AN: It was interesting to see your opinions on Mia last chapter. You seem split… half of the reviews said she was like Euphie, the other half said she wasn't. In my opinion they have a few things in common, but Mia is definitely her own person. And perhaps a few other opinions might change with the beginning of this chapter. A few reviewers made some sort of guess about what Lulu wanted to talk to Jeremiah about… well, you'll find out soon
Apologies for the delay on this chapter… it's not entirely my fault. My computer randomly decided to corrupt the document while I was working on it and I had to retype most of it. I blame my antivirus, it doesn't like me. But you are getting a super-bonus double length chapter for your wait, so it's not all bad. And lots of stuff happens!
Disclaimer: I don't own Code Geass.
The next day was the day of the ball that would open Nunally's Golden Jubilee celebrations. Lelouch had been handed an envelope, which supposedly contained details of the planned celebrations, when he'd been brought breakfast; he'd been trying to avoid leaving his room until he'd had to, just in case he ran into Mia again. He set the envelope aside as he ate.
Mia had not been as he had expected and after shopping she'd decided he needed to be accessorised with jewellery, apparently his own efforts in that field were feeble. Up to that point however, Lelouch had rather liked her. Her impromptu shopping trip turned out not to be some childish impulse to increase the breadth of her wardrobe, but instead because she had heard Jeremiah had left the palace and she'd hoped to find him before he left the capital. She'd been rather worried about him, since amongst the nobility she and her mother were two among very few that accepted him.
Her mother had know the man when he had worked protecting Marianne prior to her assassination, and as they both admired her, she had understood, even if she couldn't approve, of his loyalty driving him to take Lelouch's side, and equally now that he was gone, to protecting the younger of Marianne's children.
Mia hadn't wanted Jeremiah to know she was checking up on him on behalf of her mother. Once she'd seen him with Lelouch, and verified that he was staying for at least a few days, she hadn't needed to stay. Instead she'd wanted to know more about Lelouch, the stranger who seemed familiar with Jeremiah. She seemed to want assurance that Lelouch was actually going to be civil to Jeremiah. Lelouch could only hope that he'd lived up to her expectations.
After breakfast he took a closer look at the contents of the envelope. There was quite a lot of variety in the events that were planned for the week ahead, and he looked forward to some of the events more than others. He was certain that he'd get to meet all of Nunally's potential heirs and see some of their strengths and weaknesses, especially if they were participating in everything that was planned. The last night's event… well, now he understood what Nunally had meant when she'd told Suzaku he wouldn't get away with staying in his Zero guise. She'd even added a note to Lelouch's copy of the itinerary, suggesting that Lelouch 'take care' of Suzaku's attire for that particular evening. After all, she could hardly designate the job to someone else without raising suspicion, and, Lelouch agreed with her; Suzaku could hardly be trusted to do the job himself.
Lelouch grinned wickedly, already concocting plans. Of course, he'd have to make arrangements for himself and probably his other companions too. He was quite looking forward to it. But first, he'd have to get through tonight's dance.
Lelouch, Rolo and EE made their way down to the ballroom later that day, just as afternoon turned to evening. Lelouch had spent the half hour prior fussing over Rolo, which had followed a considerable amount of time fussing over his own attire, and making sure his wig was perfectly arranged, and his make-up flawless.
The ballroom was elegantly decorated and softly lit. The evening's musicians were setting up in the corner, bringing the sound of instruments being tuned and warmed up to join the sound of conversation from the small number of guests already assembled. Lelouch had decided to arrive early for Rolo's sake. It meant that he wasn't faced with a huge crowd of people straight away. Hopefully the number of people in the room would increase slowly enough that he wasn't spooked. It was important to Lelouch that Rolo learn to be around large groups of people, since, as his memory currently stood, he had no experience of it.
Nunally wasn't here yet, and neither was Suzaku. Lelouch's eyes traversed the room, observing who was present as he graciously accepted a drink from a passing waiter, and excused Rolo as 'underage' when the waiter brandished the tray at him. He'd been keeping a reassuring hold on Rolo's hand as they entered the room, and at this point Rolo squeezed his fingers in gratitude. He didn't offer any of the silent communication he'd offered Lelouch the other day, obviously it was a demanding form of communication, and he didn't feel the need to use it in this situation. Nevertheless, he could sense Rolo's nervousness, and was willing to let him leave when he wanted as long as he tried his best.
As he looked around he spotted Mia standing on the other side of the room talking to Jeremiah with a few other people. One was a man about the same age as Mia, who Lelouch assumed was her husband, and there were two boys; her children, and an older couple. As he stared he suddenly realised he was looking at another one of his sisters. Her vivid purple hair had faded to a lavender-grey, but her presence was as imposing as ever. Cornelia had not wilted with age. Beside her, stood Guildford, her former Knight and current husband, carrying the same air of elegance and willingness to defend Cornelia.
Lelouch knew Cornelia and her family were staying somewhere in the palace for the duration of the celebrations. It was easier for them with the two young children, than continually travelling back and forth from another place of residence. They had probably arrived at the party early in the hope that the children would wear themselves out before they could cause embarrassment, and so they could be put to bed before it got too late. From the way they were chasing each other around and among their older relatives they were apparently at an energetic age.
He led his party across the room daringly. He greeted Jeremiah and Mia cordially, and hid his amusement as Mia insisted on introducing him to her mother. Cornelia met his eyes and then looked him up and down searchingly, as if looking for some deficiency to comment on. Apparently satisfied she shook his hand. Lelouch smiled warmly, pleased that his disguise had withstood his half-sister's intense scrutiny. Thankfully she had refrained from observing that he resembled his mother; perhaps she'd just simply deemed him unworthy of comparison with her idol 'Marianne the Flash'.
He shook hands with Guildford too, hoping that, as unlikely as it was, he would not recognise him and that the geass Lelouch had put him on fifty years ago was not still effective. Thankfully, it appeared not, and as Mia excused her father for not having as good eyesight as he used to have, Lelouch felt guiltily relieved. Guildford was not going to see through his disguise either.
As time went on he made polite conversation as did EE. After being introduced Rolo had hung shyly in the background, he had smiled and shaken hands and that was all that was required of him.
The room filled up fairly quickly, with relatives of various distances to Lelouch, few of whom he recognised, as well as other nobles, important guests from other countries, and others. It was quite a crowd. The two most important guests however, weren't here yet and the crowd and the musicians were anxiously waiting for their arrival to begin the evening's celebration properly.
Suddenly a silence swept the room, and the assembled crowd of guests swung their heads as one to face one direction. There was a brief fanfare and Nunally entered the room, followed by Suzaku in a more formal version of his Zero attire.
Nunally was attired in a deep purple gown, the sort of colour reserved for royalty, though its impact was softened by lavender panels in the bust and skirt, which made it far more suited to Nunally's personality, and matched her eyes. She was sitting in a wheelchair, obviously designed for such occasions, throne-like with the seat higher than was usual and embellished with gold.
Lelouch was more impressed with what Suzaku was wearing. This version of the Zero attire had a much changed colour scheme, now black with silver trimmings, much toned down from the gaudy purples and golds. The cape had changed; obviously cut with elegance rather than dramatics in mind. It no longer wrapped entirely around the body, nor swept into dramatic motions with the slightest movement of the arms. It was also shorter; knee length, and the collar was also subdued though it had a little elegant silver décor on the inside. This provided a sharp contrast to the mask, which could have been cut from obsidian. It was a solid black colour, taking the same shape as it always had, only rather than the purple 'visor' at the front, this too was black and was undistinguishable from the rest of the mask. Overall, Lelouch thought, it was fabulous, and he was very pleased with how his original design had been adapted.
Nunally gave a brief speech, welcoming her guests, wishing they would have good evening, and, those who would be attending further events, a good week. Then she signalled the musicians and the ball started properly.
Music filed the room. Mia took her husband's hand and they departed in the direction of the dance floor, her husband casting a glance backwards to ascertain that somebody was watching their children, and Cornelia nodded at him encouragingly. Lelouch had his eyes on Nunally, watching as a crowd formed around her and Suzaku, to wish her congratulations on having ruled so well for so long, or so he assumed.
Lelouch looked around the room again, hoping to spot someone else he intended to speak to. No one jumped out, so he turned to Jeremiah, figuring it was as good a time as any to speak with him.
Wanting privacy, he met Jeremiah's eyes and then took his hand. Understanding his intentions, Jeremiah led him out onto the floor. Lelouch glanced back to make sure EE was keeping an eye on Rolo, then allowed himself to turn his attention fully on Jeremiah. Adopting a formal dancing position, one hand in Jeremiah's the other on his shoulder, he allowed Jeremiah to lead him further across the floor.
"I wanted to talk to you," he said, his feet moving through the steps on the dance, concentrating on allowing himself to be led, determined not to give himself away here.
"I thought you might," replied Jeremiah.
"You know why Nunally invited me here?" Jeremiah nodded. "That's not what this is about."
"I know," interrupted Jeremiah. "I know Rolo, and I know enough about Geass to know that something isn't right." He indicated his left eye. "You wanted me to help him." Lelouch nodded. "I don't know if I can… my Geass canceller is just that, it only works on Geass. I don't think it would do anything against whatever sort of Code it is that is preserving him, and even if I could…"
"I know. The code is keeping him somewhere between life and death, and, at present, removing the code would tip the scales in the less favourable direction. I want him to live, to be properly alive, to give him back the life he sacrificed for me and allow him to enjoy it fully. Even if I could remove the code, I wouldn't do it, not yet anyway. His body is still too damaged; the code hasn't repaired it properly. So, ignoring the code, for now, the least I can do is give him a greater semblance of life."
"You want to give him back his voice?"
"That too, if possible. But much more than that I want to restore his digestive system. The ability to eat… it's one of those basics that define life. He may not need it, but I think he'd be a lot happier, and find it easier to pass in society if he was able to do so."
"And you think I can help with this?"
"You can't, but I'm sure you know someone who can."
Jeremiah's eyes widened in sudden understanding. Lelouch paused, about to continue, but suddenly there was a hand on his shoulder. He turned about, meeting the eyes of EE who looked a little unnerved and was holding tightly onto Rolo's hand.
"I'm taking Rolo up to his room, and staying out of here myself," said EE, leaning forward so he could speak closer to Lelouch's ear.
"I recognised somebody." Lelouch paled, alarmed, and EE carried on. "It was somebody who'd visited the facility recently. She didn't spot us, at least I hope not, but if she does she's likely to recognise us, and I think it's most certainly not worth risking. I don't know who she is though."
"It's ok, go. Keep yourself and Rolo safe." Lelouch turned to the man he'd been dancing with. "Jeremiah, can you please go with them? Keep them safe?"
Jeremiah accepted and led the others from the floor in the direction of the doors. Lelouch watched them, and the surrounding crowds, until they were out of sight, and then he tried to relax. He was not pleased with this discovery, it meant that he'd have to keep EE and Rolo out of sight for the rest of the week, and that there was someone in the crowd tonight who apparently knew at least a little about Geass, and approved of Code bearers being locked up and experimented upon. And Lelouch was certain that it wasn't someone who'd been associated with Geass and Codes before. Cornelia had no further interest in Geass after Lelouch had 'died', and Schniezel was being watched by Suzaku, who wouldn't let him do such a thing. He'd have to think about that issue later, for now he had to concentrate on what he was here for.
He sighed, and made his own way from the dance floor, aiming for the food and surreptitiously scoping the room. It turned out there was no need to go hunting for nieces and nephews, as one of them found him.
"My lady," greeted a voice from behind him.
Lelouch turned and looked up to meet a strikingly familiar face. But it wasn't someone he knew. The eyes, and the shape of the face, he certainly knew them, but there was an unfamiliar warmth in the expression, and the hair was seemingly the wrong colour.
"I'm sorry, do I know you?" Lelouch queried, though he was fairly sure he'd worked it out. This was one of the people he'd been looking out for.
The man bowed, "Roderich el Britannia, at your service, for the present moment at least. My wife has gone to track down my daughter, who I fear has gone to make a nuisance of herself before my father. Thus, I found myself temporarily unattached, and noticed your partner abandon you. I thought I could volunteer my hand for a dance, Lady…?"
"Lamperouge," replied Lelouch. "Lucinda Lamperouge. And it would be a pleasure."
Roderich was Schniezel's son, and it was Schniezel's features he saw looking back at him. He had darker brown hair, presumably from his mother, and his expression carried that surprising warmth. Warmth in Schniezel's expressions was rarely genuine. He thought back to Roderich's file, and what Suzaku had said. Apparently Roderich did not take after his father.
"I'm afraid my younger brother was feeling unwell," said Lelouch, attempting to explain his 'abandonment', whilst allowing Roderich to lead him back onto the floor. "I asked my friend, who I'd been dancing with, to escort him back to his room."
"It is an honour to meet a member of Her Majesty's mother's family; I have heard many great things about her. Of course, someone as lovely as yourself should not have to leave such a fine party to take care of an ailing sibling."
Lelouch blushed, fairly certain that he'd just given Roderich a bad first impression of himself. "He'll be ok," he said, "he's a bit nervous around crowds, especially where he doesn't know many people. But Her Majesty herself requested I stay for as long as I could."
"Ah well, if Her Majesty decreed it, then I am powerless to disagree," stated Roderich solemnly. He then smiled and spun Lelouch in a gentle circle, giving him a brief chance to look around the room. He spotted Suzaku and Nunally through a gap in the crowd. "I see my father is taking his chance to greet Her Majesty," said Roderich, noticing where Lelouch was looking. "I'd send him on his way, but really, he's harmless. I find the stories Kanon used to tell hard to believe. He'd never go against the Empress. I'm sure Zero will send him on his way soon enough."
Lelouch smiled. He wondered about 'the stories Kanon used to tell', and how close to the truth they were. Schniezel must have changed if his former advisor was fancifying his former exploits. Roderich smiled back and lead Lelouch further onto the floor.
They danced for a while, Lelouch encouraging Roderich to talk about whatever struck him fancy, and the man gushed about his wife and daughter, talked about his father and Kanon, and how much they were all looking forward to the rest of the week's events. Lelouch talked back, making up a couple of stories about his little brother, their tutor and their home. The man was giving Lelouch the impression of someone with average intelligence, though with an above average vocabulary, who was far more concerned with the everyday exploits of his daughter than affairs of state. He seemed like a really nice, likeable person, if a bit dull, but Lelouch couldn't quite believe this was all there was to him. Surely the son of his biggest intellectual and tactical rival was not such a simple creature. Try as he might though, Lelouch couldn't lure him into a conversational trap to reveal it.
"Oh, look who it is," remarked Roderich after a while. He turned so Lelouch could see. "Hello father."
Schniezel had aged well, with silver-grey hair and a quiet, intelligent fierceness in his eyes. He was smiling at his son, and merely looked at Lelouch with a neutral expression, but Lelouch still had to fight the urge to back away. It was an automatic response he supposed, but he controlled himself, greeting his brother politely as if he were a stranger. Schniezel bowed and kissed his hand, then pulled him away from Roderich.
"You should be dancing with your lovely wife, lest someone else steal her away." Schniezel said to his son. "I'll keep this young lady company for the next dance, and then I'm sure someone else would love to take her off my hands."
"Did she track down our daughter then?" asked Roderich, presumably referring to his wife.
"Yes, Kanon's watching her for the time being, so your wife is available for dancing with."
Roderich smiled and left, and as Schniezel took over the dance Lelouch cursed his luck. Schniezel was a good dancer, of course he was; he was good at most things. In comparison Lelouch was dreadful, mostly because he was panicking inside, and was desperately trying to avoid making eye contact with his brother.
If any one person here was going to recognise him, it would probably be Schniezel. The man was more observant, and knew more about Geass than anyone else here. Lelouch tried desperately to relax. He very much doubted Schniezel would say anything even if he did recognise Lelouch, preferring to plot until he could confirm it, and then catch him unguarded. And Suzaku would surely set him straight before then.
The dance ended and Schniezel led Lelouch from the floor. He bade Lelouch a good evening and left. Lelouch watched from the buffet as he joined another man and a young girl; presumably Kanon and his granddaughter. Schniezel picked up the small blonde girl, who looked perhaps eight or nine, and spun her around. The he set her down, smiled and knelt down to speak to her. Lelouch was shocked. Schniezel el Britannia; doting grandfather, who'd have guessed? Lelouch smiled despite himself. Perhaps Schniezel was not as bad he remembered.
Lelouch helped himself to some food and made polite conversation with the assorted nobility collected in groups around the room. He danced with several more young men, sincerely hoping that Suzaku hadn't noticed. He ran into a couple of other siblings, though less intimidating than the two he'd come across earlier.
Odysseus was one of them. He was standing with his wife when Lelouch approached him to talk. Their marriage had been childless but happy, Lelouch had discovered. His oldest brother had always been a bit dim, especially in comparison with himself and Schniezel, and had never protested being used as a political tool. He had simply accepted at the time, that his father had wanted him to marry the Tianzi and bring about an alliance with China. Lelouch was glad he'd disrupted that, and he suspected Odysseus was too.
Odysseus had a kind and honest word to say about most people, and had introduced Lelouch to a few more of his relatives. None of them particularly captured his interests, and he was able to cross a few names off of his mental shortlist. Eventually the man suggested he go and congratulate Nunally, now that the crowd around her had diminished. Lelouch decided he would take advantage of the opportunity, thanked Odysseus and made his way to the head of the room.
"Good evening Your Majesty," said Lelouch, executing a deep curtsey and bowing his head, aware of the two sets of eyes on him, the two that actually knew who he was and didn't really require a curtsey. However, he was also aware of the rest of the room, and the people whose eyes were occasionally flicking past, some resting for a moment before moving on. He could not drop his act just because he was only speaking to Nunally and Suzaku, because people would notice. He held himself at a respectful distance, concentrating on his body language, so as not to seem overly familiar.
"Good evening," said Nunally, refraining from tacking on his fake name. "I trust you are enjoying yourself this evening?"
"Oh yes, I've met a lot of Your Majesty's family."
"They are an intriguing and varied bunch to say the least."
"I hope none of them have been a bother?"
"Oh no. they have all been very civil and welcoming. I expect they have too much respect for you, Your Majesty, to be on less than their best behaviour around your guests." Of course, Lelouch knew that if he'd arrived at this party without his disguise the reaction to his presence would have been quite different, respect for Nunally's guests or not.
"Even Schniezel?" put in the obsidian masked voice of Suzaku.
Lelouch stared into the mask for a few seconds, suddenly deeply suspicious of Suzaku having made some form of suggestion to Schniezel, and being the reason behind their encounter. Had Suzaku been that interested in how he would react to him? "Especially Schniezel," he replied, "he was much different to how I had imagined."
"I noticed," commented Suzaku, "I saw you dancing." Lelouch could just picture the smirk that was surely lurking behind the mask on his friend's face. Suzaku had definitely had something to do with that turn of events.
"Speaking of dancing," interrupted Nunally, "I was hoping Zero here would be able to join in, since he has had quite a few ballroom lessons and has proven himself competent in a few previous events hosted here. Sadly, tonight he is without a partner, and I had so been looking forward to watching him dance. I do enjoy watching these dances though I am sadly unable to participate." Nunally looked at him hopefully. "Perhaps you would consent to dance with him?"
Suzaku… dancing. Now that was something he hadn't expected. Lelouch knew that Suzaku had always excelled at all physical activities, but he'd always believed that ballroom dancing wasn't among them. He'd made an attempt at teaching him how to dance one afternoon when they'd been children, at Nunally's request, but Lelouch had quickly given up hope, saying that Suzaku had too many left feet and too much of a gormless expression to be able to dance properly. Or perhaps it had just been that he'd wanted to cling on to the one physical activity he could actually best Suzaku at.
Maybe Suzaku's dancing ability was better now. Lelouch was, admittedly, curious and wasn't going to miss seeing this. He'd dance with Suzaku if it made Nunally happy. However, perhaps a token protest was in order.
"I'd love too, but Your Majesty, I wouldn't want to leave you vulnerable without your guardian."
"Oh, you can borrow him for a little while," said Nunally, eyes twinkling. "My Knights of Rounds are still here, strategically placed. I'm perfectly safe."
Smiling, Lelouch turned to Suzaku, whose expression was currently unfathomable behind his mask. Lelouch hoped that his friend felt at least a little uncomfortable, as revenge for making it so he had no choice but to dance with Schniezel earlier. Lelouch proffered a hand. "Lord Zero?"
Suzaku accepted the hand and bowed low over it. "It would be a pleasure, my lady."
Lelouch watched Nunally smile as Suzaku led him onto the floor. They reached a clear spot, still clearly visible by Nunally, and turned to face each other. They adopted a stance as the music faded, and Suzaku tentatively raised a hand to his mask. He must have pressed the concealed switch, because all of a sudden a small section of mask slid away, and Lelouch was staring into Suzaku's brilliantly green left eye. No one other than Lelouch would be able to see; that was how he'd designed the mask after all, only the person who was intended to be geassed could see Zero's eye, and once geassed, they'd forget what it looked like. Suzaku was grinning inanely; Lelouch could tell, just from that one exposed eye. Lelouch rolled his own eyes and straightened, becoming more serious as the music restarted in a fairly fast paced waltz beat.
Suzaku's own expression became more serious as his gaze flickered round for a moment analytically before resting more Lelouch once again. Then he stepped into the dance, and Lelouch, reading his expression and body language, followed seamlessly.
As they spun across the floor, Lelouch had to admit he was impressed. Suzaku had certainly learned to dance, and learned well. He was apparently effortlessly graceful, all clean sharp lines and perfect posture. Lelouch was struggling to keep up; this dance was a little more energetic than his dancing earlier, and he was out of practice. He couldn't even complain about Suzaku pulling faces. Not that he could really tell what faces Suzaku was pulling behind the mask, but the one eye he could see stared straight at him, maintaining eye contact for the most part, full of the seriousness and emotion associated with the dance. It was strangely intense, intimate even, and Lelouch could feel himself beginning to blush, even though he knew it was just part of the dance.
Finally, the fast paced dance ended, and a breathless Lelouch was finally able to take his eyes off those of his dance partner. Suzaku supported him, holding him close and Lelouch caught his breath, and together they moved into the next dance, thankfully this one much slower and less physically demanding.
"You're a lot better at dancing than I remember," said Lelouch when he'd finally recovered enough to speak.
"Of course… my instructor had a lot more patience than you. Most people have more patience than you did when you were trying to teach me to dance."
Lelouch bit back his curiosity about Suzaku's dance instructor, preferring instead to complain. "Perhaps if you'd have paid more attention I'd have been able to be more patient. I seem to recall you were too busy laughing because I was being 'the girl'." Thankfully they were speaking quietly enough that no one would overhear.
"But Lulu… you are the girl," said Suzaku and Lelouch could hear the laughter in his voice. Lelouch sighed in mock despair and 'accidentally' stepped on his friend's foot. Suzaku didn't react… probably because his Zero boots had concealed steel toecaps, part of Lelouch's original design, and Lelouch wasn't particularly heavy. Frowning, he decided a subject change was in order.
"Who's that talking to Nunally? She looks familiar, but I can't place her."
Suzaku turned to look towards Nunally. "That's one of the organisers of this week's events. And of course you'd recognise her; it's Milly Ashford. You didn't think Nunally would possibly leave her out of plotting an event of this scale; Milly would never forgive her."
Lelouch looked again. It was Milly, though undoubtedly she was a lot older than when he'd last seen her. She seemed to be looking at Suzaku and Lelouch with unguarded interest.
"I expect she wants to know all about the mysterious woman dancing with Zero, and has thus gone to ask Nunally for details," added Suzaku.
"I think I'd best avoid going over there then."
"Why? Because it'd take you forever to escape her clutches?"
Lelouch shivered at the thought of being in Milly's clutches. "Well, there's that, and the fact that it'd be a lot safer for me to avoid her in case she recognises me. After all, she is one of a very small number of people who've seen me in a dress before."
At the end of the dance the pair parted ways. The evening was drawing to a close and Lelouch was unable to meet any more of his relatives before the ball ending and he returned to his room.
AN: And… end of super long chapter. I decided to stop there before another new scene presented itself and demanded being added, because that happened too many times already, hence the length. Suzaku and Lulu dancing…. I hoped you liked it, it was originally planned for a later chapter, but my recent addiction to Strictly Come Dancing made me imagine Suzaku dancing a Viennese Waltz. He'd be brilliant at it, it suits his natural spinniness.
Oh yes, now you've met contestant number two; Roderich, what do you make of him? Right… I have to go and figure out which of my Jubilee events needs to go next. There probably won't be another update before the New Year, so Happy Christmas readers!