Pre-Comment: I can practically feel the anticipation for this from some of you like a—actually, I'm not going to go there. But you should know that I am susceptible to bribes.

I mean, uh, enjoy Chapter Sixteen!


Chapter Sixteen: For the Sake of Love

It had taken every kind of promise and reassurance to dig himself out from six feet below Kallen's heel that day. The lecture had only gotten worse after CC blew her off and decided that there were better things to spend her time on. CC. Just the thought of her made him feel a twitch of anger. Not only did he have Kallen's evil eye on him because of her, but the situation with Lelouch had gotten infinitely worse. How one person could be the willing catalyst of so much trouble confounded him.

But after Kallen had redirected enough frustration from CC at him, she sat right down next to him in the sand and gave him a long, serious look. Suzaku stared right back at her, knowing from experience that it was best to keep your mouth shut when Kallen Stadtfeld stared you down.

When she would let you speak without ripping your throat out, she would let you know.

Sighing, she finally looked away. "How could you?" she asked quietly, sounding betrayed and disappointed rather than angry. "I know it was just a game and all… but then you got engaged and then I stopped believing it was just a game. But now… this," she said, vaguely waving her hand at the scuffle marks in the sand where he had tackled CC to the ground.

Suzaku wiped a hand over his face, feeling the guilt of Kallen's eyes press against him accusingly. He imagined what that must have looked like to her: Like a couple playing 'Catch Me If You Can' on the beach during a lover's getaway. "I… I'm a jerk. I know," he admitted sullenly.

Sand flew up in his face and he did nothing but close his eyes against the assault. "Damn right you are, Kururugi!" she said loudly, throwing more sand at him. "I've never seen Lelouch like this with anyone! Lelouch Lamperouge is like the king of cool. He always knew what to say to me, and he always knew what to do. He knew what made me happy, and he knew what lines I would let him cross and when. I was with him for a whole year and we even got married—even if it was only for a little while. But with you he's a sloppy mess that doesn't know left from right. And I didn't want to believe it, but I'm not the kind of person that can deny something when it spits in my face," she said with a note of bitterness.

Knowing that he was surrounded by land mines, Suzaku didn't say anything.

"When I saw that I was finally able to just give up on him. I'm with Gino now, and he makes me happy. And he can take a hit," Kallen said lightly, grinning at him and easing the tension.

"That he can," Suzaku agreed.

"So what's this all about, Suzaku? The marriage proposal, the delay, this vacation with CC. What is all of this? Is this really still just a game?"

Suzaku swallowed. "I… I'm not here with CC. That was just a coincidence that I met up with her here. I'm here with Lelouch. She just… is an unfortunate coincidence."

A very very very very very (times one thousand) unfortunate coincidence.

Blue eyes blinked and stared in disbelief before turning to scan the endless reach of crystalline waves in front of them. Pursing her lips a moment, she asked sternly, "Is that the truth, Kururugi?"

"Yeah," Suzaku said easily, not recognizing what the change in attitude was for. "I'm really here with Lelouch. CC found out about… how I was, uh, leading Lelouch on and she was threatening to find him and tell him." Suzaku ran a hand through his hair and hung his head between his knees. "I never intended to lead him on. I thought he was just a gold digger getting a little ahead of himself. I never meant for any of this to happen."

Kallen shook her head. "Remember when I told you that karma has a funny way of dealing with things? It really does."

A frustrated groan escaped him. "It really, really does," he agreed. "Right now I'm just… trying to figure out a way to bow out. Gracefully. If that's even possible. I just want to clear this all up. I've given up on salvaging any of it for the sake of my pride anymore. I'm going to hurt him—a lot—and I've… just come to accept it."

There was a long moment of silence between them. Chancing a glance at her, he saw that Kallen looked unusually pensive, staring at the ocean in front of them. In the background he could hear children playing in the distance and the other sounds of a hot beach on an island resort. When she started to dig her toes in the sand, he knew that she was thinking about something heavy—considering something important. And it must've been, because Kallen Stadtfeld typically thought heavy thoughts with her fists.

"Are you sure you want to?" she asked quietly.

Suzaku frowned, turning to look at her fully. "What? What do you mean? Sure I want to what?"

Kallen sucked in a huge breath that lifted her shoulders and let it out. "Are you sure you want to," she repeated without further explanation, returning his stare meaningfully.

The moment Suzaku opened his mouth to wheedle more of an explanation out of her he understood in a sudden bolt of understanding, and then promptly shut his mouth before stupid could fall out of it. What Kallen was asking him wasn't a solution he had ever considered was possible. And the solution she had presented him was so stupidly simple and ended up not really hurting anyone after all. It was more than a solution—it was a possibility.

But would it work?

Suzaku broke her stare and looked away, running a hand through his hair. "I… I don't know. I'd have to think about it.'

Kallen punched him in the arm. Hard.

(It felt like a small sledgehammer.)

"Ow! What was that for?" he complained, rubbing the soon-to-be bruise.

Getting up, she dusted the sand off her bottom. "You better think about it. Properly. And if it's something you can't or don't want to do, then you're better off coming clean sooner rather than later. I don't like how you're lying to him like this. And if you don't tell him, I will."

Suzaku winced, knowing that Kallen's threat, unlike CC's, probably carried weight behind it. Weight that would bury him under the ground.

"I know."

Kallen huffed before kicking more sand at him. Suzaku would've normally complained by now, but it assuaged his guilt—if only slightly—so he let it happen.

"I'll call you when Gino gets back from his work stuff. We can do dinner together. You, me, Gino, Lelouch. I want you to figure stuff out by then. Got it?"

Suzaku nodded. "I understand. When does he finish?"

At that question Kallen's lips twisted into a frown and her brows creased together. All in all it looked like she was pouting. "I don't know. I told him to take as long as he needed. In exchange we stay a couple extra days to make up for it. But I'll let you know."

Suzaku nodded again and suffered another whack to the head before the beautiful and furious whirlwind of pain that was Kallen Stadtfeld left. His mind idly told him that the swimsuit she wore was flattering for her figure as he watched her go. If he had thought of the compliment sooner he might've used it against her to deflect some of her anger, but there was always the chance that it would backfire on him. Kallen had always been rather unpredictable when it came to compliments about herself.

Deciding to follow her lead, Suzaku got up himself and returned to the swimming pool. Dressing down into proper swimwear, he left his damp clothes on a bench before diving in. The water was refreshingly cool after being out in the sun for so long getting scolded.

After swimming a few laps, he took to floating around in the centre, alone in the pool with nothing but his thoughts. And, as promised, he thought about what Kallen said. Could he do it? Could he make a fake relationship real? Could he actually come to love Lelouch like he professed to? Could he hug and kiss Lelouch and mean it? Could he make Lelouch happy and continue wanting to make Lelouch happy?

Could Lelouch make him happy?

Suzaku thought about that time Lelouch kissed him in the mall, in front of all those cameras. The media and fanmail had been a nightmare to deal with, and Nina had her hands so full with the aftermath that he had to book a few appointments himself. He didn't hate the kiss, but he didn't like it either. It just happened and, before he knew it, it was over. And forgotten. It didn't rock his world and it didn't make him want to vomit blood. Between them it turned into more of a non-event than anything else because Lelouch was too shy to mention it ever again and Suzaku had decided that, non-event or not, he didn't want to re-enact kissing a guy just for the heck of it.

All in all, it seemed like a really bad solution to the problem, and Kallen must've realized it considering how long she thought it over before suggesting it, but it was one he hadn't thought of. It was one that had the biggest advantages if it were possible. He could turn this fake parody of a relationship into something real. The only pitfall was if Lelouch ever figured it out—figured out that he had been faking it the whole time.

Kallen was right. He needed to either make it real and make it happen, or cut it off. He'd probably never forgive himself for how it would probably hurt Lelouch, but a clean break would at least be quick if not painless.

But would there be any harm in at least trying? Trying for real?

His thoughts went back to yesterday, and the day they spent at the town.

No, it probably wouldn't hurt. Not when you considered everything that happened so far.

"I'll do it," he said aloud to himself with resolve. "I'll try."

ooo

Glory of glories.

Thoughts ran up and splatted against a mile-high wall of solid, pure cheesy goodness as she just stared and sighed at the love of her life like a love-struck schoolgirl. Productivity was going nowhere fast in her head right now. She admired how perfectly the lines ran across its body, dividing it so evenly a protractor would approve. The uniform layers of its cheese sat underneath a polka-dot of pepperoni, mushrooms, peppers—the works. The crust was golden brown and soft to the touch. And the smell—divine.

CC breathed deep and closed her eyes.

LoveyouloveyouloveyouthisisheavengloriousallmylovebelongstoyouIliveforyoualonemmmmdelicouscheeeeseyourcrustishawtlookatthoselinesIbetyourcheesestringswillmeltlovelikethisshouldbeillegalohsweetheavenyou'resoperfectIcouldwantowillloveyoulovethismomentrememberyouforever.

It took her more than a minute of ogling the circle of decadence in front of her to realize she had been drooling a bit. Wiping her mouth, she breathed deeply again of decadence, feeling it permeate every bone in her body, infusing her with pure happiness.

Picking up the first slice with reverence, she took the first bite and—

Blank.

Her mind had literally gone blank.

Time stopped.

Everything else in the world but this pizza ceased to exist.

The secrets of the universe lay in this circle of nirvana.

It was like everything had collapsed into one euphoric, mind-numbing feeling so intense that she would swear later that she forgot who she was in that moment.

It was then that a hand on her shoulder shook her, tearing her away from bliss. Rudely pulled away from the closest thing to heaven on earth, CC turned to glare at—

Well, well.

"What do you want, Kururugi? You are ruining a moment," she informed dangerously, narrowing her eyes at him, promising oblivion.

Suzaku Kururugi, in the flesh (and not stripped of it by Kallen Stadtfeld), had sat down beside her. A sort of conviction burned in his eyes that piqued her interest for half a microsecond before she remembered what he was interrupting. She had made the hotel staff expedite it from the nearest Pizza Hut and wasn't about to let anything disturb her. Beyond the circle of artful magnificence in front of her, everything else was irrelevant. Even the desire to exploit that determination shining in his eyes as was her usual modus operandi. Spitefully, she took another bite before pointedly turning away from him.

Nirvana had never been so far away from her before.

It nearly brought a tear to her eye.

"Okay, look, I know I have no right to ask you for help, and I know you already said no, but I'm really asking you here, and I really mean it this time."

Swallowing, she turned to fix him with a frosty look. "Did you not hear me? You are ruining a moment!"

"I know; I'm sorry. But I've decided that I… want to try to work things out with Lelouch. I… I want to try. I want to see if it's possible to… uh… be with him. For real."

CC was about an inch from slamming a fist on the table in a petulant effort to make him leave—despite the juicy twist of events he was practically serving to her on a silver platter. Suzaku Kururugi was nothing more than a pest right now, interrupting a precious moment between her and the first love of her life. So she just glared at him, before stuffing two bites of pizza into her mouth. And the daft boy, instead of taking the hint and leaving her alone, took that as a sign to keep going.

"As his best friend, I thought you'd be able to help me do it. I mean, it only makes sense that you'd want him to be happy too, right? So I want to really put some effort into making him happy and… and see if maybe he makes me happy."

CC picked up another slice and bit into it.

Delicious.

But not as delicious as the first.

Sighing, she looked at him, wrestling with the urge to strangle him with her bare hands until he stopped breathing. Even Lelouch knew better than to interrupt her first couple bites of pizza. The urge to murder the boy in front of her was almost overwhelming. Fishing wire. Chainsaw. Axe. Cyanide. It would be easy for her too. Taking a few moments to calm herself down, she sullenly fixed him with a look promising just that.

Suzaku's eyes ping-ponged between her to Triple Crown and back again before understanding lit up his eyes. "I, uh, can come back later," he said, starting to get up.

"Sit," she ordered harshly, brooking no room for argument. He obediently sat back down. "You've already ruined the moment. Keep that in mind, Kururugi. So what's this about you wanting to work things out with Lelouch?" She folded her arms under her ample bust and leaned back, staring at him expectantly.

In all honesty, she knew that this was a golden opportunity staring her right in the face, but he really did ruin the moment. So, golden opportunity or not, she was pretty miffed at him right now.

Suzaku licked his lips, eyes flickering briefly to her propped-up bust line to her eyes. "I'm sorry," he apologized again, somewhat more sincerely. "Like I said, I want to try to have a real relationship with Lelouch. And if it doesn't work out, I want to at least stay friends with him. I'm done with faking it. I've learned my lesson."

She narrowed her eyes suspiciously. Was this some ploy to get back at her or did he really mean it? If it was some scheme, Kururugi would rue the day he ever heard of her. If it was truth, then he would still rue the day he ever heard of her.

Why?

Because pizza.

PIZZA.

Youdidn'tjustgoruiningmomentslikethatyoulittlescumeatingpieceof—momentslikethatonlycomeonceevery—Ahem.

And because it meant this ridiculous con heist they had been working on would finally come to a profitable end. Lelouch was many things, but unsuccessful was not one of them. If Suzaku was finally emotionally invested in this then Lelouch's strength at playing them like a viola would shine through. She had every confidence something would be gained, and then they would move on with their lives. Although she had a suspicion that Lelouch would have to fake his death if he wanted to get out of this one without repercussion.

Under her scrutiny he fidgeted slightly. CC narrowed her golden eyes at him. "And what would that lesson be?"

Hopefully to not ruin her moments ever, ever again.

Iwillmurderyouandmakeitlooklikeanaccidentafter—

"It's wrong to mess around with the feelings of others."

Irrelevant.

"And why shouldn't I just go tell him about all the stunts you pulled? What's in it for me?"

His eyes flickered to the cooling pizza on the table briefly. "I'll give you three boxes of pizza."

CC scoffed. "What kind of person do you take me for?"

"Five."

"My friendship with Lelouch isn't so weak that I would cave in—"

"Ten."

"—to such petty bribery. Do you really think I would sink so low—"

"Twenty."

"—as to further my own happiness by sacrificing Lelouch's? He's my best friend! I wouldn't—"

"All you can eat for a month."

"Deal." CC said, hand shooting out to him before she was even aware of her own actions. He took it and they shook. Uncrossing and crossing her legs, CC leaned forward, "Now here's what you should know about Lelouch."

ooo

Uncomfortable didn't even begin to cover what Lelouch was feeling right now.

In the back of a movie theatre, sitting flush against Suzaku, here he was. He had, by sheer force of iron will (tempered with the threat of this all blowing up in his face and disappearing like smoke), managed to force initiative into himself and cuddle right up against Cheaty-McCheater Pants. Using tactics coached to him over the phone by The Most Evil Person Ever, Lelouch had even managed to force 'the arm' out of Suzaku. And he had, most importantly, not broken down into a mess of fidgeting and untamed desire to escape when it happened. Unfortunately his iron will did nothing for the tension turning his entire body into a statue. Or the jerky twitches in reaction to Suzaku's every shifting movement.

No. Uncomfortable wasn't even the beginning.

Focusing on the movie didn't even make the list of things Lelouch was aware of right now in varying degrees. He noticed things like the smell of Suzaku's freshly-shampooed hair; or how very flat and muscular his chest was (in comparison to the ladies on a, well, lady); or how he could always tell where Suzaku's hands were illegally roaming because they were always warm; or how Suzaku in general was always very warm. Lelouch noticed things that he never wished he had to notice about another man, and yet there they were—with big, red, blinking signs on all of them. He had already given in to the futility of trying to ignore it all and think of happier places. With Suzaku clogged in nearly all of his senses like toxic waste it was damn near impossible.

But it was tolerable. After prolonged exposure. And just when Lelouch thought he had reached a level of tolerable uncomfort to focus on some details of the movie, Suzaku's arm slipped down from his shoulders to his back—hand resting on Lelouch's hip full of a dangerous promise. Getting tugged impossibly closer to Suzaku didn't help at all.

Lelouch's eyes went cross in his efforts to suppress the yelp, but he conceded the flinch and shiver. And the awkward new position left him with nowhere to decently put his hands without being more awkward. The only places were… well…

Quite frankly not happening.

The proximity was beginning to make him physically ill and multiplied by infinity plus one when Suzaku's warm breath ghosted over his ear to ask, "Do you, uh, want to kiss?"

It was at that question that every atom of his being spoke to him with one voice:

Flee.

By the time Lelouch ended up in the nearest washroom he had earned more than a few curious glances and even managed to make a little girl cry somehow on his way there. He felt overwhelmed, trying to erase the feeling of Suzaku he felt drowned with—desperately wanting a lava bath that lasted a week. And when the incredible urge to peel his own skin off died down, he looked himself square in the mirror before hanging his head.

He could still remember the way Suzaku smelled, the way Suzaku sounded, the way Suzaku felt, the way Suzaku's lips would've—

Nausea.

Lelouch ran into the nearest stall and promptly threw up.

ooo

The sun was shining, the air was fragrant with a warm breeze, and the newest outfit she had just purchased, complemented by having her hair done, made her the envy of everyone within a ten-block radius of her. She had eaten a large pepperoni for lunch, a Triple Crown for a mid-afternoon snack, and had a slice of Hawaiian to accompany her shopping trip. And all of it on someone else's dime (who also wasn't Lelouch for once). Suzaku was desperately trying to win Lelouch's love and affection. Lelouch was desperately trying not to lose Suzaku's.

It was Christmas.

Or it would be if it weren't for the ball of seething, fuming, murderous intent, and general hate following her everywhere she went like an incredibly pissed off wet kitten. Including the lingerie store CC had wandered into.

Sifting through a clothing rack, she pulled out the first truly scandalous article of clothing she came across within the rack. It was no more than a few strips of fabric. CC held it out to her angry shadow. "I think this would suit you; you should try it on."

Angrily, Kallen snatched the lacey, red lingerie out of CC's hands and stuffed it back onto the sales rack. Being the well-spoken lady she was, Kallen politely said, "I will shove my fist so far into your face you'll see the back of your skull!"

CC tittered behind her hand, "Oh, no, I couldn't possibly pull it off, Kally! You're too kind!" she said loudly, drawing the attention of other customers.

Ah, red, such an attractive colour on this girl. CC couldn't see it until now—when she quite literally had to see it almost all the time. The furious tint colouring her cheeks contrasted so well with her porcelain white skin—the kind of white skin that would surely turn an ugly mottled red colour from burning in this hot sun. CC had made sure to wear lots of sunscreen, but she had made a bet with herself to see if Kallen had the same foresight.

Kallen, if possible, turned redder.

"I wanted to have a serious talk with you!" Kallen hissed, darting glances at everyone around them—silent warnings to back the hell off. "This is a really serious situation between Suzaku and Lelouch right now!"

Humming at her next choice, pulled from a feature display, CC turned her back to Kallen and laid it against her back, looking over her shoulder at the furious redhead. "Do you think this dress will make my rear look big?"

Kallen growled.

"Don't you care about Lelouch? He'll be devastated by what you did!"

Ignoring her, CC put the item back on the rack and pointedly turned her head away from Kallen to look at the displays on the other side of the store. There were many things that would devastate Lelouch, and what she did would rank only as high as number six on that list.

"I wonder if I'd look good in that navy blue one over there," she mused aloud, already walking towards it.

Kallen's non-existent patience didn't just snap, it was obliterated.

CC went slack and adopted a bored look when Kallen grabbed for her shirt collar and spun her around to stick her face inches away. Instead of returning such a pointed, and frankly rude, stare, she instead admired a red and yellow dress on display at the store across the street. Right next to it was a stunning pale blue one looking downright Amish that Kallen would probably still manage to look good in. It was a good thing Marianne never met Kallen, otherwise the sheer bounciness of the girl's twins would've found their way into one of the woman's fashion magazines.

Fingers snapped in her face and she reluctantly turned bored eyes back onto Kallen. And upon seeing the raw, unbridled wrath in that face, CC smiled slyly, hooding her eyes. Sighing faintly and loudly, she wound an arm around the girl's neck. "Oh, Kally, here? Are you sure?"

The implication was not missed.

Kallen's cheeks burned and she backed away from CC so quickly that she collided into a clothing rack and took a large collection of black intimates down with her as she fell. CC just smiled like a cat with a mouse at the poor girl. The dark look promising oblivion was almost adorable coming from between the ample cups of a lacy black bra.

"Sorry, Kally, but I don't swing that way," she said, turning on her heel to leave the store and go investigate that red and yellow dress across the street.

The sound of rustling fabric and an ill-contained scream of rage disappeared behind her and was cut off by the gentle tinkling of the store bell and the glass door clicking shut. When CC glanced back over her shoulder, she saw Kallen uttering supplication after supplication and apology to a none-too-impressed employee.

CC stretched and yawned exaggeratedly, suddenly deliberating a nap in the nearby park she had passed by. And then she sighed. No, Kallen would probably follow her and nag to her to death in her sleep. Probably cause nightmares.

And then her phone chimed.

Fishing it out of her newly-purchased purse (really, who needed Lelouch's stingy credit card limit when she had Clovis' happily surrendered one) and glanced at her phone, taking in the flurry of text messages she had received in only the last hour—of all varying kinds.

Dear Suzaku.

Dear, earnest, misguided, golden cow of cash Suzaku.

Looking around, CC stepped out of the way and decided to take a few minutes to scroll through the recent storm of missed messages. Her grin grew wider and wider with every text.

Liar Fairy McNancyFace: I really don't think he likes being touched. Are you sure touching him is the way to go?

CC laughed into a fist, trying to control herself.

In light of Suzaku Kururugi's very earnest request, she had graciously taken pity on his poor soul and decided to mercifully help him out and offer him tried and true advice on how to win Lelouch's eternal love. The boy looked like he was truly repentant of his crimes in leading Lelouch on, and seemed like he really wanted things to work out between them—for real. So, she told him everything she knew about Lelouch. She had done it for the sake of Suzaku's redemption. She had done it for the sake of Lelouch's fragile heart. She had done if for the sake of the better good.

And, most importantly, she had done it for the sake of love.

Her love, to be exact.

Pizza Hut: Get ready to have your heart eaten out.

Me: Yes! Absolutely! Cuddle him and touch him as much as possible! He's just being shy! He told me how sad and upset it made him that you felt the need to go through couple's counselling because he had trouble being intimate! And that he wanted so badly to be able to do all kinds of things with you, but was too nervous!

(How did you sleep~? Make enough cookies to satisfy your urge to ba—)

(shutupshutupshutupshutupshutupshutupshutupshutupshutupshutup)

After sending the message, CC waited a moment for the inevitable reply. If Suzaku was one thing, it was prompt.

Liar Fairy McNancyFace: Oh.

And easily fooled.

The familiar chime and gentle click of a glass door closing drew CC's attention away to Kallen, who had finally escaped the clutches of the store employee. The girl scanned the street quickly, searching for her quarry before her eyes locked onto CC. There were many words that could describe what Kallen Stadtfeld looked like right now. CC chose adorably rabid.

"CC!" she shrieked, earning more than a few curious stares from onlookers. A mother across the street even held her hands over her curious son's ears, ushering him along quickly. Kallen's face twitched with barely-suppressed rage, and her teeth were probably clenched so hard they could tear through steel.

Instead of the typical pulse of fear that anyone who wanted to live past this moment felt, CC felt only pride. And instead of booking it as far as legs could take one, CC casually sauntered over to Kallen, hooked her arm with the other girl's, and gently tugged her away to the store across the street, buffering the first awkward, stumbling steps Kallen took after her, rigid as she was.

"Come. There is a simply ravishing dress with your name on it," she said simply, ignoring further protests from her dark shadow turned shopping companion.

Faintly, she could hear her phone chime.

ooo

Somehow, it wasn't going how Suzaku had pictured it would go. He knew it wouldn't be easy, but he pictured it going smoother than this. Waiting outside the restroom while Lelouch reconciled the contents of his stomach was just not what he imagined. Even with all of CC's advice, the day had just been nothing short of awkward. Lelouch had always shied away from his touch or downright rejected it, but now he was… well… clingy.

And not the kind of clingy that wanted to be clingy. It was the kind of clingy where you were suspended over a vat of boiling lava and your only option to avoid certain doom was to hug a serial-killer like he was a teddy bear because he stood between you and salvation.

Suzaku didn't mind the change; thought it might even be a good direction for his newfound resolve to adapt to. And it made sense after Lelouch's sunset confession on the boat back to the resort the other day. The only problem was that it didn't feel natural at all. He might as well have been a statue during the movie, and Suzaku was pretty sure Lelouch would have no answers if asked questions about it.

There was always the option of just continuing as he had been in the relationship up until now—but he was reluctant because none of that behaviour was particularly genuine. Or particularly nice. And Suzaku wanted to be himself around Lelouch, to see if adaptation was possible. For the sake of trying, Suzaku didn't want to unnecessarily upset Lelouch. But he didn't really know how to properly be in a relationship with anyone. He had never dated anyone in high school, and he was too concerned with running the company properly with his young age working against him to have time for anyone not involved with that.

So, in short, he had no real idea about what to do, and no experience to draw upon.

Sighing, he checked his phone again. CC still hadn't replied to his last four text messages. One after Lelouch had booked it out of the theatre. A second when Lelouch hadn't come back ten minutes later. A third when the credits started to roll. And a fourth one he had sent five minutes ago after the movie was officially over and the ushers were kicking people out. While he had his misgivings about the advice CC gave him, he really had no one else to turn to.

Well, no one else he wanted to turn to.

After sending CC a fifth message, Suzaku steeled himself and ventured inside the bathroom. It was empty save for a single, closed stall. He didn't need to glance under the metal barrier to spot that Lelouch had spent a good portion of time hunched over the toilet. Grimacing, Suzaku rapped lightly on the door.

"Lelouch? Are you… no, of course you're not. How are you feeling? Do you want to go back to the hotel? Can you walk? Should I carry—?"

"No!" he said quickly, following it up with a moan of complaint and more retching.

Suzaku winced and took in a slow and steady breath. "I think you should lie down. Can you stand? I'll take you back to the hotel. I, uh, don't think you should eat anything if you're vomiting."

There was shuffling and he could vaguely see Lelouch get to his feet before the door to the stall opened. Suzaku held his hands uselessly in front of him, watching how Lelouch swayed slightly on his feet, but was ready to catch the boy if he toppled over. Lelouch didn't look at him as he made his way over to the sink and promptly rinsed the taste of vomit and bile out of his mouth.

Suzaku felt helpless and useless, not really knowing what to do right now. He had never had to take care of a sick person. Kaguya had often come over whenever he was under the weather, and even when she didn't he had Sayoko. He couldn't think of a time when either of them had caught so much as a cough for him to return the favour.

"I'm okay," Lelouch said suddenly, turning to look at him with a weak smile. "I just… needed a minute."

Smiling reassuringly, Suzaku just shrugged. "I guess no kisses, huh?"

Lelouch paled and his body convulsed as if he would throw up again, but thankfully didn't. "I just vomited so it would, uh, taste bad," he said quickly and looked away, turning bright red.

Ah.

There it was again. That feeling he felt every time he made Lelouch uncomfortable. That sadistic surge of pleasure and amusement he hadn't felt in such a long time—wallowing in his guilt about messing with Lelouch's feelings and all that. And then came the unmistakeable urge to just push and see how far he could go with it.

But then he remembered that it was exactly that kind of behaviour that got him into this mess in the first place. And that was followed by how he had resolved to take things slow properly. And honestly. That was the big one.

So, with that in mind, Suzaku bit back the smart remark that just about escaped him.

Instead, he just held out his hand. "It's fine. I don't want to rush you into anything. Take your time; I'll wait."

Lelouch looked at his hand like it was a poisonous snake and tensed. Swallowing, he carefully reached out to take it, jumping slightly when Suzaku took the initiative to just reach out and join their hands together. Lelouch reactively pulled his hand away, but Suzaku just squeezed tighter. When he realized that this probably was the opposite of 'waiting,' Suzaku sheepishly let go and took a step back.

"Sorry," he apologized. "I just…"

Lelouch bit his lip and swallowed hard again, looking like he was physically struggling with what he was about to say next. "We can if… if you really want to. Just, uh, not in here," he added, glancing around them at the bathroom.

Smirking, Suzaku just reached for his hand and pulled Lelouch out of the washroom, feeling a little proud when Lelouch didn't pull away this time. He led them both through the crowded cinema out to the busy downtown shopping district of the coastal town they ventured to the other day.

He winced as his eyes adjusted to the sudden sunlight and casually glanced at Lelouch, musing how he probably didn't fare well in such intense sunlight being so pale and all. Well, he would just make sure to shore up his defences if Lelouch started complaining about getting burned.

Literally.

Not the metaphorical kind that Suzaku would have put him through if he hadn't decided to try.

"I think we've already seen a lot of what this town has to offer. Did you still want to look around?"

Lelouch just shrugged noncommittally. "I'm okay with whatever you want to do."

"You want to just grab a coffee and chat then? It's been a while since we got to do anything like that. And I still need to redeem myself for that one day I stood you up."

A day which had been the beginning of all his guilt, shame, and desires to jump ship.

Lelouch shook his head quickly. "You don't have to apologize for that. That was… uh…" He looked away, struggling to come up with something. Instead he gave up and offered a tentative smile. "Coffee would be nice though."

"Great," Suzaku said, liking Lelouch just a little bit more for letting him off the hook for that one so easily. "We passed by a café the other day. I think it's around here. I'll get you a parfait."

If he had to, Suzaku would later confess that the café he had in mind was pretty much on the other side of the downtown section, and wasn't anything more special than the ones they passed by every other block. The small town had decidedly capitalized on their sunny location and the nearby resort vacationers love for caffeinated beverages. Some of the cafes had even nicknamed the coastal city Coffee Town—a name everyone seemed to play along with just shy of it being the official name. Suzaku's goal had been to settle into a comfortable atmosphere before actually getting there to avoid sitting awkwardly around each other with nothing to say.

It was one of the pieces of advice his cousin gave that actually sounded useful.

"So, what was it like to grow up in Britannia?"


Comments:

So. Be honest; did you think I would fail my own update schedule so soon? Waitdon'tanswerthat.

A lot of you (and by that I mean, like, every one of you) have asked, pleaded, demanded, and surprisingly not bribed me about what pairing this is all about. Will they? Won't they? And, please for the love of kittens can they? For the most part I've avoided answering. Well, no more! Today, I give you a definitive answer to put your minds at ease! And the definitive answer to the question that's burning in all your minds is: Maaaayyyybe.

Honestly, we've spent sixteen chapters together. Did you really think I would?

Now that that's out of the way, I'm genuinely interested to know your thoughts on something that's always bothered me: Author comments in general. Love 'em? Hate 'em? Don't even notice they're there? Do you read them? If you're anything like me, it's just an interfering block of text you skip past. And in light of my own habits, I've tried to make them mercifully short more often than not. Let me know in a comment, because apparently some of you actually are interested in the useless things I say and that always pleasantly surprises me!

Please R&R.

- Minute Maid

Beverage of Queens.

P.S. Canada double gold in hockey! AMIRITE?