When Galahad returns to town from his latest circuit of the wastes, there’s a new boy in Camelot, around Percival’s age, joined up with the Pendragons’ knights of the round table. Calls himself Mordred, which is a bit of an odd name, but those who choose their own names choose odd ones as often as not so Galahad doesn’t pay it much mind.
Galahad doesn’t pay him much mind at all, at first, except to briefly mourn the way the Pendragons draw in young dreamers with the promise of justice and prosperity and then funnel them directly into violence. Mordred’s jumpy the way newcomers often are, and he flinches at small noises and keeps to the shadows whenever he can; he’s apparently good with a knife but untrained with a gun, which Galahad very much wishes he didn’t have cause to know, but nothing too unusual. He doesn’t talk much. Galahad doesn’t either, when he’s not at the fire.
But the first thing that sets Mordred apart from every other newcomer, at least in Galahad’s eyes, is how long he stays by the fire at night. Camelot’s not a religious place, although any settlement has more faithful than the wastes do, and most people and especially most knights go to bed when the sun dims and dies rather than listening to sermons about peace.
But Mordred stays. At the outskirts, to be sure, where the shadows are deep enough that you might not notice he was there at all, but Galahad’s happy enough to keep talking for as long as anyone is there to listen, even if it does mean sleepless nights on occasion, even if Mordred is silent and nearly unmoving. Better than having nobody listen at all. Better than having even one person who wants to hear about a world not at war, and can’t find anyone who will say it out loud.
It takes nearly five weeks before Mordred actually works up the nerve to say anything. It’s late at night, of course, late enough that the only people left are him and Galahad and Percival, and even Percy feels like she’s about to fall asleep where she’s sitting.
“I don’t think I understand how angry people here are, all the time,” Mordred says, quietly, at the end of Galahad’s speech about acting on the command of wrath. “I understand fighting over something but here it seems like it isn’t even about need, it’s just — that they seem to think it’s good in its own right, to make someone who was alive not be.”
And Galahad clearly has no idea how to answer that, from the way he blinks and falls silent.
“He’s talking about Gawain, I think,” Percival says after a moment of silence, which she realizes belatedly might be the wrong thing to say but she’s pretty sure she’s right. Mordred gets real jumpy around Gawain. Not that he doesn’t have good reason to — Bedivere says Mordred was standing behind Gawain and Gawain got spooked enough to pull a gun on him, and Bedivere’s usually right at least about things like this — but nonetheless.
“I’m not only talking about Gawain but I’m not not talking about him either.” Mordred is still very quiet. His face doesn’t show anything, in a different way from the way Galahad’s face never shows anything or the way Bedivere’s face never shows anything.
This is a deeply weird sort of thing for another knight to believe — it’s the kind of thing Kay makes fun of Percy for, when they don’t think she can hear them, the kind of thing people call her stupid and naive for — and she glances at Galahad, not sure how to answer either.
“Nobody’s been safe for very long,” Galahad starts to say, it’s an answer he’s given to Percy before and she suspects it’s the only answer he can come up with the words for, but Mordred’s face does something Percival doesn’t know how to describe in words and Galahad stops.
“Gawain had two brothers and a sister and they were killed by ghouls while they were coming from Orkney to Camelot and now he’s angry enough to want to kill everything tangentially related to having anything to do with it,” Percy says before she can think to not say it. “‘S not about having to. Never has been.”
It’s hard to see Mordred’s face in the dying firelight, not that Percy’s any good at reading faces anyway. “...ah. That. Does explain a lot.”
He nods at Galahad to continue, and falls silent again for the rest of the night, which is deeply weird even though it’s not like Percy’s in any place to judge weird, but that sets the tone. Galahad goes quiet like he does when he’s not preaching, leaving Percy to fill up the silence if she wants to which she doesn’t, and all three of them wind up falling asleep outside and only waking when the sun flickers on the next morning, covered in rust and the fire long dead.
Mordred settles in, or he does his best to, anyway. People are welcoming, or at least they try to be. In Camelot they don’t eat meat, which of course he’d expected but is still bizarre; they don’t wear leather, which makes sense when he thinks about it but the lightness of Camelot’s fabric is still a relief. They make a lot of eye contact, which he supposes comes along with being able to see each other but knowing doesn’t make it feel less unnatural, but having real walls means he can take his dust mask and goggles off whenever he’s within the town gates and not only when he’s inside a tent, which is wonderful. Adjusting to having a day/night cycle and a sleep schedule based on any clock but his own is slow going but he manages. Lancelot takes him aside and teaches him how to shoot properly; he learns how to tell when the machines they use here to purify water and make bullets out of scrap metal need repairing, and who to find when they do.
More slowly, he learns the people here, learns that fire-haired Kay has a tongue to match and won’t hesitate before using it, learns to never stand between Guinevere and the door, learns exactly how loudly to walk so that people know he’s there and won’t draw a gun on him again, teaches himself not to startle at loud noises and not to be surprised when people say coming through or hey, I’m in like he’s family.
(Arthur says those things a lot. To everyone, not just to Mordred, but it makes keeping his face blank a challenge.)
He learns and learns and keeps his familiar things close. A seax knife is tucked into his boot, under his pant leg where nobody will be able to see it; he hums Morgan’s favorite songs while he works, and Hush, child, the darkness will rise from the deep, and carry you down into sleep, runs through his mind at night. He bites his lip open by accident once and nearly cries at how like home and not like home it tastes.
Sitting around a fire in the dark is familiar and sweeter for it, and when there are other people there Galahad speaks and when it’s just the three of them, him and Galahad and Percival, and Galahad goes quiet and Percival talks about nothing and everything, Camelot could almost feel like home.
(After eight months of hearing Galahad talk about his hopes for an end to the war, after eight months of hearing Percy talk about what a world at peace would even look like, and two months after he hears about Arthur’s dream of a golden age of prosperity for everyone, Mordred quietly, cautiously brings up including the Saxons — he can’t bring himself to call them ghouls, not here around the fire, not to Percival and Galahad — in that peace. He’s half expecting sneering; Gawain’s voice saying A bullet is all they deserve is loud in his ears.
Galahad falls silent for just long enough that Mordred is sure he’s going to explode and then thanks him. Calls him virtuous, for seeing and believing that there were more people who needed help. “And thank providence I know you,” Galahad says, “for opening my eyes.”
Camelot feels a lot more like home after that.)
Galahad is on one of his circuits through the wastes, trading the raiders he encounters there medical knowledge and religious guidance in exchange for food and news, and has been for a few weeks; his room is sitting empty, and Mordred and Percival alternate between their rooms, curling up together in one bed or the other.
“D’you ever think about moving in together?” Percy says. Her hands are in Mordred’s hair, which is soft and black under the sepia filter of rust and curls itself around her fingers.
“....it might be a good idea,” Mordred says, after a slightly long pause. “We’d be able to steal more time in private, it’d free up a room.” So, yes, he has thought about it. “And it’d be — neutral ground. Between us and if Galahad wanted to move in too. — Not that the whole town isn’t the Pendragons’ but you know what I mean.”
Mordred says things like that sometimes. Percy hums and doesn’t ask what the hell he’s talking about and keeps playing with his hair.
“Yeah,” he says after another long pause. “I’d like that,” and from the next morning onward they sleep in the room that was Mordred’s and is now theirs.
Percy’s never been shy, and Mordred doesn’t see much more than he did anyway. But Percival gets the chance to notice things she didn’t before: Mordred sings around her more, songs that don’t quite sound like they come from the same stock as the ones she knows, and he stands up seconds before there’s a knock on their door like he’s listening for footsteps outside, and he keeps a knife that doesn’t look much like wasteland knives in his boot, under the leg of his pants where it’d be prohibitively difficult to reach for quickly but no one can see it.
Percival is blunt, not stupid, so she doesn’t say she knows, not directly. Certainly doesn’t tell anyone else — maybe if Galahad weren’t in the wastes and she could talk with him about it, but not as is. But she holds her Mordred and quietly learns his songs until they’re at the point where they can sing them together, his part giving way to hers halfway through the line and both of them picking up one another’s words to begin their own.
She does try asking indirectly, once, in the early hours of the morning after what was probably too much whiskey — Mordred, like Galahad, doesn’t touch it, but Percival isn’t as holy as Galahad or as tight-lipped as Mordred so she’s got fewer compunctions — and they’re alone in the room that’s theirs, presses her belly to his back and says “If I were Gawain, and I’d thought for years that my sister was dead, and there was news I didn’t know — I’d want to know it.”
Mordred is quiet.
“I’m not saying you have to,” she says, and he doesn’t laugh and doesn’t cry but she can feel his shoulders shake.
“Percy, I don’t want to talk about this,” he says, and she drops the subject and doesn’t pick it back up.
Among the Saxons, it’s very rare to be loud. When you can’t see each other, letting people know your location is a sign of trust, not a matter of course; people walk quietly, speak quietly. When Mordred first arrived in Camelot the brightness was foreign but even more foreign was the way everyone walked, stomping on the steel ground and not caring who heard. It was almost frightening, for the first few weeks; it took time to remember that this wasn’t a display of I don’t care who knows where I am because I’ll win every fight, this is my territory you’re in, but simply an artifact of everyone being able to see each other anyway.
Among the Saxons, you’re only ever loud among people you trust.
“I want you,” Mordred says, his voice shaky with what might be fear or might be wanting, he can’t tell, “to make me be loud.” And Percival makes Mordred loud, makes him whimper and sob and moan and on one memorable occasion scream, takes him slowly and steadily apart with her mouth and her hands until he can’t keep silent no matter how hard he bites down on his own wrist.
When Galahad comes back from the wastes he takes his things from his empty room and moves in with them and then they’re three, Galahad fully clothed with his chest against Mordred’s back and his arms around Mordred’s waist, Mordred with his head tilted backwards onto Galahad’s shoulder and Percy’s mouth on his tits and her hands doing things he hadn’t realized hands could do, and they’re there to cover his mouth if he gets too loud which means it’s safe to be loud, safe to let go. It’s safe to press up into Percival and make as much noise as he needs into her mouth; it’s safe to, when she’s done taking him apart at the seams, flip them over so her back is against Galahad’s chest and return the favor. Safe to focus only on the sounds he can pull out of Percy and let Galahad hold them both, safe to forget the world outside their room exists and stop listening intently for footsteps outside their door.
It’s safe, to let himself curl up between them and listen only to his Galahad and his Percy talk quietly across him about sexual sins (“— one of the things you talk about when you talk about temptation?” “I mean, it’s not ideal that you aren’t married, obviously, but there won’t be any children to worry about so as long as I stay out of it we frankly have bigger problems, namely the constant death and violence we’re all steeped in —”) and safe to let himself fall asleep in their arms.
It’s a kind of safety he isn’t sure he’s known since before Morgan, even. It’s — good. He hadn’t expected to feel it ever again.
Then Merlin speaks to Galahad.
“Galahad, that chair has killed everyone who’s ever sat in it,” Percival says when he tells his almost-lovers what Merlin told him.
“I know. But I can’t not try.”
“The last person to try died after screaming in agony for months. This is a terrible idea and you shouldn’t do it.”
She isn’t even wrong, which is half the problem. “I know that,” he says again. “But I can’t not try. We could have enough, we can end this heat, we can end this war, we can just have the things we talk about wanting, there might actually be hope.”
“That doesn’t —”
“No, he’s right,” Mordred says, voice shaky, and Percival looks betrayed for half a second before she notices that he looks like he’s about to start crying. “Some things are worth dying for. Try and tell us whatever it is these, these visions tell you? In case you can’t follow through on them,” and Mordred doesn’t like coming out and saying things plainly when he doesn’t have to but it’s not hard to tell when what he means is I love you.
“Of course,” Galahad says, and means it, and kisses his Percy’s temple and his Mordred’s cheek, and approaches the round table.
“I wouldn’t do that,” says a knight by the name of Lamorak, but Galahad’s already made his peace with people whose opinions he cares for far more.
“Don’t recall asking,” he says, and sits down, and burns.
The quest for the GRAIL doesn’t take all the knights from Camelot; Mordred is left half in charge, which is a surprise but a pleasant one.
Percy pulls him to a corner of the room, says “I’m going,” in a voice quiet enough that it’s clearly a private conversation and not a public announcement but not so quiet that they won’t actually be heard. Probably she doesn’t mean anything by it, Percy doesn’t calculate her volume like Mordred does his, but he glances over at Galahad — wild-eyed Galahad who won’t touch either of them, hasn’t for days, says the station is already doomed if they don’t find the GRAIL and he won’t doom it more — to see if he’s listening. He isn’t, of course.
“I know,” he says. “Take care of him for me?”
“Of course,” and she doesn’t have to say I love you out loud.
“And I’ll hold down the fort until you get back.” A kiss on the shoulder, and then another on the mouth. Percy’s on the verge of crying; Mordred might be too. “When you get back —” when, not if — “I’ll be here.”
There’s a passage down to Annwn two days’ ride from here. The quest for the GRAIL is planned to take two months; he can negotiate with the Saxons and be back in less than a week. By the time they come back — and they’re going to, he has to believe they’re going to — Mordred will have their peace waiting for them, and they can help Galahad heal.
“I’ll take care of him, and you take care of Camelot,” Percy says, and Mordred agrees, and kisses her again.