I don't own Code Geass. If I did, I'd have made at least one heartfelt Lelouch/Cornelia scene and a scene where Kallen actually kissed Lelouch. Or put in the rumored "deleted kiss" scene.
While reading this, please, if you will review, tell me of any spelling/grammar mistakes I may have committed. I'm more than a bit lazy so I don't re-read whatever I write. Thanks!
She was watching him again, that much she knew. What she didn't know was why she was watching him. Watching as he twirled a chess piece between his fingers.
The Black King, she recognized. He twirls that a lot.
Watching as he spoke through the headset, giving orders every now and then.
Natural, she realized. He must have done that a lot.
Watching him watch the numerous windows of the large monitor which displayed various points of the school during the festival.
Beautiful, she thought. Oh damn.
She caught herself watching him and stiffened a bit. She berated herself for watching the arrogant Britannian. She recalled one of their more prominent conversations, back then in the park, where he refused to save that vendor. He gave his reasons. He told her about how the vendor lacked pride and dignity. She slapped him after their extensive conversation and left. The damn Britannian was just full of talk, anyway.
She recalled another conversation – er – meeting. It was just about the time after the Order found out the identity of Britannia's white knight. The same annoying white knight that she kept on failing to defeat and kept on foiling Zero's brilliant plans; that same white knight turned out to be none other than Kururugi Suzaku, her classmate and a fellow Japanese. She just couldn't believe it. She knew that Kururugi worked with Britannia's military but to actually be the pilot of that white knight was just so frustrating. And so, when that Britannian reporter told her that, despite Zero ordering no assassination attempts at the boy, Suzaku's death would be beneficial to the Order, she immediately followed through with the idea. It was all for the sake of Zero and the Order of the Black Knights, anyway. She found the perfect opportunity, too. It was just too bad that the arrogant Lelouch had somehow stopped her. Damn that boy.
Damn that boy . . . and yet, why was she watching him? Millay had asked her to bring Lelouch his snacks so as to provide him energy so he could continue supervising the festival. With a sigh, she had complied with the request. She brought the snacks up to her most hated foe and yet . . . she couldn't enter the room. She stood just outside the door, watching him give out orders and she just couldn't help but be amazed that there was someone so capable nearby.
Zero isn't Japanese, you know . . .
She shook her head from the abrupt thought. Lelouch as Zero? Who was she trying to kid? Lelouch had absolutely no motive to go against the Britannian Empire. Zero must have toiled day and night for the Order and its cause while Lelouch is as lazy as they come. It is true that he works hard at certain times but that was it. He never even seems to leave the campus! Come to think of it, she could count the number of times she saw him out of the campus with just one hand. She had heard that he was very protective and caring for his younger sister but she had also heard from Sayoko and Millay that the number of times Nunnally had asked for her brother had just recently increased.
Oh wait, she just contradicted herself. Damn.
She started to chide herself. She came here for a specific reason. A rather simple, specific reason. Recomposing herself, she twisted the knob and pushed the door open.
"I was beginning to wonder when you'd give me my food." Lelouch spoke as he typed something in the laptop he was carrying. From her point of view, she could see that annoying triumphant smirk of his. "Could that little exercise of yours in the haunted house have proven much too challenging of a task for a frail lady such as yourself?"
"I must thank you then, kind sir, for you were, after all, the brain behind letting me do such a daunting task." She smiled sweetly at him as she imagined herself tearing that smirk off his face. Or his head off his neck. Whichever. For the millionth time since she started going back to school, she wondered why the hell did she choose such a weak persona. "Here. A meat bun for you since pizza will be reserved for later." She placed the food beside him. "Don't worry, Arthur's not in it."
He smiled wryly at her before issuing another command through the headset's microphone. She wondered just how the young man could be so workaholic.
"You're staring again." The seated Britannian commented. Her eyes briefly scanned through the numerous monitors.
"You are pretty good at this, aren't you?"
"Does it matter?"
"No. Not really." she wondered once more why she continued staying in the room. "I was just wondering where you learned how to think like that. I don't think the student council trains their members to be able to single-handedly facilitate an event as big as this."
"That may be true." Lelouch started opening the paper bag holding the meat bun. "Then again, you've never been around school much to actually be trained properly, I guess."
She made sure to dig her elbow in his shoulder as she leaned forward to examine the monitor. "Aren't there many people today?"
"Excuse me, but could you please stop adding more pressure to my shoulder?"
"I mean, sure there were a lot last year but this year, there are so many new faces that managing a crowd such as this must be a lot of work."
"Yes it is. Most especially when I can't concentrate because someone is hurting me."
"I mean, right now, there's this number of people in suits that just entered through the gates. Look!"
Lelouch was about to comment again about his discomfort when, indeed, he saw a rather peculiar bunch of people in suits and wearing shades. Upon closer inspection, he could see that they seemed to be guarding someone.
It can't be! Lelouch cursed his luck. Oh well, he made sure to just stay in the room in order to avoid contact with the new arrivals. Another lance of pain shot through his body, this time originating from his other shoulder as a head rested itself on his, supported by two elbows.
"Hey Lelouch, do you think you can teach me how to work all these equipment?"
Lelouch could just hear the grin on her face.
"Despite the way you act, your mannerisms now seem to very much fit you." Lelouch paused then added as an afterthought. "I believe the horror house needs you right about now."
Famous last words.
Lelouch rolled his head, trying to soothe the kinks in his shoulder thanks to his dear subordinate. But, he supposed, he should just bear with it. The festival, after all, was his chance to actually relax and celebrate after successfully repelling the Chinese Federation from a possible re-colonization of Japan.
He rubbed the bridge of his nose a bit before picking up his cellphone. He had a few more things to take care of.
She realized that finding her would be harder than she originally thought. She had been told that she went off to see the Ashford Academy Cultural Festival and so she, knowing that it was more or less just a few minutes away, decided to, at least, see what the school festival had to offer. After all, she had never, technically, gone to school as she was simply tutored as per normal royalty.
So, off she went and here she was, walking through crowds of civilians and Elevens. Her hair was up in a different fashion; part of her hair hiding her eye while the rest were pulled back and tied in a high ponytail, the way it had been during her younger years, her shades and lack of lipstick and make-up completing her facial disguise. She was no longer wearing her usual uniform, instead opting for a white jacket and baggy dark blue pants. She was accompanied by two bodyguards, as her knight was assigned to another duty during her absence.
Of course, she was accompanied by the bodyguards. That is, until she told them to look for her. She didn't want to resort to calling her up. What was she to say, anyways? Her original intention of just enjoying the festival was shot as she saw Britannia's civilians mingle with the Elevens so happily. Now, she just wanted to meet up with her, probably enjoy just a little bit, justifying this odd trip, and then return to headquarters.
It just hurt her even more.
Why was it that only now, when he was gone, that the distinction between Britannians and the former Japanese seemed so foreign? She eyed a group of students dragging a Britannian and Eleven couple from just outside the main gate.
However, despite her biases, she just couldn't bring herself to order judgment day on the Elevens. Despite her ferocity in the battle field, she couldn't harm civilians. Indiscreetly, that is.
A flash of pink caught her attention and her vision focused on it.
However, as she started to move, a group of students carrying several buckets of flour obscured her path. She started looking past the group only to find her quickly disappearing in the crowd. She held her tongue from shouting her name; her eyes easily confirmed the abundance of media in the festival. Ashford was probably trying to regain their lost glory.
She sighed, shaking her head before her shoulders slumped. At least she knew she was still in the campus. Smirking slightly, she decided.
This festival seems interesting enough, anyway, she convinced herself. Letting go of the past was always hard on her. But, she supposed, she had to try to move on, somehow. Perking up slightly, she started walking towards a shooting booth, refocusing on her original intent of trying to have some fun.
After all, despite her ferocity, Second Princess Cornelia li Britannia is a woman at heart.
The king fell with a sharp 'clink' on the floor before rolling a bit. Wide-eyed, Lelouch stared at the piece, surprised. This was the first in a long time that he lost control of the chess piece. He picked the piece up and inspected it for scratches or kinks. After spotting a small part chipped off from the tip of its crown, the dark-haired youth began to wonder if this was a sign - an omen of misfortune.
As quickly as the thought entered, it was banished. He was a man of reason. Omens were not real, only perceived so by the ignorant; those that put their faith in things unproven and disproved by facts and logic. Superstitions that lead people astray from what is real, relieving them of their responsibility and having a scapegoat to put their blame upon when things go awry.
He breathed in deeply in order to calm himself. Superstitions were rarely real. Omens were usually false. Just because a simple out-of-control chess piece fell from his grasp did not mean something was going to happen.
Even so, Lelouch could not stop the cold sweat from forming.
As she browsed through the stalls, she had to admit that the festival was, at the very least, entertaining. She guessed it was probably due to the Ashford family. Though they fell from grace, the fact is that they did have the technology to research and develop the early Knightmare frames. A mere festival must have been child's play for such a technologically advanced group.
It made her wonder why they built a school despite the fact that they were this advanced. After all, Ashford could have just tried to sign up for the military's R&D sect or appealed to the other noble families. She figured they could have at least do that much.
Perhaps the Ashford's loyalty to Lady Marianne and her family transcends even death?
She scoffed at the thought. If they were that loyal, then they could have at least done something to save the two of them from their harsh roles. They could have offered more protection; could have done something to try and change the Emperor's decision.
The Second Princess abruptly cut off that trail of thought. Whatever Lady Marianne's supporters did or did not do during the past had nothing to do with her. Absolutely nothing . . .
She decided to distract herself. The more time she was left alone with nothing to do, the more her past grievances and bitterness came back to haunt her.
Rechecking her map for something close that could distract her, her eyes spotted the horror house. Deciding to amuse herself, she started walking in that direction.
"Damn that fucking Lelouch!" Kallen once more cursed under her breath for the millionth time. Once more, she was forced to work in the horror house, no doubt the dark haired vice president of the student council's doing.
She had tried to avoid this job. Somehow, she was always given the role of the living dead, forced to endure the heat of the LCD screen as she impatiently waited for another customer to pass by her "territory of terror". It didn't help that she was forced to wear such thick make-up.
"I am so going to-" two blinks from the LCD and she burst out from her tomb stone with a bloodthirsty "- KILL YOU!"
The couple in front of her screamed and started running away in fear. They had to wonder what kind of special effects the planning committee of the horror house used to create such a bloodthirsty-looking monster.
The half-Japanese girl retreated back to her original - hiding – position, cursing the name of her tormentor once more. Sweat started gathering on her back and she cursed once more at the lack of ventilation which ended up as another reason to curse her current nemesis.
Another two blinks from the LCD and she burst upwards again, this time with an animalistic roar. It was a good thing, too, that her roar was loud. Otherwise, the fleeing couple might have heard the sound of her back cracking from repetitively standing and crouching.
She cursed the name of Lelouch Lamperouge again as she tried to rub her protesting back. A faraway blink from the LCD confirmed that someone just past the first checkpoint to her station, signifying that she had to, once - damn – more, crouch low and hide.
She swore that she'd rip Lelouch's head one day in the near future. She wondered if Zero would ever plan to take over the Academy and hold the students hostage. If he did, she'd make sure to ask if she could tear Lelouch Lamperouge to pieces.
Or his shirt, at least.
She blinked, horrified at the sudden perverse thought that fluttered in her mind. She shook her head, cursing Lelouch once again for putting in some weird voice in her head.
A sudden blink caught her attention and she remembered where she was. Once more, her protesting back groaned as she suddenly rose so, by habit, she screamed out her discomfort.
"DAMN. YOU. DIE!" she snarled out and froze.
There was only one person. That was not the reason why she froze though. She froze because the person in front of her, unafraid, looked eerily familiar.
Like a certain noble familiar. A noble that piloted a custom frame which carried a large jousting pole that could easily pinch holes in other Knightmare frames like a piercing hot knife on butter.
In front of her was a woman. A woman having the same features as Cornelia li Brittania.
Lelouch tried to calm himself, twirling the chess piece expertly between his fingers. Something was going to happen. Something that was not supposed to happen. Something that was not planned.
A meeting with Euphie, perhaps? No. That was not possible. Rather, it was, but the chances are small and slim between. But, he had to think, meeting Euphie might do him at least some good. After all, Euphie had already discovered who Zero was behind the cape and mask.
He refocused back on the feeling. Sighing, knowing that he would just have to improvise when - if - the time comes, he tried to convince himself that he was just being paranoid. He'd been on an adrenaline high for the past months with the appearance of Mao, the recruitment of Toudou and his group, the knowledge of Suzaku's position in the military, his secret identity blown to only Euphie's ears, and the threatening figure of Schneizel in Cornelia's aid.
An old grudge appeared in his mind at the last thought but he quickly dismissed it.
So much had happened in such a short amount of time. It had not even been a year yet since the appearance of Zero.
"Excuse me, but, is there something wrong?" Cornelia hesitantly asked the girl who tried to scare her. This was not good. She thought that not wearing many accessories to disguise herself would make her less recognizable. After all, if one looked suspicious, then one will be suspected.
Now, however, maybe being suspected was better than being recognized.
"R-roAR!" the girl choked out, trying to intimidate her. Relieved, the second princess felt that, just maybe, the girl chose to believe that she was not whoever the girl thought she was. She inwardly smacked herself for making no sense.
Eyeing the girl once more, she pitied her. Her hair was sticking on her face and large beads of sweat trickled down her face, her clothes damp and eyes bloodshot, probably the effects of staring at an LCD for such long periods of time.
"Um, aren't you going to move on, miss?" the girl timidly asked her. Cornelia was mildly surprised at how demure the girl sounded compared to her role.
"Oh sorry." She apologized. "I was just admiring how well made and planned out this horror house event was." She smiled as sweet as she could, trying to stray from her public image, her usual self, as much as possible so as to avoid recognition.
The red-head in front of her smiled, though it seemed somewhat strained to her eyes. Cornelia pitied the girl. Clearly the girl wanted to leave her post as a monster. As if luck was on the girl's side, a blue-haired head popped out from the wall, surprising the Britannian royal and the "monster".
"Hey Kallen, your shift is over. Thanks for everything once again!" the boy suddenly looked alarmed having just noticed the visitor. "Oh uh, well." The boy exchanged glances with the girl whom Cornelia identified as Kallen. Seeing her nod, the boy continued. "My apologies, madam, but can you please keep this secret? Rather, just forget this whole intermission and continue on your merry way?" the boy tried to politely shoo her. The princess felt that this was her cue to exit.
Cornelia nodded then left the awkward scene.
Well, that was an 'once-in-a-lifetime experience', she mused. She mildly heard some laughter as she exited out into the bright outside.
Kallen squinted as she exited the horror house, eyes adjusting to the sudden increase in luminosity. Vision adjusted, she made her way towards the so-called "control center", where her nemesis resided.
She convinced herself that she was going there all because of the fact that she wanted to somehow rant her discomfort at her treatment brought upon by the one who resided in the control center, Lelouch. She told herself that that was her only motive.
Absently, she stopped in front of one of the stalls that had a mirror, checking if her hair looked unkempt. Running her fingers through her hair to straighten it, she continued on her way, satisfied.
When her actions finally registered in her head, she cursed Lelouch once more under her breath. After all, everyone was supposed to think that she was "sickly and demure little Kallen".
She continued her walk, remembering that odd encounter in the Horror House. She, at first, thought that that woman was the Governor General. However, according to Zero, Cornelia was out repelling an invasion in Area 18. There was just no way, she reasoned, that Cornelia could be back so early. Also, the woman, despite having a similar appearance to the Britannian royal, did not have anybody accompanying her. From what she had seen, Cornelia was always accompanied by at least one of her knights, if not, then royalty should at least have some bodyguards, right?
She caught sight of her nemesis' quarters when the door suddenly opened, revealing her tormentor carrying a laptop as he tapped his headset with one finger, probably canceling some transmission.
Lelouch, apparently not noticing her approach or just not caring, turned his back on her before he started walking. Kallen unconsciously hastened her pace until she was just a few steps behind him before she slowed down so as to appear more natural.
"L-Lelouch!" she inwardly cursed at how her voice hitched. The boy stopped and tilted his head a bit in her direction before turning fully to her. She smiled, thinking that he probably did not notice how she called out to him.
The boy suddenly grinned evilly.
"To what do I owe this pleasure?" Lelouch asked, amused. Kallen flushed in embarrassment, partly because she was caught and partly because she did not know what to do.
Her original plan went along the lines of her complaining to him while he went about his facilitating duties inside the room. Of course, she may just ask him to teach her . . . all for the sake of being better at commanding so that she could help Zero more, she assured herself. She started thinking about how Lelouch would kindly teach her, his voice sending a shiver down her spine as he called her name.
"-llen? Kallen are you okay?" she suddenly snapped out of her reverie. Her eyes refocused on his then she quickly averted her gaze, embarrassed. "Are you feeling ill? Perhaps I should not have sent you to the Horror House. You're looking a bit tired."
She flushed a bit, this time because of how kind he sounded compared to how he used to when he push her buttons. Hmm . . . she wondered if those were the only buttons he knew how to push . . .
She flushed a deeper red before cursing him for . . . well, she just cursed him.
"Kallen, if you have nothing to say, may I please get going? I have a few things to check before lunch break. That's only thirty minutes away."
Realizing that she was keeping him from his duties, she started to panic and quickly said the first thing that came to her mind.
"I love sushi."
Ah . . .
Beautiful silence . . .
"Sorry?" Lelouch's stupefied expression gradually gave way to a mixture of amusement of mirth. Oh she could just see the growing mockery his eyes cast on her.
"I – er – that is to say, I was wondering if you wanted to eat sushi?" she tried to cover up.
He opened his mouth to reply but she quickly cut him off.
"I mean, I know that you are busy right now and I know that you just said that you had a few things to check on but, since my shift just ended, I was wondering if you would like to accompany me for some food?" seeing his raised brow, she added. "While you teach me, of course."
"Teach you what?" Ah. Straight to the point as usual, eh?
"Well . . . I was hoping that you would teach me how to manage these stuff . . ."
"As you have already put it, I am busy. I can guide you as this is a skill that cannot be taught, if you really want to learn, but it would have to be done some other time."
Whatever confidence Kallen mustered suddenly started to deflate. Noticing this, Lelouch sighed. He absently wondered if maybe this was that feeling.
Hoping that there would be no odd appearances like C.C. or Euphie with what he was about to do, he continued. "I can use your help now, though. That is, if you're up to the task of helping manage something as large scale such as this festival, that is."
Kallen beamed. She chastised herself for beaming and hid it behind a cough. "Of- of course! I mean, I would be glad to."
Lelouch shot her a smile. She however, started to wonder if her on-the-fly idea was all good and well.
Nevertheless, the unlikely duo started walking towards the nearest sushi stand.
"Ara." The blonde commented. She had wanted to surprise Lelouch with a sudden appearance. That, and give him a drink. The poor thing must have been very stressed given the tiresome task she had assigned him.
Truthfully, though, she was not at all remorseful. After all, with such a capable man such as Lelouch in arms reach, why not use him? Plans for the festival were to be cancelled due to the invasion. Despite everything, though, she had ordered that the festival be continued. Sadly, only the student council was present so she could not call upon the aid of the other club and classroom presidents. It was a good thing that Lelouch appeared the next day else she might have embarrassed herself by trying to cancel something that she had strongly defended the prior day.
However, deep down, she had to admit that she, at least, pitied him. He had been so busy the past months, always disappearing for several days before returning, drained and ready to just lay down sleep the week off. Yet, instead of returning to the dorm to sleep, he'd be up doing something, as Sayoko had informed her.
This task might have proved as a source for even more stress, yes, but, if her suspicions were correct, this gave just the opposite effect. It gave Lelouch a chance to focus on something else. It gave him a chance to try and break out from whatever phase he was going through.
Sighing, she started inspecting the monitors, plopping down on the chair Lelouch used. Feeling some slight heat from it, she figured he must have left not too long ago. She scanned through the various displays to try to find out where her old friend had gone.
Because, in her own way, she cared a lot for his well-being.
"Brother, are you here?" a voice came from the doorway.
"Oh, hi Nunnally!" she replied. She turned to face her. "Lelouch isn't here right now. Is there something that you . . . want?"
She blinked. Uh-oh. She had to improvise. She forced a kind smile. "Why, Nunnally, who's your new friend?"
"Ah. She's just someone I met while Sayoko and I took a stroll through the festival."
"Hello! Pleased to meet you!" the pink haired girl chirped and smiled pleasantly at her.
Smart girl. She thought. Appearing friendly while not giving your name.
Eyeing the two, Millay Ashford's smile grew wider. She decided that she would amuse the two.
After all, since she already knew Nunnally, it might be good to find out just how much more she knew about the survival of her two half-siblings.
"Ano sa, Lelouch . . ." Kallen tried getting his attention without trying to sound hostile. Currently, they were in the middle of several stalls and food stands.
"Hmm? Is something the matter?" Came the reply. Kallen figured that maybe she was just being a burden to him. She felt a bit bad about it. After all, he seemed to be working hard with all of the responsibilities thrust on to him by the president.
"Are you sure that I'm not a bother to you?" however, despite her thoughts, she supposed that maybe, this was her turn to torment him. That was her original intent, she reassured herself. This way, she'd be able to give him trouble as payback while, at the same time, know more about the dark-haired youth. All for blackmail purposes, she told herself.
"Truthfully? Yes you are." His reply was blunt and truthful. For some reason, though, it hurt her. She eyed the ground, wondering why she was feeling that way. "However, I guess that this is how masters and teachers feel towards their novice apprentices or students."
She blinked a bit before smiling. She raised her head only to see his smirking face. Thinking back to what he said, her eye twitched in mild irritation at the hidden glorification on his part and insult on hers. "Ah, is that so, master?"
"Hm-hmm." He absently nodded, engrossed by the mixture of emotions playing in his companion's deep blue eyes. "Ah, and one more thing."
"What is it?" she resisted the urge to snap.
"We're out of food. Can you please go buy some chips over there?"
She fumed. The redhead, however, decided to keep her cool. It was her idea, anyway, to accompany him. Inhaling deeply before exhaling softy, calming herself, she turned on her heel and started walking.
"Ah, wait!" a hand clasped around her own and she turned only to come face to face with him, their faces a few inches apart from each other. Her eyes widened and her face flushed at the proximity.
He smiled kindly at her and she absently wondered why he never smiled that way often.
"Here's the money."
The magic suddenly disappeared and she walked away with a slight stomp in her step.
Lelouch, on the other hand, slipped out his cell phone and began picking up where he left off.
"Sister!" the little boy ran up to her. He stopped as he was just in front of her. His deep violet eyes staring up to her rich fuchsia, he asked her worriedly. "Are you okay?"
Her heart still pounding from the adrenaline high, she smiled wider than usual at the little boy who reached just a bit past her waist. She ruffled his hair and he pouted back in turn. "Yes I am, you little stowaway."
Looking around, she spotted her older brother entering the hangar. "Excuse me for a little while. I have to thank our older brother for that last tactic."
She left the little boy to himself as she approached the new arrival.
"Lord Schneizel!" the blond man turned away from his inspections of the battle damage to face his approaching sister. "I would like to give you my gratitude. You have saved my life once again."
The blond noble looked puzzled before smiling kindly. "Though I am quite pleased with your thanks, dear Cornelia, it was not I who came up with today's stunning plan. You may not believe me, but it was all our little stowaway's idea."
She blinked a bit before quickly turning around only to see no sign of the dark-haired child. Turning back to her older brother, she was met with his amused smile.
"He is still but a child, isn't he? It'd be best to thank him. I believe he may have wanted to impress you." He left her to her own thoughts with those words, moving on to continue his inspection.
"Ah, Lady Marianne, I am very grateful for your presence during this trial run."
She blinked her eyes open, stifling a small yawn. She started to like the atmosphere in the academy. It was more than a bit noisy, yes, but she supposed that that was largely due to the festival. However, because of the academy's size, there were still some parts where the noise was greatly subdued. Like the field she just took a small nap in, for instance. Looking through the fields, she breathed in the greenery and smiled as a soft wind caressed her face.
She stood up and stretched a bit, patting down the creases on her clothes and running a hand through her purple locks, fixing it. She started walking towards the sounds of the festival, her stomach demanding some nourishment.
Well, I have always been a Lelouch/Cornelia fan . . . and a Lelouch/Kallen fan. However, due to my severe lack of inspiration, attributed to my easily bored psyche; Laziness, if you will, I decided to write a Kallen/Lelouch/Cornelia story instead of two stories focusing on the individual pairings. On another note, I wonder why nobody has ever tried to write a fic focusing on a Lelouch/Millay relationship . . .
Originally, this was supposed to be a oneshot. Sadly, I started feeling lazy again so I decided to make this a multi-chapter fic. I already have several ideas running through my head but, if any fan out there an idea of what they would like to happen, feel free to tell me either via email or review. Thanks!
Love it? Hate it? Despise it? Glorify it? Heck, just review it!
Why the hell am I typing like this, anyway?!