Actions

Work Header

Covenant

Work Text:

Jack never slept much, especially not at night, but now he paces the palace corridors as he once prowled the streets. He sends the guards far enough away that he can pretend they're not there at all, and walks the smooth carpets, the echoing halls. He'd rather listen to the cadence of his own footsteps than the sounds inside his head.

His head aches. He used to be a soldier that could sleep anywhere, drop off amidst the howl of distant bombs. Now he can't lie in bed alone for more than a minute before getting back onto his feet.

He wonders how Shepherd sleeps. Shepherd has nothing but heroics dancing behind his eyelids. He's the victor, Jack’s the victim he saves. Jack’s the villain, maybe, the one who led his men to slaughter like sheep.

It must be so easy for David to sleep. His simple mind can't do much scrabbling; Jack's head feels full of rats. David, he feels sure, is more a golden retriever, nobly nosing itself, turning a few circles, and settling down, full of the happy weariness of a job well done.

Jack takes himself to bed, or to a bar, then a bed, before the sun lightens the sky. He kisses girls and watches men from beneath his lashes, and comes home with enough lipstick on his lapel for his mother to tut and his father to say nothing at all. Silence, from Silas, is all the victory Jack wants these days. Or maybe all the victory he can have.

He feels like a ghost in his own home, a pale shade of the broader, brighter man he seems to run into at every turn.

One night Jack stumbles in to the kitchen to find himself caught against a sturdy shoulder, steadied by a warm hand. He remembers being in bright sunshine, and this man, this man shading him from the light, that same hand on his shoulder as he rode calmly to court martial. Now, half-drunk and with the taste of some harlot on his tongue, some soft fawning girl who's already sold her story to the papers, he's too tired and too confused to summon the proper distance and disdain.

"I couldn't sleep," David admits bashfully. He sets Jack back on his feet, smooths him out and then seems to catch himself, freezing halfway through brushing something off Jack's sleeve.

David has the most adorable regard for royalty, sometimes - Jack can see the wide-eyed wonder creep into his eyes now, and closes his own. He sways on his feet. He hasn't had enough liquor to let him sleep, but he's had too much to be awake. He hates this time of night.

"When I was a child," David says into the quiet, stumbling over his words for a moment before catching his rhythm; he has Silas' knack for spinning a story. "I had trouble sleeping."

He tells of nightmares, of his big brother, finding him curled on the couch, carrying him to the kitchen and sneaking out pilfered, carefully rationed spoonfuls of sugar to make him milky tea. Jack is somehow still surprised that this story ends with David pressing a hot mug into his cold hands.

Jack hasn't said a single word, the whole time. David has stretched and expanded to fill the whole space, the whole palace, as he always seems to, while Jack skulks in the shadows. Except tonight he's filling only the kitchen, only this small corner, the breakfast nook the family never uses, tucked away by the stove, and right now the shadows don't seem so undesirable. Jack doesn't want to speak, suddenly, doesn't want his voice to poison the soft warmth of the room.

He nods at David, takes a sip, and makes himself get up to go. The tea is simple, too sweet and too mild, and he abandons it on a tabletop as he winds his way to his room.

It keeps happening; David thwarts him without even trying during the day. Soaks up all the attention and all the regard Silas gives him, takes Jack's seat, takes his job, takes his life like he's slotting into a place Jack was never in at all.

Things are different during the day. During the day, it's easy to remember to hate him, to want to hate him. But at night, Jack wakes to distant piano music, on a couch in a seldom-used drawing room, and wonders when he fell asleep. He drinks the tea David makes him, listens to David's bewildered woes, and doesn't speak. He doesn't want to end it. He knows his mother is starting to wonder, and makes an effort to attend more clubs, be caught in more clinches. He drinks less, and spills more, and thinks it probably all looks the same.

If he avoids the boys, the men he knows, it's only caution. Only a coincidence.

One night David stares into his mug, while Jack slouches against a nearby wall, sipping the still too-sweet brew. David's been more quiet than usual, and Jack's just about to give up and leave when he speaks.

"It's Eli's birthday today," he says, suddenly, then hurls the mug against the wall, an explosion of shards and liquid and sound. It's easy to forget here in the palace, that David has teeth and can use them. That David has the same violent responses of a soldier in him, despite all his self-sacrifice and heroics. "Sorry," David's saying, face in his hand, rubbing at his eyes. "Sorry."

"It's just a mug," Jack says, voice embarrassingly rusty, and then sets his own down, deliberately reaches over to grip David's shoulder. During the day, he touches David from time to time, condescending, a dare, a gibe that David seems not to recognize at all. It makes Silas' eyes narrow and his sister frown. It makes David cock his head, smile uncertainly, move away.

Now David's head droops until it's nearly touching Jack's chest. "I hate it here," he says, voice shaking, vehement. "I want to go home." It's a child-like statement, full of longing, and Jack wants to despise him for it.

"Why don't you?"

Jack can feel David’s breathes in, steadies himself, straightens. "I'm needed here. So I'll stay.” A pause where he tries to smile. “It's not so bad."

You will ruin me, Jack thinks, dispassionately, and thinks of pacing the maze of the palace alone at night, of the empty sheets of his bed, of the clubs and bars and girls that seemed to blend into the gilt wallpaper.

He wonders what the Shepherd farmhouse is like.

"No, it's horrible," Jack says, dry, lips cracking with it, and David laughs, smiling again. Then he looks to the side and winces.

"I'd better clean that up. That mug wasn't some royal heirloom, was it?"

David knows by now the heirlooms are locked away, the good silver and china used only for state dinners, that here in this family kitchen Silas collects kitschy garbage Jack's mother hates. The Queen will probably want to knight David for destroying her nemesis, the mug with a cartoon cat proclaiming itself as king. Silas will notice, say nothing, and acquire another.

Jack says none of this. "Yes," he says. "But go to bed. The beheading will keep 'til tomorrow."

David smiles down at his feet, eyes still wet - David cries, Jack thinks sometimes, at the drop of a hat. But he's never ashamed of it, never tries to hide it. He lets the tears fall, wipes them away when he's done.

"Thanks," David says, and Jack hates to cry. He hates it, and he waits until David leaves to let the tears spill over.

"You will ruin me," he says out loud to the empty room, and stares down at the star-shaped splash of tea against the wall, the shrapnel of porcelain around it. He leaves them there, turns to walk down the corridors again.

"You look tired," his sister will say tomorrow morning, reaching across the table to take her brother's hand. Tender-hearted Michelle, with her worried eyes. "You need more sleep."

He’s never liked tea, always preferred his mornings to start with coffee, hot and black. But somehow, without noticing, he's gotten used to the sickly sweetness.

"I need a lot of things I don't get," Jack will drawl, and shake out his paper, and drink his tea.