you know best as usual," he grumbles.

"I thought you'd know that by now." Tristan leans into him, bumping their foreheads briefly.

"Take him away," Lancelot complains. "I cannot stand the mooning."

Suitably engaged by Tristan, Galahad hardly hears it. He gives him a wry smile.

"Let's go." Tristan leads him away and he goes without question.

They groom, feed and bed down the horses in the stables, both quiet as they do so. Tack hung and cleaned, they start the short trek to the baths, only exchanging the occasional word until they're finally sequestered away from the noise. They look at one another through the steam of the caldarium with a speaking glance.

"That went strangely well," Galahad mutters, peeling himself out of his clothes.

"Are you surprised?" asks Tristan, who is evidently not.

"I just didn't think we'd have to make an announcement to the whole order." He touches at the tender spot on his neck. Of all the days to inquire about errant bruises.

"Apparently they’ve been keeping their eyes out."

Galahad squints at him. "Did you know?"

Tristan shrugs. "They're knights, and we've lived with them half our lives. They were bound to notice." It’s not a denial, but Galahad resolves to stop worrying about it. There are other things with which to occupy his mind, after all.

"Get undressed," he mutters, trying to keep the surliness out of his voice.

Tristan obediently removes his armor and tunic. They step down into the bath together, and Galahad sighs at the feeling of the hot water. It eats away at his aches like he’s made of sugar. He sinks down onto the steps, tipping his head back.

Eyes closed, Tristan is a mere press of an elbow at his side. They sit for a minute, just soaking off the day, and then Galahad dips down to rinse his hair, emerging to see Tristan doing the same. He reaches out to touch it with a little smile as he resurfaces.

"It’s so different when I can see your face."

"I hope not in a bad way."

"Must I tell you how handsome you are? I will."

Tristan actually blushes a bit, though it might be the hot water. "If you like them unkempt."

"Clearly, I do," Galahad mutters.

That makes Tristan grin again helplessly. He reaches for Galahad. Letting himself be dragged through the water like so much silk, Galahad brackets Tristan’s thighs with his knees and holds his shoulders for balance. He doesn't hesitate when Tristan kisses him softly. He tilts Tristan’s head back with a stroke through his wet hair and concentrates on licking into his mouth. It's a good job they're alone, he realizes belatedly as Tristan's hand curls hard around his bicep. He might not care at this moment if they weren’t. He feels like his body has evaporated into the surrounding steam.

"Pretty thing," Tristan murmurs, when they part. His turn to blush, except his skin is already pink with heat. He bites his lip, feeling Tristan stroke his palms up and down his thighs.

They stay like that for a few long moments, luxuriating in touch as much as warmth. Tristan alternates between cleaning him gently with a linen cloth and kissing his shoulders and neck. Galahad is happy to hang on him a while. It's not exclusively an arousing sort of contact, he finds- just an inimitable closeness. He tugs the cloth away and returns the favor, then combs his fingers through Tristan’s hair until it flows smoothly down his neck. He toys with his braids, one hand skimming gently down his throat.

"Should we move on?" he asks quietly. The frigidarium may be his only hope to make it back across the compound without embarrassing himself. Tristan nods, releasing him little by little so they can climb out of the baths. He watches Tristan move across the space, shamelessly naked. He loves to watch him, he always has. In fact, seeing him in this stone room well-lit by torches is a revelation. They've seen each other nude a thousand times- they all have- but this is different.

At the cooler pool, they rinse away the dozy fug of the first, and Galahad feels clearer when he's out of it. He smiles up at Tristan as they dress, leaning on him to slip back into his boots.

"I'll ask for dinner to be brought to your room," Tristan tells him, like it's easy as that. "I'll meet you there."

Galahad breathes in, then out. "All right."

 

He's half-dressed and feeling an unreasonable amount of trepidation by the time Tristan knocks. The whole scenario has prickled him with nerves and pleasure, and he shakes the tension out of his arms as he goes to open the door; smiles at Tristan holding a bag over his shoulder like he’s here on his travels. Galahad feels so warm at the sight of him, like he’s still in the baths.

"Come in."

Tristan has changed as well, soft suede braccae and a long tunic, mended but clean. He looks strangely domestic, soft and vulnerable out of his armor.

"Where's Iseult?" Galahad asks.

"On her perch in my room. I left the window open for her. Do you miss her so much?"

"She's a part of you." He shrugs.

Tristan smiles. "Sweet thing."

Galahad looks down, gaze sweeping nervously around his own chamber. Tristan cants his head. "What is it?"

"You’re - here," Galahad marvels. "In my room."

"It's hardly the first time."

It’s true. Many of those, embarrassing instances of drinking to excess and being deposited grumbling into bed. Still, Tristan has never stayed before- they'd never been here in a capacity outside of simple friendship before, camaraderie. He looks back up.

"I love you," he says softly.

Tristan's eyes warm. He crosses the room and chucks his bag down by the bed, hand sliding into Galahad's hair in a gesture that is suddenly as familiar as breathing.

"And I love you, pup."

Their lips meet, soft but all-consuming. Galahad is still tender and warm from bathing; from Tristan's gentle touches. He kisses him harder, fingers knotting in the tangle of his damp hair. One of Tristan’s arms suddenly dips low, lifts Galahad and turns them around to impact a wall. It lights a fire in him, making him stutter on a breath. Tristan pins him with his hips and goes back to long, searching kisses.

Hands finding the hem of his shirt, Galahad searches out skin and starts to drag the tunic up. Since he never managed a clean shirt, that puts them pleasantly skin to skin. He throws it off and gets his hands back on Tristan's chest immediately.

"I do have a bed," he groans, lifting his chin for Tristan’s mouth.

"And I can't wait to have you in it," Tristan says, low and rough, hips arching.

"So have me in it."

Tristan tuts. "Patience is a virtue."

Galahad groans, and Tristan swallows the sound. He grips his thighs then, hauling him up against himself, as surprisingly forceful as ever. He pivots them, taking them to the bed where he can cover Galahad like a mantle of earth, of fire.

He arches beneath his weight, groaning softly. "Tristan-"

Tristan kisses him again in answer. They twine together for a long moment, until Galahad twists them over, humming into the press of their mouths. He begins to kiss his way, very deliberately, down Tristan’s chest. He looks justifiably pleased with himself when Galahad glances up, lifting his hips when he reaches for his fastenings. Galahad hides a smile in the crease of his hip.

"I can see you," Tristan drawls, accent lazy with distraction.

"And?"

"I like it."

"Good," Galahad laughs softly, nuzzling wiry hair and smooth hot skin. He tugs his bottoms away, leaning to nose into the crease of his thigh, fingers exploring the inside of his thigh. Then he sets his mouth to the creamy skin and sucks. Tristan puts a hand against the sheets, breath hitching just barely. Let one of their brothers ask about that bruise, he smirks as he draws back to inspect it.

Tristan waits patiently for his appraisal, cock flushed and already hard against his hip, the muscles in his stomach and thighs bunching and relaxing in tandem. Coiled power, half-tamed and wholly loved, in Galahad’s bed...he licks his lips and leans back in. He takes him in hand, fingers gentle as he tongues slowly over the head of his cock. Tristan refrains from thrusting, but he makes a throaty noise.

"Mm?" Galahad glances up at him, stifling a smile at the shiver.

"Your mouth," Tristan mumbles. His hand settles affectionately into his hair. Galahad applies himself to sucking him in earnest. He lets his eyes fall closed. Comfortably stranded between arousal and intent, he adopts a steady rhythm of movement between hand and mouth. It will be a slow build. Tristan does not move to protest. He barely even tugs, just breathing hard, fingertips needling a bit at Galahad's scalp. It feels like more worship again, on both their parts.

Galahad sucks until he's drooling; until it's easier and easier to take Tristan deep into his mouth. Tristan isn’t so still now. He murmurs his name under his breath, again and again until it becomes a soft spell. Galahad finally pulls off when he can’t draw breath. Tristan groans through his teeth, hips flexing barely.

"Galahad, come here?"

He doesn’t wait, just lifts Galahad up to his chest. They kiss breathless and messy, sharing the taste of Tristan. He smooths Galahad’s curls off his forehead, cups his cheek.

"My boy," he murmurs, "will you fuck me now?"

All the thoughts in Galahad's brain drain toward his cock. He swallows a few times, then stutters. "I'll be horrible, I've never-"

"Do you want to?" Tristan interrupts gently.

"What sort of question is that? Of course I do." His voice cracks embarrassingly.

Tristan gives him a lopsided, heartfelt smile. "I can show you."

"Anything you want," Galahad says helplessly.

That makes the smile bigger still.

"All right. You remember what’s first." Tristan reaches for the bag he’d deposited on the floor by the bed - he’s even brought another vial of oil. Galahad feels a slight tinge of pleased surprise: Tristan obviously had ideas about how he wanted this to go before he came. "Here, take this."

Nodding dumbly, Galahad sits up, keen to give him what he wants. His hands shake as he fumbles with the stopper. Tristan stills his hands gently, watching him. He sits up, tugging Galahad.

"Let me go on top." He props Galahad against the wall, tipping oil over his own fingers.

Staring, Galahad reaches for him, steadying as Tristan shifts up on his knees, cock still heavy, thigh muscles in high relief, hand reaching back.

"Tristan, let me -"

"Let you?"

"Help," he gets out, face burning with it. Smiling, Tristan pauses and takes his hand in his own, adding more oil and then pulling it around his waist and down, his fingertips pressing on Galahad's own between his cheeks. Galahad finds the ring of muscle, but Tristan gives him no time to explore.

"Just pay attention," he says gently, pushing in with his own finger beneath Galahad's, going forcibly slow.

Galahad tries to mimic his steady thrusts. It's easier, he finds, if he just lets Tristan press his hand, guiding it as he likes. He lets himself be distracted by his cock in front of him, still sticky from his mouth, clear fluid glistening at his tip, rubbing against his own with every lift of Tristan’s hips. His free hand still wet with spilled lube, Galahad wraps a hand around him and watches his expression wash from concentration to pleased surprise. His hips quiver, driving them both deeper into his body.

"Fuck." Galahad squeezes him slowly as he strokes, rapt. "How much longer?" he whispers.

"Not- not long. Give me another- your fingers-"

Galahad whines softly in his throat and pulls back to add his middle finger to his first. He watches Tristan's face the whole time, his own cock throbbing at the expression he finds there. It’s inexpressibly fond. Entranced. Blissful. Tristan rocks himself down, holding Galahad’s hand just where he wants it, until he’s visibly breathless from the task.

"Are you ready, pup?" His blurry dark eyes meet Galahad’s.

"Yes," Galahad whispers.

Tristan circles his hips a few times, experimental, and then lets their fingers ease away. "More oil," he murmurs.

Galahad fumbles to comply, hard pressed to stop touching him. Once again, Tristan’s hand joins his, tipping the little bottle into his palm and urging Galahad to stroke it over his own cock.

"I understand the concept," he snips, without any real venom. Tristan just laughs and gives him another few strokes. He leans in to steal a kiss. Galahad gives it willingly, shivering when Tristan shifts forward with intent.

He braces himself over Galahad’s lap, rising up, sinking down. Breathless to behold him, Galahad cradles his hips and tries to control the motions of his own. The feeling of Tristan enveloping his length in drawing heat is enough to stop his breath. He watches his face, immersed in the solid clasp of his flesh, wishing to never be without it again. Tristan looks as blissful as he feels. He presses their foreheads together, hips starting to slowly surge.

Galahad gasps softly, not sure if he can last. He only hopes this is what Tristan wants. "It's- you feel-"

"I know. It's okay."

"Is it good?"

"Darling." Tristan smiles.

"Is that a yes?"

"I promise you it is." He keeps moving steadily, gathering traction with the quickening roll of his hips. All Galahad has to do is hold on. It's hard to breathe at the feeling, the sight of him. Tristan watches his face closely. His own breaths are rough and unschooled, occasionally stilted with noise.

One hand still slick where he’s clutching Tristan’s waist, Galahad fumbles down, taking Tristan’s cock in a loose grip and stroking. His answering clench is dizzying. Galahad is sure he will come just from that, but then he does it again, and again.

"Tristan-" he gasps, other hand slipping to his thigh, letting him buck into his hand as he likes. He throws his head back, overcome.

Tristan buries his face against his neck now, muffling a rough groan against his skin. Galahad echoes it, panting into his hair. He strokes him faster, his body held on the very precipice of need as Tristan draws impossibly tight. Galahad can’t hold back. He comes with a shuddering gasp, floored by the force of it.

Tristan sways above him, back bowing as he fucks Galahad’s hand. It's entirely too much sensation to bear; if it were anyone else, any other situation, Galahad would be driven away. As it is, it's Tristan and he's captivating and Galahad would bear anything to see him like this for even one more breath. Galahad is shaking when Tristan finally draws tight and spills over his fingers, groaning through his teeth. They both breathe harshly for quite some time.

"Are you well-?" Galahad asks, eventually.

"Yes, love," Tristan murmurs, shifting to lift off Galahad’s lap. It feels strange to be without his weight and heat. Galahad handles him back into his arms, nuzzling against him gently. Tristan leans up and kisses his chin.

Galahad strokes down his arm, watching his eyelashes droop. He's always infinitely surprised by Tristan's capacity for gentleness, equaled only by his somewhat less surprising capacity for violence. He's so beautiful in both. Galahad is not a poet, but he can see the lyricism in the things he feels for Tristan; he feels suffused by emotion, which is not a warrior’s usual state.

"Let me clean up a minute," Tristan murmurs, slipping out of bed. Galahad frowns wistfully when he doesn’t return right away, but he’s merely checking outside the door. "Dinner," he says cheerfully, bringing the tray inside, still resplendently nude.

"I can see that," Galahad admires. Tristan passes him the tray and climbs back into bed. Galahad inspects the offerings. Nothing over indulgent, but there’s fresh fruit and honey and wine. He picks up a slice of cheese and holds it out to Tristan. He's a little surprised- and faintly aroused- when he leans in and takes it with his teeth, humming in amusement as he pulls away. He’s also reminded powerfully of Iseult. Less so when Tristan leans to kiss him in thanks.

"What an idea you’ve had," Tristan says, offering Galahad a bite of bread. His turn to laugh, eating what he's fed with warmth spreading across his cheeks.

"I may be a bit too hungry for that."

Tristan passes him a plate, touching his knee warmly after he takes it. "That's all right."

"Maybe later."

"With something more elegant than cheese, perhaps," Tristan says slyly.

"Such as?"

He shrugs. "I’ll think on it."

"Don't think I'll forget." Galahad gives Tristan a raised eyebrow, earning a smile.

"I would expect no less, pup."

The tray of food goes quickly, and Tristan uncorks the wine to share. They sip, and gradually slump, fed and watered and otherwise satisfied throughout.

"This is... good," Galahad murmurs, settling down further in bed with his cup clutched to his chest.

"Good to be back?"

"Just good to be with you." He nudges Tristan. "The bed and the bath were temptation enough, but only just."

"Does this mean you’ll scout with me again?" Tristan murmurs.

"Well I can't fuck you in a cave if I stay here."

Tristan barks out a laugh. "How debauched I’ve made you."

"Yes, 'Galahad the Pure' is dead."

"Long live Galahad," Tristan murmurs. He brushes their noses together, Galahad their lips. The kiss turns deep and slow. When they part, they're slightly breathless again, but it's easy to temper it with contact of a more innocent nature.

"I hope it's always like this," Galahad murmurs, tucking his face into Tristan's neck.

Tristan strokes through his curls and agrees quietly. "Perhaps it will get even better," he muses.

Galahad’s imagination can barely expand so far. "Just as long as it doesn't get worse."

It’s tempting fate, he knows. He's willing to battle fortune, for this. He’d battle anything in their way. The thought makes him grip Tristan just that little tighter. Whatever it is, they’ll take it on back to back.