AN: Sorry this took so long to write!! I moved (twice) and then started school again and everything's been insane and this was a hard chapter to write. :( ANYWAY. Here it is! Thanks so much for the wonderful response so far - you guys are awesome!
This is my winter song to you, the storm is coming soon, it rolls in from the sea
My voice; a beacon in the night, my words will be your light, to carry you to me.
Is love alive?
They say that things just cannot grow
beneath the winter snow, or so I have been told.
They say we're buried far, just like a distant star; I simply cannot hold.
Is love alive?
This is my winter song. December never felt so wrong, 'cause you're not where you belong; inside my arms.
I still believe in summer days, the seasons always change
and life will find a way.
I'll be your harvester of light and send it out tonight, so we can start again.
Is love alive?
Winter Song – Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson
Michelle tugs her deep purple jacket more tightly around her body, not so much because she is cold but because she feels like she needs pressure to hold herself together. She steps back inside the palace, hands curled in the thick, velvet material and thinks that she would almost rather be back in her little house by the sea.
"Well done, puppy!" says the king, walking over to her with a smile and clapping his hand on her shoulder. Her mother has already left the room to make preparations for her welcoming banquet, without any word of comfort for her daughter. He rubs the back of her neck in what he believes is comforting, but she barely refrains from flinching away from the touch. "They love you, just as they always did, and now that there's no question about your loyalty – "
"My loyalty?" she says, stepping away from him but turning to face him. "There was never any question of my loyalty, father."
The king raises his eyebrows in that way that conveys calculated surprise. "I see a year in exile has done nothing to dull the sharpness of your tongue."
Michelle thinks of Samuel, of Ellie, of David. "No. In fact, I suspect it has done the opposite."
Before he can reply, she ducks out of the room, her heeled shoes clicking on the marble floor, and all but runs up to her rooms. When she is safely inside the doors, she presses her back to them and forces herself to take deep, steady breaths. She is shaking, shaking from the effort of holding herself together, of keeping herself from screaming at her father, her mother, the entire public that has gathered in front of the palace to stare at the princess so recently returned from exile. It makes her sick.
She presses a hand to her belly and has to swallow back a lump in her throat. Inside of her is a gaping emptiness where Sam and Ellie should be. Her mother gave her one day to spend with her children before Hanna gently took them from the bed and Michelle watched them walk out the door, too weak to protest.
Staring at the rooms she hasn't seen in a year, she wonders how two tiny beings can have made such a mark on her in such a short period of time. She feels like something vital has been torn from her chest against her will. And yet her mother goes about her daily business as if nothing has happened. She says she has to, because the king can never know what happened, and yet Michelle can't help but feel extraordinarily angry at her.
It's evening now, and her mother has let her know that they won't be expecting her at dinner because the king has an issue of state to attend to. Michelle thinks that she would have skipped dinner anyway, but welcomes the excuse.
Wearily, she walks deeper into her rooms and begins looking around. Someone has set out tea for her, and she pours a cup with shaking hands before setting it down when it rattles too much.
She can't believe she is here, just sitting and drinking tea and playing along on the ridiculous charade her mother has going. If she had slightly less control over herself, she would throw this teacup to the ground and run through the palace screaming her head off in anger and frustration.
As it happens, Michelle is extraordinarily self-controlled.
Touching the rim of the teacup with her finger, she sighs. Just as it seems strange that her small children have left such a hole in her life, it seems strange that David, though she only knew him for a short time, can have left a similar hole. The palace, though she lived here years before she knew him, seems like a completely different place now that he is gone.
And he is gone. Sometimes, as she is attempting to fall asleep, Michelle likes to think that he is still out there somewhere, alive and trying to get back to her. She imagines what it would be like to see him again, to wrap her arms around his solid warmth, to bury her face in the crook between his neck and shoulder.
But Michelle knows what Death feels like. Sometimes she thinks she hears music, a slow march-like tune playing in the distance. But when she turns her head just slightly, it's gone. The feeling of Death is just behind her, just over her shoulder. She knows the feeling.
Sometimes she wonders why she didn't feel it that night in the church, with Reverend Samuels. But now she knows it was because they were in a sacred space, that God was speaking to them through the Reverend.
So, alone in her room, Michelle falls asleep.
In her dream, there is a woman. She is tall, with long hair that falls in a sheet down her back. Thin and elegant, she walks with a surety that Michelle envies for an instant before she feels the fear creeping through her veins. This woman terrifies her.
She doesn't say a thing, but there is a knowing look in her dark, flat eyes.
The scene changes, and she is standing beside a golden throne, one hand resting on the shoulder. In the throne, staring at her, is her father. He is looking at her with such heart-wrenching sorrow and love in his eyes that for a moment Michelle can't breathe. The woman slowly places her hand on the king's shoulder and her flat eyes lock with Michelle's. She smiles.
Michelle wakes gasping for air, tangled in her sweaty sheets.
She walks through the next few days like she is mostly asleep, nodding and smiling blandly when spoken to, sitting quietly and unobtrusively in the background and letting her parents steer her where they wish. It's been a while since she's stopped thinking of them as her parents, though.
Her thoughts are consumed with longing for her children and David, with questions about her dream. She wishes desperately that she had someone to talk to – God, Reverend Samuels, Hanna, anyone. Instead, she is unobtrusive and ignored.
She spends a lot of her time on the roof overlooking the city. Her mother never comes here and her father…well, he used to come here to speak with God, but he stopped coming here some time ago, right after her exile. Something tells her he doesn't like the silence.
From up here, she can look out at the city her father built out of the dust. It surrounds her, engulfs her, suffocates her. She used to love it, to think it signified hope out of the darkest of times, that it was the paradise she woke to see out of her sickness. Now it's just a reminder of everything that happened in those days. The Days of Revelation, her mother called them. Perhaps they mean clairvoyance, but Michelle can only sense an end. Utter destruction.
Wrapping her arms around herself – it is early spring and yet she still feels chilled – she tilts her head back, staring at the scattered clouds above her head.
Something rushes past her, the wind from its wings brushing her cheek. Looking, she sees the deep orange wings of a butterfly, fluttering out beyond the edge of the building. Its black-splattered wings are buffeted by the wind, but somehow it manages to stay relatively close to the building. Michelle doesn't know whether to smile or cry when she sees it.
It doesn't matter that the butterfly is the symbol of her father, of Gilboa. Butterflies will always remind her of David.
That night, the dream is different. It begins the same, with the woman standing nose-to-nose with her, those flat, dark eyes making the hair on the back of her neck stand up. The woman smiles with somber knowledge and Michelle thinks she hears music.
Then the scene changes. They are in the meeting hall, and the sky outside the glass wall is pale with sunlight. She sees people in the seats, all still and silent. Her mother stands to the side, head turned away. The Reverend stands behind the throne, hands on the shoulders of the chair. The Lady Death, for that is what Michelle knows her to be, stands at the opposite end of the table as her mother and her eyes follow Michelle. Everything is completely still, the silence echoing in her ears.
She sees herself, then, standing just to the left of the chair. She's wearing blue and her eyes are bright. It's then that Michelle sees who is in the chair.
It's David, and she can sense without needing any sort of clues that he is the king.
Her breath catches. This must be some sort of wish fulfillment on the part of her mind, because David is dead. David is dead, and yet here he is. Goosebumps break out all across her skin to see him again, living and breathing and looking at her with such calm surety.
She knows what she has always suspected: David was meant to be the king. He was chosen. It was his fate.
She wakes trembling, and when she realizes that she is alone in her room, she curls into a ball and cries, overwhelmed with longing and self-pity.
It's then that she decides to go out to Alter Mansion, to get away from her parents, to get away from the hole left in the palace by her children, by David, by Jack. She tries not to think about it, but even the absence of her brother, though he acted terribly at the end, leaves a dull ache in her bones. She needs to leave.
As she sits on the porch in the warming sunlight, she finds it almost amusing that after a year of exile, she still wants to be alone.
For a moment, Michelle thinks it's just a housemaid, but then she recognizes the voice. She spins in her chair, all but leaping to her feet. "Hanna?"
The woman smiles hesitantly, her eyes sweeping over Michelle. "Hello." Michelle ignores all etiquette and all but throws herself at Hanna, wrapping her arms tightly around Hanna and not letting go. "Oh, dear," Hanna says, half fond and half surprised. "I didn't realize you'd be so lacking in company now that you're back in favor with the king."
Michelle pulled away. "I'm not back in favor with the king. He just feels he's won because I played along with his little game." She swallowed back a lump in her throat. "Hanna, how did you get here? And how are Sam and Ellie?"
At the mention of their names, Hanna's mouth widens into a smile. "They're beautiful, Michelle. Wonderful. Well, they're still not sleeping through the night and your young Samuel cries a lot, but they're babies. That's what they're supposed to do." Hanna smoothes a hand over Michelle's hair and the princess hangs on her every word. "As for the other question, don't worry yourself about it."
Michelle swallows and glances around her. "Where are they? Can I see them?"
Hanna smiles. "Why do you think I came? There aren't reporters allowed out here and I know a few people in the kitchens who will let us leave and won't tell anyone. Some people see your father for what he truly is, and know what you did for David Shepherd." Taking Michelle's hand, she leads her quickly through the mansion, ducking into the servants' corridors and hurrying out a hidden door different from the one Michelle knew about.
Soon they are driving along a crowded road. Michelle stares out the window and watches the people outside, happy to see people again who aren't her own family.
Hanna pulls into the driveway of a completely normal looking house and Michelle's heart jumps up to her throat. Beckoning her, Hanna leads her up the steps.
The twins are in a small room that is pale yellow with early morning sunlight. Michelle barely notices Hanna speaking with another woman who must have been looking after the napping children because she is too caught up in the sight of the two small forms in their cribs.
It feels like hours that she spends studying them, her eyes cloudy with tears. Now that she isn't bone weary and destroyed by grief, she has the time to look at both of them more carefully. Ellie, she sees, has a soft smattering of blonde hair on her head, and a mouth she thinks looks like David's, but more delicate. Samuel has dark hair, like her, and while she watches he opens his big green eyes and blinks up at her. She smiles nervously down at him.
"Hey there, sweetheart," she whispers, reaching down to stroke his cheek. Fear bubbles up in her stomach, fear that they won't recognize her as their mother, that she will never be part of their lives.
Samuel reaches up and grabs her finger, holding onto it with a surprisingly strong grip. Her breath catches. He doesn't smile, just looks seriously up at her and holds on to her finger.
When Hanna comes in a short time later, Samuel has fallen asleep holding his mother's finger, and she is quietly weeping, a hand covering her mouth.
Her father comes to visit her at Alter Mansion, once. Feeling sick to her stomach, she greets him in the front hall as he sweeps in with his entourage trailing behind him. She sees, with no small amount of disgust, that he has given his biographer a break.
"Puppy," he says cheerfully upon seeing her, wrapping her up in his arms and kissing her cheek. A year and a half ago, she would have loved this. Now, it makes her want to do something violent. "Come, sit down. You and I haven't spoken since you got back." He steers her into the library, with its lush couches, high bookshelves and dark spaces.
Sitting tensely on the edge of the couch, Michelle raises her eyebrows. "You make it sound like I was on vacation."
Her father shrugs. "Considering your crime, the punishment was not that severe." She swallows back the bile in her throat, along with the words of protest she so desperately wants to say. Her crime, her nonexistent crime, could still get her killed if she doesn't watch what she says. And now she has more than herself to live for. Before, she had been willing to give up her life for David, but now that he is gone she has to keep herself alive for her children. So she grits her teeth and smiles. "Your mother made sure it was as close to a vacation as possible, for all that it was exile for treason." He isn't even looking at her as he says the words carelessly, but instead looking around the room as if he hasn't seen it in a long time.
Michelle's control crumbles. "Like Jack's punishment? Somehow I don't think people usually kill themselves while on vacation." At this, her father turns and looks at her steadily. The look in his eyes makes her stomach turn over. In quiet disbelief, she says, "You aren't sorry, are you?" When he doesn't say anything, just keeps looking at her, she has to look away and swallow back the disgust rising in her throat.
Standing abruptly, she makes her way towards the door. "I'm tired. I think I need to lie down."
As she leaves, she hears him call calmly after her, "See you at dinner, puppy."
After dinner, Michelle retreats up to her room again, claiming exhaustion again. She shuts the door behind her, the lights still off, and just breathes for a second, trying to clear her head. It doesn't work. There is too much anger boiling up inside of her, anger she isn't aloud to show. How can this man be her father? What happened to the man that read her stories when she was dying and made a city out of ashes?
A sound in the dim room makes her jump. She freezes, her eyes automatically sweeping through the dark cavern her room has suddenly turned into, and suddenly realizes that there is someone in the room other than herself. Glancing around, she finds some sort of decorative crystal sculpture to her right and grabs it, arming herself and then creeping through her darkened rooms.
She is almost to the bedroom when there is another noise, this time behind her. She spins around and nearly has a heart attack when she sees a tall, dark shape much closer to her than she thought. Instinctively, she bites back her scream and swings the sculpture at her attacker. It connects and he – it's definitely a 'he' – lets out a muffled yell. Michelle stops short at the noise.
"David?" she says disbelievingly.
"Did you really have to attack me?" he says wryly, and in the darkness she can see he is holding his left shoulder. "I guess it could have been worse, but – "
Heart thundering in her chest to the point of bursting, Michelle darts sideways and fumbles to turn on a lamp as quickly as possible. She has to – she can't let herself think that he's alive until she actually sees him in the light. The room is flooded with dim golden light and there he is, alive and ragged looking, holding a shoulder that looks like it's bleeding through his shirt.
With a strangled gasp, Michelle all but throws herself at him, her arms finding their way around his body like they've never been apart. He hisses in a breath as she bumps his shoulder, but he embraces her back, tightly but not as desperately as she is embracing him.
Pulling back, Michelle is seized by a sudden rage and shoves him back from her. Ignoring his shocked look and fervently fighting back tears, she barely remembers to keep her voice at an angry whisper. "I thought you were dead, David. You were executed. Where the hell have you been?"
David's eyebrows rise in disbelief. "I've been in Gath, Michelle, remember? Far, far away from here." Michelle claps a hand over her mouth, as if that will contain all of the emotions building up inside of her.
"Why did you try to get word to me that you were alive?" she says through her fingers, voice low and choked but still angry.
"Because I was far away, and besides, I didn't know you thought I was dead." His voice softens, then. "I didn't even know you were in exile until I finally went into a town and saw a newspaper. That was the point of me going to Gath, Michelle. To hide."
She knows she's overreacting and that his words make sense, and she doesn't know why she's angry instead of joyful that he is alive, but nothing seems to be making sense right now. "I thought you were dead," she repeats flatly. His expression changes and he reaches for her but pauses, like he's unsure if he can touch her or not. She reaches for him and then they're holding each other again, one of his hands in her hair and her arm avoiding his injured shoulder. "I'm sorry I hit you with the sculpture," she says, her voice muffled from being buried in his good shoulder. She feels him shudder with laughter.
"No problem." His lips press against the top of her head. She shifts her head, trying to be as close to him as possible. Her heart is pounding, because it still seems impossible that her mother lied to her and that he's here, mostly unharmed and holding her like he used to. As she moves her head, she feels something underneath his shirt.
"What's that?" she says quietly, looking at the lump curiously. He lets go of her with one arm to reach under his shirt and pull out a thin chain. On the chain, dangling at the end, is the ring she gave him that night in the church. "I couldn't wear it on my finger without getting unwelcome questions, so I had to improvise." He wrinkles his nose down at her. "Too cliché?"
She gives him a watery smile. "A little, but I like it."
Their eyes meet then, and for Michelle's heart stumbles as she realizes yet again that he is here and he is alive and why is she wasting all this time talking? She sees something similar going through his mind, and his eyes slip down to her lips.
They come together hesitantly, like they did back at the beginning, halting a breath away from each other before letting their lips touch, sucking in a breath at the last minute in anticipation. At the feel of his warm, soft lips on hers, Michelle feels a fiery feeling of possession course through her. This man is hers, and she is never losing him again. His hand slides down to her hip, the other tangling in her hair and cupping the back of her head, his kisses becoming deeper and more desperate the more they continue.
With a sudden shock through her passion-clouded mind, Michelle realizes he doesn't know anything that happened to her in the past year. Jerking back, she takes a deep breath. "David, there's something I need to tell you."
He is about to tilt her head up for another kiss, but he stops short, the worry line between his brows deepening. "What is it?"
She runs a hand over her face, trying to get her heart rate back somewhere near normal before tells him the thing that will change his life forever. "You might want to sit down." He, of course, shakes his head and remains standing. Taking another deep breath, Michele figures it is best to just say it. "The reason why I didn't show up to your trial, David, wasn't because I didn't want to. There was nothing I wanted more. But that morning, I found out I was pregnant." She watches the information wash over him, watches his face change from confusion to shock to amazement. She smiles hesitantly. "I wasn't supposed to be able to have children. My mother convinced me that if I had anything to do with you, my father would come after me. She sent me into exile to keep me away from him, so he would never know." She swallows. "While I was in exile, a doctor visited me regularly, and I found out that not only was I pregnant…I was pregnant with twins." The shock reappears on David's face and his mouth opens in awe.
"Twins?" he repeats softly. She nods, her smile breaking into a grin.
"They're beautiful," she says. "I hope you can see them soon."
His mouth falls open in amazement again. "You…had them?"
She laughs a little nervously. "Well I'm not exactly pregnant right now, am I?"
Making a low noise of astonishment in his throat, David steps forward and wraps her in his arms, burying his face in her hair. "I can't believe it. I can't…what are their names? Are they boys or girls or – "
Stroking his back, she laughs a little again. "One boy, one girl. Samuel and Ellie."
He pulls back and cups her face in his hands, staring seriously into her eyes. "For Reverend Samuels…and Eli?" When she nods, he pulls her face to his and kisses her, hard. "I love you."
The words whirl like butterflies in her stomach. "I love you," she says back between kisses. "But what are we going to do now that you're back? My father is right downstairs, and I – "
Still holding her, David pulls back and looks at her directly. "When I was in Gath, I…I realized something. I left before because I was afraid for my life, and afraid that I would drag you down with me, and too afraid to stay and see Silas ruin Gilboa again." There's something about him at this moment that makes Michelle's heart pound in anticipation. "But I'm not afraid anymore," he says with a smile. "And I know what I have to do."
"What do you have to do?" Michelle asks, remembering her dream.
"I have to take down Silas," he says.