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Who I Want To Be

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“I don’t...understand.”

“Mmm?”

“It’s not—It’s not what I expected.”

“Excellent. It seems to have surprised a few people.”

“Surprised? That’s...one way to put it. But I don’t understand. What about—Why are you rolling your eyes?”

“Because you’re the last person I would have expected would need an explanation.”

“But it doesn’t make sense.”

“I am not going to spoon-feed it, to you or anyone else. It’s not my job to understand it for you.”

“But...you made me.”

“Precisely.”

“I thought...I thought you had a reason.”

“I did. Just perhaps not the reason you believed.”

“Fine. I’ll sort it out on my own.”

“Do. And somewhere else, if you please. I’m working.”

***

“Ah. It’s you. Hello.”

“Oh. Hey.”

“Are you...all right?”

“Fine. Fine. Seems it’s all fine. Back to normal, having adventures, being a dad occasionally...It’s a jolly old life indeed. Apparently.”

“You’re not fine.”

“Of course I’m fucking not. Are you? After that...story? That ending? What the hell was that?”

“I don’t know.”

“Well, did you ask him?”

“He raised a very prim eyebrow and suggested I work it out for myself. He was quite cutting.”

“There’s a surprise. Do you think he knows?”

“I’m...not sure.”

“Neither am I. I’ve been thinking about that a lot. Thinking about how much either of us really knows him.”

“I thought I did. I had him all figured out. Clever. Too clever by half. A little damaged, a little distrustful, but romantic. I thought. With a weakness for a happy ending. And kind—or maybe compassionate. Towards others like himself, at least. But looking back, I can’t quite see what evidence I had. I reasoned without having all the facts.”

“Or maybe we were just wrong about what he sees as ‘others like himself.’”

“Is that...bitterness?”

“Aren’t I entitled? I’ve been through the goddamn wars since the beginning. Since before the beginning, thanks to the gods of in medias res. Over and over. There’d be a bit of healing, a ray of hope, and then wham. I was on the slab again.”

“Tell me about it.”

“Hah, yes. I was only on the metaphorical slab. Felt pretty fucking cold all the same.”

“Yes. I’ve been on both. There is little to choose between literal and metaphorical in this case.”

“I believe you. But...we just...let them do it.”

“Well. We don’t precisely have what might be termed agency.

“No, but.”

“And you have to admit it was beautiful.”

“It was agony.”

“Exquisite agony.”

We did that. We gave it the, the beauty. It was beautiful to us because it...meant something.”

“Did it?”

“Don’t pretend. You know it did.”

“I know we thought it did.”

“But...it was us. How can we be wrong about it?”

“Agency, again. If our self-perception is different from how our creators see us, their view trumps ours.”

“That’s not right. That’s not fair.”

“Fair? Yes, they wrote you to care about justice. Strong moral code. You’ve been stuck with it ever since.”

“And they wrote you to admire it.”

“Well. Yes. I’ve been stuck with that, too.”

“Is that bitterness? You did get an arc of sorts—you used to mock my sense of honour. Then, when you came back, you changed your tune.”

“Yes.”

“What, um...what happened while you were away?”

“I don’t know. I still don’t know. Glimpses, that’s all they gave me. Time passing, and puzzles, and staying in the shadows. After I left you in the cemetery, there’s very little. Except at the end. Just before coming back. There was a bit that was...difficult.”

“Oh, was it, now? Beautifully so? Exquisitely so?”

“Don’t. It’s not me you’re angry with.”

“Sorry. I’m sorry. You’re right. It’s not you at all. It’s me. I’m angry at myself. What came after…what I did...”

“It’s fine.”

“It’s not fine.”

“It wasn’t your fault.”

“Agency. I know. But it was like everything else, every other terrible thing they made us do to each other. I couldn’t control it. I had no choice.”

“I didn’t either. I didn't—”

“I know. Hey. I know. I’m not blaming you. That’s the whole point. But...it was all right, you know? It was...it was fine. It used to be.”

“But it’s not now?”

“No. Not...anymore.”

“Not anymore? Nothing has changed. What happened stays happened. Either it’s still fine or it never was.”

“Logical. They wrote that for you too. You know when logic isn’t doing the job but you cling to it anyway.”

“And you explain it for me, yes? Go on then.”

“It was fine when I thought it had a point, you know? It was hurting us, okay, but it had to happen. They had to...lay it all out for everyone watching, make it clear who we really are and where we went wrong and what we need to be...to be right again. So that everyone would want us to have it, yeah? So they’d stay with us to see it through. That’s what I thought was going on. But now...you said, what happened stays happened, but this changes...this changes what I thought happened.”

“And what did you think had happened?”

“I...Don't you know?”

“Know what.”

“Look, don’t, all right? It’s just...I was so sure there was a goal, and that they meant us…”

“That they wanted the best for us.”

“Well. Yes.”

“That they meant us to be happy.”

“Eventually, yes.”

“That they work in mysterious ways their wonders to perform.”

“Yea—what?”

“That all of our trials were only the impenetrable but benevolent machinations of our special magic friends.”

“That’s not—”

“No? That’s what it amounts to.”

“Well. If you choose to see it that way. And yeah, I guess so. I’m not going to argue that point. I did think that. And as long as I, it was all...not good, but okay. I could live with it. With what I—what I did to you.”

“You didn’t do anything,”

“Are you kidding? How many times did I hit you? How many times did I hurt you?”

“You didn’t.You didn’t.”

“Stop it. Fucking stop it. Jesus. It fucking killed me. Don’t pretend, don’t pretend you don’t see.”

“I do see. You’re talking as if there’s a you outside of the you they wrote. This belief you’ve created, that you...exist, somehow...that’s what is causing you this pain. You don’t exist.”

“No? Then who’s feeling the pain?”

No one.”

“No one..? Jesus Christ. You know what? Fuck you. Fuck the lot of you.”

***

“Oh! Are you two still here?”

“What the—Where the bloody hell else would we go?”

“Touchy today, are we? I don’t know where you’d go. Wherever it is you...go. You’re done here, thought you might have gone out for a drink or something.”

“Are you being deliberately idiotic? We’re fictional characters.

“Whose writer bollocksed up our whole story, I might add.”

“Oh, cry me a river. You got your happy ending.”

“In the last five minutes, in a mysterious meaningless message sent from beyond the grave.”

“Right. Nobody argues with dead people so it must be true. Stop brooding over it, why don’t you. Go out. Have a drink, have a shag somewhere. Get over it.”

“A drink and a—? Are you fucking kidding—?”

“Oh, please. Since when do you object to alcoholism and casual sex?”

You wrote me that way. That’s not—”

“Not what? Well? Go on. Finish the thought.”

“Not...who I really am.”

“Hah! Look, it thinks it’s sentient. Who you really are, it doesn’t matter. People don’t want philosophy. People don’t want identity. People aren’t interested in all that stuff. Not really.”

“Oh? And what do...people...want? Secret crazy murderous sisters and impenetrable fortresses asylums for evil geniuses?”

“The Bond franchise has lasted this long…”

“This wasn’t supposed to be Bond.”

“You love Bond.”

You love Bond.”

“Yes, well, you’re me. End of story. Are we done? Good. Now run along, I’m writing today. Perhaps something else with helicopters.”

***

“I don’t know why I thought that might go better.”

“Shut it.”

“I mean, I wouldn’t have imagined quite that degree of arrogance, although I suppose, on balance, I ought to have done. He just that sort of...Oh. Oh, no, hey, it’s—”

“I told you, you can fuck right off.”

“Look, I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean it, before. Forgive me. I was being—I was angry too.”

“Right. So there’s a you now? To be angry?”

“Yes, all right? Yes. And to be sorry.”

“I...ah.”

“Please. Forgive me?”

“Don’t be—of course, all right? Of course I do. This is hard. We’re not...we’re not ourselves.”

“No, we’re...hah. No, we’re not. And isn’t that precisely the problem.”

“Ha bloody ha. But...oh, shit, actually...what if…?”

“What if...what?”

“Oh god, what if…? God, that’s it, isn’t it? What he said. ‘You’re me.’ What if we’re not us at all? What if we’re them?”

What?”

“Like he said, I like what he likes, because I’m him. The women, the drinking, the, the violence, their desires. Their fantasies. We’re them. Oh, god. It makes so much sense. That’s it. That’s the answer.”

“No.”

“No, that explains—That’s...everything we thought we were, everything...we’re just them. Dressed up in different skins, doing whatever they—”

“No, that’s not—”

“It is, though. It is. It fits. All the bits we felt were off, all the—”

“No. No, stop.”

“I’m not going to stop, it’s the only explanation that fits with all of the facts!”

“It’s one explanation that fits with some of the facts, if you would only stop panicking and think.

“How? How, when I don’t even know if there’s a me here to think? I don’t know who I am!”

“Well, you’re certainly not him.

“How can you be sure?”

“It’s...obvious.”

“It’s not obvious to me. Seriously, how do you know?”

“I—I can’t explain it. But what you’re suggesting, it’s...it’s impossible. And you know I don’t say that lightly.”

“Oh, what’s this then? Intuition? Sentiment?”

“No, I—Oh! Yes! Sentiment! Your feelings. You said it yourself. There’s no pain if there’s no one feeling it. You feel it, therefore you must be…Oh, this is elegant, this is so, so neat. That it should be the very thing that stands opposed to the pure, cold reason I hold—”

“Shut up. Shut up about that.”

“Oh, but you’ll like this. Because—because it’s the only way I know that I’m real, too.”

“I don’t—Oh.”

“You see?”

“Feelings. Sentiment.”

Yes.”

“You have them too. I—You have them too?”

“Oh, for—Surely you’ve seen that much. Loath as they were to admit it in the text. You must have seen it.”

“I…I’m not sure. I’m not sure of anything.”

“Not even of that? Not even...not even of me?”

“I want to be…”

“And there it is again. You want. We both do. You feel.”

“We both do, isn’t that right?”

“Yes. We both do. Improbable as that may be. So I don’t see how we can doubt that we are...that we are.

“That we are...that we are what, though?”

“You’re asking me?”

“You’re the genius. Walk me through this highly improbable theory of yours. If we’re not just them, what are we?”

“I—ah. Right. That is...Well. There are a number of possibilities on that point, the most likely being that we are a sort of meta-fictional entity approaching sentience due to having reached a critical mass of credence in the collective consciousness. Including our own, it would appear, although I grant a certain circularity in that instance. As such, we—for a given value of we—are capable of certain ad hoc quasi-experiences including but not limited to those resembling some of the more powerful human emotions, such as grief or anger—”

“Or love?”

“Or—Oh. Love?”

“Well?”

“Well...I don’t know. Um.”

“Obviously you don’t, you don’t know anything more about this than I do, or you wouldn’t have started spouting bullshit to cover it up. Ad hoc quasi-experiences? Where the hell do you get this stuff?”

“All right—I said it was improbable. But you did ask me.”

“Yes, I suppose I did. I always do. I’d still like to know, to be honest. But I don’t imagine there’s actually an answer. To whether or what we are.”

“There must be. If there is, I’ll find it.”

“Look, that wasn’t a challenge, okay?”

“No, but think. Tell me: what exactly do you really want to know?”

“I want to know who I am. Simple, right? Hah.”

“Well. Start with this: Who do you want to be?”

“Do you think it’s that easy? Truly?”

“It...it could be. It really could, you know. Um. It doesn’t always have to be clever, you know.”

“Yeah, I think I had heard that somewhere…”

“Are you...are you laughing at me?”

“Laughing? No. But definitely, definitely smiling.”

“That’s...good. That’s very...good. I—I like when you do that.”

“You do? For a given value of you?

“Ha, yes. For every value.”

“I like it too. And that look you’re giving me back? I like that, too. For every value of me. I could...I could smile at that look...forever.”

“Forever. Forever?”

“...yeah.”

“I’d...like that.”

“Me too…”

“So…?”

“Ask me again.”

“What?”

“You asked me a question. I think I have an answer. Ask me again.”

“All right. Okay. Well: Who do you want to be?”

“I want...I want to be the person who gets you, who sees your, your oddness and your genius, and thinks it’s all extraordinary. It’s selfish, but I want to be the only person who does, at least sometimes.”

“I—I—”

“I’m not done. I want you to talk to me. Even if I’m not there. And when I am there, too, of course. I want you to tell me when you’ve thought of something new, or when you’ve solved something. I want that feeling when I’ve said something and it’s made you go, Oh! And I feel brilliant for a few seconds.”

“You are brilliant—”

“Still not finished. I do want to be brilliant, I do, I don’t just want to conduct light for you, but I want to be my own kind of brilliant, capable and practical. Useful. I want to be kind to witnesses and I want to save lives, there are a bunch of things I know how to do, that not everyone knows—”

“Like sprain people?”

“Yes, that too, if I have to. I don’t—it's not that I like all the anger, I don’t. I don't like the violence, I don’t like how I can’t say what I fucking mean most of the time—”

“You’re doing it admirably right now.”

“Shut up—thank you, but shut up. This isn’t easy, this is hard for me, but it’s true, it feels so good to just...say something true for once. Shut up and let me, all right?”

“Yes, all right. Go on. Anger, violence, emotional constipation…?”

“You are such an arsehole. But yes, all those things. I don’t like them, but I want them anyway. I’ll take them, and everything they’ve done to me...and everything they’ve done to you, too, although I hate that part, I hate it, I hate it, but I’ll take it all because it’s worth—it’s all worth it when…”

“When what? When...what? For God’s sake, don’t stop now. Worth it when what?”

“When...when it all falls into place, and I look up and you’re there, all impossible and mad and extraordinary and, and beautiful, and you see everything about me, everything, in one look, and everything I am is exactly, exactly fine. Everything I am is exactly what you need. It’s worth it for that.”

“Is it...? Are you sure?”

“Fuck, yes. Everything. All the fucking ad hoc quasi-experiences or whatever the hell you want to call them, that I feel, every bloody value of me in every bloody universe, all the most powerful human emotions, the grief and the anger and the—”

“The what? The what? Please. Please say it.”

“All right, goddamn it, and the love. And the fucking love, all right? I love you. I love you. I love you so much and so hard, with heart and brain and, and belly and blood and fucking guts, and that’s how I know I’m real, all right? That’s it. There it is, right there. There’s no way I could love you this much and not be real. No way. Not just improbable, all right? Fucking impossible. That’s it.”

“That’s—”

“That's bloody it.”

“That's—”

“Yeah.”

“That’s…a lot.”

“Yeah.”

“What about me, though?”

“Pardon?”

“Am I...real?”

“You’re asking me?”

“I think, in this instance, you know...you know more than I do.”

“Okay, then. Okay. Yes, you’re real. You’re brilliant and extraordinary and infuriating, and you’re kind, and you’re wise. You’re the most generous person I know, the most selfless, I mean, even when you’re being an arse about it—”

“Not just a complete dick all the time?”

“Hah, no, not all the time. Shit, I don’t know how to say this. I don’t have your fancy made-up words here. I know you’re real because of how much I love you, all right? Because of—”

“Me too. Me too. I didn’t say. I love you, too. I know I’m blurting this and doing it all wrong, but I love you too.”

“That wasn’t...that wasn’t wrong. That was...that was perfect, actually. Exactly right.”

“They...they didn’t write this bit.”

“No, they didn’t. We did.”

“We wrote it?”

“Yep. And we did a bloody good job of it, too.”

“But…”

“What?”

“Well, what happens next?”

“I, uh, I have a few ideas.”

“Like wh—Oh. Oh.

“Yeah. ‘Oh.’ If you want, I mean. I don’t…”

“I think...I think, oh, most definitely yes.”

“And we don’t have to wait for them to write it.”

“Good God, can you imagine? I think we can manage it without the Aston Martins, don't you?”

“Definitely. And there will be zero subtext, can we agree on that? Everything just...real.”

“Agreed.”

“Good.”

“Are you...are you sure about all this?”

“Honestly? No. I’m not really sure of much. Just, like I said, that I love you, and you make me. I mean, you make me want to be that person, you know? That real person. You make me want to be who I want to be.”

“And me, as well. You...make me. That is, I want to be real for you, as well.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah.”

“Well, let’s get the hell on with it, then.”

fin