A/N: Finally!I hope this proves to everyone that I really do intend on finishing Primary Gain. Hawk (my insanely tolerant beta) requests that I put the blame on her, which is ridiculous (sorry Hawk ;P) because the delay is ALL MY FAULT. (however nine and ten are both being worked on currently)
So thank you betas! Hawk and Charis keep me sane and kick my butt when I get lazy.
ALSO I have been working on a Primary Gain Soundtrack for a long time now and I think it's pretty solid. So this is your LAST CHANCE to make suggestions before it's done. Comment either here or on my wordpress account to let me know.
Comments remind me that people actually read PG so feel free to add your two cents!
Lavender. Everything was bright, the attic bathed in summer sunlight as Lelouch knelt in front of his mother's keepsake chest. Lelouch looked down at the locked trunk, traced his fingers across its polished panes, but he couldn't smell the lavender. In front of him the lock shone brightest of all, gold, beautiful, and much smaller than it had once seemed. Touching it, caressing it, Lelouch could cover the burnished metal with only two fingers pressed against the face and some part of him… Some part of him became deeply unsettled.
Lelouch turned when the attic stairs descended and watched as a familiar blonde head appeared with a sober expression that soothed Lelouch's worry. When Schneizel stood beside him, white and shining, it was with a key held between his thumb and forefinger.
The rest of his fingers were missing, mere lumps covered in half-healed scar tissue, a sight that was sickening on such small hands.
"You don't even have to ask," Schneizel said, his voice soft and his eyes child-wide as he dropped the key into Lelouch's waiting palm. "Not anymore."
Lelouch stared into those eyes even as he felt his cupped hands begin to trickle with hot blood from a slash the key left in his palm.
Schneizel leaned forward, and his right hand was whole again, five delicate fingers dragging across Lelouch's cheek in a familiar, slow slide. His kiss was feather-light, his breath a hot puff against Lelouch's cheek, and somehow Lelouch understood that this was something from a memory.
Schneizel stared him in the eyes, and then pressed his lips to Lelouch's temple and whispered, "I already have everything I want from you."
Lelouch tried to pull away but Schneizel held onto his hair. A child's body shouldn't have been able to keep Lelouch in place but the boy held on fiercely, his eyes sharp.
"Open the trunk."
"No." Lelouch was pulled closer still, encompassed in the deep scent of lavender, dust, and roses.
"It doesn't belong to you anymore." Schneizel's voice was desperate, angry. "Open the trunk, Lelouch."
"Fine. Fine." Lelouch felt a spike of fear as he understood the truth. He had no business keeping Schneizel from what was inside. Schneizel followed closely, his hands on the lid as Lelouch pushed the key into the lock and turned. Schneizel forced the lid open hard enough that it put cracks in the wall.
There were no books or keepsakes, there was only a pair of white gloves that wouldn't even fit Schneizel if he tried to slip them on. They'd be far too big, but Schneizel clutched them to his chest anyways, a slow and dark smile slipping over his face. Lelouch leaned away, his heart beginning to pound as Schneizel held them close and began to grow older, the scent of linen overpowering cedar and dust.
Schneizel, fully adult and still smiling slipped the gloves onto his whole left hand, then the right with a neat tug.
"It belongs to me now." Schneizel reached out and Lelouch began to understand that if he allowed Schneizel to touch him again with those hands–
Suzaku walked out of the bathroom in his underwear, rubbing a towel through his hair and looking thoughtful as he wandered towards the closet. He was in there, rustling around and humming when Lelouch finally managed to sit up, one hand fisted on the mattress and the other trembling against his chest.
'Fear manifesting from an unknown source' he recalled in stubborn denial, but that was where the similarities between his and Suzaku's night terrors ended. Lelouch was no psychiatric patient stirring up denied memories; he was being brutally honest with himself if only for Suzaku's sake, and there shouldn't be anything left in his subconscious to produce irrational terror. The only reason he could think of was his lack of understanding. His recurring nightmares were shifting into something he'd never been exposed to before and into Suzaku's 'glove dreams'.
But why the gloves? Why the age discrepancy? Why couldn't Lelouch open the trunk on his own when he had always been able to before? Dream symbolism had never been one of his specialties but Lelouch was learned enough to know that sometimes dreams shouldn't be ignored. Sometimes night terrors would end once exposed to rationale… And he didn't want to go through it again.
Suzaku emerged from the closet, took one look at him and came back to the bed.
"Good morning," Suzaku murmured, his breath smelling of cinnamon as he kissed Lelouch on the cheek. "Bad night?"
The kiss reminded Lelouch of the kisses before, from the one Lelouch had forced on Suzaku in this very room, to the one Suzaku had bestowed late at night when he thought Lelouch was fast asleep. Suzaku pulled away but Lelouch spotted the weariness he was trying to hide behind a soft smile.
"You're far too good to me." Lelouch dropped his hand and let the other relax as he concentrated on the day ahead of them and not his pounding heart, or the sweat cooling on his brow.
When Lelouch kissed Suzaku in return his neck was warm and still slightly damp from the shower, his drying hair darker and a perfect frame for vivid green eyes.
The perfect frame for vivid green eyes in an expression of guilt that passed like the tick of a clock.
"You didn't hurt me unnecessarily." Lelouch palmed his jaw so Suzaku couldn't look away. "I would have tried to kill him."
Suzaku's expression flickered again, but with a look Lelouch couldn't define from the usual repertoire. Lelouch indulged in a moment of suspicion before remembering a simple truth.
"I trust you to do what's right." Lelouch drew his thumb across Suzaku's cheekbone, indulging instead in the simple pleasure of a touch. "And what's necessary."
"When you act like this… You make me feel like a real knight." Suzaku pressed into his touch, his eyes dropping into slits and going dark as he knelt on the ground. Lelouch ran his fingers through Suzaku's hair as the man exposed his face with a sigh, either exhaustion or sentimentality turning his words into a whisper. "It's very strange."
Lelouch leaned down, because it wasn't strange at all, and kissed him softly as he settled a hand on the slope of Suzaku's neck. The look on his face was the same one that had eventually bound his mother to his father, the way protectiveness and devotion sometimes slipped into something tangible. Suzaku had said he loved Lelouch… But, he was apparently unable to identify the emotion when he felt it. In any other circumstance that alone would have called the statement into question but Lelouch understood that love and being in love were drastically different sensations.
Loving Suzaku was wanting to protect him, heal him, accept and return physical advances. Being in love was the way he went pale with fear as the phone began to ring and Suzaku was nowhere in sight. It was the mad dash and exhausted relief, it was the need for Suzaku to acknowledge him before Lelouch could allow himself to take another breath. Being in love with Suzaku was the emotion that stemmed from giving the man the power to judge, to accept that when he found Lelouch at fault… Well, Lelouch might have actually done something wrong.
But it was strange in a way, how quickly he had come to this abandon, giving himself up to a fool's game just because Suzaku had looked up and wanted him despite falling prey to Lelouch's deepest flaws.
I need this, Lelouch thought. I need this. I need this.
And then he whispered it breathlessly while Suzaku kissed him in the morning sunlight.
Bradley was off the ventilator when Lelouch finally stopped by to visit. The FBI agents who had been standing guard were replaced by Four and Nine, who stood over the unconscious bodies with expressions of mild exasperation. Lelouch gestured and Jeremiah stayed by the doorway, his eyes alert and his hand on the butt of his weapon.
Upstairs, three doors to the left, and Lelouch entered the master bedroom. The scent of antiseptic overpowered the new-paint smell prevalent in the rest of the safe-house. He walked deeper into the dark bedroom, one hand skimming over the side of the wall until he found a switch. Bradley was revealed in too-bright light, looking pitiful in his neck brace, hooked up to too many wires and greatly diminished in stature. He was fast asleep and Lelouch knew that it would be easy to finish him off, that he was vulnerable, and frowned.
Picking up the clipboard at the end of the hospital bed, Lelouch flipped through and tried to remember everything he had forgotten from school. It was when he was finished and perched delicately on the railing that Bradley finally woke, his eyes blinking in long sweeps as he took in Lelouch's face and went pale. The heart monitor gave away his fear but outwardly the man was stoic and simply waiting – just as he had been in the hallway – for judgment with dignity.
"The one good thing I can say about my brother," Lelouch said, smiling wryly, "is that he takes care of his people. What on earth are you doing in this ridiculous state, Bradley?"
Bradley said nothing, only swallowed and kept his eyes tracked to Lelouch's face. This was not angering or inappropriate, merely expected. They both knew the rules. Lelouch stopped smiling.
"Schneizel would have been the first to tell you your son had died." Lelouch looked away from the man to give him some measure of privacy, now that he had been exposed to a nasty truth. "Normally I would stay out of it – you aren't my responsibility – but I know how much you loved your son."
When Lelouch finally looked back up after an immeasurable amount of heartbeats, the man's eyes were glassy but the tear-tracks had dried.
"And because I know it, so does the FBI." Lelouch leaned in a little closer. "I know you to be an honorable man, Bradley, and I know that you should have been treated as such. This is not the way you should have found out about his passing, and from me of all people. And this place…" Lelouch continued, gesturing to the room, "This is not where you should be recuperating, blackmailed through the threat to your kin."
Life had returned into Bradley's eyes and Lelouch nodded in satisfaction, holding the curl of a smile in his chest for a more appropriate time. Bradley didn't need to know that he was playing right into Lelouch's hands, not yet. He placed the final pin in Bradley's mind and relaxed when a fire lit into Bradley's eyes.
"Luciano was the Knight of Ten, His Majesty's knight, and at the very least his memory should never be used to manipulate you into betraying your Lord."
"My son," Bradley rasped, anger bare on his face. "The honor-"
The rest was stopped by a rasping cough that looked at best excruciating and at worst… Lelouch found himself hoping that Bradley cooperated, even if only to get proper medication. He decided to tinge his offer with something closer to the truth.
"There is something wrong with the world when a son dies and no one searches for a vanished father." Lelouch closed his hand over Bradley's as gently as possible. "Luciano died attempting to avenge your death. At best he was simply misinformed, at worst your 'death' was used in an effort to manipulate an honorable Knight of Rounds into attacking another Rounds member. I believe you've met Suzaku?"
"A Rounds?" Bradley asked hoarsely, an expression of surprise taking the place of rage.
"I can't say what was going through his Majesty's mind at the time, but Suzaku has applied himself admirably so far."
Bradley smiled a little, his eyes slipping closed for a long moment before he opened them again with a speculative glance that Lelouch appreciated. In his opinion naive subordinates were more than worthless – they were dangerous.
"I will relieve you of the FBI's care and mete out justice for your son's death if you tell me who Schneizel used to pass that disk." Lelouch gestured to the clipboard. "You've taken your punishment and will recover with proper care. Pledge yourself to me and I will help you."
Bradley frowned and Lelouch thought of the agents still downstairs and the shift change that was rapidly approaching.
"I cannot give you time to think this over." Lelouch let a little of that worry leak into his posture. "Once the task force realizes that we're here-"
Downstairs there was a loud crash and a curse followed by a single gunshot and some very pointed orders. It was perfect timing, but also distressing. Lelouch looked away from the door, trusting the knights to do their job as he turned his attention to the man who had the power to shift a war. The man's eyes were slipping closed again and Lelouch cursed under his breath as he realized that the timed morphine pump had gone to work.
"Bradley." Lelouch reached over to pat his face and Bradley's eyes shot open again, glassy and nearly insensible as he finally confessed to what Lelouch wanted to hear. The sound was weak but Lelouch heard the name in a raspy gasp that turned his blood cold.
"I pledge." Bradley murmured afterward, "The prince-"
Lelouch watched the man fall asleep, trying to deny the old iron of rage from seeping into his thoughts as he looked back down to the clipboard in his lap.
Of course it was useless. Lelouch had never been a master of that emotion and Suzaku wasn't near enough to glare him into submission. Instead he called for Jeremiah who arrived in a stately pace, a frown on his face and gun in his hand. Lelouch was building horrible plans for his brother's life even as he watched Bradley with worry and indecision when Jeremiah finally made his way upstairs.
Lelouch handed the clipboard over and waited, finally saying, "He pledged himself to me."
Jeremiah sighed, looking at the prone man with an expression of distaste.
"It is a great shame, but he is not the first to receive such punishment." His expression shifted into reluctant pity as he read the chart. "He will be in that bed for the rest of his life. There is nothing left for him."
"Only his prince." Lelouch looked up into Jeremiah's eyes. In a different circumstance, if he had been the one bowing on the floor, it could very well be Jeremiah lying prone, helpless and paralyzed from the neck down.
"It could have been you in a different life."
"Yes, my Prince." Jeremiah squared his shoulders. "And I ask you to treat this man as you would treat me in this state, even as I am now."
Then the decision was an easy one. Lelouch was glad for confirmation that what he was only being fair no matter how many broken promises or lies Bradley was being fed.
It only took a few minutes of searching for Lelouch to have the supplies needed. As he worked Jeremiah followed in his footsteps, spraying a small prepared bottle of bleach everywhere Lelouch had touched and in some places he hadn't. Lelouch made sure to wear gloves as he handled the syringe and morphine, taking great pains to ensure that he could leave them behind.
Still, for a moment he hesitated putting the syringe into the plunger. In the end, the sight of Bradley – grey and wasting in such antiseptic surroundings – softened his heart. Lelouch looked down and relearned the lesson his father had taught so long ago; that morality was a privilege of the powerless masses or at best a tool used to manipulate the weak-willed. But Lelouch was not weak-willed or powerless, not any more.
Jeremiah smiled, looking proud as Lelouch inserted the bottle of morphine straight into Bradley's IV.
They closed the door to the sound of the heart monitor going flat.
When he got home Suzaku was still gone. Lelouch went to his cell phone and dialed, his heart sinking a little when all he got was Suzaku's rambling, "This is Age- um, Suzaku. Suzaku Kururugi's cell phone. Obviously I'm not wherever I'm supposed to be but I'm sure I'm very busy. So. Leave a message…or don't, I don't really-"
Lelouch sighed and looked at the clock. The next shift of safe house babysitters were coming in. It would only be a matter of minutes until they discovered Bradley's body and Lelouch wanted Suzaku to be there if only for distraction's sake. Nunnally and Rolo were gone, Sayoko had gone off to find something productive to do, Kallen was at work and Gino… Probably with Suzaku, or at least that's what Lelouch hoped.
Not knowing where Suzaku was or who he was with was a sort of torture in its own right and Lelouch found it very strange to find that he was uncomfortable being alone. Now that he didn't have a blood feud to occupy his mind, Lelouch was mentally set adrift to wonder about all the little things that could mean something or nothing at all.
His most current mystery, and excellent distraction from Suzaku's absence, Lelouch decided, was the origin of Bradley's betrayer – The one who had clued him in to Bradley's location.
Lelouch went over the short email he had received another dozen times, searching for an answer to the sender…but the e-mail handle was insultingly vague and the letter very straightforward. There wasn't much to divine from Bradley's name heading an address only fifteen minutes away. Of course there was a relentless nagging in the back of Lelouch's brain as he tried to remember if he had left any evidence behind, fevered imaginings of what might happen if he did.
And a very near-call to VV when Todoh showed up at his door in the early dawn of the next day, looking decidedly grim, just as Suzaku ran up the driveway, pale and obviously exhausted. The only thing that kept Lelouch from fleeing away to the telephone was the lack of panic in Suzaku's eyes and the shock of watching a familiar black limo pull away from the curb out front.
"What a coincidence." Todoh scowled. "You probably knew before I did."
Suzaku flushed and elbowed the man out of the way to get past the doorway and plant his hands on Lelouch's shoulders. For a brief second Lelouch panicked, sure that Suzaku was going to kiss him right there in front of Todoh and the agents waiting in the black SUV parked in the driveway.
Instead Suzaku said, "It's happened again, Lelou- …my Lord. The serial killer from before."
And then kissing Suzaku was the last thing on Lelouch's mind.
Marianne had been sprawled on the staircase with one hand wrapped around Nunnally's waist and the other pinned under her body, reaching for her gun. She was the first dead body Lelouch had ever seen and with every progressing corpse he still only saw her, again and again and again. It was only when he started working for the FBI that Lelouch looked down at a corpse and didn't see a long, black curtain of curling hair.
Instead he'd seen his sister.
That corpse had had lovely blonde hair done up in intricate braids and large blue eyes that stared up sightlessly. Her mouth had been left wide open and when Lelouch leaned over he could see the fleshy pink of her throat. Both hands, so very small, had been left open wide, her arms and legs splayed in opposite directions. The position would have been lewd, revealing, but the girl had been paused in the innocent motion of creating a snow angel in the first deep fall of the season. The only incongruity was that the depression of the angel had been made by a much larger body with far superior reach. It had given the corpse a disconnected appearance, almost lost.
She had been the first victim in the serial murders, and as Lelouch stared down at the eighth he felt the same sensation, lost despite the crowd of eyes pressing against him and recording his every move. Lelouch crouched down to lift the newest victim's shirt with his pen and someone snapped a picture. The fabric was heavily starched and didn't fold or even wrinkle at his touch.
"These aren't her clothes," Lelouch said, directing his voice towards the scent of perfume over his shoulder. He pulled his pen away and did the same with the corpse's tie. It was also slightly stiff and pristine, the knot at her throat perfect and far too tight even for regulation. In his days of private school Lelouch had left his house in pristine order, knowing that Schneizel was watching from his kitchen window across the street, but by the end of first period his tie was barely looped around his neck, his shirttails showing beneath his jacket. Even the most studious eventually pulled at the knot to let themselves breathe.
"She was dressed after she died," Lelouch explained to the newcomer. "Do you see?"
"I went to public school, Lulu," a melodious voice replied. Lelouch jerked in surprise to catch a wide smile. "Or don't you remember?"
"Milly…" Lelouch touched her shoulder lightly. It felt wrong to embrace in view of the dead, though he smiled. Of all the people capable of taking his place he hadn't expected one of his oldest friends, a grown woman now after so many years. She looked very professional in her uniform and with her hair wrapped in a bun, but her unrelenting joy for life was still bright in her eyes.
Milly touched him back and someone took another picture.
"You're an excellent choice." Lelouch couldn't help but feel a deep respect for Todoh. Of all the people capable replacing him in the FBI, Milly was the only one who knew him personally, and the only one capable of creating a proper profile of a certain Eleventh Prince. She was the only one Lelouch would hesitate to kill.
"You flatter me horribly," she teased back, but then her eyes turned hard as her attention strayed back to their victim.
"No one wears ties that tightly in school," Lelouch explained, tapping the knot. "When you bend your head to write or read it's hard to breathe. Also, a less forgiving fabric would have creased in a struggle. Her shoes-"
"-are tied incorrectly, yes." Milly leaned forward. "And her mouth?"
Lelouch pulled on a rubber glove and then used his finger to push her upper lip, exposing her teeth.
"No color inconsistencies. Her gums may be a little puffy," Lelouch informed, peering closely as he inserted a finger into her mouth. Holding his breath he tried to get a good look at the inside of her cheek, but failed. It was too dark and too crowded to see properly.
"Check her molars." Milly leaned in to add the light of her own flashlight. "Inconsistencies there?"
Lelouch looked at the small white dots compared to the darker surface of tooth and raised his eyebrows.
"Those new tray braces." Lelouch blushed a little, hoping no one could see. "I never would have thought of that."
"It would have come up in the autopsy," Milly said, attempting to sooth his ego and failing spectacularly. "So it's definitely the same killer."
"Yes," Lelouch sighed. He had hoped briefly for a copycat but it was a fragile wish at best. The victim's teeth confirmed the truth. "The same killers."
"'Killers?'" Milly's eyes went wide. "In the report the suspect was a middle-aged white male-"
"A woman and a young… Well, he's not young anymore." Lelouch frowned, took up his flashlight again, and pulled away the girl's arm by the wrist, thankful that rigor mortis hadn't yet set in. At his nod Milly pulled the book posed in her grip away and revealed the girl's upper arms.
"Bruises." Milly leaned in more closely. "Handprints."
"A Young Lady's Guide to Etiquette," Lelouch read from the side. He desperately wanted to open the hardback and see the bookmarked section but the techs were already starting to get antsy about the evidence. One came over from the nervous herd, very obviously not looking at Lelouch as she took the book from Milly's careful grip. Milly gave him a grin and a little wave and the man stumbled on a rock. Lelouch rolled his eyes.
"Fitting in already, are you?"
"Not being an aggressive little know-it-all would probably be a better term." She finally reached over to give him a small hug, but not even a twinkling smile could mask the unease and tenseness in her body language as she pulled away. "Do you mind if I enquire about your general state of being?"
Lelouch felt very cold all of a sudden despite the warmth of the morning sun and shrugged, wishing they still knew each other well enough that he could reach over and zip up her windbreaker.
"Blue suits you well," was all Lelouch said, quietly aware of Todoh's penetrating stare.
Lelouch and Milly had been friends once, but that had been Lelouch Lamperouge, not the bloody prince. She was afraid now and had every right to be, even though Lelouch wished he could promise that she was safe, would always be safe from him. But Milly was sharp and for the moment they were silent opponents, if not enemies. If Lelouch wasn't careful, her insight might well be the undoing of his carefully crafted plans.
Milly shrugged and put her hands in her pockets. "From me to you… Do you still have the case files?"
"Because all I have is what the last guy had. And he messed up." Milly looked over at the girl leaning against the tree, her eyes just barely open and her legs tucked under her skirt. She looked to be in contemplation and entirely restful if not for the dark handprint on her arm. There would be more bruises, Lelouch knew, and he could easily guess why. "I don't want to see this again, Lelou… Prince. Prince Lelouch."
One sigh and Milly looked down at the ground, her eyelashes damp. Lelouch's heart began to ache in a low, hard thump and with the mixture of already-existent dread and anger, the addition of regret made him very tired.
"You were my very first friend," was all Lelouch said. "You may look at my files."
"But?" Milly knew him too well. Well enough that Lelouch felt the first shivers of worry since he'd left the program. The team was blatantly after him, but now they had a second source of information. He wasn't as overconfident as to not to know that Millay had begun to slowly pick him apart, and not only under orders.
"I want this to work both ways," Lelouch demanded. "If you want my notes you'll be getting my involvement as well."
In more ways than one, he didn't say. But she heard it anyways.
"I'll talk to Todoh." Millay sighed but smiled. "See you soon, Lelouch."
Lelouch nodded, gave her a small, respectful bow, and went in search of a knight.
Suzaku was brilliant in the dawning sunlight, his eyes barely open in slits of deep green as Lelouch approached from the throng of the crime scene. He was dressed casually, in a worn white t-shirt over a pair of faded jeans. From the way the t-shirt bulked in the front Lelouch knew he still had his gun, the only other concession apart from the motorcycle he was leaning on.
"You look every inch Britannian," Lelouch teased quietly. "Every inch a knight."
Angling himself so the exchange couldn't be seen, Lelouch brushed his fingers down Suzaku's abdomen, waiting for a catch that never came, even as he drew a finger delicately across the butt of his gun, warm beneath cotton from Suzaku's body heat.
Part of his mind was hoping to slowly ease Suzaku from the fear that he might take his weapon, while the other hand simply slid up to splay his fingers against Suzaku's chest. But Suzaku didn't smile, didn't flirt, he just whispered, "That bad, huh?"
Lelouch pulled away, annoyed and once again impressed by Suzaku's capacity for deconstruction.
"Don't get angry." Suzaku gently caught Lelouch's wrist. "Stay."
So Lelouch stayed and he looked into Suzaku's eyes and he said, "They're back."
"Is there anything I can do?" Suzaku had a look on his face that Lelouch couldn't place. If he didn't know the man better, didn't know his capacity for empathy, Lelouch would have said it was relief, but despite his knack for it Suzaku didn't delight in death.
"I'm afraid not." Lelouch frowned and fought down a heavy sigh with the sensation of Suzaku touching his hip. "Even I'm being tolerated by necessity, not choice."
"And the woman?" Suzaku nodded over his shoulder. "You seem to know her."
Lelouch looked back unnecessarily to hide a slight blush and unfortunately made eye contact with Milly, who was watching their interaction avidly, her head tilted to the side. He wondered what she was seeing on Suzaku's face and hoped that somehow she managed to misinterpret the intensity of Suzaku's gaze.
"Milly Ashford," Lelouch said, watching as she took a moment to peer at Suzaku, her damnable trademark smirk flitting briefly across her face. "Doctor Ashford and I went to grad school together."
"You like her." Suzaku leaned back and Lelouch watched with a familiar feeling of dread as he crossed his arms and smiled back.
"She's very good."
"As good as you?"
Lelouch gave him a look and Suzaku smiled ruefully. "Great. Just what we need. Another pair of trained eyes."
Lelouch looked at Milly, at her casual wave and wink, and said, "You're right. Maybe she's just what we need."
Milly had a unique perspective of Lelouch's personality but he had been keeping secrets even then. She only knew what he wanted her to, had only known the person he had been, compared to the person he was becoming… Lelouch turned back to see Suzaku smiling fondly, almost adoringly, and saying, "You always have a scheme, don't you?"
"I'm a prince," Lelouch confirmed, pleased by the proud tenor in Suzaku's voice.
"You're a prince," Suzaku re-confirmed, patting a hand against the seat of the Lancelot, "and I'm exhausted, your highness. Can we go home?"
Aware of all the eyes on them, Lelouch was still unable to keep himself from whispering, "I had trouble falling asleep without you there."
Suzaku's eyes immediately slid away, but the small flush on his cheeks kept Lelouch from worrying about the veracity of statements made in the midst of passion.
Suzaku loved him.
The thought was nearly more than Lelouch could handle. It coiled up in his chest and made life waver for a moment on a caught breath of astonishment making other things – bodies, brothers, feuds – so much less important.
"I packed up my apartment last night." Suzaku's eyes flicked up nervously. "It's all Britannian property now, and whatever hasn't been donated or sold is going into storage."
"Oh?" Lelouch's heart picked up an extra beat. "Well, I have plenty of room left in the attic…and you've seen my closet."
"Nothing but suits and ties," Suzaku confirmed. "…So you think there'll be enough room?"
"For you?" Lelouch attempted nonchalance. "Yes, I think so. I've also been playing with the idea of getting a bigger bed."
And suddenly they were too close as Suzaku leaned in, whispering with the barest of laughs as he said, "Kallen said something about alien fat being the best."
Lelouch smiled as he recognized Suzaku's attempt at flirting. Alien fat indeed.
"I was thinking more along the lines of those sleep-number beds." Lelouch leaned in a little closer, hoping that they seemed more conspiratorial and less like awkward teenagers courting for the first time.
Suzaku's eyebrow's shot up as he teased, "That's quite a commitment… But are they sturdy?"
It was roll his eyes or grin, so Lelouch rolled his eyes and turned towards his car, saying, "I suppose we'll see."
By the time Lelouch was in and buckled, Suzaku had already shot off on his way back home on Lancelot, eager, Lelouch was sure, to finally sleep. Lelouch followed suit, trudging up the stairs as soon as he arrived home after a quick hello to his odd family already breakfasting at the table. Kallen was already shoveling in eggs and bacon with Gino who was nodding over his cereal. Rolo and Nunnaly were laughing quietly with a simple joy that Lelouch envied as Sayako poured juice with a pleasant bow.
For the first time Lelouch's house was bursting at the seams and he found himself surprised that he didn't hate the thought at all. He let the humor follow him into the master bedroom and closed the door softly with a small, small smile.
Suzaku was already fast asleep, his clothes strewn across the floor and leading to where he was slack on the bed, and seemingly dead to the world.
Lelouch sighed and followed, slipping under the covers. He watched hesitantly for a moment until he was sure that Suzaku was fast asleep before leaning over and dipping his head to kiss the man once on the temple, flushing in embarrassment, and then finally slipping back into sleep.
Lelouch sat on Suzaku's hips, watching as the man began to wake from the first flutter of eyelashes to the first murmur of the day, indecipherable as he licked his lips and stretched. The flex of muscles and limbs shifted Lelouch's position until his backside was pressed against the growing lump in Suzaku's shorts. The embarrassment was worth the view. In the morning sunlight Suzaku looked magnificent despite his various bruises and cuts. Lelouch's eyes roamed over the definition of his muscles, the line of his neck, and admired how Suzaku's green eyes shone brightly above his slow smile.
"How long've you been there?" Suzaku's voice, rough from sleep, made Lelouch lick his lips and rest a hand on Suzaku's navel. The soft skin flexed as Lelouch gently traced the red line of a knife wound.
"Long enough, it seems." Lelouch leaned backwards just enough and Suzaku bit his bottom lip, his eyes fluttering as his lax fingers fisted into the sheets. Lelouch smiled.
"And, uh…" Suzaku's voice trembled. "What were you planning on doing up there?"
"Oh, admiring the view." Lelouch leaned forward to drag his fingers gently over Suzaku's cheek. "I hadn't thought to plan further."
"And the view?"
Suzaku reached upwards to draw his fingers over Lelouch's collarbones, his eyes soft and dreamy. "I can say the same, Lelouch."
Lelouch wanted to ask, can you really? A confession of love, as startling and affecting as it had been, didn't mean that Suzaku was necessarily in love with his body. Lelouch's body had none of the curves Suzaku enjoyed so much – he was mostly made of angles and slopes, and he certainly didn't have a vagina. His face, his hair and his eyes might spurn Suzaku to kiss his lips, but beyond that… Lelouch leaned down and kissed him softly before retreating back to his side of the bed. In his absence the sheets had gone cold and it was as good an excuse as any to curl into Suzaku's side when the man pulled him closer.
"You know, I don't think I'm done with you." Suzaku rolled over until their legs were entwined. "I'm just about getting used to this kissing guys thing and I think I'm ready for the next step."
"And that would be…" Lelouch raised an eyebrow, staying outwardly cool even as his heart started pounding in anticipation, his skin tingling under Suzaku's darkening gaze. A hot hand slid up his chest, staying there as Suzaku mouthed his ear, making him tremble.
Suzaku smiled. Lelouch could feel it against his cheek.
"Don't you have a curriculum set up?" Suzaku laughed when Lelouch moved to give his mouth better access. "I'm pretty sure I'm being graded. It'd be nice to know how I scored."
Or simply nice to score, Lelouch thought wryly as Suzaku's lips drifted towards his jaw. The comeback was on the tip of his tongue until Suzaku's hand brushed against a nipple and turned the biting words into a small gasp. Suzaku's breath caught at the sound, his hips shifting against the bed. The thought of him still hard-
They both jumped violently at the pounding on the door and Suzaku got the worst of it, hissing when Lelouch inadvertently hit his face right where Schneizel had struck. He didn't have time to apologize.
"Prince Lelouch," Gino's said through the door, his voice stressed, "you have, uh…a couple of very insistent visitors waiting downstairs."
Suzaku sighed, his face planting into Lelouch's pillow as Lelouch shot up out of bed, scowling as he yelled back, "Ten minutes, Weinberg."
"Could your highness perhaps make that five minutes?" Gino asked, his voice thin. Over in the corner Suzaku was already up, sliding into a pair of jeans and shoving his weapon down the small of his back. "Or perhaps three?"
"I'll be down when I'm dressed. Take care of what needs to be done, Weinberg," Lelouch ordered.
"Yes, your Highness." Gino's voice calmed the slightest bit as Lelouch spoke the phrase that allowed him full discretion over whatever mischief was going on. He looked back to tell Suzaku that he could do the same since they were both Rounds and nearly yelled when Suzaku smiled briefly in his direction and then jumped out the second-story window. Lelouch ran to the side of the bedroom in time to see Suzaku kneeling in the grass, gun in hand as he rose gracefully and silently made his way to peer into the front room.
Lelouch vowed to chew him out as soon as his heart stopped pounding and then dressed, taking his time until the gunfire and screaming had stopped. He was sitting on the edge of his bed in one of the outfits Sayako had dug out of the attic and going through a long list of possibilities when footsteps hopped back up the stairs and Suzaku asked to be let inside. He got the permission he sought but still ended up stuck in the doorway with one hand on the doorframe and an expression Lelouch was becoming familiar with.
Suzaku's eyes moved back up to Lelouch's own when Lelouch snapped his fingers, and Suzaku's face was flushing as he said, "Um. No one's dead."
"How refreshing." Lelouch had a hard time not smiling. "Any grievous injuries?"
"You lost a lampshade." Suzaku took a few quick steps forward. "It was very tragic."
"I'm sure it was," Lelouch was not immune to the sight of Suzaku half-naked in a pair of threadbare jeans, a pistol in hand, and when the man licked his lips and leaned down Lelouch was only briefly tempted to push him away and go downstairs. He was learning to love the way Suzaku kissed him; two parts care, one part lust, and the rest a restraint Lelouch could taste on the tip of his tongue when Suzaku's grip tightened and eased.
Lelouch was just about to put his hand down Suzaku's pants when he said, "Ah, the Secret Service agents are probably getting antsy and Xing-ke-"
"Xing-ke?" Lelouch used that hand to push Suzaku away instead. "And the secret service?"
"And your sister," Suzaku added, wincing, "Princess Euphemia."
"Is there anyone else I should know about?" Lelouch ran a hand through his hair, scowling. "The President? My father? Prince Harry?"
"You don't have a brother named…" Suzaku's confused look would have been adorable in a different circumstance, Lelouch was sure, but he could only be annoyed when Suzaku caught his glare and laughed nervously. "Oh. Right. Ha. No, he's not downstairs. That would probably be really awkward."
Lelouch shoved Suzaku into the dresser on the way out.
By the time Lelouch made it downstairs everyone was sitting in the front room glaring at each other over mugs of hot chocolate. Gino was lounging in the doorway to the kitchen, a whipped cream mustache on his face and a gun in hand. Despite this Lelouch was fairly sure that the only person really keeping everyone from acting out was Sayako who offered refills with one hand while casually holding an AK-47 in the other.
Predictably, there was one calm center of the storm and she looked up with a brilliant, white grin and an enthusiastic, "Lelouch!"
"Euphie." Lelouch smiled back without sighing and took up her offered hand, placing a light kiss on her cheek. "It's lovely to see you."
"Oh, it is, isn't it?" Euphie's grin faltered a little. "I suppose I should have called first but we were close-"
"Nonsense, you're always welcome." Lelouch glanced across the room. "Sayako knows how to keep a quiet household, and Three was here to help."
Euphie tittered for a moment and then put her fingers over her lips, glancing towards the stairs. She whispered something and Lelouch had to lean in close to hear, "Who was that man?"
"Oh." Lelouch nearly blushed back as he realized what was going on. "That was the new Knight of Seven."
The usual protocol was to keep using numbers specifically when dealing with outsiders, but every law agency in the country and beyond had probably been briefed on Suzaku's current status.
"His name is Suzaku." Lelouch swallowed down a brief surge of jealousy. "Suzaku Kururugi. He's really very new so if he happened to do something inappropriate-"
"Oh no, it's just-" Euphie blushed beet red and tittered quietly behind her gloved hands. Despite the solitaire on her left finger, his sister was looking up the stairs with a far-away sheen in her eyes.
"And how is your fiancé?" Lelouch blurted, doing his best to remain genial. Suzaku didn't seem to be attracted to vapid starry-eyed princesses but he hadn't met any before and to be fair Euphemia had her own delicate charm and a tenderness that would spark Suzaku's protective tendencies without fail.
Luckily, Lelouch thought while fully aware of the spectacular irony, I am more emotionally damaged and vulnerable.
But Lelouch wasn't female, no matter how much he was allowing himself to indulge in cattish jealousy. Over in the corner Gino snorted into his chocolate mug, and Lelouch nearly hissed at Euphemia, 'Get out of my house and take your breasts with you'.
And then Lelouch heard footsteps nimbly navigate the stairway and smiled.
"Oh." Euphemia's eyes widened as she stared over Lelouch's shoulder. "Yes. He's fine."
"Now, Euphemia." Lelouch moved into her eye-line and tried not to look murderous. "Nunnally is usually in the back garden this time of day. Would you like to talk with her? She'll be overjoyed."
Euphemia was a sweet girl. She only looked disappointed for a breath until her better manners kicked in and she was wafting out of the room, smiling at Suzaku shyly. Suzaku smiled back, ducking into a perfect bow as she passed and taking her hand when it was offered, brushing an air-light kiss to her knuckles. He was dashing and handsome and for the first time Lelouch wanted to push him into the wall and kiss him senseless no matter who was watching just as long as Suzaku understood who he belonged to.
Suzaku followed Euphemia out into the garden and Lelouch looked at all of the wide-eyed security and snapped, "Follow her."
He found a great deal of amusement watching them all try to figure out what to do with their mugs which improved his mood enormously. Over in the corner Xing-ke was staring at the far wall with his usual expression of stern aplomb. Lelouch gestured for the rest of the room to exit, took a seat on the coffee table and extended his hand.
"It's been a long time."
Xing-ke stared at his hand, then back up at his eyes, not saying a word.
Lelouch had more than enough nerve to wait him out. The nature of their meeting would be communicated in that moment of decision; whether Xing-ke kissed his hand or gave a simple handshake.
Xing-ke's fingers were cold when he shook Lelouch's hand and said, "I hear you've decided to take your brother's place."
"I hear that you're on the losing end of a drug war." Lelouch gave him a look. "You can't trust Californians, Xing-ke. All you'll get are fruits, flakes and nuts…no matter what shape their eyes are."
"So you plan on maintaining the status quo?" Xing-ke's dark eyes flashed and Lelouch forced himself not to glance down at the sword propped on the side of the couch. The sight of Xing-ke disemboweling a man had been one of many reasons prompting him to leave Britannia. The look in his eyes… Despite all of his terseness, Xing-ke was watching Lelouch as if he was still a boy, braced in an alley puking out his fear as the knights around him pretended not to notice.
"Xing-ke," Lelouch said, then looked down at his hands for a moment, felt his heart twist in resolve and appreciated the flash of uncertainty in Xing-ke's eyes that felt like a deep warmth across his skin, "get out of my house."
Lelouch heard his own voice, soft and dark, and felt the possibilities unfurl. He was grown, fully capable of tending bloodlust and no longer unnerved by death in all of its gruesome shapes and forms. Unlike all of the killers Lelouch had helped catch, Xing-ke's violence was measurable – predictable – and there was no way the man was going to pull a sword on the Britannian Lelouch had become. He was no boy to peer at and no grown man to intimidate.
And now Lelouch was not a man who would give himself over to rage.
"My brother is still in charge." Lelouch rose as Xing-ke continued to sit, his eyes gone hard. "If you talk treaty it will be with him, not me."
"You won't win without extra man power." Xing-ke said, his voice cold. "And no one in Britannia will dare cross him."
"Then he deserves to be in charge," Lelouch said, shrugging with a small smile. "When I am in his place," Lelouch added, smiling dangerously, "I will remember this."
"As shall I," Xing-ke snapped, taking up his sword. He left without another word.
Lelouch watched the door slam shut and made his way to the yard with a sigh of slight regret. The Chinese Federation would have been a considerable force of back-up power. But, Lelouch could remember when it had been the other way around. After a particularly bloody battle, Xing-ke had risen to the top of the food chain, de-facto leader until his young charge grew to adulthood. They'd been indebted to the Schneizel for years, working off the contract he had set up and still paid an annual tribute despite Xing-ke's break for independence.
The deal Xing-ke hadn't been given time to offer would certainly have ended that source of revenue and certainly given away a good chunk of the trade area in exchange for man-power. Even if he did manage to take control from Schneizel, with the Chinese Federation as backup Lelouch would have immediately lost a degree of his own power in Britannia. Cornelia would undoubtedly buck at the situation and the families of the knights who had died in that first battle would become contentious.
A blood feud was a free-for-all and no one would have faulted him for taking advantage of extra force, but in the absence of blood lust Lelouch had incited a political war.
The only problem was that he was going to have to let Schneizel know that the rules had changed and in fact, Lelouch cringed, Lelouch was going to have to ask permission to end his quest for fratricide. If Schneizel wanted to talk terms then he had signed the document their father had provided on such short notice and agreed to the feud in writing.
Lelouch stopped in the doorway, his hand coming up to grip the doorframe as the realization trickled into his mind. He'd spoken to CC and she had relayed the request but what usually took months to happen had taken only a day. There had been no attempt at reconciliation, no discussion of how family politics had shifted while Lelouch had been gone, and by all accounts Schneizel was the perfect heir. Britannia was solvent, composed, and politically connected to the outside world. Schneizel was playing games with the FBI for entertainment and the local police force bowed when a decade before they would have put their hands on their guns.
Lelouch loved his father, knew his father loved him, but he wasn't stupid enough to think that the emperor would abandon stability on the whim of a favored son.
Watching his sisters laughing together, Rolo at their side smiling wanly, and the two Rounds comparing weapons with the Secret Service, Lelouch decided that it came down to competition. Lelouch was just as capable as Schneizel, not as ruthless but not afraid to kill, and he was the only sibling that could get away with a proper blood feud had that still been the goal. They had a bond the others did not and the only reason no one had challenged Schneizel before was the general awareness that the feud would end the moment that terms had been agreed upon and signed. Had he been any other sibling Lelouch would have been signing his own death warrant.
"I need you to set up a meeting with my brother," Lelouch said, ignoring the staring agents. Gino, still nursing his drink started coughing and Suzaku said, "I'll do it, your highness."
Gino looked over at him, his eyes wide and Lelouch managed an uncomfortable, "Are you sure?"
"Oh, yeah." Suzaku smiled ironically, pointing to the bruise. "I've got something to prove."
It was Gino's approving nod that led Lelouch into a smile. It was just like Suzaku to buck up, swallow his pride and try to do better no matter how abhorrent the activity might seem. The same insistence was what made him a good soldier and a good agent, and soon it would make him a good Britannian. The thought filled Lelouch with pride.
Lelouch crossed his arms, nodded to his guests and went over to his sisters.
Suzaku wasn't the only one who needed to be re-introduced to the family.
Changing the messenger gave Lelouch the opportunity to finally talk with Suzaku about the adjustment in plans, but there were other more important things to deal with first. Suzaku was just about to take a bite out of a sandwich when Lelouch leaned back and asked, "So, how did you like Euphemia?"
Towards the end of her visit the two had gotten together. She had snatched Suzaku for an escort and he had done the job with a smile, making her giggle with low conversation and charm. Lelouch had watched from the doorway as she offered up her hand yet again and Suzaku had kissed it yet again, and he had watched Suzaku amble back up the driveway after watching the SUV disappear down the street. He'd been smiling, a high blush on his cheeks as he stared down at the ground and swept past Lelouch without a word.
Across the table Suzaku went still, frozen with his mouth open and his sandwich hovering in the air. His eyebrows went up as a hunted expression crossed his face and they stared at each other. Lelouch was about to repeat the question, a frown under his skin, when Suzaku pointed a finger in his direction and announced, "That is not fair."
"I'm just asking a question," Lelouch suggested, keeping his expression smooth. "You two seemed to be getting along well."
Suzaku wasn't convinced. Shaking his head and he said, "Nuh-uh, no you don't. I know a trick question when I hear one-"
"There's no trick about it," Lelouch insisted, fighting down a scowl. "I just want to know-"
"Okay, fine." Suzaku scowled enough for the both of them, leaning forward. "I say, 'Oh, she was nice' and you go, 'How nice?'. I say, 'Oh, I don't know' and you say, 'You don't have an opinion? You spent enough time with her that you should have an opinion' and then I sit here looking stupid trying to figure out what answer won't upset you. I know this game, Lelouch."
It was true and that only made Lelouch angrier. "You're making me sound like some jealous girlfriend."
"Not acknowledging this line of questioning." Suzaku took a big bite of sandwich and narrowed his eyes, "I wanna lawyer. 's entrapment."
Lelouch threw a carrot at him and Suzaku snatched it out of the air and brandished it, saying, "Don't you start," and then snapped it in half with his teeth.
"Don't tell me what to do!" Lelouch countered, bracing his arms on the table and leaning forward. "You can't deny that the two of you were getting cozy. I saw you look down her dress."
"Of course I-" Suzaku blushed, pushing his food away. "Lelouch. I'm a guy."
Lelouch started to say, 'That's no excuse' but it was a pretty damn good excuse. Just because he didn't do a double-take at a nice rack didn't mean he hadn't nearly been caught staring at someone's–
"Hah!" Suzaku exclaimed, grinning, but before Lelouch could bite his head off Suzaku had leaned forward and they were kissing. Suzaku cupped his face, his fingers splaying over Lelouch's angry flush as he tried to convince Lelouch to open his mouth.
Lelouch put up an excellent, indignant fight for about three seconds before digging his fingers into the back of Suzaku's shirt and yanking him closer. He yanked a little harder than expected.
"Oof." Suzaku made a face as he got caught on the edge of the table. "Jesus, Lelouch-"
"Oh, shut up." Lelouch was breathless and his blood had been racing ever since he saw Suzaku take that little peek down Euphie's low-cut blouse. Yes, he was jealous, and no, that had never happened before, but Lelouch was still intent on marking his territory and embracing the cliché with enthusiasm. He grabbed Suzaku by the hair, yanked his head and bit down on his neck, sucking hard.
"Ow! Hey, you-" Suzaku jerked back, put a hand on his neck and gave him a look of bewilderment that slid into an expression of angry disbelief. "You didn't."
Sitting back in his chair Lelouch crossed his arms and revived Suzaku's previous expression of wide-eyed purity, saying, "I have no idea what you're talking about."
"I can't believe you!" Suzaku hissed, probing his neck. His uniform wasn't going to hide the hickey, the bruise was just above his turtleneck and Lelouch chewed on a carrot with immense satisfaction as Suzaku figured it out, his face blushing red-hot.
"I have to see your brother in an hour!" Suzaku continued, indignant. "He's going to know."
Lelouch couldn't help himself at the thought of the two of them in the same room. Either they would both ignore it or Schneizel would mock Suzaku mercilessly. Either way, "Suzaku," Lelouch replied, rolling his eyes, "Schneizel thinks we're fucking."
"And?" Suzaku lamented. "That's like looking at an angry bull and thinking, 'You know what? I've got a big red blanket in the back! Let's go have some fun!'"
"Or," Lelouch pointed out, his voice rising, mocking, "like saying, 'Hey, there's a highly volatile and slightly homicidal man who's interested in getting into my pants! I think I'll go look at his sister's breasts!'"
"What is it with you and boobs?" Suzaku stood, throwing his hands in the air before slamming them down on the table. "I sleep in your bed, Lelouch. I love you. What more do you want from me?"
Lelouch's anger stopped cold and guilt flooded into its place as he looked at Suzaku, clearly overstressed, and genuinely upset as he waited for a response. The last week had been hard on them all but Suzaku was carrying the extra burden of being thrown into a society he didn't understand and put in charge of people he didn't know.
"What, Lelouch?" Suzaku's voice was strained, "What else can I do?"
Lelouch slouched down in his chair, covered his eyes with his hands before sighing, "I'm sorry."
There was a single touch to Lelouch's chin, and then one on his wrist, but what made Lelouch open his eyes was the kiss on his mouth and the casual hand resting on his knee. Suzaku was kneeling at his feet, his knees on the hard tile as he angled his face upward to press their lips together. It was sweet, something that was purely Suzaku, and Lelouch put a hand on the back of his neck to run his fingers through the soft hair there.
"Please stop worrying," Suzaku whispered against Lelouch's lips. "I love you." Suzaku kissed him again, blushing in embarrassment. "It's driving me crazy how much I love you. I wouldn't have stuck around for even a quarter of your bullshit if I didn't."
"That would make a lovely hallmark card," Lelouch groused, but felt oddly charmed by the frank confession. At least he could count on Suzaku to be honest, if nothing else.
"Now," Suzaku sighed deeply and smiled brilliantly, "Gino said you have something to tell me."
Lelouch and Suzaku spent the limited time in-between Lelouch's revelation and Suzaku's appointment underneath the kitchen table, ignoring the hard surface and the harder chair legs as Suzaku pinned Lelouch down with his weight and his extremely focused attentions. By the time Suzaku's cell phone beeped Lelouch was left staring at the back of the table, gasping and entirely limp except below his beltline where he was straining against his jeans. His abdomen was cooling from where Suzaku had been licking and kissing and driving Lelouch into high, undignified mewls as he scrabbled for Suzaku's hair and yanked his shirt up for Suzaku's searching fingers.
There wasn't much more he had to do after that but ponder Suzaku's wide, glorious smile when Lelouch told him that maybe he had decided not to kill his brother after all.
Suzaku came to the door flushed and smiling, with his hands braced on the doorway as he leaned into Lelouch's office. It was notable, to both Lelouch and Milly, that Todoh's disapproving scowl didn't dim his grin in the least. The serial murders weren't his problem but Todoh had tagged along to act as chaperone for Milly, who didn't seem nearly as concerned as he did about being alone in the house of a prince. She glanced up at Suzaku with a curious expression, her hand splayed over one of the glossies on Lelouch's desk. Lelouch couldn't fault her as he'd rather look at Suzaku than corpses too.
"I feel like it's my birthday," the man blurted, not even having the grace to look embarrassed afterwards. Suzaku left that to Lelouch even as he pointed his thumb towards the hall and said, "This is way more effective than those pills."
"But not actually a form of therapy that can be prescribed." Lelouch raised an eyebrow. "Now go away before these fine agents start thinking I'm getting you addicted to narcotics."
Suzaku laughed, failing entirely to look penitent, and thundered down the stairs towards the racket that had started up after the doorbell.
Lelouch thought of what it would look like when Suzaku and Gino started manipulating the new mattress upstairs and shut the door.
"Are you locking us in or him out?" Milly teased, smiling, and Lelouch sighed, gesturing wordlessly to the thumps and laughed curses coming up the stairs. Todoh took a step forward, ignoring it all, and stared hard, one hand drifting towards the gun at his hip.
"Pills?" Todoh took another step forward and only habit kept Lelouch from folding his arms in defense.
"A standard anti-depressant." Lelouch stared back, unflinching. Todoh leaned forward, his hands tightening along with the muscles in his face as Lelouch was forced to remember that the man wasn't the only one in the room with a gun. He was about to let his hand creep towards the grip when Milly appeared to put a hand on Todoh's shoulder. She didn't break the stare-down, but she did relax him, and Lelouch exhaled a breath he hadn't known he was holding.
"And despite what Mr. Kururugi thinks, this is about the time-frame for that prescription to start working." Milly's voice was soft, cajoling, but Todoh only backed off when she added, "Mr. Kururugi has a very handsome smile."
Lelouch saw his opening to dodge Milly's suspicion, and silently asked Nunnally forgiveness for using her in such a way.
"As a brother, I'm for once glad that Nunnally is blind," Lelouch muttered, leafing through one of his files.
Milly, damn her smirk, cut in, "I'm sure one besotted sibling is enough, right Lelouch?"
But Lelouch was ready for the insinuation and gave a shrug, smiling ruefully down at his papers.
"Euphie has a tendency for dramatic crushes. I'm sure she'll get over it soon enough." Then Lelouch looked up at Milly's unimpressed smirk and Todoh's restrained yet clearly shocked expression as he stared down at Lelouch like one horrible, horrible revelation.
Confusion first, furrowed brows as he touched a paper absently, then dawning realization. Lelouch followed the act with a moment of shock and then a twitching smile amusement as he said, "You didn't think-"
Milly peered at him and Lelouch could see them both being reeled in inch by inch, however reluctantly, as Lelouch rolled his eyes and muttered, "There are rules about this sort of thing."
And Lelouch was very pleased with himself when the words came out perfectly; like he was slightly offended and reluctantly amused, with a tone that clearly implied what he thought about screwing the help. Milly bought it because she remembered that he was a prince and had always been aloof, always picky about the people he did or did not allow to touch him.
Todoh bought it because he remembered hearing a similar phrase come directly from Suzaku's mouth and the sound of Suzaku's own disgust when he was discussing Lelouch's sexual life.
"Here, you see?" Lelouch pulled up one of the crime scene photos and changed the subject. It was a tree from a well-wooded but public picnic area, a close-up of an expanse of bark. "The lab confirmed these black threads were from a cashmere sweater. We both dismissed it at the time since the area was popular for waiting mothers."
Lelouch handed the photo to Milly and then opened the red file, the last victim, and how she had been posed. He ignored the anger that always surged when he dealt particularly with her, the one that still had tear tracks frozen beneath her blind brown eyes. She'd died cold and alone. It had taken lipstick and rouge to make her look anywhere near alive. It had been a desperate act and probably the only death that actually shamed the woman from the pair. The victims were supposed to be displayed in innocence, but there was nothing innocent about a nine year old in the makeup of a full-grown woman.
"No one had been expecting the plunge in temperature. It was only barely fall and there was already snow on the ground." Lelouch pointed to her outfit, frowning. "They weren't expecting it either. She had been posed originally in a light sweater." He shuffled through the photos again to show the sweater they had found under a snow bank and then pointed back to the picture, angry, so angry that it had all been ignored before because it was yet another high-traffic area.
"Black cashmere." Milly breathed, glancing up with wide eyes. "It's not even her size."
"She couldn't leave the victim cold," Lelouch explained. "But it was a decision that was made at the last moment. My guess is that the snow started as they were about to leave and the woman gave up the sweater."
"And none of the other victims wore black. Not even their shoes." Milly, as astute as ever, had already grasped his next point. "Was there trace on the sweater?"
"One long brown hair, dyed. They couldn't get DNA off of it but the suspect's wife had dyed her hair brown at one time. It was assumed that the suspect had taken it from her drawer."
"Was she questioned?"
Lelouch thought of the woman's long, drawn face and the hair graying at her temples, and spit, "She just wanted it to be over and the agents didn't want to push. It doesn't help the case when a witness comes straight to the stand from a psychiatric ward."
Milly hissed through her teeth and picked up the picture, leaning heavily on the desk with a deep frown.
"And their teeth?" Milly looked at him with hard eyes. "There was a sticky note on one of the evidence boxes with your initials, but nothing else."
It had been his first act, even before Lelouch had even sat down at his desk. He'd gone to the evidence warehouse with his newly printed pass without even remembering stationary. He'd had to use what the clerk kept on hand and it had felt cheap, degrading in the worst way to have to leave it there like an afterthought, but at that point his anger had been so sharp that Lelouch didn't dare trust himself to open all those boxes again. It was only after the case had been repealed that Lelouch begged to open the case again but as far as the FBI was concerned the right guy was walking free on a technicality.
"I didn't notice until it was too late." Lelouch sat down in his chair, still staring, still penitent for being unable to do more. "I figured it out in the middle of the yard, all covered in dirt. Nunnaly had just gotten a pair of braces and-"
After too long a silence, Milly prompted gently, "And?"
"And it was too late." Lelouch said shortly, crossing his arms and daring Milly to call him on his evasion. She knew very well what emotion was simmering under the surface of his fragile calm, blatant enough that even Todoh's mouth was pressed into a thin line, unable to meet Lelouch's eyes. He already knew Lelouch was capable of being emotional but Lelouch guessed that Todoh was discomforted to realize that Lelouch, the imperturbable Dr. Lamperouge, was capable of grieving for victims he'd never even known.
Even criminals were capable of empathy on some level, they were human, but Lelouch had acquired a different status the moment his heritage was revealed. A prince, an almost mythological villain, would never care for anyone but himself. Admitting that Lelouch was human would very certainly keep Todoh up at night, wondering and wondering who it was that he was hating. Lelouch cut him free and went back to Milly, who looked just as pitying as Todoh didn't want to feel.
"My advice is to re-examine the evidence you already have. I can't be sure if the woman is still involved, her accomplice may just be recreating what he already knows, but she could be a link to finding him."
"Good advice," Milly agreed quietly, gathering the folders back into order. "If you think of anything else, let me know. I'll try to keep you updated but, well…" She shrugged, looking tired and resigned. "You seem to be quite in demand these days, Prince Lelouch."
Lelouch sighed and leaned back, hoping that Suzaku was done hauling furniture around, or all his good acting would be for naught. When Todoh jerked the door open Sayako was already waiting in the corridor, and he was escorted down with a short bow. Milly followed with a brief grin and Lelouch was finally left in blessed silence.
He was caught staring at his empty desk corner when Suzaku peeked in from the doorway again, a sad little smile on his face.
"Good news and bad news and then good news, bad news again."
There was nothing to do but sigh and give in.
"Good news first."
"The bed is in your room and bouncy. The bed frame fits perfectly."
"You have no matching linens." Suzaku made a face. "There's nothing to sleep on now. The sheets are too small."
Lelouch decided to mix it up and hope that the next information would be just as trivial.
Suzaku stepped fully into the doorway, showing off his neatly pressed uniform looking grim and handsome.
"I've been requested for backup by Clovis."
Lelouch sighed. He was getting far too used to disappointment.
"I know all of his dirty little secrets." Suzaku said with a tight smile. "I'm pretty sure I can make it so he never asks for me again."
"That is good news." Lelouch smiled helplessly at Suzaku's familiar expression of annoyance. "I'm afraid you won't be getting hazard pay this time around, either."
"Oh, really." Suzaku finally walked in, splaying his palms on Lelouch's desk and leaning forward. "No extra perks at all?"
Suzaku's purring tone triggered the memory of a fantasy and Lelouch licked his lips, reaching up to stroke the fabric covering his throat.
"I'm afraid not, Knight of Seven." Lelouch had switched the title, but the effect was still the same. At that moment they might as well both be wearing suits, Lelouch's left hand on a pen and his right hand smoothing Suzaku's tie back into place. "Making exceptions wouldn't be-"
"Professional?" Suzaku leaned into his touch, caught up in the fantasy too and happily so.
Slipping his fingers into Suzaku's hair, Lelouch leaned forward to meet the man halfway to whisper, "As you say, Agent-"
Suzaku was nearly late for his appointment but Lelouch felt just a little better sending him off to Clovis with kiss-bitten lips.
And he needed to feel better for what he was about to do.
The building wasn't even close to nondescript. Instead, Clovis and his whores were housed in one of the most populated and popular clubs in the city. There were back doors, of course, and many of the sales were made over the phone or by credit or cash, but for the most part business was done under the nose of the actual manager, a man who had nothing to do with Britannia and would have left if he had any idea what was really going on at the top floor.
Lelouch saw Schneizel's hand in the double-bluff. The first floor was for dancing, the second for drinks, the third for VIP, and the fourth for a casino that brought in nearly five million dollars a year.
One million of those dollars came from the drop-dead gorgeous dealers at each table. Some of them could barely speak English but every single one of Clovis' 'escorts' could shuffle a deck of cards like pros and spot anyone who thought they were beyond rules. Lelouch had spent a lot of time at the casino when he was younger, perfecting his poker face and learning a little Russian as Clovis discussed business elsewhere. Lelouch had taken a congressman for ten thousand dollars once just because the man couldn't stop staring at the fourteen-year-old casually sitting with a pile of chips up to his chin and an automatic sticking out the back of his jeans.
"What are you doing here?" the man had asked incredulously, recognizing Lelouch from the front seat on career day.
Lelouch had grinned, far too cocky as he explained, "Playing poker. I'd play blackjack but the Britannians frown on counting cards and I don't like chance games. You?"
The man's embarrassed expression had been one of the highlights of Lelouch's youth. The congressman had moved his body to hide the woman on his arm, cleared his throat, and blushed as he said, "I thought I'd play some cards too."
Later, he blushed even harder when Lelouch suggested that he put his night with Cherry on the table when he ran out of cash, explaining, "I've been meaning to take care of this pesky virginity business."
The game had ended as Clovis hauled Lelouch out of his seat with apologies and a horrified expression as Lelouch stole his second kiss from the congressman in front of god and everyone, slapping down a full house as he grinned and grabbed the man by the chin.
"I didn't see anything," Clovis hissed, as he threw Lelouch at a startled Jeremiah. "And you didn't do anything, understand? He didn't do anything!"
Jeremiah looked to Lelouch, back to Clovis, and then back over to Lelouch's table where the Congressman was blushing dangerous shades of red and the other players were laughing uproariously.
"Of course, my prince." Jeremiah bowed as well as he could on while sitting on a stool and Clovis stomped off, scowling and saying something about how Schneizel was going to kill them all and then laugh afterwards, and about how Lelouch wasn't worth the blackmail potential, and-
Jeremiah cuffed Lelouch on the ear, something he usually only did in private, and handed him a pile of chips. They watched a bouncing white ball for the rest of the evening. Lelouch had never had so much fun in his life.
Nearly two decades later, and Lelouch was back at the same establishment. It was heavily altered from its first conception, of course, but essentially the same; too much noise, too much booze, and too many people trying to lose themselves in a different world.
"This is my place." Lelouch told the man at the stairs to the fourth floor. "I belong here."
And because he had already perfected his poker face Lelouch was learning to appreciate games of chance, and so checked his gun at the door as he went to go find his brother.
Clovis had been vibrant once – young, quick-tongued, and the life of the party. He had taken to his job with the fanaticism of the desperate and was lucky enough to find he actually enjoyed the role. Lelouch hadn't liked him much, or respected him (Schneizel had long since ripped him of that delusion), but Lelouch had pitied Clovis, and at the time it had seemed like that should be the same as love. During his brief period of estrangement from Schneizel, Lelouch had spent a great deal of time with Clovis, playing chess together and watching him paint the beautiful bodies of all the whores who hated him.
Perhaps, Lelouch thought as he spotted a head of flaxen blonde, that was why his betrayal hurt so deeply when it was only Clovis.
He was playing craps with what could have been mistaken as a princely air, but what was really exhaustion hidden under a layer of alcoholism. Lelouch managed to get all the way to his elbow without the man noticing, placing the gold chip he had been given at the door on top of his brother's bet. For a moment Clovis' eyes sparkled and his smile turned true, making him look brilliant in the low light and comforting womb of velvet.
Then Clovis saw who had given him the prince's coin, and he paled.
"Make this one count, brother," Lelouch warned, leaning his hip on the table as onlookers gathered. He covered Clovis' stunned fear by grabbing his outstretched hand by the wrist.
"It's been a while." Lelouch felt like a snake poised to strike as he blew a small breath over the red die on Clovis' open palm. "But I think this is supposed to help."
Clovis stared long enough for tension to travel around the table, and then threw. The dice barely made it over the line as they rolled away.
"A natural," the dealer announced in the middle of relieved applause as Clovis gawked down at the table.
Lelouch looked over and grinned. "That seems to be a popular number these days."
"And eleven, brother." Clovis looked at his smile and seemed to calm a little before reaching down to toss Lelouch's coin back to him. "I've been losing money all night. You must be good luck."
"I do my best, but considering my luck lately… Well, it's possible that there's only good luck left." Lelouch walked closer, murmuring under the crowd's renewed jocularity as he played with the heavy coin, "I'm sure you've heard about the whole sad debacle."
Clovis nodded, his eyes glued to the green felt of the craps table. "I was sorry to hear of it, Lelouch."
"I'm sure you were." Lelouch laughed throatily, having fun despite himself as Clovis rolled again. The dice hit the table properly, bouncing against the felt wall and rolling to an end with a collective gasp.
"Big red again." The dealer announced with a nod. "Congratulations, my prince."
Lelouch cut through the next flurry of praise. "Clovis, we need to talk."
"Lulu," Clovis said, pouting, "it's not polite-"
"I'm sure they'll forgive you this once." Lelouch nodded towards where there used to be a back room. "Still there?"
"Well, yes…" Clovis started to look sick again, his eyes glassy as he glanced to the few knights scattered around the room.
Lelouch followed Clovis' line of sight and sighed. Seven, seven everywhere and not a Suzaku to spare… or dropkick.
"It will only be a minute and then you can get back to your game," Lelouch promised, putting a hand at the small of Clovis' back in spite of protestations, and his body went stiff despite the alcohol Lelouch could smell on the man's breath. "Come on."
Clovis' private room was filled with paintings. Some were on the walls or propped against furniture, while the drying racks were full. Lelouch lingered there for a moment, gazing at the dozens of unfinished paintings that had dried long ago.
"How long has it been since you completed something?" Lelouch pulled one out to see a portrait of his father, still handsome but older now, the deep-set lines in his face making him appear more regal than ever.
For a moment that was all Lelouch could think: that his father was becoming old now with salt and pepper sneaking in at his temples. He was still healthy, but an heir should have been chosen long before Schneizel and Lelouch began to scuffle for power. It was strange that the Emperor had let such an important issue go on unaddressed for so long. Lelouch frowned and was pulled out of his musings by Clovis saying, "A commission for Schneizel about five years ago. Pathetic, right? Just like Seven said."
"Suzaku called you pathetic?" Lelouch frowned, leaning up against the wall. Suzaku could be straightforward but he was never rude, and since Schneizel's chastisement his manners had been exquisite.
"Well, he didn't just come out and say it, of course." Clovis laughed to himself, leaning over for a bottle of scotch on the table. "It was the look in his eyes. I know it. I've seen it enough, after all. From Schneizel, and from father… From everyone. From you."
Lelouch stepped forward and took the tumbler out of his brother's hand, looking into his liquid blue eyes and trying not to repeat the sentiment.
"I believe you've had enough."
Clovis snorted and gestured flippantly.
"What does one more thing matter?" Clovis settled further against the couch, his lips twisting into a smile. "What will you take away from me next, Lelouch? What do you want? I know you're not here for pleasure."
Lelouch looked him up and down and realized that his brother was unarmed except, of course, for his toxic personality.
Suzaku definitely should have gotten hazard pay.
"How was I supposed to know that Bradley was your man, Clovis?" Lelouch sat down on the coffee table, taking a sip of Clovis' drink out of spite alone and then smiling, loving the look in Clovis' eyes, the fear. "I have to say, though, that he made an excellent subordinate. How long had Bradley been with the FBI?"
Clovis swallowed and glanced down at the scotch as if it were the answer to all his fears. He really was pathetic, Lelouch decided, taking another long sip.
"About two years before you joined." Clovis swallowed. "He really was very clever. Covering up his history…he was almost caught once, you know, when that whole task force began. You could say he was indirectly responsible for Seven's induction. That was all Bradley's doing."
"He was responsible for a great many things." Lelouch refused to pity Bradley, let alone commend the man. "He's also the reason that I very nearly killed you today."
Clovis' pallor went nearly translucent as he whispered, "I didn't know that."
"Hmm." Lelouch took another drink, wishing that he had ignored instinct and brought his gun. Killing Clovis would practically be euthanasia. "So this whole scheme has been in play long before these last few months."
"I'm surprised you never caught on, actually." Clovis' voice was breathy. "I didn't realize what was going on, of course, but you… Neither of you ever realized. Too caught up in each other to see anything else, I suppose."
"I suppose," Lelouch murmured into the silence, thinking of Suzaku's smile for a brief moment, and then continued, "So you didn't know the purpose of Schneizel's little scheme, but did Bradley? Is that why you never came and got him when he was transferred?"
It did make sense that Clovis abandoned him out of revenge. Lelouch was suddenly relieved that he hadn't decided to murder Clovis, the poor idiot, who at least had the sense not to come after Lelouch in retribution for a man who had purposely deceived his prince by backing up another.
"Transferred?" Clovis looked at Lelouch as if he was speaking a different language. "And Schneizel?"
Lelouch put his glass of scotch down, feeling his stomach go bottomless as a creeping expression of horror slipped onto Clovis' face. They hadn't been together in a long while but Lelouch remembered the expression with pinpoint accuracy; part 'oh shit' and another 'how on earth am I ever going to fix this?'.
"Schneizel never said that Bradley had been transferred to… Where was it, again?" Clovis was all charm again and sparkling smiles. Lelouch began to feel sick.
"An FBI safe house, waiting to be used as leverage against myself for the purpose of harming the family." Lelouch stood, doing his best to tower over Clovis as the man sunk a little deeper into the couch. "You didn't know he was still alive? Then who was it that gave me directions to where Bradley was being held? If you're trying to get out of responsibility, just tell me, Clovis. My grudge died with-"
The door slammed open hard enough that Lelouch was already looking for the gun he didn't have, his hand slipping into his jacket as a man went crashing through the previously closed door. He was very large and he moved fast despite the head injury, but not fast enough. A heel met the man's nose in a disgusting crunch and he was back on the ground, holding his face and screaming in Russian as silence rolled out from the casino. A body in Whites darted to lay in another punch, knocking the stranger flat against the ground. A blood-spattered boot settled over the stranger's throat and Lelouch, in his surprise, finally looked up to find Suzaku giving him an equally confused expression as he said, "What are you doing here?"
"What does it look like I'm doing, Seven?" Lelouch snapped back, gesturing at Clovis who was still sitting wide-eyed and now shaking slightly as he turned to look into Suzaku's eyes. There was only a split second in between Suzaku realizing what he had said and what he was supposed to say.
"Speaking to your brother, the Third Prince, my lord." Suzaku was actually blushing when Lelouch finally calmed. "Please forgive my rudeness, but-"
"You have important business with my brother, yes, I can see that." Lelouch grabbed his drink, his mind racing as he memorized the conversation, down to the blanched expression on Clovis' face that had started the evening. Clearly the current situation had something to do with Clovis' operation and clearly Suzaku didn't want Lelouch around He cringed a little as he motioned Lelouch outside, briefly touching the small of his back as they moved into the casino proper, knights rushing inside to take his place with the Russian.
Outside it quickly became business as usual. Men and women returned to gambling their lives away as the Britannians did their best to beat out a confession. They walked out into the bustle, door slamming behind them and Lelouch found himself only the barest bit mollified by the brief kiss to his cheek that Suzaku hid in the guise of a whisper.
"I just thought you should know," Suzaku said out loud before standing straight up and with a sweet smile. "See you when I'm done?"
Lelouch wanted to be mad, he really did, but Suzaku's smile was unrelenting as he gave a very proper and gallant bow that seemed to leave every female in the vicinity with a blush.
"As long as you plan on being there soon." Lelouch sighed helplessly, wishing he could reach out and brush a stray curl out of Suzaku's eyes. They were very bright at that moment, standing out from smoky scenery as Suzaku continued smiling, infuriatingly handsome and turning Lelouch's want into a sudden, ferocious need. One moment they were simply standing close and the next Lelouch was leaning forward, cupping Suzaku's jaw to give him a kiss on each cheek. La bise.
"Yes," Suzaku promised, a little glassy-eyed. "Of course, Your Highness. As soon as absolutely possible."
The look in his eyes, the way his hands clenched and unclenched, how he bit and reddened his lower lip… Suzaku's expression was enough to derail Lelouch's thoughts for now into much pleasanter things than princes and judgment.
For now, but not forever.