|To Honor the Fallen
Author: M. D. Jensen PM
After the events of the Darkest Hour, the Knights of the Round Table go on a memorial quest to their fallen friend's birthplace. Spoilers, of course. If you love knightly bromance and don't require complicated plots, this fic is for you!Rated: Fiction T - English - Friendship/Angst - Gwaine & Percival - Chapters: 3 - Words: 12,379 - Reviews: 15 - Favs: 29 - Follows: 10 - Updated: 06-17-12 - Published: 06-13-12 - Status: Complete - id: 8213321
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Disclaimer: not mine. Also I'd be lying if I said that this wasn't partially inspired by Stand by Me. What can I say? My earliest impressions of male friendship all derive from Mr. Stephen King.
After the events of the Darkest Hour, the Knights of the Round Table go on a memorial quest to their fallen friend's birthplace. Spoilers.
Note: this will be three parts. Next one should be up in a few days (and will be way more friendshipy and angsty than this one, which is just sort of establishing things).
To Honor the Fallen
Gwaine was not used to worrying. For years his main and sole concern had been himself and the fun that he could have. Even becoming a knight of Camelot hadn't added a great deal of priorities to his list. All right, there was Merlin; they'd always been friends but now living in the same place had caused the few brotherly instincts Gwaine possessed to kick in. So for the past year he'd looked out for himself, and he'd looked out for Merlin, and that had been enough responsibility for his taste.
And then that bloody idiot- clotpole, as Merlin might say- Lancelot had gone and sacrificed himself for the good of the world at large, and everything had gone to shit.
Gwaine hadn't mourned since the journey back to Camelot. He'd thrown himself wholly into fighting, drinking, laughing- living- as though the Round Table were still complete. The others had done the same, for the most part. Merlin still seemed a bit traumatized by the whole ordeal, but that was Merlin for you. Everyone else was all right, mostly.
Except for when Elyan would stop dead in the middle of some routine action and sigh.
Except for how Arthur never let another man ride Lancelot's horse in training.
Except for the one morning that Leon, of all people, showed up with eyes red as coals and swollen as a baby's.
It had been a month and Gwaine could no longer deny it: everyday, constantly, he was worried.
His best defense was humor and mirth. For the first few days it had no effect; then, gradually, the others began responding to his jokes again, however politely. Joining him in the tavern again, however tentatively. But it wasn't enough to heal the hurt Lancelot's death had caused. Not for any of them, but especially not for Merlin- and especially not for Percival.
A year ago, at the formation of the Round Table, if Gwaine had looked around the room and made a list of who needed looking out for most, Percival would have been at the rock bottom, below Elyan, below Arthur, even below Leon. Gwaine, at the time, would not have been inclined to make such a list. But if he had been, Percival might not have even made it on there. Percival would have been the table that he composed the list on top of. After all, it wasn't every day that a new acquaintance appeared who could casually manufacture a fucking rock slide.
But above those ridiculous muscles (really, at some point a man just became a show-off) Percival had the face of a boy, a face that grinned and pouted and somehow just begged to be worried about.
So now, apparently, Gwaine worried. For himself, Merlin, and Percival. Couple that with living in the same place for over a year and holding a steady job for as long, and he'd almost become a normal person. Almost.
And all this worrying had seemed like enough work in and of itself until that one afternoon that Merlin pulled him stealthily aside while the knights stopped training for lunch. Gwaine grabbed his portion of food and trailed the servant to a hill a bit apart from the others. They dropped to the grass, Gwaine's armor hissing against his chainmail and clanking against itself at the joints.
"Percival's having nightmares again."
Frowning, Gwaine broke his roll in two and passed half to Merlin. Merlin soaked it for a moment in Gwaine's stew before pulling it out and staring at it.
"How d'you know?"
"He was with Gaius when I came back from fetching Arthur's breakfast this morning. And look how slow he's been in practice today."
"Maybe he's not feeling well," Gwaine offered, annoyed by the anxiety swelling up in his gut. Seizing his spoon, he stirred the stew before beginning to eat.
"Maybe. Except I asked Gaius, and he told me it was nightmares." Merlin took a bite of his broth-drenched roll, not looking terribly excited about it.
Gwaine knew that Percival didn't sleep well. It wasn't a secret- it couldn't be, given how many nights they all spent tucked close around the fire together. And, though the man was just about the least talkative person Gwaine had ever met, with enough time spent in the tavern he'd managed to extract enough of the story to understand that his dreams had been bad enough early on for him to seek Gaius's help. As far as Gwaine knew, though, they'd gotten better over the past year.
"It hasn't been easy for him since Lancelot died," Gwaine mused, voice neutral. Merlin made a little noise- not quite a cough, not quite a sigh. "Sorry," Gwaine added automatically.
"It's all right." Merlin sat up straighter. "It hasn't been easy for any of us. But I know they were friends. I thought, maybe- you could talk to him?" He shrugged one shoulder, looking tentatively hopeful.
"Yeah. You're friends, right? I think you're the best friend he's got here. Now that Lancelot's gone." He looked away moodily, staring up at the clouds, roll forgotten between his fingers.
"Don't know if you've noticed, Merlin, but I'm not the most qualified to lend emotional support," Gwaine grouched. But Merlin's words had placed a question in his brain. Was he really the best Percival could do? He'd never looked at their friendship as based on anything but the basics- training together, questing together, stealing food from the kitchens together, calling each other stupid nicknames, and getting so drunk that Percival finally gave into Elyan's urgings to benchpress Gwaine. Well, and now there was that added sense of worry, but that was just kind of silly and surely didn't mean that Gwaine was Percival's best defense against his own grief. Did it?
Merlin's smile was small and wry. "Nevertheless," he said simply, letting the word stand as a statement in its own right. "I didn't know who else to tell, Gwaine," he added, after a long pause. "Arthur's got enough to worry about with his father, and Gaius said he tried to talk to him but Percival wouldn't have it."
"And you can't do this, why?"
Merlin glared. "I think that in the past year I've spoken maybe an hour total with that man. What do you want me to do, go up and say, hey, I know we never talk, but I miss Lancelot too." Merlin shook his head back and forth, mocking his own voice. "Besides," he added, sobering, "I don't even know if that's what's bothering him. Before, the dreams were always about his family. From what little he did tell Gaius, it seems like they still are."
Gwaine sucked in a deep breath and blew it out with finesse.
"All right. I'll talk to the oaf. I should get re-knighted for this, you know."
Merlin smiled. "Thanks, Gwaine."
"Hmf. If you hardly know him, why do you care?"
Merlin cocked his head to one side. "He's a knight. I mean, it would hardly do to have one of the men defending Camelot be worn down from something that could be helped." He meant defending Arthur, Gwaine gathered, but didn't correct him.
"You're turning me into a worrier," Gwaine sighed at last, and he knew from the look in Merlin's eyes that he understood how far from a joke that statement was.
"I know," Merlin said simply, and finally turned attention back to his soggy roll.
So worrying just to worry no longer cut it. Merlin was right; action was called for- whether Gwaine liked it or not. He had happily undergone far more rigorous challenges for Merlin than this. But a secret quest to recover the sacred trident of an ancient cursed king was beginning to seem more and more relaxing by the minute. To just go up to somebody and profess that you empathized and wanted to be there for them? It wasn't done. And if it was, Gwaine wasn't the kind of person to do it, and Camelot wasn't the place. When would be best- before sword practice? During a feast to honor visiting nobles? On a quest to bring food to a starving village? Vulnerability like that had no place in a knight's daily life, and for good reason.
But something had to be done, Gwaine knew, as he watched Percival begin to catch naps in the grass between practice sessions, skip out on nights in the tavern. And the others- they were faring better, but not by much. This wasn't something he could fix alone, Gwaine saw. Merlin had brought his attention to it, and the real solution would take more cooperation still. Just as Lancelot had not been only Percival's friend, the grief that desperately needed airing was not his alone either. It was the problem of the Knights of the Round Table, and realizing this comforted Gwaine while making him all the more anxious simultaneously. At the very least, his next step was clear. If this involved the knights, there was only one logical person to turn to.
Which was how Gwaine found himself standing in Leon's chambers well after sundown one night, sprawled lazily in a wide wooden chair as Leon himself stood frowning down at him.
"A memorial quest," he repeated, blankly.
"You heard correctly." Gwaine smiled. Leon's frown eased and he returned to pouring two cups of dark red wine. The scent that filled the air calmed Gwaine marginally and he pulled his legs back, sitting up straighter.
"A quest has an aim." Leon lowered himself slowly into a chair across the table.
"This has an aim. The aim is that we take the time to remember Lancelot. The aim is that we all stop ignoring the issue and ignoring each other and pretending that we haven't lost a good man." For emphasis as much as for comfort, he took a swig of his drink.
Leon's brow tensed up once again. "This is Gwaine I'm talking to?" Gwaine felt his face widen into a genuine grin. It wasn't so much that he was happy as that he was comfortable with Leon, in a way he'd never been comfortable with a noble in his adult life.
"I'll admit, it was Merlin who called it to my attention. But you can't tell me you haven't noticed, Leon. Morale is lower than the dungeons." He fought and failed to keep the smile on his lips. "Percy can hardly keep his eyes open during training, he sleeps so badly."
Leon glanced uneasily down at his forgotten wine, and tossed it back in one go. "Percival has other things on his mind," he noted, bringing the cup back down to the table. "You know that."
"It's all the more reason that we need to do something like this," Gwaine insisted.
Leon sighed, spinning the cup in his hands. "I'm not saying I reject the idea. But knights die, my friend." He looked back up with heavy eyes. "I myself might have died ten times over by now. And other knights need to accept this."
"You're forgetting that you're the only career knight among us," Gwaine teased gently. It coaxed a smile out of Leon, however small. "Lancelot laid down his life for us. For everyone. And he wasn't just a knight. He sat with us at the Round Table. That's got to mean something." The smile had disappeared.
"I saw you," Gwaine said softly, changing direction on a whim. "That day a few weeks ago. Big bad Sir Leon. You came to training looking as though you'd cried all night."
Leon sighed. Gwaine finished his wine quietly while the man mulled it over, lost in his own thoughts. Finally he nodded. "You're right. You are. What would be our destination?"
The answer surprised Gwaine as it tumbled out from his mouth. Truth be told, he hadn't thought that far ahead. But in the moment, the solution seemed obvious. "Lancelot's village. Called Benwick. It was destroyed twenty years ago by raiders from the northern plains. But I've seen it on the maps. I don't know if others have settled there or if it's just the ruins. I thought we could go there to honor him, maybe bring something of his with us to leave there."
"His sword," Leon replied seamlessly, light beginning to show in his eyes. "The sword he fought with in Camelot, the one we burned in his memorial, wasn't his own. It was made for him here. The one he had with him when he first arrived, that's still in his chambers."
"So you're behind this?" Gwaine demanded, catching Leon's gaze and holding it steadily.
"I am. Of course."
"And you'll convince Arthur to let us?"
Leon looked away, an odd expression on his face. "I know he's not your favorite man, Gwaine, but he's a good one. He won't take convincing. Nevertheless," he promised, looking back, "I'll present the idea to him myself if you prefer."
"I do." Setting his cup down, Gwaine extended an arm which Leon clasped unwaveringly. The determination in his eyes mirrored what Gwaine himself felt inside. For the first time since Lancelot died, his enthusiasm for something was natural, unforced; for the first time since Lancelot died, he had hope.
"I don't understand."
"What's not to understand?"
"The purpose of this?" Percival sneered sharply, his commanding voice all the rougher with physical exertion. The training dummy was still standing only by the grace of some higher power Gwaine couldn't name.
"If you break this one, it'll be the fifth this year," Gwaine reminded evenly. "Bet that's a record." The clanking of sword on armor ceased.
"Don't suppose you'd go away if I asked nicely," Percival grunted, stabbing his sword into the grass.
"Whose idea was this?"
"Mine." Gwaine yelped with mock injury at Percival's responding smirk. "Why does everybody find that so difficult to believe?"
"Do I really have to answer that?"
"Fuck!" Gwaine took a half-hearted kick at the training dummy's stand and earned a sore toe for his efforts. "Are you in or not?" That right there was why he'd devised the whole idea in the first place; empathy really wasn't a strength he could claim.
"A quest has a purpose," Percival grouched, crossing his massive arms in front of his equally massive chest. But in the past year Gwaine had grown fairly skilled at glimpsing the child that lurked inside the warrior body- and that child was terrified now.
Sudden sorrow washed over Gwaine in a way that he hadn't been prepared for. He wrapped his own arms protectively around his middle, then forced himself to drop them as a sign of good will. "Saying goodbye is as good a purpose as any," he muttered. "Are you coming, Percival?"
The man frowned for another moment or two, regarding Gwaine in that special manner that seemed to be designed entirely to remind others of their respectively unimpressive size. "If you ask it of me," he said finally. Gwaine nodded. For now, that was going to have to be enough.
"A memorial quest?" Arthur repeated, dryly. Gwaine fought the urge to sigh. He knew the questions that might come next; his fellow knights had prepared him well enough. But he bit his tongue and kept silent, glancing around the hall in which Arthur entertained such meetings. Beside him, Percival was staring expressionlessly as Leon presented their case. Elyan, who had been by far the easiest to convince, caught Gwaine's eye and nodded encouragingly.
"Yes, sire," Leon agreed, inclining his head slightly. He stood apart from the others, addressing the prince confidently. "We understand it to be a bit out of the ordinary, but we thought-"
"No, that's all right, Sir Leon." Arthur stopped the knight's words with a calmly raised hand. "I understand. Believe me."
"It will take three days, at the longest," Leon added, unbidden.
"I understand, Leon," Arthur said again, his voice a bit softer this time. Gwaine watched, fascinated, as something that could only be called compassion spread slowly and subtly across his face. "The five of you had been as brothers. Of course I will allow the quest. I only wish I could accompany you."
"Thank you, sire." Leon smiled and inclined his head again. "With your permission, then, we will depart at dawn tomorrow."
"Where are you going?" The question was not directed from a prince regent to his most trusted knight, but from a friend to a friend. Leon answered in kind.
"Benwick, Lancelot's village. It lies near the border of Caerleon's lands, but well within the boundaries of Camelot." Leon's face was straight and somber. "It was destroyed by raiders from the northern plains when Lancelot was a boy. We mean to return his old sword there so that he may be at rest with his family."
Arthur paused before nodding with a kind of mournful satisfaction. "I think that ranks among the noblest of quests you've ever attended, Sir Leon."
Gwaine knew the meeting was over when Arthur pulled Leon aside and began to speak with him in low, private tones. Elyan flashed a smile before trailing Percival from the chamber. Gwaine was about to follow when a familiar dark head swooped into his line of vision.
"You might've told me you'd had an idea this good. I'll need to record it somewhere for posterity," Merlin laughed.
"It's hardly a remarkable occurrence."
"So says you." Merlin leaned casually against the wall. Almost proud of himself, Gwaine slumped beside him. "Seriously, though," Merlin went on. "This is above and beyond what I had in mind. It's- romantic. In its way." He smirked. "Lancelot would have liked that. And I do think it's for the best."
"Tell that to Percy. He was less than excited."
"It's not the easiest thing in the world to admit that you're grieving," Merlin mused quietly. "But he'll appreciate this in the end. You all will."
"You're coming, right?" Somehow in the back of his mind, Gwaine hadn't even thought to question this. Now the implication of Merlin's words was alarming somehow.
"Nah." Merlin shook his head. "Do you remember when I was sick last summer? Arthur had to dress himself for days. Never. Again. Came back to find every pair of trousers he owns laced completely backwards." He smiled conspiratorially, as though willing Gwaine to agree. But all Gwaine could do was frown.
"You're the one who told me to do this," he insisted, his voice dropping low. "Merlin, Arthur can tend to himself for a few days. You've got to say goodbye as well."
"I will. I have. I mean it," Merlin promised, smiling goodheartedly at his own stumbling words. "You don't have to worry about me, Gwaine."
"Of course not. I don't have to worry about any of this. I could skip out of Camelot right now if I wanted to." Gwaine huffed at Merlin's vaguely amused and utterly unconvinced expression. "Well, if you're not gonna come, are you still gonna help me get enough food from the kitchens?"
Merlin stole a glance at Arthur, still deep in conversation with Leon. "Let's go now before he finds another chore for me. He's been on a kick this week, dunno why."
In that moment, Gwaine chose not to think about the task he'd laid out for himself, or the fact that he'd be undertaking it without the aid of his closest friend. He chose not to think about the stakes he'd placed on this journey and that he'd made others place on it as well. Instead he made a ridiculously overacted show of checking the area for spies before ushering Merlin from the room. There would be enough time for reflection come morning.