Disclaimer: nothing you recognise belongs to me.

Pairing: Tristan/Lucy. I don't think that you have to have read "Faithless" to understand this (and I'm certainly not going to demand anyone goes and reads all 26 chapters of it lol), but the pairing comes from that story.

For chocolatejet Happy birthday sweetie!

The sun was a circle of red fire as it slowly slid behind the hills, casting bloody highlights on to the stark trees and giving a false glow to the frozen ground. Tristan noted the beauty of the scene as he noticed everything around him, but chilled and tired as he was, he took little solace in it. Three days riding in the bitter cold with little food and less sleep, had reduced him to functioning on instinct alone, the promise of home the one goal in his mind. Freya snatched at her bit and pranced a little, irritated that the bitter wind was sweeping through her tail and freezing her flanks, and Tristan murmured to his mount softly. He could not blame the mare for being fractious; she had been her usual reliable self throughout their fruitless hunting trip, but it was clear that she too was cold, hungry and eager for her stable.

Not long now, Tristan thought to himself. Hadrians wall snaked across the darkening hillside, a sight that would have looked malevolent were it not for the fact that nowadays it was a stone banner welcoming him home. Home. He smiled a little himself. Once home had been a barely remembered village, burnt to the ground when the Romans came for him. After that there had been no home, only rooms that he happened to stay in, villages, forts and towns that he looked at through a soldiers' eyes. There was no point in looking for beauty, for comfort - even the pillow that cushioned his head at night could be taken from him. The only thing that did not change was his sword and his skill. Land had it's own music if you took the time to listen for it, and on the rare occasions when the chain of Rome loosened and let him have some faint semblance of freedom, he roamed the forests and the hills and found a faint peace, if not a sense of belonging. But now…

Home was duty to a man he was honoured to serve, and did so of his own free will. Home was the company of his brothers, bound not by blood but bloodshed, united once in slavery and now by hope. But most of all home was Lucy. Lucy with her bright hair and brighter eyes, Lucy who still blushed when he watched her dress, but reached for him eagerly when he lay down beside her . Lucy who had saved his life and tied him to hers without giving him any choice in the matter, not that he had wanted one, he thought ruefully. Sometimes he still woke at night terrified that he had dreamt the past four months, only the rumpled, gently snoring form beside him steadying his heartbeat and calming him. Feeling the warmth of her memory and knowing that there was but half a mile to the fort, he nudged Freya's side with his heels and urged her into a loping canter. The mare seemed to sense his enthusiasm, or at least realise that it would not be long before she was fed, and picked up the pace a little, and it seemed only moments before they were trotting through the gateway in the wall and into the hustle and bustle of the courtyard.

Tristan nodded curtly to Bors who seemed to either be participating or trying to break up a fight with his three eldest sons, and shook his head at the stable boy who came forward to take his horse. He was tired and wanted nothing more than to eat briefly before falling into bed, preferably with Lucy beside him, but Freya was his responsibility and he was loathe to hand her over to someone else. Look after what is yours, was something that his mother had taught him as a child, and he remembered the lesson. His horse had served him well, and he would not risk her at the hands of a stable lad who might not rub her down properly or give her hay that was not completely fresh. Wincing as his frozen feet hit the cobblestones, he led the mare to her stable, stamping to get some feeling back into them and ignoring the small girl - nine or was it eleven?- who thought it a game and copied him noisily before being called away by Vanora.

The stables were, if not warm, then blessedly out of the wind, and unsaddling his horse, Tristan made a wisp out of a portion of fresh hay and rubbed Freya down until the sweat marks from her saddle were gone, and her coat shone. Above them Ysolde the hawk cocked her head, a twitching mouse trapped firmly in her beak, before flying off. She always seemed to make sure that he got home safely, Tristan thought with a smile, but like him, company was something she preferred to seek out rather than have foisted upon her. Tossing a rug over Freya, he signalled Darrin, one of the more senior stable lads, to feed his mount and headed towards his quarters. He had taken only a few steps before he stopped dead. At the far end of the stable block there was the unmistakable twitter of female voices, and one giggle in particular was unmistakable. Lucy?

Padding silently towards the hay bales that were stacked by the end of the passage, he slid into the shadows more out of habit than anything else. For a moment he almost laughed at himself - his Lucy and whichever silly chits that she had chosen to gossip with lay just out of sight; he was not tracking Saxons! The smile died on his face when he heard the next words.

"Isn't he just magnificent?" The female voice was soft with longing, and several other girls murmured agreement.

"Look at those muscles.." The wistful comment was made by a voice that was unmistakably, irrefutably, Lucy's, and Tristan swallowed hard at her next words. "Imagine the stamina he must have."

Mind whirling, stomach sliding slowly towards the cobblestones, Tristan leant his head against the cold stone wall. Three days… Three days and she had set her heart on another? The air was suddenly heavy in his lungs, his heart a sluggish dying thing in his chest. Part of him wanted to leap over the hay bales and strangle her, the rest of him march out into the courtyard and start a fight that he had no intention of surviving. You are a fool, he told himself bitterly. She is young and beautiful, why would she stay with a bitter scout who has more scars than coins, and never the graceful words that young girls long to hear? Above him, Ysolde settled with a shake of her feathers, the mouse long since devoured, and cocked a tawny head at him. Tristan gave her a twisted smile. He had been gone from his homeland too long, forgotten the lessons that had ended too soon. Nothing, be it animal or human was truly owned unless it was offered freedom and chose to stay. It was a thought that had comforted him when his back was raw from the lashes of a Roman whip, or paraded in front of noblemen and women who looked at him as some sort of tame savage. Ysolde was his - he had released her again and again, bade her leave and still she stayed. He had no illusions that he owned her ; she seemed to think him her responsibility, and in gratitude he only used the jesses when he felt he had to, and always left his window open.

But Lucy? What chance had he really given her to spread her wings? She was tied to him when he was wounded because she was kind and could not abide to watch suffering, she was now tied to him because he had saved her life and she was grateful, perhaps obligated to do so. Had she really been given a choice in her future? Was he her master rather than her lover? Suddenly sickened, Tristan slid down the wall, resting his aching forehead in his palms and welcoming the scratch of his sticky, sweaty, hair as it covered his eyes and shut the rest of the world out. If he truly loved Lucy then he would let her make her own choices, for if he did not then he was no better than the Romans who had tried to control him. With a deep breath and a heavy heart, he got to his feet and walked towards the hay bales. For a moment he stood motionless, confused at the sight before him. Four girls, two of whom he recognised as Vanora's daughters, formed an extremely wobbly human pyramid, with a dark haired stable girl atop their shoulders helping balance another blonde haired girl as they peered through a high window.

"Lucy, your foot is on my boob," Four groused, trying to slide the offending foot back onto her shoulder. "Anyway it's my turn."

"Is not," Lucy grumbled, turning her head. "You had much long…" Her eyes widened when she saw the figure behind her friend. "Tristan?" she whispered. With a squeal, she leapt off Four's shoulder, ignoring the outraged squeals as the other girls unbalanced and tumbled into an undignified heap.

"You're back, you're back," she chanted between kisses, wrapping her legs around his waist and hugging him tightly. "Oh, I've missed you."

More than a little taken aback, Tristan managed to keep his footing when a tornado of blonde hair and hot skin launched itself into his arms, his hands coming up instinctually to hold her hips steady. He didn't know what to think. If Lucy was pretending then she had certainly hidden her more than considerable acting talents from him, but looking at her shining eyes, he could not believe it to be so. One of the things that he most loved and despaired about her was her complete inability to hide whatever she was feeling.

"What were you looking at?" he said slowly. The smell, the feel of her was dizzying, but he forced such emotions down and nodded towards the window. "Who is he?"

Lucy looked a little surprised at the less than enthusiastic greeting, but shrugged.

"See for yourself. Arthur told us not to keep gazing at him 'cos it makes him nervous, but he won't mind if you're with me." Before Tristan could think of a suitable reply, or indeed make head or tail of her words, the little blonde girl was tugging him determinedly out of the stables and towards the field that lay just behind them. Finally stopping at the fence, she tucked their tangled hands against her belly, pulling him against her back and sighed wistfully.

"Isn't that the most beautiful thing that you've ever seen?"

Tristan followed her gaze and wasn't sure whether to laugh, bang his head against the wall, or beg Lucy's forgiveness for his lack of faith in her. In the field before them a magnificent black stallion pranced, eyes wide, nostrils flaring as it called a challenge to any other stallions in the vicinity and a welcome to the mares.

"Arthur just bought him," Lucy said, twisting so that she could look at Tristan. "He came all of the way from Rome, he's an Ando lose, they 're supposed to be the most beautiful horses in the world."

"Andalusian," Tristan muttered, watching the magnificent horse buck and gallop around the fence as though he expected it to wilt in the face of such majesty. He smiled and buried his face in the tangle of Lucy's hair. She smelt of the straw that was caught in the tresses, sweat and the sweetness that was utterly and irrevocably her. "But not the most beautiful thing that I've ever seen."

"No?" She wriggled in his grasp until they were face to face and kissed his cheek, her face open and alight with happiness. "And what would that be?"

"This." Bending his head, Tristan kissed her nose. "This," he brushed her cheek and would have continued had not Lucy pulled him into a deep and entirely unselfconscious kiss.

"You're freezing." With a mock shudder, Lucy pulled away. "Let's get you fed and warmed up."

"Lucy?" Catching her hand, Tristan studied her face. He felt as though he had died and been reborn in the past ten minutes, and he wasn't sure what he felt at the moment. "You know that you have no obligation to me, don't you?

She looked at him as though he were mad. "You must be cold. I saved your life remember, and I fought off Brigid's crazy follower all by myself." With a glance back to the stable, she amended, "well with Ysolde's help anyway. You. Owe. Me." the last few words were punctuated with a toss of her head and a steely glare. "I don't need you to protect me."

"You don't," Tristan said quietly, brushing his fingers over her flushed cheek. "I'm the one who needs you."

Lucy nodded, her indignation disappearing as soon as it had kindled. With a smile she kissed her scout's cheek gently, rubbing against the growth of stubble and carefully pushing back his tangle of braids. Sometimes Tristan reminded her of the stray dogs that hung around Vanora's tavern: eager yet wary of human touch, savage but desperate for a kind word. Tristan was dangerous; she had no illusions of that. He was taciturn, deadly if provoked and not one for pretty words or romantic gestures, but he was hers and she was his, and that was all there was to it.

"Of course you need me," she said softly. "Not many others would put up with you, and I'd kill them if they tried to take you away."

He saw the truth in her eyes and forgot the fact that he was cold and tired, forgot that a moment before his was ready to abandon her to some mythical happiness.

"I belong to you," he whispered.

"You do, and I belong to you," Lucy said matter of factly. "Best marry me quick though, before I come to my senses."

Tristan gave the closest thing that he had ever given to a laugh. "Lucy, will you…"

"Not now." She cut him off with a frown. "If you are going to do it then do it properly, not because I told you to.. Besides you are cold and probably hungry and tired - I don't want to be accused of forcing your hand."

Tristan rolled his eyes incredulously, but let her lead him to the tavern. She was right; this was not the proposal that he had envisaged a hundred times over, but it was a start, a promise, a proof that they belonged together. Together they walked towards the tavern, towards the warmth and their friends who unbeknownst to them had seen the love between them long before either of them had.

A/N : Lol, the story request was fluff, and I'm fairly sure that that's the fluffiest thing I've ever written. A couple of geek notes: "Andalusian" has different spellings apparently - I'm going with the Brit version. For those who don't know what an Andalusian is - they are Spanish horses with long manes and tails; muscular and very, very beautiful. (Arthur's stallion in the film was an Andalusian called "Bohemian" apparently). A "wisp" is a plaited or twisted piece of hay that is used as a sort of brush. It's good for the horses' muscles and helps give them a shiny coat. Feedback is much appreciated J :)