Judas felt his feet grow heavy as they approached the city. He tried to tell himself that it was the lack of sleep. That was why Mary’s step seemed light while Jesus hung back, walking slow beside Judas. It was lack of sleep that slowed their pace.
Jesus was quiet next to him and Judas wondered if Jesus told himself the same lies. It was lack of sleep, of course, compounded over all of Samaria and on across Judea. It was that, yes, but more than that it was the dread that slowed Judas's steps, the foreboding that pulled at his heart, his nightmares echoing across the desert.
It was the third day of the Feast. If Judas had only found a way to delay them, they might have missed it entirely. Jerusalem would be emptying out now if he’d only tried. If he’d read the map wrong, lead them astray. If he’d try to convince Jesus to stay by the spring instead of urging him to move on.
Jesus would have been happy to stay with the people there. He would have been happy to talk with them, to embrace them, to teach them. It was places like that, that temporary village of tents, where Jesus had always thrived. And Judas - Judas could have encouraged it. He could have urged Jesus to stay. He'd been scared there, but he knew now that he had made a mistake.
Afterward, in the shed, Mary had pulled a cloth from her bag, wetted it with what was left of her drinking water. She’d reached for Judas and wiped his hands and his stomach, and he’d pulled her in and kissed her. Once she was finished, she stood, clutched the bag to her chest and smiled at him again before she left. She planned to do her own washing with the women at the spring. With Mary gone, Judas had dressed alone.
Now she walked in front of them, her steps so much more sure than Judas's as Jerusalem loomed. They hadn’t spoken much of what they’d done, of what it meant. There wasn’t time. There wasn’t a moment that was right for a conversation. And even if there had been, Judas wasn’t sure that either one of them had the answers yet. Perhaps if they’d stayed, they would have figured some of them out.
Four more days and the Feast would have been over. There would have been no reason to enter Jerusalem, no reason not to turn back and return to Galilee, or better yet, head into Perea instead.
They were quiet as they entered the city. Judas stared up at the walls and held his breath. In Galilee, Herod had grown weary of them, yes, but in Jerusalem, they’d been weary of Jesus for some time. Yet here in the city the crowds were loud, thick outside of the temple, and Judas thought that he heard Jesus’ name on more than one person’s lips.
Judas stayed close, refused to let Jesus out of his sight. Beside him, Mary reached out, took his hand in hers and held it tightly. They passed through the booths, sukkah after sukkah, not stopping at any of them, their destination clear. They moved through the crowd, bound together as they followed Jesus toward the Temple walls.
Judas searched the crowd for the others, for Peter and John. People were grouped together, standing in clusters in the Temple courts, the crowd still thick on the third day of the Feast. The courts were large and the other disciples could be anywhere within these walls. Jesus moved slowly through the groups, listening, nodding when someone met his eye. He reached out to touch a child, then stopped to listen to another rabbi speak to a group that had gathered around him.
Beside Judas, Mary turned and stared around her in awe as though it was her first time in Jerusalem, though Judas was sure that that could not be true. She smiled when she saw him watching her, held tightly to his hand as she leaned in to kiss his cheek. Judas smiled in return though he knew that his own smile appeared wary and far less sure.
And then Judas heard it, definite this time, not a trick of the ears. The men to his right had spoken Jesus’ name, were talking of him now, wondering where he was, why he had not shown his face here as the rest of the crowd had done.
Jesus stopped moving too, was listening though his back was turned to the men.
“He’s harmless,” one of the men said, his face wrinkled and his back bent with age.
“He’s a fraud,” another man spat quietly. “He spreads unrest among us with his lies and deceit.”
The man went on, his elderly companion merely shrugging at the other’s claims. He spoke quietly, softly, not willing to project the topic of their discussion, not wanting to draw attention from the crowd or the Roman guards that were scattered among them.
“If he is not a fraud then why is he not here?” the man concluded, spreading his hands as he delivered his final verdict. The old man shrugged again, but the rest of the group was nodding in agreement with the speaker.
Jesus turned then, caught Judas's eye. Judas saw the look on his face, knew that in that moment Jesus had determined the purpose of their pilgrimage, the reason for coming here. Judas shook his head, reached out to pull Jesus back, but he was stopped by Mary, still holding his hand. She wasn't paying attention to the conversation. She hadn’t expected his sudden movement and she stumbled as he lurched forward. Judas stopped, swung around to stop her from falling, released her hand as he made sure that her feet were steady.
Jesus was already pushing away from them when Judas turned toward him again.
“Come on,” he said, and rushed to follow.
He pushed through the crowd after Jesus but he couldn’t catch up, not without rushing, shouting or making a scene, and so he was some distance away when Jesus stopped on the steps outside the inner courts. He watched as Jesus held out his hands, began speaking loudly to those around him. Once he had their attention, he drew them in, sat down and continued at a more measured volume, his pace slowing.
People had heard his shouts, had come to see what the commotion was and the crowd around Jesus began to grow. Jesus was in his element, animated, his hands moving as he spoke and smiled and interacted with those nearest him. Judas felt someone stop beside him and turned to find Mary there, staring at Jesus. Her lips were parted and her eyes shown as she stood there, rapt.
She believed it, he knew. She would never admit it to Judas, would never say so to him, but he knew that in her heart she believed the things that were said. She never would have left Magdala if she didn’t.
People were moving in on either side of Judas now, whispering to each other.
“Is this him?” they asked, as others around them confirmed or denied. This went on for some time and all the while the crowd grew, all the while Jesus spoke. Judas tried to listen, but he could not. He could not concentrate on anything but the movement of the crowd.
“He’s the man they’re trying to kill,” someone said beside Judas, and Judas froze, listened for more.
“Why?” Someone else asked, but Judas hardly heard it, only heard the word kill echoed over and over again, then Messiah as it reverberated through the crowd. Some of the Temple authorities were approaching, but they stopped before they reached Jesus. Jesus acknowledged them and then continued to speak to those gathered as though nothing had changed. The authorities did not move closer, though it was clear to Judas that they were displeased. They would detain Jesus if they could.
They wouldn’t, Judas knew. He knew it as well as Jesus did. They arrived and they hovered, but they never laid a hand on Jesus, not here when he was surrounded by the crowd, not during Sukkot. It wasn’t the Temple authorities that concerned Judas here. Not much. Not now. They may hold Jesus yes, imprison him perhaps, but they could not have Jesus killed. It was the Roman soldiers scattered amongst them, standing on the steps of the Temple, mingling in with the crowd. They were the ones to fear.
Judas scanned, started to count the soldiers, but he lost count when his eyes set on a familiar face. It was Peter, drawn by curiosity toward the gathering crowd. Peter saw Judas immediately, and his face lit as he smiled and waved frantically in greeting. He started his approach.
“You’re here,” Peter said, his voice a little breathless as he nodded in Jesus’ direction. He turned then to smile at Mary, reached for her and pulled her into an embrace.
“You convinced him to come,” Peter said to Judas from over Mary’s shoulder.
“No,” Judas said. “This wasn‘t my idea.”
Peter nodded, then shook his head, realizing how uncharacteristic that would have been. “Of course,” he said. He looked at Mary. “It was you then?”
“He decided this on his own,” Mary said. She smiled at Peter before she turned back to Jesus. The smile still played at her lips though she hardly paid attention as Judas and Peter continued to talk.
“Where are the others?” Judas asked.
“They’re here,” Peter said. “We’ve been spread out across the city, but it’s getting late. They should be here soon.”
As soon as he said it, Judas spotted Simon and Thomas moving toward them through the crowd. Simon’s face changed at the sight of Jesus and he stood beside Mary, the awe on his face matching hers.
Jesus spoke until the sun was low in the sky but the crowd didn’t dwindle; it only continued to grow. The Roman presence grew as well and as the sun continued to sink, Judas felt his heart sink with it. He grew more agitated as each minute passed. The scene looked like the start of every one of his dreams of late. The large Jewish crowd, the Roman soldiers, and Jesus there at the center of it all.
Jesus spoke as though oblivious to the changes in the court, but Judas wasn‘t oblivious. Judas saw the way that the soldiers stepped closer, waiting for the smallest incentive.
Beside him, Simon shifted, but when Judas moved to step forward, Simon set a hand to his chest and said, “Wait. Wait.”
Finally Jesus paused in his rhetoric. He looked to the sky, squinted at the sun. It was time they departed. It wasn’t safe to spend the night in Jerusalem. They’d already stayed too late.
Jesus stood and the crowd around him groaned, displeased, but Jesus quieted them with his hands and his words, and finally he left the steps, started toward the place where Judas stood with the others. Judas heard his own sigh, felt relief in his chest, but he knew the feeling was premature. They weren‘t out of Jerusalem yet.
As Jesus stepped down from the steps, the crowd closed in around him, talking and grabbing at him. Jesus smiled and touched their faces, tried to pass through, but found himself detained with each step that he took. Judas knocked Simon's hand from his chest then, ignored his protest and began to push toward Jesus, but it was a Roman soldier who reached him first, his hand coming to rest firmly on Jesus’ shoulder.
Judas froze, too terrified for a moment to move, and then too terrified not to as he rushed the rest of the distance to Jesus‘ side, set his hand on Jesus‘ other arm. A woman beside Jesus was pushed into the soldier by the crowd and the solder pushed her back, hard so that she almost stumbled.
“No,” Judas said, not even realizing he’d uttered the word aloud until Jesus’ head turned slightly toward him in silent response.
Jesus lifted his arm in the soldier’s grip so that he could set his hand on the Roman just as the Roman had his hand on Jesus.
The soldier looked hard at the woman who’d stumbled under his shove, then back to Jesus. Jesus watched him intently, his gaze passive, neutral. Absent, Judas thought, indifferent. But this wasn’t quite that. Jesus was tense under Judas's hand. Judas could feel it beneath his fingers, undermining his outward display. Surely the soldier must feel it too.
People pushed around them still from all sides, tried to get a closer look at what was happening, tried to get closer to Jesus if they could. The crowd knocked against the soldier’s back and he lurched forward for a moment before he caught his footing again. Judas thought that this was it, this was when the soldier would lash out. This would start the riot, the bloodshed. This was the moment.
The soldier let Jesus go.
His hand slid off of Jesus’ shoulder and then he shrugged Jesus’ hand from where it held at his arm. Jesus let it fall away and took a step back into Judas. Judas tightened his grip, pulled at Jesus’ arm. Jesus resisted for a moment, stood there and stared still at the solder, but when Judas tugged at him again, Jesus moved, let Judas pull him back and followed as Judas began to push through the crowd.
Having seen the encounter with the Roman, the immediate crowd no longer blocked Jesus’ path. As Judas and Jesus moved farther away from the steps the groups of people largely ignored them, having missed the exchange and Jesus’ afternoon sermon. By the time they reached the gate and exited the Temple’s courts, they were anonymous to most of the crowd, to the soldiers that passed them by.
They passed quickly through lines of booths and then ducked into a narrow alleyway. This time it was Judas who held out his hand, stopped Jesus and listened. Jesus stood behind him, leaned back against the wall when Judas pressed a hand to his chest and waited. It was imperative that they were not followed as they left Jerusalem. It has always been important, but Judas felt the necessity in his gut now, knew that something awful would befall them if they were not vigilant.
The sun was setting fast in the narrow streets of Jerusalem. The shadows were long and the alley was dark around them. Judas listened, but he heard nothing except the noise of people preparing their dinner, settling into their sukkah for the fourth night. Judas looked to Jesus, thought about how different his life was before they met. Judas would be one of these people if it wasn’t for Jesus. He would be settling down to eat now, to pray. Instead he was here, pressed beside Jesus, huddled against a wall in one of Jerusalem’s alleys, praying that no one found them before they made it to safety.
Jesus reached up, set a hand on Judas's back.
“I don’t think we were followed,” Jesus said, his voice low, nearly a whisper.
“Not yet,” Judas agreed. He moved away from the wall, immediately missed Jesus’ proximity, but pushed the thought aside just as quickly. He rubbed his arms as he looked at Jesus, still standing there, and then he turned and started to walk.
He was angry. He was angry that Jesus had ignored all of his warnings. He was angry that the events of the day had touched so closely at his dreams. No one was hurt, Jesus would tell him. No harm came to anyone.
Not today, no. Today they were lucky.
They were far beyond the walls of Jerusalem before Jesus slowed his pace. They were headed to the Mount of Olives, to the Garden of Gethsemane. Judas knew this route though there were many. He had walked them all at Jesus‘ side.
Judas had lost Mary when he’d rushed after Jesus, as he‘d pushed Jesus through the crowd, and it seemed strange now to walk alone with Jesus without her there. She’d become a fixture in his life this past week, strong and sure beside them.
She was safe, he told himself. She was with Peter and Simon and they would watch out for her, though in truth she didn’t need their protection. Mary seemed overwhelmed that morning by a city she was perhaps seeing for the first time, but left alone in it she would conquer it, make it her own. Mary would be fine.
Jesus’ pace continued to slow until he stopped walking entirely, turned back to stare at the walls of Jerusalem. Judas continued to walk slowly, but when Jesus didn’t fall back into step beside him, Judas stopped as well. He paced back toward Jesus, anxious to get where they were going. Eventually, Judas stopped at Jesus’ side, looked on Jerusalem as Jesus looked on it. The landscape that stretched outside of the city’s walls was dotted with the orange glow of the fires of those who did not wish to remain in the confines of Jerusalem. The walls of the city rose up behind them, a black silhouette on the horizon, enclosed and unwelcoming.
“Jerusalem is the same as when we left it,” Judas noted, his tone bitter. To his surprise, Jesus laughed in response, a high bark that jarred Judas so that he started in the silence of the surrounding desert.
Judas turned to Jesus, but all that was left of the laugh was the slight trace of a smile on Jesus’ lips. Jesus couldn’t actually think it was funny. Jesus had been tense, had been trying not to let on, to show Judas that he was scared. It was just as it had been that night in Tiberias, as it had been when the pilgrims passed them at the side of the road the night before. The laugh had dispelled the tension, just a bit, and Jesus’ shoulders slumped slightly with the release.
Jesus turned his eyes away from Jerusalem and looked back at Judas. He reached up, touched Judas's jaw.
“I’m surrounded,” Jesus said. “And I’ve never felt so - “
Judas expected Jesus to say important, needed, loved. He expected Jesus to tell him lies, the same lies that he told to himself, to say that everything was well when Judas could see on Jesus‘ face that it wasn‘t true, that it had been getting worse for some time, that it was becoming worse still.
Judas braced himself, but Jesus didn‘t say anything, didn‘t continue at all, and after a moment, Judas let out the breath he‘d been holding.
Judas thought he should let the statement go, let the end trail off into the night as Jesus seemed to intend, but he found himself locked on Jesus, his face passive again, sad. Judas found himself unable to look away, and after a moment he asked, “What is it? You‘ve never felt so - ”
“Alone,” Jesus finished. The slight smile had returned, completely at odds with the word he’d said.
“What?” Judas asked, sure he’d misheard.
“I’ve never felt so alone.” One look at Jesus’ face told Judas that it was the truth. Judas wasn’t expecting it.
“You aren’t alone,” Judas said, immediately. He’d watched the way that Jesus had changed, the way that everything was changing, but Judas hadn’t guessed that Jesus could think -
Jesus moved away from him and Judas reached out, his fingers catching in the fabric of the cloak at Jesus’ shoulder. Jesus would start walking now, would leave it at that. Judas didn’t want to leave it. His fingers pulled at Jesus’ cloak and Jesus came easily, followed Judas to the edge of the road, let Judas guide him until he was seated on the ground, Judas at his side.
Jesus looked up at the sky, eyes shining, wet for just a moment before he blinked it away and turned to stare out at the horizon, his face a mask once more.
“You aren’t alone,” Judas said again.
“They can’t hear me,” Jesus continued. His hand, palm up where it rested in his lap, clenched and relaxed as he said the words. “They don’t want to.”
“I didn’t mean them,” Judas countered. He reached for Jesus. He thought to take Jesus’ hand, set his own into Jesus’ open palm, but he pulled back at the last moment and set a reassuring hand on his knee instead. “I meant Mary. I mean me. You have us. You have Peter and James. We’re all with you.”
Jesus stared at Judas's hand where it touched him. He didn’t say anything, didn’t even seem to hear Judas. Instead he reached out and pressed his fingers to the back of Judas's hand before covering it with his own. Jesus’ hand was warm against his, his fingers curling around Judas's palm.
Judas felt himself quicken, knew that it was time, that Jesus would listen. Jesus wanted to talk to him.
“They’ll hear only the things they want to hear,” Judas said. “Regardless of the things that you actually say.”
Jesus nodded and Judas continued.
“I’m worried for you,” he said, heard the quaver in his voice and hated himself for it. There was so much he wanted to say. He wanted to tell Jesus that he knew that the things that were said weren’t true. The miracles. The Messiah. Jesus brought hope, that was all, and when that hope was gone -
It was getting out of hand. Jesus could still back down. Judas would stand by him. He wanted to tell Jesus of the things he saw when he looked into the faces of the crowd, of the dreams that had him tossing through the night.
Jesus’ thumb rubbed circles over Judas's wrist. It felt too intimate somehow, and Judas shook his head.
“Before we left Tiberias, you said - “
“Are you?” Jesus asked then, cut in before Judas could finish. He looked up, his eyes impossibly large and so blue, and Judas felt his tongue dry and his heart clench around the words that he meant to say. He cleared his throat before he continued on to answer Jesus‘ question.
“Yes,” Judas said. “Of course, I’m worried. The crowds are getting too big, too vocal and far too loud. The things they’re saying - and the Romans - “
“No,” Jesus said. He turned Judas's hand, held it tight in his. “You said I wasn’t alone because I had you. Do I have you, Judas?”
Judas pulled his hand away, pressed it to Jesus‘ shoulder instead. “Yes,” he said, the response too forceful, a hiss on Judas's tongue. He started over, his words more careful now. “Yes, you have me. But you’re backing yourself into a corner. You must see that. There won’t be any escape if this goes too far.”
Jesus had turned away from him again, didn’t like Judas's words. Judas continued.
“Tell them the truth,” he insisted. “Dispel the rumors. The things that you teach are beautiful, Jesus, but you can’t let them believe that - “
“Judas,” Jesus sighed.
“Please,” Judas said. “Just listen to what I’m saying to you.”
“Listen to what I’ve asked you,” Jesus countered. The rush of the retort paused Judas, confused him. Jesus reached for Judas's hand again, pulled it toward him and pressed it to his chest.
“Am I alone?” Jesus asked. “Am I alone or are you with me?”
“I’m with you,” Judas said again.
Jesus’ hand pressed Judas's palm to his chest, his fingers covered Judas's fingers.
“Are you here with me, Judas?” Jesus asked once more. His gaze was steady, patient yet searching.
And now Judas began to understand, to see what it was that Jesus was asking him. He felt the heat start in his chest. He felt it travel upward until his neck and his face burned with his answer, clear enough that he knew he’d never have to say the actual words aloud, not when Jesus could read it so clearly as it blazed across his cheeks.
He felt Jesus’ heart, the rhythm steady beneath the palm of his hand as his own thundered in his head, echoed in his ears. Judas remembered the feel of Mary’s mouth against his, the touch of her hands, the reality blending into his dreams, then back into reality again.
He pulled away from Jesus, pulled hard so that Jesus flinched in surprise. Judas didn’t stop moving though, he stood and took a step back onto the road.
Judas couldn’t. His heart felt like it would burst from his chest. There had never been anyone else. No one else that could make Judas feel this. Mary, yes, but it was different. Mary infuriated him and she delighted him. She surprised him and soothed him. But Jesus - Jesus paralyzed him.
Jesus looked down at his empty hand, then up at Judas.
“How did you know?” Judas asked. The question sounded like an accusation, but his voice caught so that it sounded like he was choking on the words. For a moment he wondered if Mary had said, if she’d sat down beside Jesus and told him everything, of the way that Judas turned to her, that it wasn’t her name on his lips, that it had never been his on hers. He imagined her telling Jesus the things that she had seen in Judas's heart and his chest burned, his stomach turned. “How did you know?”
Jesus’ eyes were wide as he regarded Judas, as he shook his head and said, “I know nothing.”
Judas laughed and turned away.
“Will you run from me?” Jesus asked behind him. “Is that your answer to my question?”
Jesus must be able to read it all over Judas, in every line of Judas's body, in the burning flush of his face. How could he not know?
Judas turned back. Jesus was still staring at him, searching for his answer. Show me how to love him, Mary had said. Show us how it’s done.
But how was anyone to know? How was Judas to know when even Mary did not?
Judas's instinct was to run from this, to turn now, just as Jesus had guessed, to turn and leave. He’d return to the others, find Mary, wrap her in his arms. He’d leave and walk, keep going until he was far from here, far from Jesus and his followers, alone and himself again. It wouldn’t matter to him what Jesus did once Judas was gone. It wouldn’t matter that Jesus’ words in Tiberias, that his actions, kept Judas up nights. Judas could leave.
Judas might have left. If he’d been looking away from Jesus, he might have been able to follow through on the thought, to turn and leave all of this behind. But Jesus held him there. Even in the growing darkness, Judas saw hope in Jesus’ eyes as he waited for Judas's response, a softness that held Judas to his place on the road, propelled him forward but not back, not away.
Judas stepped toward Jesus, knelt before him at the edge of the road. Jesus smiled, unsure, and reached up to touch Judas's cheek.
“Can I kiss you?” Judas asked.
Jesus‘ smile fell and his eyes grew wide again, surprised by Judas's question. For a moment, Judas worried that he had misunderstood, that Jesus might turn him away after all, and he thought to pull back before that could happen. But Jesus’ hand still touched his face, his fingers sliding into the hair behind Judas's ear.
“Can I kiss you?” Judas asked again, fast before he lost his resolve. “Jesus.”
Jesus leaded forward and pressed a kiss to Judas's forehead.
“You don’t have to ask,“ Jesus said then, his nose pressed into Judas's curls, so close that Judas couldn’t see his face, could only hear the words.
Judas leaned in toward Jesus, leaned in as Jesus’ hand slid to the back of Judas's neck and held him close. Judas took a deep breath, the familiar smell of Jesus’ skin filling his nostrils. He took comfort in the proximity, and then he pushed aside his fears, just for this moment. He pushed aside the things that kept him up nights, Jesus’ increasing emotional absences. Jesus was present now.
Judas turned his head and kissed Jesus’ cheek. He started close by Jesus’ ear and kissed the line of his jaw, once, twice before returning to place his fourth kiss to Jesus’ cheek once more. The short hairs of Jesus’ beard scratched at Judas's lips, reminded Judas with each kiss that this was real, this was Jesus that he kissed. It wasn’t a fantasy. He didn’t have to imagine it anymore.
Judas kissed Jesus’ temple, the line of his hair where it met his forehead. Jesus’ eyes were closed and Judas pulled back to study him, the shine of his eyelids and the dust smeared across his brow.
He lifted his hand and brushed the dust aside with his thumb. Jesus opened his eyes at the touch and Judas's breath caught at the warmth reflected there.
He remembered Mary’s words, heard her voice in his ear. “You would worship him,” she said as Judas leaned in again to press his lips to Jesus’ other cheek. His mouth was met once more by the sharpness of stubble, then the hardness of Jesus’ jaw. Nine, ten times Judas kissed Jesus’ face, and as he moved to place the eleventh kiss, Jesus turned, just slightly, and his kiss landed on Jesus’ mouth instead. Jesus’ lips were irresistibly soft after the roughness of his face and Judas lingered there, thrilled by the feel of them finally pressed to his own.
They kissed slowly, the movement of their mouths tentative and careful as they learned what the rhythm of it might be, as they discovered how the other moved within it. Jesus’ kiss was gentler than Mary’s had been, softer and less sure. Judas felt less sure here too, as though somehow he’d forgotten how to kiss in the days since he’d kissed Mary last. He was learning it all again now, felt like he was learning it for the first time.
His hand rested on Jesus’ chest and he felt the tension there, felt Jesus shudder beneath his hand. His fingers slid up Jesus’ neck to cup his face, to hold him close as they kissed. His thumb brushed the edge of Jesus’ mouth and he moved it closer, felt the place where their lips met. Jesus turned his head into it, kissed Judas’ thumb and his palm before Judas took control again, used his hand to guide Jesus back to his lips.
The kiss was more demanding now, their exploration of each other less tentative than it was at the start. Judas’s hand held Jesus close as he kissed open Jesus’ mouth, his tongue light on Jesus’ lips.
Jesus sighed against him, his shaking breath filling Judas's heart until it felt as though it might burst, spill out into the sand between them. Judas had never known another man like this. He’d never known anyone who could make his heart swell in this way.
The kiss ached. It pulled at his heart and his gut. It was too much, and Judas had to pause, to collect himself lest he be consumed by Jesus here on the side of the dark road. He pulled away, but Jesus made a soft noise of protest. Jesus followed, leaned in toward Judas. His lips were slightly parted still and his mouth was wet from the kiss. Judas felt desire flare within at the sight of him. Judas looked on Jesus and felt lust curl through him. It surprised him, scared him, and he turned away.
“I’m sorry,“ Judas said. “We should go. They’ll worry if we don’t arrive soon.”
Judas could hear Jesus breathing beside him, his breath heavy, matching Judas’s own.
“They’re waiting for us,” Judas said when he turned back to find that Jesus still watched him.
Jesus nodded, looked away, wiped a hand across his mouth.
Judas stood and brushed the dust from his cloak, then held out his hand for Jesus. Jesus took it and let Judas pull him up until they stood beside each other in the road once more.
It was Judas who began walking first. He was several steps away before he heard Jesus start to follow him.
They walked in silence. Judas wondered if it was what Jesus had expected. He wondered if the kiss had been what Jesus wanted when he asked Judas if they were together here. Jesus had wished to kiss him again when Judas pulled away. That much was clear.
Judas’s mouth burned from the kiss, from the scratch of Jesus’ face against his skin. He reached up and touched his fingers to his lips.
He tried to imagine what might have happened if they’d been somewhere else, in that shed in the village by the stream perhaps. He tried to imagine them there, to imagine how it might have gone differently. They wouldn’t have needed to be elsewhere. They would have had time. Judas might have -
Judas closed his eyes, imagined his mouth on Jesus’ bare chest. He closed his eyes and he saw it, but only for a moment. He saw it only for a moment before he remembered what had happened in Jerusalem that afternoon, before he saw his nightmares begin to play out before him. He tripped over a stone in the path and reached out to stop himself from falling. Jesus was there in time, pulling Judas back until Judas found his footing once more.
Jesus’ hand lingered on his arm, but Judas couldn’t concentrate on the warmth of the touch. He’d lost the moment now, could only think of what had happened before this, what would happen again tomorrow.
“We’re nearly there,” Jesus said, seemingly worried that Judas was growing weary of the walk.
Judas stopped and reached for Jesus, turned Jesus toward him. Jesus looked back at him, confused.
“Let us leave Judea,” Judas pleaded. “We can travel to Perea, stay there for a time.” Judas knew that even going back to Galilee would be a better choice than this.
“Yes,” Jesus agreed. “We will stay in Jerusalem until the Feast is finished. Then we will go to Perea.”
Judas shook his head. “We should leave now. Tomorrow the crowd will grow larger,” he said. “And the day after that larger still.”
This was Tiberias all over again, it was Jerusalem the last time they’d come. It was Nazareth before Jesus was exiled the second time. Their exchange in the road had been a pleasant distraction, yes, and it had filled Judas’s lungs and his heart. But it only made it more important to Judas now that they leave. That they don’t tempt the Romans here, not again so soon after today.
Before him Jesus nodded to acknowledge Judas, but he did not respond.
Nothing had changed.
By the time they arrived at the base of the Mount of Olives, Judas had made up his mind. The others were already there, had chosen a shorter route and had arrived long before them. The group had been staying here for days and had erected their booths for the Feast. It made the garden appear a miniature city before Jesus and Judas. As they approached, the rest of the twelve milled about, concerned. It shouldn’t have taken Jesus that long to travel to Gethsemane from Jerusalem. They‘d lingered too long at the edge of the road. As soon as their approach was spotted Peter rushed to meet them.
“We thought something had happened,” Peter said. “We thought perhaps you were detained.”
It was unusual to see Peter frightened, to see him filling Judas’s role amongst the group in Judas’s absence.
“I was detained,” Jesus smiled. “But not in the way that you feared.”
Peter’s face told Judas that Peter didn’t understand this response, but he nodded anyway, appeased, and walked with them back toward the others.
Jesus was enfolded immediately. He smiled on his followers, hugged them, kissed foreheads and held their hands. As Judas watched the reunion, Mary came to stand with him. She reached out, her small hand coming to rest on Judas’s back.
“Something has happened,” Mary said, seeing it right away.
“Yes,” Judas agreed.
She looked to him, waited for him to explain further, but was interrupted by Jesus as he approached to touch Mary’s shoulder in greeting, to kiss her hair. She let her eyes fall shut with the kiss and Judas closed his eyes as well. He saw it even without watching. He knew that it was beautiful. He knew how it felt to kiss her and to be kissed by him.
“Judas was worried about you,” Jesus said.
Judas opened his eyes to find them both watching him now.
“Was he?” Mary asked, surprised. Judas shook his head. He hadn’t said anything. He hadn’t mentioned Mary at all on the walk to Gethsemane. He’s thought of her, of course, but -
“Were you worried?” Mary asked, turning back to Jesus, her eyebrows raised.
Jesus shook his head. “I knew that you would be fine,” he smiled.
“I knew that you would be fine too,” Judas said quickly, lest Mary believe Jesus‘ jest.
Mary laughed at Judas‘s defense, her touch a reassurance on his arm.
Jesus was still smiling when he held out his hand for Judas to take. Judas‘ palm slid across Jesus‘ hand as Jesus‘ fingers curled around it to hold him.
“Walk with me,” was his request.
Judas nodded. Mary’s hand fell from his arm as Judas let Jesus pull him away. They walked away from the others, past the twisting gnarled limbs of the olive trees
“You have something to tell me,” Jesus said, once they were far from the others, alone in the trees.
Judas shook his head, not ready yet, though it was true that Judas must tell Jesus of the decision that he’d made. He would have liked this night, this one night, but Jesus waited and eventually Judas gave in. He leaned in and kissed Jesus’ cheek. Jesus’ hands came up to rest on Judas’ shoulders. The brush of Jesus’ cheek against his mouth felt familiar, intimate and welcome, and Judas lingered there for a moment before he pulled away. Jesus’ hands remained on his shoulders, keeping him close when he would have turned.
“There are times when I wonder if your detractors in the courts today are right,“ Judas admitted. “I wonder if they’re right and you are crazed. I wonder if Simon is right and you antagonize the Romans on purpose. I wonder if you know that eventually they will kill you and that‘s why you speak the way that you do, the way that you did in Tiberias. I lie awake because I dream of slaughter, yours and ours. I see you turning in your sleep and I wonder if your dreams are similar to mine.”
Judas hadn’t planned to say these things, was surprised to find himself saying them aloud now. Jesus listened, his eyes soft as they watched Judas. He didn‘t respond. He didn’t confirm nor deny Judas’s claims. It only reinforced Judas’s decision. He continued.
“I don’t believe that you are what they say you are,” Judas said. “I don’t believe that you’re the Messiah.”
“I know,” Jesus said. That was it. Jesus knew that Judas didn’t believe. Not the way that Peter did. Not the way that Mary might. Jesus knew that perhaps Judas never would.
“Yet I love you,“ Judas said. “I’m with you.“ He paused, reached up to touch Jesus, watched his fingers curve around Jesus’ forearm. He looked on Jesus’ face again as he went on. “I want you to know that I’m with you in this.”
Jesus smiled but it looked forced. Jesus knew there was more to come. His fingers pressed into Judas’s shoulders, held him tight.
“I’m with you,” Judas said a third time. “But I will not ask to continue this. I won’t ask to kiss you again. Not now.”
Jesus did not protest. He didn’t ask Judas for his reasons, for Judas had already stated them. Asking again would demand answers from Jesus in return, answers that Jesus did not seem ready to give and that Judas knew that he did not want to hear. Jesus didn’t fight Judas‘s words. His eyes gave nothing away as he nodded, as his fingers twisted in the fabric of Judas’ cloak. He pulled Judas back in toward him, pulled until Judas was close enough to embrace. Judas pressed his mouth to Jesus’ shoulder.
When they parted again, Jesus released Judas entirely and Judas took a step back. They began to walk back toward the others. They were nearly there when Jesus spoke again.
“You spend all of your time worrying about what tomorrow will bring,” Jesus said, an echo of his words from nights before. “I fear that you will miss what is happening before you now.”
“I see what is happening,” Judas said. “I wish it could happen. But I fear that this isn’t the time for it.”
Jesus shrugged. “Is it ever the time?” he asked.
Judas did not know the answer.
It was nearly morning when Mary came to sit beside him, her shoulder pressed close to his.
“Have you slept?” she asked.
“A bit,” Judas admitted, though it couldn’t have been for more than an hour. He’d woken suddenly, sure that something had roused him, a noise or movement, but there was nothing, just the sukkah over his head and Peter’s soft snoring beside him. Jesus slept on the other side of Peter, but Judas couldn’t hear him over the snores. He propped himself up on his arm and found that Jesus’ place was empty.
“Jesus,“ Judas whispered and received no response. He stood, stepped over Peter and out into the night where he found Jesus asleep by the glowing remains of the fire.
Judas sat beside Jesus as he slept for much of the night. He stared up at the stars, at the bright sliver of the moon. He watched the rise and fall of Jesus’ chest, reached out to feel the heat of Jesus’ forehead on his palm. Jesus stirred beneath Judas’s hand. Not wanting to wake Jesus, Judas stood, walked through the garden to its edge. There he sat again and stared out across the darkness. This was where Mary found him, just as the desert began to become visible under the first touches of morning light.
“You’ve told him,” Mary guessed.
“Yes,” Judas agreed. “I told him. I kissed him.“ Mary’s fingers moved to her own lips at the admission, her fingertips touching them lightly as Judas continued. “And then I told him that it would not happen again.”
Mary started, surprised. “He turned you away?”
“No,” Judas said.
“I could lose myself in him,” Judas admitted.
“Would that be such a bad thing?” Mary asked.
If Judas got too close, he’d burn. He’d ignite and he wouldn’t be able to stop it. He wouldn’t be able to stop any of it.
“What would happen to us?” Judas asked. “What will happen to us?”
Mary thought about this for a long time. She weaved her arm through Judas’s, set her cheek on his shoulder. Judas turned into her, pressed his mouth into her hair. She reached for him, pulled him down and covered his lips with hers in a kiss. He wondered for a moment if he kissed her now because he had kissed Jesus, if it was still Jesus’ mouth she wished to feel against her own. Judas understood her so well, understood all of himself that he saw in her. When she pulled away from him, her eyes were steady on his, focused on him, and Judas let her lean in and kiss him again, certain that this second kiss was entirely for him, even if the first hadn’t been.
Mary leaned her head on his shoulder once more.
“I don’t know what I’m meant to do,” Judas said, staring out at the horizon.
Mary said nothing, let Judas continue.
“It seemed the right thing, but I sat there at his side while he slept and I wasn’t sure. I sit here with you now and I’m not sure. He asked me if he was alone and I told him that he wasn’t and then I left him there to sleep with no one at his side.”
“You’re at his side, Judas,” Mary said. “He knows that. No one would ever doubt it.”
“I don’t know what I’m meant to do,” Judas repeated. “I don’t know how -” He trailed off. It was light enough now to see the outline of the city. Once, some time ago, he’d stood with Jesus on the top of this mount and watched as Jesus wept at the sight of it.
“He’ll return to Jerusalem,” Mary guessed. She was looking at the city too.
“Yes,” Judas said. “He intends to return to the courts each day until the end of the Feast. If the people haven’t rioted, if Rome hasn’t lashed out, then he’s promised that we will go to Perea for a time.”
He felt Mary flinch at the bitterness laced into Judas’s words. He felt her nod her understanding. She shifted then, came to sit before him. She blocked his view of the city, forcing him to see only her instead. She knew that it troubled him. He reached for her and took her hands in his.
“If you were in my place,” Judas started. “Would you have done differently?”
“I don’t know,” Mary admitted. She brought their hands to her mouth and kissed his knuckles. “I don’t know what I would do.”
“I could lose myself in him,” Judas said again. He looked on her and then he said, “I think I could lose myself in you.”
Mary pause don this for a moment and then she leaned forward, pressed three kisses to his mouth before she sat back, his hands still held tightly in hers. Her eyes were bright as she regarded him, as though she’d just discovered all of the answers. She leaned in toward him again, her voice hushed as she spoke.
“And what if Jesus lost himself in you? What would happen then?”
“I don’t know,” Judas said, confused. Judas wasn’t sure that Jesus had the room in his heart. It was too full. Sometimes Judas thought that Jesus had lost himself already.
“What would happen?” Mary asked again.
“What does it matter?” Judas countered. He pulled his hands from hers, reached out to grip her shoulders, afraid suddenly that she’d never understood him at all. “If this keeps up - “
“So we’ll protect him,” Mary cut in. Her hands were on his neck, then his jaw, holding him close as she spoke, her words a rush of excitement. “You and I, Judas. Don’t you see? That‘s what you‘re meant to do. That‘s why you stay at his side. It‘s what you‘ve always done, isn‘t it? Since I‘ve met you, that is all that you‘ve done.”
“How?” Judas asked.
Mary shook her head, her eyes still bright as they continued.
“John and Peter and Thomas will do exactly what Jesus asks of them. They always have. And so we’ll have to be the ones. You don’t follow blindly as the others do. You see the things that they are unwilling to see, the things that even Jesus ignores. We will do what needs to be done. We’ll make sure that he keeps himself safe when it seems he no longer cares to. We’ll make sure that he’s kept safe -“
“That we’re all kept safe,“ Judas added.
“Yes,“ Mary agreed. “Together we’ll make sure. And then maybe - “
Judas shook his head, but her excitement was contagious. He looked at her and it no longer seemed so hopeless, the ending no longer seemed inevitable. She was right. It was what he’d been trying to do all along. With her on his side, with two of them, perhaps it would no longer feel like quite so impossible a task.
“Maybe what?” Judas asked, eager now to hear the conclusion to Mary’s plan.
She smiled at him, and for a moment Judas thought she might be crying, but he brushed his thumb across her cheek and it came away dry.
“Maybe what?” he asked again.
“Maybe someday Jesus will choose to go to Perea before the end of a feast,” Mary finished.
Judas took in her words. He watched over her shoulder as the sun began to rise over the horizon. When he looked to her again she regarded him still. Waiting.
This wasn‘t the time for it, Judas had told Jesus the night before. It wasn‘t the time for them.
“Is it ever?” Jesus had returned.
Judas had not known the answer then and he still didn‘t know it now, but when he looked on Mary, he saw that she believed that time would come. She believed that they would get there.
“Yes,” Judas said. “Together we‘ll make sure.”