They had nothing to say to each other.
At least, that's how he felt. They had each said more than enough on that night so very long ago.
However, as he stared at him across the newly filled grave, he couldn't help but think of the way things used to be. He was barely aware of everyone else walking away from the burial mound --- leaving only him and the man who had once been his closest friend.
The years had made their mark on both of them. He took in the gray of his hair and the signs of time etched upon his face. However, it was his eyes that were the most telling of how the years had affected him. His eyes were shadowed now and they were full of such grief and loss.
The dead woman had been his whole world.
He could understand that. She had been his world, as well.
"She never got over you," Arthur finally said to him, breaking the tension-filled silence. He looked down and then back at Lancelot. "I don't think she ever forgave me for that night."
Lancelot swallowed and looked down at the grave for a long moment. It was so hard to imagine the vivacious and fiery woman he had loved so much down below them in the cold ground. "Of course she forgave you," he finally responded without looking up. "She wasn't the type to hold a grudge... not against you."
"About this, she did," Arthur said tiredly. He ran a hand through his hair. "After the first week, she stopped talking to me about it. After the first year, she stopped looking out the window, waiting for your return. After the first five years, she stopped sending Tristan out to hunt for you and after the first ten years she stopped speaking your name."
Lancelot felt a knot harden in his chest at the other man's words. Arthur wasn't trying to hurt him or make him feel guilty. He was just filling him in on the events after his departure. He sat down on the ground next to the burial mound. He reached out and gently caressed the ornate marker that Arthur had had made. It stood out among the other mounds, but then again, the woman buried here had stood out among others in life. Why should it be any different in death? Lancelot sighed and closed his eyes. The knowledge that she had hurt that badly over what he and Arthur had done filled him with self-loathing.
"Lancelot, why didn't you ever come back?" Arthur finally asked as he sat down on the other side.
Lancelot sighed. It was a question he had asked himself a lot over the past seventeen years. "I wasn't welcome. You made that pretty clear that night, Artorius."
Artorius. Not Arthur.
Arthur sighed and looked down at the ground. "A lot of things were said that night that never should have been said," he said in voice filled with regret.
They both had their share of them, Lancelot was sure. Gods knew he had plenty of regrets. Regrets about the fight, regrets about leaving, regrets about not coming back.
Regrets about leaving his heart behind.
Yes, he had a great many regrets.
"Perhaps not, but they were said all the same," Lancelot said. He wasn't trying to make the other man feel any worse than he obviously already felt. He was just being honest and forthright.
"How did it happen?" Lancelot asked him abruptly, not sure he was ready for re-hashing everything that had happened that night.
Arthur sighed and ran a hand through his hair again. "There was a large battle about a year or more ago," he started tonelessly. "The damn Saxons had tried again...on a larger scale. Guinevere was right in the middle of things---you know how she was. She was leading her warriors and doing a damn good job, as usual. Somehow, though, she got separated from the rest of us and found herself surrounded by the enemy." Arthur drew a shuddering breath. "It was Lucan who found her and alerted Tristan. She was covered in blood and it looked like she had taken a sword right through the middle of her chest. Merlin was waiting back at the fortress, he has gotten too old to fight any longer. He was able to repair most of the damage, but even so, it took her a very long time to heal. Somehow, two months ago, she aggravated the newly healed wounded and part of it opened again. She caught a fever and fell very ill." Arthur looked at Lancelot, tears filling his eyes. "We tried, all of us tried, but it wasn't enough. It wasn't like last time, we weren't strong enough to keep her with us."
Lancelot looked at Arthur and then looked away again. He knew what Arthur was referring to. Any time one of of them had been seriously hurt before, the link that three of them shared had worked miracles and on more than one occasion stopped death in its tracks. They had always had that strength to share between the three of them.
But the link had been broken...Guinevere hadn't lived this time. The link had been shattered and his heart had died.
"You weren't there, Lancelot," Arthur said.
"And who's fault was that?!" Lancelot demanded harshly.
"You told me that I wasn't welcome here any longer! You accused Guinevere and I of plotting against you! Shall I go on Arthur?!" Lancelot demanded angrily, his hands clenched into fists at his sides as he remembered the look on Guinevere's face that night as the words had been thrown back and forth between both men. "Should I remind you of every damning thing you said to us that night? Should I?!" The dark knight's eyes were full of fire as he got to his feet, glaring at Arthur. "You're the reason I wasn't here! You're the reason that there was no hope for her. Your actions all of those years ago caused it. You're as responsible for her death as if you had held the sword and drove it through her chest yourself."
"How was I supposed to know you weren't going to come back?!" Arthur demanded angrily, jumping up to his own feet. "We had had fights before. We had had fights that were measured on an epic scale. We never, either one of us, ever stayed away."
"Yes, we had had fights before, but not like this," Lancelot fired back. "They had never gone like that one did!"
"What made that fight so damn different?!"
"You struck her!"
That wasn't exactly true, he admitted to himself as he watched Arthur stumble back slightly.
Yes, that night, Arthur had indeed struck Guinevere whilst he and Lancelot were fighting, but it hadn't been intentional. She had tried to get in between them, to stop them from coming to the point of throwing blows at each other. None of the other knights had dared to intervene. When she had grabbed Arthur's arm, he had spun blindly and his other fist had connected with her chin and sent her crashing to the ground.
A dead silence had filled the fortress and then Lancelot went to his lady's side. He gently helped her back to her feet and smoothed her hair back from her face. He had stared deep into her eyes for a long moment and then he had kissed her.
After that kiss, he turned and went back to stand in front of Arthur. He drew back his fist and slammed it into his best friend's jaw. He looked at Guinevere once more and then he walked away.
He hadn't been back since that night.
Now, as they were both standing over the grave of the woman they had both loved, he stared at Arthur and the years weighed heavily on him. If he were to be honest, and Lancelot had often been honest to a fault, he had to admit how much he had missed Arthur. Arthur was not only his best friend...he had loved him.
But he had his pride...they both did. Guinevere used to throw things at both of them over their pride causing problems around them. That was one of the few things that she had ever yelled at them about.
"How many times do I need to apologize for what happened, Lancelot," Arthur said softly.
"Since I wasn't aware of ever having received an apology from you about it, I don't know," he said wearily. The rain started falling gently then and Lancelot shook his head as he looked at the grave at his feet. "I always thought one of us would end up here long before her," he said softly.
"She wouldn't be kept from that battle, Lancelot," Arthur replied. "She had maintained a hatred of the Saxons all of these years."
"Of course she did," he replied with no surprise. "They attacked her country. She had more reasons to hate them than she did the Romans."
"I don't know about that," Arthur said, remembering the condition she had been in when he and Lancelot had found her all of those years ago.
Lancelot turned his face up to the sky, letting the rain hide the tears slip from his eyes under the guise of the rain.
Damn it, Guinevere, he wanted to shout out. It should never have been you. Never like this.
Lancelot lowered his head and looked at the headstone once more.
Guinevere Castus DuLac
Beloved of Arthur and Lancelot
Those simple words, chiseled on a simple stone broke him. He went to his knees as he finally gave in to his grief. He pounded the ground and cried out her name. He felt arms go around him and hold him as he grieved. He was vaguely aware that it was Arthur who was holding him, but at that moment he didn't care. All he cared about was that one of the two people he loved was dead.
"Damn you!" he screamed out. although, he wasn't sure whom he was screaming to. "Damn you! How dare you leave me! How dare you!" He was too upset to fight back the emotions he had been trying to keep in check while in Arthur's presence. "Guinevere!" Lancelot sobbed as Arthur kept his arms around him. "My love, I'm sorry. I'm sorry. I should have been here. I should have...Guinevere..."
Arthur held onto Lancelot, his own tears flowing as he listened to the grief pour out of the man he now held. He had known her death would be harder on Lancelot than most. It had taken the dark knight some time to realize that Guinevere felt the same way about him that he had felt about her since their first sighting of one another. Arthur held him as Lancelot let out all of the grief and the loneliness he had carried for the past seventeen years. When the sobs decreased, Arthur helped him to his feet and they walked away from the grave site. He walked Lancelot inside the fortress and deposited him in a comfortable chair by the fire. He poured two mugs of ale and handed one to the darker man before sitting in his own seat and staring into the fire.
"She told me to tell you not to grieve for her...but you can't obey that edict any more than I can," Arthur said after awhile. "After twenty or so years, you'd think she would know us better than to ask such a thing."
"Was she...at the end," Lancelot swallowed. "Was she in much pain?"
"You mean physically?" Arthur shook his head. "No, Merlin made sure of that. That man has more steel than anyone I know. He wouldn't let anyone else near her and I don't know how he was able to stay so steady when it was his daughter who was dying."
"It's because it was his daughter," Lancelot said quietly as he took a sip of the ale. "He wanted to make sure she was taken care of by the best...and he's the best." He sighed. "You said she wasn't in physical pain."
Arthur looked at him and then looked back into the fire. "Are you sure you want to hear all of this?"
"Arthur, I need to hear all of this."
Arthur sighed. "Stubborn Sarmatian."
Lancelot's breath caught in his throat. "She used to call me that...and you were..."
"Stubborn Roman." Arthur ran a hand through his hair. "Physically, she was in no pain. Like I said, Merlin made sure of that. He knew she was dying and he wanted to ease her into it. It was the emotional pain that none of us could ease for her." He looked at Lancelot out of the corner of his eye, but he was staring into the fire. "She asked for you a few times...honestly, she asked for you a lot. She couldn't understand why you weren't there when she needed you. It was like she had forgotten most of the past seventeen years." A tear slipped down Lancelot's cheek and Arthur continued. "Unable to bear hearing her heartbreak in her voice, Tristan took three scouts and went the way of the winds to look for you. One went in each direction."
"Which is how Tristan found me."
"Which is how Tristan found you," Arthur nodded. "Like some of the other knights, Tristan was having a hard time handling both the fact that she was dying and the fact that her heart was hurting her so much."
"I'm surprised he didn't decorate my face with his fist."
"I'm sure he wanted to. He did mine."
"I wish I could have seen that."
"I bet you do." Arthur took another sip of the ale. "I wasn't sure any of them could find you. No one had been able to find you originally."
Lancelot didn't have a ready answer for that. "Did you look for me?"
"Of course I did, damn it! You were my best friend! My right hand!" Arthur said angrily, slamming his mug onto the table between their chairs. After a long moment, he sighed. "I tried to find you a few times...but it was mostly Guinevere who would leave on horseback and come back empty handed and distraught."
Lancelot bowed his head at that. "She always was so very stubborn."
"She loved you, Lancelot. If she thought there was a chance at finding you, she wasn't just going to give up." He looked at Lancelot. "How did you manage to disappear from her and from Tristan?"
"Woads and boats," he said softly. "Some of Guinevere's people hid me, thinking it was the best thing to do for her sake after I told them what happened. I mainly travelled, never staying in one place. But then...then I needed to be here again. A few months after I returned to the island, Tristan found me. In that polite way of his he told me that she was dying and that she needed me. I got here as fast as I could." He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. "But as you can see, I was too late."
Arthur was silent for so long that Lancelot thought maybe he had gone to sleep. But then Arthur asked again. "Why didn't you ever come back? Don't give me any of that shit about not being welcomed. You know Guinevere wanted you here."
"But you didn't." There, he had said the words that had been eating at him for seventeen years. "Guinevere wanted me, but you no longer did. I couldn't stay...not after having what the three of us had...and then to have it taken away..." He looked down. "My heart couldn't take it."
Arthur turned to Lancelot, shock showing on his face. "Lancelot..."
Lancelot shook his head. "After the magic and the intense bond of love that we had...to no longer be able to touch that again..." He looked down. "I just couldn't do that, Arthur."
"Lancelot," Arthur began, trying to figure out how to phrase what he was thinking. "I never stopped loving you. I never stopped wanting you."
Lancelot turned his head to look at him. "That isn't what you said."
"I was a fool, Lancelot," Arthur admitted. "I was a damned fool who listened to the wrong people talking."
Lancelot shook his head. "You would think, that after that mess with Dillon, you would have learned your lesson about that."
"You would think."
"After all, listening to the wrong people almost got all of us killed."
Arthur winced. "And had me accusing Guinevere of betraying your position to Gerard when you were ambushed and captured."
Lancelot felt cold all over and he went completely still for a moment. Finally, he turned his head slowly to look at Arthur and there was cold steel in his dark eyes. "You did what?"
"She never told you about that?"
"No, she didn't." She never told the other of them when one was hurting or upsetting her. "What in the bowels of your murdering god's hell had you thinking --"
"You can be such a horse's ass sometimes, Arthur. She would have died herself before betraying either one of us."
"She almost did that day," he said quietly, remembering the battle Guinevere had waged on behalf of he and Lancelot. "When she vaulted out of that tree between he and I..."
"I remember," he said quietly. He did. There was no way he could ever forget that day or what she had risked for the two of them. He would never forget the fear he felt when he had heard her challenge issued to Gerard -- or the frustration he felt when he couldn't hold onto consciousness and witness her fight. "It wasn't in her nature to just let someone she cared about perish -- especially if she thought she could regain her worth in their eyes."
Arthur stared into the fire, his eyes full of sorrow. "I wronged her many times, and yet she never..."
"Stuck a sword in your chest?" Lancelot said helpfully.
That made Arthur smile slightly. "She never walked away. Never disappeared back into her forests and left us behind." He shook his head. "Never left me behind."
"There were times I didn't think we deserved her," Lancelot said, taking a drink from his ale. "There at the end, when I left, I was positive you didn't deserve her." He stared into his mug. "I wanted her to come with me that night, but she wouldn't leave you. She said you needed her."
"I did need her. I needed both of you."
"You used to act like it once upon a time," he said bluntly "There was a time where I knew that we were more important to you than anything else in this world. You never would have let some of the things that happened those few days ever occur."
Arthur let out a breath. "I don't --"
"Seventeen years, Artorious! Seventeen years and I still have so many unanswered questions. How you have let something get in the way of what we had -- what you had? How could you have accused the two us, who had never failed you, of betraying and plotting against you?" He leveled a glare on Arthur. "You owe me at least that much... an answer."
“I don’t know if I have an answer for you, Lancelot. God knows I wish I did.”
Lancelot shook his head. “That’s not good enough. After everything we had gone through… everything we had seen and done together and how long it took us to heal and come together again after Gerard and the Elders from the outlying tribes! How could you have listened to someone that was not us and even believe that we would wrong you?! We gave up everything we were to you and trusted you to value all we were as we valued you. How could you believe that either of us -- that both of us! -- would ever plot against you or betray you?!”