Normally, Gawain would have been all over the girls that threw themselves at him, batting their eyes and milking him for hero’s tales about Badon Hill. Gawain counted, and at some point there were no less than eight giggling creatures hanging onto his every word. It was probably that the number of available knights to win over had gone down drastically in the last few weeks.
As a matter of fact, it was only him tonight. And that was exactly what was wrong with this the whole thing. Gawain was not supposed to be here – not alone, not at all. But drinking had seemed like a good idea, even if it was just to forget about his fallen comrades for just an hour or two and maybe find some rest afterwards, preferably unconscious.
There hadn’t been much sleep for Gawain since the battle. If anyone asked – not that there were a lot of people left who cared enough to do so – he told them that the spear wound in his back kept him awake. But in truth he had been watching over Galahad pretty much constantly ever since they had found each other on the battlefield and the younger knight had told him that Tristan had fallen.
Galahad’s usually so vibrant voice, often cursed because it was so damn loud all the time, had been dull, lifeless. Gawain had checked him for injuries, naturally, the way he always did, no matter how much Galahad resented being “mothered”, but didn’t find anything except for some scrapes. Yet that dead look did not disappear from Galahad’s eyes, and so Gawain had made it his business to keep watch over him.
Luckily – or not, if Gawain stopped to think about it – Galahad didn’t seem to be paying much attention to anything anymore, and as he went through the motions of everyday life he did not even once yell at Gawain to leave him alone. On the contrary, he seemed to have accepted Gawain’s constant presence as something unavoidable, not even blinking when Gawain offered a lame excuse about making sure Galahad hadn’t been hit on the head in order to explain why he spent the nights in a chair in Galahad’s room.
Even if Gawain had been able to relax, Galahad’s nightmares would have kept him up anyway. Gawain had tried talking Galahad through them, had tried waking him before they got too bad or had held his hand as he thrashed and fought – but to no avail. His presence seemed to make no difference whatsoever, a fact that felt much wronger to Gawain than it had any right to be.
It was this sense of helplessness that had driven him outside, to where the mead was. But even the attentions of a bunch of eager girls couldn’t make him forget that he should be at Galahad’s side. With a tired sigh, Gawain rose and grunted some sort of apology towards his admirers. It was time to go back where he belonged, even if it didn’t matter one way or the other to Galahad.
The door to Galahad’s quarters felt heavy, as if it was made of iron, when Gawain pushed it open reluctantly. Everything was as he had left it – a mess, since Galahad didn’t see a reason to continue holding up the military order Arthur had forced on him, now that the knights had to all purposes ceased to exist. Galahad himself was also still in the same position; he hadn’t moved as far as Gawain could tell, lying on his bed staring at the ceiling.
But just as Gawain wanted to slump down in his usual chair, Galahad turned his head and looked directly at Gawain. It was the first time since the battle, and Gawain could suddenly taste fresh hope on his tongue, replacing the metallic taste of smoke and despair.
“Gawain? Where did you go?”
Galahad sounded impossibly young and vulnerable, reminding Gawain with a pang of what felt like homesickness of times long since past. It had been too long since Galahad had let him get close, and Gawain realized that he had missed him painfully.
“I just… went to get some ale,” he answered, suddenly realizing that he was in fact still holding a mug of mead. Crossing the room impulsively, he sat down on Galahad’s bed, so close that their thighs were touching.
“For you,” he said, offering the mug to Galahad. Their eyes met and Galahad sat up on his elbows, taking the mug from Gawain and drinking. Drinking deeply, as if he had been dying of thirst.
“Careful, Galahad, you’ll choke!” Gawain laughed, the sound vibrating between them. His first laugh in much too long – hadn’t there been a time when a day hadn’t passed that Gawain had laughed, most of the time with Galahad? Finally Galahad set the mug down but remained upright, still looking at Gawain with his face open.
“Look, I’m sorry, Galahad, “ Gawain finally said quietly, letting his left hand come to rest on Galahad’s chest, feeling the strong heartbeat under his palm. Galahad didn’t shy away, didn’t even tense, just kept looking at him, his face calm. But there was warmth in his eyes, subdued in comparison to his earlier fire but clearly visible for Gawain’s searching gaze. Sitting on Galahad’s bed, body to body, eye to eye, Gawain felt warmth spread through him.
“I won’t be leaving you again, I promise,” he said, voice quiet but serious. Then he smiled and added: “Do you think you can live with that, Galahad?”
The answering smile on Galahad’s face was small – but it was there, unmistakably. “Yes, I think I can live with that just fine, Gawain…”
To Gawain, it felt as if the sun was rising again after a long night, and without stopping to think about it he reached out and touched the back of his hand to Galahad’s cheek softly. Galahad’s smile got brighter, and suddenly Gawain found himself being pulled down on top of the bed – on top of Galahad – by two strong arms.
The older knight returned Galahad’s tight embrace, and they held onto each other fiercely, bodies already fitting together perfectly. Not for one moment did Gawain regret leaving the willing maidens at the bar behind for this…