"Orchid and Rose"
His mother was beautiful, with golden ringlets to her waist and tiny birdlike hands. She'd been stick thin before she'd given birth, and also after it. He had a picture of her from when she was still pregnant with him. She looked strange then, a startled expression on her face, her hair gathered at the nape of her neck, her limbs at odd angles like twigs sticking off a gall.
"That isn't hardly me," she'd murmured unblinking when she'd found that picture, then had laughed and set it aside. Clovis had salvaged it that afternoon from the garbage.
She had pink lips and pink cheeks and hands that felt soft and fragile like flower petals. Her eyelashes were long and her eyes were blue and always open wide. Clovis knew a lot about her but very little of her, and he wondered if that should make him sad.
"Your mom's so pretty," said Euphemia, age five, dressed in violet and slippers, walking in circles on the balls of her feet with arms stretched outwards.
Clovis looked up from his the chessboard to smile at his little sister. "She used to be a ballerina."
Euphemia dropped back down onto the flats of her feet to turn to look at Clovis with wide eyes. "I'm a ballerina," she whispered solemnly.
"Yes, you are," Clovis laughed, glancing over at serious Lelouch who wasn't looking up from his pieces. "It's easy to tell. You're naturally graceful."
"Am I?" Euphie asked, her face brightening as she went back on her toes.
"Oh yes," said Clovis.
"Check," said Lelouch.
Clovis looked back to the pieces, startled. He hadn't seen a check coming for another few moves yet - but there it was, a knight sitting one move from his king, languid in the sunlight and soft birdsong. Clovis frowned, looked up at his tiny strange brother, then looked back down and bit his thumb.
"Can I meet your mom, Clovis?" Euphie asked.
"Um," Clovis said, trying to push her question off to the side in favor of the possible paths of his bishop.
"I can't get this right - " In his periphery, Euphemia made some jump - "And I want to ask her how to do it. Can I talk to her?"
"She doesn't really like to..."
"It's really hard, this." Again that jump. "And I - "
"Can I focus on this?" Clovis snapped, and then immediately looked up in horror to see her face - hurt, surprised, worst of all sad. He looked back down and swallowed and made his move.
"Sorry, Euphie," came Lelouch's high soft voice. "I'm sort of distracting Clovis. Sorry to you, too, Clovis," he said, and in that moment, like in all other moments, Clovis hated Lelouch a little bit. Just a little bit. A little bit more when he nudged his queen and said, "Checkmate."
The very first time Clovis saw Lelouch, Lelouch was one, silent, and alert in his mother's arms. Clovis watched the way that Empress Marianne held the boy. He watched the kindness on her face.
The third time was four years later, when Lelouch sat alone in the gardens of the Imperial palace, balancing rocks one atop another and mortaring them with mud to make a fortress by the side of the lily pond. Clovis slowed to watch the boy, the smile fading from his face.
"What are you doing there?" Clovis called out to him. Lelouch had looked up, his brow furrowed, clutching a rock to his chest. Clovis stepped forward, his head cocked to the side, hesitant. He'd wondered if the boy was simple.
"Are you building something?" Clovis had asked.
"A rather poor something," Lelouch had answered softly, his diction precise. Clovis blinked, startled by this sudden turnaround. That moment stayed with him a long while - the small boy, hunched alone in the sweet-scented shade by the quiet water, his face compressed and lonely, building a castle that Clovis certainly wouldn't have been able to build at age five.
"Um, well..." Clovis had cleared his throat. "We're, um, playing hide-and-seek - " He winced, then, suddenly painfully aware of how childish a game it was. No matter. "If you want to join."
Maybe Lelouch's face had been contemptuous, or maybe it had been wary, or maybe it had been desperate. Clovis couldn't remember, as much as he tried to remember, thinking maybe it would give some insight into the boy, but that moment had been brief. And then Oscar had come running up behind him, out of breath and laughing.
"I say, Clovis, you really are quite bad at this game..." He slowed to a trot as he reached Clovis' shoulder. "Now what's this?"
"Um," said Clovis.
Oscar was the Fifth Prince, a few months younger than Clovis. He was the best friend Clovis had - jolly, good-natured, a little judgmental and a little snobby but usually quite nice. Which was why it was so strange to see him lean forward, his hands braced against his knees, a grin twisting his face as he said, "My word. You're the commoner's boy, aren't you?"
Lelouch's sad? wary? face turned hard and contemptuous. He looked as disaffected and as cold as any five-year-old had ever looked, or would ever look. "What of it?" he asked haughtily.
"I thought I'd smelled something," Oscar laughed, straightening up to cross his arms with a hard-edged laugh. "A certain...stink on the air..."
Lelouch's hand tightened on the rock he held. His narrow jaw tensed.
"It's quite unmistakable, don't you think?" Oscar continued, turning a glance towards Clovis. It was strangely needy, almost puppyish, and Clovis didn't know how to react, so he didn't say anything. Oscar looked back towards Lelouch. "Smells like the stables, a little like garbage - mostly just like a fish-market - "
That first rock went flying through the air but missed Oscar by a good meter, dropping harmlessly into the bushes. The second hit Clovis in the thigh.
"You little shit!" snarled Oscar joyously, skirting around a bench to lunge at Lelouch. Lelouch flinched, but he didn't run, just using the rock in his free hand to hammer at Oscar's wrist until Oscar grabbed that hand and twisted it till it dropped its pitiful weapon. Even then Lelouch - weak and so much smaller than the twelve-year-old - continued to fight, kicking over his own rock-fortress in an attempt to land one of the few, pitiful, glancing blows that he got in.
But Oscar dragged him back to where Clovis stood and yanked on the boy's hair until he was meeting Clovis' eyes.
"Apologize," Oscar demanded.
Lelouch was breathing hard, but he said nothing. Clovis, for his part, was deeply embarrassed. The rock had hurt something awful, and still hurt something awful. Still, this just seemed...
"It's fine." Clovis laughed uncomfortably, rubbing the spot which would later sport nothing worse than a slight bruise. "Just leave him be, it's fine."
"If you say so. You're the injured party." Oscar, grinning, pushed Lelouch away from him so that the boy stumbled and almost fell. "Go on, get out of here."
But Lelouch, even as he rubbed at his wrist, just stood there and stared at them, his jaw set stubbornly. Clovis sort of had to laugh at that, the tiny boy holding his ground for no reason at all, staring at them defiantly. Oscar joined in.
"Hail hail the future emperor," he snickered.
"We should go," said Clovis.
"The others'll be getting arrogant," Oscar agreed, then turned to deliver an elaborate bow to Lelouch. At that moment there was a high woman's voice.
Oscar froze a moment, then jerked as if trying to work up the momentum to flee. Clovis felt a moment of panic. It was one thing that Lelouch was going to tell on them later. It was another altogether, that Marianne - Marianne, the commoner, the former Knight, who could outfight them both together - was going to find out with them standing right there. But they stood, frozen with indecision, as she came up the path with her long blue skirts and lily-pale skin and smile that faded as she saw her dirt-smudged son.
"What happened?" she asked, and then looked up at Clovis and Oscar. In her dark cool eyes there was a perfect understanding of what had happened. Clovis felt afraid, and then he felt miserable.
But Lelouch looked at his mother, and he said, "I fell."
That frown only deepened, but she nodded. "Well, we should get you cleaned up," she said, holding her hand out to her son.
Lelouch nodded, serious, and reached out, and his hand was so small in hers that Clovis felt a deep flush of shame and, only half-conscious of what he was saying, begged, "It was Oscar."
Beside him, Oscar jerked again, and slowly Marianne turned to look at Clovis, her lips turned upwards in a smile, her eyebrows arched in cold contempt. "What a good boy," she said, and then with a quick step led her son away.
Lelouch looked back just before they disappeared around a bend in the path, something cold and studious in his face, and Clovis found himself thinking that Lelouch was a boy who would never forget a thing. Maybe he'd been right.
The second time Clovis had seen Lelouch, it had been at a Founding Day celebration. Clovis had been eleven. He'd seen the three of them - Marianne, Lelouch, and Nunnally - from across the room. Marianne, still holding Nunnally in her arms, had bent down to press her nose against Lelouch's and made this shaking motion of her head that made her solemn son break out into giggles.
Clovis had watched them until they'd stopped and then he'd reached up for his mother's warm hand. She'd pulled it away from him. He'd craned around to look at her.
"Mom, do you love me?" he'd said.
And his mother with her wide bright unblinking blue eyes had looked at him, her lips parted dewily. "Oh, I do," without hesitation she'd said. "I do. I do."
Gabriella la Britannia had been born July 9th, 1973, the daughter of the Duke and Duchess Rumsford. She'd attended the Emile Westing School for Girls until the age of fourteen, when she had left to attend the New Haven School of Dance. Age sixteen when she'd had her stage debut, performing the Nutcracker to mixed reviews.
"Miss Rumsford, though lovely, seemed nervous and awkward on stage," Reggie Saunders, art critic for the Pendragon Herald, had written. "We might give her the benefit of the doubt and assume that it was an unusual character choice. If this is true, though, then it was a choice Miss Rumsford no doubt regrets: she spent the whole night being out-danced by her Prince, the Sugar Plum Fairy - even the odd chorus girl."
"Miss Rumsford brings a veracity and a childlike vulnerability to the role of Clara that a more experienced dancer would be quite unable to replicate," said Annabeth Lincoln of the Weekend Magazine.
"I have no doubt that Miss Rumsford's starring role has much to do with her surname," Kristoph deSimone of Britannia Today had sneered. "No self-respecting producer would hire her and no self-respecting director would keep her without the prospect of - say - a new theater serving as encouragement."
She'd continued on, though, taking on starring roles in six ballets before retiring. After that, she'd become the fifth Empress, and a bit less than a year later she'd given birth to Clovis.
And that was what he knew.
He also knew a video. It was of good quality, professionally done. He'd found it on the internet, half by accident, while simply looking for a video of Swan Lake from around that time, and had half-expected her name and therefore been all the more startled when it actually came up in the credits during the Overture.
It was so strange to watch her. He wasn't sure if he'd have recognized her if he hadn't known. Her hair had been pulled back severely and twisted into a bun, her usual pink crinoline traded out for a simple white leotard and tutu. Lit by the cold blues of the lake, she hardly looked herself. But still so small, so thin, so ephemeral - maybe he would have known her after all.
"Mom, look at this." He'd thought, briefly, of keeping it to himself, but he was no good at keeping secrets, and besides, that wasn't the point. The point was to watch her face as she leaned over his shoulder, holding her hair back with one fragile hand. But even though he watched, her face remained expressionless. It was completely blank. The smile faded from Clovis' face as he looked at her, and then he looked down.
But then she spoke. "Did you see that?" she asked in her breathy voice.
Clovis looked up with a jerk. "What?"
His mother just shrugged, graceful, rolling her head to the side, saying nothing. Clovis quickly rewound the video, and she responded appropriately, nodding shyly and pointing.
"Right there," she said, pointing as a young Gabriella completed a leap graceful as an arch. She raised her fingers then to her full lips. "I just thought that was the most beautiful thing I had ever done. I remember the moment I landed, it just felt so right."
Clovis moved the video back once again. There was a brief, fleeting moment where his mother's face was turned to the camera, and he paused. The look on her face was incredible. It was taut, triumphant, fiercely joyous. It was so odd to see that expression coming from his blankly lovely mother.
"You look so happy."
"I do, don't I," she murmured, lightly touching the screen and then moving her hand back to her mouth. "That was a long time ago. I was a little girl." She was quiet a moment, watching a series of leaps that flew her across the stage with birdlike strength. "I was pretty then."
"You're pretty now," Clovis said, turning to look at her.
Her rose-petal lips quirked up in rare melancholy. "No one looks at me anymore."
Every day we live, our parents become a little less powerful. They become a little more human. It's a terrifying and a tragic process. Usually, this decay takes the form of small moments - an admission of ignorance, evidence of helplessness before an intractable force. For Clovis from that day onward, its trajectory was strangely specific: every day, he understood the terrible sadness in those six words a little better, and a little better.
Sometimes he wondered what it would have been like for Lelouch, with Marianne struck down at the height of her powers.
"Well, that's, um," was what Clovis said, then, age fourteen and uncomprehending still. "Did you like Swan Lake?"
"It was always my favorite to dance," his mother said, her eyes once again wide, her lips once again parted. "The music's so beautiful. I didn't like the part of Odette, though."
"The white swan," his mother explained, then reached down with her rose-petal hands to take the mouse from him. She clicked the progress bar over to a scene at a ball. His mother was there again, dressed in black, heavily made up, dancing a provocative duet with her prince. "I liked Odile better. I liked the black swan better."
"Oh yes," she said, straightening up and bobbing her head in a nod. "None of that silly little...flapping about, pretending to be a bird. I could be a person, dance like a person."
"I get it." But it was strange: as the dark, cruel sorcerer's daughter, she seemed gawky, uncertain, unnatural, out of place. She danced poorly. It was when she was the white swan, that bird with its heavy wings and short legs and odd waddle and magnificent flight, that she was something really special, just absolutely wonderful.
He was eighteen when he talked her into posing for a portrait. He'd taken up art when he was thirteen and a little lonely, with only Oscar around and Oscar now unwilling company to the boy he called "tattle-tale" (though when they were both twenty, Oscar, drunk and in tears would confess that he didn't remember what had made him start saying that, and that he was lonely, and that he wanted to be friends again). Art had been nice, and it had been peaceful. It had been a way to fill the hours as his mother slept or did whatever it was she did in her closed-off room.
"I feel silly," she said that day in her leotard and ballet slippers, self-consciously adjusting her crown-topped headdress. Clovis reached out and smiled and moved it back.
"Well, you look beautiful," he said, and she flushed and looked down. He took advantage of the moment to place her hand in the hand of the handsome servant who would be standing in for her prince. "Now," he said, sitting behind his easel, "look into his eyes - "
Slowly her eyes rose towards the servant's, but the servant's were still fixed on the ground. Clovis frowned.
"And you look back at her."
It had been the wrong thing to say. It had been a terrible thing to say. There were so many better ways he could have said it, he knew, as the fragile smile on her face fell away to a look of shame and horror. But a moment passed, and then another, and that servant looked up and there was the most extraordinary heat in his gaze. Under it, his mother reddened but she blossomed.
The painting took a few days - a few more for the swan than the prince, determined as Clovis was to get her just right. The last day was the day he painted her face as she sat there alone, her arm extended and resting upon a table, her face half turned away. And he didn't realize the expression he was painting until it had crystallized on his canvas.
Somehow in that warm spring afternoon, with sun and breeze pushing at the white cloth draping the windows, the light pulsing like a slow heartbeat, with the birds singing and the scent of new-cut grass on the air, with the distant breathy sound of Euphie playing scales on her flute - somehow, something within his mother had broken, and she'd sat there for the last hour weeping silent and still.
"Mom," Clovis said, uncertain, scared.
She'd turned her red-rimmed gaze towards him in that moment, and said in a thick, strangled voice, "How did it turn out?"
Clovis' hesitation made her face crumple, made her collapse into sobs. "It's all right, it's all right," she whimpered. "It's better not to start. It's better not to try. It won't end up a thing at all."
The painting had turned out breathtaking. It was her expression that had done it. He tried repainting the picture several times as his skill improved, but it never turned out like it did that first time. He never got her expression right. That first painting was the best one he would ever do.
In that moment, he just sat there and watched her cry and wondered what he could say.
Euphemia was his favorite among all his siblings, but that wasn't saying much. Euphie was everyone's favorite. She was simply too blindly, naively sweet not to love.
He remembered one incident - Euphie was probably twelve at the time. It was the afternoon before the banquet celebrating Schneizel's new position as Prime Minister. That night there would be a banquet, and as they'd sat, Euphie posing, him painting, servants had been walking by with tables, chairs, food, and the like.
Several times he'd seen her twitch and had looked up and almost asked why - but she hadn't messed up her pose, so he'd just returned to painting. It was maybe the fourth time, though, that one servant went by when she jumped to her feet altogether, dropping the needlepoint that had been in her lap.
"This won't do!" she cried, and Clovis had a moment of uncertainty that bordered on fear. He wondered if she was angry for his sake, or for the sake of the background of the painting.
He should have known better: she went right over and plucked a tray of pastries out of the hands of the small servant-girl who was carrying them. The girl, not a day over ten, stared at Euphemia with wide eyes.
"You are too small to be carrying this," Euphemia, not that much larger, declared. "We're going to drop this off and then I'm going to come back with you and tell them that, all right?"
"Your Highness - " the girl whispered.
"You need to be carrying flowers, small things. You are absolutely going to crush your back like this," Euphemia scolded. "Come with me. I'm going to tell them that."
Clovis had watched in bemusement as they went. Only once they were too far away did he realize that the good thing for him to do would have been to carry the tray for them both. But they were too far away.
Schneizel had just turned twenty-four two weeks before that banquet.
"He's quite remarkable, our brother," said Odysseus in one of the few times he deigned to speak to Clovis. The Third Prince had always been beneath the First Prince's lofty gaze, until the Third Prince was named viceroy of Area Eleven, and even then it was only enough to get the Third Prince well wishes on major holidays. Odysseus, ambitionless though he himself was, gravitated towards greatness. Clovis never had a pull on him.
"Youngest PM in a century," Odysseus continued, and even said it like that - "Pee Em." "Just try to tell me that isn't remarkable."
"It isn't remarkable," was the only response Clovis had wanted to give, so he gave it.
And Odysseus reacted predictably, fixing him and his slightly embarrassed grin with a weary gaze. "Don't be dense," he sighed, and turned to the man to his left.
Mom was sitting off on her own, ankles crossed, looking as beautiful as ever and also rather sad. Clovis moved to her side, and she welcomed him with a smile.
"This is just a lovely little party, isn't it?" she said. She looked more solid than he had ever seen her, there in the flickering yellow lantern light with the grass beneath her feet. She looked real. Clovis wondered if this was what Siegfried had felt upon seeing his Odette become Odile.
"It is." In the half-light, they'd all been robbed of their ugliness. It was quiet. A small chamber quartet played a soft minuet that was simply a background to the soft chatter and cricket song, no one dancing. Usually, Euphie would take any opportunity to do so, but she was occupied with the servant girl she'd adopted for that night, bringing the girl (now clean and dressed in a pretty child's gown) food and drink and decorating her with flowers as, beside them, Cornelia looked indulgently on. Nasty, foul-tempered little Carine seemed almost sweet as she ran about after fireflies, even though she was doubtless pulling the wings off the ones she caught.
Even that blowhard Odysseus had been joined by his wife and was looking upon her with a smile. Odysseus had married a commoner when he was seventeen. The whole court had regretted it ever since, but Odysseus hadn't - the only time Clovis ever saw him happy was when he was with Sasha. There was much discussion, and there had been for years, of convincing him somehow to divorce her so that he could make a more strategic arrangement, but Clovis honestly hoped it never happened: he didn't much care for Odysseus, and Odysseus didn't much care for him, but still, a man deserved the chance to chase happiness even at the cost of greatness.
It was Schneizel who looked out of place. While the rest of the family and all their attendants were softened, he stood apart from all the others. He was the only one pushing against those gently slanted rays of light, while everyone else leaned into the curves and angles. The expression on his face was pinched - not unhappy, but certainly not happy, either. It was strange.
"Hail hail the future emperor," Clovis found himself muttering.
He smiled down at his mother and shook his head and laughed. "That is - nothing. Sorry." He leaned down and kissed her atop her rose-scented hair. "Are you enjoying yourself?"
"Oh yes," she said, and looked up and smiled. "Oh yes."
It was strange. All his life, he would think of Schneizel, and he would think of Euphemia - think of the great and the good. That his brother lacked goodness - he wouldn't learn that for two years, until the day when he came across the full expanse of the research Schneizel had been doing. The discovery was shattering. That Euphemia lacked greatness was evident the very next day when that servant girl had to return to her life of servitude.
But he was so great, and she so good, that Clovis sometimes ached to think of the way he could never match up to them.
But it was strange. For all that he was trapped between Schneizel and Euphemia, it was Lelouch, small quiet Lelouch, who was in the same position but just a little bit greater and a little bit better - it was him Clovis hated.
It was him, and it was his mother, and the way that they looked across the room, that Clovis hated.
Marianne vi Britannia, nee Lamperouge, had become a Knight at the age of nineteen and had married the emperor seven years later. That was all Clovis was able to find out. He knew so little about her, but he'd watched her, and he thought that maybe he knew quite a lot of her.
He knew, for example, the way she'd show her children affection without a hint of self-consciousness. He knew the way she smelled (vanilla) and the way she laughed (freely, cheerfully, her voice a high giggle). He knew the look of loathing she wore for the two stupid boys who had hurt her son. He knew how she had died, and he knew the way that had destroyed her children.
He knew the way she had always seemed so happy. He knew the way she had continued to fight for the Empire even after becoming consort.
"Do you think you'd ever dance again?" Clovis asked his mother once.
"Oh," she said breathily. "Oh, no. That sort of thing isn't seemly."
He knew Marianne as the Black Swan. He knew her as the Black Swan, just as the rest of the court knew his Black Swan mother, knew her as the most beautiful of all the Emperor's wives who held herself aloof from the petty power struggles and affairs and entanglements. Perhaps she too had a side as the White Swan. Perhaps sometimes Lelouch would press his ear to that closed door and hear his mother weeping. Perhaps Lelouch, too, had to take her hand at times to stop it from shaking. Perhaps Marianne was petty and cruel. Perhaps she got angry for no reason at all, or perhaps she paid him no mind at all in private.
Perhaps that was what explained Lelouch.
Because Lelouch needed an explanation.
Two days after the incident by the pond, Clovis found Lelouch playing chess against himself. He was still feeling guilty and miserable and sick with the memory of how Marianne had looked at him, and a little lonely now that the outraged Oscar had abandoned him, and so he'd swallowed his pride and walked over to the boy.
"Hello," Clovis said.
"Hello," Lelouch had replied calmly without looking up.
Then Lelouch had looked up, with an expression on his face so withering that Clovis had had to laugh so that he didn't do something more drastic. Lelouch had looked back down and moved his white queen.
"Can I, uh, play?"
Lelouch said nothing, but after a very long moment he started moving all the pieces into their initial positions. Clovis grinned solicitously and sat down and started helping him.
"Who taught you how to play?" Clovis asked the uncomfortable silence.
"Oh." Somehow, he kept himself from making an asinine comment about meeting Lelouch's mother those few days previous. "She's really pretty, your mom."
"She's more than just pretty," Lelouch replied.
Clovis hesitated. He didn't know what that was supposed to mean. Was it a comment on his own...? "Sure," he agreed uncomfortably, then cleared his throat. "White or black?"
Lelouch, already seated behind black, didn't move.
Clovis had had every intention of letting Lelouch win. He'd draw it out a little, he thought, so that it wasn't clear that he was letting Lelouch win, because Lelouch seemed the type to despise being indulged. What he hadn't anticipated, however, was being driven into a corner within twenty-five moves.
"Check," Lelouch announced levelly.
Clovis blinked and frowned and, after a long moment moved his knight into the rook's advancing path. Lelouch took it without hesitation. When Clovis used his queen to take the rook, Lelouch's bishop took the queen.
Clovis moved his king one square out. Lelouch instantly moved his queen.
"Wow," Clovis said a little shakily, and moved his king again. Lelouch moved his queen one last time.
"Checkmate," Lelouch said.
Clovis blinked down at the board, then shook his head. "Wow," he said again, trying very hard to smile. "You're quite good, aren't you."
"That's one possibility," said Lelouch, serenely resetting the pieces. Clovis had to laugh again. Hearing things like that out of the mouth of a little kid - it really was quite absurd. And Lelouch looked up, a slight question crossing his face and then fading away again.
From that day forth, Clovis never once knew where they stood. Two days later, several of Clovis' Rumsford cousins joined him at the palace, and he ran and shouted and played and pointedly ignored Lelouch, because those little cruelties were just what you inflicted upon others when you were twelve years old - but the whole time, Lelouch just watched them all, completely stony-faced. And there was the stony-faced silence with which he accepted Clovis back on the other side of the chessboard.
But there was also the broad smile and uncontrollable laughter during the fight that ensued after Nunnally came over and stole both kings so that Clovis and Lelouch would pay attention to her. There was the warmth with which he let Euphemia observe their games. There were the triumphant, smiling victories which might or might not be followed by monotone victories or impatient victories.
There was a moment when you didn't recognize the black-clad ballerina as the one who danced before. You wondered about the significance of the Prince's reaction.
And there was the neutrality with which Lelouch accepted Clovis' birthday gift, a gilt clockwork timer. And then there was the short, shy smile with which he'd given Clovis his gift: a set of fine, lovely brushes, several of them with no more than five or ten bristles.
"They were the sort of brushes used in Northern Renaissance paintings," Lelouch explained. "They're capable of extremely fine detail. Said the saleswoman," he added self-consciously.
Clovis marveled over that, that Lelouch had bought them himself, rather than relying on a servant to do so.
And then there was the cruelty with which eight-year-old Lelouch settled himself behind black and sneered, "We could save ourselves time and simply predict the outcome right now."
And there was the day Lelouch, clad in his best clothes but shielded by nothing but his arrogance, approached the Emperor.
And that day, Clovis sat and watched his mother cry.
"That poor little boy," she sobbed. "That poor little boy."
In revenge, Clovis sat and stared at the place where Marianne had died, forlornly trying to sketch something appropriate. He tried to give the shattered windows a sheen of that magic that was made of her strength and wisdom and the love that would never fade, and the hearts of those children who would never watch their mother decay before their eyes.
It came out terrible.
Four years later he became governor of Area 11, and two years after that his mother completed her descent from godhead.
It was when he returned to the mainland for Christmas. It was a warm winter, dry, even for Pendragon, and his mother was compulsively rubbing cream into her soft hands. The motion was distracting, and eventually Clovis laughed and said, "Mama, honestly, your skin is lovely."
"It's not enough," she murmured.
"It's more than enough." He watched her, the smile fading from his face. "You should take a lover."
Her head jerked up, and she spat, "Who taught you to talk like that?"
Clovis shrugged languidly, leaned back, and said, "I guess I learned it."
"I took an oath," she said, and reached up with a taut-tendoned fist to readjust her hair. "I took an oath when I married your father."
"And I honor it," she snarled. "Every day."
Clovis shrugged again. "Then you should start dancing again. Something," he said when she opened her mouth. "You're going to go mad."
"No madder than I already have," she said with a sad sneer of self-awareness. Clovis, for the first time, really looked at her, and he swallowed. His mother's expression slowly faded, and she looked down.
"It's hard," she said with difficulty.
"I know," Clovis said quietly, even though he didn't, yet.
"I wasn't the best, you know. But I loved it. But then Mother and Father told me to...Then I married the Emperor."
Clovis watched the little girl, fragile and hurt and lonely, who was his mother.
"And that could have been my life, but...he doesn't love me. No one looks at me...This can't be my life. God, this can't be my life!" she cried.
The silence afterwards was awful. Clovis breathed, and then he begged, "That's why you need something."
"I don't need anything." Her expression slowly smoothed towards something very much like love. "I have you," she said. "You've always been what I've had."
The sudden revelation was almost shattering. "Do you love me?" he asked, a tinny echo of that question so many years ago.
And his mother with her wide bright shining blue eyes had looked at him, her lips parted. "God, I do," without hesitation she'd whispered. "I do. I do."
Lelouch never got to feel the need and the love and the trust as two people embraced one another. All he had was the distant love of God for her creations.
And that was sad.
And Euphemia, who was so good, so very good, would never have the greatness she needed to change the world.
And that was sad.
And Schneizel, who could change the world, would never do so for the better.
And that was sad.
And Odysseus would leave his wife for a political marriage, and that was sad.
And Cornelia would watch her world crumble away, and that was sad.
And Marianne would never see her children grown up.
And Gabriella would come to be alone.
In those few moments before Lelouch, who never forgot, pulled the trigger, before Clovis died, he didn't have time to remember all these things. He only had time for the vaguest impressions: the scent of rue and straw and orchids, the scent of roses in the garden, the sound of crickets. The sight of his tiny mother, enormously pregnant, belly like a rosehip perched precariously above a thorny stem. He heard Euphie's breathy flute, and saw the expression on that servant girl's face as she tasted delicacy after delicacy, and the way Schneizel had smiled, distant, black swan. An orchid torn up by the stem. Bird's foot trefoil. White roses.
He had time for pity. He had time to pity the boy before him, who had been so small and sad and lonely and strange and loving and proud. He pitied that poor boy who'd been brought to this place and was now so cold, so hurt. He pitied the boy who wasn't good and wasn't great and would be torn apart. And he pitied the mother who had loved him, and the mothers who had loved them all, and the children who had loved them back, and the way we all love and love endlessly without depths but are hemmed in by the words that get in the way.
Mostly he had time for fear. He was shaking uncontrollably at the implacable expression on his brother's face. There was the click as Lelouch cocked the gun, and Clovis imagined the bullet. He was so alone in that moment. He was so scared, so scared, he just wanted to go home. He just wanted his mother. He'd just wanted to do good. He just wanted his mother. He wanted his mothe