Title: In Mead and Mercy
Summary: Believing he's failed everyone he loved, Percival leaves Camelot in hopes of finding a way to make it up to all of them.
Word Count: 809
Prompt: #91, atonement
Author's Notes: Takes place immediately post-series.
No matter how hard he pulls, how swiftly he runs, how desperately he tries, Percival is always too late. Too late to save Gwaine, too late to stop Morgana, too late to help Arthur. His return to Camelot brings answers to their queen, and while she and the others can finally have peace if not happiness, he cannot. Peace is for those with nothing to atone for.
But he will try. He must. His debts loom too large for him to live with.
He begins by leaving Camelot. He can do good with the other knights, but those are not the deeds that will satisfy the black claws that leave his heart in shreds on a nightly basis. His path takes him away from the land he’d almost believed would be his lasting home. Another loss.
Perhaps this was meant to be his legacy all along.
His new life takes him beyond familiar borders where he can fight for Arthur’s kingdom on terms Gwaine would’ve approved of. It’s solitary, quieter than he likes, which leaves room for unexpected voices to haunt the spaces between his battles. The best solution is to fight longer, harder, and when that doesn’t work, he seeks out pubs that would’ve made Gwaine proud to drown out the echoes in mead and mercy.
Meeting someone who’d also known Gwaine is probably inevitable. Maybe that is why he kept on going.
She is pretty, of course, though more solemn than he would’ve thought would attract Gwaine. Her name is Esa, and she brings him dinner even when he says he’s not hungry. The mead, however, he refuses after the first pint. He has no desire to welcome oblivion and miss any moment with her he might gain.
When the last man has left, Esa regards Percival with a wary eye. “Need to lock up, you know,” she says.
“Do you?” She cocks her head. “If you wished for a warm bed for the night, you wished in vain.”
The thought had crossed his mind, though he would never say so now. “I just want to make certain you’ve safe passage home.”
“I do. But thank you for the offer.”
Lingering is out of the question. But under the cloak of night, he watches for her to leave, ready to take on whatever man might press his advantage.
The one who approaches Esa as she emerges is not who Percival expects. A lean lad of ten, with eyes that swallow the stray light from his torch. He laughs when Esa crooks her arm through his, and a shiver runs down Percival’s spine.
Ghosts have a way of doing that.
Esa makes no comment when Percival shows the next evening, and the evening after that. No mention more is made of their shared history, either. It’s enough that they both recognize it, at least for him. On the third night, he takes his time to depart, dawdling even when he sees the mounting frustration on her face.
The boy’s arrival startles both of them. Percival wants to ease her panic, assure her he means no harm, but Esa steps in, doing her best to block the boy’s view of the room as she hustles him back outside. When she returns, her terrified gaze lands immediately on Percival.
“You won’t tell him,” she whispers. “Bren’s all I have.”
Percival shakes his head. He’d seen no reason to tell her Gwaine was gone, saying only that he’d fought at Gwaine’s side for a while when they discovered the commonality. “You have my word.”
She seems to relax at that, as if his honor has value in this place. “Not that I think Gwaine would ever care, but time has a way of changing some people. I can’t risk it.”
Her words carry more truth than she realizes, but he lets it go. “Because he’s your family now.”
“And he doesn’t know about Gwaine.”
“Only that his father always made me smile.”
Until he didn’t. She doesn’t have to add that for Percival to know.
“Your secret is safe with me,” he repeats.
Rather than rouse more fear in her, he takes his leave, keeping his head low but his eyes alert when he steps outside. The boy puffs up when he spots Percival, but Percival keeps his interest as a curt nod when he passes. No loitering tonight. The unintentional family Gwaine left behind will need only each other in the hours to come.
Percival knows now. What he must do. How he must atone for failing Gwaine.
He will spend his years protecting Gwaine’s son, from near or far, however he can. And if the day comes when Bren wishes to learn more about the man his father had been, Percival will share the stories.
This time, he would not be too late.