A Love Song
Disclaimer: Everworld will be mine when pigs fly. In space. Singing songs from Rent.
Author's Notes: SEQUEL to 'Of Round Tables,' but this has more of a slashy edge to it so beware. David/Jalil be here, though along with April/OC and Christopher/Etain mush demons.
Jalil uses tree sap to stick all the maps of Everworld he can find to the stone walls of Daggermouth's library.
He spends days there, sometimes. Just looking. Making long scratches with flaky ink across the world, connecting safe routes and possible attacks. He constructs defenses to be made, notes the best places for the Sennites to be hiding, and hasn't even gotten close to grasping the geographical rules of Everworld. Most of the time, it frustrates him. Jalil is used to knowing exactly where he is at the moment.
They're all lost now, in more ways than one.
The candles burn low, the last of the light sighing into emptiness as Jalil lifts his head from the table, dark eyes bleak. He will stay there until it is black, and then stand to press another map against the wall, fingers already sticky with the only adhesive he could find.
"We were here," he says quietly, alone. The blunt curve of his fingernail traces the lines of the Aztec lands. He remembers the shifting sands and dirt that clung to his arms for hours, hot with blood and the sour scent of fear. It is far behind him now.
David comes in the morning. He wants to hear Jalil's newest theories. His elbow lands across the piles of paper on the library table, covering a blurred, half-hearted tracing of a country no one here has heard of.
It's not like it's the end, Christopher is thinking.
Death becomes disintegration, which becomes life in turn.
Across the field stretched thinly between them, he can see the edge of the river churning over rocks. Christopher wonders if they will dump the bodies in that river instead of carrying them back to the castle; the air is stifled, searing and thick with exhaustion. But no, burial rights must be maintained even in a society of half-eroded carcasses that walk upright and speak of themselves as the living.
Across the way, you were waving the branch of a plum tree.
He makes wounded sounds on the ground. It's better this way, blinded by the sheen of tears pulsing in his eye sockets. Christopher doesn't want to see the truth. It's not like this is the end.
I wanted to speak to you, but what could I say?
They will get up in a second and trudge onwards. Moan through the stagnation. Christopher doesn't know what the word means, but he can taste it against the rotting corner of his mouth.
You were gone, love, and I was May.
"Get up," David is saying, and someone is laughing like they are mad.
The blur of rain patters against the windows. April presses her face against the thick, distorted glass set unevenly in the opening in the wall, trying not to cry.
"They will be home soon," Etain murmurs softly. She is a white shade against the raggedness of the stones, all gentle contours and wisps of ghost-like fabrics. "All we can do is wait for them to return."
April wants to snap at her for stating the obvious. It all seems so dramatic, she thinks suddenly, hitching her breath unsteadily. Like a play. Like she's the damsel waiting for her true love to return from war, anticipating their form to appear out of the mist and at the same time feeling the dread war inside her heart that they are dead.
She suddenly wishes she were on stage. Back home, with the smile of her mother and father sitting in the front row. Maybe even Senna, though it hurts to think of it, watching her scornfully from the back. The lights will feel like the sun on her scalp, bringing up the fresh smell of lemon cleaner from the wood planks under her socks.
The curtain falls over her in red curls, and April covers her mouth to stop the sob from escaping. Three weeks is two longer than they'd ever expected to be waiting.
David is breathing through his mouth because his nose is a mess of bleeding pulp. His face is half a maroon crust, crescents of the moon in red streaked over his gritty cheekbones. It feels like the beginning in a parking lot of a building he can't recall, he thinks ironically, but it doesn't hurt anymore.
Every so often, Jalil will stumble and he will take Christopher. They switch back and forth between themselves, not bothering to ask anyone else for help- they're all carrying burdens. At least Christopher is lighter compared to the corpses, David thinks, and bites his lip hard enough to feel the muscle underneath the skin.
On the third day, Christopher looks up. It makes Jalil almost drop him, dull shock weaving over his features.
"It looks like rain."
Through the grime on his face, David finally smiles.
In her dreams, Senna is a rag doll washed against the gutter.
'Do you have any idea of what I've been through?' the doll asks, glassy eyes a plate of the sea. April trembles on the edge of the flatness of the world, tucked between reason and wanting to reach out for the toy.
The remains of sallow stuffing are clenched between her chubby, young fingers. Senna is broken like the edge of Christopher's smile, and suddenly they all disappear into the whiteness like a storm swallowing everything whole.
April wakes. She can hear the clatter of horses outside.
David eats fresh fruit and bread like a starving man, not pausing to chew but swallowing as much as will fit, hands trembling. His hair hangs over his forehead like a shield, the dirt still clinging to it littering over the floor every so often. It's not that he is interested so much himself as his body demands it- the hunger twists inside of him, lashing out angrily from too many days of wasting his portions on Christopher's limp, weakened body.
Jalil is staring blankly at his plate. It is heaped so full that the plum juices have soaked into the grain loaf. It looks fantastic.
He glances at David's face, which is awash in the subtle kind of concern noticeable only through a soft gleam between the mahogany of his eyes and the black of his pupils.
"You can have it," he says, pushing it forward. There is guilt in David's expression, but it disappears when Jalil says, "You'll need it for the briefing with the king."
David takes the food. Jalil feels good for the first time in weeks.
The bedding feels like heaven.
Christopher fades in and out a little, but it's not so bad. Sometimes he'll open his eyes and the day is trickling in through the windows, and he'll breath in wildflowers from outside the walls. Othertimes, the night hums like a radiant current beneath his palms, and Etain's lavender scent lingers across the pillows like a letter detailing every way she wants to be there.
One day, she takes his hand and presses it to her face. The glow of her eyes has nothing to do with the angle of the light, and whatever she says does not matter as long as it's the hushed song of her voice.
"I missed you," Christopher whispers shamefully.
Etain laughs, but tearfully, and he falls in love all over again.
Jalil sometimes wonders what he will do when they win this war.
They can't lose; there is no alternative to victory because David is the sword that leads them, and loss means they will all be shattered apart. Or dead. If that's worse. He's not sure anymore.
He thinks he'll want to go somewhere like what Merlinshire had once been. Electricity. Druids not afraid to theorize. A cerulean line across the horizon marking the river, and a room with smooth floors so he can walk barefoot across his own bedroom.
Jalil wonders what David will do, but he's too afraid to ask. He wonders if David has already asked himself the question, and what answer came without the sword gripped hard in his hand and the eyes of thousands watching him.
April doesn't fight. Not yet, anyway.
It's not that she can't, because she's already proved her worth in a fight ten times over and they know it. She's not a warrior in any real sense, and she does not yearn for battle like David or the others- though now she wonders if it has changed, from the wane, despairing haze that hovers across their gazes.
No, April has done her part for this war. She's already killed the greatest threat. It didn't make her a hero.
Mostly she just feels sick. David tells her, on an evening where the sun is a stark red imprint in the sky, that it sounds about like what heroes are supposed to feel.
Magic sings in all parts of the castle. Most of the time, Jalil doesn't like it- it makes him jumpy, tingles his shoulder blades and makes them hunch in defense against the invisible intruder.
He's gotten used to it by now, but that doesn't mean he enjoys it. Rather, he stays away from contact with the walls and opens all the windows in his room as if the wind will sweep it all away. It's an illogical reasoning, but he indulges in it, because being closed in brings back the tight, oppressive feelings he used to have when he still scrubbed his hands seven times in dirty sinks.
David leans against the castle a lot, like he's leeching from its magic. Jalil supposes he is immune to it after so many times of being draped and wrapped up in Senna's craft.
"You're both crazy," Christopher complains the one time he brings it up. "That's just stupid."
Jalil thinks he envies Christopher sometimes.
A week after they have returned and April's heartbeat has returned to normal, they meet for breakfast at the Round Table. If David is bone-achingly weary and Christopher's leg still drags across the ground with harsh scraping sound, well, none of them say anything. Similarly, they don't mention the anxious relief that has drowned April's smiles, or the distant sort of hesitation that plays across Jalil's.
"Pass the eggs," April says.
They move like a dance, so accustomed to each other's movements and subtle gestures. The sweep of Christopher's hands is easily avoided by David's calm and methodical sawing at his meat. Jalil refills Christopher's beer before he can even ask, remarking wryly on the early hour and laughing when Christopher insists, "I'm an injured man, if I want beer then I'm going to get some, goddammit."
The light drags across the floor by their feet. Hours pass before they know it, and each are surprised at the disappointment when it ends.
"Believe me," David says dryly, tapping a finger against the map. "I don't think anyone's going to go through here."
"If you want to catch the Hetwans," Jalil retorts, arching an eyebrow, "then you're going to have to. Their first wave will seep through if you leave it open. We can't afford a gap."
"Swamps, Jalil. Do you remember that business a few months back? Between the Egyptian territory and the villages with the shrunken heads?"
Jalil grins. "We came back, didn't we?"
David shoves his shoulder hard, sending him reeling back into the library chair and still shaking with laughter. "You think it's funny, don't you?" And though he doesn't admit it, David does, too.
They don't pretend anymore. Things like almost losing each other have quickly stopped that- life is shorter than the fall of Etain's hair, and Christopher takes every opportunity to immerse his hand in it.
Too many things could stop them. She is married now- he had not come to the ceremony, but left her a bittersweet note she could not bear to finish- and Baldwin is a good man, hard to hurt. But Etain is through with denying herself, and Christopher was never any good at it in the first place.
They meet in hallways when they can. Lingering touches are exchanged, smiles that are beyond the realm of reasoning for anyone who has ever been in love, and Christopher has forgotten what it is like to breath without the devotion in her eyes. It's like something out of a sappy romance, like the false set of stories in a faerytale, only without the happily ever after they neither expect nor desire anymore.
Christopher is no knight, but he gets the princess. He'll whisper all the poetry, take every chance, and kiss her hand as though touching her will bring him immortality in every sense.
David had once spent every evening practicing swords in the stables. It had been tradition- in the stillness, he could be alone and work himself until collapse trying to be everything the sword expected.
Everything that everyone expected.
It's different now. Something's changing, but he doesn't know what. He can't even begin to understand himself, much less when the world takes an about turn that he's fumbling in an attempt to follow. David thinks that maybe it doesn't matter how good with a sword he is anymore, because he feels the drop coming. The end, however it may turn out.
He finds himself standing in the stables one afternoon, gazing in fascination at the crystal droplets falling from the sky. The earth is dampened, moist, and when he comes inside his footsteps are watery puddles across the castle corridors that the servants will loathe to clean.
Jalil opens the door to his room. Stares.
"You're getting water on my threshold," he says flatly.
"Do you want to go boating?" David asks.
In the village surrounding Daggermouth, April takes a lot of walks.
The dwarfs could be anyone, really, if they didn't look so different. The women hang up clothes on long, thin wires stretched across their yards, while children run after chickens in the hay. It looks like something out of a reenactment, April thinks as she twists to avoid a wagon.
She buys a few apples and sits on the river to eat them. The reeds are half as tall as she is now, whereas there hadn't been any when they first came.
It's sitting here that April realizes she hasn't sung for months. But the lump coating the bottom of her throat is gone, and she finds the music sounds even richer than before- better yet, she hasn't forgotten a word to Rent, and the river echoes her back with each verse.
David claps Christopher on the back. It's a stupid, manly sort of gesture, and after a second Christopher shrugs it off and loops an arm back around the General's neck with practiced ease.
"Haven't seen you around."
"I've been teaching Jalil how to work a boat," David laughs, and it sounds different from before. But that's okay, because so does Christopher.
Christopher's arm stretches farther than before around the bend of David's back, and for the first time it occurs to him that they are adults. He hadn't even noticed when it happened.
Jalil meets up with Christopher somewhere in between frantically plotting maps and discussing war tactics with David. They don't really mean to, but happenstance brought them into direct collision on a morning that spilled into the castle and made its magic all the brighter.
"I'm going to get out of here as soon as this is done," Jalil grumbles, discreetly pushing away from the wall. He can feel the warmth, though, even two feet away. It tickles, sort of; that's part of the reason he hates it.
Christopher shrugs- they both know he's not going anywhere. Jalil idly wonders when King Baldwin will discover what the entire castle finds obvious, and then decides it's best not to think about that.
"I heard you went boating," Christopher remarks.
Jalil pauses before passing. He's thinking about water droplets falling down the back of David's neck and sticking dark locks to his face. Laughter that is smothered by the pattering of the downpour around them, and the gentle rock of a vessel on waves that bring his hands to the seat to hold on tightly; if he doesn't, he may fall and it will be over. The oars clack and they nearly capsize more than once, and David has to use his sword at one point to knock a branch out of their way.
'Boating when it's raining is a terrible idea,' David calls over the torrent, as if it weren't his idea all along.
Christopher makes a sound that brings Jalil back into focus.
"It was fun," Jalil admits.
They meet at the Round Table for badly disguised ginger-water that poses as tea, and David doesn't even have a reason. It's getting easier to pretend they don't need one anymore. They won't say they're friends... except maybe April, and she has been saying it from the beginning.
Jalil wonders when it became imperative that he keep these people in his life. The worst questions are the ones no one can answer.
Christopher tells a joke so bad it outdoes anything else that's ever passed through his mouth. In that moment, Jalil forgives him for every slander and insult from the past that had raised his hackles. Or rather, he realizes, he'd already forgiven him sometime when he'd had his back turned and didn't look back.
April brings them together with her hands, waving them through the particles of dust in the air as she talks, laughing.
"The Hetwan have abandoned this area," David points out. Jalil leans over to look, his eyebrows shooting up in surprise and appreciation.
"Messengers just come through?"
David doesn't answer. When Jalil glances up, they are close enough that he can see the oddly serious expression David's face in every detail- the slight scrunch of his forehead, the pursing of his lips, and the intent connection between their eyes.
The room is warmer than it should be. Jalil jerks back, the world goes on, and they do not speak a word of it.
Etain's skin is like water, it feels as though Christopher will slide away merely by touching her.
"You," he breathes, and holds her.
She clings to him as tightly as he does to her, pressing her face to his neck in tenderness. "You," she says.
April is a young woman. She had always thought so, but it's especially true now. Sometimes the soldiers whistle or speak to her in shyness, their eyes crinkling in warmth she now recognizes as infatuation. She doesn't encourage them, but doesn't berate them, either. They've had enough hardship- flirting with the local pretty girl is just an added bonus to being enlisted in the military of General Davideus.
One day, a man gives her lilacs tied in a straw bow.
It's quaint. But it touches her, and she peers past the dirt slathered across his face to see the dark, quiet eyes behind it all. He reminds April of her father, of kindness and Tigger pajamas.
Things are changing, she thinks. "What's your name?"
In a hallway, it is an ordinary day when Jalil crashes into David. Or, as it would seem more likely, David crashes into Jalil and sends him careening into the wall.
"Ouch," David mumbles. Warm, tense skin is under his hands. When he looks up, Jalil's eyes soak up all the shadows around them and say things he'd never thought to believe. The shoulder pressed into his own is sharper, wound up tighter, and when David tries to capture it again it slips through entirely. The flash of something- incredible- fades away into the usual hum of radiant magic.
Jalil stumbles away as if wounded, too dizzy to watch for the library door anymore. He trips into the first room possible, slams the door, and takes fifteen minutes before his heart will stop pounding.
"Stupid," he hisses, rubbing his temple vigorously. Every part of him is alive and trembling, and he finds reasons to hate magic all over again.
The flag of the General's army flies above the Daggermouth castle, fluttering in the wind like a flap of flesh waiting to be pinched.
"Soon," all the men are saying. "It will be over. We will make the attack on Ka Anor soon."
In the quiet space of the library, Jalil is trying to work up the will to say the same thing. They all know it. The end is near, whatever the outcome. It lingers on the edge of their vision like a bad memory they can't wait to relive, if only to have it over.
It's hard, though. In the end, he says nothing at all and David hears it anyway.
Christopher finds Jalil at the Round Table.
"We leave in half an hour," he says, sitting down with a grunt. There's a wistful longing in his eyes that has everything to do with a certain beautiful girl waiting in a certain lonely tower. They have said their goodbyes. As if knowing it, Jalil glances over at him.
"How is she?"
Christopher shrugs. "Broken hearted? I'd like to say that, but hell if I know. I love her, you know?"
Jalil sighs heavily, leaning forward on his elbows on the table. "Yeah... I know. If you loved her, though, you'd hope she wouldn't be broken hearted. I think."
"I'm a selfish bastard, Jalil. What are you talking about?"
Something strikes Jalil and he laughs, husky, into the circle of his arms. "You are. I guess we all are. We're about to die, aren't we?"
Christopher shrugs. Again. "I don't know. I'd like to think..." and his face is softer than Jalil's ever seen it, serious-like, as if the entire universe has shriveled up and focused on a single thing, "... that we have as much fucking time as we want to have."
"I think I like it," Jalil says. He's thinking about David. Boats. Rainfall. Magic. Fate. Glory.
They don't say anything else. The sun comes up to bathe the room in pink and yellow and orange, and Jalil closes his eyes.