songs of jonathan
for @thankyoumerlin, about two years late
David dreams of Michelle sometimes, but they’re never happy. He dreams of seeing her, belly swollen with child and face gaunt, her eyes burning with a feverish light.
You failed me, she says to him, and there’s blood dripping from her nose and down her mouth. He shoots up when he wakes and rubs a shaking hand down his face.
He doesn’t know if his dreams are premonition or just manifestations of guilt, of horror. He finds he doesn’t much care, as he shoulders his small pack and moves on again, finding a new place to hide in his exile.
He has faith in God, of course, but none in himself.
He watches the news when he can, craning for any glimpse of the princess and prince. Instead, he just hears of a neverending war, sees the face of a rapidly aging king.
There is no mention of an old war king that has escaped.
He begins to dream of Jack. Prickly, dangerous Jack, liable to bite the hand that feeds him.
Jack looks tired, sitting alone in an ornate room. There are metal bars on the windows and a silk robe thrown carelessly on a plush chair, the only sign of a woman once there.
Oh king of kings, Jack says to him wryly, glancing up. Welcome to my castle. Afraid it’s just me.
David watches him like one would a feral dog and Jack’s smile turns a little mean.
Afraid I’m gonna bite? Then he sighs, shoulders slumping, like the fight’s gone out of him. He rolls his shoulders and settles back in his chair, picking up a knife and an apple. It’s like David isn’t even there, and he watches as Jack slices down the red skin and nicks his finger, a small well of blood starting to drip down his thumb.
He sucks it into his mouth and David takes a breath, then wakes up.
Sometimes, David feels like all he does is walk. He lets his hair grow out, doesn’t shave, and so far no one has recognized him, though at this point he’s unsure if that has to do with being on God’s favor or of his disguise. He doesn’t question it.
He doesn’t question most things, these days.
It’s on the third week of his exile that he finds others. Those who look at him and just know who he is, who take him in.
We’re part of the rebellion, they say to him. We want you to lead us.
They already look at him like he’s a king, and he remembers the bright heat of the sunlight and the gentle touch of the butterflies as they landed on his head.
The first night with the rebels, he dreams again.
Jack is in the same room, and he’s drinking wine, and David is drawn to the way his throat moves as he swallows. Jack glances at him and licks his lips, already stained pink.
You shaved, he says, eyes lingering on the curve of his jaw.
Uh, David flushes and Jack smirks.
Just as eloquent as always, king of kings.
Why do you call me that? David manages.
Jack looks tired, face gaunt and hollowed out. Seems stupid to keep denying it, isn’t it? The rightful king. He takes a long sip of wine, a drop of red sliding down his jaw and staining his collar pink. We will exult and rejoice in you; we will extol your love more than wine; rightly do they love you.
What does that mean?
Jack just smiles again, and it doesn’t reach his eyes. I dreamt it. Like I dreamt you.
David doesn’t wake up rested. He doesn’t know if he ever has. The rebels look to him and he doesn’t know how to tell them that he thinks he’s flying apart at the seams, that his skin is going to start to peel off and reveal the human muscle, the tissue, the bone.
Maybe it’ll be the only way to convince them that he’s just as human as them.
Eli comes to him sometimes, during the day. David sees him out of the corner of his eyes. He’s never whole. Has a big hole in his stomach and blood that drips down his mouth, slides down his fingers and onto the ground. David can see the puddles he leaves. He never talks, just stares at him with those too-large eyes still wide in death.
David feels like all he leaves behind is death, that it will follow him forever.
Jack looks startled when David appears in his room that night. I didn’t think I was going to dream you tonight.
David shivers, the room cold and Jack sighs and takes off his robe. Take it. I’m used to it.
Their fingers brush as Jack hands it off, and David shivers again. Something in this, the soft satin of the bathrobe on his skin, it feels like fate. Jack gazes at him, quiet, then sneers but there’s no heat. David can’t stop staring at his mouth, lush like the fruit that grew on his farm.
Jack quirks an eyebrow at him and David flushes. Again. Something about Jack throws him off balance, even when he isn’t real, even when he’s just a dream.
I guess since we’re here right now, I can ask you for forgiveness. He looks as if he’s swallowed a lime.
David frowns as Jack tilts his head back to look up at him, pale throat vulnerable and exposed. For what? he asks.
For trying to kill you. Betraying you. Take your pick.
You saved me, in the end.
Jack laughs, so soft, so tired. You are unreal, O king of kings. He looks up and catches his eyes and David holds them, swallowing hard. Jack finally looks away.
It’s not fair for you to come here like this, when I can’t fight. I can’t fight you, David. Maybe I never have been able to.
Go! He sneers, lips curled up and eyes flashing.
David wakes up.
He doesn’t dream for days. Throws himself into training the new volunteers that come in every week. He looks at them, their soft eyes and softer hands, and aches, not wanting to lead them into battle, not wanting to lead them into death.
The first time Eli moves through a person, David flinches and Eli just stares, stares, daring him to do something else, to not fight as they have for generations.
But David doesn’t know anything else. The only language Silas understands is battle, the only language David can speak is violence. He stares at his hands and hardly remembers the time when they could create music instead of bloodshed.
And there was war again, a voice whispers in his ear.
Michelle appears to him again. He has dozed off in the middle of the day, and she appears and never says a word. She isn’t pregnant in this one, but her teeth are stained red and her eyes look yellow and jaundiced.
David is afraid of her, of her bold, disappointed eyes and her sickly pallor. She reaches out as if to touch him and he jerks back, away from her fingers. Her teeth bare into a mocking grin.
Michelle was never his, and God is making sure he knows.
Jack eats a pomegranate. He’s shirtless, smooth pale skin, lean like a runner.
He’s also making a mess. Eyes flick up and he smirks, there’s heat there, and mischievousness. David is thrown, used to the tired, hollowed man he’d grown to know.
They’re in season, Jack says, and offers him a scoop. His fingers are stained purple and for a wild moment, David thinks of curling his fingers around his slim wrist and sucking the juice off his skin. He gets as far as his hand around that bone before he stops himself.
It’s quiet. The only sound is their breathing, Jack’s low and even, his eyes lidded, David’s more ragged.
Your cheeks are like two halves of a pomegranate behind your veil, he murmurs, his eyes glowing, almost feverish. David can feel his pulse, thready and fast. Jack takes a step forward and David’s lips part, over his teeth. Your teeth are like a flock of shorn ewes that have come up from the washing.
Jack, David murmurs and Jack jerks back as if shocked, breath rattling in his lungs. The pomegranate rolls onto the floor, spilling seeds at their feet. David notes Jack’s bare, vulnerable toes, digging into the soft carpet.
Jack looks at him with wild eyes, cheeks burnt with color. Don’t… He chokes out, shoulders hunching in on himself.
David touches his shoulders and Jack sucks in another breath before flinching away.
David thinks about Jack too much, he knows. It’s distracting, for himself and others. When he should be focusing on this war. He thinks about his mouth, generous and soft, hiding teeth like knives and a tongue like a snake. He thinks about his hands, long and slender, made to play piano when in reality they’ve only dealt destruction.
But it’s a destruction that David craves now. A destruction of the body. What he wants is to lay Jack down like an offering, pour water over his skin like a baptism, watch as it slides down his ribs and lingers on the divots of his hips. David craves Jack like the taste of honeysuckle on a warm day, stuck between your teeth, dripping nectar and milk under his tongue. He wants to tilt that chin up, to press a hand to the curve of his throat, to feel his Adam’s apple bob as he swallows, to feel that movement with his teeth.
He wants to make Jack his, knit soul to soul. He thinks of Jack, and he thinks, he wants, Until the day breathes, until the shadow flees, my beloved is mine and I am his.
David decides his first mission is to find Jack. Eli stares at him with those dead, forgotten eyes, the hole in his stomach still oozing blood, and David argues that it’s a good tactic. If there’s anyone who has better knowledge of Silas than Jack, they have not presented themselves. If there’s anyone who wants Jack gone as strongly, they have yet to present themselves as well.
It works. He picks three men, sharp-eyed and cunning but loyal to the bone, whether that is to God or David. (They are one and the same, are they not? he can hear Jack’s taunting reply in his ear.)
The first night on the three day trek back to Shiloh, Michelle appears again. She is pale, ghostly. She speaks to him for the first time.
When you find Jack, she says, eyes soft, quiet. Tell him I’m sorry.
David reaches out to touch her hand, and this time she is the one who moves away.
Maybe in another lifetime, you were mine, she murmurs. But not this one.
The day before they arrive in Shiloh, David watches Jack pace his room. He has never dreamt of Jack in any other place, just this room.
Jack, David says and Jack stops, back to him, his shoulders tense. They haven’t talked about what happened before.
Yes, O King of Kings? His voice is a quiet snarl and David narrows his eyes, decides to push his luck.
Aren’t you supposed to kneel for the king, Jack? David asks, meant to be playful, but instead it comes out slow, solemn and velvety.
Come over here and make me.
It’s quiet, Jack’s words hanging in the air, the ones before burning hotter because of it. His gaze dark and dangerous on David. Intent.
David takes a step forward and Jack’s lips part, and David thinks, your lips, like scarlet thread. Out loud, he murmurs, I’m starting to think you want me to.
Jack says nothing, but his pupils dilate at the spread of David’s fingers and the way he settles on his feet, posture confident. Kingly. Commanding.
So that’s how it is, David thinks, and his lips curve up.
Jack’s breath catches in his throat and he closes his eyes. David, he starts. Make haste, David.
When he wakes up, Jack’s voice lingers in his mind. Like a gazelle, David. Be quick, like a young stag on a mountain of spices.
This is not the story that tells of the dangerous mission inside the palace to the room where Jack is imprisoned. This is not a story where one hears of the way the guards looked the other way in the face of David’s glory, of his godliness. It is not the story where one hears the last rattling breath of one of the men, the way David pressed his his hands to his throat and Thomasina disappeared into the night, dagger still in hand. The way David used the blood from his wound to draw a cross on the dead boy’s forehead.
This is not that story.
This is the story of David breaking into Jack’s room, the same room from his dreams. This is the story of Jack, thin and haggard, who reached up to David with a fierce kind of intent, passion.
The story of he who whispered against another’s lips, Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth. For your love is better than wine; your anointing oils are fragrant; your name is oil poured out; therefore virgins love you. Draw me after you; let us run. The king has brought me into his chambers.
The story of David swallowing Jack’s words, God’s words, the story of David and Jonathon, whose souls knit together, Jack who made a covenant of his body with David, the story of the two who never part again.
We will make for you ornaments of gold, studded with silver.