“Did one of them steal the other's woman?” Lancelot asked, predictably assuming that the trouble was to do with a bit of skirt.
“When was the last time you saw either of them with a woman?” Dagonet scoffed, rolling his eyes.
“Galahad had that tavern omega what told Lancelot to fuck off a couple of moons back,” Bors informed them, sniggering.
Gawain raised a brow at that one; even he hadn't been aware Galahad had made a conquest.
“Little shit,” Lancelot said, an expression halfway between irritation and pride on his face.
“Long time though, two moons, and fuck knows how long since Tristan got his end away,” Bors continued. “Fucking celibate alpha, it ain’t right. Could be the pair of ‘em just need a bit of a rut, cheer them up a bit.”
The assembled knights turned their attention to the pair in question, currently engaged in a heated argument over Tristan's bird and its propensity to land on Galahad's head during target practice.
Not that such an argument was unusual between the two, but two things had changed recently:
First, rather than Galahad losing his temper every couple of weeks, it was now happening on a daily basis, and always with Tristan.
And second, Tristan had abandoned his usual Galahad-wrangling technique of meditative silence seasoned with the occasional barbed remark. Instead, he couldn’t seem to resist butting heads with the obstinate beta, even raising his voice for the first time any of the knights had ever known.
Case in point:
“Lay one hand on Isolde, pup, and I will hang you by your own bowstrings.” Tristan was looming over Galahad, closer than was strictly proper.
“I don't need my hands. Next time she distracts me she'll be getting my dagger,” Galahad snarled up at him, lifting his face towards Tristan until their noses nearly brushed. It would be almost indecent, Gawain thought, in a different context. Galahad was lucky that his beta senses wouldn’t be too bothered by the pheromones Tristan had to be giving out while posturing like that.
Something really had to be done, the knights agreed. And an idea of just what that something might be was forming in Gawain's mind…
“Whoops, look out boys, time to separate them again,” Bors chortled, rising from his seat and moving in the direction of Tristan, who now had the beta in a headlock.
The subsequent wrestling match knocked Gawain's clever idea out of his head until much later, when Tristan and Galahad had stormed off in opposite directions and the rest of the knights had made the sensible decision to get well and truly rat-arsed.
Leaning against Dagonet, whose gigantic, solid frame made an excellent cushion, Gawain blearily remembered his amazing plan.
“Dag?” he said, prodding at the man next to him, who just rumbled in response. “Dag!” he repeated, louder, and with more extensive prodding, which earned him an elbow to the gut. Undeterred, Gawain decided his friend was awake enough to hear the genius of his idea.
“You know Tristan and… the little one, looks like an angry kitten?”
“Yeah, him. I don't think we can get them to fuck, right, but what about…” He held up a finger, intending to prod Dagonet again but found his way impeded by the massive hand that grabbed his.
“Right, no poking,” Gawain slurred. “But! What if instead of poking, we make them fight instead. Proper fight, none of this pansy arguing, good old fashioned man on man action.”
“Heard worse plans,” Dagonet muttered, already sliding into sleep.
“Could take bets too: angry kitten beta or silent but deadly alpha?” Gawain continued, fighting sleep to continue his scheming.
“Put me down for ten on the kitten and shut the fuck up, would you, there's people sleeping in this pub!” Bors roared from somewhere under a table.
Gawain nodded to himself as he decided sleep sounded like a very good idea and cuddled up to Dagonet's bicep. Tomorrow though, tomorrow training was going to be a little different…
In fact it wasn't for three days that Gawain was able to put his plan in action. The first day everybody was entirely too hungover to do such a crazy thing as training. And the second and third, Arthur had them taking care of a particularly persistent bunch of Woads who couldn't seem to take the hint that they were tragically outnumbered and required proof in person.
That was ok though, it just gave him time to increase the number of bets he had taken.
It was surprisingly balanced, given that most people still tended to assume alphas were always stronger fighters than betas. Tristan was winning, yes, but by far less than Gawain had imagined. Though, truth be told, he'd have bet on Galahad too, if only on the basis that while they were pretty evenly matched fighters, Galahad was by far the most stubborn.
Of course, given that the other way Gawain had spent his extra days was to wind the pair of them up at every opportunity, he was certain they were going to get a good show, regardless of who ended up the winner.
On the fourth morning, all the knights - even Bors - turned up early and split into pairs, leaving Tristan and Galahad only each other to train with. Gawain was fairly certain there'd be objections, but none were forthcoming, both knights unexpectedly keen to spar with each other, picking up their blades and heading to the - conspicuously empty - ring without a word between them. They didn't even notice the other knights drifting away from their own practice towards the clanging of steel until they had already worked up a sweat, by which time they were surrounded.
“What are you all so bloody interested in?” Galahad shouted at the throng, finally tearing his attention away from Tristan long enough to glare at them (and receiving a swat on the backside from Tristan’s sword for breaking concentration).
“You two!” Bors roared back.
“And what, pray tell, is so interesting about us all of a sudden? Have you all suddenly realised that we are the better swordsmen and have come to observe in hopes of learning from us?” Galahad turned to grin at Tristan, then seemed to catch himself and scowled instead. Tristan, for his part, remained stoic and watchful. Possibly, Gawain considered, his face was not capable of expressing actual emotion.
“We are looking in case we can ascertain the reason you two have been a pain in our collective backside for weeks now,” Lancelot told him, mildly.
“Shouting bloody murder at each other every night when good folks are trying to have a quiet drink,” Bors grumbled.
“I’m not certain why it is any business of yours how he and I are with each other,” Tristan cut in, stepping in front of Galahad a little and crossing his arms.
“Because we live with you too,” Dagonet said quietly, “and fight with you, more importantly. Tension between you off the battlefield could be fatal if allowed to bleed onto it.”
“So, what, you’re going to give us a lecture on knightly behaviour?” Galahad said, outraged at the idea.
“Don’t be stupid,” Bors grinned, “where’s the fun in that? You boys are just gonna have a nice little scrap, swap some blows, get good and sweaty, work out all that tension.”
At this point Galahad’s cheeks turned from their typical training-induced flush to a furious crimson, and his mouth dropped open in preparation to reprimand his brother knights for their impropriety, when Tristan moved fully in front of him.
“Who is in charge of taking bets?” he asked, passing a searching gaze along the crowd and coming to a stop as his eyes met those of a somewhat sheepish looking Gawain.
“Just a few friendly wagers,” Gawain said weakly, wilting under Tristan’s steady gaze.
“Mhmm.” The noise Tristan made was entirely unimpressed and Gawain winced at it. “How many is ‘a few’?”
“Um… fifty… six?”
“That’s practically the whole fucking camp!” Galahad screeched, before Tristan reached a hand back to touch his arm, rendering Galahad suddenly, surprisingly quiet.
“And what is the split?” Tristan asked, his tone still low and even.
“It’s… uh…” Gawain’s eyes flicked towards Galahad and then back to Tristan. “Thirty for you, twenty-six for Galahad.”
“Flatteringly close,” Tristan surmised, to be met by a derisive snort by Galahad.
“Why? Because no mere beta could ever be expected to best a mighty alpha?” he spat. “I have beaten as many alphas in combat as you, what makes you think-”
“Flattering to both of us, pup,” Tristan interjected mildly, “to be held in such close regard by our friends.”
“Some friends,” Galahad muttered. “How are you so calm, shouldn’t you be jumping down their throats like you've been doing to me for weeks?”
“Ha, you admit it!” Gawain pointed a finger at them in triumph, before snatching it back as Tristan and Galahad glared at him.
“My calmness comes from curiosity,” Tristan said, turning back to Galahad. “It's true that we have been… short with each other of late. Perhaps a chance to settle scores might not be such a bad thing. And besides,” he added, raising an eyebrow and a minute smirk at his friend, “are you not curious to discover which of us is truly the more talented warrior?”
Galahad opened his mouth, closed it, and then allowed a smirk of his own, far wider than Tristan's, to slide across his face. “I suppose it would be foolish to refuse a chance to beat you into submission.”
Gawain would swear later he saw a hitch in Tristan's breathing at those words, a harder swallow than seemed necessary from Galahad. But just at that moment he was far too concerned with grabbing the opportunity to ensure he wouldn't be returning all the coin currently secreted in his riding pack.
“Foolish indeed, so let's not make fools of any of us,” he cried, jumping into the sparring ring and gently shoving Tristan and Galahad to each side of him. “Off you go and prepare yourselves, lads, while I introduce this fine group of men to what's sure to be an excellent morning's entertainment.” He received a pair of unimpressed looks for his trouble, but both knights moved to their respective sides and began checking their blades, while Gawain turned back to the crowd.
He tipped them all a wink, in his element now, and began the show.
“Gentlemen and gentlemen… and Bors-”
“Welcome to what promises to be the greatest show any of you have laid eyes on. To the south, the alpha of few words, the braided beast, he'll kill you as soon as look at you, if his birdy don't get you first… TRISTAN!” Gawain bellowed, to a general response of cheers and applause from the crowd.
“And to the north,” he gestured to Galahad, who looked like he might run Gawain through as a warm up, “he might be pure but he’s not innocent, the pup whose bite is as bad as his bark, he’s a better beta than you or anybody… GALAHAD!” Gawain raised his arms in triumph as the crowd bayed for their favourites, and then ducked out of the way as Galahad’s sword very nearly took his head off.
For some reason this seemed to enrage Tristan, who stalked forward and struck Galahad’s blade away from Gawain with his own. “Must you be always looking elsewhere, pup?” he growled, an intensity to it far too strong for a lighthearted brawl.
Galahad looked bewildered by the comment, and opened his mouth to respond, but Tristan moved in again, this time with a wicked looking stab of his sword and whatever Galahad might have said died in his throat. He threw himself back to safety, took a moment to right himself as Tristan advanced, and then flung himself forward with a yell. The fight was on.
Gawain scrambled up and out of the ring to take his place with his friends. He wasn’t worried about Galahad doing him any harm – he’d probably get a good punch later for tricking the pup, but they’d done worse to each other and come out with their friendship unscathed. So it was with a wide grin he settled in to watch the fight, and worth watching it was indeed. Tristan and Galahad were a close match, both possessed of preternatural reflexes from their scouting duties, and while neither was the best swordsman in Arthur’s army (despite Galahad’s protestations), their skills were still fine and deadly.
More than that, though, they seemed to complement each other, Tristan’s grace and precision a foil for Galahad’s speed and daring. The two of them spun and weaved together, blades working in smooth arcs, seeming almost to spark with the heat of their battle. Neither one could land a decisive blow, switching fluidly from attack to defence, a perfect balance keeping each other at bay, the joy of encountering an equal seeming to suffuse their movements.
“Oh shit, looks like it’s over.”
Tristan had finally succeeded in knocking Galahad’s sword to the ground, and Galahad along with it. Gawain stepped forward, ready to announce a winner, but instead of holding his sword to Galahad’s throat as expected, Tristan threw away his blade in turn and dropped to his knees above Galahad, the two of them immediately beginning to trade blows.
“Should we separate them?” Gawain took another step, looking back at the other knights who all shook their heads violently.
“Do you want to get in the middle of that?” Lancelot asked. “Nah, let them have it out properly, with their hands.”
The two knights were by now wrestling on the ground, kicking and snarling and… did Galahad just bite Tristan? Gawain was taken aback by his friend’s viciousness and was about to ignore Lancelot’s advice and go to pull the scrapping pair apart, when Galahad let out a wail that stopped him in his tracks.
That hadn’t sounded like a cry of pain.
Gawain took a closer look at the writhing bodies before him.
“Oh. Oh shit.”
Galahad's first thought on surfacing for air was, “What the fuck is happening right now?”
Well, no. His first thought was, “Where did Tristan learn to do that with his tongue and how do I get him to keep doing it?” But it was definitely next after that.
He knew things between him and Tristan had been strange the last few weeks, with no real reason behind it. They'd never exactly seen eye to eye - Tristan was arrogant, opinionated, and morally suspect after all. But he had his good sides: he never talked too much, could match anyone drink for drink and he was beautiful when he fought… um, his form was beautiful, that was.
But recently, every single thing Tristan did made Galahad's blood boil. And he always seemed to be right there, in Galahad's space, teasing him, touching him in ways that Galahad had only dreamed of…
Ahem. Ok, it might have been possible that Galahad had a little crush on Tristan. But he had it under control. He did.
Except for the part where he was writhing underneath Tristan's warm, solid body, as his fellow scout sucked kisses into his throat. And when Tristan's teeth grazed the join between neck and shoulder, Tristan couldn't help himself, it just slipped out.
Tristan reared back at that and gazed down at Galahad with fire in his eyes.
“Yesssssss,” Galahad hissed, content to let Tristan lean back down to capture his mouth, rutting lazily against each other. Until, that is, Tristan nipped at his bottom lip with sharp, alpha fangs and Galahad could barely keep himself from begging to be claimed.
“Wait, hold on, this isn't right,” he grunted, shoving at Tristan. Who, to his credit and with visible effort, tore himself away from Galahad's mouth.
“Pup?” he asked, looking concerned and, god that was a good look on him, flushed cheeks and soft eyes and swollen lips that Galahad just wanted back on him…
“Fuck, what is this? I'm a beta, I've always been a beta, why am I…”
Galahad was cut off as Tristan leaned in to scent him. “You are no beta, pup,” he growled against Galahad's ear and Galahad bucked his hips, unable to stop himself.
“I'm not, not, can't be,” he breathed between kisses at Tristan's jaw, his beard unexpectedly soft and wonderful. “Too old to present, this is… I'm not…”
“Late bloomer,” a voice interrupted Galahad's protestations. A voice that was decidedly not Tristan's.
Galahad raised his head, already mortified, to see that they were still being observed by their brother knights, all with varying expressions of amusement all over their faces. It was Bors who had spoken, and Galahad couldn't decide whether he wanted more to punch the smug grin off his face or ask him for an explanation.
Fortunately, Tristan decided for him. “By which you mean?” he asked, somehow managing to convey a murderous tone despite the civil question.
Even Bors was wise enough not to piss off an alpha protecting a potential mate, and held up his hands placatingly. “Keep your braids on Tris, I'm not making fun. Happens sometimes when kiddies are taken from their families. Especially ones who're put to fighting, bodies keep ‘em as betas. Vanora says it’s protection, so as they don’t go into heat round all them stinking alphas on the battlefield.”
“That’s absurd,” Galahad grunted from beneath Tristan, who was still caging him in protectively. “And even if it wasn’t, why now?”
“Erm…” Bors looked mildly sheepish and rubbed the back of his neck. “Dunno exactly, but the one Vanora was talking about, it was a territorial thing. Lad had a crush on this alpha, ‘cept the alpha was sniffing round some other girl; boy was half mad with jealousy then BANG, presents as an omega. Didn’t do the poor kid any favours, mind, alpha still didn’t want nothing to do with him. Sad little story, dunno why Vanora was telling me, she gets that mouth of hers moving, there ain’t no quiet sometimes. I told her-”
“Shut your own mouth, you big bear,” Gawain told Bors, elbowing him in the gut.
“That doesn’t work though,” Galahad shook his head, frustrated. “I haven’t been jealous of anyone, Tristan never goes with anyone…”
“Unlike some,” Tristan muttered.
Lancelot had been peering at Tristan while this exchange took place, and now cocked his head and asked, “When did you say Galahad had that omega, Bors?”
Still wheezing from Gawain’s blow, Bors choked out, “Two moons ago.”
Lancelot nodded, his thoughtful look gaining the edge of a smirk. “And when did these two start trying to kill each other?”
“About two moons… oh.”
The entire group turned to look at Tristan, who was doing something none of them had seen him do before: blushing.
“Guess it works the other way too,” Bors croaked.
Beneath him, Galahad sat up a little – manfully ignoring the slick that sluiced down the inside of his thighs – and gently pushed Tristan back until he was sitting on his haunches. The distressed noise that Tristan made in response, a low whine drawn from the depths of his throat, caused a strange ache within Galahad, and a desperate urge to draw the alpha back to him and cling on. He ignored this too, though, and tried to hold on to the anger that had flared through him at Lancelot’s insinuation.
“Do you have something you want to tell me?” he hissed, causing Tristan to wince and draw in on himself. Galahad was having none of that and, for reasons he wouldn’t be able to explain later, sat up fully and grabbed Tristan by the braids, pulling his face close again. “Talk, alpha.”
The word seemed to hit Tristan like a physical blow and he drew in a gasp of breath before speaking. “It was not my intent, pup. I wasn’t even aware-”
“That you were wandering around pumping out hormones like some territorial asshole? What fucking business is it of yours who I’m with?”
“None, Galahad, I know-”
“Why would you even care? What’s it to you if I sleep with someone?”
“And anyway, I’ve been with people before, I wasn’t some untouched virgin! What’s different now?”
“Bloody hell, Gal, shut up and let the man speak!” Gawain burst out, receiving a murderous look from Galahad, who nonetheless chose to keep his mouth shut… for the moment.
“It was… not conscious, entirely, on my part,” Tristan began, not quite meeting Galahad’s eyes. “I saw you with that omega and… ached. Not a new feeling, pup, but never before with such intensity. It was as if the world had shifted and everything was wrong. Especially you. Especially me.”
“You… ached? Since when? Since when did you decide I was anything you wanted?” Galahad was still yelling but he couldn’t quite hide the edge to his voice now, hurt and vulnerable.
Tristan hesitated, then drew himself as straight as he could. “Since the day Arthur recruited you, though we were nothing but boys then. And every day since, without exception or alteration.”
Galahad stared at him, wordless. Then, abruptly, he let go of Tristan’s hair and flopped back down against the ground. “Well fuck me, I thought I was the only one.”
This time it was Tristan who hauled Galahad towards him, a frantic look on his face. “What do you mean by that, pup?”
Galahad just laughed merrily at him. “You idiot,” he said, and then kissed him, hard. And pulled on the braids again, for good measure.
A cheer went up behind them, and Galahad managed the feat of rolling his eyes while slipping his tongue into Tristan’s mouth. It was a little amazing how well they fit together, none of the awkwardness of a first kiss, just mouths and hands moving in perfect sync, the same feeling as when they sparred, only softened and diffused, a sunrise instead of harsh midday light.
Finally, somehow, Tristan managed to pull away and stare at Galahad in wonder. “Truly, Galahad?”
He grinned, he couldn’t help it. “For years and bloody years, Tristan.”
Tristan ducked his head a little, contemplating that. “We have both been… short-sighted.”
“If by that you mean oblivious idiots, then yeah.”
They proceeded to grin at each other just like said idiots, as an argument erupted around them at Lancelot claiming he’d known they were sweet on each other the whole time.
“How the fuck did you know anything?”
“When one is as well-versed in the art of romance as myself, one picks up on… THAT HURT, BORS!”
“Not as much as listening to your pretentious fucking nonsense it didn’t!”
In fact, they were so busy arguing, they failed to see the way Galahad was looking at Tristan, first at his neck and then into his eyes. They missed the minute nod Tristan gave in response, and the way he tilted his head to expose his throat. And they definitely didn’t notice the way Galahad’s pupils expanded, and the soft growl he let out before sinking his fangs into Tristan’s bonding gland.
Apparently, while Galahad was gently licking the blood from Tristan’s skin and feeling him grow hard against his thigh, somebody in the crowd had finally cottoned on to what was happening.
“Did they just?”
“They definitely did.”
“Bonded! The fuck are we going to do with them now?”
“Get them to the nearest room that can safely be barricaded?”
“Are you kidding? They bonded, you idiot – Tris is about to go into the most powerful rut of his life and the pup’s heat will follow!”
“So they’re not going to let anyone touch them without blood being shed! Whatever’s going to happen-”
“Lot of sex, that’s what’s going to happen.”
“-is going to happen right here.”
“Oh. Fuck. But we can’t just… leave them here? Can we?”
“Obviously not. What if a kid wandered past? Poor thing’d been traumatised for life.”
“So we… what are we doing?”
Galahad was faintly aware of this fevered discussion going on around him, enough to understand that it had something to do with him and Tristan, but it was increasingly hard to follow with Tristan once again pressing kisses against his skin and fumbling alternately with his clothing and Galahad’s. Galahad was pretty certain he should be helping with that, but a sort of pleasant haze had been building inside him since he bit into Tristan and he was feeling entirely too languid and blissful to do anything about it.
That soon changed, though, once Tristan gave up on getting them naked and simply rucked up Galahad’s pteruges, ripped off his undergarments, and slid down to lap hotly at his increasingly slick opening.
“Alpha…” Galahad whined, bucking up at this new and intoxicating sensation. His contentment quickly transformed into desperate need, as Tristan’s tongue nestled against him, soon joined by two fingers, his slick easing the way.
At some point a completely mortified Gawain leaned in next to them and muttered something about setting up a ring around them to ward off any prospective voyeurs, at least until they’d got a couple of decent knottings under their belts. He barely escaped with his life, between Tristan grabbing for his throat and Galahad trying to break both of his arms, and retreated along with the rest of the knights to a reasonably safe distance, just as Tristan flipped Galahad onto his knees, content with his preparations.
Just as Galahad felt Tristan slide into him, wonderfully solid and warm, his knot already expanding, he heard Bors exclaim with a laugh, “See, told you all they needed was a good rutting!”
And, as Galahad felt his new mate begin to give him just that, he found he had absolutely no reason to disagree.