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The More Things Change

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Lancelot was the last one to be won over by Arthur. He resented the Roman, especially when he proved not to be completely useless on the training ground. What business had this spoiled, soft man - hardly more than a boy, maybe two years older than Lancelot's 18 years - all the way from a Rome, a fucking Christian, to play at being a leader? Lancelot and the other Sarmatians had been training and fighting for years, who was he to think that he had any right to order them about?

Only that day he had had the cheek of telling Dagonet and Bors to keep their armour clean - not everyone was trying to look like the hero of some epic ballad, and if it came to comparing them, Lancelot knew who he'd call a true man! The others just rolled their eyes when Lancelot started on his favourite rant and usually found somewhere else to be. Even Bors just grinned and went back to look for Vanora, who had just given birth to spawn four or five, Bors wasn't quite sure, the night before.

"Leave it be, Lancelot," Tristan grunted, peeling an apple with his knife and flicking the peel in Lancelot's general direction. "The man isn't half-bad, and you know it. Keeping your armour clean is only common sense, and you know it. Arthur doesn't tell us what to believe in, so why should we care that his god hangs from a cross? At least he knows strategy, like his father did, not like the idiot before him." Having said his piece, Tristan turned around without another word to follow Perceval, as he always did, leaving Lancelot to vent his frustration on an innocent tree trunk

"You're going to dint your sword," an all-too-familiar calm voice said from behind Lancelot, who whirled around and faced the source of all his troubles sword in hand. Arthur was leaning casually against the wall of the Sarmatian barracks, impeccably dressed as always, smiling at Lancelot as if they were friends, and Lancelot wanted nothing more than to punch him in his smug blue eyes.

Instead he scowled and jammed his sword back into its scabbard. "What do you care, as long as I get it straightened out before the next raid?"

Arthur seemed a bit surprised by the venom in Lancelot's voice, the way he always was when Lancelot could not avoid talking to him. But of course he did not raise his voice in return, weak Christian bastard that he was, stating simply, "Just that it's a waste of a perfectly good sword, nothing more." He looked around, saw that they were on their own, and added, sounding puzzled, "Why are you always so angry with me, Lancelot?"

Lancelot literally snarled, baring his teeth. He felt as if he wanted to burst out of his skin, anger as intense as anything he'd ever felt on the battlefield. "Are you kidding me? I know you're not stupid, you have all those precious books and went to school, all fancy and Roman! You come barging in here, thinking we're all just going to fall down at your feet and adore the ground you walk on, the way you worship that dead god of yours. You lead us in a couple of battles and think that makes you one of us? You'll never be one of us, never!"

He shoved Arthur, his blood boiling, and Arthur stumbled backwards and fell, giving Lancelot a rush of satisfaction. He stood over his foe and almost pulled his sword again to end this once and for all. It was only the realization that he would be flogged and then executed if he killed his commander, instead of just losing his position among the knights and ending up imprisoned, which was probably his fate now. Lancelot was not afraid to die, but he'd be damned if Arthur would be the cause of his death. So instead he just stood there, chest heaving, fists clenched by his sides, and stared at the man on the ground before him. Arthur was looking up at him with dark, unreadable eyes, making no move to get up or retaliate, and Lancelot wanted nothing more than to shake him, shake him until he got a reaction, any reaction.

"Are you a man or an old woman? How can you just... just sit there and take this? Is there blood in your veins or ice?" he spat out, unwilling to admit how much Arthur's non-reaction troubled him.

Arthur shrugged and answered so quietly Lancelot had to strain to hear: "Do you want me to hit you? To yell at you and defend myself? What good would that do, considering that you are absolutely right - I am not one of you. But, Lancelot, where you are wrong is in assuming that I want to be. What you and the other Sarmatians have gone through already, all that war and blood and loss, for a nation that is not your own, is unimaginable for me. Although I, too, am not completely Roman and know a bit of what it is like to be a boy far away from all you hold dear. All I want is to make sure that as many of you as possible will live long enough to get to go home, as I did. Even if home feels like a strange land sometimes..."

He paused, smiling a bit ruefully, and Lancelot realized that, without even noticing, he had sat down on the ground next to Arthur in order to listen. Despite seeing the evidence of it daily in Arthur's features, he had forgotten that Arthur was half-Briton, that his mother's people were of the same blood as the wild Woads the knights fought. Shaking his head, he could not quite suppress a smile of his own, the first one he had ever given Arthur. "You should have been a priest, Arthur, you preach better than most I've heard."

"I would be a lousy priest. I love God, true, and want to do his work, but priesthood requires a special sort of calling. Or madness. Also, I do not think I could stand the thought of not ever being with a woman again." To Lancelot's great surprise Arthur laughed out loud, his normally so serious face transforming as he did, years and the burden of leadership falling off him, and Lancelot could literally feel his own heart softening towards the man he had hated with so much passion until that moment. He was aware that he was granted a glimpse of a side Arthur normally kept well in check, and he found he liked it very much.

Impulsively he shoved at the Roman's shoulder and grinned cheekily, the way he would with any of the other knights. "As if any woman in her right mind would bed a stuck-up booklover like you, when she could have me instead!"

Arthur stared at him for a moment, apparently trying to reconcile Lancelot's teasing with his earlier behaviour, then he laughed again, his whole posture relaxing. "You are nice enough to look at, but I don't think your manners are quite up to what women expect of a man. Also, you don't bathe."

Grinning, Lancelot kicked him, not hard enough to bruise, but not gently either. "So you noticed my unsurpassed good looks, did you?"

He expected another quick-witted response, surprising himself with how fast his perceptions of the man sitting next to him in the dirt as if there was nowhere else he wanted to be had changed. Arthur, however, appeared caught in his own head for a moment, his eyes darkening, before changing the subject rather abruptly as he resumed his more familiar dour demeanor. "I am glad we seem to have come to an agreement, Lancelot. It would have pained me greatly if unresolved hostility had made it impossible for me to ask for you to serve as my second-in-command."

Lancelot's head flew up in shock. He had been so busy being angry, he had only taken note of Arthur's scrutiny of his every move during the last raids as yet another form of harrassment from the Roman. After a moment's pause he managed to respond more or less coherently, keeping his voice deliberately light, "So you also noticed that none of the others can hold a candle to me - at least you're observant!"

Arthur once again appeared unruffled by this lack of gratitude or appreciation, he just smiled the calm, all-knowing smile that had not long ago made Lancelot's blood boil, the one that made it seem as if he was years older and could see right through Lancelot's posturing. "I'm taking this to mean that you accept my offer. Very well. I will see you tomorrow before practice to go over some strategy."

He got up in one smooth motion and turned to leave. In a move that once again threw Lancelot completely off-balance he quickly ran his fingers, which were strong and calloused, Lancelot noted absently, through Lancelot's dark curls and then left without a word, giving him one last smile. Lancelot sat there, frozen, his scalp tingling where Arthur had touched it. He knew this feeling very well, but had definitely not expected it here, from this source. His lips unconsciously formed a surprised Oh!

So this was how it was. He should probably have known from the way Arthur had gotten under his skin right from the start.

He pushed himself off the ground as well, shaking his head to free it from the after-effects of his realization. Already he was starting to grin. This could be fun - it would be interesting to see how their Christian commander with his strange morals would react to being pursued, even if nothing ever came of it. He set off in the direction the other knights had taken not that long ago, looking forward to lording his new position over them to the best of his abilities. The thing he did not acknowledge, however, was that, from that day on, no matter how loudly he protested and argued, Lancelot would follow Arthur wherever he led.