Suzaku Kururugi hates the smell of burning plastic.
He discovers this late one Sunday evening, when he is burning the plastic tag-ties off his new clothes. He's been bargain shopping recently, and consequently, he spends a lot of time de-tagging his purchases. Back-to-school sales had begun the week before, and in preparation for college, he'd used the small stipend that came alongside his scholarship to buy his much-needed clothes (he had hit a growth spurt somewhere in the middle of senior year) and his grandmother could not afford to buy new clothes at that point. She is his sole caretaker and, since her age is getting the best of her, he mostly takes care of himself.
He tosses the charred ties into the garbage can at the foot of his bed, making a quick decision that he'll shove these clothes into their box later, because he's not even going to the dorm until Wednesday. In the two-day space until then, he plans on some serious contemplation. It was a hell of a lot of work for a person like him to make it to Pendragon University, (especially considering his heritage; who would want an Eleven in their dorm?) and post-high school laziness wasn't going to stop him now. He wanted no distractions—down to business, parties are out of the question. Even Milly, who lectured Suzaku on the importance of socializing and fraternities, could not sway him from this decision.
A muffled beep alerts him of a new text message. Pack your camera too! Speak of the devil. She isn't going to college; apparently, beauty shops are her calling. (Rivalz hadn't taken that well.) Suzaku had to admit he was a little jealous; she has all the money in the world, a plethora of opportunities open to her, and here he is planning to commute building-to-building on his bicycle. But he can't berate her for it. She really isn't built for any sort of education; she'd worried endlessly about even passing in high school, so perhaps this is for the best.
He stands listlessly in the shower, examining the drain with dogged attention to detail. Maybe it's because he's nervous. Why is this so difficult? Suzaku has always been a people person, for the most part chipper and inviting. It wouldn't be difficult to get help if he didn't know where he was going, or if he didn't know where to pick up his books (granted he asks someone who's not racist).
And there's always Rivalz, right? The blue-haired oddball is also going to Pendragon, but like most of the people Suzaku had talked to, he was staying in Amherst Hall. He himself was in Nester, according to the letter Admissions had sent him. It was on the northeast part of the campus ("near many buildings necessary to the incoming freshman class", said the map) and he could take a taxi, a tram, or drive his own vehicle should he so choose. He can't help but feel like an oddball, with only a bike and a Rivalz to get him where he needs to be.
Then again, he never got anywhere by worrying either.
"Girls! All I really want is girls!"
"And in the morning it's girls~ and in the evening it's girls~"
"Shut up, witch."
"To do the dishes, to do the laundry—"
Lelouch sucks in a breath. "Why don't you try your hand at some laundry for once, cretin?"
C.C. barely blinks. "Nervous about your first class on Wednesday?" Mocking Lelouch (or Professor Lamperouge, as he will be called from now on) has been one of her favorite pastimes ever since their first meeting. He's always just asking for it. "I can see you've been starching your blazer compulsively. How very in character."
He sighs, exasperated, and turns the iron to its Steam setting. There have to be better quality ones than this. "It's not about being compulsive, it's about being organized. You don't even know how to work the washer—bringing me back to the laundry issue—so you're hardly in a position to lecture me about cleanliness."
"Mmmm." She reaches into a garlic-reeking box of pizza that sits precariously close to Lelouch's shirt. "You just want to be cute for all of those college boys, you big pedophile you."
"I just find appearances to be very important when you're trying to make an impression on young people." Lelouch shakes the can of starch and sprays it over the collar. "You really should be doing this for me, C.C., considering just how much of my money you…" he stops, face breaking into a moue of disgust at the sight of her gorging on pizza. She ignores him, of course, and he goes on, "and don't make this into something so stupid. I regret confiding in you."
"You're going to make me regret letting you stay here until that college lines up a place for you." But not another word is said between them. For years, their friendship (if you could call it that) has been punctuated by many a sarcasm-flavored silence, the bulk of which are induced by her attempts to level the playing field. It is silent now, however, because Lelouch is busy with that shirt, which is already tailor-quality smooth. "So, how exactly is Nunnally going to do it?"
"Do what? Live on campus? I have it taken care of." Of course he does. She can see it now: Lelouch heckling with everyone who comes into his range of vision, imploring them to do something about the lack of transportation modifications for his sister. "Wheelchair ramps have been built all through Nester, at last. I first called those people in April." When the acceptance letter had come in the mail and he'd made three distinct copies: one for Schneizel (the conniving brother who always seems to gain an advantage over him in some way), one for his resume, and one to put in a frame.
"Why are you staying in a dormitory? Just get an apartment." She nips a pepperoni off the edge of her slice.
"It's a matter of convenience. I'm not going to drive my sister around for miles on end," he reminded. "I can always move out if I want to. Dean Carlan understands." The iron fizzes as it glides over the starch. "You really should work on getting a job, C.C., your mother isn't going to pay your rent forever."
"I don't want a job," she says languidly, staring at the conch lamp on the ceiling. It needs dusted. "I'm perfectly fine with her paying; she can do it as long as she wants to."
Lelouch sighs and hangs up his blazer on the gold-glazed hook near C.C.'s computer desk. "I'm going to bed," he announces, smoothing fuzz off his slacks. "Don't blare any music, I mean it this time."
After the sound of her voice ("Whatever you do, try not to go to town on yourself, I just cleaned those sheets" etc) has faded away, he sinks onto the sub-quality bed in her guest room, crossing one leg over the other and folding his arms underneath his head. He isn't exactly nervous, mostly because the freshman are too busy trying not to get lost to be real annoyances, but he is anxious about what he will be doing when he's not teaching. What is there to do in Pendragon, other than go out drinking? College towns never had any depth; not in his experience, anyway.
Maybe he'll just read the year away.
Room 220. Mission accomplished. Suzaku pops his room key in the slot and watches a tiny smiley face appear at the corner of the screen, accompanied by a cheerful ping. He opens the door and, mercifully, he's still alone in here, the smell of cleaning products to keep him company. Maybe his roommate hasn't arrived yet—better yet, maybe he doesn't even have one.
His boxes have already been moved in here—thanks to Milly's pioneering efforts—and his laptop sits waiting on the purple-topped mahogany desk in the corner. On the wall to its right is a poster.
1. You will not enter any residence hall without your student identification. Only one room key will be issued to you – in the event that you lose it, you must purchase all additional room keys for fifty dollars.
2. Use of any controlled substances on this property is prohibited and will result in immediate expulsion.
3. If any faculty members live in your residence hall, they are to be left alone. If you must speak to a faculty member, contact them via email or phone.
4. Your Resident Assistant will answer any questions you may have. Nester Hall Resident Assistant: Gino Weinberg
Nester Hall Resident Assistant: Gino Weinberg
Well, Suzaku can't imagine why anyone (save for annoying teachers' pets) would want to bother a professor in the first place, much less have the time to. And he isn't too sure of why anyone would be stupid enough to bring drugs into their dorm. Then again, stranger things must certainly have happened.
Nothing left to do but wait, right? His first class doesn't start until one o'clock, and it's only a few blocks away. His bicycle waits downstairs, locked to a metal pole outside. He's amazed he hasn't lost or forgotten something yet, but then again he did spend an hour making sure everything he owned was present and accounted for.
He pulls a picture of Euphy out of his duffel bag and places it on the tiny nightstand, settling on his bed to look at it for a while. It was taken this summer at Shirley's graduation party, and Euphy had insisted that she looked bad. Suzaku is convinced it's the best picture of her he's ever seen – and he's always liked her in cap sleeves.
(Euphemia decided to go to art school, much to his chagrin, and she's forty-five minutes away in Cromwell City. They've made promises to call each other whenever possible, but he'll be calling her more than she'll be calling him. She's forgetful.)
The door opens, and it's a smiling young blond man. His eyes are that bright, disconcerting sort of blue that's more creepy than charming. "Hi, I'm Gino. Do you need help with anything?" he shakes his head no. A moment passes. "Don't talk much, do you."
"No, I just – " Suzaku exhales, feeling a bit relieved to talk to someone, even if he comes off as a little annoying. "I'm just a little tired."
Gino gives him a knowing look. "It'll pass. Anyway, your roommate's pre-law, so he's pretty quiet too. You'll meet him in a few. Just wanted to make sure you were settled in. By the way, that accent – you're Japanese, aren't you?"
Oh, wonderful. Growing up in a rather small community within the city, Suzaku had grown accustomed to people knowing and accepting his nationality. Britannians react to an Eleven the same way Americans do, for the most part – about half of them are fine with it, and the other half – well, it's something he doesn't linger on. He can generally tell between the two types depending on who says Japanese and who says Eleven or Number. "Yeah. I was born in Kyoto."
"Cool. I only know a handful of Japanese people myself. Nice people though. I'll be seeing you later, Suzaku, awwright?"
"Okay," Suzaku says quietly, and Gino leaves. That must be the RA. He's certainly chipper, isn't he? He turns his gaze back to the picture of Euphy. I wonder what she would be doing if I had brought her here… probably trying to paint the room pink.
He looks up, surprised, to see his roommate unpacking. When did he come in, again? It's a young man with longish dark blond hair—is everyone blond in this town—and Suzaku must have been too spaced out to hear him open the door. "Hi," he says, noticing the brunet's gaze, "I'm Clovis."
Clovis looks at him for a little while longer, sizing him up. He doesn't seem very concerned about the race thing, (more curious really; and Suzaku himself is quite curious about Clovis too) so the young Kururugi feels thankful to have him for a roommate. "What's your major?"
"Are you a writer?" Suzaku is quickly realizing that most people seem to treat their major like a way of life; he isn't all that pressed about it.
"Not really. I just like it more than math." And his grandmother had said that Literature would glean the most job opportunities. ("The world will always need people to help others learn to appreciate words.") He shrugs and looks at his toes. "How about you?"
"Poly-Sci. It'll be beneficial whenever I go into law school." Clovis speaks lazily, but somehow fluidly, with the languor of someone who reads audio versions of famous books for a living. He'd be the perfect lawyer.
Suzaku pulls out his phone, thumbing through it. He always does this when he doesn't know what to say in a conversation; childish, but effective. Clovis doesn't say anything else anyway. It could be the beginning of a beautiful not so friendship.
Lelouch has spilled coffee all over his slacks, in a very painful area, and now he's clutching his crotch, silently howling in pain. "Lord in heaven—" it had happened when he'd been walking down this pitiably narrow hallway, counting down doors until he reached his own (224) – and a clumsy jerk-of-the-hand later – intense testicular trauma, among other things.
"Big brother?" says a quiet voice.
"N-Nunnally!" Lelouch clears his throat. He's not sure which is worse; that he's just scorched his nether-regions with scalding-hot coffee or that his fourteen-year-old sister witnessed her self-proclaimed 'saint' of an older brother drop the F bomb. "Where did you come from?"
She holds up a room key. His right eye twitches. "The front desk, silly. You forgot this."
Spectacular, another thing goes wrong. "Thank you for getting it for me." He smiles through the gut wrenching burning and itching and turns around, slipping the key into its slot. Lelouch holds open the door until his sister is inside, but that's the end of patience and he bolts straight for the bathroom, quickly ridding himself of the ruined pants and surveying the damage. It doesn't look like there will be any permanent issues, just a hell of a burn and an intense drop in confidence. Most men with a PhD don't spill coffee all over themselves, much less react this way.
Lelouch looks in his suitcase and pulls out a pair of black jeans, cringing, but they're all I have (that is until C.C. transports his wardrobe to this residence hall tomorrow). He hopes that, perhaps, the students will just assume he wants to be casual for the first day. Yes. That's what they'll think.
Rivalz is in Suzaku's Literature class; they discover this fact when they collide on the way to the Saffron Building. Suzaku's books tumble onto the ground and Rivalz smacks his head against the pavement, but they're both too happy to care. (Rivalz had always been good at taking pain; maybe it was all those years with Milly.)
Suzaku, righting his bike, says, "Are you excited?"
"For my first day of college, or for my date tonight?" Rivalz wags his eyebrows and readjusts the messenger bag on his shoulder. That's really a clever way to carry everything around, Suzaku thinks. He should buy one too. "Very."
"You have a date, huh?" Suzaku smiles, glad his blue-haired friend has finally come into his own, at least a little bit. "What's her name?"
"Actually, uh, I'm going to a movie with Shirley." At Suzaku's expression, he hastens, "b-but she said 'it's a date!' so it is, right?" he punctuates his sentence with a nervous chuckle.
"Girls say that all the time just to confuse you. It doesn't mean anything." Suzaku isn't saying it out of any type of jealousy; he's just had enough girls hurt his feelings when he assumed things. Shirley has spent many years inviting guys on pity dates, anyway – she doesn't really do the relationship thing much; says she gets hurt too easily. "Sorry about that."
Rivalz frowns. "Shucks, just when I thought I had a break, ya know? Anyway, it says our prof. for this class is Lelouch Lamperouge. Is Lelouch… is that a girl's name?"
Suzaku's too busy texting Euphy to formulate an intelligent response. "No idea." So you can come and visit me this weekend? That's great, Suzu! I'll cook for you; my dorm has a kitchen.
They walk into Saffron, and Suzaku's still got his head bowed over his phone, so Rivalz approaches the front desk. "Hey, where's Classroom 134?"
"Find it on your own," says the young woman, popping her gum bubble. It creates a film in front of her lips. "You're not five." She whips her pink hair off of her face.
Suzaku glimpses a sign with an arrow that reads 124-136, so he follows it down a hallway to the left. Wooden benches flank the walls on either side. Classroom 134 is mostly empty when they enter it, save for a few chatty other freshmen, and Suzaku takes a seat at the front, his face back down to his phone before Rivalz can blink. Man, he and Euphy sure are attached to each other.
Professor Lamperouge makes his entrance about ten minutes later. "Hello, I'm Professor Lamperouge, and welcome to Advanced Literature."
Finally Suzaku looks up, shortly surprised by just how feminine Professor Lamperouge is. He's tall with long, graceful limbs – glossy black hair, long eyelashes, thin mouth. Maybe he's one of those frail poet-types. He pulls out the aforementioned notebook and scrawls his name at the top, watching Lelouch pull up something on the projector. There's something very prim and deliberate about the way he speaks—and it brings to mind a little jingle Euphy always used to sing before choir class. Diction is done with the tip of the tongue and the teeth~
The brunet alternatively texts and takes notes—something about Britannia's first philosophers—while wondering why Professor Lamperouge keeps pacing around the room as if he is waiting for a bomb to go off or something. He looks young—twenty-two or twenty-three—so he's probably a new professor. Suzaku could see how that could be stressful. But he needs to chill. Just a little.
It's working out fine; they're not talking too much or asking annoying questions, and they all seem to be taking notes as instructed.
Except for one. A baby-faced boy in the third row, chocolate-brown head bowed, face lit up by the LCD screen of a cell phone.
"You," says Professor Lamperouge. Suzaku's busy texting until – suddenly – the phone is no longer there. Professor Lamperouge has it. What. "What's your name?"
"Suzaku," he mutters, feeling shame creep through him as he feels the eyes of the other students. A few whispers reach his ears. His voice is hoarse. "Suzaku Kururugi." This was a bad idea. He should've taken Economics or something instead.
Lelouch raises his eyebrows in surprise. "You're Japanese, are you?" He doesn't mean for it to come out sounding sour, but it does. It's probably because he feels bad for this boy, who will no doubt be ridiculed by at least a few people. The University is pro-integration, of course, but that doesn't mean its students are.
Here we go. "Yes."
"Well, Suzaku." He puts the boy's cell phone back on the desk in front of him. "Don't let it happen again."
Suzaku's mouth twists, but he says nothing. "I think you're confusing me with a high school freshman." He's probably one of those old-world Britannians who thinks Elevens are the scum of the earth.
Lelouch sighs and rounds the projector in the middle of the room, keeping his eyes on Suzaku. "This is the first day. I could care less what you do for the rest of the semester, but today I will have your attention."
Drop dead, asshole. "Fine." He averts his eyes from Professor Lamperouge and looks at Rivalz, who's watching the scene intently. The two exchange a disappointed glance and nothing more.
Lelouch sits at his desk, watching Suzaku over his glasses. He seems to be a happy person; maybe he just has issues with authority, or hates Britannians as a whole. That isn't his fault; the lengths Britannians go to in order to prove their self-proclaimed 'superiority' over the Japanese often sicken him. He does not speak a word to them, though; they will learn more from their mistakes than they will from admonishment.
Suzaku texts Rivalz, Where do I go to switch out of this class?
When he returns to the dorm at 7 o'clock that night, Suzaku is deathly exhausted. He wanders in, still standing by god's good will, and collapses onto his welcoming bed as soon as he's close enough.
He's not usually this tired. Perhaps it's because he's been at high-speed all day long, biking through town, running up and down stairs, and lastly, avoiding Gino. Luckily, his attempts have been successful thus far—the bubbly blond has been following him, trying insistently to help him with problems that do not exist. Clovis would be better company, but he's not here. Maybe peace and quiet is the best thing.
Then Suzaku thinks about him again, Professor Lamperouge, that womanly bigot who hates cell phones. It took Suzaku everything he had not to have a screaming fit – not so much because he was so angry with the professor for taking his phone, but more for calling him out in front of the entire class.
The one thing Suzaku had sworn to was to draw as little attention to himself as possible, and the professor had ruined his chances of that quite quickly – in front of the 1,300 students sitting around him.
Suzaku labors a sigh and kicks the covers free, pulling them tight over his frame. He's a racist anyway. Think about something else.
Euphy. His spirits lift. He's going to visit her soon, at Cromwell. Are art schools different from normal colleges? They must be. The night drags on and his thoughts grow rambled, and sleep hits him square in the face somewhere around nine thirty.
Around the same time, Lelouch is tucking Nunnally into bed, removing her from her wheelchair and adjusting the blankets. For a moment it is quiet, and he suspects she is gearing up to ask a question. "How was your first day?"
Eh. "Very good, actually. I was built for teaching." He smiles to let her know he means it, because she can always somehow tell when he's frowning. "How was it here? Did the staff treat you nicely?"
"Yes. The woman at the front desk has a dog named Kiri. It has so much fur." She thinks wistfully of the dog. It yapped a lot. "Have you met the boy next door to us yet?"
"Mm? No, I haven't." Lelouch is unloading his briefcase. "What's he like?"
"I only talked to him for a minute; he seemed to be in a hurry. When did Sayoko say she was coming?" The live-in maid he'd hired, who'd formerly served them only in his house on Arbordale, had been approved by the University as a caretaker for Nunnally, and as such had lined up a dormitory unit a few hallways over. She will home school his sister and tidy the place up just as she always has, but for the moment, she is in Japan visiting family.
"Tuesday." And he will greatly appreciate her presence. As much as he enjoys Nunnally's company, a few of the conversations they have are rather awkward – though she never outright said anything, Lelouch knows she wasn't too pleased about leaving her school, Ashford Academy, to come and live in a college residence hall. But without complaint she had come along, saying it would be good for them both to live in the city. "Say, Nunnally – would you want to go and get ice cream with me in the morning, before I go to work?"
"I'd like to. I haven't seen any of this part of town yet." She sounds absolutely ecstatic, and a distant part of him feels sad for it. "Wake me up a while before we go. Can you braid my hair?"
"I will try." Yet another reason why he mourns Sayoko's absence. Lelouch adjusts Nunnally's pillow. "Well, good night. I'll see you in the morning."
"Make sure you go to sleep. I hear you up pacing a lot of the time."
He closes the door of the tiny bedroom and lingers against it for a moment, thinking about what she said. If Nunnally is awake long enough to hear him pacing, that would mean she's staying up until 2, 3 o'clock in the morning. Not necessarily a surprise. She must have a lot of things to think about, and look back on. A part of him wonders, paranoid, if she spends time wondering what it would be like if she lived with, perhaps, Schneizel.
He sits down at his desk, holding his head in his hands.