Chapter 1: Judah
The more time passed, the less Judah felt like he was running. Moving, yes, he had become accustomed to moving because at first he had been running, so he needed to move. Now it was comfortable. He did not usually stay anywhere for more than a week, if even that long.
There was a restlessness within him, something that kept him going, even if he felt safe. Something pulled him towards other places, or maybe something pushed him. But Judah knew, he was no longer running from Yeshua.
His heart still bled, when he thought about the man. It bled bright red and it made it difficult for Judah to breathe, but he was getting better. He thought about Yeshua less and less, the intensity of the pains it brought him decreased. Judah was healing.
So he lived his life, trying to forget, even though deep down he knew he could never do so. What he had experienced, the companionship, the bloodshed, the heartache and love, those memories would stick to him forever, just as the blood clung to his pores, never to be washed away. He might never forget, but he could still avoid everything about his former life.
Then one day he got a message. Nobody ever sent him anything, he was too far off the grid. Judah had no idea who could possibly know his contact information so he brushed it off as spam and forgot about it for the rest of the day.
He lay awake that night, something was in the back of his mind but he could not put a finger on it. Falling asleep was never easy, so this pondering was normal for him.
A number kept coming back to his mind, over and over. His father’s phone number. There was no reason for this, no apparent one. He had not seen the number in years, assumed it was put out of order by now, yet it was still engraved deeply in his mind.
Judah jerked up and reached for his phone, that was sitting on top of the cheap motel nightstand, frantically unlocked it and opened the still unread message.
It’s your father.
A former colleague saw you last week and I told him it couldn’t be.
If for some reason you’re still alive and have your phone, please answer.
“Fuck.” Judah let his head fall back against the lumpy cushion. He was good at hiding and vanishing. But he was not good enough. Anxiety drilled its way into his chest as Judah set the phone back next to the lamp, that was broken, unable to light the small room, leaving Judah in complete darkness.
Of course Judah could let his father think him dead. The ghost-stories of an acquaintance were not going to shake him that much.
But if his father knew, there was no way Judah’s mother did not.
He had not spoken to them in years; never once since Yeshua stepped into his life and gave it meaning. Because his meaning was not the one they wanted for him. They could not see the fire that had burned inside Judah, they had not felt the pull that had Judah gravitating towards Yeshua, always. They had not understood. But now Judah had nothing and he was feeling more nostalgic than ever.
Despite everything, he missed his mother. She had been disappointed in him as well, but before he left, Judah had seen her look at him in understanding. His mother was the one that had told him about love and Judah had burned with it, until it was too much.
Absentmindedly, Judah reached into the pocket of the loose hoodie he was wearing, fingers feeling for the bullet. By now it was familiar between his fingers. It felt like home; consistent.
Rolling the small piece of metal between his fingers, Judah felt as if he was being thrown back in time, to when the bullet was not his to touch, to when he had watched Yeshua’s fingers hold it, fidget with it. The memories were vivid, they fuelled the flame that was still burning inside Judah’s chest, burning for Yeshua.
Sleep was not within his reach that night. He rose at dawn and left, catching the next train to anywhere. Looking out the window, Judah’s thoughts wandered back to his parents. There was a lot of conflict in his family, tearing them apart by the seams, but it left Judah raw and yearning.
The yearning had been soothed by Yeshua, he had found a family with the disciples and a loved one in the messiah himself. It had been enough to numb his yearning for those he had known the longest, he had lived with for most of his life. They had hurt him, when they turned away from him, but he still yearned.
His father’s message showed Judah that it was not one-sided. Ripped seams did not leave merely one side bleeding.
As he looked down onto the black screen of his phone, Judah made a decision.
For the first time in months he was neither running from something nor moving without aim. Now he was running in a direction, he had a goal.
He knew this journey would not be easy, he knew he would hurt, the memories would hurt and the new encounters would too. The city had held many negative connotations before Judah had last been there. It had always been a place of his personal oppression, an atmosphere in which he could barely breathe, ground that was too hot under his feet and a sun in the sky that watched him more closely than any camera ever could. Before, Yeshua’s mere presence had made the air breathable, had cooled the ground and dimmed the sun; now Judah would have to face these torments alone. But it was the right way to go. He knew this with the same certainty which he was sure Yeshua must have felt.
Judah felt the pull towards the city, felt the pull towards his mother. He got off the train at the next junction station. Cool wind was blowing tiny, stinging rain drops into his face as Judah clutched his backpack to his chest in a miserable simulation of physical human contact.
He had a waiting time of just under an hour. Judah slouched against a heavy grey pillar that held the roof which provided no shelter against the horizontally blowing wind. Despite the cold that was seeping through his jacket, he felt his mind drifting off and his eyes falling shut.
Judah let himself slide down the pillar until his back was pressed tightly to it, as he sat on the cold and damp tiles. The exhaustion from missing a full night’s sleep was catching up with him.
The large hoodie provided a false sense of safety. Judah knew he could always be watched. Cameras were everywhere, but his instincts told him he was safe.
There was little he could do to fight the fatigue.
Chapter 2: Yeshua
People could call Yeshua a broken man in many senses, but not in spirit. Not that many could. Only a dozen even knew him to be alive, but nonetheless, against all evidence he was.
Thanks to Judah.
Every time he caught himself thinking like that, he mentally scolded himself. His recovery had objectively been more Mariam’s doing than Judah’s and yet time after time, Yeshua’s thoughts immediately went to Judah.
He supposed after all this time of being so close to the man, it was only natural that he thought of him a lot. But Judah was gone and Yeshua hated himself for it.
Mariam told him he had no reason to but Yeshua knew better.
Late at night he was awake, unable to sleep, because he was still alive. After all he was still alive.
He had not listened to Judah for only one reason; so he would die. He had craved reason, Judah’s words of caution had acted like a soothing balm, but because of that it hurt even more to disregard them. Now he had hurt Judah and Judah had left.
Yeshua twisted the polished silver coin between his fingers. It was familiar by now, more so than the distant memory of feeling the bullet under his fingertips.
His biggest regret was that he had caused Judah to leave, seemingly for nothing. Because he was still alive.
He pressed the coin into his palm, tried to remind himself that Judah had just as much fault in the matter as himself, if not more. He knew this, and yet it felt like a lie.
Shame sat in the back of his throat like a bitter tablet he could never swallow down. Yeshua was miserable.
When sleep finally came, it was barely refreshing. Nightmares plagued him until he jerked awake, soaked in sweat, clutching his chest.
Too often he felt like he was bleeding out, barely breathing in enough air even though his lungs were pumping rapidly.
At times he woke up and could not move at all, his hands and feet felt tied again, only his aching chest was heaving on the mattress.
Nights were agony for Yeshua; he wished for some reassurance, for somebody to be there and ground him.
But deep down he also knew that it needed to be Judah. He was sure Mariam would offer to sleep with him, soothe him back into the embrace of peaceful slumber when he awoke and he was grateful for it. But he never asked, never spoke up about needing help. After all he was the one who should do the helping.
But the monster inside of him was growing stronger. It had started growing a long time ago, even before he was shot. The monster had been who demolished the temple, the one who provoked the masses. The one who kissed Judah. It was irrevocably a part of Yeshua, as much as he resented it.
The monster fed off of his pain and Yeshua tried to keep it at bay, but his healing wounds did not only bother him at night. The worst thing was the heat. It made his entire body ache.
The dull pain in his chest was ever-present, after weeks of never ending pain he could not imagine the ache fading, breathing without being reminded of the bullet sinking into his flesh, between two ribs, close to his heart. Too close.
His feet were used to pain. Yeshua had always walked a lot, he was no stranger to blisters and sore spots, the gunshot wounds were bad, but he endured. It was different with his hands.
Never before Yeshua had noticed quite how much he used his hands; until now that it was nearly impossible. It took him weeks to control his fingers, months until the coin was as steady between them as the bullet had once been.
Of course Yeshua was healing. But the ache in the back of his mind, the yearning, it made him fear that he was healing wrong. Healing in a way that would never allow him to be himself again, happy again.
He lived in the shadows. If there was one thing Judah had taught him, it was the importance of discretion. Now Yeshua finally understood. He lived outside of the city in a run-down building Mariam had found empty. Makeshift repairs with the help from his friends had quickly turned the rough framework into a home. The outside of the house was still as uninviting and cold as before, so as not to alert anybody to Yeshua, but inside he had room for everybody.
And they knew it.
Even though Yeshua was focusing more on recovering than following current affairs in the weeks after his supposed death, he was kept up to date one way or another.
Some days Mariam would visit, bringing food and supplies, catching him up on what he could not know from the broadcasts he was watching on his phone.
Other days it would be Simone, bringing fresh milk from a nearby farm, she knew the owner of. They would sit together for hours, talking. Sometimes she cooked for him. Simone knew about how Yeshua felt for Judah and she did not shy away from the topic. She helped to some extent, but she also made it hurt, because she suffered herself. Judah had been a dear friend to her as well.
Sometimes Peter came to visit. He was more serious than ever before. His broad shoulders were sagged forward as if he was carrying an incredible weight; and maybe he was.
But then one day, they all came. They were unharmed, Yeshua counted them off one by one as he was so used to doing. But they were noisy.
“It worked,” was the first thing Yeshua heard being shouted over the other voices as Mariam flung herself at him. He caught her, suppressing a shudder as pain surged through his chest and up his arms at the impact.
“It worked,” Mariam repeated, more quietly, into Yeshua’s ear. “You did it. The people were fed up! It was so many, they went out and revolted, they made the change. Pilate is gone and so are the rest of the forces.”
Mariam loosened her grip on him, pulling away to look into his eyes. Her expression was elated.
“You really did it.”
Peter was a born leader. He might not have known it himself, but Yeshua knew and that was enough. He would guide him.
And he did. The people recognized Peter as candidate for the first democratic presidency. All other candidates had fewer supporters, it was clear from close to the very beginning that the most important role would fall to Peter.
The man was ready. So was Yeshua.
Weeks passed, changes were made and still Yeshua remained in the shadows, only ever leaving his house after dusk. At night he was free. Free of the boundaries he had as a dead man, almost free of his physical pain.
As the weather became colder, he started hurting less. But his home felt more empty than ever. He wished for company, yearned for somebody to keep him warm and most of all for mental stimulation. Nobody disagreed with him nowadays, everybody looked up to him, the was no challenge. There was no Judah.
He was getting ready for bed one evening. Months had passed, the emptiness in his life still gaping widely, but he was used to it.
A faint knock came at his door and at first he was not sure if he had imagined it in some kind of wishful thinking. Another knock.
Mariam came in, shock written across her features.
“He’s back. Simone saw him earlier. He’s back, Yeshua,” she blurted out, without even bothering to step inside the room. She was out of breath, had clearly run all the way here.
“Who?” he asked softly. His heart rate sped up in anticipation, his fingers wrapped around the coin tightly.
Chapter 3: Judah
The streets looked different. In Judah’s memories they were not as bright or clean, people had not laughed as much. Maybe he was just projecting; maybe it was not that different.
And yet he felt as if the streets he was walking down were completely foreign. He tried to keep to the shadows, but even with rainy weather, everything seemed too bright. He felt watched.
Anxiety was sitting heavily in his chest, clawing at him from the inside. He had felt like this since he had made his decision, should he question it? Was he wrong after all? He did not know, but something pulled him here and he needed to find out what, otherwise this feeling might never pass. Judah pulled the hoodie deeper over his face. Nobody could recognize him; if they did he might be in trouble. He swallowed and kept moving.
His breath sped up as he came closer to his childhood home. It had never really been a home for him, not since the people in it had started thinking so little of Judah. Or maybe that had been all in his imagination as well, maybe they it had not been so bad after all, why else was he coming back? There had to be some hope left in him that they wanted him to be alive, that they had not completely cut him out of their lives.
He stopped, leaning against the wall of a dark building, several balconies hanging above him over a narrow alleyway. Judah’s bag was pressing into his back at an uncomfortable angle. He felt the coarse wall under his shoulder, steadying him even though he felt weak. He could not do this. He could not face his parents, he could not face his past. Not now.
Exhausted, he turned and turned away from the street he had walked upon, heading into the small passage, to emerge on the other side. He took a few more turns until he found himself standing between the flickering neon lights of another motel. There was routine in this. All motels were the same, Judah felt calmer immediately. It was almost dark by now, the rain had started up again and he was just about to head inside, when he sensed somebody looking at him. The feeling was more intense, more pressing than before, and sure enough, when he turned his head, he saw a shadowy figure run out of his view around a corner.
He did not have enough energy to run after them, he felt weak, as if drained and he was cold.
Judah clenched his teeth, took a deep breath and headed for the reception.
It was another night of miserable sleep, he lay awake, hurting for seemingly no reason, everything seemed uncertain and he hated it.
Eventually he woke up to sunlight shining through the slightly parted curtains, painting a broad stripe of light all across the room. Judah rubbed his eyes and sat up.
Standing under the Neon sign in the morning, the motel had a different atmosphere. It looked utterly ordinary, as if it was telling him ‘Leave, there is nothing here for you. Go and do what you came here for’.
So Judah turned and left.
Before he knew it, he was standing in front of the all too familiar door. Frantically, he slid a hand into his pocket to feel for the bullet. It was still there. He let his thumb rub over it, the nail stopping at every dent in the metal, every scratch. He knew the shape of the object by heart and it calmed him.
Slowly he raised his other hand, pressed the door bell, waited.
Judah heard his heart beat in his ears, clenched his teeth, sent a silent prayer to God, that nobody was home, nobody would open up. It was a coward’s prayer. It went unheard.
Judah felt paralysed, when the door did open. In his pocket, he clutched the bullet, cool metal digging into his palm.
His head jerked up as he looked at his mother’s face. Suddenly he could move again. He practically fell into her arms.
“I thought you were dead.”
His name sounded unfamiliar. He was Judah now; sadness shot through him, pierced his heart when he remembered Yeshua baptizing him. His mother’s arms around him felt like an echo from years and years ago, her voice was like a distant memory. She even smelled like his past. But it was real. It was now.
Judah knew he had made the right choice. Or at least he hoped so.
“I’m not.” His voice was shaking, but he got the words out, he spoke to his mother and at once a giant weight was lifted off his shoulders. Pulling himself from her embrace, he stepped inside the house and quickly closed the door behind himself.
He shrugged off his backpack, setting it down and as soon as it hit the tiles of the floor, his mother’s arms were back around him, Judah’s nose buried in her hair, hands hesitantly settling on her back.
“And you came back.” Her voice was choked, like she was swallowing the sobs, that Judah began to feel creeping up his throat as well.
He gave no answer.
Judah sat down at the kitchen table, reached for the bullet inside his pocket again. He bit his lip, as his mother left the room, ran up the stairs. Panic constricted his throat, he felt trapped in a situation that was his own fault with nowhere to escape to.
Judah remained still and listened to the approaching footsteps, the muffled voices, until the door was opened again and his father stood there, unmoving. There was nothing he could say.
His father sat down at the other side of the table.
“Thank you for coming, Yehudah,” he finally said. Judah nodded. The name would never feel right again, now that he knew who he truly was.
“We saw the death certificate.” It was a question. Judah recognized it as such, but he remained silent still.
“I’m happy you’re alive, son.” Judah looked up. His father’s expression was sincere. But for some reason he still remained silent. Judah wanted to reply but words had left his mind, thoughts were evasive and his throat was closed up. His breath coming in shallow puffs.
The hand in Judah’s pocket tightened around the bullet, so that a dull pain spread in his palm. He clenched his teeth, unclenched them, looked over to his mother.
She looked at him expectantly.
Judah’s heart was racing. He shot up, he could no longer take this. Ran through the kitchen door grabbed his bag and before he realized it, he was running around at the corner of the street, blocked from view, hidden in the shadows once again.
He slumped down against the wall behind a dumpster, burying his face in his hands. Hot, stinging tears escaped his eyes.
Judah pressed the heels of his hands into his eyes in a desperate effort to stop them, but it did not help. The sobs were finally set free and he wiped his eyes on his jacket, before hiding his face in his elbows, leaning his chin onto his knees. He curled into himself, trying to stay as quiet as possible, so as not to attract attention.
He lost track of how long he sat there for.
“Judah,” his name. His real name.
He looked up to see who had found him, who of them was going to cause him to break down completely.
Mariam smiled at him sadly.
Yeshua was pacing.
He had been walking for hours, up and down the small room. There was nothing he could do, he could not leave the house. He was officially dead. Never had he thought, he would come to regret it, but he was so tempted to risk it all and flee, just run and search every last inch of the city for Judah.
But he could not.
“I’ll find him,” Mariam had assured, over and over, but she did not know Judah well, she had only met him when he was already frantically trying to save Yeshua. She only knew him as the one swimming up the stream, fighting his friends, betraying his loved one. She did not know Judah.
She did not know the kind-hearted, hopeful soul, that hid behind layers and layers of emotional protection. She did not know the rational, intelligent mind, that spurred everybody on to do greater things, to be better themselves.
However, Yeshua did and he knew so much more. He knew the hands, bruised and sore, too rough for a boy of Judah’s age, he knew how they felt on his skin; fingertips tracing patterns into his skin, palms almost violently grabbing Yeshua’s face in an effort to get him to look at Judah.
He knew the other man’s deep, soulful eyes, that could go from the intensity of a raging fire to the most overwhelming look of adoration within seconds.
Yeshua knew all of Judah’s strengths and weaknesses, he knew his body and his soul and because of that, he needed to find him.
That was a dead man’s burden; to be close and yet so far from what he desired.
The night passed and once again Yeshua had not slept a single second. He was worried, he was yearning, aching for Judah, more so now that he knew him near and not half way across the country or even farther away.
He barely ate anything that day, only continued pacing.
“Yeshua!” He spun around.
“You have to calm down, I can’t guarantee that we’ll find him.” Simone was standing at the entrance, her wild, tousled hair framing her face.
“You saw him.” It was not a question. Yeshua knew what Mariam had told him, he was building all his barely realistic hopes on those few sentences.
He walked towards Simone, dragging his fingers through his own ruffled hair. He probably looked like a mess, bags under his eyes, lips bitten and sore, unshaved for too long to look entirely civilized, but Simone opened her arms anyway and Yeshua sank into the embrace immediately.
“I hope we’ll get him, I see what you’re feeling, but if not, tell me you’ll be alright.”
“I’ll be alright,” Yeshua echoed and knew in the same moment that there was no way to know that for sure. He had barely been alright before and now, when his fragile hopes could be destroyed so easily, he was not sure if he could bear this loss.
Simone did not stay long.
The rest of the day passed and Yeshua grew more desperate with every minute. Every update Mariam sent to him only made him more anxious. They had to find him, otherwise he was going to go out looking for himself as soon as it was dark.
When he watched the sun set behind a hill in the distance, painting the sky pink, yellow, purple and a bright, bloody red, it occurred to Yeshua that maybe Judah did not want to be found.
He sat down on the edge of his bed heavily. If that was the truth, he did not need to go out and look for Judah, there was no way that man could be found if he did not want to be. Dread ran through Yeshua as his hopes began to dwindle, shake like a house of cards would at the slightest gust of wind. Yeshua pressed the polished silver coin to his racing heart.
Darkness crept around the corners of his home, slowly twilight faded and the voices of the night started whispering. Yeshua had not slept in too long, again and again he caught himself drifting off. Staying awake was torture, but his hope kept him awake despite being utterly fatigued.
He almost missed the knock.
Another knock sent him jumping up in panic. He nearly slammed into the door from the speed he crossed the room with, then opened it.
Yeshua fell to his knees, his legs unable to support his weight anymore. He felt sharp pain shooting through his kneecaps, but he barely took notice of it. He had had so much worse.
“Judah.” He was not sure if sound had left his lips or not.
Judah was crouching down next to him, reaching out a hand towards him as if to touch. But the touch never came. Was he afraid? What was it that held him back?
Yeshua however could not hold himself back. No matter how hard he tried, no matter how his inner voice seemed to tell him to wait for Judah’s reaction, he reached out.
It was real. Yeshua’s fingertips dragged slowly over Judah’s cheek and at once the boy’s eyes met Yeshua’s. They were burning.
He knew how intensely Judah felt, but nothing could have prepared Yeshua for the show of sheer power he witnessed when Judah heaved him up, closed the door behind himself and slammed Yeshua into a wall. His knees were still weak, his legs felt as if they would give in at any given second, but Judah was right there, keeping him standing, drilling into him with his intense stare.
Judah’s hands loosened from their tight grip on Yeshua’s upper arms, one of them remained as if he knew how unstable he truly was, the other went to take Yeshua’s hand into his own, lifting it up.
“Oh God,” he whispered hoarsely upon seeing the tender pink scar tissue in the centre of Yeshua’s palm.
Judah completely let go off his upper arm now to bring his other hand up as he had the first, looking at the freshly healed wounds in apparent horror.
“Oh God,” he repeated, before he brought Yeshua’s hands up to his face, kissing one palm, then the other.
Shivers ran down Yeshua’s spine at the tender show of affection. Only now he realised how heavily the fear that Judah might find him repulsive with all his scars, had weighed on him.
Yeshua took Judah’s face between his hands, prompting him to look up again.
The memory of their last kiss was suddenly at the very front of Yeshua’s mind. He hungered for more, he desired it, perhaps more than anything else. But Judah was already focused on something else. His hands had left Yeshua’s and settled on his chest instead.
Slowly, he undid the buttons that kept the wide shirt from gaping open to his navel. Yeshua saw him swallow when he laid his eyes on the scar. It was not a pretty sight by any means, but still Judah seemed unable to look away. Gentle fingertips traced the sensitive skin around the mark, while Judah’s eyes darted up to meet Yeshua’s as if he was asking for permission. A small nod was all it took for Judah to free himself from Yeshua’s grip and lean forward. When he felt Judah’s lips on that spot just below his heart, he was unable to hold back any longer. The monster he had fought until that very moment was emerging from the depths of his mind, taking over as he grabbed Judah’s face again and forced him to look up. He saw the challenge in his eyes, then Judah surprised him.
This kiss was exactly like their last one and yet so different. There was desperation, anger bordering on violence, loss in their kiss, but there was also hope and tenderness. Yeshua felt as if he could breathe again after holding his breath too long. He felt liberated after being a prisoner to eternity herself.
But it was also over as fast as their last kiss had been. Once again Judah took Yeshua’s hand, opening it, palm up. He reached into his pocket and laid something into Yeshua’s open, waiting hand. Before he could ask, Judah leaned in.
A peck on the corner of his mouth, a shared breath as both of them stood there, eyes closed was all Yeshua got as a goodbye.
“I’m sorry,” Judah whispered, before he ran out the door.
Yeshua looked down at his hand perplexed. In it lay a bullet. His bullet.
And he recognized it for what it was: A promise that Judah would return.
He could not stay now, but he would return. Yeshua let his head fall back against the cool wall, closing his eyes while his fingertips traced the still familiar pattern of the bullet’s creases and indents.
Even for a dead man, there was hope.
I read a book with kind of a cliffhanger and write a follow up fic that ends with and arguably worse cliffhanger. :) Sorry...