Chapter 1: Arrival

It was an extravagant vehicle, white and pristine. Light reflected off of its smooth walls, glinting in the gold-plated hubcaps. The windows were tinted, naturally, to protect the identity of the individual who owned it. But then, the Britannian flags that fluttered on the front of the limousine already gave it away, not to mention the dark cars that made up its entourage.

In Area 11, there was really only one person who could be in that vehicle. Until the Sub-Viceroy, that is. He watched the scenery from behind the tinted glass with unimpressed purple eyes. His plane had landed about half an hour ago, and now he was on his way to present himself to the world, make his first debut on the political scene. He should be nervous. He should be worried, at the very least, of the newfound responsibilities. Having to deal with rebel factions wasn't exactly a walk in the park. He knew this. People lost their lives. He knew this too.

Was it bad that he didn't care?

Maybe it just hasn't sunk in yet, he told himself. News reports and battle simulations in the Academy were very different from real life, and being told of so-and-so's achievements was very different from trying to achieve them himself. The path before him was not an easy one. But he would understand, he was sure of it. Given time, he would understand it all. He had to, if he ever wanted to be emperor. If ever wanted to be a good emperor.

The procession halted briefly while a pair of large golden gates opened and then passed into a large garden area. The Sub-Viceroy smirked inwardly. How so very like Clovis, surrounding himself with extravagant gardens. They almost rivalled the gardens of Aries Villa. Almost, but not quite. Briefly, he wondered just how big of a budget Clovis set aside for his personal pleasures, and if maybe he could do the same. No matter how frivolous he was, next to Clovis it would be nothing.

Lush grass, vibrant flower beds- the only thing that really stood out to him was the cherry blossom tree. So pale, subdued compared to the rest of the greenery, but elegant and arresting in its own way. He forgot what the Elevens called it, and most likely so had Clovis, but he spoke very highly of it and its beauty. He even gave one to Euphie as a gift. Lelouch made a mental note to plant one at home as well. Nunally might not be able to see it, but one day she might, and it was something he knew she'd enjoy.

The sprawling villa slowly came into view, just as grandiose and exaggerated as everything else. Lelouch spotted a few statues here and there and, although they were too far away for him to discern their features, it was safe to assume they were of Clovis. Maybe even Euphie, if she'd agreed to pose for one. They could always be of the Emperor- appearance's sake, of course. Clovis abhorred those busts of the Emperor that littered the palace hallways, just as he did.

"His frown just seems to follow you everywhere, doesn't it? Whatever you do, he's frowning down at you."

The sides of his lips twitched slightly, picturing a groggy Clovis opening his bedroom window, only to be greeted by their father's dark frown. No, Clovis wouldn't put a statue of the Emperor in the garden. He didn't make a very good balcony view.

The soldiers were lined up at the entrance, forming a path for him and his entourage. At the very front stood the flag bearers, rigid and resolute, with the flags of Britannia and Area 11 flying over their heads. He thought it strangely symbolic, how they held the flags up and how they fluttered in the wind, as if taunting them, happy to be out of reach. Like Britannia, his beloved Britannia. You might be told that you're a part of it, but you never truly are.

Lelouch closed his eyes and breathed deeply, steeling himself. When he opened them, he could see Clovis' royal guard, standing proud in their long-tailed lavender coats and then, as the limousine came to a stop, he saw Clovis himself, slowly descending the front steps. There was a faint smile on his half-brother's face. Sincere? Maybe, but he doubted it. Clovis had asked for him here, had requested the Emperor give him this position when he knew of Lelouch's plans to join Cornelia in the Middle East, and it probably wasn't out of the goodness of his heart.

He waited, a finger tapping impatiently on his knee, as members of his own royal guard began to take their places. His expression was constructed into a passive mask. Finally, his door opened, and Lelouch stepped out, taking a moment to adjust his cape around his shoulders.

"His Imperial Highness Lelouch vi Britannia, Eleventh prince of the Holy Britannian Empire!"

"And Sub-Viceroy of Area 11," Clovis drawled. "Congratulations, little brother."

His smile was still in place as he approached. Clovis always had this light, leisured manner in things. Growing up, Lelouch had tried to take a leaf from his book and affect this languid style of his, but with him it always seemed to come off as apathy instead. But there was an allure to that too, so it was alright. And when all else failed, that long title of his had an allure of its own.

"I understand I have you to thank for that, Clovis."

"Don't be so eager to thank me yet. You'll come to realize that the work of a ruler is tiring, and worse than that, it never ends."

A hand on his back, Clovis began to lead the Sub-Viceroy inside. Lavender stood by black as their royal guard came behind them, together with whoever was deemed important enough or simply had been with the Viceroy at the time of Lelouch's arrival.

"Oh yes, balls and amusement parks." This Clovisland project was the butt of many jokes within the royal family, excluding Nunally and Euphie. "How terrifying."

Clovis gave him a sidelong glance; most likely he'd heard of these jokes already. "Balls are more work than you'd know, Lelouch, and besides, balls are not the only duties I -and now you- will have to attend to." He smiled again, patting Lelouch on the back lightly.

The foyer was airy; this was his first impression as they stepped in together. Beyond that, Lelouch paid it little attention. He didn't care for the marble under his feet, nor did he care for the paintings on the wall, although he did take note of them, acknowledging that they had most likely been painted by Clovis himself. Another thing he took note of was the distinct lack of porcelain, whether as vases or decorative plates, in spite of his knowing full well just how much the Viceroy liked to have those things. A precautionary measure, perhaps? Had his most recent tantrum reached his ears? His lips twitched briefly before he managed to stifle his amusement.

"But you'll see soon enough," Clovis said. He paused in front of one of the paintings, seeming to admire it. A passing glance told Lelouch it was of nature, probably a very charming scene. "You'll see. For now, let's enjoy what time we have. I expect you'll be quite busy by the end of this night."

"Why?" Lelouch asked. He began to unfasten his cape and the head of his royal guard, Lord Jeremiah, stepped forward to receive it from him. "What's tonight?"

"Why, a ball, of course."

Lelouch forced a laugh and Clovis joined in, leading him further into the villa.

In spite of his statements in the morning, Clovis certainly seemed to enjoy the ball. More so even than Lelouch, who was supposed to be the guest of honour. To Lelouch, balls and galas and all of those things were only a means to an end, a way to see the pawns and determine if any of them were even worthy of participating in the game, his game.

It seemed, however, that his act was more a hindrance than help right now.

They treat me like a child, he thought, hiding his frown behind the champagne flute. An ill-tempered five-year-old.

Sure, he might have acted like one, and it might have kept him alive thus far, but it was time to let it drop. Lelouch honestly wasn't even sure he could stand to keep it up anymore in the first place.

"Lelouch, sulking off on your own again?"

Turning around, he put on a careless smile, very similar to the one on Clovis' lips.

"Forgive me, brother, but you can hardly blame me. Your talk has been so dreary."

"Says the Black Prince! With the uniforms you've assigned that guard of yours, I'm not surprised you've turned so dull."

In the Homeland, they called Lelouch the Black Prince. It was a jab at his faked temper tantrums and the black moods everyone saw him in. Nonetheless, going by the saying of 'If you can't beat 'em, join 'em,' Lelouch had adopted the name and decided to apply it to various areas in his life, starting from his royal guard to his gifts and ending with his own wardrobe. It showed tonight in his gold-embroidered jacket and trousers, both black. Wary of looking grim, he tied a red cravat around his neck over a white dress-shirt.

His guard, however, didn't often apply bright colours to their uniform, and Lelouch preferred it that way. Grim they may be, but formidable.

"Or was it simply the military that changed you?" Clovis asked, looking as though he had trouble imagining Lelouch in the military in the first place.

"Yes, that might be it," he nodded. After a pause, he said, "Tell me, Clovis, do you care for a game of chess?"

"Oho, revenge, is it? Looking to show me up in front of my pet nobles?"

Yes. Exactly. It might seem ill-mannered to them, even when the ball was nearing its close, but he was the spoiled Black Prince, after all. They probably expected this sort of behaviour from him. Besides, what was a ball for if not to show off? His smile took on a sly edge, knowing that Clovis would humour him anyway. And he did.

A chess board was brought out and the court gathered around the two princes to watch their game. Clovis motioned for the musicians to continue playing, having stopped as soon as they saw the board being set, and requested a slow classical piece.

And so it began.

One thing Lelouch could never quite understand was why Clovis always agreed to play chess with him when he always knew he'd lose. In most things, his half-brother wasn't nearly as forgiving. Failure was not an option to him, it wasn't in his vocabulary. And yet, this game, it could actually be called fun, even as Lelouch out-manoeuvred him at every turn.

The chess pieces glinted as they were moved, the marvellously-crafted glass catching the light quite beautifully. Even in chess, Clovis, Lelouch mused inwardly, picking up his king. A collective gasp; he smirked, making his move.

"The king, Lelouch?"

"If the King does not lead, how can he expect his subordinates to follow?" He leaned back in his seat, one leg crossed over the other.

Clovis didn't answer, merely shaking his head and smiling at some inner joke.

It was different from how he played with Schneizel. Their chess games were stimulating, intense. Lelouch was always determined to triumph over him, no matter what. He felt none of that from Clovis. It felt like nothing more than a good-natured game between brothers, political agendas be damned.

He supposed Clovis simply didn't care for the game. Oh, he played well enough and even seemed to enjoy it sometimes, but in the end it wasn't his preferred field. He'd gladly replace the rooks for brushes, the horses for paint.

Such a whimsical world you live in, brother.

"And with this," he announced, placing his rook on the board. "I call checkmate."

A/N: This is my first fanfic in a long while and I'd really appreciate any comments you have, whether on characterization or style or whatever else you can think of. Constructive criticism is more than welcome, and don't worry about being a little harsh! I'm a big girl, I can handle it.

Evidently, this is AU, and the history behind it will be explained, more or less, in the next chapter, which should be up by the weekend.

Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed it! And following chapters will be more fast-paced, don't worry.