Excess , that was the word that echoed firstly through John Falstaff’s head whenever Hal-- his majesty, the King of England, Henry the fifth, the boy-king, John’s little brother in all but blood-- swept into a room, all lanky grace, crowned by curls around a face full of stormclouds far darker than the humming tempest that swelled outside. Aggression and idealism and the weight of a kingdom and its hundred wars bruising shoulders far too young to be burdened with such--excess.
“Keep it here, in this tent,” John hears himself saying, even as his body turns towards Hal, his hands unclasping, his face and posture open, as if towards the sun. His body always knew how to anticipate Hal before his mind ever did, whether during fighting or in bedding down together after alcohol had stolen most of their senses and their good judgment besides. But even in a state as undone as that, John was still ever the square-rigged ship subject to the whims of Hal’s dark sea.
Hal’s spitting mad, ocean spray and sharpened rocks, John can now see it in every line of his body. The old beast that lives deep in John and Hal’s twin blackened, embittered souls stirs behind Hal’s eyes, clouding their usual crystalline sharpness. The stormclouds in his face let down their rain, and venom pours out of his mouth, acid against John’s ears. The boy-king’s words cut through John’s heart--his dearest friend speaks of violence and atrocities with a voice that sounds like it’s doing its damndest to scrape through a throat full of sorrowful stones. John clasps his hands in front of him and inclines his head slightly, letting Hal’s anger wash over him in waves until, like the tide, it abates. Deep in his chest, John feels the bloodstained sailor’s knot tied by some old violence loosen slightly, and he aches with sympathy for the boy before him.
Sympathy that John proverbially crushes with an iron fist, as Hal runs out of words and can only stand there, limned in the white light of the cloudy Agincourt day spilling into the tent. Hal’s lithe body is taut as a longbow, drawn almost to its breaking point. But here--inland, far from the sea, John knows he must now be stone to Hal’s sinew, the iron of burning muscles as they strain for one more inch of draw, the better to send an arrow thudding with certainty through French armor to puncture French hearts.
So he demurs. Falstaff--scourge of the battlefield, worn and tattered berserker, whose rage was such stuff of legends that its fire could only be quenched by years of subsequent alcohol--breathes in the rainy air and the clouds and the mud and the grass. He looks to the silver sky that halos Hal’s newly-shorn head, and finds the steadiness of a seawall in himself that he didn’t know he had to rebuff Hal’s spitting ire. Again.
Ah, now here’s the excess come again, John thinks, watching with a soldier’s eye how Hal’s face twists, and his willowy body seems to move without conscious thought or effort until Hal is right up in John’s space. John doesn’t move a muscle, just sinks further into his steadiness and finds sepulchral earth under his feet--but, against all instinct, keeps his body open to Hal. Keeps his chest bared, his shoulders loose, his head lifting high. He feels a rainy breeze steal inside the tent, on cat feet, to whisper past his neck and trace the twisted contours of a once-broken collarbone. It’s the only spot of coolness in the sudden ozone heat sparking, like lightning. between John and Hal.
Hal’s breath ghosts past John’s face. He’s so goddamn close , a distant, sun-drenched part of John marvels. Because it’s a rare thing indeed, to be this close to the king, to be trusted to get within arm’s length of England’s monarch. Close enough to slip a knife between his too-visible ribs.
And yet--it’s a proximity that John is intimately familiar with, a body that John is intimately familiar with. He knows the shape of Hal, knows where he carries his weight and his tension and his joy, knows how it feels to crush that almost-frail body to his chest and feel the electric thrumming of a life burning like Greek fire under some fever of drunkenness. That is, until Hal can squirm away from John’s gratuitous affection and caterwaul hoarsely for more drink.
John clings valiantly, uselessly, to his steadiness. His heart thuds in his chest and the tide of a violent ocean seems to come in all at once between his ears. The seawall crumbles, swept beneath the waves as if it had never existed. Mere inches from John’s now, Hal’s eyes are burning stygian sapphires, half-lidded under heavy brows, twin blue coals in his freckled face. His lips part.
With a voice like a lover, Hal whispers “I will disembowel you with mine own hand if you dare disobey me again.”
John breathes, and wasn’t that just so Hal , to be swept up by the howling gales of his own emotions and forget himself enough to fall back into this habit of uncomfortable proximity. John’s seen him do it sometimes, when he really wants something , or decides to try and intimidate someone, or in the rare moments that someone or something catches his full attention. He gets just a little bit too close, and the full force of that blue gaze is trained upon the object of his fascination, as if he’s taking a body apart bone by bone. Excessive .
But to call Hal excessive would be to disdain the sea for its salt. He was born of it, this wild intensity, and now, John thinks, he may very well die of it before his time. Hal and his convictions were two lovers always destined to throw each other off the highest cliff they could find, each convinced that the other could fly. And John knows then that he, too, would follow--so why not run headlong, into open air, shoving back Hal and his idealism to burn atop England's highest cliffs for another day, to guide their damned prideful little country towards a safer shore?