Author's Note: This was a challenge fic and was also supposed to be my first attempt at slash. I fell short of the second goal, but I rather like the way it turned out.
"Yea, yea, we're all going to die someday. If it's a death by a Saxon hand that frightens you, stay home."
You uttered this in your quiet, impassive way; the words lilted by the accent that even fifteen years away from your home cannot erase. You were unperturbed by Arthur's announcement, by the news that we weren't in fact free, that we had one more task to fulfill before receiving our release –the release we were promised that very night. And it was then that I began to realize that you were as different from the rest of us as we were from you.
Bors was the most obnoxious, his love for life always expressed with a particular zeal. Dagonet was silent like you, always stoic, but in his eyes you could catch a glimpse of his kind inner nature. Lancelot was exuberant, charming always, and Galahad much the same, but for his boyishness that even all those years of fighting couldn't taint. Myself … well, I shared many traits with the rest, but you, Tristan … I think, even on the day we first met fifteen years ago, you were an enigma. But those are reflections for another time…
We dispersed from the tavern that night, all with the exception of you angered and brooding because freedom long promised had been delayed. Earlier we had been celebrating; Galahad and I had taken our turns at throwing knives, and then you had done what you do so well –startled us. Your unerring aim never ceases to amaze me; the fact that you can hit the handle of someone else's knife dead center from across the room is astounding. Your calm, amused dismissal when I asked how you did it -"I aim for the middle" – was both aggravating and completely like you, but I think on it now, and wonder why you never elaborate beyond the few words you tend to speak, when you speak at all.
After the tavern I made my way to the stables. Galahad was furious, Dagonet was preparing for our next perilous mission, and Bors was most likely spending what could possibly be his last night alive with what he referred to affectionately as his eleven bastards. Lancelot had gone after Arthur, to argue with him, to plead with him. I didn't know where you had gone. My ambitions for the evening – to find a wench and indulge in debauchery- had been effectively dissipated by the fact that in the morning, we would ride north, far north, of Hadrian's Wall, deep into the lands of the Woads. It was with cold certainty I knew that of the seven of us, none may return. My weapons and my armor I kept in the stables, and I had planned to simply find a decent straw pile and lie awake for hours dreading what I could not avoid.
I entered the building, breathing deep the scent of horses and leather, and saw you immediately. You stood near the far door, your hawk perched on your arm, and you were speaking to it with the gentle quietness you always used. You saw me then, your eyes almost lost beneath the braids and free strands of your dark hair that constantly shadowed your face. You hadn't bothered disarming; indeed, it was almost as if you knew our time here wasn't done. I didn't say anything, but turned instead to leave, when you spoke to me.
I was curious, I'll admit; you weren't one for small talk. I turned slowly, hand on the door, and you launched your hawk in flight simply by swinging your arm. It soared through the loft doors, off to hunt in the night; it would return the moment it heard your whistle, I knew. You approached me then, in that long, predatory stride that is distinctive to you and you alone. Your long silence irritated me, and I asked, "What do you want?"
You didn't give me a straight answer, and I knew you wouldn't. You stopped an arms breadth from me, fixing me with your dark, expressionless eyes, and for one long moment we merely regarded each other.
"Above the Wall," you said finally, never one to mince words, "is a dead man's journey."
A slight smile then, at my peevish reply. One hand of yours rose to flick a stray braid that obscured your vision; I caught a clear glimpse then of the markings ever present upon your cheeks. I didn't know what they meant; I, like the others, assumed it meant something among the family you left behind in Sarmatia. Another silence fell between us then, awkward, and filled with an inexplicable tension. What you said next astounded me.
"When I die out there –burn me. Bring me back and cast me to the wind here, yea?"
And for a moment, I could only stare at you wordlessly. When, you had said, not if. "Tristan," I said, "We'll make it back."
Another silence; your eyes were beginning to unnerve me. I don't think you'd ever held a conversation that long with another human being. Finally you spoke again, your tone softer than normal, more grim than usually it was.
"You'll promise, Gawain?"
And in those three words I caught a glimpse of the man behind the tattoos, behind the lust for the kill, behind the scout who was quite arguably the deadliest of us all. I saw then beneath the seeming carelessness for the workings of the world a man who wanted, as did we all, to be remembered, to be cherished in however an obscure manner. And I wanted to remind you then that we were brothers, the six of us and Arthur, and that we cared as deeply for each other as we did life itself.
"Tristan," I said, but you shook your head with that vague hint of a smile.
"Your word," You prompted.
"You have it."
And then you nodded, and as you stepped past me brusquely, you did something I can never recall you doing to anyone.
You gripped my shoulder tight and held it for a long moment. I turned my head to meet again your eyes, and time suspended itself then. When it snapped back into place, you let fall your hand and left me standing there, bemused and a little saddened. The brief reflection I had caught of who you could and might have been had our fates been different gave rise to new speculations about the enigmatic knight that I only then realized I hardly knew at all.