Notes: I switched the usual associations of the suits of swords and wands - traditionally, wands are associated with fire and swords with air. In some traditions the associations are as I have 'em here, so I just chose to go with that, because I'm the kid who alters the data to fit the model, which maybe explains my performance in freshman chemistry. DDDDDDD:
The refrain comes from Yates' Ode on a Grecian Urn.
The Fool Ascendant
which is something to lament
-The Major Arcana-
The curtains, fluttering slightly in the afternoon breeze, stained the storeroom red as the light filtered through them, and the candles bobbed and smoked. The air was drowsy and thick. Suzaku, though, seemed energized and alert, fresh from a session at the dojo, as he knelt across from Lelouch and Nunnally.
"What's the point of this?" Suzaku asked Nunnally as she shuffled the deck with careful fingers, then scratched his nose and shrugged as though he understood that that had sounded rather rude: "What's it do?"
This had been Nunnally's idea, and Lelouch was always keenly sensitive to Suzaku thinking him girly. So he answered with as much contempt as he could muster for something he held so dear: "It's just a way of telling the future. It's silly."
Nunnally turned her hurt face towards him. He grimaced, but didn't apologize; there were things in the world more important than sparing her feelings.
Nevertheless, she recovered and corrected him gently, sweetly, but no less scathing for all that: "No it isn't. I thought you understood, onii-sama. It's a way of telling the truth."
"Well - " Suzaku was snickering, and Lelouch scowled at them both. "I know that, I was just trying to make it easier for this idiot to understand."
"Hey," Suzaku said amiably, then resettled himself. Then he looked over at Lelouch and sort of half-shrugged and turned back towards Nunnally and asked cheerily, "So what do I do?" Lelouch smiled, then quickly straightened out his face.
"You don't have to do anything. I just have to think of you." Nunnally had cleared her throat, then, a sweet Ah-hem, and intoned in her most dramatic voice, "These cards will reveal your past, present, and future. The first is..." She tilted her head to the side, her brow furrowed. "What was it that Mom would always say?" Quietly: "I've forgotten."
Lelouch realized with a sudden, horrible start, that he had, too. "It's something along the lines of 'this is what you have become.'" But he couldn't remember the precise wording, and Nunnally's face remained troubled. Lelouch swallowed and looked away. It was just another thing of his mother's that had been lost.
"Well," she said, a bit less bright and a bit less cheerful than before, "this first card reveals what you have become."
She turned over the top card with fingers that weren't so sure as Mother's but had that same long-boned delicacy, stroked it.
"The Fool," Nunnally said, recognizing it by its embossed surface.
Lelouch scoffed, hoping to cheer someone up with a bit of contempt. "How appropriate."
Nunnally indeed giggled, and Suzaku grinned easily. "Hey," he said with no more rancor than before. "You planned that."
Lelouch lifted his nose and glared at Suzaku over his cheekbones. "You were watching Nunnally. She shuffled and dealt. There would have been no way for me to rearrange - "
"I was joking,jeez," Suzaku laughed, leaning over to give Lelouch a friendly shove in his chest.
"And it doesn't mean that you're dumb or anything like that," Nunnally piped up. "It means...optimism, beginnings...What else?"
Lelouch held up a finger as he opened the book he'd found in the library. Marianne had known everything, kept all the symbolism with her, all the meaning twisted into knots that sat at the center of the cards, but Lelouch had to resort to interpretations from A. E. Waite.
"Right. The Fool is an idiot, like this one here, to be sure - " Lelouch didn't have to look up to know what face Suzaku was making - "but he's also newness, openness, boldness, someone who accepts all things. It's the beginning of the journey, someone who will gain wisdom as he goes. The card is numbered zero, a very important number if you know your math."
"I don't, really," Suzaku said, laughing, "but I'll take your word for it."
Lelouch rolled his eyes. "Proving once again that this card's an appropriate choice."
Suzaku crossed his eyes and blew a raspberry at Lelouch. Nunnally tittered. "I think it describes you well, though. Aside from the idiot part, of course," she added.
"Yeah, me too." Suzaku smiled.
Nunnally, though she didn't know what Suzaku was doing, smiled back and laid out the next card. "This is your present," she said, "what you are becoming now," and Lelouch was cheered a bit because that sounded fairly close to what Mother would always say.
"The Hanged Man," Lelouch read, then flipped to the appropriate page in the book. "Sacrifice, surrender, passivity, contemplation, conformism, changing to a new point of view..."
"Oh, that doesn't sound like you at all," Nunnally laughed, but Suzaku's smile looked weak. Lelouch tilted his head to the side and stared at his friend. Suzaku looked over, met his eyes and pulled another hideous face, and Lelouch shook his head.
"Not in the least," Suzaku agreed. "And then my future. I'm gonna be rich and famous, aren't I?"
Nunnally giggled again, and turned over the third card, intoning, "And this is your future, what you will become."
They were just three children playing around a table, in a room at midday with the curtains drawn and candles lit in the corners of the room. It was late summer, the air heavy and sleepy with heat, humidity, the drone of cicadas, and later that day they'd crush sunflower seeds between their teeth. Nunnally would fall asleep against Suzaku's shoulder, and Suzaku would nod off, too, while Lelouch watched the motion of leaves whispering and dancing in the breeze. That night, Suzaku would steal into their storeroom. They'd sneak out into the warm night, the two of them, and run, and talk, and conspire, and catch fireflies and let them go, and not return to Nunnally until the moon had set. They'd swear that they'd make the world a better place, and that they'd always be friends - easy promises to make when you're ten years old and your voice doesn't carry over the trill of nightbirds and the croak of frogs.
But in that moment, when Nunnally turned over the Ten of Swords, the cicadas seemed to fall silent, and Lelouch found himself gripped with a fear like he hadn't felt since the last time he saw his father.
The orange light from the candles, the red light that filtered in through the curtains, seemed to drench the tableau, the body pinned to the ground by the swords' vicious points, the hand curled into the Hierophant's blessing, the black clouds overhead, in blood. They were silent one moment, two, and then Suzaku laughed uncertainly.
"Boy, that doesn't look like a good one."
"Which is it?" Nunnally asked, her voice soft.
"It's the Ten of Swords," Lelouch said, swallowing. Both he and Nunnally knew what that card meant: it was hopelessness, strife, misery, sadness, destruction of the body and spirit. It was war and death. It was the keen and cutting blade. Mother had drawn it, once, for herself, and had wrapped herself in her fear and retreated behind the sheer golden draperies over her bed.
"The way you say that..." Suzaku said, then laughed, again, just as uncertain. "Gee."
But Lelouch shook his head and scoffed, and the darkness of the uncertain future, the primal magic of the reading, retreated; once again, they were just three children around a table. "It doesn't mean a thing," he declared. "It's an extremely unscientific process, you know. What it means is that there was a one in seventy-six chance that it was going to be that card that was drawn, and it was that card that was drawn. That's it."
Suzaku grinned and shrugged, reassured by Lelouch's confidence. "Oh, yeah, sure." Then he looked at them. "Say, it's been a while since we've gone to the pond. Wanna?"
"Nunnally?" Lelouch asked.
She was smiling, but it wavered and was uncertain. "Oh, yes," she said, and held out her hands to be helped up onto her wheelchair.
In one week, the cicadas would fall silent. In three, the weather would turn hard and cold. In seven years, Lelouch would understand the suit of swords. Because:
He remembered the last time his mother read his fortune. It had been the night before her murder.
They said Marianne had in her Gypsy blood, which was precisely the sort of lie they'd spread to discredit her, but Lelouch doesn't know. They also said that Marianne practiced witchcraft. Lelouch doesn't know. These are the sorts of things he'd laugh at, usually, but he'd also sat across from her, Nunnally drowsing against him, his own eyelids sagging under the weight of the warm and perfumed air, as her soft hands measured out the truth in tarot cards.
"The Magician," she'd murmured that night, and the card had clicked as she set it down on the mahogany surface. In his memory, the lights were dim, and he had to strain to make out the enameled, gilded picture, the Magician himself raising his hand to the heavens, the symbol of infinity above his head, yet seeming in that light to tremble. Nunnally snuffled against him, and his mother smiled, so beautiful, her large dark eyes full of secrets.
But then she dealt the next card, and that smile faltered. "The Tower."
Then the third. Lelouch wrapped his arms around himself at the way the figure of the woman sobbed into her hands, the way the swords hanging above her head seemed to quiver. "Nine of Swords."
And then she'd reached out for him, and he'd gone to her. She'd wrapped him in her arms. The room had smelled of India, cloves and cardamom, and looked like a sultan's chambers, draped in deep crimson and red gold. Marianne smelled of lilies and felt like still water.
"Oh Lelouch," she'd whispered, her skin cool against him. "I love you so much." She'd kissed him, formally, like a blessing, forehead and both cheeks. "I am so proud of you."
And there's this:
Zero, walking the path of carnage.
wheel of fortune
Suzaku, his face steely in hatred.
But before that, he was young, and he was happy.
Before that, he was stubborn and proud, but less stubborn and less proud than he wanted to be, more kind, more loving, more accepting. He wanted to be hard-hearted, cool-headed and rational, logic before sentiment, truth rather than beauty. He wanted to be a man.
But before that, he was a boy who was lonely.
Before that, he was a boy who had made his first friend.
Before that, he was a boy who missed his mother.
Before that, he was a boy who watched the stars, watched the clouds in the sky, became entranced by the pattern of a bird in flight.
Before that, he crushed seeds between his teeth and wrinkled his nose when he laughed.
Before that, he didn't know that summers ended.
They hid Nunnally in the abandoned house they'd found for shelter and went out to see what was going on. Both of them were terrified, but each was emboldened by the other's presence.
They reached a clothing store, pocked with bullet holes but otherwise untouched, and made it to the second floor just as a line of Japanese tanks rolled into the city. Watching Suzaku's face was like turning on the fluorescent lights in the Kururugi storehouse.
"Look at that!" Suzaku whispered, a broad, incredulous grin on his face. Lelouch smiled faintly back at him and knew, even at that age, that winning a battle didn't mean winning a war and that rolling into a town deep in territory you already held was nothing like winning a battle. But Suzaku knew much of fighting and little of war, so he grabbed Lelouch hard by the arm and punched the air in triumph.
"Look at that!" he said again, and laughed. "Buriki bastards aren't so tough."
It was the last time Lelouch ever saw Suzaku smile like that. It was the last time he saw that arrogant, head-back smile, that set-shoulders son-of-Japan smile, the smile of a boy who, for all he'd seen death, still thought it was death with a purpose. It wasn't long before that smile disappeared as Suzaku saw proof positive of his words.
The town had a sizeable ex-pat population, but they were all concentrated in a few neighborhoods; it didn't take long to gather them all in the town square. Lelouch, a son of Britannia, knew what was happening long before Suzaku did.
"Don't look," he begged his friend, but when Suzaku asked why, Lelouch couldn't put it into words.
"Don't look," he begged when the last of the Britannians had been dragged, screaming, into the square.
"Don't look," he begged when the Japanese raised their guns.
"Don't look," he whispered after the deafening gunfire, unable to tear his eyes away from the scene.
They weren't so old, the soldiers; Lelouch remembers thinking that. Their faces were cold, though, as brutal as only a dozen other young men committing the very same atrocity at the same time could make them, or as brutal as only a war being lost, badly, could make them. They looked so tired.
There was a haze over the square, smoke left by the Japanese guns. It lent the scene a dreamlike air. The bodies falling backwards or forwards, each a face, each a name, each a story and a family, had shed blood that was unearthly bright as it ran down the white sidewalk into the rain gutters. Their skin was so pale. Some of them were still moving, and one soldier went down the line, firing a round into each; they jerked, once, violently (in Lelouch's mind, they seemed to be making one last desperate grasp at the sky) and then were still.
There was a cry. A mother, her face now flat and stretched, seeming plastic in the haze, had placed her child between herself and the wall. She'd tried to shield it with her own body. The soldiers dragged the boy out from behind her, then hesitated; atrocities were one thing, anonymity, but they had once been boys themselves.
The child pulled itself free from their grip and tried to run. That was enough. A shot, and he fell.
Lelouch finally closed his eyes and tore himself from the scene of crimson, white, and black. He met Suzaku's eyes. Suzaku looked away, and crouched down, and covered his face with his hands.
the hanged man
A few days before Suzaku's eighth birthday, his mom had emerged from herself to take him to the water.
"Look, a frog," she cried as one hopped away from them. She spoke like she would to a three-year-old. He didn't really blame her for the tone of her voice - not really. He didn't know her any better than she knew him.
Still, at the time, he was seven-and-three-hundred-some-days old, so when she pointed and said that, he'd rolled his eyes and sighed, "I know."
The smile had fallen away from her face, then, and she'd looked at Suzaku as she would a stranger. He looked back at her, and they'd just stayed like that for a moment before she leaned over and grinned and asked, "Wanna dissect it?"
Suzaku was a boy, and it had been a few days short of his eighth birthday. He'd looked at her and breathed, hardly daring to believe it, "Really?"
"Mm," she'd said, tilting her head to look at him daringly from the corners of her eyes. "Wanna?"
"Yeah." He'd nodded fervently. "Yeah!"
"Okaaay." Her smile had grown a little wider. "But first, we have to - " She'd latched onto his ticklish sides with such ferocity that he jumped and nearly screeched. "Catch one!"
He'd managed to wiggle free from her grasp, panting and dancing out of the way as she made another joking half-lunge for him. "I can catch 'em," he said. "That's my job. You get ready with the..." He didn't know much about dissection, aside from it was cool and probably pretty gruesome, so the best he could manage was, "Stuff."
"I'll do that," she'd agreed. He'd rolled up his pant legs and his sleeves and waded into the water, and looked back to see that she'd lain down on the bank. He'd grinned and waved, and she'd waved back, though she'd seemed suddenly tired. After a particularly funny attempt at capturing a frog that ended with him covered in mud, he'd turned back towards her, grinning in anticipation of her laughter, but she'd gone.
He'd found one, eventually, just sitting there, and he held it carefully so that he didn't hurt it. But as much as he searched he couldn't find her. Eventually he realized that the frog was dead anyway, and so he dropped it back into the water and sat down on the bank by himself.
They found her in that very pond a week later.
There was a dead sparrow on the banks of the pond, its eyes wide, its beak gaping, starting to swell and stink in its wet death. Suzaku skirted around it, but Lelouch crouched down to look.
"What're you staring at?" Suzaku asked, and tried to snort. Lelouch hadn't answered. He'd just stared at the bird, one wing flung back, the other half-raised, as though to ward off some danger, some fear. It was just a sparrow, just mottled brown and white, a plain thing gone even uglier in death. "It's just a dumb bird. Why are you looking at it?"
Lelouch stared and stared and stared. Suzaku made a noise with his mouth.
Lelouch looked up at Suzaku, then back down at the bird.
"You're the weirdest kid ever," Suzaku sighed, shaking his head, and turned away. When he looked back, Lelouch was staring again. "Stop it," he said again. He scowled when Lelouch just kept looking. "Stop it, I said!"
Lelouch stared, and Suzaku in a fit of rage pushed him so hard that his dumb-looking girl clothes got covered in mud.
It was just that they hadn't let him see his mother's body, and in his head he wondered if it weren't all some great joke, if she weren't hiding somewhere, waiting to jump out and scare him.
Mother had dressed him in silks so uncomfortable he pulled a face every time he took a step. She'd wrapped herself in jewels and scents that made him decide that if he weren't capable of abstract, higher thought, he'd never recognize her, because every time he reached for her hand for comfort, he couldn't find her cool satin skin, only the hot points of the golden settings of her rings.
"It's all right, Lelouch," she laughed as he grabbed for her yet again. "It's just your father."
"He's not just," Lelouch muttered, and Marianne laughed and rubbed her thumb along his cheek.
"Not hardly," she agreed. "But you just keep being that clever and articulate, and you'll do just fine."
But when they fell to their knees, his mother and he, and Marianne said, "Your Majesty, may I present to you on his seventh birthday your son, Prince Lelouch vi Britannia," Lelouch had nothing to say at all.
He snuck a glance up though, and immediately fixed his eyes back down on the ground. The emperor's expression was cold, bored. Lelouch swallowed and found himself shaking and was almost overtaken by a sudden, mad urge to run up to his father, grab his hand, and invite him to come out and play tag with him and Nunnally in the gardens.
Instead, he swallowed, found his voice, and said, "Your Majesty, I am your loyal servant."
"Lelouch is growing up quite clever," Marianne said. "He regularly beats his elder brother the Third Prince Clovis in chess."
Lelouch nodded and tried to look clever.
"I know Your Majesty was proving himself on the battlefield at around that age," Marianne joked, and Lelouch looked up at her, awed as ever by the mother who could joke before the Emperor, "but alas, our Lelouch can use no better than the chessboard." His mother took his hand, and Lelouch let out a breath; he'd found a patch of cool-water skin below the metal of her jewelry. "Still, a sharp mind is hardly something of which to be ashamed."
"It would not be indeed," the Emperor rumbled, and Lelouch only just managed to keep from showing his anger at the conspicuous shift to the subjunctive. "However. I cannot say that the defeat of a child by a child much impresses me."
"I suppose not," Marianne agreed cheerfully. "Perhaps he could play you yourself sometime, Your Majesty."
"Hah!" the Emperor laughed, but contempt was his knee-jerk reaction; he tilted his head to the side, considering. "I haven't the time to entertain children and fools. Have you played your brother Schneizel?"
"Ah - " Lelouch jerked his head in a nod.
"One stalemate, Your Majesty." He frowned. "And one loss."
The Emperor tossed his head in contempt and looked at Marianne. "He's small. You're wasting your time on this one."
Wasting her time? Lelouch clenched his hands into fists. This man dared to say that his mother shouldn't love...
"He'll be a great man one day," Marianne answered, laying her hand atop Lelouch's head. "You'll tremble before him. I promise you."
"Hah," the Emperor grunted, then waved his hand. His mother climbed the steps to approach him, bowed, and then kissed him on the lips. Lelouch's jaw was gritted so hard that he thought he heard his teeth creak when she returned, lay her hand at the nape of his neck and steered him towards the door.
The night before that, she'd done a reading.
"You will become Death," she whispered to him as they made their way from the Emperor's presence. "The powers of the earth will crack before your might."
Lelouch didn't know about that, but he liked the approval and love in her voice.
Kururugi Genbu saw his son out of duty and nothing more after Suzaku's mother died.
"A pity," he grunted, looking at the papers in his hand rather than at Suzaku. "Kimiko was a good woman when she was in her right mind."
Suzaku looked at the ground rather than at his father.
"You know she didn't leave a will. Or a note." Suzaku didn't respond. "We've decided to leave what wealth she had to you. So, be glad of that."
"Ah," Suzaku whispered.
"It's not much, but she had some equipment left over from her days at the university. Microscopes and what have you. I don't know how much you...Well, regardless, it will be something to remember her by." A rustle of fabric that Suzaku thought meant his father was probably shrugging. "She was always very delicate. A great deal of empathy with the world. I suspect the reason she did - " gruffly - "what she did - was in view of the atrocities we're seeing now. I think she was attempting a message to me, to do more to help our homeland." A pause. "Or she slipped and hit her head. One or the other. In any case."
"Okay," Suzaku mumbled.
A moment, and then Genbu said, "I'll have the servants move her things into your room." Another moment, and then Suzaku's father left.
When he killed his father, Suzaku thought of his mother and of everyone made a martyr for a cause that isn't theirs.
When he killed his father, Lelouch thought of his mother, and thought of Death, and stared at the old man, pale white but stained by black blood, who hadn't trembled at all.
"I'm happy," Nunnally said, so quietly Lelouch didn't even know if he was supposed to hear.
He didn't know if he was supposed to respond, either, but after a moment he turned toward her. "You are?"
"I was scared, at first," she said, "really scared. I thought they were going to be..." She didn't have to complete the sentence. Lelouch had thought they were going to be, as well. "But instead, we have Suzaku, and...I thought after Mum died, that I was going to be sad forever, but we have him, and I have you. And I'm so, so happy."
Lelouch smiled and rolled onto his back.
"Are you?" Nunnally asked.
"As long as you are."
"No, that's cheating," Nunnally said. "Are you happy?"
Lelouch stared up at the cracked ceiling of their storeroom, breathed in the musty air of a country that wasn't his. How could he be happy? He was an unwelcome guest, despised in this home. He was forced to use a tongue that wasn't his so that the S.P.s could make sure he wasn't conspiring with the shopkeepers. Many nights he went hungry so that Nunnally could eat her fill.
How illogical the human mind, that he was as happy now as he'd ever been!
"I am, Nunnally," he answered, and smiled. "We could stay here for the rest of our lives, and I wouldn't have a thing to complain about."
"You always have things to complain about, onii-sama," Nunnally laughed.
"All right, then," he said, reaching over to tickle her wrist. She giggled. "I would have things to complain about, but that would be me, being as unreasonable." He let her hand go, and looked back upwards. The seasons would eventually turn, and they'd have to shut up the storehouse and huddle together for warmth at night, but now they slept with the windows open to the night sky. From where he was laying, Lelouch could see the smear of the Milky Way across the sky, the gentle flash and pulse of the stars. He reached up, almost as though he could catch one for Nunnally.
"I'm happy," he told her.
"When you two came here."
Suzaku flushed as soon as the words were out of his mouth, pressed his lips together and shook his head. "I mean - " he tried, but he couldn't unsay what he'd said, so he stood and shook his head again. "That's a - " He made a low growling noise. "It's a stupid girl game. Truth or dare. I'm going to the dojo." And he ran off before either of the two of them could say anything.
Lelouch looked over. Nunnally's face looked about to split with the force of her smile. He himself felt a sudden, inexplicable warmth.
"Given his life, that's not saying much," Lelouch cautioned Nunnally, and Nunnally nodded, but neither of them really believed that.
Summers end, though.
They'd laughed when Lelouch had tried to change his yen out for pounds at the bank, even when he'd begged, even when he'd said he'd take twice the exchange rate, even when he'd offered the teller a bribe. So he was stuck now with money that had been worth near nothing when the war started and even nearer to nothing now.
"Not gonna take that," said the driver with a scornful little smile. "They might not have told you, little boy, but the world ain't spinning on the yen anymore."
Lelouch cast desperate eyes towards the bus, already almost full of other refugees, with who knew how long until another one would come along. It wasn't a time for pride, so instead of snapping about how he knew perfectly well that the yen's value had plummeted, had, in fact, known well before most adults did that it was going to plummet, he clasped his hands together and begged, "Please."
This wasn't a cruel man. He didn't laugh at Lelouch's predicament. He was nothing more than a common pirate; he shrugged, frowned, spat to the side, and said, "The world ain't spinning on pleases anymore, either."
The two of them had long ago bartered away Nunnally's fancy dresses, his silk shirts, their fine leather bags, Mother's jewelry. All they had now was the clothes they were wearing, and Nunnally's wheelchair, a single light traveling bag each, and the truth of their names. And these: Mother's fine, enameled tarot cards.
They weren't much, the cards, not by themselves; they were beautiful, incredibly beautiful, always beautiful, foiled with gold, but not so much as to melt down to even a single nugget. The case was fine bronze and glass, but neither material was worth so much as a second glance in the days of Sakuradite and steel.
He still pulled the deck from his bag, and offered it, and said, "Please. These tarot cards, they're worth a lot, a lot a lot. We were going to pawn them after, but..."
"Onii-sama..." Nunnally said, her voice soft and sad. Lelouch looked down at her and bit his lip. After all, this was all they had left of her. With this gone, this last remnant of her beauty, all they would have left to prove that Marianne Lamperouge had lived at all would be their memories and a photograph that Nunnally couldn't even see. Could he do that to her?
"You can't, onii-sama," she said, softly. Then she drew herself up and said, softly yet firmly, "They're worth far too much. They're worth way more than just this."
(He forgot sometimes that in spite of it all, she was still a member of the royal family.)
She cried against his shoulder as they made their way towards Tokyo. He stroked her hair.
the high priestess
It took time before Suzaku figured out his mother's microscope. He didn't know how to work the lens or the light, and even when he'd figured that out he didn't know what to do with it; he tried sticking his finger under the lens but couldn't see a thing. After that, he gave up, and it lay abandoned for several years in the corner of Suzaku's room.
"Well, it's because the light doesn't shine through, idiot," Lelouch had explained. "You need things that the light can shine through, or you need a different light source, or else you won't be able to see clearly at all."
Suzaku understood, then. The microscope had been a message to him, hadn't it? Some key to understanding why his mother had done it, why she'd had to...He ran down to the pond where she'd drowned herself and scooped up some of the muddy water, then ran back.
"Here," Suzaku said. "This. Will this work?"
"I suppose so," Lelouch said, completely failing to comprehend the significance of the microscope and the water. "I dunno, it'll be a little cloudy." At Suzaku's look: "But yeah, it'll work, I guess."
So Suzaku elbowed him aside, and swirled the earth up into the water, turned on the little lamp under the microscope, and took a breath. Then he leaned in, and adjusted the lens.
There was nothing.
No answer, nothing, except some mud.
"I don't see anything," Suzaku muttered, and felt as though he was about to cry.
"Well - " Lelouch took over the eyepiece and adjusted the knob on the side. "Look, there's - "
Suzaku pushed him aside again, ignored his pointed, "Ouch," and stared into the water. After a moment, his eyes picked up the motion of one tiny, translucent thing, another, a third, waving long thin feelers.
He tried to feel inside himself, searching for some realization, even subconscious, that Yes, this is truth. Yes, this is what she wanted me to know. But all there was were those tiny clear bugs, scooting around the water without purpose or direction.
"Some kind of microbe, maybe. I don't recognize it." Suzaku heard rather than felt Lelouch's shrug. "Pretty cool, huh?"
Suzaku looked down at the bugs. He saw in them nothing, nothing at all, of his mother.
At his left hand lay a new deck of cards. They were simple cardboard, roughly drawn, without the cool silver and warm gold of his mother's cards, without the beauty of their intricate illustration, without the knowledge that in touching them, he was touching the spot that once his mother had touched.
Lelouch lay the three before him:
The Nine of Swords.
Why had his mother smiled? At the end of the reading, she'd smiled, and she'd whispered, I'm so proud of you.
"Lelouch," she'd said to him, with a fierce and fiery sort of joy. "You will become Death."
"We'll always be friends," Suzaku declared defiantly.
"We'll always be friends," Lelouch echoed.
This place was earth, and water, and air, and between them now was fire. Between them now was the suit of swords, Nine and Ten, backs pressed together, faces hidden in the earth or buried in their hands.
Between them now was hatred.
Between them now was a word and a lie and the process of becoming, the fool ascendant.
In the moment between the sound and the feeling, the gunshot and the fall, the beginning and the end, Lelouch found words on his lips:
truth, truth beauty, - that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
Between them was three strides and all the distance in the world.
truth, truth beauty, - that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
In the moment between the sound and the feeling, Lelouch came to understand: it wouldn't matter which one of them fell. It would make no difference.
-Wands, the Suit of Air-
When Suzaku killed Lelouch, he thought of frogs, and he thought of the day when Nunnally had read his fortune. It was the same sort of day, heavy and slow, like a whale hanging in warm waters. Years later, it would be the same sort of day when Suzaku didn't die.
Lelouch, though, just thought of his mother.
He thought of the time he'd seen her dancing, her skirts lifted above her ankles, her shoulders bare, her large eyes filled with laughter. He stood off to the side, holding Nunnally's hand, just old enough to have a vague understanding of what it meant when she pressed her cheek against the cheek of that evening's guest of honor and the man dug his fingers into her waist.
He thought of the way she'd sat at the mirror after and dipped her hands in rosewater, then taken Nunnally on her lap and explained, "I fear there are times, love, when we have to put up with old men." Her face was twisted into something ugly.
He thought of her whisper in his ear as she grimaced at having to put up with old men. He thought of three cards.
He thought of the time when she held his hand as they walked through the gardens and said to him, "You can be anything, Lelouch." She smiled down at him as he looked up at her. "You're so smart. You can be absolutely anything you want to be. You can do anything you want to do." She pressed his hand and murmured, "You and Nunnally both. You can change the world."
(Mostly he thought of how he'd watched her die.)
And Suzaku, he held his side, stared at the water, and thought of how these things never saved anyone.
("Have you ever hated someone enough to kill them?")
("She won't stop talking about the damn frogs.")
But there had been a time, after all, when Euphemia had danced, too. There had been a time when she had laughed, blushed, smiled, fluttered like a bird, held onto his shoulders with vulnerable hands. Why couldn't that be...
Those hands with their long-boned delicacy were twisted into the Hierophant's blessing.
She was heavier than she had been, and he was so tired, so tired, but even so he wrapped her arms around his neck and his arms around her waist, like he was helping her into bed. He had to take her out into the air. He had to let her see the water, the sunset. She was a sparrow, one wing raised as though to fend off danger, and her eyes were open.
When he passed he didn't look over. He didn't want to see indifference, and more than that he didn't want to see remorse.
This is his past, what he has become. This is his present, what he is becoming. This is his future, what he will become.
He knew, of course, that she'd never have wanted this revenge.
That didn't matter. She'd have it nevertheless, no matter what he had to sacrifice.
"Well, whatever we do with ourselves, we should do it together." They were laying staring up at the long, wispy clouds overhead. "Like, if I become a magician, you can be my assistant - "
"A magician?" Lelouch interrupted.
"Yeah, sure. Or I could be Prime Minister, and you could be my Deputy Minister. Or something."
"Idiot," Lelouch said, smiling. "It would be stupid of me to limit myself by tying my fortunes to yours." He paused. "And how come I always have to be the deputy?"
"Well, you couldn't be Prime Minister," Suzaku said. "People want someone they can trust. They don't want someone all little like you."
"You're small too, you know."
"Well, I'm gonna grow up tall, though. And at least I don't look like a girl."
Lelouch flipped over onto his stomach and flicked the center of Suzaku's forehead. Suzaku grinned.
"You wanna fight?"
"Certainly not," Lelouch sniffed, then sat up. "We should get back. Nunnally will probably be waking up soon."
"Nunnally can join in too," Suzaku said, getting to his feet. "It can be the three of us. We can have a circus troupe or something."
"A circus, now!"
"Sure. Nunnally can be the lion tamer, or something - not sticking her head in the lion's mouth or anything," Suzaku added at Lelouch's look. "I dunno, animals just sort of like her, don't they? I wish animals liked me," he said, kicking at a clod of grass as they walked.
"All right," Lelouch said. "What about me?"
"Well, you'd be the ringmaster, I think. Cause you're no good for anything else, certainly. I can't even imagine teaching you to juggle or trapeze or whatever." When Lelouch made a face, Suzaku grinned. "And you're the best at saying the right things. You'd get the audience really into it."
"All right," Lelouch said, slightly mollified. "And you? What would you do?"
"All the cool stuff," Suzaku said matter-of-factly. "I'd do the juggling, I think. And the tightrope. And the fire stuff."
"The fire stuff?"
"Yeah, you know, how they always have cool things with fire, I dunno; I'd do those. And once I saw this cool thing where a guy caught a bullet with his teeth. I'd do that, too. Actually, I should just probably learn to do that on general principle, you know." Suzaku grinned, clicking his teeth together in demonstration. "Cause if there was an attempt on my life or something, I could just catch the bullets in my teeth, no problem."
Lelouch fired, once, twice, three times, and Suzaku fell, his face a gaping mask of pain, his eyes wide and sightless, his jaw set open. But then there was a moment, and that faded, and he looked up, suddenly deadly calm.
"You don't have to stay in the military, you know," Lelouch said, trying to look disinterested in what he was saying. "You're talented enough. There's no need to risk your life."
Suzaku was sitting faced away from him, but when Lelouch looked over he'd bent so far backwards that he was looking right at Lelouch. His gaze was curious, so Lelouch elaborated a bit:
"Don't you remember when we were young? You were going to be rich and famous, but that was the only thing you'd settled on. Anything more definite varied from day to day. You were going to be an artist, you were going to be Prime Minister, you were going to be a Shinto priest - the very first rich and famous Shinto priest, imagine. You were going to be a scientist." He looked back to his book, by all appearances completely unconcerned. "I thought that was a good idea."
"You were actually the one who dissuaded me from doing that," Suzaku confessed with an upside-down smile. Lelouch looked over at him once again, confused. He certainly didn't remember having done such a thing, and further it didn't even sound like something that he'd do.
"Not directly," Suzaku admitted. "Just, when I met you, I realized that trying to be a scientist was silly when there were people like you out there in the world."
Lelouch frowned at his friend, honestly doubtful. That sounded like the sort of thing Suzaku would do now, but he'd never have acted in such a way back then.
"I see," Lelouch said, returning to his book. "Well, if that's true, I regret having done so very much." He paused, realizing how very true that was, and then said, "Still, I just mean to say that just because you're a muscle-headed idiot - " Suzaku laughed - "doesn't mean that you have to be in the military or something of the like to make money."
As Suzaku's laughter faded, he explained, "It's not about the money, though, Lelouch."
Lelouch met his friend's eyes once again. "Then what?"
Not about the money? What, then? To prove a point? Lelouch looked into Suzaku's eyes and took a breath, and he was so close in that moment to delivering an order - "Leave the military, be happy, be free; for God's sake, Suzaku, leave the military - "
But in the last moment, he let that breath out, and shrugged in return.
"Why?" C.C. had asked. "Is it honor? Or friendship? Or pride?"
And now the sun was unsteady and red. Lelouch stared down at her and willed himself to think - it's just the light. It's just the light. It's just the light that stains her so.
(Like a long and sleepy afternoon at the Kururugi shrine, the light filtered through bloody curtains.)
"You can do anything you want to do, Lelouch," but there was only one thing, only one thing, that he wanted now.
It's a hot, heavy, flightless day that hangs like a whale in warm waters, and Suzaku is dying. He has a dish of water that smells like salt, and he has memories - his mother, the frogs. Euphemia dancing. Nunnally reading fortunes. Lelouch, Lelouch, Lelouch, and the way he'd looked, and the way he'd talked, and the way he'd laughed, and the way he'd thought, and the way he'd smiled, and -
The curtains flutter, and his breath catches in his chest. He starts to cry, sobs that crush his old weak chest, and he clenches his hands into the sheets beneath him, trying to breathe against the terrible weight of his sorrow.
(He'll suffocate. This makes him as happy as anything has since the day he saw his best friend floating where his mother died.)
A terrible burning cracks his chest, and he doesn't have the power to cry out, even, just to stare with eyes fixed on the ceiling, unable to comprehend anything before the weight of the pain that breaks his broken heart.
Then it's gone. It fades. At long last, after sixty-four years he relaxes, lets it go, drifts away into a calmness, a serenity, and -
His heart is jolted once again into action, and that terrible pain lances through him as he's dragged by his own will back from death.
He's coughing, he still can't breathe; he's agonized, and once again it fades away, and,
His heart starts beating once again, unable to resist the ultimate command, and Suzaku curls into himself, crying, as he dies again and again, and then -
"Lelouch," is the word his lips form without his voice, and at age eighty-three, Kururugi Suzaku understands that murder is the least of all revenges.
truth, truth beauty, - that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
-Coins, the Suit of Earth-
Suzaku's mother's ceremony was simple and closed-casket. Suzaku heard his father muttering about how they hadn't been able to make her pretty again, not after how long she'd spent in the water.
He tried to sneak a moment with her alone before they buried her, but couldn't, so he didn't ever see her body, just the earth that clasped her so greedily.
Lelouch's mother's ceremony was extravagant and open-casket. They said she looked beautiful, peaceful and lovely and perhaps a little sad and every bit as beautiful as she ever had. There were many who came to pay their respects to poor beautiful sad Marianne, and each one, they said, was her lover.
Lelouch didn't see her. Nunnally had been at the time in between life and death, and he couldn't bring himself to leave her side even for his mother's funeral, so he didn't ever see her body. All he saw was the earth that clasped her so greedily.
There was a time even after that when there was happiness to be found, small moments. Yet after that, those moments were only small ones. There was nothing true. There was nothing that lasted.
He stayed by Nunnally's side after she'd stabilized, too, waiting for the moment when she'd wake up. The servants brought him food and made up a little cot where he could sleep; when Clovis came to see him, he hadn't actually left the hospital room in five days.
"Play chess with me, Lelouch," Clovis ordered with his characteristically inoffensive arrogance.
"No," Lelouch said flatly.
"Because I don't want to," Lelouch snapped, lacing his hands together and leaning a little closer to his sister.
"It's not like she's going to miss you," Clovis said lazily, then straightened up and cleared his throat when Lelouch looked at him. "Uh, that is - I, I didn't mean to say - " He cleared his throat again. "How - how is she?"
Lelouch didn't answer.
"I hear she's going to recover."
Lelouch looked at him. "Who said that?"
Clovis didn't meet his eye. "The, uh, the doctor..."
"The tall one." He shook his head. "It doesn't...That is - Play chess with me. Come on." Clovis smiled weakly. "As a favor."
"I don't owe you any favors."
"Then I'll owe you one. Honestly, Lelouch, it's not as though it takes you that long to beat me. Here." He snapped at the servant sitting unobtrusively off to the side. "Bring us a chessboard."
"I don't want to," Lelouch mumbled, but Clovis knew him too well; as soon as the board was set up he sat down in front of it, taking black by force of habit. Clovis kept up an idle sort of chatter as they played, but Lelouch hardly paid attention to that or to the game, instead watching Nunnally.
"This is good, huh?" Clovis asked as he moved his queen. "Good to get your mind off things."
Lelouch, anxious and angry and sad, scoffed at that. "Playing you hardly has the ability to distract me, you know." When he looked up, Clovis was frowning. His face was a little flushed.
"I'm doing this for you, you know," he said. "For your sake."
Lelouch took his rook and scoffed again. "Oh, thank you," he drawled. "Boring me like this! Thank you indeed."
At that, Clovis pursed his lips and crossed his arms and asked petulantly, "You know what they're saying about your mum, don't you?"
Lelouch froze and looked up slowly. "What do you mean?" he asked slowly.
Evidently, Clovis regretted what he'd said; he dropped his arms and looked to the side. "You, ah, you just went, right?" he asked almost nervously.
He didn't meet Lelouch's eyes as he moved his queen and hit the clock, and Lelouch stared until he looked up again. "What do you mean, what they're saying?"
"I, uh, I forgot," Clovis muttered, then cleared his throat. "You're going to run out of time."
"Tell me," Lelouch demanded.
"It's, uh..." A long moment, then Clovis released a breath and shook his head. "That she took lovers, and that's why His Majesty our father doesn't..." When Lelouch glared, Clovis finished timidly: "Care."
"Doesn't care?" Lelouch gripped his king so hard the points dug into his skin. "You think he doesn't care?"
"I don't know anything about it, Lelouch, I'm just..." Clovis shook his head. "It's just what I heard, I don't know anything."
"He cares," Lelouch gritted.
"Probably, yeah," Clovis agreed.
"'Probably'?" Lelouch repeated darkly.
"By which I mean of course he does," Clovis said. "Don't get mad. You're going to run out of time."
Lelouch just stood and turned away from the table.
"Where are you going?" When Lelouch didn't respond, Clovis stood, too. "Are you forfeiting the game?"
Lelouch looked at him, and he shrank back into his chair. "I'm sorry," Clovis muttered for no reason. Lelouch walked off, absolutely unable to speak for the fury that dried his mouth.
But Clovis had been right. The Emperor hadn't cared at all.
Suzaku watched his father closely, in the rare moments when he saw his father, for the least sign of remorse. He never saw one. The closest was when Genbu gave a slight jerk of his head when the landscaper mentioned how the ecosystem down in the pond was starting to recover.
That was it. Nothing else.
He didn't know what he'd been expecting, though.
After he'd first gotten the microscope, he'd pried off the base in the hopes that there had been a message stuck in there, explaining things. Thing was, he's pretty sure that it was a message from his father that he'd been hoping for.
And after he'd stabbed him, he'd sat there for a long time. He'd waited for his father to stand up and laugh and pull the knife from the fold of fabric in which it had gotten caught. He'd expected the others to burst out of their hiding places, bubbling with laughter, every bit in on the joke.
Which was weird. What kind of father did he think he had? Genbu never laughed.
"I don't get why you're even with him," Lelouch had whined one day. Marianne's smile had been so tight, even angry, that he hadn't asked again.
It had been Euphie's mother who'd taken him aside and explained to him that Marianne hadn't had much to leave to them. There had been a bit in terms of clothing, jewelry, and the like, but next to no money. No arrangements had been made.
"Do you know into whose care you'll be trusted?" Empress Andrea asked him.
He shook his head.
She'd stood there another long moment, her long and pointed and unpleasant face for once rather sympathetic, and he suspected that if in that moment he had asked for her help, she would have given it willingly, even happily. She would have taken him in, and they could have all lived together, him and Nunnally and Euphie and even Euphie's sister Cornelia, who was a little frightening but mostly just kind. It'd be a quiet, uneventful sort of life, lived in luxury, with none of the greatness towards which his mother had always pushed him - but that was all right, because there would be some happiness. It would be worth it. All he had to do was swallow his pride, and give up...
He just said, "Thank you for your help," and turned away.
A hundred times over, he could have stopped this. He never did, though. He never turned back.
The Emperor lay dying. Even so, even robbed of his potency by Lelouch's will - even so, Lelouch still shook at the sight of him.
(How long had he prepared for this moment? He'd readied in his head any number of things he could say. "How many ages hence / shall this our lofty scene be acted over / in states unborn and accents yet unknown." Or, "The wheel is come full circle." Most of all, "The rest is silence."
(Yet the only words that he could find were terribly, inexplicably, "Yet who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?")
"You killed my mother," Lelouch whispered.
The Emperor laughed.
"Is that honestly what you think?" he asked in return.
Those words were like the unraveling of a skein. How long had he worked, how hard, to untangle the knots, tease free the thread, only now to find...
Lelouch took a step forward, clenched his fists, demanded, "Did you kill my mother? Did you kill Marianne?"
"I did not," the Emperor pronounced.
All there was to find was yarn.
What was left? All of this, all of this, all the rage and hatred and pain, had been for only two things, and he'd managed neither of them.
What was left?
Rage, and hatred, and pain.
The Magician. The Tower. The Nine of Swords.
"Oh, Lelouch," she'd whispered. "I am so proud of you."
It's a perfectly absurd thought, of course. No one, no matter how well they could read the cards, could ever understand all the ramifications of a single action. No one could trace the cause and effect leading outwards from such a thing.
"I am so proud of you," she'd said.
And: "You will become Death."
And: "There are times we have to put up with old men."
And, "You can be anything you want to be." He'd thought for the longest time that he'd misremembered this one, because the way he remembered it, she'd said, "You can be anything I want you to be," but that was wrong, of course; that was wrong.
She'd loved him. She'd loved them both. If there was one constant truth in his life, if there was one thing he knew, he knew that. Otherwise, what was this all for? (But Marianne, for all that she laughed and danced and smiled and flirted, had always had within her such a terrible rage.)
But she had loved him.
truth, truth beauty, - that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
-Cups, the Suit of Water-
Lelouch had seen Kallen on television a few days before he'd killed his father. She was as proud as ever, her chin raised, her smile arrogant, her shoulders set; she was a daughter of Japan, and it showed in her bearing, in the enormous contempt with which she stared about her.
He smiled slightly, a little sadly, at the spiritual successor to Diethard Ried who evidently resided in the control booth: every camera was focused on this beautiful, proud, defiant young woman, an illustration of the very spirit of rebellion, as she went to her execution.
He'd have liked to have explained to her, to someone, to give them a reason if not an excuse. He wanted to apologize to them, apologize for the fact that they were nothing, nothing, nothing compared to...
"I'm not afraid," Nunnally said. "I have you and Suzaku. With both of you protecting me, how could I ever be afraid?"
Yet the first night after they'd fled from the Kururugi shrine, the day before he and Suzaku saw the executions, he put her to bed, kissed her on the head and then prepared to leave her for the night. (He and Suzaku were sleeping in turns outside her door; they'd decided that if it was both of them guarding her, she'd be safer.)
When he opened the door, she said softly, "Father..."
"Did he..." Nunnally swallowed. "He knows we're here. Yet even so he sent...he sent the army, and..." Her lip started to tremble, and she hugged herself. "He doesn't care that we might die. Does he?"
How could Lelouch answer her? He couldn't lie to her. What would he say? "Don't worry, Nunnally, he loves us terribly but just forgot where we were"? "He was trying to help us"? Nunnally was naïve, but she was hardly stupid; she'd never accept something like that.
And how could he ever tell her the truth? How could he say that their father had sent them here in the expectation that they would die?
Frozen with indecision, finally he just pressed his hand to his mouth to muffle his breathing, hoping that she'd eventually decide that he'd already left. So he was there when she dissolved into tears that she wept into her pillow, and it wasn't until her sobs had turned into deep and even breaths that he crept out again.
Suzaku was already asleep. Lelouch took first watch, tucking his knees up to his chin and swallowing, again and again.
"I can't save her," he whispered to Suzaku through the dark. "I can't save anyone. I can't protect her, I can't keep her from being sad, I can't...I can't do anything. I just..."
(The next morning, when Suzaku asked him about it, Lelouch looked at him strangely and informed him that he shouldn't confuse dreams with reality.)
And even C.C., undying as she was, never returned to him from the sea.
Yet Lelouch had spent so long staring at dead sparrows, he could make his way through a field of corpses without stumbling.
Suzaku had spent so long avoiding them, when it came to this, he was frozen.
"I'm gonna protect you," he'd said that first day after the bombs, while Lelouch gripped Nunnally, still breathing hard from having run all the way back to the storehouse.
"I'm gonna protect you," he said again, sure as he'd ever been. "Both of you."
But he could do nothing at all. All he could do was stand by and watch as the Britannians were shot in the town square. All he could do was watch as people he'd never get a chance to know were crushed, like sunflower seeds between the teeth. All he could do was listen to the night, filled with the sounds of distant gunfire, an ominous roar, a worse stillness.
And what if he'd protected them, like he'd promised? Where would they be today? Maybe time would have dulled the memories of hatred, of grief, of pain and rage, and they'd have found a quiet sort of peace, a quiet sort of happiness.
Summer always comes again.
And love is an elemental force. It can never be destroyed; it melts or it becomes something else.
"Your life is only so long, Lelouch." She'd broken suddenly away from her book and drawn him into her lap, and he leaned back against her and breathed in her water-lily scent that stood out even against the fragrance of the garden around them. "You only have so many words to say. Too few by far to spend on words of hatred."
Her voice was low, full. His memory painted it with shades of rain.
"If I could live forever, I could tell you 'I love you' into infinity. But I can't. I'm sorry. I can't." Softly: "But that's what makes these words precious."
She whispered to him, a quiet litany, "I love you. I love you so much. I love you so, so much."
Suzaku's mother had only once told him that she loved him. It was when she lay in the hospital cradling her newborn son. She'd whispered it to him, then blanched and started to cry, great racking sobs that lasted until the nurse had come in and taken Suzaku away.
They'd met again years later, each formal and awkward and uncertain.
"You're growing up so tall," she said to him then. He didn't know what he was supposed to say, so he smiled briefly and looked away.
"Do you like school?" she asked.
Here he knew what he was supposed to say: "Uh-huh."
She nodded and smiled, tense and pale. "Good," she said, and paused. "I always liked science. Do you like science?"
"Yeah," Suzaku said, and she nodded and murmured again, "Good," then looked away. Then a pause, and Suzaku dared to go off the script, off the set questions and formulaic answers:
"I really like art a lot, though, more than anything."
There had been a moment where she looked at Suzaku like she didn't recognize him, like he'd taken on the appearance of the stranger he already really was. But that lasted only a moment: then a smile, broad and incredulous and so happy, spread across her face.
"Art?" she asked.
"I like science too," he said.
"They're both good," she agreed, and took his hand between hers. The skin of her hands seemed thin and soft, like old paper, or silk. "They're both really, really good." A moment, and then she let him go but still smiled. "What do you draw, usually?"
"Uh - " Suzaku shrugged. "Lots of stuff. I really like going down to the pond and drawing the frogs there."
"The frogs?" Her smile faded, then came back, replaced by something more subdued: "Do you like frogs, Suzaku?"
He'd grinned and nodded enthusiastically and said, "Yeah!"
He'd misremembered, by the way. It hadn't been Lelouch who'd destroyed his dream of being a scientist. It had been those tiny, unremarkable things beneath the lens of his microscope that had done it. It was the heavy knowledge that he'd never understand.
Yet Suzaku, years later, would find his father's personal journal. His professional journal, the one he'd written in the expectation that it would be published - Suzaku would find that, too, but wouldn't even bother to read after the first few pages. It was full of pithy sentences that his father probably already heard being quoted. His personal journal, though - that was...
"Kimiko came to see me today," ran the inelegant kanji. (Kururugi Genbu had been an educated man who'd feigned ignorance.)
"She won't stop talking about the damn frogs. Kirihara says that this sort of thing is common to women who go to college and then do nothing about it, but I doubt that. It's more about her illness, I think."
"You like frogs, don't you?" she'd asked him.
"Yeah!" he'd said to her, and she'd smiled. Suzaku had said in his life so few words to his mother. When he'd grinned and nodded and said to her, "Yeah," it was one of the very few things he'd ever said to her that were true.
When he was drifting off to sleep that night, in the space between a dream and lucidity he saw:
A hot July night, when his sleepless mother sat combing her curly hair. Her face was troubled. She set her brush aside and went to her microscope, and touched it, twisting a knob between her long fingers.
And then she pulled on her slippers, snatched up her robe, and without writing a thing went down to the pond where the frogs were dying.
You gods were tiny, and smelled of salt. You were mud and water, and a little bit fire, but mostly you were mud, and when she'd seen you in her microscope she'd known you for what you were. You weren't glassy things in those days. You were dark.
"She won't stop talking about the damn frogs," Genbu had spat.
"You really like frogs, don't you?" she'd asked the day before he'd written that.
You gods were tiny, and smelled of salt, and had clenched jaws. You were fury, and you raged as only the small gods can, with all the power in your thin spindly fingers.
That day, she'd gone to the water to save the frogs in the old way.
You gods were tiny and tasted of mortality, but even so she'd lain her face upon the water and kissed you. You'd reached up with your thin fingers, going clear as air, and accepted the sacrifice of the High Priestess.
These were old ways, and full of magic and holiness. Though Kururugi Genbu would have laughed at the idea, though her old colleagues and teachers would have laughed, though even her own son wouldn't have understood, shaking his head -
Understand: though they'd have laughed, after Kimiko drowned, the frogs stopped dying.
truth, truth beauty, - that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
-Swords, the Suit of Fire-
How many words has he spoken, and how many more words will he speak?
(A number that is large but is not infinite, all in anticipation of a truth that he never even saw in the cards; and eight, respectively.)
How many times has he said this:
"It's all right. I'm here. Don't worry."
"We're friends. We'll always be friends."
(He cannot say I-love-yous into infinity.)
"We just have to find a safe place, away from here," Lelouch had said in the time after the gunshots but before the fall. They were huddled together. His fingers intertwined with Nunnally's to prove to her he wasn't about to leave her, and he'd thought a moment that he should take Suzaku's as well, from the way the other boy's face was pale, the way his head would move, the way his hands would clench compulsively.
"There's a place out there," he continued, his voice as low and as soothing as he could make it. "There must be."
Suzaku stirred, a sudden cognizance coming into his eyes. His head lifted; he looked at Lelouch. "What, like, Hokkaido?"
Lelouch shook his head. "Far away from here. Away from Japan. The way we all are..." The way Nunnally and I are was more accurate, because no one had use for the illegitimate son of the Prime Minister who was watching his nation fall. Still: "The way we all are, they wouldn't leave us alone unless we got far away from here."
"Like China...?" Suzaku asked, his brows knitted, but Lelouch shook his head.
"Somewhere without nations. Somewhere they wouldn't care about us."
"Antarctica?" Nunnally suggested softly, then shook her head and laughed sadly, but Lelouch squeezed her hand.
"Yeah, like Antarctica," Lelouch said with a smile. "There's no war in Antarctica."
"What about the penguins?" Suzaku said. His voice was so low, so weary, so beaten, that Lelouch looked at him, worried that he'd...That he'd started talking nonsense. It was, however, only Suzaku's standard nonsense: "I mean, two penguins could get into a fight, and we could get in the middle of it, you know. Could be really messy."
Lelouch rolled his eyes, cheered at Suzaku's ability to make a joke. "Idiot."
Suzaku smiled, wanly.
"Could we live there?" Nunnally asked.
"Well - " Lelouch frowned and tried to remember what he knew about the place. "It gets cold, but as long as you have the right equipment, you can live anywhere."
"Without people, though?" she asked.
"We won't need other people," he said with a dismissive wave, then looked at Nunnally's face and pressed her hand again: "We'll have us. We can live just like before..." He frowned, then, swallowed, a sudden fury bubbling up in his chest. Who was to say that Britannia wouldn't find them even there? His father - that man wouldn't rest until he had every last tiny corner of the earth under his sway. But even so, even if they only had a few years of happiness, at least until they were grown up...
"Britannians are probably currently fleeing Japan, I imagine to Kamchatka," Lelouch said, leaning back and trying to picture the geography of the archipelago and the surrounding areas. "Nunnally and I..." Were recognizable, undoubtedly. He scowled. "We'll have to travel a ways from where we were. Hakodate, maybe. We can bribe someone to pretend we're their kids. You too, maybe?" Lelouch bit his fingernail. "You could be...An adopted kid, that'd be weird. You could be a servant - " He immediately tried to swallow those words, but Suzaku just looked at him without anger.
So he continued: "We'll have to make them think we're dead."
"Dead?" Nunnally repeated timidly. Lelouch laid his other hand on hers, too.
"Just so they won't be looking for us. It'll be fine."
"But they'll be sad..." she said quietly, and Lelouch bit his lip and shook his head.
"What if..." Suzaku spoke suddenly. "What if the war ended?" When Lelouch looked at him: "What if we could stay here? What if there were peace here?"
"We can't," Lelouch said, but Suzaku's hands had clenched themselves into fists and his voice rose:
"But what if we could? What if I - " He cut himself off suddenly; Lelouch opened his mouth to ask, but Suzaku shook his head and pressed a finger to his lips. Nunnally said nothing at all, perhaps understanding already.
A moment, and then voices approached, too deep for the words to be distinct. Lelouch held his breath and groped for the stick he'd picked up earlier that day and looked at Suzaku, who held his eyes. But a burst of masculine laughter, and then the voices faded in the other direction. Lelouch let out his breath and grabbed Nunnally's hand again.
"We just need to get out of this country. We need to get away from the war."
But the war found them just south of Yamagata, in the form of a checkpoint guard who recognized Suzaku's face and took them all back into the custody of the doomed government. The chaos would free them again a mere two days later, but by that time the damage would have been done.
(It was that day, when Genbu demanded to know what sort of image his own son fleeing would project, when he made it clear that the war wouldn't cease and that they weren't about to release Lelouch or Nunnally - It was that day.)
It was then that things started to crumble.
Maybe not, now that Lelouch thought about it. Maybe he was Death already in the womb. And maybe Suzaku was born the Ten of Swords.
Or maybe it is just silliness, in the end, a girlish game, and he has no one to blame but them; no, but him, always him, who was the one who pulled the trigger -
But in the end it doesn't matter, because they've come to this place. They've come to this place of earth and water and air and between them now is fire.
And between them now are the ones they both love, standing in the way.
And love is not a thing that fades away. It goes quiet or it goes up in flames.
The cicadas fell silent, and the trees soundlessly put out their red autumn foliage.
Seven years later, Lelouch killed one sister and held another as she died, and looked up at the boy who had run with him to the pond, who'd shown him how to eat sunflower seeds, who'd wrinkled his nose when he laughed, who'd made promises, who'd sworn he'd protect them both, who'd watched his country crumble, who'd said he'd do anything, be anything, that they'd do anything and be anything together - so long as they were together, so long as they were all together.
And in that moment Lelouch understood the suit of swords.
(Suzaku just stared in horror, uncomprehending.)
How many years has he played the Fool? How many times has he stepped out, blind to the danger?
How many years has he believed in promises, in newness, boldness, openness to all things, in it's-all-rights and I'll-protect-yous and "I love you" and "I'm so proud of you" and "We'll be friends, we'll always be friends." How long?
Because he is the Fool, ascendant. He is Death. He is the Tower. He is become Judgement.
The last eight words might have been, "I'm sorry. I love you so, so much."
Instead they were, "Meet me by the Kururugi shrine pond, Suzaku."
So the Hanged Man stares at his raised hand and wonders what he's done. For all his life he wonders what he's done.
And the Magician's face is at rest.
Suzaku's hatred has faded. Lelouch hates him for that. Suzaku's hatred has faded into nothing more than a weariness, distrust, a simple sorrow evident in his face as he eyes Lelouch and frowns.
"It's been a while," he greets cautiously, and Lelouch raises his gun without hesitation and shoots his friend three times. Suzaku stumbles backwards, his eyes going wide, all that distrust and sorrow falling away as his face is taken by a pure sort of terror that compresses into something small and painful as he drops to one knee. Lelouch takes three steps in and levels the gun at Suzaku's head -
And Suzaku looks up, his face deadly calm as the Geass takes over.
There's a frog on the banks of the pond, watching them with disinterest. There'd been a sparrow here, too, but it's long since melted away. (Yet if he dug, he could find her bones.)
For all that he's wounded, Suzaku has no trouble dragging the gun from Lelouch's grasp. Lelouch is frail and he is broken, and he fights back only enough to keep Suzaku from sanity, and he goes willingly to the water and allows Suzaku to push him under.
"We're gonna make the world a better place, Lelouch," Suzaku had said not five meters from where he stood now. Not ten, he'd said, "We'll always be friends."
But that was a truth never in the cards.
Through the mud in his eyes, Suzaku looks like when they were children. His shoulders are back, his head tilted up, and he might almost be smiling. And Lelouch loves him, so much; he loves him, so much; he loves him, so much; but that's nothing before the suit of swords.
It's a hot heavy flightless day like a whale, and the sun burns the skin where Lelouch's hand scrabbles out of the water. He was a voice, a breath, and nothing more. Yet there are no eloquent last words, not with the breath replaced by muddy water, and even if there were, Suzaku won't remember them, and even if he does he won't repeat them. So the only thing Lelouch, Zero, will leave behind in all this world will be the churned mud where his instinct prevailed and forced him to fight back, and a body bloated with turgid water, and this bitter revenge, and this long lie.
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty, -
that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know."
-XXI: The World-
What there was:
A hot summer, long lazy
days and nights no cooler, spent by the water, spent by the shade,
spent in the shucked shells of sunflower seeds and spent in naïveté.
Memories of the same.
Memories of his mother and the ways she loved him, the way she wanted nothing for him that was not his happiness (which she misunderstood).
Memories of Nunnally, her gentle smile, the way that once she ran and laughed; memories of her afraid and alone and crying.
The way his father lay in his own blood, and the way that even brought low, even unmoving, even in the indignity of death he was still power and terror.
Euphemia, smiling coyly or ingenuously, her skirts the wings of a bird.
Cicadas, with their life cycles of prime numbers, so that predators could ever only hunt them if they had the strength to live for seventeen years or the strength to live for one.
Frogs and their diseases and the unknown ways they die.
A microscope with a loose focus; a dish of salty water, guarded by the smallest gods.
A deck, air-earth-water-fire, and a replacement that was nothing more than paper.
The way the pond smelled in high summer, a musky rotten-sweet smell. He thought it smelled like mortality.
The way he realized later on that it smelled nothing like mortality.
The clouds over Japan. The clouds over Britannia. The way they looked the same.
The stars over Japan. The stars over Britannia. The way they looked the same.
The rain in the summer, and the way it smelled the same.
The leaves in the fall, and the way they looked the same.
Water and the way it tasted the same.
The sound of fire.
The cry of a child.
The smell of incense.
"I love you."
His long memory.
The Hanged Man.
What there is: