Like an apple tree among the trees of the forest is my beloved among the young men. I delight to sit in his shade, and his fruit is sweet to my taste. —Songs of Solomon 2:3
It starts as it always does, with a low throbbing in the base of his spine building up and spreading throughout the rest of his body. The temperature had dropped overnight from a late-autumn chill to the first real bite of winter, and Galahad had woken up shivering beneath his blankets, to frost on his window pane, and with his bedmate nowhere to be found.
He puts it out of his mind during the ride out and back from their routine surveying trip, until the uncomfortable pinprick sensation of overheating and sweat under his armour clashes with the frosty outside temperature, and the countdown of miles — minutes — to camp becomes all that’s on his mind.
If Galahad had not been anticipating it, even at two months late, he would think he had also caught the miserable flu making its way around the camp. But he knows it is a different type of unavoidable fever crawling under his skin and into the most primal part of his skull — heat.
As hot as his armour and breeches are, having forgone his armoured skirt for protection against the cold, his clothing and the buffering winds hold off the rising scent of his heat from his brothers, and none of them cast a glance in his direction. Galahad keeps his eyes fixed on the rider in front of him, half-thankful that Tristan has not noticed, half desperately wishing he would pull the two of them aside, away from prying eyes, so they could ride back to camp behind the others after a quick private break to hold off Galahad’s rising need.
He cannot disembark and unsaddle his horse quickly enough when they reach Hadrian’s Wall, but even in his haste, Galahad finds that Tristan has already left the stable before him when he’s finished and curses under his breath all the way back to their room. The thick scent of his heat is overwhelming now, and he can see a few of the villagers turn toward his him as he makes his way past.
Some of the anxiety loosens as he finally manages to open his door. Immediately, he heads towards the bed and grabs Tristan’s pillow, breathing in the alpha’s scent of comfort, safety, mixed with his own.
He does not know where his alpha companion is, but it is nearly dinnertime and Tristan will come calling for him when he does not show, if not sooner. Galahad can only hope it will be sooner — this heat feels dangerous, vicious, like a storm brewing up under his skin, and he can feel that desire curling in the pit of his stomach.
The crack of the door opening and the squeaking hinges snap him out of his spiralling thoughts. “I’m in heat,” he blurts out before Tristan has the chance to process the scene in front of him.
Tristan’s knuckles turn white as he grasps the doorframe, holding himself off from entering even as he takes a long deep breaths.
“I see,” he says after a moment. Then, “I will make the arrangements.” Tristan has to bodily wrench himself from the room and shut the door, consternation coloring his face.
Even with the desperation of his rising heat, Galahad can feel the last of the anxiety fade out of his body. Tristan will take care of him — Tristan will take care of everything, as he always has.
The arrangement had started off more for Galahad’s benefit than anyone else’s.
Percival, who was placed in chambers with Galahad upon their arrival at the wall, was brusque and disagreeable, and not well-liked by Galahad in life. But he was, first and foremost, Galahad’s brother-in-arms, one of Arthur’s men — though he barely fit the term when he had passed — and for all they spent every day of five and some years sniping at each other, Galahad was overwhelmed to return to their shared room after he’d watched Percival’s body lowered into the ground and laid to rest under a sad mound of dirt, with nothing but his sword to mark a grave
He was not the first to pass and would certainly not be the last, another missing face and voice and laugh at the Round Table, but it was the first time Galahad bore firsthand witness to the remnants of a life unfinished — a stolen apple that Percival had intended to eat when he returned, a poem he'd started to an omega he’d fancied and Galahad knew had her eye on Tristan, a book he’d only gotten a handful of pages into that he’d “borrowed” from Galahad—
For all Galahad had disliked him, it was hard not to be entangled in the life of someone he’d shared a room with for five years. Too quickly, painfully, had Percival untangled himself from that life, leaving Galahad to resolve and unravel the trappings of what was left.
Galahad avoided dinner that evening, and no one came to look for him.
When he also failed to show for breakfast the next morning and an hour had passed after he was supposed to meet Tristan for archery practice, the alpha showed up at his door with a plate of requisitioned food.
Galahad blinked up at him, red-eyed, from under his covers. “I am not hungry,” he said and immediately regretted sounding like the sullen child he was desperate to convince Tristan that he was not.
“Eat anyway,” Tristan said and placed the plate on the table by his bed. Instead of forcing him up, Tristan sat down beside him and tugged the blanket off of his head to press a kiss to his temple, brushing back his curls. “Unless you wish to worry Arthur that we buried your fighting spirit along with Percival’s remains.”
Galahad’s mouth pressed into a frown and picked up the plate. It was no secret among Arthur’s knights that he and Percival did not get along. But it was one of the first lessons they all learned after their first skirmish with the Woads — whatever problems, differences between any of them remained private and could not be a distraction on the battlefield.
Galahad picked at the stew on the plate, and Tristan let him lean into his side until Galahad found his words. “Percival was not tidy,” he finally settled on. “And he snored.”
Out of the corner of his eye, Galahad saw Tristan survey the room for everything that did not belong to Galahad. “Should I clear out his belonging?”
Galahad finally glanced up at Tristan, who was looking at him, patient. At some point, Galahad let go of his fork and was clutching Tristan’s sleeve with his free hand. Supplies were always short in one form or another, and the furniture, books, weaponry, Percival’s clothes — too big for Galahad — would likely be re-rationed among his brothers.
“He was writing a poem, for an omega. Eda,” he said. “I don’t think she fancied him much but, it doesn’t feel right to throw it out… ” Then more quietly, uncertainly, he added. “I— I don’t want to be alone.”
What would it be like, if he had to be the one responsible for Tristan’s earthly belongings, the remnants of all that was left for Galahad to hold onto? His heart constricted at the thought. Galahad didn’t know how to be strong or brave again, without Tristan’s gentle hand guiding him.
“Finish eating,” Tristan urged. “Then we will take care of the rest.”
None of their brothers commented when Tristan, in the mid-afternoon, moved all of his sparse belongings from the room he shared with Dagonet into Galahad’s newly solitary chambers.
That night, Galahad fell asleep with his ear pressed against Tristan’s heart, tucked into his side as he had been on the first night they’d met.
Tristan has still not returned by the time Galahad strips himself of all his armour and clothing, burrowing under the bedclothes for warmth. Despite the chill of the room, it will soon become unbearably hot, and they will need to kick the covers off.
Their bed is cramped now for two grown men, but Tristan has never complained and Galahad enjoys having the excuse to press up close against him.
Privacy is a rare gift among Arthur's men, and even Arthur respects that, never bothering his Knights in their private quarters short of dire circumstances or a direct invite. If anyone had visited in the past decade, they would have seen Percival’s old bed pushed to the corner, gathering dust and piled with stuff. There is no reason for them to have to share a bed, and there is no appropriate manner to request a larger one, especially for a room shared by an unmated alpha and omega pair — still unmated, Galahad thinks, shame coiling hot in the pit of his stomach.
Tristan arrives back in their quarters with a week's worth of rations and water for both of them — generous, considering the length of Galahad's heat — and dumps it all unceremoniously on the table. He’s already tugging at the laces of his tunic, and Galahad pulls the sheets with him as he makes his way to Tristan, his feet a steady patter on the cold floor.
“You’ll dirty the bedclothes,” Tristan warns, but makes no move to stop Galahad as he reaches for Tristan’s braccae to help him undress faster.
“The bedclothes will be well and dirty soon enough,” Galahad says and tugs down Tristan’s braccae in one movement as he drops to his knees, the sheets pooling around him. He presses his nose into the jut of Tristan’s hip, breathing in the heady, virile scent of alpha, feels himself grow hot and slick, aching to be filled.
“Galahad,” Tristan chokes, his voice hoarse, and grabs him by the arm, dragging him up into an open-mouthed kiss. Tristan backs him toward their bed in small steps until his calves hit the edge of the bed and Galahad finds himself toppled over, on his back with his hips bracketed by Tristan’s strong legs. Galahad pouts up at his alpha’s self-pleased smirk. “There’s no need to test your knees with a perfectly serviceable bed available.”
Galahad huffs in irritation and grasps Tristan’s braids with his hand, tugging him down and whispering, “Then put yourself at my service,” into his mouth before resuming their kiss.
Tristan’s hands are calloused and battled-scarred, yet gentle in their path down Galahad’s body even while hot with intent. His fingertips trail down Galahad’s flank and stomach, ghosting past his cock, and presses gently against the edge of where Galahad is empty and desperate to be filled.
Even anticipating it, the intrusion of Tristan’s fingers sparks a pinch of pleasure-pain that causes him to moan into their kiss, fading into the dull ache of being stretched. Galahad squirms, trying to get better leverage as Tristan searches for that sweet spot inside of him, trying to take him deeper into his body —
“More,” he demands, and Tristan adds another finger, the additional girth giving him a temporary reprieve until that is also not enough, and he gasps out “more” again, clutching at Tristan’s forearm.
“Tell me what you want,” Tristan murmurs, pressing a line of kisses down his jaw.
There are a number of things Galahad wants. He wants his freedom, the taste of it on the tip of his tongue. He wants to feel safe, to shake the shadow of death at his heels. He wants to be home, but more, he wants to be with Tristan. He wants Tristan to want him, to feel the feel the pressure of his teeth in his mating gland and to prick Tristan’s in return. He wants Tristan’s fingers and his mouth. He wants to know the heavy weight of Tristan’s cock inside him, to hold the overwhelming swell and lock of his knot. He wants, he wants—
The thought is only half-formed in his mind before it’s already out of his mouth.
“Give me a child.”
It was not as though Galahad had not known, but it still managed to catch him off-guard when it happened.
For a few days, Tristan had gone from protective to overbearing, even for Galahad, to just gone, and Galahad was hours into his worry about where Tristan had disappeared off to when he realized — the alpha’s rut.
The thought kept him up for three long nights, as he laid in their bed which felt too large for just him now, cocooned by Tristan’s scent. That Tristan wouldn’t come to him first.
Galahad hadn’t not noticed before, when Tristan disappeared for days on end, as many of their alpha brothers did during their time, but it had felt different when Tristan had shared his room with Dagonet and Percival was still taking up space in the one that was now theirs.
The realization burned him with humiliation, that the pliant, willing omega Tristan had waiting in his bed did not interest him in even on his rut, that Galahad wasn’t acceptable option to help him through his desperation. He squirmed and kicked at their covers, unable to sleep, and worried his bottom lip raw with his teeth. He refused to strip the sheets even though the gradually fading scent of the alpha remained an uncomfortable reminder of how he wasn’t enough.
Tristan returned on the fourth morning, tired and solemn-faced but with the biscuits from the cook that he knew Galahad liked, and Galahad tried for calm and indifference in his expression. But the misery must have seeped through with his exhaustion, raw and vulnerable, and Tristan pulled him into an embrace that Galahad feigned struggling out of.
“I’m sorry,” Tristan said, pressing kisses to Galahad’s curls, and Galahad stopped struggling, simply grasping the sleeves of Tristan’s tunic. Tristan smelled clean, like soap and water, and not, Galahad desperately hoped, like some other omega underneath it all that he had scrubbed off.
“You don’t want me,” Galahad accused still, with his head against Tristan’s chest, even as the anger seeped out of him.
Tristan hesitated, stroking his hair. “You have not had your heat yet,” he said, finally. “It would be… inappropriate.”
Galahad tensed under the reminder. Female omegas matured faster than their male counterparts, though both more quickly still than alphas. Even as such, Galahad would be late to come of age. This past winter, they were six years out of Sarmatia and into their contract with Rome.
There were a number of reasons why such might be the case; instability, insecurity, stress, the danger and death always looming like a shadow over his life, infertility...
“I’m not a child,” Galahad said, though clinging as he were to Tristan, he didn’t have a strong case against it. “You should ask me.”
“Yes,” Tristan said, reassuring him. “If your heat does not come before my next rut, I will ask.”
His heart startled; if Galahad’s heat did not come before Tristan’s next rut, he would be sixteen and a heatless omega. Tristan would have even less reason to want him, then. He would be kind, Galahad knew, letting him down gently and making sure Galahad was well taken care of even as Tristan found another omega and no other alpha would have him.
Galahad didn’t want anyone else to have Tristan, even if he couldn’t.
His worry was all for naught when, three months later, in the dead of summer, he woke up fevered and aching long after Tristan had risen, and made his way through his morning duties in a delirious daze. He arrived late for the meeting of the Round Table, and Tristan looked startled to see him as Galahad sat down and apologized for his tardiness.
He remained unsettled through the meeting, even with Tristan’s hand on his back. A couple of his brothers cast shocked, wry glances in his direction, but he didn’t think much of it until Arthur stopped the meeting and asked to speak to him and Tristan alone.
“Why did you let him come, Tristan?” Arthur asked, stern, and Tristan’s face pinched in frustration.
“I do not let or make Galahad do anything, Arthur,” Tristan said. Then a pause and more quietly, “I didn’t know either until he walked in. This is his first.”
Galahad glanced between the two of them, confused. Was he was ill, and Arthur chiding Tristan for such when he should be asking Tristan to take him to the camp medic?
Understanding dawned on Arthur’s face, and he nodded. He turned to Galahad, and, gentle and brotherly, explained, “You are in heat, Galahad.” A worry that Galahad had been holding close to his heart unfurled and dissipated, and he signed in relief. “Tristan will escort you back to your chambers, unless you want anyone else…?” Galahad shook his head, and Arthur continued: “And I will make the arrangement for your provisions.” Arthur turned back to Tristan. “Bors is a beta. I will have him deliver them.”
Tristan escorted him with a firm touch, from the meeting room and through the camp to their room, shielding Galahad from a group of Roman soldiers and townspeople they encountered on their way back. Galahad let him, demurred, keeping his head tucked down and occasionally casting glances up at his alpha through his lashes.
Tristan had him settle on the bed and dropped down on his knees to help Galahad unlace his boots as he worked to loosen the strings of his own tunic.
Tristan said, solemn, “We should not tie.” He looked up at Galahad to make sure his words were getting through, and Galahad stared at back him, unsure where Tristan was going. “I will please you in any other way I can, but it is not safe for us—” Tristan paused to think of his words. “It is not safe for us to conceive.”
The idea burrowed itself in Galahad’s mind the moment Tristan tried to nip it in the bud. A child, Galahad thought, a shiver of want running up his spine. Him full with Tristan’s child. “Galahad,” Tristan urged again, snapping him out of the thought. “We cannot care for a child right now,” he said, “with nine years of service left to Rome.” His eyes dropped to Galahad’s stomach and, with a gentle touch, murmured, “And you are young yet.”
Before Galahad could protest, Tristan had him with his back on the bed, settling down between his legs. “I also want,” Tristan said as he tucked a curl behind Galahad’s ears and swallowed as his eyes trail down his form, the press of his erection hard against Galahad’s leg. “Very much. But it is a risk we cannot take right now.” His voice was tight, and in his heat-dazed mind, Galahad did not know how to interpret it. “Alright?”
And Galahad, in the first flush of his young heat, desperate and eager to do anything to get Tristan’s hands on him, agreed.
Tristan’s fingers still inside him, and he pulls back enough that he can look Galahad in the eye. “Galahad…”
Galahad tilts his chin up, defiant. “We are nearly free men, and I will be one when the child is born,” he says, even though freedom spoken aloud loomed like an ominous raincloud. It had not occurred to him until the words were already on his tongue, but he can feel how true they are now, how much his womb aches for it. “You asked me what I want. I want a child.”
He can feel the seconds ticking by as the thought turns in Tristan’s head. They had agreed, they had agreed — no tying, no knot, no chance for an accident — it was dangerous distraction, another responsibility, there was no guarantee they would survive.
Galahad tenses under Tristan’s indecision, humiliated while the urgency of heat boiling underneath has only grown stronger. “Let me up, if you refuse. I am sure there’s a Roman soldier who would be happy to lend me his knot,” he says, though the thought makes him ill, settling horrible and wrong in his stomach.
But the words have the intended effect, and Tristan grows, pushing him back down into the bed. The fingers in him move with a different sort of intention, not to seek Galahad’s immediate pleasure as they had before, but to stretch, to accommodate for something more.
Galahad giggles, wriggling with glee, and Tristan presses his free hand to his cheek. “Hush, manipulative little minx,” he says, and Galahad blinks at him, a façade of innocence.
Tristan removes his fingers and Galahad props himself up on his elbows, watching with hooded eyes as Tristan uses his slick to coat his thick cock, barely brushing over where the base has the beginnings of a swell. Tristan meets his eyes, and Galahad feels himself heat under the gaze as Tristan preps himself, intent.
Anxiety blooms in him at the unknown. Should he turn around on his hands and knees, as he has overheard some of the omegas whisper about, or should he remain on his back as he has been?
“Relax,” Tristan says, and in a quick movement worthy of any of Arthur’s knights, has Galahad pressed back on the bed, hovering over him. The alpha hooks Galahad’s legs over his hips, and then takes his cock in hand, pressing its blunt tip against his rim.
The initial push into him does not feel much different from Tristan’s fingers if somewhat larger, a stretching sensation that Galahad is more than used to now, until it fades into the burn of previously unused muscles being parted, each additional inch being agonizingly accommodated. Galahad’s thighs shake with the effort, eased only by his heat slick. He does not know where to keep his eyes — on Tristan, who is tenderly fixed on Galahad’s own expression, or on the space between their bodies, where he’s forced to witness how much more of his alpha’s virility he has left to take.
When he finally feels the bump of Tristan’s hips against his ass, he lets out a watery sigh. Galahad does not even realize the wetness has built up in his eyes until Tristan brushes tears from the corners, whispering, “You’re doing so well,” in between kisses on his cheek, the wide breadth of his hand pressing down on the flat planes of Galahad’s stomach.
Tristan’s own expression is overwhelmed, agonized, as though he can’t figure out if he should stop or how to stop, if he can move and how fast, and Galahad encourages him with a moan and a roll of his hips, causing Tristan’s guttural grunt and a jerk forward.
They move slowly at first, in tandem, Galahad pushing back into every thrust of his hips, Tristan’s hand on his cock with every stroke, until his body opens under his alpha’s firm touch. Galahad feels the strain of Tristan’s back muscles under his hands as he chases their pleasure, and he shudders under the intent. Tristan’s grip is harsh on his hips and he can feel the nails biting his skin, the prickling sensation only enhancing the drag of Tristan’s cock in him.
With a growl, Tristan pulls him off the bedspread and surges into him in a fluid movement, changing the angle, and ohh, hot sparks burst behind Galahad’s eyes as he arches into it. “Please,” he whimpers, as Tristan presses him down and removes his leverage, grinding into that sweet spot in him that had Galahad squirming and gasping at the same time.
“Please,” he begs again as he feels the base of Tristan’s cock begin to expand, and the rhythm stutters when Tristan's knot starts to catch. When Galahad comes, it’s like a cork bottle popping open, his body taut as he contracts on Tristan inside of him before all the tension eases out of him at once.
He has heard, in breathy whispers followed by giggles, how much it hurts to take your first knot. Even then there is nothing to prepare him for it as Tristan pushes forward, fucking him through his orgasm, and the slow pressure builds inside him, at first tolerable, then painful, then like being split in half, and then even a bit more than he can take—
Tristan grunts, his knot swelling that final bit to seal them them together, and coats him hot inside. Galahad, taken off-guard, clenches his tight, overused muscles down and comes again, toes curling, chasing Tristan’s own orgasm and drawing out a richer spill from Tristan.
They’re both panting afterward, trying to catch their breath. Tristan’s forearms arms shake to hold himself up so he does not collapse on top of him, and Galahad’s heart swells. He pushes his hand through Tristan’s messy braids and brings the alpha’s head down to meet his kiss, open-mouthed and sweet without any real heat behind it, now that they’ve both come.
Tristan maneuvers them into a more comfortable position so that they are both sitting up, Galahad with his legs wrapped around Tristan’s waist in his lap. With his entire body bearing down on the thickness of the knot, he finally feels full, the ache of it blooming from overwhelming to necessary, its heaviness trapping all this potency inside him.
“Do you think…?” Galahad’s fingers trace over his stomach, and the feathering touch of Tristan’s join his, then down to where Galahad’s cock is starting to fill again, pressed between them.
“I think your heat has just begun,” Tristan chides, “impatient boy.” His thumb presses down on the crown of Galahad’s cock. “Don’t think so much. Let me,” he says, jerking his hips in little upward thrusts as though he could bury himself any farther inside, and Galahad gasps and clenches down on his knot, lets him, the heat rising between them again.
Arthur’s knights never looked forward to supply deliveries the same way Rome’s touring soldiers did, but the last shipment of supplies had been derailed and stolen by the Woads, and the new set of armoury, clothing, and shoes to replace their worn out ones was a welcome reprieve.
Rome rarely sent anything to accommodate Galahad’s sizing, possibly already believing him to be dead, but he was usually able to make do with what there was and plead with one of the seamstresses or metalsmiths at the camp to help them fix what he had. It left with him a disjointed wardrobe, some light tunics that had fallen out of fashion with another of the camp’s omega given to him, or armour readjusted to fit.
It rarely bothered him, even when the local omegas gossiped about him behind his back, about what kind of omega he was to dress so carelessly, to be among Arthur Castor’s fearsome men, and oh, what kind of alpha would ever take an omega like that. It was not Galahad’s problem if Rome’s omegas were all frilly and frail, unable to hold their own, and knew nothing of Sarmatian culture’s rich history of warriors.
It did finally get to him, that the latest supplies had nothing he could use when he had torn one of the two pairs breeches he owned in a training skirmish last week, utterly unsalvageable. Short of wearing out his only pair left or swimming in Tristan’s, he needed something to replace them.
He stumbled upon the ridiculous armoured skirt, leftover and unclaimed.
Galahad scowled as he held it up to his waist. It was short and would leave his thighs exposed, particularly while riding, and for as little as Galahad cared about what he wore, it was laughable even to him.
But in the heat of summer and lacking other options, he took them. There were times he didn’t need to see anyone but his brothers for days, and with how little they cared about what he wore, it was better to save the other breeches he had.
Galahad returned to their room to change, seeing no reason to dirty his breeches with his chores, and then went about feeding his and Tristan’s horses, grooming them and cleaning out the stable. He hummed as he worked, bending down to pick up the water pail for the horses’ drinking basin, replenishing it several times.
It was only on the fourth trip that he noticed Tristan in the doorway and startled, dropping the bucket. Some of the water splashed around his boots and onto his calves before the pail toppled over, darkening the ground beneath his feet.
“Tristan,” Galahad greeted and smiled. “You surprised me.” He regretted it as soon as the words left his mouth, sure now that the alpha would think him foolish for not being more aware of his surroundings.
Instead, Tristan kept staring at him, odd and intense, lips slightly parted.
“Is something the matter?” Galahad prompted when the silence loomed a beat too long.
“Nothing.” Tristan’s voice was tight, and Galahad’s mind caught up with where he has seen that expression on Tristan before: on his rut. But Tristan’s ruts were regular like clockwork, and he certainly did not smell like he was on one.
Galahad blinked, and it took a moment for the idea to materialize in his mind, then to comprehend — that Tristan wanted.
Outside of their respective heat and rut, Tristan had never looked at or touched him with anything but propriety. He also never let his eyes wander to another omega, at least not in Galahad’s presence. Though this, Galahad suspected and worried, was out of respect to him more than that the alpha didn’t want.
It was a heady feeling, being on the end of Tristan’s desire. Galahad felt himself swimming in it.
Tristan was an alpha as any other alpha. And in that moment, it did not matter much to Galahad if there was a difference between Tristan wanting or Tristan wanting him.
Tristan looked away, flushed and unable to meet Galahad’s eyes. He cleared his throat. “Arthur has called us for a meeting.”
“And you have come to fetch me,” Galahad offered when Tristan did not continue. “Very well.”
He bent down to pick up the bucket, watching out of peripheral vision as Tristan turned redder, and put it back in its place. Then he walked towards the stable door, aware of Tristan's eyes on his thighs. With a little burst of speed, he ran past the alpha, making sure that he got to be in front, keeping a sway in his hips as he led the way the meeting room.
He squeaked as Tristan caught up and grabbed him by the waist, just in time to hide him from a group of passing Roman soldiers. Galahad huffed and Tristan let him go, walking close enough to him that Galahad couldn’t try to distract him again.
The brothers already in the room looked up when they walked in, but instead of greetings, met them with a moment of surprised silence. Even Arthur was staring at him.
Suddenly, Galahad felt silly and self-conscious.
“Hello to all of you, too,” he said, walking around Kay, Lamarok, and Bors to take his place. As he made his way, Lancelot wolf-whistled him and laughed, and Kay and a couple of others followed suit. Galahad dropped into his seat next to Gawain and felt a hot blush creep up to his ears.
“Enough!” Arthur said, and everyone quieted down. Galahad couldn’t summon the strength to search for Tristan for reassurance. What did it matter what his brothers thought, so long Tristan as liked it.
“Argh, my eyes,” Bors complained. Galahad’s head snapped to glare at him.
“Well now you know how we all feel about your face,” he bit out, and another chorus of laughter followed while Bors tried to yell something over it. The tension eased out of Galahad’s shoulders, and he turned towards Gawain to laugh. They were just teasing him, as they often all do to each other, and no one treated him any differently after that.
That night, Galahad made sure to return to their room after he was certain Tristan would already be there, waiting for him in their bed.
Flush with bravery he didn’t know he had — different than the type he needed out on the battlefield — he sought out Lorna, one of the beta girls he was friendly with in the camp, and she had helped him line his eyes dark with kohl. It felt too silly to paint his lips as well, though if his plan worked, it would be a pain to get the red stains out of their bedclothes anyway.
Tristan did not look up as Galahad opened the door and made his way inside, sitting on their bed reading. Galahad breathed in quietly and made his way over to snatch the book out of Tristan’s hands, dumping it on their bedside table. He crawled over the alpha and into his lap, feeling the skirt bunch up under his thighs.
“Hello, alpha,” Galahad said, his voice husky and full of good humor.
“Galahad,” Tristan acknowledged and broke eye contact, eyes dropping all the way down to Galahad’s neck and swallowed, before glancing up again, apparently unsure if he was allowed to look.
“I noticed you like my skirt,” Galahad said, leaning in so that his lips hovered within reach if Tristan were to lean up, and then pulled back.
Tristan took that as permission to look and his gaze lowered, staring hungrily at the skirt and Galahad’s smooth, pale thighs, miles of unblemished skin. “It’s… nice.”
Galahad laughed and tugged at Tristan’s hands, putting them on his waist, and leaned down to press his lips against the shell of Tristan’s ear. “You’re allowed to touch, you know,” he said.
“Am I?” Tristan murmured as his hands trailed down Galahad’s hips and thighs, stopping at the end of the skirt and pressing his fingers just beneath their edge. “How much am I allowed to touch?”
Galahad surged against him, helping to slide Tristan’s hand up the skirt on his behalf. “I’ll tell you when you need to stop,” he said, humming into their open-mouthed kiss.
It was different, without the pressing rush of hormones, no pheromones chasing its own rise in heat or answering Tristan’s rut, and sweetly urgent in a different way. The feeling was intoxicating, being the sole cause of Tristan’s desire.
Galahad didn’t tell him to stop.
The next day, he reverted to wearing the breeches again, to hide the darkening bruises on his thighs. That, though, was just a different type of victory.
His heat breaks on the third morning, after he wakes Tristan with the rise of the sun, sinking down on his alpha’s knot once more and wrenching another series of orgasms from him. They fall asleep again like that, with Galahad on top, holding Tristan inside of him.
It is early yet when he awakens for the second time, and Tristan has slipped out of him during their sleep. Galahad rises from their ruined bedspread to stretch his sore muscles, finding the day to be a temperate respite before full onset of winter. Though there’s no urgency in him anymore, Galahad has finally had a taste of what it’s like to tie with his alpha, and he plans to coax Tristan into another round after he gets some fresh biscuits.
Wilona is unimpressed when he shows up at the kitchen with heat scent lingering on his skin and shoos him off with a basketful of puffy, still-warm biscuits and jam. He nearly drops them as he’s leaving, walking right into Gawain.
“Good morning, Galahad,” Gawain greets him, then wrinkles his nose at him. “A very good morning for you, I suppose.”
Galahad laughs, unashamed in his triumph. “If it’s biscuits you are looking for, Wilona has given them all to me.” Gawain pouts at him, and he continues, “But I will share if you walk with me.” They cut through the village center, chatting about everything Galahad has missed in the last few days.
Along the way, he feels the sensation of being watched, and when he turns, he spots the tavern-owner’s omega son and his friend whispering wildly at each other, stealing glances in his direction. Galahad stops and glares at them, and when they turn again, are caught by his vicious gaze and scramble back inside.
“Don’t let them bother you, Galahad,” Gawain says, soothing, as if they haven’t run off to tell everyone about Arthur’s Galahad wandering the streets dressed in sleep clothes like a whore, hair still heat-messed.
“I’m not bothered by them.” He already knows the type of tall tales they’ve told about him, how he is lascivious and coy, that he’s had every one of Arthur’s knights, even the betas. Even if he didn’t, Galahad knows exactly what each of them thinks about omegas who spread their legs and take the knots of alphas who haven’t promise them—
Galahad’s hand shoots up to the bonding gland at his neck, exposed by the wide collar of his tunic. He runs his fingertips past the sore blemishes under his jaw and then down over the smooth, unscarred skin of his collar, shocked.
“Galahad?” Gawain asks, gentle.
“I’m fine,” he says unconvincing. Something in his expression inspires Gawain to pull him into a hug, and Galahad drops his head to Gawain's steady shoulder, uncaring if it exposes his secret, needing the moment to regain his composure.
The rumors, while irritating, had never bothered Galahad in their fallacy. But now he is one of those omegas, the ones that tie to an alpha and swell with their children and lack a proper mating bite, no better than a common whore.
“You can have the rest of the biscuits,” Galahad says when he pulls away, and Gawain shakes his head. He leads Galahad back to his room instead, stopping him before Galahad can open the door.
“Tristan didn’t do anything to hurt you, did he?” Gawain asks.
Galahad shakes his head, firm. “Tristan didn’t do anything that I didn’t ask,” he says, and it is true to the letter — nothing more and nothing less. Gawain looks unconvinced, and Galahad adds, “You know that Tristan is honorable, Gawain.” Gawain’s shoulders drop, and he nods, leaving Galahad be.
Galahad steels himself outside their door. He hadn’t asked for a mating bite, and Tristan hadn’t offered or given it, just as simply as he had done all he needed to give Galahad a child. Galahad can only hope it takes.
But what he has said to Gawain is also true, that Tristan is honorable to a fault and even with their contact with Rome ending in two months, he could hope to have something else tying them together. Galahad had time to convince Tristan yet, even as the traitorous thought loomed in his mind of what good it would do, if he hasn’t already in the last fifteen years.
The door cracks open and Tristan peeks out, already in his loose tunic. “I thought I heard you out here,” he says, and Galahad leans up to press a dry kiss to his cheek, swallowing down his unhappiness.
”Gawain walked me back from the kitchen.” Galahad holds up the basket of biscuits. “From Wilona.”
Tristan raises an eyebrow. “And there is portion enough for me,” he asks. Galahad smacks him in the arm. “Come, let us eat, then bathe. I had Dagonet set out food for Chopper, but she will surely be displeased as she always is by my absence.”
They eat the biscuits sitting on their ruined bed with the apples Tristan requisitioned three days ago. The silence is companionable, giving Galahad the time necessary to convince himself that he'll be okay, he can be content, if this is all he gets.
The Romans, when they came, took alphas where they could, and betas boys where there was no one better. But the soldiers Rome sent were also betas, having no discerning eye or nose, and somehow Galahad managed to convince them to take him instead of his brother, that he was old enough, would grow tall enough to join their ranks.
That night, after the ship would take them first to Rome and then their station of fifteen years had chased the setting sun for hours on end and the moon rose, he curled up in his bunk, trying to keep the panic at bay. The other boys were too exhausted and homesick themselves, or plain seasick, to pay him any mind and before he knew it, the gentle rocking of the the waves had lulled him into sleep.
In the morning, only half the boys that would form Rome’s Sarmatian auxiliary showed on the mess deck for breakfast, the rest still too exhausted for food to be a priority. Even then, their Roman taskmasters were not over-generous with their portions, and Galahad took his stale bread and hard cheese to a corner table on the deck.
The awareness seeps into him slowly, that he has been cornered by a small thrush of betas eyeing his portion hungrily. Galahad’s eyes darted across their cold, determined faces before scanning across the deck for someone — anyone — to bear witness much less step in to intervene.
His eyes fell on an alpha by the end of the breakfast line, sandy-haired and tall, expression too serious for his age, looking straight in his direction. Galahad’s pulse quickened, a thump, thump, thump in the base of skull where his neck mets his spine — not from the impending confrontation of his advancing bullies, but from the alpha’s attention and the heat of his gaze, and —
“Well, look what we have here,” one of the boys taunted, stepping up to the table he’s seated at, and Galahad’s attention snaps back to them. “The littlest recruit with such a large breakfast to himself?”
Galahad’s shoulders drooped as he considered the consequences of shoving all of his food into his mouth before they can move in on him.
“We are all to brothers here. Why don’t you share with —”
The alpha who had caught Galahad eye a moment ago crossed the deck in wide strides, cutting in front of the table Galahad was seated at and planting himself between him and the other boys. After a moment of tense imposition, the alpha staring the ringleader down, the betas grumbled and scattered away.
Galahad stared at the solid presence of his back. As the alpha turned, dropping down across the table without ceremony, Galahad lowered his eyes and flushed. When he glanced back up at the alpha through his lashes, he found the older boy staring at him with that strange intensity.
With a blink, the look disappeared, and the alpha began to eat. Galahad hesitated, unsure if he was meant to offer a portion of his, but the alpha did not make any move towards Galahad’s food. Slowly, Galahad began to eat as well.
Sneaking glances between bites, Galahad couldn’t help but notice the apple the other boy had somehow procured, and he looked on jealously as he slowly ate his hard, dry bread. The alpha finished the cheese and bread quickly and produced a knife — where from, Galahad couldn’t even begin to speculate — and peeled the apple, gutted its core, and sliced it in half and then quarters, laying out the pieces from one half in front of Galahad.
It took Galahad a long moment to realize that that half of the apple was for him. He stammered out a quick “thank you” and took it with an embarrassing eagerness, placing it on top of his cheese and bread. The result was slightly odd, but succulent and rich.
Galahad was on his third slice when he finally looked up again and noticed the alpha’s amused stare, and he flushed red, feeling the heat up to his ears.
He attempted to make himself eat faster when he realized that the other boy was waiting for him to finish, unabashedly watching Galahad eat, and he almost choked on the last bites in his rush.
“What’s your name?” Galahad asked, when it became evident the alpha wasn’t going to open the conversation.
There was a brief pause, his brow furrowing in concentration, before he answered, “Tristan.”
“I’m Galahad,” he said, pressing a hand to his chest. Over the course of the next hour, learned to parse Tristan’s dialect of their native tongue. He coaxed familiarity out of Tristan slowly, until Tristan spoke freely to him about the tradition of his clan to keep hunting hawks, showing off Chopper to the omega, and then later, more quietly, about the little sister he left behind.
Galahad watched as Tristan trailed a gentle finger down Chopper’s feathers, and startled himself with a thought.
This one’s mine. The realization unfurled itself in his brain, and at nine years old, Galahad did not know what to do with this feeling he had about this quiet alpha. But as surely as thump, thump, thump of his heart, the idea felt truer to him with every passing moment, until it settled from realization to reality.
This one’s mine, Galahad thought again, as Tristan looked back at him with a small smile. And I’m going to keep him.