Tangible Schizophrenia

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Penitent Ashes

Author: Guede Mazaka
Title: Penitent Ashes Author: Guede Mazaka Rating: R
Pairing: Arthur/Lancelot
Feedback: Spelling errors to character analysis.
Disclaimer: Not mine.
Notes: Second-person pov. Companion piece to Strong East Wind.
Summary: Arthur on higher goals.

***

The last thing you look at before you give the order to charge is him. By all rights it should be the enemy lines, or the heaven above you all, or at least the whole line of men that you claim to value equally dear. But in truth that is not so, and in truth you know that you would trade them all for another moment of him breathing.

In the last moments before a battle is enjoined youíve heard it said that men think of their wives, their gods, their hopes and dreams, their wrongs and those they have wronged. Youíve heard it said that there is nothing but fear and that there is no fear at all, only a glorious anticipation. You donít pretend to be an authority on other men but you do know this: in the final moments, what you think of is the way the shadow fell across his cheek like a great black claw when last you found the space and peace and time to share a bed.

Itís hard to remember what life was like before the day you saw him. You have flashes of it, vivid flashes of your mother washing your clothes in the river, of Pelagius laboriously showing you how dark marks on parchment transform into words and worlds. Dimmer flashes of your father who died so long ago and who still weights your back with his sword and your work with his legacy and your kills with his choice of Britain. Your first suit of armor and your first battle, older stronger men falling all around you and the unsympathetic iron words of your officer still ringing in your ears. The smell of candle-smoke in the church, and the soothing you used to find in its quiet stories of faith in the face of adversity.

You have flashes and they tell you that life was bright before him, that the sky was blue and that the food full of flavor. But they are only flashes and you always can only half-believe them because the black of his hair enriches the color of the sky to the point of pain, because the taste of his mouth stays with you far longer than even the best meal youíve ever had, because life is nearly all gray and rust, black and blood now and because that seems to shine brighter than a newly-polished sword. Because he is in it, and he whirls and snaps and knocks the dullness off of the world.

Sometimes you look at him, chipped and raw, and you wonder at how he still burns and rails. Lately youíve begun to feel the chill of the land linger inside of you. You think you can feel yourself slowing, feel the ideals that once seemed so visceral and self-evident drift into distant gold glimmers that have nothing to do with the misery in which you survive now. You think no one could sustain themselves in this place, and then you look at him and you see the same desperate strong fire that you always did.

God was a warmth in the dark and Rome was a light, but Lancelot is red-hot coals in your hands and in your chest. You walk around with singed fingertips that remember the feel of him. When the two of you argue, it leaves raw burn scars on the inside of your body so that every time you breathe, you remember.

He terrifies you. If youíve learned to eye death with the same tired familiarity you do everything else, then youíve learned to outwit fear, and youíve learned that you cannot outwit him. He stalks your daylight mind with the incision of his words and the gangrene of their festering, and he haunts your nightmares with the idea of him dead, of him broken and spiritless, of him gone. Heíd laugh if he knew, but he masters more of you with less struggle than Rome or the Church ever did. Ever do.

He makes you forget why you stand where you do, why you lift your sword and lower it when you do.

You stay away from him so you can work, so you can continue to remember what your hopes and dreams are. Before the battle you canít look away from him and after it you canít look at him. Instead you fill your gaze with the sight of torn corpses, of moaning wounded, and you tell yourself that this is the price of what you wish to do and that it would do you well to never forget that, lest you end up paying more menís lives for it than you should. Least you end up paying his life.

But no matter what you do, eventually it comes back to him because he is, beneath everything else, why you do it. Itís for him now, and you find it harder and harder to recall for whom it was before.

But no matter what you do, eventually you come back to him and then you wonder how you could ever walk away. He swears at you, clutches at you and you let him because you want all of him so badly that youíll take the darkest, most rotten parts of him as if they were gold. His face presses against your neck and you bare it to him because if anyone has a right to decide whether the blood continues to flow in your veins itís him. His knees spread wide and you slip between his thighs because he is, you know grimly, the only thing you will never allow sacrificed on someone elseís altar. The only thing you would claim for your own, if you could.

You hold him afterward, lolling with his legs still splayed around you, arms draped over yours and eyes staring at you as if you deserve everything that you stroke so softly with your fingertips. It would be better if he closed his eyes.

It would be better if you closed yours, but neither of you do, no matter what you do to each other.

***

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