Author: Ashley and Dea Liberty
Rating: PG-13 to NC-17
Disclaimer: Movie versions
A/N: This is the first collaborative piece Dea and I have done. It's a WIP and will be posted in chapters. Let us know what you think.
Feedback: Everything, including constructive criticism, is very much appreciated.
Summary: The beginning – and the bumps along the way.
Five years was not a long time to run a group of conscripts. It wasn't a long time for much – and yet twenty-two year old Arthur Castus felt he had been doing this same job for five lifetimes.
The small chapel that sat at the edge of the fortress was largely deserted – and if there was anyone in it, it was usually only him and one or two infantrymen that had something to atone for. Arthur frowned on this, but kept his beliefs to himself. Each man's relationship with God was his business. Just like his style of command.
The commander of the Petriana company stationed at their garrison was an arrogant ass. Arthur had tried many, many times to give the man a chance, but an incident a few days previous had proven his initial judgment correct.
"Castus," the large man called, his belly flopping when he strode up to Arthur, who was showing a younger new recruit to his group of knights how to restring a Roman style bow.
"Graccus," Arthur answered, the recruit running off at a glance from Arthur. Arthur would see to – Galahad? Yes, that was it – later. "Did you need something?"
"One of those Sarmatians has been causing trouble again," the man said. "Come sort it out." And he had turned on his heel, leaving Arthur to follow in his wake, the man's dusty red cloak billowing behind him, almost smacking Arthur in the face.
He hurried after Graccus, hoping it wasn't who he thought it was, but knowing to expect –
Two infantryman stood on either side of the young man, who was sporting a black eye and the defiant expression Arthur had grown used to seeing on him. Arthur sighed inwardly and walked up to the three men.
"What's he done?"
"Taken out horses when he was supposed to be on weapons detail," Graccus said, dismissing his men as they arrived.
Lancelot snorted. "They were underexercised and there were plenty of men helping with the inventory. How are we expected to keep our animals ready for patrol if we're never allowed near them?"
Graccus raised a clenched hand, and Arthur suddenly understood how Lancelot had gotten the black eye.
"Commander," Arthur said, and both he and Lancelot swung around to stare at Arthur.
"Do. Not. Touch. Any of my men. I will handle this," he said, his voice low and as dark as his eyes had abruptly become. "Leave us."
"Castus," Graccus replied grumpily, "what are you going do? Slap him on the wrist and send him back to work?"
"My detail. My rules," Arthur said, his hand on Excalibur, his face not betraying the anger he felt. Graccus shrugged. "Very well. But the next time I need help, don't send this one. He might not come back." And he walked away.
Lancelot smirked at Arthur, and relaxed, crossing his arms over his chest. "What a prick. Should have known he'd come and get you," the younger man laughed, then chased after Arthur as he strode off. "Where are you going? Arthur?"
Arthur stopped, and faced Lancelot, who was looking at him in confusion. "Don't put me in that position again, Lancelot," he said, the muscles in his jaw bunching, "I don't want to hear about you from some idiot legionnaire in this garrison, especially one who thinks he understands the cavalry. Do I make myself clear?"
"…yes, sir," Lancelot had snapped back, straightening his spine, his eyebrows drawing together in an angry frown. Arthur had glared at him for a moment, then had resumed his walk. And this time, Lancelot hadn't followed him.
Arthur breathed deeply and tried to push away the memory of Lancelot's hurt expression when he had left him standing there. The strong incense lit in the chapel was beginning to make his eyes water, but he stayed a few more moments, then exited after crossing himself at the door.
The night had fallen completely, and he walked back slowly toward the interior of the fortress, his light bronze cuirass and greaves feeling heavier now than they had earlier that morning. He passed the outdoor courtyard, where he saw a few of his knights drinking and relaxing after a relatively easy patrol. He glanced around, smiling a small smile when Gawain and the new one, Galahad, caught his eye and waved at him.
I'm not looking for him. I'm not.
Arthur could ignore certain things, but not truths from his own heart.
…and the truth was, his feelings, his 'attachment,' or whatever it was, for his friend was starting to scare him with the frequency with which it occupied his mind.
He thought praying might help him; he thought endless hours of exercise and training would help as well. No such luck.
And truly – was it a bad thing? Arthur didn't think so, not in the way most people would think. Lancelot was annoying, controlling, arrogant, dangerous, and totally exasperating. But he was also something no one had been to Arthur in his five years at his post – a loyal, true, and stalwart friend and second in command. He could drink Arthur under the table, beat him at dice, and argue a point until he was blue in the face.
And Arthur loved him.
"Fuck," Arthur swore again, this time out loud. He stomped off toward the battlements, leaving a confused Gawain and Galahad staring after him, not sure what had gotten into their commander, but also sure they didn't want to find out.
He shivered in the night air, his armor and leathers not doing much against the wind. The walkway between guard posts was blessedly empty, and he leant against a bulwark, the notch between the stones a perfect place to hang his torso over the side.
What in the hell was he going to do?
Free will. Protection of the weak. Taking care of those who could not take care of themselves. He had been raised with these ideals; had watched his father loved by his own knights because of Uther's commitment and respect for them. He had never singled out any one of them that Arthur knew about.
So how would he be able to live with himself if he offered special treatment to one over the others? How would the others see it? Would they understand it wasn't that he valued Lancelot's life over theirs, but rather that he had more … personal attachments to the younger man?
He kicked at the brick surrounding him, and fought against the urge to throw himself off the high stone walls; it was certainly looking like the easiest way out.
"Bad ale again?"
He whirled at the voice, and tried to smile, even if it didn't reach his eyes.
"Bad thoughts," he admitted. He turned to look back out at the night watch fires and the reduced activity at the edge of the fortress. Lancelot leant back against the wall next to Arthur, his eye looking better, the blackness only showing a tinge of green now.
Lancelot sighed, and tilted his head so he was looking at Arthur out of one half-squinted eye. "What a surprise. I didn't know you had any other kind."
Arthur hmmphed and bit his lip. If only you knew, friend.
"I do. Just – a lot of things on my mind right at the moment."
"Truly? Like what?" Lancelot righted his head, and turned so he was facing Arthur. He cocked an eyebrow, waiting.
Arthur shook his head. "Nothing. Nothing you can help with, at any rate. What are you doing up here, anyway?"
"Looking for you," Lancelot answered simply. "The transfer papers for those men leaving for Borraicum in the morning are ready. Thought you should know."
"Thank you," Arthur answered, "I'll come sign them before I turn in." He risked a glance at Lancelot, who was still staring at him. "What?"
"Talk to me."
The lines between Arthur's brows appeared, and he placed his hands on the wall in front of him. "About what?"
"About you. What's going on?"
"Nothing's going on, Lancelot. What do you mean?" Arthur suddenly felt cold, the hairs on the back of his neck standing up…and it had nothing to do with the weather.
"You've been acting strangely since the other day," the other man said, moving closer, crossing into Arthur's personal space. Arthur backed away slightly, afraid to be in that proximity to his friend.
"Strangely how? Because I had to discipline you in front of others? Because you disobeyed an order and made me have to intercede? Wouldn't that make you act strangely?" A little harsh, perhaps, but right now, he couldn't quite bring himself to care.
"I didn't 'make' you do anything," Lancelot retorted, still pressing his presence close to Arthur, who had reached the bend in the wall, and couldn't go anywhere. His armor scraped the stone and he stopped.
"It shouldn't, Arthur. You're the commander. That's your job," Lancelot continued. "I don't blame you for doing what you had to do. Just as I have to follow what I think is right for myself and the others. I didn't disobey just to disobey; I really thought what I was doing was the right thing for the men and the animals."
And the boy becomes a man.
"I know that. I respect that. That's why I didn't make a bigger issue out of it than I could have – or that Graccus would have had he had his way," Arthur answered, snorting a breath out of his nose, his shoulders slumping in defeat; Lancelot wasn't backing down, and he didn't know how he could get away without the other man being affronted.
"Arthur," Lancelot said through a tightened jaw, "what's really going on with you?"
Oh, nothing. I've just figured out I have feelings for you, and you're clueless. That's all.
"Nothing! Leave off, for fuck's sake," Arthur gritted, and pushed past the other man, not looking back, knowing what he'd see – and knowing he might not be able to leave because of it and he couldn't afford to do that. "I'll see you later. I'm going to take care of those papers now. Thank you for coming to tell me."
And he hurried back to his rooms, trying not to think about what the fact that he was almost running from Lancelot could imply.