|A Place for Birds
Author: webbedfeet PM
An alternate scenario for postepisode 22. A cursed prince, an enchanted princess, and a promise kept every other Wednesday. Genfic.Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Tragedy - Lelouch L. & Euphemia L.B. - Words: 2,996 - Reviews: 8 - Favs: 15 - Follows: 2 - Published: 06-26-07 - Status: Complete - id: 3619288
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
We remember the story as clearly as we do the first of everything that happens to us. The first letter, the first sketchbook bought by beaming parents, the first time our hearts flutter and whisper to the chemicals in our hypothalamus. Human beings simply live this way. We remember the first and the worst, hold on to them tenaciously.
You never forget something like this.
The story is one that has been told a thousand times : an enchanted princess, a prince looking at her from afar. Their distance is merely that of the tower and the courtyard, but blocked by a hundred walls of stone. She waits for the kiss of true love, the story goes. One kiss to break the spell, one word to free her.
He turns back. He has been here many, many times. He never succeeds.
How many more times, then, must he return? No one knows. How many more years must she wait? No one can answer. The prince always stops and turns back, after seeing the princess in the tower. Perhaps he finds his love is not true enough and his words merely lies. Perhaps he has no wish to save her. Perhaps the sight of her is too much for him to bear.
He leaves through a path of brambles and briars that claw gashes in his flesh, and he would make the same journey again and again until the day he dies.
The princess is enchanted. She watches him leave, and cannot remember. Her castle is broken down and her servants only dust motes, but she cannot see. She cannot hear. She does not answer to words.
The only sound she listens to is the pulse of his heart.
A Place for Birds
A fairytale of a prince and a princess
Ice cubes clinked together in their respective glasses, the air conditioner whirred. Tokyo's summers were much hotter than in Londinium, but in the pavilion it was as cool and clear as spring.
Summer had a habit of drawing the world in deep shadows and vivid lights, so when Clovis painted the world as it happened in the Britannian Isles, he used vivid colors and strong, broad strokes of the brush. Euphemia used to like watching him work despite not knowing him very well. He painted almost everything; airy gardens full of blooming roses, a flock of red and white birds in flight over a purple sky, a reproduction of Father's coronation. But what she liked best in Clovis' art was the summer. She thought he created those with more fervor, more recklessness, as if the season would uproot itself and be gone within the day. His summer's green was not just green but exuberant green and summer's red not just red but glinting like sunlit apples and summer's shadows were brilliantly black even in the smallest dent on a flagstone. Britannia's skies had tamed her colors for the rest of the years, muted and equal in tone, but summer was the errant child. It shone everything to a much more vigorous tint, much like a good butler would with his master's dancing shoes. Euphemia could imagine the rest of the seasons like servants as well, busily repairing and then preparing the house again for Winter, the time for ghosts.
Rolling onto Indian cushions piled upon each other, she turned her eyes towards the ceiling. They'd painted a night's worth of stars on it, and though no astronomer, Euphemia could name a few ones from memory. Pleiades, the seven sisters. (She would win in a contest of siblings) Coma Berenices, a queen's hair sacrificed for her husband's safe return. (She had always thought it was too small a price for something so important) Andromeda, the princess fated to die. (Sacrificed for a country; princes and princesses always die thus) It was not so much the shape of stars and constellations that made her remember as the voice telling her each tale, the hand she held all the while. These are things you always take with you. So to her there was something odder about 2010's summer, though the world itself didn't change. It felt somehow less resplendent, less exuberant, less vivid. Washed out. Stilled. Like somewhere a white-winged summer bird had vanished and left behind only the beating of wings.
Strange to remember how she thought of it now, to think of that faded summer in this beautiful world.
Euphemia turned on her side, once again stared out into the green world beyond, and smiled. Normally she wouldn't be so relaxed, what with all the work she had not yet done, but today was a special day. 'Every other Wednesday' of the weeks throughout the year. Yes, today she could afford to stop reading status reports and making voice conferences. Today wasn't the day for giving orders. The sun was already high in the sky, she had tea ready on the table, her heartbeats ran one second per second, measuring each little step time made.
The tea was almost cool when she heard the sound and rushed to fling her window open, feeling the midday sun on her skin, smiling, waving, shouting.
"Lelouch! You're very, very late!"
Of course he wasn't, and when he hopped down from his black Knightmare Frame (she'd heard that Schneizel never quite stopped teasing him about it), Lelouch took off his mask and glared at her. He never quite managed to look truly menacing in it, so after a moment of trying to be impressive he sighed, shook his head and tugged at his cravat like it was a poisonous slug.
"Hot as murder out there," her brother muttered, tumbling into the room. She smiled at him placidly as he made his way into his favourite chair, settled down and reclined, enjoying the comforts of air conditioning. It took a few moments for him to open his eyes again and said "How are you doing, Euphie?"
Euphemia smiled and told him it was all right.
They had discovered that Every Other Wednesday was all Lelouch could manage for turning back time, which was disappointing because she felt turning back time had been her number one goal. But he was supposed to do all the legwork involving the Japanese people in their Special Area, something he said was routinely atrocious. And they had agreed all their transmissions would be about work, about her decisions, about his commentaries. That way they would treasure Every Other Wednesday.
"I think I'll grow some local irises in the garden this year," she said, already settled down in her own chair and sipping tea. "They bloom in the summer, and they're so white. I was reminded of Lady Marianne's gardens when I saw the pictures."
Lelouch raised an eyebrow. He sat cross-legged, cape tossed back. A suit would've been better on him. "Reminded of chasing doves in Mother's gardens, you mean?"
"It was Nunnally's idea, not mine!" she proclaimed. "She wanted to prove her methods were better than yours. And admit it, Lelouch, your methods were pretty silly."
"Baited traps are a perfectly legitimate way to catch animals without hurting them. What if you break their wings?"
"We were very, very careful," Euphemia faux-pouted. "Besides, I don't think the doves found a stick and a bowl very convincing, either."
"Careful enough to slip into a fountain," Lelouch grinned. "Though I managed to hit my hand with a hammer, so we were about even."
"I'll never know what you were thinking, Lelouch. Your trap didn't even require a hammer."
They laughed together. Not the kind of laugh that came from the bottom of hearts, but one that welled up because certain things were held in a certain way. Euphemia remembered getting hold of Lelouch's mathematics practice book after he went to Japan because he had always been good at math and she asked Cornelia for it. There were neat equations in neat handwriting splattered across each page most haphazardly, and she realized those little numbers were Lelouch and all Lelouch was, that in between the lines were Pleiades, Berenice's hair and Andromeda. She had cried a little then. Their laughter was that kind of laugh.
"When would it end?" she asked, quietly. "I wish I don't have to wait anymore. It was my responsibility in the first place."
Her brother went silent. He made a difficult face, then set his teacup down and looked out at the garden. "Things are difficult in Hokkaidou," he said. "The Chinese Federation's making moves I don't care for, and the other side has set up a new line of resistance. It's going to take time."
Irrationality flashed like a bird wildly thrashing about in her chest. She smiled. "I'll go out there and do it. I have to. Let me."
"By yourself?" he turned back and gave her a ludicrous look that didn't seem so different from seven years ago. "No, Euphie, you should stay here. It's more appropriate for a leader to stay where it's safe and make decisions. And you're doing fine." His smile mirrored hers. "I'll take care of the rest."
"But I have to go out. I have to do it. I want to do it. It's my duty, Lelouch, I don't want to leave it like this. Let me. Please. Let me." She almost didn't remember how pleading her voice was, how urgent it suddenly was, how her heart thumped, how the bird seemed to be saying no, no, no, go, go, go, go, go, go. She grasped his hand and felt like crying.
Her brother went quiet again for a moment, then he simply looked her in the eye and said, "No, Euphie, stay."
And somehow that ended it, every time. Euphemia had wondered what it was in Lelouch's voice that could calm her down that much, was it infinitely reassuring like Schneizel's, or simply brook no argument like Cornelia's? Or was it like someone else, she didn't know, who was it, a knight, a knight in white like a dove, but no, she didn't have a knight. Lelouch said she didn't have a knight, and Sir Guildford definitely wasn't like a dove, so it couldn't be. Perhaps it was Lelouch himself, maybe, his young self, all in white like a summer bird.
But Euphemia didn't say this, because sometimes he would leave if she did. Instead she gave him a long-suffering smile.
"I'm sorry, Lelouch. But I wouldn't have been so anxious if you weren't you, if you're more patient, calm, reliable..."
"Are you saying I am fidgety, unreliable, and a spazz besides?" Lelouch frowned.
"No, you're just absent-minded. You forget everything when there's a plan to carry out. You didn't even remember playing Napoleon and Wellington with us! Instead, no, you just took off because there's chess with Schneizel." She grinned. "And you ask me not to worry about you."
"That was ten years ago. Why are you still remembering that grudge?"
Euphemia hid a smile. He looked almost like his old self when he does this, smile sideways, argue endlessly, laugh, never really saying anything he means to say. She had been so afraid of losing this when she asked him to join her, if she would break a bird's wings because she wanted to save it.
"It's not a grudge," she smiled. "I just wanted to remember you. And you weren't around for many new memories, so I had to make do with what's left."
Lelouch snorted. "If I want to be remembered, I'll have to die a dozen times while still alive. I'm not sure I'm ready for that yet."
"What's that, Nietzsche?"
"I have a feeling nobody home would approve of me quoting a European philosopher, but then they're all philistines." He made an oh-yuck face. "I don't really agree with his theory, but just this once, I think he's right."
"I still want to remember you," she said quietly. She wanted to remember so much, as if remembering was the only thing left worth living for, even though she knew that wasn't the case. She had always remembered yet it felt like fighting an uphill battle with an immortal forgetfulness, to the extent that it drove out everything else.
There were things she could not remember : the last time she had seen Cornelia, the last words she said to Nunnally, the taste of air outside this palace she was not allowed to step out of. Jumping from a window and falling on someone. The words she'd spoken. Sometimes she remembered flashed of faces she didn't know. A young man in white. When she remembered those, the bird in her chest would thrash again and all she could do to keep from rushing outside would be to remember him.
(And she wanted to capture their moments down to the tiniest fraction of detail; the wrinkle in his clothes, the ruffle in her hair, the imperious glint in his eyes, dust motes glowing like flecks of gold in the afternoon light, the sound of footsteps, the smell of grass, the way he ran laughing and frowning and arguing all those tiniest points no one really cared about except for the sake of listening and the sake of arguing. She wanted to capture all this and made it whole, a unity of memories locked away safely where the slow destruction of time and forgetfulness could not touch. It was like Cézanne's attempt to immortalize art but far less noble; she just wanted to save this memory from the horrible fate called dying and it was a selfish desire for her and her alone. She had even attempted art. But Euphemia was not Clovis, not even Nunnally, Nunnally who was beginning to draw gardens and plains with watercolor that seeped all over, and naught came out of her attempts except crude, broken brushstrokes that looked less like a memory than a line of oil splattered onto canvas.)
When the time came for Lelouch to leave, Euphemia went to see him off at the window. His Knightmare Frame would rise from wherever it's been waiting for him, and he waited for her goodbyes.
"Tell Nunnally I want to see her. Can she come to visit sometimes?"
"I will. But I doubt the latter is possible."
"See you in two weeks, then." She forced a smile. She never saw her siblings anymore except Lelouch. "Let's hope we manage to kill all the Japanese this time."
And he looked for a moment terribly sad, which was odd, because he should know this is something that must be done, perhaps even his idea. She hoped it was simply because his plans failed again and Lelouch hated failure.
"I hope we do," he said in an almost-whisper. "Everyone would be happy when it's all over."
"They would be. I wish you'll let me do it," she whispered back, her heart starting to beat wildly. "I want to. I have to. Let me. I have to kill all the Japanese, so everyone could be happy-"
On his trip back to the war against the Empire, Lelouch Vi Britannia thought about home.
Home meant roses blooming in the garden and air heavy with haze. Home meant afternoons away from textbooks and in natural history classes under the oak tree, tutors wearing old-fashioned monocles wiping sweat from their brows. Home meant shell-hunting with Nunnally in creeks, rainbow-colored pebbles in dried fountains, migrating birds returning from their long flights. Mother sometimes baked the cookies herself. They were inedible. Contrails glowed white among the clouds. The nights were studded with stars while he held Euphie's hand and told her of old gods and heroes, the stories behind Pleiades, Coma Berenices, Andromeda. Schneizel's piano coming from the west sitting room. The boredom of chess with Clovis. Cornelia chasing Euphie and Nunnally through the castle, telling him to take up strategic positions behind pots, pans, and broomsticks, just to corner their itinerant sisters. A picnic under the tree. Nunnally dumping a pot of water over him because he complained it was too hot to be outside.
You can't go home again, someone used to say. He used to hate the man for being right.
How many more times, then, must he return? No one knows. How many more years must she wait? No one can answer. He always stops and turns back after seeing her.
Perhaps he finds his love is not true enough and his words merely lies.
Perhaps he has no wish to save her.
Perhaps the sight of her is too much for him to bear.
The prince leaves through a path of brambles and briars that claw gashes in his flesh, and he would make the same journey again and again until the day he dies. He cannot love her more than himself, and he does not love himself enough to break his own curse. A cursed prince has no words to free an enchanted princess. She is dead a dozen times and cannot be forgotten.
The princess watches him leave. In her heart beats the wings of summer birds, trying to break free.
Note : Based on a line of thought that goes "What if Lelouch managed to catch Euphie in time before hugeass damage is done?" Damage is still irreversible in any case. The title was inspired by a line in T.S. Eliot's Four Quartets that goes "Go, go, said the bird : mankind – cannot bear very much reality."