Percival was sure that he would never feel as vindicated nor as much as much vindictive joy as he felt watching Dante’s expression mutate after Signora Aurora told him that it was Percival’s last day at the Black Hammer. It sent a little thrill of what he would dare to call joy through him.
As Percival expected, the flush started red and turned more purple with every question that Percival didn’t answer as Percival packed up for the last time and offered the man the package with his materials locker badge and issued apron.
“Where I’m going and what I’ll be doing isn’t your concern,” Percival said, “I’m just a forge hand, and I can leave when I please just the same as you can fire me as you please.”
“You’re going to the Dutchess, aren’t you? You fucking German, I won’t have it!”
“It isn’t your decision,” Percival said still holding the package out to him.
“Where are you going?”
“None of your business.”
“Back to Germany?”
“None of your–”
“The hell it isn’t! I hired you when no one else would!”
Percival snorted surprising them both and everyone in the forge who were listening to Dante shouting at him at the entrance to the forge. In all the time that he’d worked at the Black Hammer, it was the first time anyone in the forge had seen or heard anything that sounded like any sort of emotion coming for Percival.
In all the time working at the Black Hammer, it was also the first time that Percival felt free enough to do so.
“You hired me, but it’s not because no one else would and you know it,” Dante grit his teeth. The sound of his teeth grinding together was at once irritating and gratifying. He could hear them cracking under the man’s frustration and hoped the man gave him the god of all toothaches. “And I doubt anyone in Paris would disagree with me.”
He snatched the package out of Percival’s hand and threw it on the ground. He snarled up at Percival in a show of immaturity that he hadn’t been aware that the man was capable of. Some part of him was laughing high, free, and mean into the air.
Take that, Frenchman.
“That’s the last time I hire a German!” he said spitting at Percival’s feet, “Don’t let me see you ever again!”
Percival didn’t bother to acknowledge the threat but walked to Signora Aurora’s office to collect his severance package and turn in his last few order sheets. She already had his preliminary tally ready for him and added the final few to the list. With a few more checks, she wrote him a check for his severance and receipt.
She smiled up at him with a different kind of light in her eyes, “Good luck, Percival.”
“It was a pleasure working with you, Signora.”
He left the Black Hammer and went to his usual cafe to grab tea and a pastry before heading back to Le Chesnay for his caseworker appointment. She tossed confetti into the air when he told her that he would be apprenticing with at the Royal Forge under the royal forge master and did all the cheering that Percival held in his chest. She was never affected by his apparent lack of enthusiasm, always filling the air with all the excitement he didn’t seem to be able to express. She was always happy to see him, happy to talk, happy to fill the silence between them if he needed. She gave him a cookie and asked how he was doing, what his hours would be, if there would be any changes, and if he needed anything from her.
“You’re technically a ward of Zephyrine until you turn twenty, but I think we can be honest and say you’re self-sufficient,” she said with a smile, “If you need anything, please come talk to me, okay?”
He nodded and thanked her for the cookie before heading back home and sending messages to all the contacts he’d made at the Black Hammer to inform them that he’d changed his place of employment.
Anya scryed him almost immediately, eyes wide and excited, “Congratulations!”
“You’re just excited that you can add that to your price point,” he teased.
“Well, I did learn from the best. Before you get incredibly busy, can I run a few things by you?”
On Monday, he woke up around the same time, made breakfast, ate, whittled a little, and took the transit to the Royal Forge for what he expected to be orientation. The same blacksmith that he’d nearly decapitated two years ago greeted him at the door. The thin scar was still on his neck as he glared up at him from a decent running distance.
“What do you want?”
“Go away you vulture!” Guinevere said coming up behind him shoving him away from Percival to stand before him in her forge clothes: breeches, a colorful head wrap, a loose tunic, a brace, a tool belt, and a vest.
She led him to where Leonde was speaking with a knight who looked at him strangely. Percival assumed it was because of his height, but since Leonde was taller than the average French man, he decided it was probably his features. When Leonde got free, he took Percival to a different station than the one he’d taken him to before though it had much of the same setup. The workbench was a standard size meant for a junior blacksmith, but it was a Leonhard forge nonetheless. His lips twitched as he drew a hand over the carvings along the workbench.
“This will be yours, feel free to arrange it as you want. No one else will be using it but you. You’ll be expected to maintain the regulator, your tools, etc. When you’re settled in, we’ll get started.”
Percival nodded and set his bag down. Guinevere seemed to be watching him from the corner of her eye as he went about checking the setup, making sure that his regulator worked and all the parts were there, inspecting the tools he’d been given. He looked over at her. She grinned and wandered towards her father.
“I’m good,” she said pleasantly in passing, and Percival had a feeling that he would be spending a lot of time agreeing with her.
Lancelot forced himself to wait three days before returning to the Black Hammer in search of Percival. It had been harder than he expected, but he managed it. With three days of rest and distance, he had a chance to clear his mind and allow Percival to do the same. He wanted to talk to Percival without sex clouding their minds and time apart would be the only way to do it.
He’d waited the three days, but the taste of Percival hadn’t faded from his tongue, and true to his reckless nature, he refused to wait another day.
When Lancelot left his room, he expected one of three things to happen when he arrived at the Black Hammer: the man would see him and tell him to go away, the man would see him and agree to an actual dinner date without the extra festivities, or perhaps Percival would agree to a rerun of their last outing in its entirety. He refused to think about which one all of him wanted most and simply walked to the establishment.
As before, the man looked at him as if he wasn’t worthy of being acknowledged.
“I’m looking for Percival,” Lancelot said before the man could piss him off any more.
“He’s not here,” the man told him in the most dismissive tone Lancelot had ever heard.
Lancelot frowned looking at his watch, Percival shouldn’t have been off shift yet, “Is he sick?”
“No, he doesn’t work here anymore. Stupid German turned in his resignation days ago.”
Lancelot groaned. That was not on the list of expectations or even worst fears. He ran his hand through his hair and turned away from the forge. Apparently, his luck in Paris had run out. The only forge worker in the city he knew could maintain his sword, the most beautiful man he’d seen in all of Paris, and the man he couldn’t get off his mind or off his tongue was gone without a trace. Lancelot didn’t even have a lead.
Reckless was the only word that came to mind. It had been reckless to ask Percival out, to sleep with him, and not get his name, but Lancelot hadn’t anticipated Lancelot shook his head, turned and walked back to East End feeling a little defeated. He spent the night alone, reading a book and trying not to think about Percival with no luck.
There had been something indescribable about Percival that made Lancelot want it more. An easy answer would have been that Percival’s magical profile was very well-matched to his own, but given how distant Germany was from Zamora, there was no way he could ever be satisfied with such an answer.
The question and need burned in his blood like a good wine: wholly distracting.
Maybe it’s better this way.
Aside from meeting Percival again, there was a good chance that he wouldn’t encounter someone else so captivating. In just one night, Percival had proven to be more addicting than he was sure he could handle without losing his mind. He’d come to Paris with a mission to enter and pass the Knight Trials and eventually be recognized by the crown of France and the crown of Zephyrine as worthy of serving as a knight for his home country. He couldn’t really afford the distraction.
He scoffed and closed his book. Percival had been a stress relief and a joy. The Knights Trials of France were shaping up to be more of a cakewalk than making paella at home after years of making it from scratch. It wasn’t that Percival was going to be a distraction, but there was no way to take away the sting of losing the chance at maybe having a more substantial arrangement with the beautiful and mysterious man.
Should have gotten his name, Lance’, he groaned and banged his head on his table, Why are you so reckless?
He would just have to count his blessings that he’d had the one night with the amazing man and move on with his life. Paris was a huge city and Lancelot only knew enough about it to know where the closest market and blacksmith was to where he stayed outside of the directions to the palace. He was learning the city steadily, but the streets of Paris were much different than Madrid or Zamora.
“It’s for the best,” he told himself even as he felt the regret sinking in. The fact that he had refused to wait another day and the three days had been near torture was sign enough that time with Percival of any manner was probably a luxury that he didn’t need to indulge in if he was going to keep focused.
Putting it out of his mind, he spent the rest of the week studying for the written aptitude exam and hoped that the memory of Percival would leave his mind in the meantime.
The written exam of aptitude for the Knight’s Trials was easier than he could have possibly imagined. He wasn’t sure if it was a matter of Zephyrine’s superior education system or something about the exam itself, but he couldn’t imagine anyone failing it.
With the test done, it was obvious that passing the preliminaries and entering the Knight’s Trial years was going to be a breeze.
Maintaining his sanity throughout it was another thing entirely. The air of Paris was irritating him in the way that his mother had warned him it would. People with magic in their blood weren’t meant to be alone in places without other magical people. He interacted regularly with a young man from Italy who had some sort of magic lineage, but it wasn’t enough when he walked the streets of Paris or retired to the dingy little inn in East End.
He figured that he’d find some place to stay permanently nearer to a more diverse and steady population in Paris, but his greater concern was the matter of the armor he would need for training. He already knew that getting a set, no matter how basic, would be expensive, but he needed another estimate now that the Black Hammer held nothing for him and as far as he could tell and neither would any of the other small forges in Paris. With a shrug, he walked the path toward the Royal Forge. The French man who opened the door and sneered at him made his palm twitch on the hilt of his sword.
No, Lance’, deep breath and smile. You’ve been reckless enough for a while, I think.
“No charity work.”
Lancelot snorted, “Then why are you working here?”
His jaw dropped, and he growled as Lancelot regarded him coolly. The man was a typical French man and a blacksmith like the blacksmiths of the Black Hammer. A twinge of regret coursed through him at the thought of the Black Hammer, but he shoved it aside. The regret was still too new and coupled with the realization that Percival hadn’t seemed interested in anything more substantial either.
Not every phenomenal encounter can turn into something more, Lancelot reminded himself, They often don’t.
“I’m in the Knight’s Trials, and I need armor made. If you can’t or won’t help me, direct me to someone who will.”
He opened his mouth, and a young woman’s voice cut in, “I’d move out of the way. Didn’t your mother ever teach you not to tangle with a Zephyrinian? You would think you would have learned from the last time…”
He blanched, and Lancelot looked to the young woman with interest as she smiled. The young woman was obviously from somewhere south of Seville. What was she, let alone her parents, doing in Paris? Regardless, seeing her gave him some hope of finding somewhere in Paris to live that the irritation of the lack of magic in Paris wouldn’t irritate him too much.
He nodded and walked around the man towards the forge floor where a large man with dark brown skin was standing looking over a piece of paper before calling to his left. Judging from the man’s coloring and his height, Lancelot would bet his boots that he was the young woman’s relative.
“Percival? Could you come here?”
He frowned at the name but grinned and praised his luck as Percival crossed the forge to the man of African descent. Arms bare, face flushed, gleaming golden and sweaty from forge work, he looked a lot more at ease than when he’d met him at the Black Hammer.
Probably because the African man whom Lancelot guessed was the royal forge master treated him eons better than the asses at the Black Hammer ever did even if his colleagues were jerks. The man pointed at the page, Percival shrugged and said something that made Leonde laugh.
“Dad,” the young woman called, “Knight-to-be.”
He didn’t look up and asked, “French?”
Leonde and Percival turned to look at Lancelot. Percival flinched, and Lancelot thanked the gods, Zephyrine, and every ancestor for granting him such a blessing. His heart sped up and his stomach flipped with joy seeing him. It seemed that the days between their last encounter had done nearly nothing to dull his reaction to the gorgeous man.
Keep cool, he thought, You don’t even know if he remembers your name.
“Lancelot,” Percival said, breathless.
Gods be praised, Lancelot smirked, “Hello, Percival.”
Leonde looked between them and smiled, “Hello, my daughter says you’re a knight-to-be.”
Lancelot nodded, “My name is Lancelot. I’m set to enter the Knight Trials and was looking to have a set of armor made in the near future.”
Leonde waved him over, “Always happy to make armor for a knight-to-be. Where in Zephyrine do you hail from?”
“Zamora,” Lancelot said letting his gaze meet Percival’s as he approached the table.
The young woman walked further into the forge, apparently instructing a forge worker on how to actually maintain a sword. Leonde had simple questions to ask him after Lancelot confirmed that his fighting style was more Zephyrinian than French. When Leonde finished the order and specifications sheet, he gave the pages to Percival to price and left them alone.
“Hey,” Lancelot said gently as Percival simply stared at him. His lack of expression was as frustrating as ever, but in his eyes, there was disbelief, “You–”
“You’re a knight-in-training?”
Lancelot’s lips quirked, and he nodded coming closer, “Yeah. You’re an apprentice for the royal blacksmith now? Got tired of being the German?”
Percival nodded, and Lancelot smirked as he took a seat beside Percival’s regulator and Percival cross-checked the price of steel and labor rates at the royal forge.
“Am I making you uncomfortable?”
Lancelot let his gaze wander over Percival and watched Percival squirm as if he could feel his eyes on him. He wasn’t sure if it made Percival uncomfortable to be watched or not, but it definitely felt like they were meeting for the first time again. Only this time, Lancelot knew exactly what Percival looked like naked and took great pleasure imagining him bent over the work table without attempting to hide it. He watched Percival shudder under his gaze and bit his lip.
“Was it not good?”
“Am I missing something perhaps?”
“I,” Percival started and turned, “Didn’t expect you to still be in the city.”
“My fault for not asking for your full name,” Lancelot shrugged, “Though I was quite distracted, I didn’t mean for you to think that it would be just once if you were agreeable.”
“I said you’d need time,” Lancelot said, “I know I can be intense. Hell, it was overwhelming for me too. I needed the time to get my head on remotely straight, but I was under the impression that you enjoyed it.”
“I did, but I thought you wouldn’t be here long, so…”
Lancelot nodded, “Well, I will be for at least another month. When I pass, I won’t be staying in East End.”
Percival nodded and licked his lips, “I see.”
Lancelot stood and approached him. With a quick glance around the forge to be sure they weren’t being watched, he stepped into Percival’s space, crowding him back against the workbench.
“Perhaps, I should be frank: do you want it to be just the once?”
He shook his head, and Lancelot gave him a pleased smile.
“Lancelot Du Lac,” Lancelot said, “Would you care to have dinner with me tonight, Percival?”
Percival nodded, “Percival Leonhard.”
He grinned, “Same time? I can meet you here.”
Percival nodded worrying his lip, “Your armor?”
“I have a bit of time before I really need to worry about it. I’ll see you tonight.”
Percival nodded again, and Lancelot backed away and left the forge the way he came.
Percival sunk into a chair, dizzy with the scent of Lancelot filling his senses. His presence had been enough to send everything in him reaching out. Percival took a shuddering breath at the wicked promise that came with Lancelot’s dinner invitation.
We have work to do, Percival reminded himself, trying to get his head on straight.
“You’ve got fantastic taste,” Zilla said leaning into his workspace with a smile, “Perhaps you should head home early and get cleaned up for your date?”
“I doubt that’ll be necessary.”
“Honey,” she called across the forge, “Send Percival home so he can get ready for his date.”
Percival flushed, “But–”
“Go home, Percival,” Leonde called over his shoulder, distracted with a report in his hand, “Have fun, and see you, Monday.”
Zilla smiled, “You heard the forge master. Get going.”
Percival’s shoulders slumped in defeat, and he sighed. Rather than attempt to argue with her, he packed up and turned off his regulator. Zilla was the true chain of command in the forge, and Guinevere was next in line. Everyone knew that. She handed him a small basket of sweets and waved goodbye. He caught the transport home. Rather than a shower, he sank into a hot bath because he had hours before six.
When he returned a few minutes prior to six, Lancelot nearly walked past him heading towards the forge with his hair wet from the baths. He stopped, perhaps feeling Percival’s presence, and turned to admire him openly. Wicked brown eyes promised to get him naked and hoarse before the night was over.
“Hello gorgeous,” Lancelot held out a hand, “Let’s get going.”
Percival couldn’t think of a single reason not to follow Lancelot, so he took his hand and let Lancelot lead him out of Versailles knowing that they would end up at East End just like their first meeting for no other reason than they both wanted it.
With a shudder, he fell into step with him and wished that he felt worthy enough to smile at the man who smiled so honestly at him.