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Ante Bellum
by astolat

They stumbled into the tent and fell backwards onto the heap of furs, struggling and working out of their armor, buckles gone sticky and difficult with mud. Arthur shoved the plates over Lancelot's shoulders and unlatched the breastplate, jaw clenched, urgent. Lancelot was grinning, all bright teeth and savagery, blood still streaked across his jaw. He ducked his head and heaved the mail off onto the floor with a sound like clanging bells, and swung his leg over to straddle Arthur's hips.

"Am I hurting you?" Lancelot said, blandly, when Arthur strained up against his weight, trying for friction. "Should I move?"

"Shut up," Arthur said, and scraped his teeth against Lancelot's wrist where it braced against the pillows next to him, the tendons standing out like cords above the leather guards, the smell of iron and blood and dirt strong in his nostrils. Lancelot hissed and slipped loose the catches of Arthur's sword-belt, still slung low on his hips, and put it aside carefully on the floor by the bed next to his own swords, gentle with the blades as he was never with Arthur himself.

They fought clear of the rest of their clothing, Lancelot keeping him pinned the whole time, and left muddy black streaks on each other's skin, wrestling, sweat rolling down Lancelot's back and making it slick under his fingers. The rickety cot creaked under them. The camp was noisy on the other side of the leather tent, the men losing themselves in drink and women, the dogs yelling after scraps and the softer cries of the horses, picking up the excitement of victory and survival.

The guards on the door would still hear, but they had heard before and would again. Arthur didn't remember anymore what had sparked them, the first time; after that first battle with the Saxons north of the Wall, in their third year, he remembered that perfectly well; and the taste of Lancelot's skin, the lean hardness of his thigh pressing down, the smell of smoke. They had been young men, no scars on his back for Lancelot's hands to catch on; all that he remembered, but not what the first moment had been, when he'd reached—or if Lancelot had, maybe. Probably, in fact; it was the sort of thing Lancelot would have done, if he'd come into the tent and found Arthur pacing—knocked him down to the bedding, driven the tension out of him, tension and doubt and the memory of seeing his men fall, dirt choking their mouths.

Driven it out of him like this—like this, the steady breaching pain coming into him and clearing his head of everything else, Lancelot's mouth by his ear, saying nothing, only his steady panting breath to measure the passing of time. "Yes," Arthur said, meaningless; Lancelot had already taken everything there was to give. "Yes," he said anyway, to fill his own throat, and buried his hands deep into the furs over his head, arching up to meet his own release.

Afterwards, Lancelot rose and wrapped his tunic around his hips to put his head out of the tent and call for bathwater. "I have watch tonight," he said, coming back inside, "but it's still an hour to dark."

Arthur heard him distantly; he lay on his side, his head pillowed on his arm and his limbs heavy, watching Lancelot wash himself down, the glow from the brazier orange-gold on his muscles, growing stronger as the sun set outside. Lancelot glanced back at him and smiled again, almost soft; as close to it as he ever got, his deadliest of swords. He brought the basin and the cloth over and pushed Arthur onto his back.

"You're no servant, to wash me," Arthur said, but Lancelot only grinned and stroked the cloth over his thighs, trailing it with his mouth, cool and hot in succession, tongue drawing a slow teasing line weaving along his thigh. Arthur shuddered and put his hand into Lancelot's hair, then slid down to the back of his neck, trembling, as Lancelot drew further up his leg. Arthur didn't take camp women; he knew they did this for men sometimes, but he'd never—his whole body jerked when Lancelot's mouth brushed over the juncture of his thigh.

Lancelot took him into his mouth. Arthur closed his eyes and breathed through it, desperately; almost too much sensation to bear. "One of these days I'll get you in a real bed," Lancelot said absently, pulling off a moment to ease him back, and pressed a kiss to Arthur's thigh.

Arthur laughed at that, breathless and wry. "When were we last in real beds?"

"After our term of service, then."

The thought of it was something like a dream; being in this moment was already as far outside war and duty as he could imagine, anymore. "Will you go home? Go in for farming?" he said, disbelieving, and gasped as Lancelot nipped him. He didn't remember Rome himself, except as a vague image of marble and gold, impressions of strength; it seemed endlessly far away and unreal, nothing like the heat of Lancelot's mouth closing on him again, the sweet pressure of his fingers, the stuttering of his own heart and breath as he spent a second time.

"I don't remember Sarmatia worth a damn," Lancelot said wistfully, his cheek pressed against Arthur's thigh, echoing his own thoughts, "but a bed would be nice."

"If you'll do that again," Arthur said almost drunkenly, half-gone, "I'll build you a bed to do it in with my own hands."

Lancelot laughed and pushed himself up to roll off the cot. The light outside had almost gone. "I'm going to be late."

He shrugged his mail back on, groaning softly, his muscles cracking as he stretched his shoulders back. Arthur got up out of the warm bed and knelt down to strap the greaves back onto Lancelot's legs.

"Who's playing the servant now?" Lancelot said, looking down at him. "I can manage."

Arthur ignored him and checked the tightness, slipping two fingers inside the leather straps, then stood with the breastplate. Lancelot ducked inside it, and Arthur stood close in front of him to fix down the shoulder plates again, breathing in the smell of iron, of sweat. Lancelot slung the sword-belt on with practiced ease, the movement as natural to him as water, and looking at him, complete again under arms, Arthur couldn't imagine him ever a farmer, ever a man of peace.

"Come back after," he said abruptly, and Lancelot's head came up, his eyes dark, asking a question; he had his own tent, of course, no worse than Arthur's if a little smaller, and when they'd slept together, it had been accidental, going from lust to exhaustion. "Even if I don't have a bed," Arthur offered, a little clumsily; he didn't have any other answer to give.

"Well," Lancelot said softly, "I suppose a cot will do for now."

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