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On the Professionalism of Pet Names

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Jonathan was lounging against a supply wagon, eating a handful of pilfered figs and scratching one of the donkeys behind the ears, when Elhanan came into view. Jonathan stood up straighter, propelled by a now-familiar leap of his heart.

"Hey, love, when did you get into camp?" he started, before registering the look on Elhanan’s face. It wasn’t quite the unbridled frustration of can-you-believe-what-the-king-wants-me-to-do-now, which was a look Jonathan saw far too often, but neither was it a positive look. It most resembled the expression he got when Jonathan’s father started ranting at the dinner table: weary determination to endure an unpleasant task. He carried a letter with the seal broken—troubling news? No, the letter was a days-old update on troop positions, which Jonathan knew because he'd written it himself. He recognized the DWD scrawled across the front in his own hand.

"Is everything all right?"

"I need you to stop that," said Elhanan.

Jonathan raised both hands instinctively, though he doubted petting the donkey was what Elhanan meant. "Stop what?"

"Calling me love."

"Ah." All right, don't panic. It was just about the term of endearment, right? If Elhanan wanted to call off their whole relationship, he would’ve phrased it differently. They were fine. Not everyone felt the need to shout it from the rooftops, when they fell in love, when they found someone who fit them like the other half of their own soul. The fact that Jonathan couldn’t contain himself—that he felt a low-grade but constant urge to affirm what they had, to brag a little—well, that urge said more about Jonathan himself than their relationship. Elhanan clearly didn't have the same impulse, that was all. Didn't mean they weren't fine. Right?

The donkey head-butted Jonathan’s arm. He absently fed it the last remaining fig and resisted the temptation to say plaintively Are you sure?

Elhanan rolled his eyes. "Ugh, don’t look at me like that." He glanced uphill, to confirm that the two caravan guards within earshot were occupied with their own conversation.

"If we’re in private, fine," he continued in a lower voice. "With your family, I'll allow it. But I got this—" he brandished the letter— "from a very confused runner who kept asking who David was and where to find him. Your handwriting's atrocious, by the way."

"You got the message, though. So what's the problem?"

"The problem? It confuses the new recruits. The ones who know me better think it's funny. The other officers think it's hilarious. Especially now they've started doing it too. Hey David, any news from the prince lately? Hey David, tell Jonathan we need more wine in our rations, bet he'll listen if it's coming from you..."

Jonathan snorted. Elhanan gave him a shove, just a hair too forcefully to be considered playful. "It's not funny. I have enough trouble maintaining discipline as it is."

"Nonsense. Your unit is the best in the army."

"No thanks to you. You want to give me a nickname, can't you come up with one that's at least remotely intimidating?"

Jonathan fought back another laugh. “I hate to break it to you, love, but nobody thinks you’re intimidating." He stepped forward and hooked an arm around Elhanan's waist, pulling him closer. "A brilliant tactician, sure. Heart of a lion, absolutely. The greatest war hero of our time. But not intimidating."

Elhanan made a disgruntled pfft noise, but he didn't pull away, which cleared up any lingering concern Jonathan might've had. They were fine.

"You know why your soldiers are the best, right?" Jonathan went on. "Because you inspire them. They try their hardest to impress you. Because they love you. I think it's very fitting."

"Remind me again why I tolerate you."

Jonathan made a show of frowning in thought. "Because I'm the king's son, and you're stuck with me?"

"That's definitely not it. I could be herding sheep in the hills above Bethlehem right now, not—" he cut off abruptly as Jonathan leaned in and pressed a kiss to the corner of his mouth. "Not dealing with rumors about my personal life," he muttered, tipping his face so their noses brushed.

"Let them talk."

"I can't exactly stop them. You could."

"Where's the fun in that?"

Elhanan made another dismissive noise, and this time he did pull away. "I don't know why I bother. Go back to feeding the donkeys, or whatever you were doing. Some of us have work to do."

"I'll see you later?" Jonathan asked, because he never did learn when not to push his luck. Probably because pushing his luck so often worked in his favor.

Elhanan scowled. "Maybe."

See, that typically meant yes. "I'll see you later, then."

"Only if you start calling me by my name in front of the men."

Jonathan waited till Elhanan started walking away, so he’d have an excuse to raise his voice.

"Whatever you say, love!"

Atop the hill, one of the guards broke into laughter.