"Great Chieftan o' the Puddin-Race"
Cecile's mother had been very traditional. Shortbread was to be one part sugar to two parts butter to three parts flour.
"One-two-three's the rule," she'd sing.
Haggis was always to be made in the stomach of the sheep, never in the widely-available, less-costly, but also nontraditional casings. Shepherd's pie was to be made with lamb, not beef. No room for newfangled things like curries and spices; everything good, Cecile's great-great-great-grandmother had made. And by God, if you could deep-fry it, then why were you just standing there? Didn't you have something to be doing?
"After all," Mum would say, "the way to a man's heart is through is stomach."
Of course, there was also, "One day, your prince will come along. He'll be tall and handsome and clever, and have a good sense of humor, and will like your cooking, and will know when to step aside and let you make the decisions."
Cecile, personally, believed that the way to a man's heart was through hard work and a show of competence, and she'd frankly found her prince rather lacking. Still, even if her mother's advice wasn't the greatest, her cooking always held up.
"You know you can buy shortbread biscuits nowadays, Lloyd," Cecile once dared to say.
"Yes, I can!" Lloyd had agreed cheerfully. "But! Then they wouldn't be your shortbread biscuits, now would they?"
Not that she minded cooking. Something so methodical was often refreshing after a day of fits and starts with Lloyd and his inspiration. Indeed, going home and making a loaf of bread, noting what worked and what didn't just like her mother had always done, seemed more like following the proper scientific method than what she did here.
As she was foremost a scientist, experimenting was always in her blood: one day, she brought in fairy cakes that were flatly disgusting, oversalted and overmixed so that they were hard and chewy. She left them on the common table, where everyone was free to take some; when she came back that night, the tray was almost empty, and while there were a few paper cups in the trash, some with great chunks of cake still in them, most of the empty cups were scattered across Lloyd's desk.
Or, when they were discussing potential devicers, she corrected him every time - Private Kururugi, not Private Suzaku; the Japanese write their names backwards - until once, when she didn't. Lloyd caught himself.
"Ah!" he said, thrusting one finger upwards as though in sudden inspiration. "Private Kururugi, Private Kururugi; that's right, isn't it?"
"Very good," she said, and poured him some tea.
Of course, though she collected plenty of data, she was never able to come to any meaningful conclusions. Was Lloyd being polite, or did he honestly have no palate of which to speak?
No, for that one, she actually already knew the answer. Lloyd didn't have a polite bone in his body.
Take, for example, Cecile's unequivocally worst day ever, at the end of which she said to him, "Why is it me here? Me, instead of the other people out there..."
"Who's to say?" Lloyd said, hunched over his computer, not looking at her. "Maybe I just chose you because I liked your cooking."
Cecile watched him typing away, stung in spite of herself. "That's not a very kind thing to say, Lloyd."
"I guess not!" he agreed cheerily enough, and she went home tense, with her jaw gritted.
Or this, the day upon which they'd gotten back the list of soldiers and pilots who would make the best devicers. Kururugi Suzaku had been on the top of the list. He was at least ten points higher than the next-best devicer. Lloyd hadn't understood why she wasn't as enthusiastic as he was.
"He's a private right now, so there's no way he'll turn down our offer, especially when he sees Lancelot. Ohh, he'll be so excited! I almost envy him right now."
"Lloyd - " she'd tried to interrupt.
"Where is he now?" Lloyd asked, for some reason thinking that she'd know. "Private Suzaku."
"Private Kururugi," she'd corrected for the very first time, trying to figure out how to break the news. "And...I don't think that it would be the best idea...if we were to choose him."
Now she had his attention. He stared at her in horror. He'd have been clutching his pearls, if he were a woman and wearing pearls. "But his scores," Lloyd said. "His scores."
Cecile hadn't even set foot outside Aberdeen until she was fourteen. She hadn't seen her first knight until she was sixteen and hadn't spoken to one until she was twenty. Her father was a country doctor, and her mother cooked with all her heart. Cecile was not supposed to be explaining political niceties to an earl.
"He used to be Japanese," Cecile said. Lloyd looked at her blankly. "An Eleven," she tried again, and again that blank look. It was as if he'd never even heard the term before.
"His scores," Lloyd gasped once again, probably for lack of anything else to gasp.
"They're not going to...like it, Lloyd, the higher-ups; they prefer to see a, ah...An ethnic Britannian serve as the devicer. For Britannia."
"That's stupid," Lloyd said, and then twisted his face into a frown angrier than Cecile had ever said and brought the side of his fist down on his desk. "That's stupid!" He pounded the desk again, and again, and Cecile just watched and felt guilty.
Because Lloyd was absolutely right. It was stupid, and she felt terrible even just suggesting the possibility of it. Still:
"Can you imagine what would happen if he were to decide to rejoin the Japanese? What would happen if he gave the Lancelot to them?"
"Well," Lloyd said petulantly, "I suppose I'd have to become a Japanese too, wouldn't I?" But he'd gone back to his computer and started typing furiously without looking at her. Cecile had sighed, and felt manipulative; she went home that night and made him a cherry pie and found Lieutenant Lazlo.
Lazlo was the first of their many devicers, and aside from Suzaku himself was probably the most memorable. He was a famously skilled ace pilot. He was also an incredibly, incredibly quiet man. When he'd arrived that first day, he'd just muttered softly, "Lieutenant Lazlo," and saluted, and saluted Lloyd and said nothing at all when Cecile brought the two of them together.
As Lloyd had set up the Lancelot, Cecile had gone over to Lazlo with a fork, a plate, and a slice of pie. "Would you like some pie, Lieutenant?" she'd asked. "It's cherry, and the crust came out a bit less flavorful than I'd have hoped but quite tender."
Lazlo had said nothing at all, no thanks, hadn't smiled, had just taken it, and taken a slow bite, and chewed, and swallowed. When Lloyd had called his name, he'd stood, slowly, and handed her the plate back, still with the vast majority of the slice upon it, and then made his ponderous way over to the Lancelot.
"I don't like him," Lloyd groused. "I hope he fails." Cecile had predicted that Lloyd would say precisely that; what she hadn't predicted was that she'd agree. The man couldn't have at least said thank you, or maybe assured her that her crust was flavorful? Was that too much to ask?
When Lloyd willed something, it happened, whether by action or accident. It was one of the curious things about him, and one she had never been able to quantify by scientific means. So when the Lancelot was powered up, standing tall, and Cecile told Lieutenant Lazlo to just move around to get the feel of the thing, all that happened was that the Lancelot moved forward a few, slow, tentative feet and then fell still again.
"It's all right, Lieutenant," Cecile said into the comm. "There's no need to be timid."
Lazlo might have been unconscious in the cockpit, for all they knew, by his silence. But a moment passed, and then the Lancelot moved forward once again, still just as sluggish but a little surer on his feet. Cecile looked over at Lloyd, whose expression could have been described as contemptuous if this weren't Lloyd.
"All right, you've gotten the hang of the movement," Cecile said. "How does it feel?"
No response at all. Cecile frowned herself, and Lloyd tugged the microphone from her.
"Don't be so boring!" he cried before Cecile took it back. He leaned over and shouted, heedless of the fact that she'd switched it to receiving rather than transmitting, "Don't treat Lancelot like he's some normal Knightmare! He's different, a completely one hundred percent brand-new type, like nothing that has come before - "
Cecile shielded the microphone from Lloyd and switched it back over to transmit. "Is it all right?" she asked. "If you'd like, you can do something besides just move around."
"Thank you," Lazlo said, clipped and short. Cecile frowned. Lloyd, for the first time all day, smiled.
That smile disappeared as soon as Lazlo attempted to make a short hop and landed wrong, falling to one knee with an enormous crash.
"What are you doing?" Lloyd screeched, then ripped the microphone away from Cecile and turned it on. "What are you doing? Idiot, idiot! Three weeks we've spent on those knee joints, three weeks, and you're treating them like they're just big chunks of metal, and they're probably broken now. That's my Lancelot you're in, not some common - "
"Well maybe that's the problem, huh?"
As it turned out, laconic Lazlo wasn't actually secretly one of those painfully shy people who in the end turn out to be very sweet and well-intentioned. He wasn't one of those polite types who don't want to impose their voice upon other people. No: he was, in the end, a condescending snob, proud to a fault, who was unwilling or unable to accept that any problem was his own and who was so quiet because he didn't want to share his voice with others. "You people! Like nothing that has come before. Maybe there's a reason for that, huh? Maybe what came before worked pretty well, and you're just wasting your time on this unusable piece of crap - "
Cecile had never seen Lloyd so angry as he was in that moment, and she never would again. "Out!" he yelled. "Get out!"
Lancelot's hatch popped open, and Lazlo jumped down. "Like I'd even want to spend any more time in that thing! Jesus Christ!" He turned away. "A hundred million quid wasted on developing that piece of shit."
"Take it back!" Lloyd shrieked, and Cecile thought for a moment that he was actually going to launch himself at the man. She actually grabbed his arm to hold him back. "You take it back!"
"Lloyd, Lloyd," she said to him, and the look he cast at her was so furious she almost took a step back. But she kept her grip on him and, forcing out words that went against her instincts ("If you don't have anything nice to say, Cecile, say nothing at all"), said, "It doesn't matter, Lloyd. He's a, an idiot. Like you said."
Lazlo didn't so much as look back towards them, but the uncharacteristically harsh words brought Lloyd up short. His fury faded, and he yelled, "Only an idiot, and incompetent."
The Lieutenant was not the most professional soldier Cecile had ever encountered. He raised a middle finger above his head.
"Doesn't know a good thing if it's handed to him on a plate." Lloyd frowned. Cecile touched him gently on the shoulder.
"I'll make sure the Lancelot is all right. You go have another piece of pie."
Lloyd stalked off, but his mood remained dark the rest of the day, regardless of the fact that the Lancelot was completely unharmed, regardless of the fact that he got to finish the whole rest of the pie.
That night was spent pouring her heart into an apology haggis. Lloyd loved her haggis, or at least asked her to make it more than he asked her to make anything else - she suspected it was because he didn't have to pour any energy into protecting it from the other members of the team. It was difficult in Japan, though, because of the ban on selling lungs for human consumption, and Cecile wasn't about to take shortcuts.
So once every month or so, she'd make Lloyd a haggis with ingredients from the grocery store or the black market. Every time she brought it in, she'd get the exact same reaction: regardless of what mood he was in, how absorbed he was in what he was working on, he'd turn to her, grin, spread his arms, and start, "Fair fa' your honest, soonsie face..."
Even the day after the Lazlo incident, with Lloyd in the worst temper he'd been in since their funding had been cut a few percent two years previous, he still looked up with that broad, anticipatory grin.
"It's that time again!" he cried, and took the container from her and opened it to smell the haggis. Behind him, John from AI was making a gagging face, causing Anna from weapons to giggle.
"The groaning trencher there ye fill,
Your hurdies like a distant hill,
Your pin wad help to mend a mill
In time o' need,
While thro' your pores the dews distil
Like amber bead," Lloyd was reciting with gusto.
"His knife see rustic Labour dicht,
An' cut you up wi' ready slicht,
Trenching your gushing entrails bricht,
Like ony ditch;
And then, O what a glorious sicht,
Warm-reekin, rich!" He closed up the container again and beamed at Cecile. "This one smells so good, Cecile!"
"As always, everyone is welcome to some," Cecile said, to horrified stares from the newer members of the team and knowing snickers from the veterans. Lloyd, as always, had stopped smiling at that point, and she, as always, was puzzled.
As always, the haggis was split between Lloyd and Cecile alone, with him taking the lion's share and piling it high with the potatoes and turnips she'd brought in separate containers. He ate with his eyes closed, a smile on his face, and washed it all down with tea.
Cecile decided, in not the best decision of her life, that that moment, when he was in a better mood than he had been in a while, was the best to raise the specter of their devicer.
"I'm sorry about all that yesterday, Lloyd," she said.
Lloyd, mouth bulging with innards, just Mmmed and then swallowed. "Not at all. When someone's an idiot, you can't do a thing!"
Cecile nodded, and smeared a little haggis across her plate, and then said, aware of how overly casual she sounded, "I hear that Warrant Officer Fitzwilliam is a lot nicer."
The clink of metal against ceramic stopped, and when Cecile looked up Lloyd wasn't smiling. "He's the next one on the list," she said unnecessarily.
"I would think the next one on the list would be Private Suzaku."
"Because Lieutenant Lazlo was not good, and when we're going down the list, we're just going to be getting worse. You understand that, right?"
Cecile scooped out another bit of haggis and said, "Maybe Lazlo was just a fluke - "
"He wasn't good enough." Lloyd was out-and-out frowning now. "And I don't think it's fair to Lancelot to pretend otherwise."
"But we can't - "
"We can! Private Suzaku won't defect; we have letters of recommendation from several of his commanding officers." He shoved an angry forkful into his mouth and continued: "Besides, the power of the symbol that he could become for cooperation by the Numbers is enough that nobody but the Purists would object, so I wonder."
"You wonder...?" Cecile asked, shaking her head. Then she understood and started in spite of herself to get angry. "What are you trying to imply, Lloyd?"
Lloyd said nothing.
So Cecile put down her fork and stood and walked away. She was irritated with him, with the deliberately hurtful things he was trying to say, and irritated that he'd gotten the political implications before and had just been pretending to be ignorant of them. She'd told her mother about how she was advising an earl on politics. Mum had been amused, even, and had doubtless passed the story along, but now here was Cecile, not actually as helpful as she'd thought.
Cecile took home the leftover haggis, rather than giving it to Lloyd like she usually did. That night she felt guilty and petty, so she baked him shortbread.
But Lloyd was still irritated the next day, and hardly even thanked her as she brought it over to him. Once, he passed by her desk and looked as though he wanted to say something, but then he walked on without a word.
The silence lasted until Warrant Officer Fitzwilliam, who was as nice as rumored. Niceness wasn't the problem. The problem was the lag time with Fitzwilliam as pilot, which would render Lancelot, for all its superior weaponry and armoring, actually less effective than the average Knightmare.
"I'm sorry," Fitzwilliam apologized as he got out. "I don't know if I could get used to that system." He wrinkled his nose. "It's good, though, it's really good. I think the problem is mine."
Lloyd said nothing, but nodded with something approaching forgiveness. Cecile thanked him for his time, and he thanked her for the muffins, and they didn't see him again.
By the next day, Lloyd had recovered completely and was back to his usual irrepressible self. "Ahh, Cecile's scones!" he sang when she walked in with her tray that morning, and sniffed the air dramatically. "Raspberry white chocolate chip. Right?"
"Right," she said with a smile, and handed him the very first one. "Very good nose."
"Very good scone," he replied, biting into it, and jogging back to his desk.
They agreed over tea that Fitzwilliam wasn't going to work, and Cecile winced in anticipation of Lloyd's irritation as she told him that Warrant Officer Anders was going to be free the following Wednesday. But this time around, there was no sulking, no angry implications: instead, he laughed and said, "It doesn't matter! At this point, I'm just waiting until you bring Private Suzaku."
He turned back to his computer and said, "Yes, yes. Congratulations! You're going to be handling the test run alone."
Cecile blinked and tilted her head to the side. "You trust me to make that decision?"
"Of course I do!" He wasn't even looking at her as he explained, "After all, it's not like it matters, right?"
Cecile smiled, and swallowed, and only just barely managed to laugh, "Right."
Before Cecile had headed off to London for the first time, her mother had given her a bound book of recipes. Each recipe was incredibly precise, every ingredient given in grams and annotated - whole-wheat flour can be used if add in 25 g. honey and increase cooking time to 35 minutes; shortening to be softened and then cut in; to be served with Lady Gray - honed by years of controlled experiments in her mother's laboratory.
Cecile continued the tradition, cooking by the scientific method (Hypothesis: Increasing the water content and baking in a closed container will increase crustiness of bread. Data: Dough came out a little runnier than would be optimum, and it was unable to keep its shape during baking. However, the crust was excellent. Conclusions: An avenue worth pursuing. Perhaps a different kind of flour would help? Hypothesis: The local dumplings known as "gyoza" would take well to a sweet, rather than savory filling. Data: Dumplings were difficult to shape and cook, and flavor is odd, particularly the ones with strawberry filling. Conclusions: Must find someone to taste-test - someone who isn't Lloyd; he loves everything in equal measure.), a notebook and pencil in hand as she strove with every batch of shortbread or biscuits to bring these foods a little closer to their Platonic ideal.
Meeting Lloyd was...Lloyd was different from Cecile. He was absolutely a genius. He was not, however, a scientist. A scientist worked in method; Lloyd was an artist, moving in bursts of inspiration, temperament and despair, leaving people like Cecile to follow in his wake and clean up after him, to record what had occurred so they didn't perform the same experiment three times in a row for having forgotten the previous results.
"Pah," he sniffed every time she'd asked him to maybe document his experiments. "I'll remember. Don't worry!"
Meeting Lloyd had been crushing, honestly. That was the day Cecile had been forced to resign herself to the fact that she was not, and would never be, brilliant.
But she was sounding bitter and envious. She wasn't. She had been initially (and her mother, with "Envy is a waste of time, Cecile; better by far to invest your energy into bettering yourself" didn't help in the least), but with time she'd moved beyond that. She'd stopped lamenting the Lakshartas and the Lloyds of the world, and instead realized that she had her place, too.
But then again, maybe Lloyd just chose her because he liked her cooking.
That had been on the day with Warrant Officer Sparrow, number fifteen on the list of potential devicers and, in the initial test run, easily the most competent. Cecile had been excited by the prospect, enough to run and get Lloyd for a second test run.
"Okay," she'd said to Sparrow, "go," and he'd promptly launched the Lancelot into a wall so hard that the right arm got knocked off and they were never able to get it to work quite as well as it had before.
And the look on Lloyd's face! That afternoon, after they'd managed to reattach the arm and found that it was now sluggish, with a newly-developed tendency for the second digit to stick, Lloyd shot her this look and said, "Tell me when Private Suzaku shows up."
"I just want to make sure the project is safe," she explained later to him. "I just don't want us to get hamstrung by politics. It's happened in the past."
"Hmm," Lloyd had said.
And she'd raised her eyebrows, still guilty over the Lancelot's arm, over the time they were losing, and more than anything over Kururugi Suzaku, whom she was denying so many opportunities. "Though I suppose I'm overstepping my authority there, aren't I?"
"I wonder," Lloyd said, sounding supremely disinterested.
And she'd crossed her hands in front of her and asked, quietly, just wanting to feel a little better, "Why is it even me here? Me, instead of all the other people out there."
"Who's to say?" Lloyd said, and as ever she didn't know whether his cruelty was deliberate or not. "Maybe I just chose you because I liked your cooking."
And she'd wanted desperately at that moment to cry. She swallowed that impulse, though, and said, "That's not a very kind thing to say, Lloyd."
"I guess not!" he agreed happily, and said nothing else, and she clenched her fists and went home.
Her mother had told her ever since she was little that it was better by far to get sad than to get mad, but oh, that day Cecile put all her effort into being furious.
I'll quit, she thought at first, but that was absurd: she wasn't about to give up this opportunity merely because of him, even though she knew that she should, because there were a hundred men and women out there more qualified than her.
When she got to her kitchen that night, she copied out all of Lloyd's favorite recipes in a shaking, unsteady hand, and the next day slapped them down on his desk without a word, then walked away.
Lloyd said nothing at all.
Cecile, as a scientist, tried to quantify her misery. Hypothesis: That comment reinforced long-standing... Hypothesis: What he said merely supported what I've been unable to...
"Aw, honey, I'm sorry," her mum said as Cecile leaned against the doorway, finishing her conversation before she went inside. "But remember sticks and stones, Cecile. You won't feel so bad in the morning."
Hypothesis: That's an absurd cliché. Data: Going to work, I hoped that the train would be hit by terrorists so that I wouldn't have to show up. Conclusion: Mum doesn't know what she's talking about.
"And even if you feel like crying, just smile until it goes away. All right?"
Hypothesis: Emotion is just one of the many burdens I've lain upon Mum, and I should stop.
"All right," Cecile said, and tried to inject a little smile into her voice. "I get it. Thanks Mum."
And she hung up and went inside and there was Lloyd, holding out a plate of misshapen and straggly shortbread biscuits, his brows drawn together, no smile on his face.
"I did something wrong," he said. "I don't know what I did wrong. Help?"
And he looked so earnest that she almost started crying but instead burst into laughter.
"I bought butter at the store, but it wasn't salty," Lloyd was explaining as Cecile was trying very hard to avoid making a face as she chewed, "so I added salt, but too much so I put in more flour to compensate, and I don't know." He was smiling a little, ruefully. "It's not very good."
Cecile coughed a little as she bit into a patch of unmixed powder, then shook her head. "It's, um, it's an admirable first attempt."
He sighed, deep and mournful, and said, "You have to do the cooking. Okay? Please?" When she laughed and nodded, he smiled broader. "Excellent!" he cried, and hugged her, and she laughed and hugged him back.
"But you have to bear in mind that cooking takes effort, Lloyd. You can't just be instantly good at it. Like the Knightmare pilots - they're not just instant geniuses. They have to practice."
"Ah!" Lloyd cried. "A lesson."
"No, not a - " She shook her head. "I didn't mean it like that."
"It's all right," he said. "You're right. To expect them to be perfect is ridiculous. But!" He leaned in. "I still want Private Suzaku." She looked at him, and he thrust a finger in the air. "Ah! Private Kururugi, Private Kururugi; that's right, isn't it?"
"That's right." She smiled and poured him a little Lady Gray. "The thing is..."
He waved his hand dismissively. "Stop, Cecile, really. I can deal with the political fallout. You don't have to take responsibility for everything."
She shrugged and took another bite and almost choked when she hit a patch of salt. He noticed her discomfort and smiled. "They're really, really super-bad, aren't they?"
"No!" she cried. "Not at all." But she couldn't help but laugh. "What did the others say?"
Lloyd looked at her with the oddest expression. "I'm not going to let them try them."
"No?" Cecile blinked and smiled and said, "But I get that privilege?"
"Of course you do!" It was strangely little-boyish, strangely vulnerable, strangely eager. "I don't know. You never laugh."
She stared right back, uncomprehending. He tilted his head up, rubbed his chin, and tried again: "You're never contemptuous. Even when you don't like my ideas, you're still so nice." He looked down, then. "I hate it when people laugh at me, but you don't. You're not even making fun of my terrible cooking."
Cecile realized that this, more than the biscuits, more than an actual sorry, was Lloyd's apology. This was why he needed her. Perhaps it would have been better for her ego if it was because she was the cleverest person he'd ever met, or because she was the perfect complement to his intellect, but this...This was all right, too.
So she reached out and touched his hand and smiled, and he smiled back.
The next day was haggis day. Lloyd looked up with a broad grin.
"Fair fa' your honest, sonsie face," he cried,
"Great chieftain o' the puddin-race!
Aboon them a' ye tak your place,
Painch, tripe, or thairm:
Weel are ye wordy o' a grace
As lang's my arm."
Cecile opened her mouth for her standard joke, her everyone-is-welcome, but she looked at Lloyd and said nothing, and his smile didn't falter.
"Delicious, delicious!" he cried as he shoveled the pudding into his face. "And all the better for having been made by you, Cecile."
"Very kind of you to say, Lloyd," she returned cheerily.
She deliberately stayed behind to clean up as they started the synchronization test on the Lancelot's new right arm. Lloyd ran back, almost furious.
"We can't start without you, you know."
Cecile smiled and nodded. "I'm coming." She knew that even though the data on that last experiment was perhaps a little confounded, the experiment itself tainted by uncontrolled conditions, she'd found the conclusions more or less to her liking.