So, this is actually happening. I just want to apologize to everyone who waited so long. Not sure when the last half will be up but it WILL be up.
Again, My apologies.
Clovis was dead in the kitchen and Lelouch still wasn't sure who to call about the mess. In retrospect, yes, he probably should have chosen an outside location but the truth was… the truth was that he hadn't really believed that he was going to kill Clovis, not even until he had pulled the trigger. The house had seemed safe at the time. A place where he could have pulled all of his confidents around him and figure out what he was going to do with his brother instead of murder. But as usual Clovis had opened his mouth at the exactly wrong time and said things that too closely flirted the truth.
"My Lord, VV has relayed the message to your father. He says 'Well done'." Gino's calm gaze was an anesthetic, numbing all the places that had begun to bleed a little too vigorously for Lelouch's taste because-
God, had he really just-
"Thank you, Gino." Lelouch stood. He wanted to be angry. There was blood everywhere and no one had even put down a tarp or- "Did he say anything about the body?"
Clovis' body was still there at his feet, growing cold and stinking of more than just booze as Lelouch tried to get a grip on himself. Good sons didn't hesitate, Princes had no conscience, and Emperors…
Emperors had other people do their dirty work, apparently. Gino shook his head and shifted to look down with Lelouch at the boneless sprawl before them. The kitchen was empty now so it was just the two of them and the corpse. Suzaku had left shortly after the only gunshot and most of the others had followed when Lelouch had snapped at them to do so. Everyone except for Gino.
"No, My Prince." Gino touched him, gently, on the shoulder. "What would you like done?"
Lelouch closed his eyes.
"If the question is 'What does he deserve'…"
"It's not." Gino squeezed his shoulder and his voice lowered to a whisper. "The question is what you want."
Lelouch thought of the look on Suzaku's face; horrified and acutely guilty, and covered his closed eyes with his hand. The one that smelled of gunpowder and Clovis' shampoo.
"This isn't the brother who deserved to die." Lelouch murmured back. "Make sure he's clean – no fibers or fingerprints- and send him to Schneizel. I know Schneizel's hand is in this somewhere. He can clean up the mess"
"Yes, My Prince… and what of the Knight of Seven?"
Lelouch dropped his hands and took one last look at Clovis and his ruined face, and said, "Don't worry. I'll take care of Suzaku."
Lelouch turned to walk away but Gino stopped him, grasping his shoulder tightly enough that Lelouch stopped if only out of surprise. Gino's expression was tight now, and full of worry as he looked Lelouch in the eyes.
"We have a problem." Gino looked like it at least hurt to say it. "I'm sorry, My Prince, but it's something you have to know now."
Lelouch closed his eyes again.
At the top of the stairs, down the hall, and around the corner was Suzaku. Lelouch could hear the shower running from the front room where he sat and watched his bloody clothes burn in the fireplace. The rest of the household was busy in the kitchen whispering to each other as they cleaned and took care of making the body ready for transport. If Lelouch was supposed to feel strange sitting on the couch in his underwear while everyone else did their best not to smear his brother's blood all over the house then he was doing a poor job of it.
Honestly, Lelouch wasn't sure he could or even wanted to feel anything. But the bourbon probably wasn't helping.
What was it about Suzaku that drove him to drink?
Probably the self-destructive tendencies, Lelouch decided as he took another long sip and emptied the glass.
Probably the self-destructive tendencies and the lying, he amended to himself. There really was no way to get around all of the lying. Not anymore.
Lelouch grabbed the bourbon from the coffee table and poured himself another drink. Sayako came in, added a log to the fire, and left again without a word.
Lelouch poured another, drank it, and wished he was the type of person who could just let things slide. A person who could just look the other way.
Staring into the fire he wondered at himself and how he could have thought the whole situation would go any other way. Men like him didn't get fairytale endings. Men like Lelouch Lamperouge got just what they deserved and no less.
Lelouch poured himself another drink, grimacing as the smell of bleach began to waft in through the living room. He decided that maybe he didn't want to be that man any more – the one who lived life in constant self-defense, always reacting first but never really taking charge of the person who should have been on the other side of the couch the whole time.
And then he called for Kallen.
"You've got to be fucking kidding me."
"I need you to do this."
"Respectfully? Hell no." Kallen looked at him from above with an expression that certainly didn't encroach on respect but wasn't actively defiant either. "I'm here to guard you, right? Not let you steamroll your way into yet another epically shitty scenario."
"I'm a prince. I'm your Prince and I'll steamroll wherever I want." Lelouch enunciated as clearly as possible but he still got caught up on the consonants and the booze. It was a very noble slurring of words, he thought privately. "Get the car. I'm coming with you."
Kallen looked down at him with crossed arms and a deep frown. Her eyes were bright above the dark circles that had bloomed there since she had abandoned her old life.
"Look, Lamperouge… If you really want to talk to him you can. But, In the morning when you're not stone drunk and half naked."
"That's the point of this." Lelouch levered himself up off the couch… or tried to. He really only made it all the way up because Kallen grabbed him before he could fall down. "We do it now."
"Let's see what Suzaku has to sa-"
"Kallen, no." Lelouch laughed like a shard of glass was stuck in his throat and whispered like it was a secret, "I know what I'm doing. You'll keep me safe, right? Suzaku has been through enough tonight. We can help each other."
She froze and Lelouch wondered if he had overstepped, miscalculated how much she felt she owed him but after a moment she relaxed, groaning in exasperation.
"I don't see how this helps me at all." Was what she finally said, manhandling him by the shoulder into a standing position and scowling fiercely. "Now get some clothes on, Prince. Or I swear to god I will let you go in your damn undies."
Lelouch's plan hadn't quite diverted itself towards clothing originally and now he saw that as a grave miscalculation on his part.
"Right. Clothes." And then something clicked, and Lelouch grinned. "I know just the thing. Call Sayako. She'll need your help to go get down a trunk."
Britannia was, in itself, a vanity. Emperors and Princes, Knights and Honoraries. In the end it was just all pomp and circumstance designed by generations of selfish and stupidly powerful people to keep their power in place. Lelouch loved Britannia. But then again, he was a Prince… what was there not to love? He had knights at his side, he held dominion over life and death, and he could do whatever the hell he wanted. Or at least no one had managed to stop him from doing as he liked yet - and that was the same thing, right?
So why not show off the pomp and circumstance? Pull out all the stops and just go. The outfit still fit and the moths hadn't gotten to it which in itself might be some kind of sign. Sayako had steamed out all of the creases in short order and Lelouch was buttoning the last pearl buttons when Suzaku finally dared to come downstairs again.
Suzaku looked awful, mournful, but then he saw Lelouch and just looked surprised.
Lelouch was having a hard time with the little pearl buttons and ignored him. Bourbon was not the best facilitator of dexterity or eloquence.
"Lelouch. what's going on?" Suzaku looked around at the waiting knights and then at the large tarp-wrapped bundle on the floor.
"I'm going to see my brother." Lelouch finally got the last one. "You will stay here, Seven."
Glancing up from the wrapped body Suzaku looked pathetic, lost, and Lelouch wanted nothing more than to hold him in his arms and just run away. Instead he leaned up against the back of the couch and checked his own appearance in the hallway mirror. He looked cold and aloof, unbreakable and as solid as a rock.
"Is this about what I said earlier?" Suzaku tried to step forward but Gino put a hand on his shoulder and gently pushed him away. "Look, I'm sorry… My Prince…"
Lelouch laughed. He couldn't help himself. The sound of those words so hesitant and fumbled… it was such a joke. A prince, indeed.
"Are you drunk?"
"As a lord. Yes." Lelouch laughed again, brushed back his hair, and finally faced Suzaku.
Suzaku looked even more lost than before and acutely worried, but he didn't step forward again. He glanced at Gino instead and Gino shook his head.
"I want to go with you, My Prince. Please." Suzaku begged, exposing his palms in supplication. "Please, I won't say anything… But you can't go see Schneizel alone."
Lelouch sighed and gestured to Suzaku, "Gino, his cell phone, please. Sayako, if he tries to leave the bedroom…make him wish he hadn't tried."
"Yes, my Prince."
And then Suzaku was being patted down and swept away looking shocked, and maybe a little betrayed. But Lelouch was alone, mostly, and that was exactly what he wanted, right?
He looked at himself in the mirror and tried out a few smiles until he found one that he liked, the perfect little smirk that brought the man he used to back to life. Or perhaps 'man' wasn't the correct word… Lelouch looked in the mirror and saw the boy he had been before he had taken his mother's gun and decided not to end Schneizel with a neat little headshot.
Lelouch hoped that Schneizel saw that boy too.
Gino came down the stairs alone, his hand outstretched as he murmured, "You're sure about this?"
Lelouch took the cell phone he offered and slipped it into his pocket.
"Of course not." Lelouch held himself up without a wobble, thank god. "But here we go."
Across town in the Britannian district there was a small yellow house halfway down a quiet street. It had white shutters and flowerboxes on the windows. The front door was large, royal blue, and there was no car in the driveway just a single motorcycle in the garage. The lawn was trimmed and immaculate, the path to the doorway clear, and when they backed into the driveway Lelouch looked out the window to see a lone shadow pulling back the curtains in the front room.
Schneizel was home then. Good. It would have been a shame to set the scene so carefully only to have no one show up for the play. Kallen and Gino got out of the car and opened up the back hatch.
"Take the body to the back yard." Lelouch unbuckled. "Then you can go. Just… drive around the neighborhood or something."
"Yes, My Prince." Gino elbowed Kallen and gave her a look that Lelouch couldn't quite see. "I have my cell phone. Just call and we'll come and get you."
"Right." Lelouch slammed the door behind himself just to make sure that Schneizel knew they were there but not trying to be sneaky. He let himself be seen from the kitchen window and as the two knights left he waited for the front door to open. It never did. Instead (and Lelouch smiled to himself in a little spiteful place in his heart) Suzaku's cell phone began to buzz in his pocket, going to voicemail once – twice – and finally Lelouch pulled it out of his coat pocket and looked at the phone in his hand, the number lit up like a confession in the dark of the doorway. It was true, then. They were working together.
"Suzaku's all tied up right now." Lelouch let himself laugh before he answered. He let the drunkenness leak through just enough to make Schneizel take notice. "I'm happy to take a message-"
"…or you could just come inside." Schneizel's voice sounded normal for once, not mocking or belittling or- "The door is unlocked."
Lelouch looked down at the unscuffed welcome mat and debated, but finally said, "You know that's not how this works."
Schneizel let the silence draw out but he didn't hang up.
"Tell me how this works then, Lelouch." Schneizel's shadow moved away from the window. "Do I answer the door and get shot in the face? I don't think so."
Fair enough. Lelouch searched for his anger but the bourbon dulled it down into something that couldn't be wielded. Instead he put one hand against the door and leaned closer.
"I didn't bring a gun." Lelouch looked up at the darkened peephole. "I'm not here to kill you, Schneizel."
"Then why are you here, Lelouch?"
"Open the door and find out." Lelouch pushed 'end' on the phone and wondered if what he was doing could even be considered sane… but then the door opened and Schneizel was there looking like he was wondering the same thing as they stared at each other, alone for the first time since the entire debacle began.
Schneizel said nothing, his face as blank and glassy as porcelain while he looked down at Lelouch with the same cold blue eyes he shared with their father. He had one hand on the doorknob and the other braced on the doorway out of sight which meant the weapon he had was at least small, compact… but Lelouch found that for the first time he wasn't afraid of his brother and so it didn't matter in the least how he might die right in the doorway with a wrong word.
Lelouch smiled the grin he had practiced in the hallway and for just one moment Schneizel's facade shattered. But what was the look on his face? Lelouch had never seen the expression before. Had that been…had that been hope? For a moment he was sure that Schneizel was looking at him as if he were some fond memory but the expression disappeared as quickly as it had appeared.
"You smell awful." Schneizel finally said, wrinkling his nose in distaste as he opened the door wider and stepped to the side. "Were you drinking alcohol or rolling around in it?"
Lelouch ignored him and walked inside. The house looked the same as it always did: homey and as immaculate as if Martha Stewart had come over and arranged everything herself. The furniture had changed over the years, but that only made sense. Lelouch hadn't stepped inside Schneizel's house since he was sixteen. Things were bound to have changed.
Behind him the door shut and multiple locks slid into place in quick succession. That, at least, was par for the course.
The nearest couch was perfect white leather and Lelouch let himself fall down into it with a sprawl wondering what kind of picture he made; sloppy drunk and swathed in royal purple with the smile of a dead boy on his face. Schneizel came to stand before him, his face lined with a single, disapproving furrow in his brow.
"And where is your little paramour, Lelouch?" Schneizel asked, sitting on the coffee table with his gun still in hand. "I doubt that he let you traipse over here without throwing some sort of tantrum."
They stared at each other for a long moment. The rage that Lelouch would have felt before was simply an annoyance, a flippant little charade to hide behind at the most. Instead Lelouch turned to his wit, drawling, "What are you now, Schneizel? Fifty something? Nearly sixty if I remember correctly …There's no need for jealousy, you know. You don't look a day over forty-five. You're still spry for your age."
The lines in Schneizel's frown deepened but he said nothing. He didn't have to say anything though. Not with the dark shadow of anger flitting into his eyes. Lelouch leaned his head back, showing the line of his neck, and watched the anger turn into something else.
"I didn't come here to fight, you know." Lelouch peered back at that hunger, untrembling. "And I certainly didn't come here to talk about Suzaku or the boundaries of our relationship."
"Do enlighten me then, Lelouch." Schneizel's gaze turned darker still. "Your sense of the theatrical is annoying at best."
Lelouch closed his eyes for a long moment and considered drawing it out… but he already knew how that usually ended. He opened his eyes finally to see Schneizel looking at him much differently than before. It was that same look from the doorway. The one that made him seem so very young despite the gray hidden in his light blond hair. It seemed almost a shame to make that look disappear. It was as if Lelouch crushed an endangered butterfly under his heel.
"I'm just here to drop off Clovis." Lelouch finally said, smiling. "Don't worry. You won't even notice that he's here. Not for a while, at least."
One, two, three… Lelouch watched as Schneizel added up the variables and came to the correct conclusion in the matter of a breath. The man stood up and walked to the hearth, laid his gun down and Lelouch watched with fascination as he poured himself a drink. Schneizel's face was nearly hidden but in the mirror of the mantle Lelouch could see a simple, blank mask.
Hiding something, Lelouch decided, but honestly, in his state, Lelouch didn't have a single care. He slipped over on his side and watched as his brother turned on the gas fire, dimmed the lights, and came to sit beside Lelouch on the couch. Schneizel sipped for a while and Lelouch laughed at him, "You have your thinking face on…does Clovis getting his brains blown all over my kitchen ruin some kind of scheme?"
Schneizel simply took another sip as he stared into the fire. Or maybe he was staring at his gun. Either way Lelouch's plan was working almost as well as he had hoped. -
"It serves you right, Schneizel." Lelouch looked away from him and up to the ceiling with a murmur. "You should have known I'd ruin your plans at the first chance."
"Oh, I knew." Schneizel's voice was a murmur followed by the click of glass against glass. "I knew what would happen. You could never control yourself, Lelouch. You always…"
Schneizel took a deep breath and then let it out slowly. Lelouch closed his eyes and saw Clovis again in spectacular color crying silently as he waited to die.
"And this is your solution for your guilty conscience." Schneizel's reached out a grasped Lelouch's upper arm. "Throw yourself into the lion's den and hope for the worst." Schneizel twisted until Lelouch's eyes opened and he hissed in pain. "If I were going to really hurt you, Lelouch, I would have done it long before now."
Lelouch tried to jerk his arm away but Schneizel held on, his eyes full of fury. When Lelouch swung with his other hand Schneizel simply caught it in his own, easily avoiding the hit. Suddenly the room was hot, too hot, and Schneizel was far too close. Lelouch pulled against his hold, but fruitlessly as fear made the way for a different, better emotion.
"And destroying my life is so different," Lelouch spat back. Rage finally cut through the alcohol. "I trusted you, you bastard. I trusted you-"
And for the first time in his life Schneizel raised his voice back, bruising Lelouch in his grip when Lelouch froze in shock. It was at that moment that Lelouch realized that the idea to come over and taunt Schneizel had been very poorly conceived.
"And I trusted you." Schneizel looked wild and Lelouch's heart was pounding in his chest as the man pushed him down, hot and smothering, his breath acrid with scotch. "What do you see in me, Lelouch? The monster? Then it's what you'll get."
Want? No. But Lelouch struggled back even as he he thought 'But it's what I deserve'. He couldn't help it though, he was gasping in fear as Schneizel ripped his coat open in a jerk. Little pearl buttons scattered all over the hardwood floor and Lelouch finally experienced a moment of true fear.
He was expecting to get shot, maybe stabbed, not- Not this-
But as quickly as it began it stopped. Schneizel's face was still screwed up in rage, his hand still fisted in Lelouch's jacket, but he had begun to tremble violently. His whole body was shaking and for a moment Lelouch was too relieved to care why, but he had stopped.
And then he heard himself.
"Stop. Stop-" Lelouch was shaking too. "No."
Schneizel's face twisted but Lelouch couldn't keep himself from whispering, his voice choked, "Just- Just don't."
Later he would blame the booze. Later… Later he would pretend that he hadn't said a single damn thing, but tonight-
"I don't want this. I've never wanted this. Never, Schneizel-"
"Then maybe I'll give you what you do want, Lelouch." Schneizel's expression slipped back into the horrible porcelain mask so, so easily.
And when Schneizel wrapped his hands around Lelouch's throat Lelouch, relieved beyond measure, didn't fight him at all.
Not even as the world around him started to fade into darkness.
"-don't know when he's going to wake up." A voice said, somewhere. It was a female voice but he couldn't quite make out the specifics. It was all just words wrapped up in darkness and weighed down with some deep ache. "You should be prepared. There's probably going to be brain damage."
And then another voice – desperate and sorry and angry-
The world slipped back into gray.
"-and I've been so unfair to you, Lelouch."
Suzaku again. Lelouch's hand was one bright spot of warmth in the haze.
"I think that maybe if I had trusted you more… then maybe this would never have happened. Trusted you to be good to me, I mean. You've never been anything but good to me and maybe that's the difference." Suzaku's voice was choked. "But I'm going to make this right, Lelouch. I swear to god that I will."
Suzaku. Lelouch tried desperately to open his eyes, to twitch, to something-
"The person responsible for all of this is going to pay. I'm going to bring the whole damn thing down."
There was a beep, a whir, and everything faded back into black.
"-you with us, Doctor Lamperouge?"
The darkness began to peel away and Lelouch, with gargantuan effort, opened his eyes. Around him everything was white, there was a strange smell, and someone had turned on a television in the corner. It was silent but the flashing colors caught Lelouch's attention.
"Doctor Lamperouge?" A woman leaned over him, clutching a clipboard to her chest. "Can you follow my finger?"
Lelouch did so, but only because peripherally he knew that it was important. He did his best to ignore everything else, the lights, the smell… and looked directly into the doctor's eyes.
"Good. Very good." The doctor made a note on her paper. "You've had us very worried Doctor Lamperouge. Now, don't try to talk, okay?"
"Doctor? Is he awake?" It was a familiar voice this time. Millay's face came into view. "Oh, Lelouch. Thank goodness…"
She was dressed in her dark blue coat which meant she was on the job… Lelouch looked at her and ignored the other doctor, tried to speak, but nothing would come out.
"Don't try that." Millay's hand touched his, whisper-light. "You've been in a medically induced coma, Lelouch. Schneizel killed you. It's a miracle that you made it back."
It was all white noise. Lelouch couldn't track what she was saying with any clarity. All he knew was that her hair was very gold in the light and he wanted to know where Suzaku was but he couldn't get a word out.
"Ms. Ashford-" The doctor began, but Millay ignored her.
"Schneizel's in jail now. Clearly… attempted homicide, but Lelouch… they're going to ask you about Clovis. They haven't charged him with Clovis' death. They're looking at you." Millay's eyes were troubled but bright. "Don't talk to anyone, Lelouch. No one."
"Doctor Ashford." It was a male voice this time. "You're needed elsewhere."
Todoh. Millay jerked in surprise, looking cornered and all too guilty as she nodded sharply and began to make her way out of the room. Lelouch listened to their two voices pushing and shoving against each other as he just stayed where he was because he simply couldn't do anything else. The doctor and her clipboard made a reappearance, but Lelouch was so tired-
The next time Lelouch woke up he was alone. The lights were dimmed and the television had been turned off. He couldn't see out of the window, the curtains were closed, but he assumed that it was nighttime from the lack of noise out in the hallway.
Sitting up was extremely difficult but Lelouch learned one valuable thing through the process… he was handcuffed to the bed at one wrist. There was also no phone in the room.
His neck… Lelouch reached up with his free hand and felt around. The skin was tender, yes, but not nearly as painful as it should have been considering Schneizel's grip. Medically induced coma, Lelouch remembered. But for how long? Long enough for the bruises to partially heal which was far far too long.
Lelouch laid back down before he simply couldn't hold himself up any longer. A dozen possibilities ran through his mind; what to do, what not to do, who to call first or where to run away to, but the one prevailing thought in his mind was Suzaku.
The door opened before Lelouch could make any decisions. The footsteps from behind the curtain dividing the room were heavy but sure and for one brief moment Lelouch felt terror run through him, because what if-
But it wasn't Schneizel. Not this time. Instead, it was Todoh who nodded to him once and then silently took a seat beside Lelouch's bed on a very uncomfortable looking chair. His brown eyes were very dark, and his hands were clenched on his knees.
The stared at each other for a long moment before Todoh asked, "Are you ready to admit that you're in over your head?"
Lelouch very nearly looked away but it was too late. Todoh had already seen the answer in his eyes.
"You've been reckless and arrogant, Doctor." Todoh continued, leaning closer. "And you've cost the lives of too many people for me to let you loose again. You have two choices: You go to jail for killing Clovis or you do the right thing while you still can."
The right thing… there was really only one thing that he could be talking about and the thought of turning against his family... Well. As he had recently discovered, there were worse things that could happen. Prison was one of those things.
"Suzaku." Lelouch finally said, his voice harsh from disuse. "I can't leave-"
"You can." Todoh countered, his voice firm. "And you will. Suzaku is playing his own game now and this is how we stop it. All of it."
"No." Lelouch could do a lot of things, but leaving Suzaku to rot in Britannia at the mercy of his siblings wasn't one of them. Todoh didn't look away for even a moment. The man seemed to think that he already knew what was going to happen and what Lelouch was going to say. Lelouch wanted to run away, hit him, something, but he was left with nothing but a familiar empty ache in his heart as he contemplated what it would mean to leave Suzaku behind simply because he just wasn't strong enough to take control of the situation himself.
Lelouch was so, so tired of feeling helpless.
"Lelouch vi Britannia dies." Todoh told him. "Suzaku Kururugi goes to jail. We can't stop that now, but we can influence how long he goes away for."
God… Lelouch went cold. What had Suzaku been doing?
"And the rest?" Lelouch felt so hollow. Like all of himself had emptied out with that last breath and all that was left was an animated husk. Maybe it was true. Todoh smiled then, a small and ruthless thing that reminded Lelouch of his brother.
"Whatever the law will allow." Todoh stood. "We start tomorrow, Dr. Lamperouge. Get some sleep."
And then he was gone.
Just like everything else.