Jalil thinks it’s the second time that really damns you.
The first time is a mistake, a miscalculation. A slip-up. It’s needful and shameful and ultimately forgettable. Forgivable.
And the third time – third time’s a charm, baby. It means you’ve got a problem. A habit. It’s not your fault. Either that or it’s so much your fault it doesn’t matter anyway.
But the second time? The second time bridges the gap. There’s intent. Want. You know how it starts. You know how it plays out. You could have planned it – hell, maybe you did. The second time is what gets you. The second time is the real mistake.
Jalil promises to himself this will never happen again.
David has a martyr complex a mile wide. The weight of everything that goes wrong rests on his shoulders, and there’s no way to convince him that it’s not his fault, that it’s not his burden to carry.
Sometimes Jalil feels like piling it all on David himself, like letting David take it all until he breaks into a million pieces, and Jalil can put him back together again any way he likes.
It’s sometimes unreal to Jalil that the constant buzzing and pull and tear of what he wants and has to do is gone. It’s liberating. Beautiful, even. In the Old World, Jalil’s mind was a prison – no matter how he shaped it, no matter what he did with it, it was only ever a gilded cage. A stone around his neck.
But it's his decision, now. How many times he washes his hands, and what he does with them. How carefully he touches David, how close they get. It’s liberating, sure. Beautiful, yes. But there are times when he’s lying next to David, free floating and falling and never knowing what he’ll do next or where he’ll end up, when Jalil would take it all back in a heartbeat.
The longer Jalil stays in Everworld, the less he believes in coincidence. After the second wave of Ka Anor’s attacks, Jalil falls in with some Germanic scholars who study the Bible, or at least what scattered remnants of it they have. They look at it the same way Jalil once looked at fairytales – searching, condescending, maybe even yearning for the truths they uncover.
In the Old Testament, David was a shepherd boy known for his courage and his unfailing devotion. Though he became the King of Judah and Israel, his later life was interspersed with tragedy – Bathsheba, Absalom, Adonijah. He was considered something of a messiah. David’s name is Hebrew for ‘beloved,’ synonymous with ‘hero’ in Greek.
Jalil considers the parallels interesting, to say the least.
He watches David spread himself thinner and more spare, parsed to the very edges of things he was barely aware of a year ago. He isn’t haggard or gaunt; he hasn’t faded away or worn himself down. He’s pared like a bone, skin and muscle and tendon, sleek and hard as the steel he carries by his hip. Something otherworldly shines in his eyes, sluices through every one of his movements.
It’s just as well. No one in Everworld ever really considered putting their hands in the fate of a mere mortal.
There was a time when Jalil told himself that this – this, what happens, what he lets happen – would be the last time. But it was always a lie. So he tells himself it’s the second to last time, and comforts himself with that knowledge that someday it will have to be true.