Notes: Spoilers for episode seven of R2, sorta. Warnings for this being the most pretentious thing I've written for this fandom. No. No, wait. Second-most pretentious. Also, eek, the pacing.
There's a needle on the water that's brittle and brown. It runs softly, spinning this way and that on the current, uncertain and indecisive but borne along.
It's not an ending, but it'll do.
It goes upstream now. It picks up pieces of itself that had gotten caught on rocks or twigs, and it runs upstream until it finds the tree that had given it life and reaches up. The tree looks kindly down and accepts the needle back, gives it a place and color, makes it young and green again. As the weather grows balmy, the needle becomes tender. It becomes bright and covered with silver. Then it retreats, pulling itself back into the branch, which in turn shrinks back from the world at large, retreating into the trunk where it'll be safe. And the trunk, in its own turn, shrinks from the cruelty of the world and huddles down into the dirt, disappearing inside until finally it retreats into the hard shell of the seed that had taken root above the body of a man.
And that man is uncovered for the sun. There's a long time, a long long time, him still with his eyes to the sky. But then his heart beats, a faint twitch in his side, and then a long pause and it beats once more, then again and stronger, picking up strength and momentum until finally he gathers his strength and climbs to his feet and takes a step backwards and at long last turns his thoughts towards what lies before him.
There's a needle on the wind that's dead and brown and smells like old fires. Merlin lived backwards through time, remembering the future and looking forward to the past. Arthur thought about his future but his face remained impassive. Vivaine trailed her hand in the water. Morgan stared across the lake. Gawain worried his lip and thought about honor. Lancelot hesitated. Mordred killed and Guinevere let him. There's a needle you can crush and your hand will smell sweet thereafter.
This is history.
There's a man who walked in the sun, but who didn't live in the world. He didn't touch and he wasn't touched. He was self-contained. He'd pull food from his mouth and place it on grocery store shelves, but he kept his head down and met no one's eye. He'd press a bow to his violin and make silences, and his neighbors would lose their smiles when he pulled the notes from the air but they wouldn't know who was responsible. Sometimes he sat and held a pen against a piece of paper, but nothing was written and nothing was erased.
He lived like this fifteen years, with his head down, unknown and unrecognized. He lost the gray from his hair and grew up. Then one day the earth opened to reveal a younger sister, and for the first time in his life the man smiled.
When he lived in history, his heart was heavy. He remembered much of suffering. But he gained his sister, and he grew younger, and slowly he drifted into the realm of story.
This is a story:
There's a sickness in October, a fluid in the lungs that leaves him coughing and weak. There's a night in November when he lowers himself down upon his pillow and closes his eyes and finally, finally, rests. There's the momentary curiosity amongst the neighbors, maybe a comment on the fact that whoever it was stopped playing the violin. There's the stench and the men who come to clean out the house. There's the empty property. There's the grave and the tree. There's the new family that moves into the Violin Music House, and their three-legged dog, and their son who died in infancy, and their daughter who marries an Eleven much to their dismay, and the way they come to dearly love him but still insist to their neighbors that he's only hired help and nothing more, and there's their new chubby-cheeked dark-eyed grandson who goes on to be the mayor in spite of his half-breed heritage, and there's more after him and more after them, because there is moment after this, and a moment after this, and a moment after this, our memories racing just to keep up, all leading out from the moment when we put pen to paper and drown.
That's a story.
So what's history? It isn't fact, and trying to define the one as a bigger lie than the other is an exercise in sophistries. So what's history, and what's a story?
The difference is this: In a story you imagine the future, and in history you imagine the past.
God bless, Merlin! History's no truer for you, but at least it's simpler. You know the beginning. The beginning is the grave dirt falling across your eyes. The end is a mystery, lost in the failure of memory before a child's fancy and dreams, but a child's fancy and dreams have never counted for anything. And in history it's the beginning that matters.
Here's to you, Merlin, living backwards through time, walking into a gentler time, watching the trees grow tender.
And you, Lancelot? Are you ashamed? For what you did? It's a natural thing to lust for her. She's a fair small thing, delicate, at first a tiny seed, unwinged and hard, cradled in a berry's flesh, and her sprouting seemed unlikely. But she sprouted and grew, and so you smiled and laughed. She was story and love, sun on your back, our Guinevere, scent of high summer and ache in your legs, and you'd have died for her.
The fires took her, though, and she left only a scent on the air.
Lancelot? Are you ashamed? He loved her, too. He'd have died for her, too, it's just that you were the one who took her first. Whether that exacerbates or assuages, he'd have sold you out for her sake, too. You're in good company.
But to think you'd have burned her, Arthur. To think you'd have done it.
And it was Mordred that ended her, ended you, ended it all. Mordred, the fire, your own blood! Because he wanted her, too. Even this thing that you have made, this fire you kindled, conceived in darkness, in your sin, even this sad terrible little thing with ashy hands - he wanted her scent upon him. He wanted to breathe in that smell of mountains and air, freshness, that peppery smell of joy and sweetness. Even the blood you shed wanted juniper.
Tell me history.
When Merlin leaves her, he smiles, and when he meets her he cries. Because memory's no consolation, you know. It's the parting that's misery. We love other people because we don't know what they're going to do, because they always have the potential to see something new of humanity or the world. When we leave them, there's nothing new to see, only what we've seen before. Unhappiness is a world made rote.
Better, then, to live in story, in uncertainty. He learns this early, yet even so he wanders often back into history and struggles to get out.
Give me the needle again. Give me the tree. I am old, I am old, I am old!
This was your doing, Guinevere! It was your beauty that did it, your smile, your emptiness, the way they were free to make you into anything. It was the way you allowed yourself to be taken. This was your doing. They couldn't help but seek you. Everyone seeks you, and always have, and always will.
When Arthur and Lancelot had you together, that was the start of it all. And you allowed it to happen.
Juniper, juniper, they were happy with you!
Is there room for memory there, or were all your wrinkles and crevices filled with dreams?
Here's a memory:
Lancelot and Arthur were once young and untroubled. They had a friendship uncomplicated by ambition or love. They lived and ran and laughed before it all changed.
Story and history both are illusions.
Suzaku and Lelouch were once young. They had a friendship that was constantly overshadowed by what they knew lay ahead, but they had a friendship nevertheless. It was tempestuous and tenuous, and in the end it fell apart. They died apart. They were unhappy. It happens.
Here's a memory.
Vivaine knew what was best, and she was willing to sacrifice it all - her happiness, her life, her love - all for what was needed.
Nunnally died afraid, alone, and full of regrets.
Here's a memory.
Gawain survived and remembered, proud and honorable.
Kallen survived and remembered and never was the same.
Here's a memory.
Morgan repented for what she had done and lived a life in mourning for her mistakes.
C.C. stood apart from history.
And you, Mordred, and you, Guinevere, fire and pine, what have you done? How have you lived since then? Guinevere - you visit us fleetingly, dwell with us briefly then softly leave again. Mordred - you're with us always, always, always, as we go forward through history and forget what brought us here -
Give me the needle again.
I want to live in the world. I want to walk in the sun, and live and be happy. I want to go back to a time before I knew you, so that every day you could surprise me once again. Memories don't do you justice.
There's a needle in the wind that's young yet and green, soft and filled with illusions. Ay! This is history, this is simple: beginnings are uncertain because we don't remember but dream. We look forward when we're green, living in fancy and dreams, but then we grow up. We get old. We turn back, searching for something - some bit of nostalgia, some experience to give us a foothold, but all we have are stories.
So here we are:
A people once new once fresh lost without our compass, story and history running on, glancing backwards, tripping, falling. Though fearing water we fill with water, fill with water and then we go.
Give me the needle again!
Near the base of Mt. Fuji, an aged woman's back pains disappear as she stoops down to wipe onto the cement a smear of browning blood. She leaves, and weeks go by. Then a princess gets left there by her knight, deposited gently, carefully, in anticipation of the miracle about to take place, and he softly leaves once again. The blood shudders itself awake and slowly seeps back into her. The princess stirs.
Here is the miracle: a man, harsh and fierce and proud and God, so sad, straightens up and points at her a device, and when the princess gets up he releases the button on this device and pulls from her the bullet that was lodged between her heart and her spine. She cries out in wonder as her skin becomes whole.
She's tired and ragged, hurt, but as she's made whole again with this proud sad man's help, she stands up and joins him. In her arms she takes up that machine that pulls bullets out of people. Here is the miracle: she gathers her soldiers together, and they pull bullets out of people and let the blood come back in. They work tirelessly not resting until the very last of them is made to live once again.
In time those bullets will be disassembled and put back into the earth, but right now they rest safely in the chambers of those machines as she steps out in front of a nation, the woman who brought ten thousand men and women back from death, and is cheered.
And she smiles.
And the proud sad man starts to hope.
He stands alone, his throat thick. But slowly, slowly, one after another, his friends come back to him, embrace him. It's a joy. He looks forward to getting to know them. They'll surprise him.
Vivaine holds onto him, trusting him unconditionally. He will protect her. He will protect her.
Mordred, you held her. How did she feel? Was she soft against you?
It's easy to call you bloody. It's easy to call you the cruelest. But there's no one who isn't at fault. Arthur would have burned her, Lancelot used her; Gawain didn't defend her, Vivaine didn't know her, and Morgan didn't fight. You held her, Mordred, and you were the one who killed him, but they all made you. Together they all made you. You only burned.
Mordred, fire - it's not your fault -
Juniper, juniper, we were happy with you! But you got old, you got old and dried and the fires came. Juniper, God, we were happy with you. You were supposed to live to a hundred or more, but instead you're splintered and forgotten and dissipating on the air.
Guinevere, happiness, they're seeking you still!
Usually it lasts about fifteen minutes. Twenty, sometimes, if he goes for a heavy dose. And then he remembers that there's nothing wonderful here. All the mysteries of the world are gone. All that's here is grave dirt and bodies. Still, the drug smells and feels warm, so give him the needle again.
The first time Marianne held Lelouch, he cried and cried until she started rocking him, and then he fell silent, looking up at her. "My little old man," she said fondly to him, her voice hoarse and exhausted but still so full of love.
The doctor smiled, assuming Marianne was referring to his funny, wrinkled, red little face. What she was actually talking about was the distant look in his blue-purple eyes. He looked as he already had the memories of a lifetime. Even so, as she held him and he smiled his toothless grin, as she whispered the beginnings of a story to her son, there was between them the scent of juniper.
This isn't a beginning, but it'll do.