A sleepy moan escaped her lips as Kallen rubbed her eyes tiredly, one hand on the hallway wall of the Ikaruga as she made her way towards the kitchens. She still wasn't fully acclimated to their new base (a floating warship, of all things- the vast steps they had made since the days in the Shinjuku ghetto where one barely functional Glasgow was a blessing still amazed her), but she was managing her way nonetheless. Plus, someone else apparently had a need for the kitchens at this late hour, as the light was on from behind the closed door.
Slowly, she pulled opened the door, barely conscious as the lights flooded her vision for a moment, awakening her to the kitchen's other occupant.
"Lelouch?" as soon as she said the name, she cursed herself. She was already getting too comfortable using his real name, as opposed to the name she was supposed to be calling him.
However, this was too Lelouch for Zero, so it could be forgiven. After all, whenever anyone pictured the legendary terrorist/freedom fighter, they always pictured him at the forefront of a great battle, or delivering a grandiose speech.
Not with mustard stains all over his gloved hands, crumbs sticking to them as he tried to hold together what was might have been a failed attempt at a sandwich.
"A-ah, Kallen," he greeted, somewhat awkwardly, and jerked his head toward the door. "If you wouldn't mind closing that door…"
Still stupefied at the completely unimagined scene before her, Kallen nodded distantly and grabbed the handle of the kitchen door, gently closing it behind her and locking it.
"Thank you," he said slowly, setting down the makeshift sandwich on a plate and removing his helmet, shaking his head once as if letting his hair move after being compressed for so long.
"Um… what are you doing?" Kallen asked, blinking.
"Having a late night snack," Lelouch answered in a complete matter of fact voice, as if it were painfully obvious.
"Is that what that's supposed to be?" she teased, chuckling to herself as she did so. Without the mask, he was much easier to treat as simply Lelouch, the sleepy, arrogant Vice President of the Student Council. "I thought you knew how to cook."
"I can cook," he assured her coolly, "But I admit that these common dishes tend to escape me from time to time."
"Seems that way," Kallen muttered, unable to stop smiling as Lelouch wrinkled his nose and removed his gloves, wiping them down with a napkin. "Would you like some help?"
"I think I'm done with this little cooking experiment, thank you," Lelouch replied tartly, raising his eyebrow as he maneuvered himself to sit before the counter. "And though it may not look professional, in this case function wins out over form. I am hungry, and this should satisfy that hunger. It's late and I'm not in the mood to cook."
"You are up awfully late," she said slowly, realizing the strangeness of running into him at the kitchen, at this hour, of all times. "Is there a problem?"
"Unless you count C.C.'s incessant need to annoy me, which is a problem I doubt even you can solve, Q-1," Lelouch responded, smirking, "Then no. There is no problem. I was finishing some proposals to send to the Chinese Federation, lost track of time, and now need a short bite to eat before bed. I would have skipped it entirely, but I did not have dinner."
Kallen gave a thoughtful "oh" in response, wondering not for the first time at the differences of their station. She was a soldier- she took orders and fought the enemy. But Lelouch was the one who decided their enemies, and who fought in the political arena.
She considered this, as she stepped past him and began pouring herself a glass of tap water, drinking deeply, and then refilling the glass.
Yawning, she turned around, intending to ask Lelouch another question-
And ran smack dab into his outstretched arm- the arm that was carrying his sandwich.
Kallen watched in horror as mustard splattered against her shirt, and then as the sandwich gracelessly toppled to the floor.
"… that was unfortunate," Lelouch muttered, blinking.
"I'm sorry!" she sputtered quickly, reaching down to grab the sandwich, but in her haste she only grabbed the top piece of bread, and knocked the inner meats of the meal onto the floor as well.
"This is just not your night, Kallen," he teased, chuckling.
"Look, I'm really sorry," she bowed her head apologetically, though a part of her was struck by the bizarreness of this situation. A year ago she could never have imagined not only running into Zero making himself a midnight snack, but then accidentally knocking over that snack. "I'll make you another one myself!"
"I can do it myself," the ex-Prince reminded her, reaching towards the cabinet, but she blocked his path.
"No!" Kallen refused vehemently, cheeks already glaringly red. "You said you were tired! So I'll make you something!"
Lelouch chuckled again. "I suppose if you're so adamant about it… you should know though, that those were the last pieces of bread in our pantry. We're getting a new shipment of supplies tomorrow, but…"
"It's fine!" Kallen began opening the cabinets, scanning them for anything, anything she could use. Her eyes rested on a familiar packaging, and she broke out into a smile.
There we go.
"Hmm… I'm quite impressed with this unknown skill of yours, Kallen," Lelouch complimented, hunched over the counter as he watched her. "For some reason I was always of the opinion your cooking would leave something to be desired…"
"I'll have you know I cook for myself a lot of the time," she shot back irritably, continuing to prepare the meal, dunking the meat into the egg. "And just what kind of clumsy character are you trying to make me out to be!"
"Nothing of the sort," he replied, chuckling again. "Merely an assumption I made."
"Well, you know what they say about that," Kallen replied smartly, and placed the object in her hands on the oiled pan, where it immediately began to sizzle. "You don't mind tonkatsu, right?"
He gave her a bemused look. "Even if I didn't, do you really think me so ungrateful as to turn down food someone else cooked for me?" he asked, attempting to sound hurt as he raised an eyebrow.
Kallen gave him a look that plainly said "Yes", and he chuckled.
"Did you learn this yourself?" Lelouch questioned, gaze moving from the pan to the girl. "Or was it a parent?"
"My mother," she admitted quietly, as though ashamed. "She taught me it before we began living with our father and I changed my name to Stadtfeld. I wanted to help out around the house."
"Where were you living before that?" he asked, before even realizing it. Exactly why he was curious, he couldn't say, but at the least, it could be good table conversation.
If she was offended or surprised in any way by his prying into her personal life, she didn't show it. "A small neighborhood. Japanese only. The ghettos weren't so bad back then. They were livable. They had real schools, and restaurants, and…"
"I remember," Lelouch suddenly said, breaking her thoughts, meeting her nostalgic gaze with hard look and a single, stiff nod, that spoke volumes about how much he understood.
That's right, he'd been here since before the war, Kallen remembered suddenly, something C.C. had alluded to during that long year between the battle at Tokyo and the battle at Babel Tower.
"Where did you go, before you went to the Ashfords?" she asked, without looking at him, focused on turning over the contents of the pan, her burgeoning curiosity about his personal life showing through.
"Suzaku was with us then," Lelouch answered, a lightness in his eyes that seemed to grow rarer by the day, "The three of us, Suzaku, myself, and Nunnally, just kept moving from place to place during those first few months after the Brittanian invasion. We scrounged for food and water, living off what we could find."
"But you were only children," Kallen whispered, horrified. She remembered the devastation Japan had suffered only distantly, like a bad dream pushed from the edges of cognizance.
He shrugged, seemingly indifferent.
"We had nowhere to go. We were strangers in a foreign land. Eventually, though, we had to stop running. The Ashfords took us in, and Suzaku left to find shelter elsewhere… and I suppose that's how he ended up with Brittania."
The room felt cold and dark and silent, even with the familial sound of sizzling pork and the overhead halogen lights, as if everything was buried beneath the weight of Lelouch's mixed feelings of rage and hate and regret towards his erstwhile best friend.
"I think it's ready," Lelouch pointed out, raising an eyebrow and curling his lip in amusement.
With a yelp, she realized he was right.
"Well… how does it taste?" Kallen refused to submit to the urge to shuffle nervously. Goddamnit, she was a battle hardened ace pilot, not a giggling schoolgirl (well, she was a schoolgirl, but that was another point entirely).
Lelouch, instead of responding, deliberately scooped up another helping of rice, filling his mouth and chewing thoughtfully, never betraying a look of disgust or elation at the taste. After that, he, ever so slowly, speared another piece of the tonkatsu onto his fork, dipped it in the sauce, and bit down.
Another scooping of rice.
"Seriously Lelouch, just tell me-"
Another piece of tonkatsu.
"Okay, now I know you're just trying to piss me off-"
"If you wouldn't mind, a glass of water would be nice," Lelouch requested suddenly, glancing up at her, and she could see that damn light in his eyes that told her he was very much enjoying keeping her on her toes.
"Get it yourself," Kallen practically snarled, crossing her arms belligerently.
"Well now that's not very polite," he chided her, smirking.
She snorted. "Like you're much better."
"Would it help if I said please?" he questioned, smiling like a Cheshire cat.
"It would not," Kallen replied, mimicking his 'genteel' voice, even wrinkling her nose in that same way she'd seen countless Brittanian nobles do before.
"You're being awfully coy tonight, aren't you?" Lelouch chuckled to himself.
"You're one to talk," she shot back, rolling her eyes. "Sometimes I can't tell if you're being serious or if you're just trying to get under my skin."
"What can I say?" he shrugged, almost helplessly, smirking a little wider. "A good leader keeps his subordinates on their toes."
Kallen gave him a deadpan stare. "… you just like to mess with my head, don't you?"
Lelouch's smirk never changed.
"You suck, you know that?" she muttered sulkily, crossing her arms again.
"Even Zero needs to have a bit of fun," he said casually, smirking changing to that kind of smarmy grin that made Kallen want to flat out deck him, were it not for the fact that she would also be punching out Zero.
"You could do it without having it at my expense."
"That," he replied bemusedly, "Would just be boring."
And with that, he stood. "Well, as delightful as it is to talk with you, Kallen, I'm afraid I'll have to cut this conversation. We have a great deal of work ahead of us on the morrow."
With a graceful sweep, he put the mask back on over his face, gave her a short bow, and left without so much as another word, leaving her to stew.
She'd thought knowing Zero's true identity would bring her to closer understanding of his true nature. Instead, knowing who he was just made her more confused, because of how contradictory the man beneath the mask was. He was definitely Zero, betrayed in his regal nature and attitude in crisis that she'd personally borne witness to, but yet he was also Lelouch, that arrogant, slightly mischievous Vice President of the Student Council.
Rubbing her forehead, she sighed, and glanced down.
Lelouch's plate was still sitting on the counter.
"Wait, you never told me how it was, you jerk!" Kallen suddenly realized, blurting it out loud, and to that, she was met with a distant chuckle, the sound of Lelouch's footsteps growing ever softer.
"Stupid, arrogant, pig-headed asshole" she began to mutter rebelliously, glancing down at the plate he'd even so condescendingly left behind for her to put away.
Grabbing it tightly, as though it were Lelouch's scrawny little neck, she began to wash off the sauce stains.
"Wait a second…" she blinked, glancing down at the plate.
It was completely clean, save for lingering traces of the tonkatsu sauce.
And something her mother said came back to her, back when she had first started learning to cook.
"The best thanks a cook can get is a clean plate."
A soft smile tugged at her lips.
"… you're welcome, you big jerk."