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The thwip thwip thwip noise reached Arthur’s ears before he saw Lancelot.

"I feel like - huff - Rocky Balboa."

Arthur cocked his head as he sat tiredly on one of the benches that surrounded the station’s basement workout room and crossed his arms over his chest. God, he was exhausted. Major case squad owed him one for sure. Detective Lockley was probably still gushing her thanks to Cragen.  Or not, as she was one of the most placid and quiet people Arthur had ever met.

Lancelot, sweat flying from his forehead, his feet almost a blur, swung the simple hemp jump rope through the air in fast arcs around his body. Arthur couldn’t help but notice the other man was as adept at this easy task as he was at dancing or walking or fu-

“You in there?”

Arthur shook his head and wiped at his eyes. “Sorry. Long day. What about rocks?”

Lance snorted and kept on with the thwiping. His voice was slightly breathy sounding – but that was the only thing that betrayed he was doing something physically taxing. Arthur watched, and allowed his mind and body to relax as the rhythmic motions of the other man lulled him into a sense of torpor.

“I was - heh - saying, I felt like uhhh Rocky Balboa. You - uhhh - have to remember those movies.”

Arthur thought Lance looked more like a boxer than Stallone ever did – but didn’t comment.  "I'm not that old, thanks.  But yeah, I do."  He wiped his face and scrubbed at his eyes.  Jesus, he was tired.  But watching the other man work out, the rhythm and skill and beauty of it was like watching Lance do anything, really.  Yoga, simple movement, stretching, smiling.  Just being.  He snorted and leaned against the wall, sweat drying from his back onto his shirt.  "You got the eye of the tiger?"  He crossed his arms and shook his head; that was a damn old film.  His fault Lance knew anything about it.  He probably wouldn't remember what Arthur was talking about.

thwip thwip thw- thunk

Turning to face Arthur, Lance’s eyes were wide and his mouth was slightly askew, as if he had a thought to share but couldn’t quite voice it. The jump rope had stilled in his hands, and his hypnotic movements had stopped abruptly. Arthur could hear his breathing in the sudden tranquility of the room.  He turned toward Arthur and pulled a dead serious face.  "Dude, I'm willing to challenge any rivals, any time." 

Then Lance’s face crinkled, and he snorted as the laughter poured out of him, the sound light and burbling and rare. Arthur’s own craggy features wrinkled as well, the lines at the sides of his eyes deepening with the chuckle.  They both gurgled for a bit, and then Lance, regaining his faculties, managed to walk over to where Arthur sat on the bench, and joined him. He slung the rope around his shoulders, and lay his hand on Arthur’s thigh – only briefly.  "I just called you 'dude.'  And we are old, Arthur."  They smiled at each other – an unusual occurrence these days. After a moment, Arthur cleared his throat and they both stood, only somewhat awkwardly.

“See you at home?”

The question might have been routine, but Arthur’s voice was hesitant and worried. He didn’t meet Lance’s eyes until the other man touched his shoulder.

“Yes.”

That single word was a gift, and Arthur’s smile was bigger and more genuine than it had been in months.

*

Lance, after finishing packing his small duffle up, decided to take the train home, even though the walk might have done him some good. It wasn’t as though he hadn’t been getting enough exercise; far from it. Working out seemed to be all he was doing lately – if only to keep his mind and body busy. He and Arthur…well.  The train station was quiet and full of trash and breezes; it was a Friday, and though Lance knew where most of the kids were headed, he forced himself to not think of clubs and drinking and dancing and distractions that were no longer a part of his life. His life now consisted of working out of the Beverly Hills station, filing reports, shooting at things – he loved that part – and the ubiquitous exercise and weapons training.

It had been a while since he’d done anything else. It had also been a while since he and Arthur had just had a normal conversation that didn’t end up with either one of them walking away, or slammed doors or thrown dishes.

Arthur of course didn’t throw dishes – Lance figured the other man thought it undignified. Fuck that – if Lance was mad, he would happily destroy every piece of crockery he could get his hands on and smile brightly while doing it. No such thing as loss of dignity.

One kid bopped by, the sound of his phone loud enough that Lance could tell the boy was listening to EDM. He had to rub at his face, hard, to stop the thoughts of Perfect Circle and what a lovely time he might have if he were to go, just for an hour or so, and dance away some of the annoyance and upset and distress that seemed to fill his life lately. His stomach had been in knots for weeks – and for once, he hadn’t had Arthur there to tell his “troubles” to, or to smooth his large hand over Lancelot’s belly until the ache faded.

See you at home?

Yes.

Home?  Whose home?

He stood, and bounced from one foot to the other. Where in the fuck was the train?

I miss the drugs. I miss the blankness.

You always will, love. But – look. Here, inside here, is a person who can be good – who can succeed where your father failed you, Lance. I believe in you. I believe in your mind, and most of all, I believe in your heart. It is so much more powerful than you can possibly think. Please.

Do this. If not for me, then for you. I know you can.

I love you – I’ll love you for as long as I draw breath. I’ll be there to help you through it. I promise. You can do this – and I will help you.

“Unless I do something that you don't think is good enough,” Lance spoke under his breath. His long fingers rose to his face again, and scrubbed over his stubbled cheeks and large nose. He closed his eyes for a moment, and allowed the burn of disappointment to scald him. Arthur would never get it; he was too good at this. He had been born for this type of life – to be the guiding force for someone other than himself. He was a natural leader, a strong personality, and an idiot of the highest caliber to believe that something could be created from the ashes of the nothing that was Lancelot’s past.

“Never escape,” he murmured, swaying with the new wind that came roaring down the tracks along with the train.

*

Arthur sat on the couch; he’d taken off his work clothing and had slipped into some old pajama bottoms. The only illumination came from the Starry Night night light that Lancelot had bought years ago as a joke. The blinds that normally covered the picture windows were drawn back, and the sparkling, dirty LA sky filled his eyes and what he could see to the horizon.

See you at home?

Yes.

Arthur’s home? Or theirs? Had it ever truly been a place of refuge for both of them, or was it filled with too much strife and bad memories to ever be truly ‘home?’  Arthur laughed softly at his dramatic thinking. Lance would surely make fun of him for that – he never had let Arthur get away with being a ‘drama queen’ – Lance’s words – or to get away with being overly serious or thoughtful.

Except for when it mattered – and lately – it had seemed to matter so much, but things just weren’t going the way Arthur had planned. And God, but didn’t he hate it when things didn’t follow the design that he imagined.

He had thought once Lance had achieved graduate status and had begun real police work that things would smooth out. That the other man would calm down, settle into a routine, begin to enjoy a life of doing good and living out his true potential. Arthur saw so much possibility in Lance. He always had – especially when the other man hadn’t been able to see anything but the coke in front of his nose and the latest music to hit Perfect Circle.  Even in university, Lance had shown flashes of brilliance, of a kindness so amazingly mind blowing to Arthur, that he knew he had been destined to know this man, and to enrich his own life by loving Lancelot. And yet – there were times, had been dark and hideously awful times, where Arthur was almost certain he’d receive a phone call that Lance was dead in the morgue, and there was nothing Arthur could have done about it.

Goose pimples rose on his bare arms, and, still staring at the dark night sky, he lay his head over to rest on the back of the couch, and allowed his mind to wander that minefield of uncertainty and fragility that had the name Lancelot Benoit. Every bad possibility, every horror and thought and sick fantasy of failure that surrounded Lance flooded Arthur’s mind, and he let them.

He managed to keep most of them at bay now that Lance was working in his precinct – but in light of the way things had been recently, the worries and what ifs that had plagued him for as long as he’d known and loved Lance rose up, roaring for attention and possibility.

He made an uncontrollable sound once - Lancelot’s dark, dark eyes filled with blood and sightless – and shut his own lids, hoping against hope the other man would actually do what he said, and come home.

Home was together. Arthur gripped hard at his arms, and repeated that mantra over and over again.

*

Lance stood at the door, the porch light on (of course), and hesitated, juggling his duffle and his key.

See you at home?

“Yes,” he whispered, and resolutely, put the key in the lock and turned it.

The loft was dark, except for the telltale signs of the Van Gogh plug in thing in the living room. Despite himself, Lance smiled and dropped his bag by the phone niche. He kicked off his tennis shoes, and padded softly into the main part of the house, searching for Arthur’s dark hair in the gloom. He picked the other man’s silhouette out on the couch, and for a moment, stood at the back of the furniture, contemplating his decisions of recent months.

When Arthur didn’t speak to him, Lance tilted his head, and despite his initial idea as to what he was going to do when he got home, allowed his feet to carry him to where Arthur was sat.

Lance stopped and just looked at the other man for a moment.

Arthur was sleeping, if fitfully – although that wasn’t new. His face was creased in a frown, and his head rested precariously on his arm where it lay on the back of the couch. He was dressed in old flannel pajama bottoms, the shape of his stomach and chest visible in the darkness. Not that Lance needed to see Arthur’s form – he had it memorized and mapped with his fingers.

His hands curled into fists as he watched Arthur sleep, the desire to touch and reaffirm that memorization almost too strong to fight.

But he did – and he sat on the coffee table, clenching his fingers together so he wouldn’t reach out and smooth the lines from Arthur’s forehead. He and Arthur – Lance paused in his thoughts. Funny – he realized – it was never just ‘Lance’ or ‘Arthur’ anymore. It hadn’t been for a long time. It was ‘Lance and Arthur,’ or ‘he and I,’ or ‘Arthur and I.’ Then again, Lance was deluding himself if he thought he’d been just ‘Lance’ for many years. Even when he had been alone, alone in that giant chair Roland had bequeathed to him, he hadn’t been just ‘Lance.’

He reached out and hovered his right hand over one of Arthur’s. He rolled his lips inward, and moved to cross the final few inches and just touch, but Arthur’s frown deepened, and he opened his mouth in his sleep.

“Lance.”

Surprised, Lance removed his hand jerkily and knelt next to where Arthur lay. His eyes narrowed – his hand reached out again, and yet he couldn’t quite do it –

Arthur made a weird, choked off sound that sounded like he was having a nightmare.  As Lance watched, he twisted a bit on the couch, his face crunching in what Lance thought of as terror, but before Lance could move, Arthur's face had changed again, and the sound came, repeated but much more pathetic this time.

Despite his anger at Arthur, despite his loneliness and confusion and all the damned work he’d put into this job for Arthur, Lance’s expression changed from one of frustration and bewilderment to sorrow. His hand lingered over Arthur’s, hesitating, breath held, waiting. There was something…he waited, took a short, shallow breath, waited more.

“Lancelot."

The name sounded sobbed, and still he hesitated. Arthur’s face crumpled once more and the fingers on both hands flexed.

“Come home.  Please.”

Oh, Christ.

Lance’s fingers gripped at Arthur’s hand, no hesitation, no waiting, no worry, no anxiousness or residual anger at this man who cried out for him in his sleep. Lance laid his head on their joined hands, and pressed shaking lips to Arthur’s wrist.

“I’m here. I’m home, Arthur.”

“Lance?”

Lance raised his head, and met Arthur’s bewildered gaze. Despite his confusion, though, Arthur did not drop Lance’s hands. In fact, he tightened the grip. “How – when did you get here?”

Lance rubbed a thumb over and over again against Arthur’s pulse. He remained kneeling, and stared into Arthur’s sleep addled face. “Just a bit ago. I took the train – it was late.”

“I’m glad you’re ho – here,” Arthur said, his voice catching. Lance wondered if it was the sleep affecting him, but then noted the redness in Arthur’s eyes, and the way his grip was fierce and unbreakable on Lance’s fingers. “Was worried you wouldn’t – well, I just thought,” he said, a small flush staining his cheeks. “It’s been … rough, lately.”

Lance shook his head and smashed his lips together.  "You could say that, yeah,” he sighed, but decided he was too tired and too overwhelmed to continue that thought. He’d save it for when he was at the range, and his hands were filled with guns instead of the soft flesh he had a propensity for.

“Do you want to … maybe we should talk,” Arthur said, sitting up and reaching out one hand to snap on a light. Lance’s grip stayed his motion.

“No, Arthur."

Arthur made a sound, not one that Lance understood, but then shrugged, his face dark and clouded like the LA sky. “I just want,” he started again, and Lance let go of Arthur’s hands, shoved him so his back was pressed against one arm of the couch, and planted himself onto Arthur’s body. Arthur’s warm, large, strong, familiar, loving body.  Familiar as hate, familiar as love, familiar as them, after all.

A heated rush of air brushed past his ear; Arthur waited only a moment, and then his bare arms were about Lance’s middle and his mouth was buried in Lance’s hair. Lance didn’t say anything, holding still as Arthur kissed the side of his head, then his ear, then his cheek, his eyebrows, the tip of his nose, the corner of his lips.  Lance’s hands rose and finally did what they’d wanted to do since he’d caught sight of Arthur asleep, Lance’s name on Arthur’s tongue even in slumber. They mapped the old patterns over Arthur’s chest and shoulders, over his belly and thighs and at last, his face. Holding onto the other man’s heated skin, Lance met the green eyes of the man that held sway over him like nothing in this life or the next.

“I am home,” he said simply. “And it's not... it’s rough, and it's far from perfect. But…” he kissed Arthur quietly, his warm tongue parting the other man’s lips slowly, if only for a short glimpse of the simmering passion that was building. “It’s home.”  He lay their cheeks together, their breathing matching, their hearts slowing to march as one beat.

Lance wasn’t one to forget or to forgive; and yet – he and Arthur wouldn’t be he and Arthur without the burning fire of hate that mixed with their all consuming loyalty and love, either.

God damn him. God damn him to Hell for making Lance believe that he could maybe, just maybe, do this. That he could be that person that no one but Arthur could see.

“You’re home,” Arthur sighed, and Lancelot wasn’t sure if the other man meant that he was physically home, or that Lance himself was the home that Arthur spoke of.

“I am,” Lance agreed.

For now, or for as long as he’ll have me, or for as long as I can stand to see the belief and support shining from his damned eyes.

It would be hard to leave while Lance could still maybe think that this touch, this mind and heart – he touched Arthur’s chest with his fingers – mapping, mapping forever – could be enough to once and for all allow Lance to cast off that crumbly, crusty, dirty, nasty, old coat of armor.

He’d lied to himself before. He thought he could do it again, if he could only forget the warm skin under his hands, and the strongly pounding pulse that kept him alive as well.

~