Galahad watches the boy when he arrives at Camelot, slight and subtly strong, long threads of dark hair tucked behind the pale shells of his ears. What he remembers is the way he held himself straight and tall through it all, the way he never flinched or hesitated or backed down. What he'll never forget is Percival once it was over, once he was a knight, one of Arthur's knights, the way he breathed out and smiled, lips curving sweetly and eyes bright. The way he said, "Hello," and clasped Galahad's hand, firm but gentle, so unlike the way others would clap him hard on the back or tousle his hair with rough hands, and the way his thumb had brushed, soft and accidental, against the inside of his wrist when he pulled away.
"It's beautiful," Percival tells him, wiping the sweat from his brow with his forearm and bending towards the stream, catching the quick-flowing water in his cupped hands and tipping it into his mouth. "Like here but wilder somehow. It's." He straightens, trailing off and slanting a glance upwards along the hill to where the other knights are taking their turn at drills.
His lips curve in an unconscious smile.
Galahad follows his gaze.
"They're so like the knights I saw, back home," says Percival, his smile all the brighter in the sunshine. "The reason I came to Camelot. Everything here is."
"I always knew I would be a knight," says Galahad. "There was nothing else for me to be."
"Not even." Percival tilts his head. "Not even a man of God?"
"I am a man of God." Galahad shrugs. "We all are. I am also a knight."
Percival looks at him, shrewd and interested.
Galahad sees the green of summer reflected in his irises and thinks of his own eyes, grey like his father's, reflecting the stormclouds even when they aren't there.
The night watch atop the battlements, Galahad has always thought, is a particularly lovely, peaceful time. The quiet of the sleeping Camelot, the soft tap of passing feet and clinking mail, the glowing curve of torches mapping out the shape of the castle. A good time to pray. He stands at his post, hands curled over the stone, eyes sharp and fixed on the motionless, empty terrain below. "Pater noster, qui es in caelis," he whispers, tipping his face up to the sky. "Sanctificetur nomen tuum." He keeps his eyes open, turned away from the ground only for a second. He is a knight, not a priest, and God listens to every whispered, lonely word, regardless of how or wherefore it comes. "Adveniat regnum tuum. Fiat voluntas tua." He pauses at the sound of someone passing behind him. The movement stops, though, and he sees the faintest glimmer of metal in the muted light from the torches. Galahad wets his lips and carries on. "Sicut in caelo et in terra."
He continues, voice barely above a breath, standing still enough to feel his heartbeat, slow and steady, and the way it speeds up, like the flutter of wings against his ribcage, when Percival's soft whisper joins his own in finishing, "In nomine Patris, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen."
Galahad loves training in the summer. The grass is green and fragrant beneath their shifting feet, the sun bright and drenching them in warmth, the stream cold on their heated skin when they clean off afterwards. He takes his time on the last, closing his eyes against the almost blinding shimmer of the water and scrubbing his hands viciously through his hair. Someone splashes in after him and when Galahad opens his eyes he sees Percival, stripped to his breeches and kneeling in the shallows. He grins at Galahad and slaps a small wave of water into his eyes. Galahad blinks.
"It's too bright a day for such a serious countenance," says Percival, moving his knees out from beneath himself and falling backwards to float on his back.
Galahad stares. Percival is still thin, boy-like, his bones shadowing his skin, and he's smiling even with his eyes closed, soft and contented.
He feels Percival's gaze on him during mass. He knows it's Percival because he'd caught Galahad's eye outside and hasn't looked away since. He doesn't know why, but it's disconcerting and it succeeds in making him uncomfortable like nothing else usually can. Galahad keeps his head bowed, eyes closed, listening to the priest and the soft murmured replies of Arthur and the rest of his knights. His knees hurt, bearing his weight against the cold stone floor. When the Eucharist comes Galahad swallows the wine and crosses himself, and it feels almost like an apology, as he glances over at Percival, at the way his neck shifts when he drinks.
He stays behind afterwards, out of sight, kneeling in the too-long grass behind the chapel and clutching at the tiny wooden crucifix he keeps tucked close to his heart, a childhood keepsake. "Domine Iesu Christe, Fili Dei, miserere mei, peccatoris," he breathes, and breathes, and repeats. It helps, the soft litany, the sharp scent of the grass and the cool, overcast day. When he climbs to his feet, cold and unsteady, he doesn't know how much time has passed but he feels clearer, cleaner.
"The greatest knight in the world," says Percival softly over supper. "Is it not difficult?"
"It's the only thing I know how to do," says Galahad.
Percival tilts his head. "You know how to pray."
Galahad looks down at his food. His lip stings beneath the pressure of his teeth. "Everyone knows how to pray," he says. "This is what God has chosen me to be, and this is what I am." He doesn't mean for the words to come out quite as defensive as they do.
Percival watches him silently, fingers curled loose and absent around the base of his goblet. "I like you, Galahad," he says finally.
This is Galahad: the greatest knight in the world, young, pious, chaste. His father is a legend, Lancelot, and his own future is just as great, perhaps greater. He knows what he must do, and who he must be to do it. It is an endless struggle, and he cannot, cannot, falter.
It's after the sun has set on a long, tiring day of hunting, and Galahad finds himself immersed in the muted, flickering glow of the fire and the strange, moving shadows it casts across the grass, his thoughts tapering to a quiet hum. Until a booming voice shouts, "Percival," followed by what sounds like the clap of a hand against a leather tunic. Galahad looks up, squinting, his vision spotted from the too-bright light of the fire. He can't quite place the voice even as it continues, "Tell us, there must be some pretty young girl you've been, ah, spending time with." He finishes with a truly lewd inflection, and Galahad feels a stab of something painful, wrenching in his gut. He sees Percival, his dark hair still damp from the stream they’d all bathed in, his cheeks flushed from the warmth of the fire. A sudden image flashes before his eyes, Percival with similarly damp hair and flushed cheeks, his lips red and swollen and pressed to the straining white neck of some faceless girl.
"I," says Percival. "There isn't. Not really." He shrugs, looking down into his lap.
Galahad watches him, not listening as the conversation turns elsewhere, eyes trained on Percival and the dark shadows cast in the hollowed-out planes of his face.
He finds Percival a little later sitting some distance away from the fire with his knees pulled to his chest and his head tipped back against the trunk of a tree. There's just enough light for Galahad to see the glint of his eyes when he opens them and smiles a small smile of acknowledgement. "I'm sorry," he says as Galahad settles beside him. "They’ve been drinking."
Galahad shakes his head. "It's just talk," he says. "They can, away from Camelot."
"I know," says Percival. He sighs and adds, "I don't mind. But I don't much like it, either."
"No," says Galahad, a smile tugging at his lips. "Nor do I."
They're silent for a moment, breathing in the scent of broken grass and smoke, eyes closed, and listening to the muted voices of those still awake around the fire. Galahad can feel the minute shift of Percival's arm against his own every time he breathes. "I haven't," says Percival finally.
"Hmm?" Galahad rolls his head against the tree, slitting his eyes open. Percival's are still shut, his face turned placidly towards the thick darkness between the trees.
"With a woman," says Percival. "I haven't."
"Oh," says Galahad. His eyes sting like he's been sitting too close to the fire, fixed on Percival's neck as it slopes into his collarbones, his elbows bent and curled loose around his knees. He looks down at his hands. They're shaking.
Galahad prays. Late at night when everyone's sleeping, huddled under their skins, never too far from the fire. He kneels and bows his head. "De profundis clamavi ad te, Domine," he whispers, glancing through his lashes at Percival's still form. He pauses for a long minute, watching the gentle rise and fall of Percival's chest, his fingers splayed, pale and thin, across his stomach. "Help me," he breathes, turning his eyes back onto the ground.
He spends a full day kneeling inside the empty chapel at Camelot, praying. "Domine Iesu Christe, Fili Dei, miserere mei, peccatoris," he says, over and over, opening his eyes and searching the shadows for the answers his mind won't give. "Domine Iesu Christe, Fili Dei, miserere mei, peccatoris." He thumbs the crude chiselled angles of his crucifix and breathes deep, in and out, in and out, the damp air of the chapel cool against his heated skin. When he leaves for his night watch his knees ache and his mind is blessedly numb, but there's a swooping vertigo somewhere deep and unreachable in his gut.
Percival comes to relieve him for watch-duty at dawn, leaning beside him against the parapet and smiling. "Good morning," he says.
"Good morning," says Galahad. He stifles a yawn, blinking.
"Go on," says Percival, pressing his shoulder gently against Galahad's. "Get some sleep."
Galahad nods, yawning again. "Thank you," he says.
Percival nods. "You're welcome." He doesn't smile but his eyes are warm and focused on Galahad as he adds, "Sleep well."
Galahad watches Percival all through supper that evening, his eyes still heavy and creased with sleep. He can't seem to drag them away from Percival long enough to eat his own food; his fingers, light on everything he touches, and his neck, the ridges of his spine shifting each time he leans forward to speak. He leaves early, without finishing his meal, and lies sleepless in his bed all through the watches of the night.
It's another hunt, a smaller group of them this time, and Galahad, again, can't sleep. Percival finds him standing in the shadow of a tree, the light of the full moon over-bright and eerie. "Galahad," he says.
"I thought you were sleeping," says Galahad. He's perfectly still, caught in the space between over-contemplation and prayer.
"I was," says Percival. "You should be."
Galahad breathes out. "I can't."
"Then you should tell me why," says Percival softly.
Galahad stares fixedly at the shadows ahead of him, darkening as the moon slips behind a cloud. "It isn't," he says, worrying at his lip, "It isn't always easy. Doing right by God."
It's so quiet; Galahad can hear the breath Percival catches. "Galahad," he says, stepping closer, laying a hand on Galahad's arm above his elbow.
Galahad glances at him. Percival's tongue darts out to wet his lips and Galahad forces his gaze away, clenching his hand, knuckles white, around the hilt of his sword.
"Galahad," says Percival again, stepping closer still. Galahad can feel his breath, warm and damp, against the corner of his mouth, and all the things he wants to say.
"No," says Galahad. "No, we. We must sleep." He steps away, back towards the rest of their sleeping company, and closes his eyes at the sound of his name on Percival's lips, soft and tired and wanting.
Galahad supposes he should have expected the way Percival settles on his back beside him, arms crossed over his chest, eyes wide and fixed on the sky. When he speaks it's Galahad’s name again, warm and quiet as a breath of summer air, and he turns his head to meet his eyes, and lifts a hand. "Galahad," he whispers, the pads of his fingers ghosting over Galahad's cheek. "Galahad. You're beautiful."
Galahad swallows and holds Percival's gaze for one helpless, terrifying minute before he turns away. His heart aches. He glances up at the sky and wonders whether this is his temptation, or his punishment, or both.