Of Round Tables
Disclaimer: Everworld is not mine. But I continue to harbor under the delusion that with enough money, it could be.
Author's Notes: I have no idea what spawned this. Mmmm. Nostalgia.
There will be no flowers I'd show a smile, but I'm too weak
No, not this time
There'll be no angels gracing the lines
Just these stark words I find
I'd share with you could I only speak
Just how much this hurts me
I'd show a smile, but I'm too weak
-AFI, "Time Imperfect"
David loses himself in his actions.
He feels it deeply, the gradually strengthening suction that brings him ever closer to disappearing completely into the guise of General Davideus. It is a whirlpool drowning him in darkness, burying the last remnants of David Levin of the Old World as far down as they can go- and in turn, creating legends of the man he will become in its stead. He doesn't fight it anymore. He finds relief, rather, in losing pieces of himself, little shards of David melting away and revealing an iron-cast hero in their wake.
This is who he was born to be, David tells himself. Not a clumsy teenager working in a shady Starbucks and refilling the creamers. Not a boy waking in the night, sweat-drenched and eyes burning with salt, over nightmares from memories he can no longer control. Not David Levin, whose mother brought home a new man every week (and once she had cupped his face for hours when he had a fever, trying to cool the heat, laughing tiny fairytales gone wrong under her breath for his distraction), a man who didn't know where he would go or what he would do until he'd done it. No, that person could be stolen to the core of the earth and left as far as David is concerned. He no longer needs him. No one does.
He loses himself to General Davideus. The General, whom on all accounts is more than David could ever hope to me. Sure, strong footsteps. Decisive in action. Strong.
He is Athena's general. One of the leaders of the armies of Everworld. Holder of the sword of Galahad, the Perfect Knight. Carrier of justice. Defender of the weak. An endless ocean of strength.
He recognizes these titles. They are the ones Senna had once whispered in his ear, long ago in a sunlit field on their dreamscape, bitterly digging through to the bottom of his heart.
April doesn't know what she's doing anymore.
In the end, it is all about choices. She has made hers. She no longer dreams even slightly of the Old World, not even in fond memory, and instead spends her nights tucked into an awkward dreamless rest that neither disturbs or comforts her.
She spends a lot of time looking out the window. She's not sure for what, not exactly.
"What do I do?" she asks Jalil one day, who hovers over his books in the library and scrawls furiously on maps for the war.
He doesn't look at her. "For what?"
This, she thinks, is the question she wants to ask. "Can I help?" Because surely, for all she's given up- her mother's kind smile, her father's tiny chuckle above her while she sleeps through their late arrival home, and the scramble of fingers through her hair as Magda plays with it- surely, for all those sacrifices, there is something to be done to replace them.
Jalil knows nothing of those sacrifices. She wonders if he has made any of his own, and then scolds herself for doubting. They have all lost. Even Jalil and David, who throw themselves into their new lives, have regrets of the past. They must.
She knows they must.
It doesn't make it easier when he says, "Not really. Talk to Etain," and leaves her to the silence.
April leaves. She just wishes she knew where she was going.
Even on the worst of nights, David doesn't speak his doubts. But Jalil is a logical, fearless creature- he has no time to lie to himself, and even less to lie to anyone else. In a way, it is similar to saying what he's feeling, except Jalil wears nothing on his sleeve except a faintly mocking smile that alludes to his secrets.
It is Jalil who says, "We've probably made the wrong choice."
David considers the map stretched between them on the library table, looking carefully over the scratched words inked over it. "You think maybe the southern edge?"
"No." Jalil puts down his quill firmly. It makes a clicking sound. David still can't get over how strange it is to see him with something other than a ball-point pen and wonders how he learned to use it, but he doesn't ask. Jalil is a fast learner.
"The western?" But it's wrong, and he knows it.
"At home," Jalil murmurs, "we would be finishing dinner and going to bed. Maybe studying for a math test. Not making battle plans that will get most of us killed."
David wants to tell him that, had they been home, it would be someone else making these plans. But he knows it's not true. No one else would be willing to take the steps, no mortal capable of Jalil's twentieth century thinking processes and speed, honed by time and the sharp edge of his intelligence. Instead, David sighs and sweeps the dark slips of hair out of his eyes.
"So the southern?"
Jalil picks up the quill and makes the mark. He says nothing.
Jalil can't sleep. He spends most of his late hours prowling through the library, a flickering lamp of overheated glass and metal sitting on the table beside him. He's still pushing for electricity into the library, and although King Baldwin protests that it's unnecessary, he's closer and closer to caving in to keep his new favorite engineer satisfied. They still haven't finished the upgrades to the mines, but it's closer.
During the day, Jalil works for David. He won't sugarcoat it. He discusses the mines over breakfast with the king, whom is reluctant to part from his wife for more than an hour except in this single case, and then retreats to delve into the war they are already facing.
At night, however, Jalil works for Jalil.
'It's always that way,' he tells himself, but it feels disgustingly like a lie. Instead he sighs and flips through another ink-written novel shoveled together by a dwarf with serious issues on proper grammar. Most of the books are in this condition at DaggerMouth.
If he survives the war, Jalil thinks idly to himself one night, he should write. Stories, books, things from the Old World. Legends that are no longer legend here. News stories. Because he is- and it brings a startled pang when he finally realizes it- the only one who will remember them.
In the entire world.
Jalil cries that night. He's never been so lost, and by morning he will have found himself again- but for now, Jalil works for Jalil.
Christopher hasn't seen Etain in over a month.
He spends a lot of time throwing himself into the war preparations. Gathering supplies, talking with various people from the surrounding countries- if they can be called that- as if it will keep him from thinking of her, though it doesn't. He feels as though he is diseased, bedridden from an unbearable plague that eats away at him every hour of every day.
He sees her face when he looks at the sun. He hears her voice in the empty hallways of DaggerMouth. He feels every inch of her, all the time.
He never asked to be in love.
Sometimes Christopher wonders if she knows this, and is trying to make it better for him by disappearing. She stays in her chambers, vanishing from their presence and leaving him in absence, starving in the drought, aching to stay away and still looking at every corner as though she will appear from it.
He's better than this, Christopher tells himself. He's stronger. He needs to remember how to laugh again without her. He needs to remember what he's always thought about life, how stupid it was, and open his mouth again.
But the silence is all that's left. Christopher wonders if that's all there was in the beginning, too.
David practices with his sword. He treats it well- because Galahad, no matter how disillusioned he becomes, is always a step higher than himself- with the reverence it deserves.
He will become worthy of it, he believes.
Flashes of light on metal, step twice to the left to keep balance. He breathes shallowly, sweat droplets gathering on the back of his neck, and blocks the smell of straw. The stables are always empty in the early mornings when the orange is touching the sky- he takes advantage, because he doesn't want to be seen, and practices.
He will become worthy of it, he believes.
Over time it becomes easier to dissolve into the pattern- step left, swing right, overhead block, duck, twist around and repeat. Different patterns, but they're all easy to fall into. He improvises. Pretends. Sometimes he lets his mind go utterly blank, and he wakes up fifteen minutes later on the floor and gasping for air, unable to recall what he attacked in his absentminded rage.
He will become worthy. If it kills him. If it kills them all is what Jalil or the others would say, but David can't take his eyes off of the target. Not even if he wants to.
Etain hasn't seen Christopher in over a month.
She doesn't dislike King Baldwin. In fact, since their marriage and indeed before it, he's been nothing but the kindest and most understanding man. But he is just a man and not the one she wants- which makes all the difference because brown eyes cannot become blue, no matter how long you wish it- and the days drag along like a net at the bottom of a lake, unable to capture a single fish.
She spends a lot of time staring out the window. For what, she isn't sure.
It's hard. It's so much harder than she believed. She sees Christopher's face in the mirror, the flash of his eyes that is only for her. His smile lingers across her cheek. His laughter echoes against the footsteps of her husband as he leaves every morning, worried but silent for her condition.
She'd always wanted to be in love.
Now Etain sits in her room and wants to cry, but feels unable to. She is a queen. She must act like it. Even if when she wraps her own arms around her shoulders, she's pretending they're the larger fingers of the one she's always wanted but denied.
We are all lost,' is what she thinks these mornings. The skyline is as bleak as her eyes.
"We never see each other," April says quietly.
Christopher, just sliding into his chair at the breakfast table, looks up at her numbly. His hair is raggedly growing around his ears, disarrayed and uncared for, nearly hiding the blank discs of his eyes. She can see no trace of laughter in the lines of his face. "What?"
She looks at him sadly. "You look bad."
Something flickers; but it's gone, along with anything he could say. "... morning."
They're all growing apart, April realizes as he sits silently and begins to pile food onto his plate with listless movements. She can't even remember the last time she'd spoken to David. They are the continents of the earth gliding apart from each other, oceans away in distance and pushing on even further, and now she can barely recognize the person Christopher has become, the shadow that envelopes him hiding every aspect of it.
They are drifting and lost. April wonders if she should explain this to Christopher, but can't find the energy. Instead, she eats.
When she finishes, Christopher is already gone. His half-empty plate is all that remains.
She hadn't even noticed when he left.
She meets him on the stairwell.
"General," she nods gracefully. Pale and trembling with the effort to stand, she is still every inch a princess- no, David reminds himself as he quietly bows low, a queen now. "You are on your way to see my Lord?"
"Yes," David answers. He touches the sword hanging at his side absently; it's a gesture he can no longer control. It seems strange to see her. She'd known him when he was still David Levin, had seen Senna's influence on him-
'It's been so long since I've thought of her...' The thought freezes him, but he shakes it away. His voice is nothing but firm and respectful when he says, "We need to meet to discuss the weapons manufacturing, Your Highness."
Etain graces him with a faint smile. "I see."
She wants to say something else. David can tell. It's not his business to interfere. He doesn't even know for sure. But on that stair, foot already moving towards the next one, he pauses for reasons he can't completely understand anymore and says softly, "Christopher is fine."
Glassy eyes meet his own. She nods once, closing her eyes.
He moves past. She is still standing there when he turns the corner and climbs higher, teeth clenched against the own backwash of his regret. Senna. It has been so long since he's thought of her.
Jalil wants to make a plan.
He stares down at the blank sheet of parchment in front of him, tracing the raised lines that are naturally formed on its surface. It is soft; his fingertips have swollen and hardened from using the quill's hard shaft. It feels good.
He wishes he knew what he were planning. It's there. Stirring somewhere in the dusted corners of his brain, pulsing so lightly under the surface that he can barely feel it. The words won't come. He can't even decide what it's for. Can't understand what he wants.
He wants to fix something. Jalil chews at his lip worriedly, dark eyes sliding shut with the frown marring his face. He wants to change something, but he can't recall what.
It's jerking up in the night and realizing you've forgotten to turn off the stove. A sudden urge to see a friend you've taken for granted. A blast from the far left, a baseball sailing into the outfield, that you never saw coming. Jalil can think of what it feels like, but he can't figure out what is coming.
Maybe everything, Jalil thinks. Maybe he just wants to erase everything and start it all over again. This time... surely, this time...
He breathes in quickly, shocked when it trembles in the air.
Everything is falling apart.
David can feel it. Seated on the edge of the bed, head caught in his callused hands, hair falling like a mahogany veil over his face. Every time he breathes, it moves. His heart is pounding. His bare legs are cold. His back is cold. Every scar he's managed to get since coming to Everworld burns like a brand, telling him that he belongs to this world.
He had never belonged in the Old World. Not with his rusted Buick that he could never sit comfortably in. Not in the sharp, judgmental words of the people. Sticking out like a sore thumb, the sole needle glistening dangerously in a haystack, David Levin had been out of place on Earth for every day of his life. Even then, he'd felt it.
Now, David feels the satisfying tingle that says he's found a place, a niche, to curl up into. These people need him. There's nothing to say he doesn't belong here.
But he can't sleep. And he can't stop wishing, somehow, even though he's mystified as to why, that things were different.
He still has nightmares. And, as he'd discovered upon waking and running fingers furiously over his cheekbones, he still cries. This is not the great General that Everworld has waited for. This is not anything like himself.
'But it is,' a voice whispers inside of him. 'No one can run away from themselves.'
Everything is falling apart. Or maybe it's just David.
April doesn't notice him until he's right behind her.
"What are you looking at?" Jalil asks, voice subdued and indifferent even when asking the question. She blinks and looks back at him, surprised in a dull sort of way. He looks like Christopher: different.
"I don't know," she shrugs. Turns away. It hurts, somehow, to see him seem so very far away from herself. Even his eyes are on a different level, unreadable and opaque in their dark-brown way.
He doesn't say anything. Just joins her, standing at the window of DaggerMouth and looking out at the orange tint of the evening sky spreading across the hovering canvas above their heads. It should be beautiful, but April can't feel it and Jalil has no use for it.
Finally, he asks, "Do you still pray?"
She doesn't think about it- the answer spills out like a mess in front of her. "Same thing I always wish for. A little pony."
There is a momentary silence. And then Jalil laughs, quiet and rusty as though he'd been waiting years to do so.
David steps left. Swings right. Overhead block.
He senses Christopher before he speaks, but doesn't stop until the boy's voice fills the still air. "You look good."
He pauses; puts the sword down at his side, flopping down on a bale of hay and smiling humorlessly. "That's nice."
Christopher hovers beyond his sight for a moment longer. Then, laughing in a way that cracks more than it rises, he joins him on a bale a few feet away. In the early light of the morning, his hair seems to be caught on fire- it shifts whenever he moves his head, lips flattened into a straight line that is no doubt meant to be a smile. "So how many bodies are on the ground right now?"
David doesn't count. "Did you want something?"
"What do we become, General," Christopher asks wistfully, "when we become more than ourselves?"
There is dust in his mouth. "We become better. Improved."
"Really? I keep trying to be not me," Christopher mumbles, toeing the dirt with his ragged sneakers. "Because I don't want to be selfish. I want to let her go. I want to stop laughing when I don't mean it. But the more I try, the more I lose the battle. I don't like me anymore."
David says nothing.
"Maybe," Christopher says, "I never did."
When David was ten, his father took him sailing on a Saturday when the world was reflected in the water of the sky.
He remembers sitting on the side of the boat, peering over into the stillness of the lake and wishing he could run his fingers through that utter perfection. Lost in the daydreams of his young mind, his father had snuck up and presented him with a tiny toy boat as a present.
He'd wanted to say he was too old for such things. But he took it, and played with it, and was surprised when he felt anguished as it sailed further and further away from their ship on accident.
"I lost it," David said, voice trembling with the effort not to cry. "I didn't mean to, but I..."
His father just laughed and clapped him on the shoulder. "All things get lost, Davy," he said, even though David hated that nickname. "It's okay, though. They're always found again, even if not by you."
"If it's at the bottom of the ocean-"
"Even oceans don't last forever, Davy. Not even the deep ones."
Christopher punches David.
It hurts. He doesn't expect it. It's like jerking out of a dream, unsure if you've hit reality or not. The knuckles leave his cheekbone, Christopher's darkened face flashing through his mind for only a second before he falls off of the bale of hay.
He hits ground so hard that his hands sting, and finds himself already reaching for his sword. It's up. It's at Christopher's throat before he can even comprehend it.
"What the fuck are you doing!" It takes him a second to realize the hoarse words are his own.
Christopher doesn't look afraid of the sword. He doesn't even look regretful. He glares at David, who wracks his memory for the past few minutes he can't seem to remember, finding nothing except black, finding himself frightened of this fact.
"Sorry," Christopher says, though he doesn't sound it. "You sounded like someone different for a second. I guess I thought you were someone else."
David's hands are shaking.
"Why did you do that?" he demands again, trying to make his voice stop quivering. This is not him. This is- but the thought cuts off, strangles itself, because Christopher is laughing caustically at him.
"If you need to ask, you don't need to know." He glances scornfully at the sword and pushes it away. David lets it fall. "You know, General... I like you a lot better as David."
Christopher turns away.
He lets go and falls more than choosing it, sitting on the bale again with short breath. His fingers touch the painful edge of his cheek, glancing up as the blonde halo of hair disappears into the black of the corridor. David sits there for a long time, rubbing his hand into the sting of his face.
He feels oddly like crying, but doesn't.
He's never felt so lost before.
Jalil isn't asleep when the knock comes. He doesn't sleep, not anymore.
He isn't surprised to find David at his door, no matter how much his brain can't process it at first. It's David as he hasn't seen him for months- shoulders slumped, dark eyes confused, a flush on his left cheek counteracting against the deathly pallor of the rest of his features. He sags against the doorframe and searches Jalil's face for an answer to a question he doesn't bother to voice.
When he finds it, he asks hesitantly, "Can I come in?"
Jalil thinks about his plan. He smiles. It clicks into place, everything, all at once, and he answers, "Of course."
He shuts the door behind them, already feeling as though he's a step closer to belonging to this place, to finding the solutions. From the tentative and uncharacteristic smile on David's embarrassed face, he feels it, too. They do not bring out the war maps tonight.
"Who are we meeting, the Knights of the Round Table?" is the first thing out of Christopher's mouth when he enters.
Jalil rolls his eyes, but doesn't bother hiding the little grin playing around his face. "It's a little much, isn't it? I asked King Baldwin for a room for ourselves and... well, I suppose he thought better safe than sorry."
April peers behind Christopher and raises an eyebrow. "I'll say."
"But," David says, seated at the large round table dominating the graciously decorated chamber, tapping at the wood with a soft smile, "it'll work just fine, I think. Come on in."
Christopher and April exchange glances and enter together, closing the door behind them. It's the redhead that speaks first, hesitating at the chair before seating herself in it. "What's this about?"
Christopher seats himself at the farthest seat just to bother them all. He has to speak loudly to be heard. "Hey, I feel like a king! Can we get service in here? Like, you know, some wine and some entertainment... wouldn't say no to dancing girls, there's plenty of table to dance on..."
April stares at him like he's grown a third head.
Jalil and David exchange looks. Smile again.
"This," David says, taking his cue, "is our new meeting chamber. We'll be getting together at least four times a week from this day forward. There's plenty of time to specify meeting times and stuff, I don't know your daily schedules, but there's plenty of time to figure it all out."
"What are we meeting for?" April demands, startled.
Jalil's fingers are steepled in front of his face, hiding the further widening of his grin. "Oh, you know... catch up talk and stuff. We're the only Old Worlders left, you know. Who else is going to understand us if we want to discuss music and books, or even politics?"
There is a silence. "That's stupid," Christopher belts out from the other end of the table.
"Shut up, Christopher." Jalil's face grows serious abruptly, his dark eyes unusually sincere. "We all know we've been growing apart. We're changing. It's partly Everworld, partly us... but that doesn't mean we have to be strangers. It doesn't mean we have to be alone."
Everyone is listening now. David closes his eyes.
"We need to be together for anything to happen. This has been true of the past, and I believe it's true of the future. We can change Everworld, yes. But doing it apart is impossible." Jalil pauses, tilting his head thoughtfully and smiling wryly. "Unless you're adamant to try."
There is more silence. Christopher is studying David out of the corner of his eye.
"I'm in," April says softly. "Of course, I'm in."
Jalil nods slightly. Next to him, David stirs and opens his eyes to look straight at Christopher. He quirks his lips, tapping the side of his cheek- now a disturbing shade of mottled purple and black- in a gentle gesture. Christopher stares.
"I'm in," David says. "Someone asked me, you know, what we become when we try to become more than ourselves. I still owe them an answer."
Something breaks in Christopher's face.
"Well," the blonde mutters after a pause, face turning pink. Repeats, "Well."
"Well?" Jalil echoes.
Blue eyes that reflect the earth lighten, arching up with the strength of Christopher's grin. "Well, obviously a Round Table would be nothing without someone to break the gloomy atmosphere! All your grouchy asses would probably get yourselves killed if I didn't stop you from making brave and stupid decisions, you know! Obviously I have to be here!"
Jalil and April laugh. After a moment, so does David.
It feels like things are falling into place after so long. It feels like things are changing.
David thinks, hopefully, that he likes that feeling.