by Rana Eros
It used to be a matter of pride for me that I never tried to write fanfic for a show I hadn't seen or book I hadn't read, so don't ask me what I'm doing writing fanfic for a movie that hadn't even been released at the time I wrote it. I'd read what information I could find on the movie, and I brushed up on my historical knowledge of Balian of Ibelin. After seeing the movie, I think the idea held up pretty well. Betaed by Melusina, Em, and Eliza. Thank you, ladies, you are divine.
Jerusalem is not a Christian city. Doubtless it is blasphemy to think it, but perhaps it is balanced by his certainty that Jerusalem is not a Saracen city, either. Its dust-laden streets and merciless blue sky speak of some deep power, nonetheless. It is nothing Balian can name, nothing he can even say for certain is Godly. For as many seraphim with flashing swords as the sun conjures, there are demons lurking in the dark shadows of filthy alleys.
Or perhaps it is just in his eyes, and his head, that such visions linger.
They are not his most frequent specters. Balian came to the Holy Land with a vague expectation of feeling the presence of the Son of God, but it is his father who haunts him in his father's house. It is his father, large in life and larger now, whom he glimpses between the pillars of the inner courtyard. It is his father, grim-faced and steely-eyed, who waits for him in the warm dark of the bedroom that used to be his father's, before. Before his father found him, and died.
Before he came to Jerusalem, and to Ibelin, where his father had wished him to go.
Balian's not certain what this specter wants, anymore than he is certain what the others represent. But then, his father was an enigma from the first, and that part does not unsettle him. What does unsettle him is the way this particular apparition...stirs him. Reminds him of the sharp, sweet juice of unfamiliar fruit and of his father's hands on him, huge and possessive. Reminds him of how his father fought for him, when no one had ever wanted him so badly before.
Perhaps it is his father's want that touches him. Perhaps it is his father's want that traps his father's spirit with him now. The idea has a dangerous appeal; not only did his father want him, but now his father will not leave him. In this strange house in this land so far from where he was born, his father is still with him.
His father is watching him now, and it might be a trick of the lamplight, but Balian thinks he looks less stern than he has. For a moment he's tempted to call out to the specter, but that might break the spell, might rouse him from this madness and send all the shadows scurrying back to their proper places and proper shapes. So Balian only watches his father in return, who stands at the end of the bed that was his father's, where Balian now dreams.
It is as well I have no wife anymore, he thinks, then wonders why his wife has never appeared to him thus. Nor his child, nor his mother. Just his father. Just Godfrey of Ibelin, whom he had not even known until wife and child and mother had all left him.
Maybe it was always meant to be just Godfrey for him.
Dangerous thoughts. Dangerous, dangerous thoughts, stirring dangerous feelings. He shifts, and the ghost's eyes seem to follow the movement, seem to trace the lines of his body under the light blankets necessitated by the oppressive heat of this place. Despite that heat, he shivers, and it is no trick of the lamplight when the ghost smiles.
The tender hunger of that expression undoes him. His traitorous flesh rises and stiffens even as he blinks hard against moisture. Through watery eyes, he thinks he sees his father's lips move.
A breeze so faint he is not certain it is there brushes against his cheek, and it might be his mind playing tricks again when he hears the softest exhalation of his name.
"Father," he answers, equally soft, and once more the ghost smiles. Uncertain of what to expect next, Balian slowly reaches up his hand, turns it over and presents his palm to the ghost in a pleading gesture. "Father."
Godfrey's smile strains and turns sad. He comes no closer, but he raises his own hand palm down, as though he would clasp Balian's if he could. Balian cannot suppress a ragged breath at that, and his hand clenches on air. He's forced to blink again, and when his eyes clear, the ghost is no longer there.
His fist drops to the bed. He draws in another breath, loses it as he glances toward the lamp still burning by his bed and sees his father just beyond it, still watching, still reaching out to him.
He holds his father's eyes as he unclenches his fist and pulls aside the bedclothes. He does not look away as he pulls his shift up enough to bare himself to his father. And when his father's hand moves as though caressing him, he moves his own hand as a mirror. And when his father's hand curls loosely, he encircles his own flesh without flinching.
It's a sin, but Godfrey died to protect him. And Godfrey can't touch now, but he can watch, he has been watching. Surely he owes his father something for that. And perhaps he is owed, for all the time lost that a son should have with his father.
He can give them both this much. It is not time, and it is not his father's life back, but it will serve.
Godfrey's hand moves in the air. Balian mimics it, and bites his lip to keep from moaning, from letting his eyes fall closed and breaking the connection of his father's gaze. The room grows stifling, but this heat is moist, at least. Balian feels the sweat that gathers and rolls down his body. His father's eyes follow the path of one drop, forming just below the edge of his rucked-up shift and skimming over his stomach to pool at his navel. Godfrey's tongue drifts across his lower lip, and Balian cannot stop this gasp.
Godfrey's eyes flash to his, and his lips move again. My son.
"Father," he answers, and Godfrey's hand squeezes on air, and his own hand squeezes on himself, and like that he feels it, a heat that is not this room and not the forge and not the sun beating down on the battlefield. A heat that is skin against skin and heartbeat matching heartbeat, that is love and hunger and things he remembers as faint dreams of his wife, things he did not allow himself to think of his father.
For just a moment, as the world turns white at the edges, as the blue of his father's eyes swallows him, as the pressure builds and then releases, he allows himself to forget that it is too late to think such things of his father now, and that there is no heartbeat to match his.
Then he feels liquid warmth spatter his hand, and there is no denying that the only skin against him is his own. He slumps against the bed, but he does not let go until his father uncurls his own hand and drops it to his side. Even then, he hardly dares to blink. He has let go of his flesh, but he does not want to let go of anything else just yet.
His father stares at him for a long moment, then mouths, Sleep.
He shakes his head once, convulsively. He is afraid now, afraid this has shaken the balance and the ghost will leave him. He is not certain he can bear the other visions without this one to comfort him.
Sleep, the ghost mouths again.
Stay, Balian mouths in return. The ghost's eyes grow dark as smoke, then flare with light brighter than the lamp, and Balian feels the word like it was spoken against his heart.
He believes it, but he feels relief all the same when he closes his eyes, and finds his father waiting on the other side.
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