falling all over myself
to lick your heart and taste your health
It is a well-known fact that in France, a kiss on both cheeks is more socially acceptable than a hug or handshake. Lelouch has always followed this rule as well as the next person, but on his last day in l'Hexagone, the gesture is making him rather anxious. Instead of establishing friendly intimacy like it's supposed to, it just makes him think of Suzaku.
They haven't spoken since he'd sent that email after the ballet, the same night he'd received a rather lengthy phone call from both C.C. and Nunnally, but not him.
Before, he had predicted that in his absence, Suzaku would re-evaluate his priorities and perhaps realize how much he likes to spend time with others, but now… now all Lelouch can do is wonder why he had to be so damn right.
Of course, he'd been able to rid himself from the paranoia for a little while, right up until his current outing with Daniel and a few more of his former colleagues. When he leaned in to greet one or another ("comment vas-tu, mon vieil ami?") and give the customary dual cheeked-kiss, Lelouch thought of how he would rather it be Suzaku's skin beneath his lips.
Since, Lelouch has been enjoying himself in a restrained sort of way, systematically checking his watch, as the rest of the group sit bantering comfortably and sipping at costly dessert wine. They badgered him a bit for being so uptight, but now they're too far-gone to care. When he excuses himself, Daniel is the only one to notice. "Where -?"
"Something's come up," he answers with an apologetic smile. Good Farceur gives him a look of alcohol-clouded understanding and resumes his game of cards with renewed vigor.
A short while later, Lelouch catches a glimpse of the illuminated Eiffel Tower through the window of his taxi, but looks without seeing. As a boy, he had wished to see the Tower more than anything, but now it excites him about as much as the cosmetics firm he passes every day on the way to work back in Pendragon.
He has no doubt that if Suzaku had come along, he'd be snapping pictures and looking at monuments with something other than familiar nonchalance – in other words, he'd wind up enjoying himself, something Lelouch has unexpectedly had a spot of trouble with.
You have a way of making me contradict myself, Suzaku Kururugi.
An ocean away, Suzaku is getting a ride home from Gino rather than Rivalz (because somehow, his band has become just that demanding) when he has an epiphany of sorts.
Lelouch is coming home tomorrow.
As the reader knows, Suzaku has been counting off on his calendar, but after all he's been busy – Monday he finally finished Euphemia's apartment, as well as the paper Gottwald had assigned him over the break, and after that, he'd just gone on focusing on other things, as he was sure Lelouch had too.
But seeing the date illuminated on Gino's radio interface - Tuesday, December 13, 2010 – he realizes that in less than 24 hours, they will have what is sure to be an interesting reunion.
As if reading his mind, Gino asks, "So, how's Lelouch been?" in that airy way he always does; Suzaku has always suspected the blond lives vicariously through him in many ways, the first being a preoccupation with his and Lelouch's relationship. "I haven't seen him around Nester for a little while."
"Lelouch went to Paris," he exhales, cranking down the radio's rather loud projection of Freddie Mercury's voice. "He's coming home in the morning."
And I'm probably going to cling, then he's going to be annoyed with me and wish he'd stayed – Suzaku lets out a breath, attempting once more to vilify the negative thoughts, and succeeding for the moment. They'd be wasted on someone as cheerful as Gino anyway.
"I see." Gino turns and gives a long, thoughtful sigh. "Man… I'd be worried if I were you. French people are pretty well known for homewrecking."
"I know," he says sharply, watching blue eyes blink uncomfortably at his tone.
"Sorry. At least you're going to get to see him again." And he finds he can't hate Gino at all when he smiles like that. "A lot of people have been wondering where he went off to. How long has he been there?"
"A week." A week full of Suzaku doing things he wouldn't have the time – or the desire – to do otherwise. Like hanging around Euphemia for long periods and actually reading his Biochemistry textbook. "He wanted to go and see people he used to work with."
"I always wanted to go to France." They pull into Nester's lot, then Gino's rather nice designated parking space. "If he has pictures, could you show them to me?"
So easily pleased. "Sure." Suzaku smiles at him. "Thanks for the ride. For a minute there I thought I was stranded."
"At FLAS? That wouldn't be so bad. They have some good fiction if you look for a while." He and Gino finally part ways after showing their identification cards at the door.
Suzaku makes haste in returning to his unit. There are leftover quesadillas in the fridge, and must eat quickly lest Clovis spot them. He's infamous for eating food that isn't his. He wonders why he hasn't resorted to leaving sticky notes on things.
Though oddly enough, whenever he enters their dorm, none of Clovis's belongings are visible his bed stripped and textbooks gone.
There's a note on the bedside table. It's been lovely rooming with you, but a room opened up at Hackery Hall, and it's so much closer to the law buildings, I really couldn't refuse. I'll see you in Astrology. –Clovis
Okay, so now he's alone. That helps, a little, in the sense that he won't have to wait until his roommate is absent to bring Lelouch around. Moreover, the quesadillas are safe.
The thing is, he will rather miss his avant-garde living mate. While he was annoying, the artist was a good buffer for the occasional post-exam rant, and he never forgot to buy things should Suzaku suggest them. In this, Suzaku realizes that groceries are now his responsibility and wonders briefly if he can perhaps get Gino to do it for him.
He opens his laptop and, alas, no reply from Lelouch. Well, he's probably busy getting things ready to come home, or having dinner with some handsome academic type -
Suzaku exhales. Paranoia is his least favorite trait about himself. That and self-pity. He emails some homework and spends a few minutes staring at the words Message Sent.
Had Gino ever felt this way about Professor Gottwald? Like he just didn't quite measure up? Surely, as their relationship had been purely sexual, and it was on that basis that it had ended – but Suzaku considers the idea that if his and Lelouch's were the same, perhaps less stress would be involved, and maybe he wouldn't feel so damn vulnerable with the professor out of the country.
He finds himself returning to the conversation they had an hour or so before he left ("maybe you don't love me, but I know you're going to miss me") and the email Lelouch sent that night pertaining to it, and feels the pressure in his chest lift just a little – because he'd assured him he'd missed him too, and that the week would be over soon enough.
All of this really is stupid. Someone said that if there was one thing people hated in a romantic partner, it was envy, insecurity – besides, even on the off chance that Lelouch has met someone in France, he will have to leave them behind anyway and return to him. Suzaku takes a bit of sick pleasure in that.
After a few more minutes of self-contradiction and reflection, there is a knock at the door. He frowns; it's probably Rivalz, asking him to borrow a box of dryer sheets or something equally mundane.
But when he opens the door, C.C. is on the other side. "Lelouch wants me to check a few averages he made last week, but I can't find his grade book. He told me it might be in here."
"He called you?" He was under the impression that Lelouch wouldn't have cell phone service at such a distance, though they'd never talked about it at length.
"Yesterday," C.C. confirms, looking around the room for a moment before proceeding to pull open his desk drawers. Normally Suzaku would bristle at such an intrusion, but curiosity has won him over. "A bit surprising, I thought. I was convinced he wouldn't have any free time."
No free time? "Isn't that what vacations are supposed to be for?"
C.C. gives Suzaku an incredulous look over her shoulder, and then stoops down to look more carefully. "…vacation?"
He watches her just a moment longer, brow furrowed. "He said he was going to France to see some people he used to work with."
"Well, that's true." She sucks in a breath and shoves the drawer closed with force, irritated, and moves on to the next one. "Don't you know about the job? He certainly hasn't let me forget about it. I've never heard him bitch more in my life."
"What job?" Suzaku blinks, confused and growing anxious. "He never told me about anything like that." And he doesn't know just how suspicious he is until it becomes evident in his voice.
C.C. gets to her feet and dusts the knees of her black jeans (though the floors were waxed just this morning), her face turning quickly from frustrated to – amused?
"It seems I've caused some trouble," she simpers. "The point your dear Lelouch neglected to mention, is that he went to Paris so he could kiss-ass his way into a job offer. I don't get it."
She looks through the books stacked up against the wall, and with a satisfied 'ah-ha', unearths a thin leather volume
Suzaku stares at her. "I don't believe this."
C.C. seems tickled by Suzaku's surprise. "Don't you? Do you at least know he's a former prince?" Pale fingers flick absently through the book.
"Yeah. I knew that," he replies, although his heart is pounding. "I don't know why he wouldn't – why would he keep this from me?"
A shrug. "He didn't tell Nunnally either. Said it would just hurt her feelings. Which, actually, I agree with. I can't imagine her wanting to move."
Suzaku's mouth is dry; Lelouch's words replay in his head, clear and succinct as if on a recording: It's not a move; it's not me leaving you for anything.
Yeah, and Suzaku smiled and agreed later that it would be okay, shirking his initial instinct that Lelouch was stepping out on him – of course, at that point he thought it would be a lover, not a job.
Isn't this an interesting turn of events.
"Can't you tell me more about this?"
C.C. thinks on it. "Ever since I met him, Lelouch has gone on and on about a job at the University of Paris. He still does. Some Linguistiquo-thing, but don't quote me on that. Hhhh, anyway. I'm going now. Thanks for letting me look around."
Watching her retreating back, Suzaku feels further betrayed. Lelouch told C.C. but not himself or Nunnally? She said she already knew, but it stings all the same – had they discussed him, predicted his reaction, and decided to keep him in the dark?
The worst part is that he doesn't think Lelouch is above any of that. Suzaku doesn't realize he's biting his lip until he tastes blood.
Lelouch is royally pissed off, pardon the pun.
You see, Britannian Airways is praised the world over for their first-rate customer service and security factions – yet somehow, somehow, they had managed to mix up his suitcase with that of another passenger.
A suitcase with his name embroidered on it in plain sight, mind you.
So he's been standing here at the baggage claim for an hour, while the airline attempts to get in contact with the person whose luggage he received, by means of a rather meek employee by the name of Nina. She isn't bad at what she does, per say, but damn, he doubts she could be any slower dialing numbers or talking to personnel.
He'd have asked for someone else by now if it weren't for the fact that doing so would probably make her burst into tears.
Lelouch chews on the inside of his lip. It could be worse. They could have lost his bag completely, for it to wind up in the hands of some pickpocket. Luckily he decided at the last minute to stow his wallet in his slacks, so identity theft is off his list of worries. Thank god. He doesn't think he can deal with any more idiots today.
His phone blips.
- on my way to nester. tell me when you get in.
- - Will do.
He'll be home in an hour if everything works out. Maybe he can buy ChapStick while he's waiting, or perhaps a map. Topography has always been one of Lelouch's less talked about hobbies - that and internet backgammon.
The airport has a rather nice library, stainless-steel shelves filled with everything from Chaucer to Palahniuk. Lelouch busies himself with a rather lengthy book made up of interviews taken from various members of the Britannian Royal Family.
The first page showed his father in his younger days, wearing his nobleman's attire next to the then-new statue of him at the heart of the Imperial Court.
He turns the page, an amused smile taking hold of him as he lays eyes on a scanned newspaper clipping: Schneizel El Britannia nailed in sex scandal! The following interview was composed mostly of his brother denying the allegations, backed by Odysseus, who always suckled the teat of those higher in line for the thrown than he.
Lelouch flips through the rest of the book with detached interest, taking in the adult forms of the siblings he left as children – photographed in their stately bedrooms, wearing the Britannian coat of arms.
and then –
Marianne vi Britannia (right) is pictured with her son and daughter, Eleventh Crown Prince Lelouch vi Britannia, (left) aged sixteen, and Princess Nunnally vi Britannia (center) aged one.
The picture is dated 13 May 1997 – three months before his mother's death. He actually remembers when it was taken – after foreign dignitaries had made their yearly visit to the Aries Villa. His mother had said that since she'd bothered to get dressed up for the event, she may as well have a family photo taken too.
Lelouch can't help but notice the ostentatious look on his sixteen-year-old face – he seemed to look at the camera like he had everything figured out though he remained so isolated from the outside world.
Nunnally, plump and large eyed, is looking at her hands. He smiles, remembering the futile efforts of one of his mother's aides waving a stuffed rabbit behind the camera, trying to get the young princess's attention. He had never liked that man, as he didn't wear cologne so much as bathe in it.
The only thing that pulls him away from the picture is the persistent ringing of his phone, a noise that soon has many of his fellow readers glaring at him. "Hello?"
"Mr. Lamperouge, we've gotten a hold of the woman with your suitcase. She lives a little while away, so it may take a day or two before we deliver it to your address – is it Arbordale Drive, or Nester Hall at the University of Pendragon?" he can tell Nina is reading from his passport.
"Arbordale would be better."
He flips the page to find a detailed biography of Marianne "The Flash" vi Britannia. They have her birthplace wrong.
(And, of course, he and Nunnally are listed as 'deceased'. As promised.)
"Thank you for your patience."
He hangs up without another word, quickly forgetting about Air France and the whole business, (not to mention the fact that he'll have to buy yet anothertoothbrush) in favor of the rather heavy hardback book in his hands.
As if on cue, however, as soon as he's gotten back into reading, Lelouch's phone alerts him of yet another message from Suzaku.
- you hungry?
- - Very.
His phone reads 3:53 PM - about the time Nunnally finishes her studies for the day, as well as an hour after he told Suzaku to expect him back. It's definitely time to go. He looks at the book a moment longer. There are far too many chapters dedicated to Charles.
After a long and anxiety-ridden commute, Lelouch unlocks the door to his residence at Nester with some difficulty. He smells lemon, and remembers Sayoko buying some air freshener 'to make it smell homier around here'.
He stands in the doorway a moment, waiting for the telltale sounds of Nunnally's wheelchair, but they do not come. Lelouch almost concerns himself with the green-haired burden, too, but discovers her soon enough, lazing on the chaise lounge and regarding him coldly from behind a newspaper.
"Welcome home, Monsieur."
For a moment, he wonders if Sayoko caved and gave C.C. a key to his residence – then again, he'd stopped asking how she got in a long time ago.
"Hello, Cecilia. Are you reading that or using it as a prop?"
She puts the paper down. "Did you bring me a present?"
Lelouch takes a moment to remove his coat and scarf, dropping his briefcase rather carelessly on the floor next to his desk. "I only bought them for those who asked me before I left. Like Nunnally." Her snow globe, wrapped in gift paper, waits in the suitcase the airline has yet to deliver.
"Right. If you're looking for Nunnally or Sayuki they're next door with Wonderboy." (Her new nickname for Suzaku.)
He doesn't bother correcting her about Sayoko's name or asking what she did during his absence; either would probably lead to one of those predictable snarky arguments he isn't in the mood for. Instead, Lelouch sits at his desk.
C.C. tuts at him. "Are you not going to see them?"
"I am. I have to call Dean Carlan and tell him I've come home."
"I met him, or was that someone else?"
"A real spastic, that one."
He waves her into silence and chats for a moment with his boss about Paris ("Oh, you should show me all the pictures you've taken!", though there are none) and discusses the progress of the new transfer students, as well as the Dean's rather lofty hopes about how many will make his list once term continues.
He also informs Lelouch that he and the rest of the faculty will return to work January 3rd, at the beginning of the new semester. It's far too early in his opinion, but federal regulations have majority rule. "Though if it were any earlier, forget the circuit, I'd sue the royal court!" Carlan chortles, finding himself as hilarious as always. The professor gives a strained chuckle.
With much effort, Lelouch manages to stave off a longer conversation, and parrots the Dean when he says 'au revoir', though he doesn't sound nearly as upset about it.
When he's sure they're disconnected, Lelouch's voice grows sour. "I honestly wish I were as passionate as he is."
C.C. just turns the page of her newspaper. "Wonderboy was asking me about your trip, you know."
"Was he now?" Not quite listening, adjusting his tie, Lelouch's mind is already next door. "I'll order you a pizza tonight if you don't make a mess while I'm gone." Immediately her lips curl and there is blessed silence for the last minute or so before he nods, "bye", and shuts the door behind him.
He spots Rolo in a study lounge through a few walls of glass, and speeds up his step just a bit, actually walking past Suzaku's door and then backing up to knock.
There is a pause, a muffled, excited fragment of his sister's voice (he cannot help but smile at this), and after a moment of doorknob rifling, there stands Sayoko.
"Welcome home, Lelouch," she says, leaving out the 'Master' title for once. It does not bother him, as he never quite liked that expression of subservience in the first place. "Miss Nunnally and Suzaku have been waiting for you."
Nunnally is the first one he sees, and she doesn't seem to have any trouble finding him – when they embrace, her downy scent surrounds him, and with a swell of brotherly affection, he prolongs the hug as far as she will allow.
"Lelouch! I've finished my project – Suzaku painted the planets for me and everything." She smiles sweetly up at him, ecstatic, and the sight satisfies him like nothing else.
"That's great," he replies, remembering how hard she worked on sculpting every planet, even dwarf star Pluto, which she insisted on including. "You ought to get an A."
However much they may both prefer Sayoko, she does not have a teaching degree, so an instructor at the public high school grades the majority of Nunnally's work. She's a seedy woman with a raspy voice, and Lelouch always tries as much as possible to shorten their meetings. "I doubt that…"
"She'd better. I worked hard on Jupiter." Suzaku approaches, in a gray university sweatshirt and jeans. "Hi, Lelouch." Still so marvelous and green-eyed. "How's it going?"
"It goes." Ushering Nunnally inside, Lelouch finally steps over the threshold, the sound of the door closing behind him sounding much quieter than it really is. Suzaku's dorm is clean, and… "What's happened to your roommate?"
The bed belonging to Clovis and the presiding nightstand seem restored to University-default, comforter and alarm clock gone. A shivering Suzaku explains, "He moved into Hackery Hall yesterday. Says it's closer to the pre-law buildings."
Suddenly they're face to face, and he's overcome by a juvenile feeling, as if he's some teenager stricken with puppy love. He smiles, but Suzaku does not, instead wearing a look of blistering indifference.
"How have you been?" he questions, a bit tritely; Suzaku purses his lips.
"I've been okay." Albeit cautious, Suzaku sounds a bit warmer this time around. Lelouch does not have time to analyze him any longer, however, because his sister has returned from the kitchen.
"Come sit down," she implores him, though her voice remains sweet. He can only oblige, sitting close to her and toying with a grapefruit on the table. "Tell me everything. You know I like hearing about your trips."
"Somehow, I doubt he'll tell everything," Suzaku says, feigning laughter.
You - Lelouch's throat goes dry, but he won't look away from his sister. C.C. must have-!
"Well, I visited a lot of different places, of course," he splutters, though Nunnally doesn't notice his anxiety.
"The Eiffel Tower?"
"Yes, and the Louvre too."
Nunnally and Lelouch talk for a while, and she thrills to hear the differences between France and Britannia – he's always noticed his sister's love for all things foreign. Perhaps growing up in the palace, where non-Britannian cultures were ignored, were scarcely even mentioned, fostered that in her.
His eyes flick to Suzaku constantly, but the brunet will not hold his gaze.
(Lelouch wants to say he has no idea why, but then he'd be lying.)
Serving as a momentary distraction, Nunnally asks him a few more questions - how to say this and that in French, soon asking Suzaku if Lelouch has taught him any. "Nah. I probably couldn't follow it anyway." His voice is stiff, resentful. Lelouch's chest flutters unpleasantly.
It has to happen sooner or later… "Suzaku – when you get the chance, we need to have a talk."
The boy just nods, swirling his spoon around in the dark soup he's eating. Lelouch is thankful for his compliance.
Nunnally continues her barrage of questions and Lelouch rather enjoys answering them – satisfying Nunnally's curiosity on certain subjects has always tickled him, and for a moment his focus shifts away from Suzaku, but only for a moment.
She's halfway through asking a question about the difference in currencies when the clang of silverware makes them both look up. He watches Suzaku take his bowl to the sink and then walk into the bathroom, closing the door behind him.
A short silence later, Nunnally speaks. "I think he's upset," she says lowly. "I don't know why he would be, but he's been down on himself all day."
"He's like that a lot," Lelouch deflects unsuccessfully, if the way his sister purses her lips means anything.
"You should talk – now." This is one of those rare moments where Nunnally speaks firmly to her brother, so he cannot help but obey. As soon as Suzaku comes back, which may be a while as he tends to sit in the bathroom and think for long –
Well. Never mind. Suzaku sits, his chair scraping the floor with an unpleasant noise. Lelouch is transfixed on Nunnally for a moment longer before finally letting out a sigh.
"…could you come next door with me for a minute?"
Nothing, just a nod, and when Suzaku gets up to follow him, Lelouch notices that he is keeping an uncharacteristic distance as they walk down the hall between their dormitories. His door is still unlocked, thankfully, and when upon entering he sees C.C. on the loveseat, he snaps, "Out."
She blinks at him, smiles, and takes her newspaper with her into the hallway, heading off toward a study lounge. He could care less if she's spotted.
More importantly, they're finally alone. Suzaku finally looks at Lelouch and feels hurt when he sees the smile on the older's face. The guilty smile. "I've missed you."
"I missed you too," he says, because it's true, but doesn't elaborate. "I'm actually kind of glad you brought me over here. There are some things I want to talk to you about."
And, as predicted, he sees Lelouch's face fall victim to dread, grow white with apprehension.
"You sent C.C. over to get your grade book yesterday."
Lelouch regains his composure, just a tad. "Oh, that. I'm sorry if she barged in; you know how she can be sometimes." He smiles gratuitously, compensating with his eyes, searching for words. "What about it?"
Maybe denial was one of the things Lelouch was schooled in at the palace. Suzaku's eyes narrow. "She told me the reason you really went on your trip."
Immediately, Lelouch's smile disappears. "Oh yes, well – I thought of mentioning it to you, but you know, I wasn't aware of the job being open until after I left." He punctuates this lie with an uncomfortable little laugh. It's a bit too much.
"She told me you've been waiting for years, and that you seemed pretty serious about it whenever you guys talked."
The older looks almost amused. "You –"
"Don't make excuses." Suzaku's voice starts to harden. "You know how much I went through over you leaving and you convinced me that I should trust you, so I did – and for what?"
Lelouch exhales into his palm and shakes his head. His violet eyes are on the ceiling, but he doesn't look the slightest bit remorseful. "I knew you'd react this way. That's why I didn't tell you."
"I'd appreciate the honesty a lot more than I appreciate the lie." Inadvertently, Suzaku spits; Lelouch wipes it off his cheek and gives him a look as if to say 'really'? The younger sucks in a breath. "Why would you keep that from me? And Nunnally?"
Finally, Lelouch shows a bit more emotion, his teeth gritted. "What I do and don't tell my sister is a part of my parenting, which isn't your business."
"You still haven't told me why you lied."
You knew this was coming. "The job at the University of Paris was a part of my life long before I ever met you, Suzaku," he explains, mouth twitching. "Just like you, I have a right to pursue my ambitions, do I not?"
"This isn't even about that. Don't guilt me."
"Look." Lelouch sighs. "You're hurt. I know that. But I've just gotten home and even if you don't believe me anymore, I missed you," he says flatly, eyes like ice. "I was trying to spare you some stress and evidently I went about it the wrong way. I had hoped C.C. wouldn't open her idiot mouth and make it worse, but I've learned that whatever can go wrong, will."
His arm twitches at his side as he realizes just how Suzaku must feel – like he wasn't even worth enough to be informed about the true nature of the trip, like he was just some stray thought back home – and this, in fact, was something Lelouch tried his very hardest to turn him into.
A miserable failure at best.
"I've spent years dreaming about this job. It was the first thing I ever really wanted. I thought about telling you, but in the end it felt better to –"
Suzaku's face is beet red. "Lelouch – "
"Let me finish. It felt better to keep it from you completely. I didn't want you to feel like I left you behind. I realized some time later that it was the wrong thing to do, but honestly, Suzaku, could I tell you? After we'd been getting along so well, and I felt like you were beginning to trust me?"
Lelouch is speaking quickly, breathlessly, and with so much emotion. Suzaku just watches, a million thoughts going through his head. A large part of him yearns to continue yelling, make Lelouch regret his deceit, but something – something about the way he's looking at him is making it very difficult to do.
Maybe it's the hands, the way he's talking with them, or the distressed look in his eyes as his mouth moves a thousand miles an hour.
Whatever the case, Suzaku feels his anger easing up a bit. Just a bit.
"I always trusted you. I'm upset because you were talking to C.C. and not me. Call it childish if you want."
Lelouch closes his eyes. "C.C. was the only person who already knew about it. I skirted around ways to mention it in my emails, but in the end…" He inhales quietly. "When you tell a lie, it has a way of snowballing. I guess I would rather have lived with that than face you."
When the professor acknowledges his shortcomings (which is about as often as a sunny day in winter) Suzaku always breaks open somewhere inside. Loses his urge to fight. Because there's no longer any need.
"You were wrong; you know I would never judge you like that. I'd be upset about you moving, and if you actually left I don't know what I'd do, but – " Suzaku cuts himself off, shaking his head. "I can't trust you right now, Lelouch."
Lelouch gives him a discerning look. "However you feel, the fact remains that you just stood up for yourself. You demanded answers and reasons and you yelled at me." Now he's smiling.
Suzaku looks down, his voice growing quiet. "Yeah. Of course I did. I was – I am– hurt."
"You should stick with those reactions, Suzaku. They'll get you places."
Then Lelouch moves forward and hugs him. Hard.
(Looking back, Suzaku always thought that was an odd precursor to an embrace – but it didn't matter when he was realizing just how alive he felt, drunk on the feeling of Lelouch up against him – and while the frown remains on his face, he doesn't fight him. He can't.)
"I know you only lied because you thought it was the right thing to do."
"It wasn't. I didn't mean to lie."
"You did." He watches a look flit across Lelouch's face and amends, "What I think you mean to say is that you didn't mean to hurt me. And I'm thankful for that."
"Hmph." It's a soft, amused little noise Lelouch makes, either when he's just beaten someone particularly nasty at chess or had some form of revelation. "We fought for nothing. I know you might not forgive me yet, but I can't change what's already been done."
"I know you can't." Suzaku closes his eyes, or nearly does, before he spots something. "What's that in your hand?"
"Mm? Oh, it's a guide on the royal family. I picked it up at the airport." He places A Look into the Life of the Emperor and His Legacy in Suzaku's waiting hand. "The page I have marked might interest you."
Suzaku's nose crinkles in concentration as he flicks through it. "Here's Prince Schneizel… I met him, didn't I?"
"Yes." Lelouch thinks back on the day Suzaku made his brother's acquaintance, more specifically the cold, almost mocking way Schneizel introduced himself – as if an Eleven wasn't worthy of his time. "Hey, if you borrow that book, make sure you keep it hidden."
"I know. Is this you?" Suzaku smiles playfully when he turns the book around for Lelouch to see. "That's a conceited face."
"I was sixteen… the age when boys think they have the world in their pocket." He smirks to himself, taking the book from Suzaku to inspect it more closely and only being able to look at his mother. She was so strong, to the point of virility even, and it's still difficult to believe that something as simple as a bullet could ruin it all so quickly.
"This is me when I was ten."
Evidently, while he was thinking, Suzaku fished a photograph out of his wallet. It takes Lelouch a moment to concentrate.
Only because of the eyes can he tell they're even the same person. He'd expected the younger Suzaku to be as reserved and cordial as the current one, but the little boy he sees here is the epitome of a rambunctious, risk-loving child – he gets the distinct impression he was a handful.
"My father was still alive then. He told me I had crooked teeth."
"I disagree…" Lelouch's brow furrows. "Have you visited the Kururugi Shrine since he died?"
"No. I've thought about it, but I don't think anyone there would be very pleased to see me. If they haven't left, anyway." Suzaku puts the photograph away, looking wistful. He and Lelouch look at each other for a moment, and eventually it is the older who looks away, plagued by the onslaught of nostalgia they've caused. "…I can't think of how long it's been since I've thought about it. I spent so much time trying not to."
"I don't think it should be anything to worry about. The past itself no longer exists, but it can only truly affect us if we let it."
"That was philosophical."
Lelouch can't help but feel like a bit of a hypocrite. No one thinks of the past more than he does, no one obsesses more over so many minute details. Wondering insane things – like if only he'd come downstairs earlier, he'd have been able to perhaps convince Marianne to give him a French lesson or something similar, and hence stop her death by taking her away for himself.
The book feels a bit heavier in his hand.
"Do you think Nunnally's worried?"
"She always worries about you," Suzaku reminds him kindly, and it occurs to Lelouch that the brunet is reading his mother's biography. "And with good reason. If you were my older brother, I'd be worried about you too. You aren't exactly the sort of person who tells her about your day."
"I can't exactly give her details," he says, voice a bit teasing. "What about you? Does your grandmother know about my existence, even?"
Suzaku shakes his head. "Japanese people are really old-fashioned about some things. She wouldn't really like the idea that you're my professor. Or that you're – "
"I was going to say male." The boy chuckles, but after a short while grows solemn. "No, she doesn't have a problem with Britannians. She loved Euphy, even though they really couldn't talk much. Language barrier and all."
Lelouch watches Suzaku's hands as they work their way through the book, fixated on the way he treats it with the utmost care.
"Do you think if I came by for dinner one day – just as a friend – she'd mind?"
Plaintive-eyed Suzaku, with his gentle grimace, presses his feet closer together. "I don't know. I'd have to make up a better excuse than that. Older people are more intuitive than you think."
The professor wonders briefly, why when Suzaku said that, he thought of Nunnally. He laughs to himself.
"I think we should be getting back over to her and Sayoko eventually. She's bound to come knocking if she feels like we've been gone too long."
"Right." Suzaku places the book on the bedside table and gets to his feet, yawning a little. He watches Lelouch cross the threshold. "Hey – come back here a second."
"Hm?" In returning to the room, Lelouch can't help but notice the rather fervent expression the other is wearing. Almost as if he's ailed by something. "Are you feeling alright?"
The way he inclines his head, that telltale twitch of his lips (though it had seemed unintentional) – they clue him in to the younger's intentions before he acts on them.
But Lelouch still finds himself stiffening, eyes wide, when their mouths meet.
It seems he missed Suzaku a lot more than he'd thought.
Upon their arrival, Nunnally tells the tale of the cake she'd baked for his homecoming (something Suzaku had originally wanted to keep a surprise, but Lelouch isn't the only Lamperouge sibling with excellent powers of persuasion). Suzaku and Euphy – a rather unexpected character in the story – decided they would build a three-tier cake.
"It was like baking three separate cakes, but it wasn't hard," his sister states proudly.
"Nope," says Suzaku cagily, looking a bit exasperated at the memory. Lelouch winks at him. "Anyway, I didn't know if you wanted butter cream or not, but since you don't eat sweets anyway, I figured you wouldn't really have a preference."
"Probably not." Lelouch runs his fingers over a bruised peach in Suzaku's fruit bowl, feeling a rush of affection for him and Nunnally both; it is, however, accompanied by a creeping feeling of shame.
The boy had done all of this yesterday, most likely already knowing he'd lied about the trip. He sees it now, Suzaku icing the cake, biting his lip, furious but nonetheless motivated by the fact that he is, to the core, a kind soul.
"Sayoko, what're we eating?"
"Master Suzaku had C.C. bring me a cookbook from your unit last night. I thought I'd try my hand at a few things," she says evasively, her light brown eyes twinkling. He raises his eyebrows, but doesn't question her further – besides, it's getting rather difficult to avoid looking at Suzaku.
Because really, he has no chance. Knowing that Suzaku is upset with him, yet still shows his affection in so many ways (intentional or not) is simply astounding. Normally, he'd just think he was being a pushover, letting Lelouch win just for the sake of ending the argument –
But something, perhaps the way Suzaku had kissed him (assured, so much more forcefully than normal), makes this all a bit more difficult to figure out.
Rain comes not even a minute later; Nunnally says something about hoping the students outside don't get too soaked. Lelouch doubts they'd care. He's seen more college students dancing in the rain nowadays than running away from it – Weinberg, the obnoxious RA, thrills at any sign of incoming precipitation, and normally cannot be found during a storm.
He shakes his head, bemused, wondering if he'd been so odd at that age.
Suzaku asks, "What're you thinking about?"
"Gino." The look he gets in receipt invites a slight chuckle from Lelouch. "He isn't so bad. The rain made me think of him."
"Ah." A faint smile. "He's nice. I – I really ought to tell you something about him one of these days I think you'd find interesting." Suzaku seems lost in thought, concentrated on the wall. Oh, what unattractive wallpaper, Lelouch observes, while becoming aware of Suzaku nudging at his foot. After hesitating for a moment, he reciprocates, catching the younger's playful eyes above the table.
He really does enjoy it, spending time with Nunnally and Suzaku. When the three of them are together, he finds it difficult to be worried or anxious about anything - but this in itself serves to make him worried and anxious, due to the fact that he still dreads the notion of Schneizel and Max trying to infringe upon their makeshift family.
(The two seem hidden behind a veil, only to emerge at the worst moment and turn everything upside down.)
Sayoko cheerfully informs them that dinner is ready, bringing over a large covered dish. Upon its unveiling, Lelouch recognizes thick red sauce, as well as artfully arranged shallots and onions. "Lobster coquilles?"
The maid reddens. "It took all afternoon… Suzaku and I must have started over at least four times."
"It looks fine. Seems like you've done a lot of cooking since I've left, Suzaku."
Green eyes flicker. "It was an experience."
They eat for a long time, Nunnally beguiling them with stories of people she has met on campus (a few of which Lelouch must raise his eyebrows at, but given the general nature of things at this school, he doesn't linger on any of it), including Kallen who, on occasion, sits with the younger Lamperouge in the study lounge.
"I don't think she ever goes to class," remarks Suzaku with a mouthful of dinner roll. "But I hear her grades are as good as Rolo's."
"You shouldn't believe everything you hear."
But on this occasion, the boy is right – the Stadtfeld girl has curiously high marks for someone who is loath to put in class time. He watches her sometimes, beneath the guise of silver-rimmed spectacles (whenever she does happen to attend), wondering if perhaps she's merely consumed by partying as C.C. once was.
"Oh – I forgot to mention…" Nunnally bites her lip, as if she's committed some sort of faux pas, and eagerly continues, "The other day in the library, I thought I heard… I mean, there aren't many people who sound like him, but I think it was…"
Lelouch gives her an odd look, but Sayoko clarifies, "She's talking about His Highness, Prince Schneizel." Her voice is grave, and she and the professor lock eyes; Suzaku watches, lips pursed.
"I wonder why no one noticed him on campus," wonders the Japanese youth, setting his spoon down with a clink. "Though I guess people like that learn to be discreet."
"Yes," Lelouch grounds out, "They do."
Suddenly, he's lost his appetite. Here it is – a flaw in the plan. Just a few moments ago he was fretting about it, too.
Schneizel, most likely accompanied by Max or some other blue-blooded snit, is hanging around the university to watch Nunnally – and the rest of the damn faculty are probably just shitting their pants with admiration, not one of them deigning to mention it to him.
He'd talked himself out of worrying just a few minutes ago, too. "Excuse me for a minute." He ignores a poignant pair of green eyes on his way out of the room. Just eat your food and quit worrying about me.
After shutting himself in his bedroom, Lelouch spends a good minute simply staring at the name Schneizel in his contact list. If he calls, his brother will know that he's gotten to him – if he doesn't call, it's likely there will be more royals trumping about the halls of the university, delighting in the act of unhinging both his sister and himself.
Think of Nunnally, Lelouch repeats staunchly to himself as the phone rings.
"Schneizel. We need to have a talk." Lelouch has always prided himself on being able to sound calm in situations like these.
"Oh, Marianne's princeling. Hello. I was wondering who was calling me on my private line." He can see his brother's face, disgustingly sanguine and relaxed, perhaps while he sits back in some squashy armchair enjoying his idleness for all it's worth. "I think I know what you're calling about, as well."
A muscle jumps in Lelouch's jaw. "I can't think of any reason why you'd appear at the university other than to spy on my sister and –"
"Our sister, Lelouch," Schneizel says, in a sugary voice that reminds him of a mother reprimanding a child. "You shouldn't be worrying about that in any case. Do you not have students to be concerning yourself with? Or are you as lazy now as you were fifteen years ago?"
"I happen to be on leave for the Christmas holidays, like the rest of the faculty."
"You also neglected to come to our brother's wedding."
Lelouch snorts. "I doubt he cared. I have a similar questions for you – as a prince of the empire, don't you have anything better to do other than keep an eye on a brother who doesn't have any interest in his place in that empire?"
"I have better things to do. I consider you and Nunnally a bit of a hobby, actually. Our father, while you may not think him a good man, asks about her often. I feel obligated to make sure she's being taken care of."
"Which she is." His voice grows. "If you care about our sister… if you even want to call her that, because she's more afraid of you than anything else – you'll leave her be."
"Don't you understand, Lelouch? When you're born royalty, royalty you will remain. No one here has forgotten you, nor your sister or Marianne. You could easily quit that tedious job and re-claim your title. I'm sure our siblings would welcome you with open arms."
Lelouch's grip tightens on the phone; simultaneously, it's growing difficult to keep his voice down.
"Don't manipulate me. You don't know anything about what those people put me through, or what I had to do to gain my freedom. If you think you can take Nunnally away from me just for your own amusement, you're mistaken."
There is a pregnant pause. Lelouch tries to catch his breath, realizing the faint sounds of conversation from the kitchen from before have gone completely silent. He steels himself and continues, a bit surer of himself now that he's remembered something.
"You can't remove her from my custody. Not without orders from a judge."
Laughter, soft and infuriating. "Fool. Do you thinkI need approval from the court? All those years of commoner life must have gotten to your head."
"This is no time for jokes!" Lelouch spits, ready to rebuke his brother if he makes another snide comment, but after a click, his phone reads Schneizel: Disconnected.
He who angers you - he catches himself, retracting the arm he'd extended to throw the phone across the room – conquers you.
And despite all the things the royal family has taken away from him, Lelouch will not let them steal his self-control too. It's time to think, be rational, take action. He cannot, however, think of anything to do other than report it to Dean Carlan, which would be completely pointless. What authority would he have over royalty?
Moreover, if he even brought it up, the Dean would grow curious and before he knew it, his identity would be questioned… people would talk… from there, it would be a sinking ship.
And then where was Nunnally, who he'd worked so hard to keep with him through everything – who he'd begged Charles for on that day when he'd kneeled before him, seventeen and newly orphaned (for he'd never really considered the emperor his parent in any right), bargaining for his independence.
After much argument and opposition, the young Lelouch and his father had struck up a deal: in exchange for both Nunnally and a legal name change, Lelouch would never tell anyone the true manner of Marianne's death.
Since then, the entire thing has haunted him – through his expedited high school tenure, the decade-long pursuit of the PhD, and the four months he's spent with Suzaku.
It seems like a horribly short amount of time now, but really, no number of years could ever be enough. He always wondered how children could wear the outfits of princes and princesses with such splendor, hoisting their pumpkin-shaped buckets high without realizing what sort of people they were portraying.
Of course, children have only a faint inkling of the real world as well as right and wrong. His own had been just the same until July of his sixteenth year.
Sayoko. The world seems to be rushing back now, stirring and colorful. For a second he can't speak.
"I'll be out in a moment. I just had to make a phone call."
He keeps in a sigh until the sound of her footsteps has faded. How will he cope with this in front of Nunnally? She's always been quite sensitive to him, in particular, and not because of her blindness.
Still, staying in this room will do nothing but make her – and Suzaku for that matter – worry more and ask questions. And he can't have that.
They're nearly eating cake now, Nunnally insisting to cut it ("because I made the frosting and I feel I should be entitled!"). Suzaku looks at him fleetingly, concerned, but Lelouch can't meet his eyes. Like his sister's, they have a way of making him feel rather vulnerable.
Instead, he focuses on Sayoko's hands and the cake they're working on cutting into pieces. Nunnally was correct in saying he really doesn't care for sweets, but this colorful confection does look particularly appealing in the wake of that nerve-racking phone call.
And it tastes good, too. Silence falls upon the four of them as they all just enjoy it, including Sayoko – which is a bit strange as she always mentions some sort of blood sugar issue – for a good ten minutes without saying a single word.
The silence is both a blessing and a curse, leaving Lelouch alone with his thoughts but giving him no buffer when they get a bit too intense. Intense being an adjective for the rather vivid mental images of himself blowing Schneizel's head off with the Glock he bought C.C. whenever she graduated from college (it had been a 'novelty item' she insisted upon).
Suzaku is first to break the silence. "I wonder if Dean Carlan's enjoying the vacation."
"Oddly enough, he's in his office. I spoke to him earlier." Lelouch places his fork on his plate along with the scarce remains of his portion. "It seems like a lot of the staff work a while into the break; maybe they're planning on slacking off next term." Like that kook Fletcher, who he's seen fast asleep at his desk a number of times (in passing, of course). "Does Euphemia have any plans for the break, Suzaku?"
His student looks at him curiously. "Not that I know of. We just finished detailing her apartment Monday so I think she'll be relaxing for a while."
"Her lease allowed her to paint?"
"Her landlord's a nice guy, I think." With that, Suzaku collects his and Lelouch's plates and carries them to the sink, directing a dismissive wave at Sayoko when she attempts to get up. "It's my place. I'll take care of it."
For a moment, the professor is convinced Suzaku is going to remember the France ordeal and hurl the plate at him – but he just shoots him a grin and promptly busies himself with the dishes.
While that smile may have been charming and a bit dizzying (that boy could be in toothpaste ads), Lelouch couldn't help but see right through it, mostly because he can't see any reason why Suzaku would just forget that he'd been deceived and revert to his own little cheerful, denial-ridden world.
Besides, he'd been beyond amazed at the look on Suzaku's face during their argument earlier – like he'd been struggling to hold in some urge to cry, to hit, to express something other than shame or regret.
It all washed away when Lelouch apologized, as if nothing even happened and they could celebrate his homecoming as planned.
He's likely being such a pacifist because Nunnally and Sayoko are here – while he is good at many things, Suzaku isn't one to make a scene, generally waiting until later to hedge his way into confrontation. Lelouch has always found this habit equally galling and ingenious.
"Is Nunnally staying with you tonight, Sayoko?"
The maid nods, placing the cake on a glass stand and covering it. It adorns the middle of the table. "I figured you and Master Suzaku would want to have some time to yourselves."
That thought is a curious one – time with Suzaku? Who, however he may be acting now, more or less wants to see his head mounted on a fireplace? The notion was a lovely one some hours ago, when he was still on the plane, assured that his and C.C.'s plan had not fallen through.
"Thank you. I appreciate that."
Sayoko stands, retrieving her purse from the coat hanger mounted near the poster of rules and regulations Suzaku had once read and then completely disobeyed.
"Well, welcome home again, Master Lelouch. I'm glad you had a good time in France. I'll be starting tutoring Nunnally tomorrow at 8 AM."
"Have a good night," he replies, giving her a short smile then directing his gaze downward, experiencing figurative heartbreak that feels nearly tangible as his eyes reach Nunnally.
As they feasted on cake and he worried himself with Suzaku instead, Lelouch had a temporary reprieve from the new, crushing anxiety now associated with thoughts of anyone related to him. Taking a knee in front of her, he speaks in a low voice. "I know you like exploring the campus, but I have to ask you not to leave Sayoko's sight from now on, within reason."
"Lelouch." She takes his outstretched hand and the skin is broiling. "You're worried about something. You can tell me what it is. I'll listen."
He almost, almost wants to put faith in his sister's quasi-maturity, but she really has no idea of what Schneizel could have planned.
"I just want you to be safe. Trust me, Nunnally. There are people around here who don't have the best intentions, and you are fifteen now – "
"Does this have to do with Schneizel? I thought it was strange that he was around here. Is that who you were on the phone with?"
His eyes flicker to Sayoko. Her face is somber. "It was a business call."
His sister doesn't seem to buy it, but she nods anyway, turning his hand over in her fingers and tracing the palm. Lelouch watches, transfixed. "The other day, I read a book about palm reading. It says that depending on the length of a certain line…" her digits work discerningly. "You can tell how long someone's going to live."
Lelouch allows himself a small smile. "What's the approximation for me?"
"Mmm…" she says thoughtfully, brow creasing. She speaks with an old-world air, "'A short line, for one short-lived.' I always thought you were getting old too fast, big brother."
"I'm flattered," he replies playfully, and for a moment, he laughs along with her. "You're telling me I'm going to die young, huh? I guess I might as well get to work on that will."
"In all seriousness, Lelouch." Nunnally's tone, while more brisk than cruel, slaps the smile right off his face. "I think this is as good a sign as any that you should be worried about yourself rather than me. You shouldn't let little things get to you." Her voice lightens back up again. "Sleep on that, okay?"
When she gestures him forward, he offers her his cheek to kiss, like usual, but this time, he feels a bit sick when her lips brush against his skin. Has she ever sat and wished she was giving a different brother that farewell? A brother who was capable of smothering her with attention, speaking bluntly of important things, and believing her when she asserts her well-being?
A brother like Schneizel?
"8 AM, Sayoko."
The maid seems a bit better composed now, her crisp, formal tone back again. "Right. Good night, Master Suzaku."
"Good night!" is Suzaku's rather distant reply. Lelouch watches Nunnally's form disappear around the corner and swallows a lump in his throat, one that doesn't quite relent until some moments after they are gone and the door has sounded shut behind them, leaving him standing there staring unseeingly at it. "Did that seem as eerie to you as it did to me?"
It doesn't occur to him that Suzaku is speaking to him until the boy clears his throat. "It did. She thinks I'm going to kill myself worrying about her."
"Is she right?" the sound of dishes makes him remember the mess at the table, one Suzaku insisted he could take care of. Which he is, just painfully slowly. "I mean – I don't really want to pry, but I get the feeling that you're distracted after she leaves. Always."
"It's Schneizel." Lelouch crosses the room, sitting on Suzaku's yielding couch and nearly being consumed by it. "You heard Nunnally. He's been hanging around campus."
"You shouldn't have called him. He knows that he's gotten to you now." Damn Suzaku, parroting his thoughts. "And if you're really worried about him watching you, just move out of Nester. He might be a royal, but they don't have the authority to spy on private residences."
Now is not the time for Suzaku to be logical. Lelouch had wanted him to be childish and listen to his paranoid hunches. "I suppose you're right."
"Before you left for France, you were talking about us all moving in together. Maybe this is the best time for it to happen." At this, Suzaku seems a bit less levelheaded, quite apprehensive actually, poorly imitating eloquence.
Lelouch watches him bemusedly for a moment. Here's his chance for answers. "I'll consider it. And speaking of France… whatever happened to you being upset? About an hour ago, you were ready to tear my head off."
"What an interesting way to put it." Suzaku exhales. "My reasons for forgiving you are personal. Just like your reasons for keeping your secret. Can we just leave it at that?"
Yes, he supposes they can, but Lelouch can't see himself benefiting from it. It would be a good move to spring it on him later, when Suzaku is less guarded and more tired, perhaps. Like the perfect checkmate, except instead of some snot-nosed nobleman, he'll be implementing the strategy on his boyishly handsome paramour.
(Sometimes he is glad Suzaku can't read minds, lest he hear his rather ridiculous amount of chess-related thoughts.) "We'll talk about it later on."
The boy says nothing, getting to his feet and making his way to his desk, where his laptop sits blinking blue, perhaps idling. He brings it back to the couch and sits facing Lelouch, beginning to type away on something the older cannot see. Probably schoolwork he neglected to do.
He can see it now: Suzaku pleading with pseudo-intellectual, royalty loving Jeremiah Gottwald for an extension on some long-past deadline, his wish granted only because of his way to be particularly attractive while begging. Lelouch would know, anyway.
That thought springs up a few choice images of Suzaku, most of a sexual nature. He smiles softly to himself, looking peripherally at the concentrated face of his lover.
Sex is one thing he and Suzaku really can't fight about (save for at the beginning of their relationship, of course) because after a little while, last month especially, the time they'd spent… being intimate nearly tripled. All up until this week, of course, where Lelouch has had to get rather imaginative to fill the void.
Yet another reason why he is glad Suzaku can't read minds.
Through the din of near-constant typing, Lelouch fantasizes about a situation in which he, Suzaku and Nunnally do live together. Schneizel and his shark of a lawyer would quit analyzing every single aspect of his parenting (or at the very least it would happen less); his sister could attend Ashford again, have friends stay overnight like before (as long as Lelouch got to analyze them beforehand), and he could come home to Suzaku every night, distract him from his assignments –
His lips curl upward and he doesn't realize just how noticeable it is until Suzaku asks him why he's making that face. "I was just thinking about something."
A stupid answer, but it seems to be good enough for Suzaku, who resumes typing without missing a beat. "Must've been intense. You looked a little scary for a second there."
"Did I." Lelouch watches his face closely, noticing that he looks a bit less irritated now, lighter and a bit more relaxed. "Have you been doing schoolwork all week?"
"For a lot of it." Suzaku's sock-clad foot nudges against his and suddenly green eyes twinkle, a bit knowingly. He nudges back. "It's probably the most work I've gotten done all year, no exaggeration."
"I'm sure. You might even pass now."
"If I'm lucky," Suzaku rolls his eyes. "What about Nunnally? How's her schoolwork been?"
"It—" Lelouch stops himself at the realization that, in actuality, he has no real answer for Suzaku. After all, it's Sayoko who takes care of that – Sayoko who teaches her, administers tests, and mails everything in to the school district for documentation. The only hand he'd had in her education was stroking the check. "I really couldn't say. I ought to keep an eye on things more."
Suzaku taps repeatedly at the backspace key. "Do you not trust Sayoko?"
"That isn't it. It'd be smarter of me to observe, though. Part of my job as an educator is to be mindful of others' methods."
"Sure you don't just feel bad?"
"Write your paper, Suzaku."
The amused smile he gets in return is almost enough to retrieve his mind from Nunnally-ville, but only almost, and Lelouch is worrying again almost immediately, the palms of his hands getting moist and hot.
He's fully aware of how irrational they are, the ridiculous anxiety-riddled thoughts he's entertaining (vignette scenes of Schneizel kidnapping Nunnally for example) but they're truly a force to be reckoned with. It really is ironic – in France, he'd imagined that his first few days home would be a peaceful, worry free time. Bang goes that theory.
"It's really hard for me to concentrate with you glaring at me like that."
Lelouch blinks. Evidently, he hadn't looked away from Suzaku in the midst of his inner monologue. "Sorry. I spaced out."
"Apparently." Suzaku smiles at him over the computer, but his eyes are wistful; Lelouch knows he's still disappointed that they haven't discussed the Nunnally issue in-depth, but won't be so invasive as to push him further. He's always liked that about him. "Just try and take your mind off it."
"That's impossible at the moment," Lelouch replies rather stoically, "since you're on the computer and I really don't have any work to do…" Other than vaporizing C.C. for spouting off the truth about the France trip, but all in good time.
Suzaku looks incredulous. "You could've just asked, you know. I'm really only writing the paper early because I feel guilty about slacking." He promptly shuts the laptop and sits it rather precariously on the edge of the coffee table, moving to sit Indian-style and look expectantly at the man before him. "So?"
Lelouch watches him. His lips curl. "I have suddenly become devoid of all possible activities we could do to pass the time. Beyond sex, of course."
A good-natured chuckle; Suzaku's cheeks have reddened, but his eyes reflect only the laughter. "I haven't thought about that in a while."
"Said the nineteen year old boy."
"I mean it! I've had so much going on this week – I helped Euphy with her apartment, then I went out and tried to buy a new bike, but all the outlet stores are closed for the holidays… and I saw Rivalz's band play –"
"Yeah, and good, weirdly."
After this, he and Suzaku fall silent for a moment, really just looking at one another. Suzaku still seems strangely happy to be in his presence, despite their rather intense argument earlier – complete with that smile that always reminded Lelouch of saccharine made-for-TV movies. That isn't to say it fails to charm him, though, and his own expression soon mirrors it. "You know, I… would really like some tea."
The boy rolls his eyes, but his grin remains. "Britannians and their tea." He sets off for the kitchen.
"Japanese people are big fans of it too, if I'm not mistaken."
"Ours actually tastes good," is Suzaku's distant response, accented by the clinking of china. "You have Earl Grey and Darjeeling and all those others… like you can't pick just one or something."
"Multiplicity is the spice of life," Lelouch calls back absentmindedly, his thoughts elsewhere. Elsewhere being the Britannian Tearoom uptown, an establishment Schneizel had – don't think about it.
He stands and, after a moment of frowning at the sudden crack he hears from the vicinity of his kneecaps (maybe I really am getting old), makes his way into the adjacent room to watch Suzaku prepare teabags, muttering to himself. He's never been very good with domestic tasks.
Lelouch surveys him with softening eyes, reveling in the way Suzaku's flick to his every other moment or so as he makes the tea, accompanied by a self-conscious little smile. He'd lived a week without these simple interactions, and hadn't taken much stock in them until now. Oh, the effects of separation.
When he stops looking at him, however, and focuses more intensely on his task, Lelouch lets his eyes wander, takes in a few more things he's missed about Suzaku – things I'm sure the reader can infer, because men, even Lelouch, really are quite predictable at times.
And Suzaku, at last done with the tea, is growing quite aware of his lecherous gaze. "Like my outfit, or what?" he asks playfully. Lelouch smiles back but he approaches the other and sidles up against his chest.
Suzaku is quite sure it isn't the tea that's making it so warm in here. He inhales deeply, pressing his nose to Lelouch's neck (cologne, vanilla, something else).
"Forget the tea," Lelouch says into his ear. "I think I know what we can do to pass the time."
Suzaku finds it difficult to keep his voice level. "And what is that?" though he knows; with the way Lelouch's eyes have darkened, how could he not?
"Take me to bed. No…" Suzaku is disappointed for just a moment, then – "carry me there."
Laughing mildly and hoisting the older up into his arms, Suzaku does just that.
Lelouch is not a big fan of surprises.
This is why when the sunlight inhibits his ability to sleep any longer, and he wakes up only to grope blindly at the opposite side of the bed only to find it empty, he has the urge to find Suzaku and flush his face in a toilet.
But he doesn't. After a moment, he realizes there must be some rational explanation for Suzaku's absence (his very sudden, unexplained absence) and he really is overreacting. Besides, what would he look like making demands after his very intentional omission of his intentions in France?
Like an asshole. An egotistical, selfish asshole, who just spent the entire night rekindling his romance with Suzaku and would ruin it so quickly. Reflections aside, he picks up his phone –
… and the answer he gets is recorded. "You've reached Suzaku. I can't come to the phone right now, but leave your name and number and I'll get back to you." Polite and unassuming, as always. Lelouch frowns and calls again. Nothing.
Well, isn't this a nice way to start his morning.
Mind full of possibilities, Lelouch gets dressed (in pajamas) and makes himself coffee with the small amount of beans Suzaku has in the cabinet. That is, he begins to, until the phone rings. "Hello?" he answers, nearly rolling his eyes at how desperate he sounds.
"Lelouch – it's me." Suzaku sounds apologetic at once. "I didn't hear my phone, it was on silent … I'm sorry I walked out this morning, it's just." Lelouch waits, and it's a while. He wonders if Suzaku hung up, but – "Today's the day my dad died. I didn't realize it until I saw the date this morning, but then I went home. I really should've left a note or something."
The professor would be relieved that it was something so simple, but somehow he isn't. "I'm sorry. I didn't know."
"Neither did I, really … I mean, maybe I forgot on purpose, I really don't know," Suzaku says uneasily. Lelouch thinks he can hear the scratching of a pen. "Anyway, I'll be back tonight, after church."
"Yeah. Oka-sa – er, my grandmother, she takes me every year. We say a word for him, and light a candle."
Lelouch stares out the window, feeling guilty for earlier when he'd intended to scold Suzaku. "What do you want for dinner?"
"Food is … honestly the last thing on my mind. I'm going to have to let you go now, I have things to do."
His mouth tightening resentfully, Lelouch murmurs, "Alright. I'll talk to you later," wondering exactly what the boy could have to do.
"Okay. Love you." Click.
And then he is alone, with a pot of bitter coffee and his various ponderings about Suzaku. He'd sounded somber, of course (because there's no one better at hiding their emotions than Suzaku, not even him) but Lelouch knew that secretly he was probably drowning in guilt, so much more so than usual.
Dinner will be a quiet affair tonight, followed by an evening of silent channel flipping and the eventual passive-aggressive battle over the bedcovers.
Or at least that's how Lelouch imagines it, as he sets about doing Suzaku's abandoned dishes. Dreaming up dismal scenarios, however, does get boring after a while, so he turns on the radio, finding unexpected rapport with the easy music.
Come to think of it, he'll probably be with Suzaku a good deal these days. Of course, Nunnally is gone from 8 to 4 every weekday being tutored by Sayoko (often staying the night with her most of the time anyway), and he's off work until after the New Year, leaving plenty of prospective alone time.
This revelation would've felt like an early Christmas present to him any other day, but now, every moment is another wasted when considering Schneizel's presence.
Would it be better if he just kept Sayoko on as a housekeeper and taught Nunnally himself? After all, he's the one with the PhD and the real teaching experience, and she'd be more comfortable with him.
But really, how would he manage to juggle that on top of his current job and this new scuffle with his brothers? Besides, where would Suzaku fit into all this?
Using the age-old strategy of ignoring them, Lelouch forgets about these questions by doing all of Suzaku's dishes.
Even the clean ones.
Are dormitories always this hard to find, or what?
Staring at the map of UOP's campus, Euphemia finally manages to locate Nester Hall, having only been driven here by Rivalz in the past. It's a nice building, really, its identical tan stucco units pressed against one another like row houses. It suits Suzaku.
He'll have to be home, he'll just have to – after all, he did call this morning, so he isn't completely adverse to the idea of a visit. At least, that's her take on things.
(And he'd seemed so lonely, so regretful, still icing over what happened nine years ago today. She couldn't let him weather this alone.)
Pressing the 2 on the panel inside the elevator, Euphemia readjusts his Biochemistry book under her arm. He'd left it behind a week or two ago when he'd stayed over (the eve of their less-than-laudable efforts to better her dingy little apartment) and this struck her as a good opportunity to bring it back. Maybe she could even help him with the formulas – hadn't he said they confused him?
Nester Hall has a cheerful lemony smell, and she has come to associate it with both Suzaku and Kallen, her two friends that inhabit the mahogany-filled residence hall. She inhales wistfully and, once more tightening her grasp on the book, approaches his door.
Two rounds of knocking and the sound of the radio relents a little – a moment later, the door has come open and there he is –
… Professor Lamperouge. Not exactly the man she wanted to see. Trying not to sound deflated and only halfway succeeding, Euphemia queries, "Is Suzaku here?"
Her Literature instructor, looking too normal in black silk pajamas, maintains his stony expression. "I'm sorry. He's out. Today is a rather important day for him."
"I know," she says bitingly, immediately recoiling not at Lelouch's frown but at the sound of her own voice. "I mean … I know it is, I was just coming by to give him his Biochemistry book. He left it at my house."
Lelouch takes it, and looks brazenly upon her. She's never paid much attention to his height, but it's significant. "I'm going to assume you've come fifteen miles across town to return a forgotten textbook because you really are that kind of a person. That would be going out on a limb for me, but Suzaku only speaks well of you, so I'll go with it."
You're such a grouch. "I wouldn't have any other reason to come by," Euphemia responds, her voice picking up its normal tone for the first time since her arrival. "But while I'm here. How was your trip to Paris?"
"Far less enjoyable than I thought it would be." She can tell the professor wants the conversation to be over, but for some reason, he humors her. "Have you ever visited?"
"No … I've been to Spain, once when I was young."
"You don't say." He looks lightly amused, for reasons she cannot discern. "Well, Euphemia – I have a lot of cleaning to do. Have a good holiday."
"Professor!" after a moment he looks, rather exasperatedly, at her through the junction between door and frame. "I just want you to – please tell Suzaku I'm here for him if he wants to talk. I know how hard today must be … even after all this time."
(I wish it was me he wanted to comfort him. Not you.)
Violet eyes narrow a bit, and then relax after a moment. "I'll be sure to mention it. Now … run along."
Run along. That does little to assuage any of her bad feelings – it only reinforces the feeling that Suzaku left her in favor of someone much more worldly and mature.
She makes to say goodbye, but talking to closed doors has never gotten her anywhere before.
Lelouch tells Suzaku to meet him at a rather affluent restaurant downtown, despite the fact that the brunet had declined any offers he made to cook dinner. It's a dimly lit place with more than enough candles. Suzaku remarks that it smells like cinnamon.
When he approaches the table, Lelouch makes a rather accurate observation about Suzaku's appearance. "You look like you were run over by a truck."
Dark-circled and bleary eyed, the boy smiles dryly. "I feel like I was. That church service lasted forever and I still haven't showered today." He did manage, however, to dress up – and even if his sky blue dress shirt and black slacks are wrinkled, Lelouch still feels they're very becoming of him. "You look good."
The sound of Suzaku's voice, crackly and tired, is rich to Lelouch's ears. "I tried." He sips at the ice water in front of him and fishes for less egotistical things to say. "I don't mean to pry –"
Suzaku chuckles. "Yes you do."
Lelouch acts as if he weren't interrupted. "- but do you think it went well? With your grandmother?" he stammers a bit there, and hopes Suzaku doesn't notice, but he doesn't let on if he does.
In fact, he is surprisingly indulgent. "Well, she never liked my father much. She used to say he lost his morals after he got involved with politics, which actually, I would agree with." Suddenly, his voice goes from chatty to solemn. "I guess … when people die, you forget the bad things about them. Or they just become less important." Suzaku toys with his straw, and Lelouch can't help but notice the sadness in his eyes.
"I see what you're saying. My mother," he offers, "was sometimes very catty. I used to hate that about her. But there were many more things that I loved."
Suzaku looks up and the professor feels himself blanch. "Can we talk about something else?"
"Of course." Lelouch licks his lips hastily. "Are you excited to be getting back to school?"
"Lelouch – " Suzaku looks frustrated, but he smiles exasperatedly. "I was thinking … that maybe you'd want to talk about us moving in together. Like we've said."
"Right." At this point, the waitress arrives and they place their order – Lelouch thinks he may have had her in class before. "You'd have to keep your home mailing address, of course. The school can't know we live together."
"I figured that was a given …" the boy smiles plaintively, staring at the tablecloth. "I just think it could be so much better than pushing everything else aside to hang around each other. I worry about you when it comes to your priorities."
"Suzaku … you're at the top of my list. Believe me."
"But what about Nunnally?"
Nunnally. Her name dredges up feelings of uncertainty, stinging clear. "I'd say you're … only second to her."
"Exactly… which is why I feel like it should be less of an occasional thing. You won't have to switch back and forth between the two of us if we all live together."
"I still would. But, Suzaku, I don't think she should know about us, at least not in that way."
Suzaku gives him an incredulous look. "Come on Lelouch, she's fifteen. She already knows about sex and – if she doesn't have her period by now I'd be worried."
Lelouch's voice is fast and tense. "Sayoko will tell her anything about that that she needs to know. Besides. If she knows I have a boyfriend – "
"I'm your boyfriend?" Suzaku sounds both surprised and pleased. "You said we were … just lovers."
Did I? "You're missing the point. If she knows I'm involved with people, she'll think it's okay for her to be involved with them too. Setting the example is part of being a good father, Suzaku."
"… no kidding." Suzaku's looking off in the distance and Lelouch knows, with a jolt, that he's crossed into sensitive territory. He makes a mental note to avoid paternal references whenever possible. "I just think she should be able to decide some things for herself. Being trapped all the time … it can get to you after a while."
The professor doesn't respond, he just watches Suzaku. Today must already be so difficult for him (as Euphemia had already observed); an argument about parenting probably isn't the wisest idea. "I'm sorry. I didn't mean anything by that."
"I know you didn't." Large eyes peer thoughtfully at him from across the table, and after a moment, Suzaku seems to recall a piece of information. "I found something today." He sounds excited.
"What?" he watches Suzaku reach into his pocket and unearth a large, gold ornate pocket watch, its chain glimmering in the candlelight. Though a bit aged, it's certainly beautiful … until he sees that the face is smashed, the numerals and tick-marks reflecting into the shards as if he were looking through a kaleidoscope.
"It was his," Suzaku explains, handing the watch carefully to Lelouch. "I was the one who broke it, too. I threw it at him." He looks as if he's sharing some private piece of black humor with himself before continuing, "we've talked about getting it repaired and sealed up, but we've never done it. I don't think she knows I took it home with me, either."
Lelouch inspects the old watch for a moment longer. He and Nunnally have few belongings of Marianne's, limited only to a bottle of lavender, some jewelry, and a few letters she'd written (expressly his). Nothing like this pocket watch, baroque and seemingly steeped in family history. He almost envies Suzaku. Almost. "I think our food should've been here by now."
"Yeah." After putting the watch away, Suzaku leans his face into his hand. "You know – we never did actually talk about your trip."
"And with good reason. Honestly, I don't think I could've been more bored."
"In Paris?" Suzaku is incredulous. "Your most favorite place in the whole wide world?"
Lelouch gives him a look. "Yes. That's right." Bubbling just beneath the surface is the desire to tell Suzaku that he so hated his trip because he missed him – but he knows now is not the proper time. Timing and phrasing are probably the most important factors when it comes to keeping Suzaku happy. "I bought a present for Nunnally, but the damned airline lost my bag."
"Karma," Suzaku says, but he doesn't seem to mean any harm. Really, he looks more interested in the ice cubes floating in his water.
"I got you a present, too, you know."
"Am I to expect a snow globe?"
"No, no." A small child a few tables away screeches; evidently his mother took away the fork he kept throwing at his sister.
Suzaku watches the scene as well. "A coffee mug?"
"Stop guessing, you'll ruin the magic of it."
Snort. "Magic? What can you get in France that makes things magical?"
Lelouch smiles. "I bought it here, today, actually. It was… an act of impulse-buying, but it's something I know you've really been wanting."
Their eyes meet for a moment, but without any particular emotion. The brunet cuts his steak quietly, almost painfully slowly. "Presents, expensive dinner, a nightcap – you either have something you want to confess, or you want something from me."
"…and I did your dishes. But really. What could I want from a college student?" Lelouch's eyes are dancing. "Is it so difficult to believe that I just love – "
Suzaku's eyes fly up; Lelouch, suddenly without much air in his lungs, fumbles for words. "…to do nice things for you," he finishes lamely.
His fingers still poised over the fork and knife, Suzaku looks discerningly across the table at Lelouch. He's a little flushed. "I thought that's what you said." But really, his own chest feels rather tight, because he'd wanted the sentence to go in a different direction – one that wasn't quite so platonic. Over the past month or so, Suzaku has resigned himself to the fact that Lelouch will never just say it because he doesn't feel it.
Oh, Freudian slips. The professor keeps trying to look away from Suzaku, but it seems his eyeballs are super-glued in place. "How cooked is that steak?"
"It's well done." He notes that the boy sounds rather intrigued. He pushes a portion of the filet across the plate, toward Lelouch. "You want some? I didn't think you'd go the whole night and just eat soup."
Lelouch's mouth is dry. "I don't think that … I'll pass."
Suzaku shrugs and eats the piece of steak immediately, as if he was just waiting for Lelouch to deny it. "You know, in Japan, we really don't eat steak that often."
"Yes, you all seem to eat your share of salmonella-infested raw fish."
"Don't knock it until you try it," the boy replies indignantly, moving another piece of meat around in the juice it left behind. He chews for a long time, as it's a rather large piece. "Anyway, for someone who has all these health concerns, you really shouldn't smoke, Lelouch."
"In France, I did dabble a bit in it – but I've stopped since I got home."
Suzaku looks at him like he knows better. "What cologne are you wearing? Eau de Ashtray?"
Well, this is perfect. He missed many things about Suzaku, but his persistence was not one of them. Therefore... "On another note," Lelouch exhales; the screaming child in the background at last goes silent. "Did you ask Euphemia to come by and see you today?"
An odd look. The other swallows his steak. "No. I talked to her, but I didn't invite her over."
Well. Considering Suzaku wasn't home at the time, Lelouch can see why the accusation is a little ridiculous. "I'm glad you have someone you can talk to about this."
Suzaku chews. Smiles warmly, but says nothing. Lelouch shifts in his seat, wanting the boy to say, I'd much rather have talked to you.
But no. Munch, munch, munch. "If I'd have known the food here was this good, I would've said yes to dinner in a heartbeat."
"Now you know," Lelouch says, trying not to betray his irritation. He unfolds and refolds the napkin in his lap, and its stiffness reminds him that he's barely touched his food. Regardless, there are certainly better things to worry about. Like his rather embarrassing faux pas just a few minutes ago concerning a rather well-known three word phrase.
Another one of which explains it rather perfectly. (I'm an idiot.)
Eventually, after much vague conversation and the occasional banter, Suzaku finishes his steak and works on a dinner mint. After paying the bill, Lelouch takes him by the arm and escorts him out.
"What's the hurry?" Suzaku asks, but he looks relatively calm. "I thought maybe we could get dessert. I don't get to eat out much on my budget."
Normally such admittance would've made Lelouch guilty, but right now he could really care less. "Look. In University Square."
Suzaku cranes his neck. "I can't see past those trees."
"I'll show you." With that, the professor grabs his .hand – and as much as Suzaku fears them being discovered, holding hands is an impossible luxury in this relationship, so he lets it happen. Gladly.
Shivering all the while, he allows Lelouch to escort him through the garland-strung streets of Downtown Pendragon, distracted by gaggles of students and brightly illuminated shops the whole way. "Uh, Lelouch – what exactly are you showing me?"
He is ignored. Lelouch seems to walk ever faster, his long coat moving in the breeze behind him and nearly tripping Suzaku once or twice. "Nearly there," he says quickly.
The thing Lelouch so wanted to show him is actually pretty hard to miss. It's a gigantic ornate Christmas tree, decorated by thousands of multicolored lights. Since he hasn't really left campus since before the holidays began, Suzaku hasn't gotten to ogle the citywide decorations as much as he'd like.
Regardless, it's beautiful. "I can see why you were so eager to get here."
"It's the fifteenth," Lelouch informs him, "the day before town is closed off for the Holiday Parade. This is the last day we could've seen it." (And he himself had first seen it this afternoon, after fleeing from Nester in an attempt to rid himself of Schneizel-oriented thoughts. Oh, the power of sharing.)
Suzaku never forgot that Lelouch was holding his hand, but feeling its grip tighten on his makes him all the more aware of it, and the professor himself. Standing beside him, looking lightly flushed but nonetheless pleased, the older is a remarkable sight. "I'm glad we got to." And that Lelouch remembered. Usually, he spurns the littler things, giving gifts with price tags and without any real meaning (or perhaps that last part was just what C.C. told him).
Either way, he feels an intense rush of affection for his ex-prince. And, consequentially, an inability to come up with anything good to say.
All that comes out in the end is: "I never understood why we have Christmas trees."
"Well, they're German by custom," Lelouch explains, seemingly undaunted by that random remark. Suzaku loves him all the more for it. "One of their best known carols is O Tannenbaum. Britannians know it as Oh, Christmas Tree."
"Huh," Suzaku says thoughtfully, shivering a bit. Christmas indeed. "I know it's early, but… I really am cold. Aren't you?"
"Of course," Lelouch affirms. "Is that your backward way of asking to go home?"
In spite of himself, the brunet smiles. "Yeah. I guess it is."
And so – after one long look at that marvelous tree – Suzaku leads Lelouch this time, back through the winding streets, the trees, and then finally back through the parking lot of the restaurant. A thin blanket of snow covers the Hyundai.
They listen to the radio on the way to Lelouch's house, but music is the last thing on Suzaku's mind. He can only watch the man in the driver's seat, admire his pinking cheeks and the way he returns his gaze and smile at red lights. He's sure that if their places were reversed, Suzaku would've taken one look at Lelouch and promptly rear-ended the car in front of him.
"You can change the station if you want."
"Huh?" after a moment, Suzaku shakes his head. "No, it's alright. Look, Lelouch, thanks for taking me out. I really had a hard day today. But… after spending time with you, I feel like maybe it wasn't so bad in the end."
"Of course," Lelouch says cordially. He pauses a bit before responding to the rest. "I know you don't like talking about your father. Hell, I don't like to talk about mine either, but on the off chance that you do change your mind … you know I'm – " his noble brow creases, "you know I'm around whenever you need me, within reason."
Compassion. That's a big step for Lelouch, even if the promise was rather awkward. "Thanks." Suzaku wants to kiss him now, but that wouldn't sit well with the driver, considering their past experiences in the car. So he waits, rubbing his hands together in search of imaginary warmth, focusing on the radio now. ("The more you know, the less you feel… some pray for, others steal…")
At a stoplight, the driver smirks. "Suzaku, you seem troubled."
"Well, I – "
He doesn't get a chance to respond. It's a wet, hard kiss, not particularly long, but when it is over, Suzaku cannot find air to breathe. He stares, open-mouthed, at Lelouch, who smiles in a way that's so unusual for him – the sort of smile that shows all of his teeth, pulls back his cheekbones, and most importantly, makes him look truly happy.
"That should be enough to tide you over until we get home."
God, he loves this man.
The next evening, he's sitting alone at Nester (almost completely so, as most students are staying elsewhere for the holidays) when he gets a call from a certain pink-haired ex girlfriend. Does he want to go and see a movie, she wants to know, and Suzaku is a second away from declining when he feels a pang of sympathy at the sound of her sweet but extremely lonely voice.
"Please, Suzaku? I'll pay for it and everything."
Drat. Why had he been cursed with this guilty conscience? "Well, I –"
"I understand if you have plans, it's just Much Ado About Something premieres tonight and I really wanted to go with someone, but Shirley said she was busy with the Theater Club, so…"
"I'll go with you, Euphy. I just had to think for a second to make sure I didn't have anything going on." But he knows he doesn't. The only person he spends his time with these days is Lelouch, and Lelouch is at a seminar until nine. "You're going to have to come pick me up."
"Ah, I know." She sounds painfully excited and goddamn, he pities her. "Have you looked into getting a new bike?"
"I'm working on it." Suzaku is really avoiding the task, as he's unsure of how he'd put a bike together if he mail-ordered one. "Well, I guess I'll see you later, Euphy."
He gets the impression that she didn't want the call to end, but Euphemia springs back into shape quickly enough. "Yep. Be ready in an hour, okay?"
"I will." The brunet looks out the window, watching the Theatre Club sell King Lear tickets outside the Fairling Library. He thinks he spots Shirley's orange head. They haven't talked in a while… shaking his head, Suzaku heads off for a shower.
He stands under the water, letting it soak his head. Thoughts of Lelouch come quickly, and of the seminar he's attending. Sometimes it's difficult to picture Lelouch truly involved in such formal activities, so refined and put together – but perhaps it's always that way once you've seen someone naked.
As that train of thought advances, Suzaku becomes aware of all the heat in this tiny shower stall, his skin flushing quickly. He thinks about last night (how just minutes after they'd walked in the door, he'd allowed Lelouch to push him down on the couch, stripping them both down even though they were still cold from the outdoors –)
Suzaku swallows and lets a hand trail down to his stiff cock. Belatedly, as his fist starts to move, he does a mental calculation of the amount of time he has left before Euphy arrives (some thirty minutes), but those thoughts fall away rather quickly as a moan crushes out from between his teeth.
It's insane, really, that the whole week his lover was gone, he'd never actually jerked off. Especially when he had so many good images to work with… Suzaku works his hand faster, the air filling with the sound of it, and sags against the shower wall, inhaling ravenously.
Soon enough, his belly tightens, and, crying out for release, Suzaku uses a second hand as well. Not even ten seconds passes before he comes, groaning, weak jets hitting the shower wall.
Well then. That was… unplanned. He cleans up the mess, feeling almost happy to do so, and finishes up the rest of his shower. Clothes wait for him on the counter.
Sitting in his chair, thighs feeling pleasurably tender, Suzaku thinks it's a wonder he doesn't do this more often.
When Euphemia arrives, he's still sitting there, wet hair still curling at the ends. "Hi," she says thinly, car keys jingling in her hand. "You look… warm."
Suzaku eyes his thick coat. "Too much?"
"No, I … sort of envy you, actually." She chuckles, and for a moment Suzaku thinks she knows what he just finished doing, as she looks confused. "Do you want to go?"
And how grateful he is for the coat when they step outside. His ears, still a bit damp, are like ice. Euphy's car is not any warmer.
"They say this is supposed to be the worst winter in years," she says in response to his shivering, but somehow the comment is not comforting. Suzaku just nods. "I can't imagine how it could've been for Lelouch, in Paris all that time."
"I'm sure he managed," Suzaku says tremulously, shoving his hands in his pockets. "Could you turn the heat on?"
The fact that she says it's broken only makes him wish he'd stayed home, but Suzaku finds it in himself to be kind to Euphy. She really does need the support these days, what with the stress of moving and all that advanced placement coursework (not to mention the fact that he'd still dumped her ) – so he literally grins and bears it, chatting lightly with her about school and the guys she'd attempted to date in recent months.
The ride is not a long one, but he feels like it was. Mostly because they said so much. Really, he does miss talking to her. While mild, Euphemia could be very witty when she wanted to, and that was one of the main qualities that had endeared him to her – and, naturally, to Lelouch as well.
Pendragon, however vast and sprawling a city it may be, only boasts one cinema, so of course the place is crowded to hell when they get there. He tells Euphy to wait in the car while he pays for their tickets, but of course she will have none of it. They wait in the seemingly endless line together, standing rather close out of necessity more than anything else. Suzaku doesn't even notice.
She leads him excitedly to the front row, where they are alone. The film they're watching is predictable, a bit overdone, but Suzaku doesn't dwell much on that. As long as he makes her happy, if only for a little while, he'll see anything.
As most dramas go, there is, of course, a romance weaved into the plot. Though it's a man and a woman, Suzaku notices that one is rather snippy, whilst the other is kinder, albeit less confident. His phone feels heavy in his pocket and he considers texting Lelouch, but he probably won't answer. He never does when on important business.
As the end of the movie draws near, Suzaku finds that Euphemia's scooted just a tad closer to him. Fine, it's not a bother. They were together a long time. Hell, being close to Lelouch is more stressful (as far as his heart and blood pressure are concerned) than sitting in such proximity with Euphy.
"I'm glad you came with me, Suzaku," she says softly. He can feel her voice against his skin. "I really do worry sometimes … is Lelouch good to you?"
For a moment, there are mental flashes of Lelouch's first night home, but they dissolve quickly when he imagines their embrace afterward. "Yeah. He really is."
She says nothing, looking at the screen for a while. Then: "I envy you. That sort of relationship is the one I always wanted." It's the one we had, Suzaku almost says, but she does not sound bitter, so.
"You could definitely still find someone. It's never too late for – "
Someone hisses shhhh behind them. From his dim view of Euphemia's face, he can tell she also thought him rather loud. "Sorry," he says in a low voice.
"We'll talk soon," she promises. "The movie's almost over." And sure enough, the credits start rolling to a jaunty tune not even five minutes later. Euphy stands before he does, brushing crumbs from her skirt. Someone whistles and there is jeering from the rows above.
"I'd like a piece of that!" someone says boorishly. Suzaku frowns. "Damn, how did I not notice her before?"
"Let's go," Euphy insists in a whisper. Suzaku looks for the source of the voice, somehow possessed to stay, despite the fact that only seconds ago he was just itching to get back home.
"What makes you think you can talk to women like that?" he demands of the sleazy man who felt it necessary to comment.
The man snickers. "What makes you think you should even get involved, you filthy Number? Shouldn't you be cleaning windows somewhere?"
Distantly, he becomes aware of Euphemia grabbing his wrist. "You're a racist too? Why am I not surprised." But he is, just at someone else – himself. By the fact that he feels rooted to the floor by his shoes, wanting to make this man regret slandering his ex. It's true he always wanted to protect her, but Suzaku could not have anticipated feeling this amount of fury at the idea of men gawking at her.
More coarse laughter. The man is missing quite a few teeth. "Like you'll do anything. Everyone knows your kind are all talk. You – " he looks at Euphy, at their joined arms – "holding hands with gutter trash like him? In that case, you deserve any name I call you – "
A soft noise – the clearing of a throat, Suzaku realizes – takes the man's attention elsewhere. A seedy usher stands a few feet away. "Do we have a problem here?"
Euphy's nails dig into his wrist.
"No," he finally relents after what seems like a millennia. The man smirks and her grip on him relaxes infinitesimally. "It was just a misunderstanding."
"Suzaku?" Euphemia sounds confused.
The usher, whose hat is much too big for his head, looks from Suzaku and Euphemia to their new friend and then back again. Even if Suzaku had reported the incident, if it wound up in this guy's hands, it would all have been for naught. "All right, well, I'm going to have to ask you all to leave the theater anyway. Closing time is in twenty minutes. Have a good evening."
Without another look at that fucker in the brown jacket (as he has so dubbed him), Suzaku – now holding his ex's hand – opts to exit the theater through the rear door. Immediately, his skin is screaming from the cold.
"I'm sorry that happened," he says resentfully once he and Euphemia have reached her car.
She purses her lips. "Men will always act that way in public as long as there are women to look at. It's just a fact of life."
"But they should never voice any of it, Euphy."
"It's not your responsibility to protect me. I can manage on my own. I have to now."
Now. Because back in the day, it was his responsibility. One he shirked thoughtlessly, just like all the others. "I know, it's just –"
"But I do appreciate it a lot." Suddenly she's smiling, and for some reason it reminds him of Lelouch. "You've always been so good to me."
He is about to argue, but Euphemia's mouth on his proves to be quite the obstacle. It is over just soon enough that he didn't have time to pull away.
"Did you just kiss me?"
Blue eyes widen. She covers her moist-looking mouth. "I'm sorry. I guess I – when you defended me – but it's just because you're a good person, isn't it…"
Teenagers walk across the mall's square, giggling excitedly about something they're going to buy with money they probably didn't earn. Focusing on them only helps marginally with distracting him from what just happened.
"Suzaku." She chokes, and those teenagers may as well be on Mars by now. "I'm sorry. I don't even know why I'd think … oh god."
He chews his lip, lost for words. He won't say it's okay, because it certainly is not. Not by his standards. And Lelouch – he doesn't even want to think about him right now. But anyway, saying something to reprimand her will make him sound like a huge hypocrite, considering the things he did earlier this year, without her knowledge.
"Let's just … not talk about this, alright? I think it'd be better if we didn't – "
The sight of tears paralyzes his vocal chords. He's stuck, like an outsider watching the scene, unsure of how to proceed or if he should even try to. But she gives him no choice.
"How can you love someone else so quickly? Didn't it ever hurt you that we broke up? You're just calm and polite whenever I bring it up, almost like… you're relieved… and…" she stops, smearing her sleeve across her eyes.
Suzaku says, "Of course it hurt me. I told you it did. I said I never meant for any of this to happen."
"You – "
"I know that doesn't make it right. But I want to be able to be friends with you like I used to be and not have to worry about – about stuff like this happening. Do you love me enough to do that for me?"
In hindsight, Suzaku realizes that must have sounded rather cruel, almost mocking. Euphemia, though, doesn't react negatively. In fact, she really doesn't react at all beyond a particularly long silence and: "Am I taking you to Nester or somewhere else?"
And so, she just won't relent. He thought she had, even if slowly, and that their friendship would be somewhat bittersweet but enduringly platonic. Evidently, this dream did not come true. "Lelouch's house. I'll show you how to get there."
Without another look at him, she ducks into the driver's seat. He settles in as well, and she turns on the radio before he can say another word.
He realizes then that Euphemia has changed. That she's become rather avoidant, self-defeating in a way. When she'd confronted him about this before, she'd been stubborn but genial, thirsty for answers and open to discussion. That is, until her feelings got in the way.
This incident seems to have been the very last straw. He knows because when he looks at her, she does not smile.
She always smiled before.
"So I'll see you around then," he says awkwardly once they finally make it to Lelouch's house. All the lights are on. Good. "Thanks for the ride. This was – "
"You don't have to say it was fun," Euphemia replies, sounding broken. Her eyes remained fixed on the windshield.
"No – it's really okay." He attempts to smile. It comes out as a crooked half-grimace.
"You're too nice to me, Suzaku," she murmurs, cutting off the conversation by rolling up the window and then pulling out of the driveway. She has a bit of trouble with the turn, but zooms away rather quickly after that.
Well. That all happened rather fast. Suzaku breathes out a long sigh and steps onto Lelouch's porch. The door is unlocked.
The house is deserted, but smells of cooking linger in the air. The dishwasher is running. He enters the living room next, where gas fire crackles in the hearth. "Lelouch?" he calls out. It echoes.
After a few minutes of searching, Suzaku finds him in the bedroom, asleep at the desk with his cheek pressed against that omnipresent grade book. A frown lingers on his face, as if he's having a particularly irritating dream. He walks up behind Lelouch and lays a hand on each shoulder.
Lelouch stirs quietly, leaning his head backward against Suzaku's chest. "This keeps happening to me; I sit down to work and pass out." His voice rumbles low through the younger's sternum.
"Maybe you aren't meant to get anything done."
They kiss. Suzaku wishes it could've lasted longer, but Lelouch gets to his feet. "How was your movie?"
"It was interesting," he offers, closing the distance between himself and the professor to kiss him hard. Instead of questioning or glaring at him, Lelouch just shuts his eyes and responds slowly, his head swiveling to change the angle before pulling off wetly. He looks at Suzaku through lidded eyes.
"Yeah?" he wonders about that glint in Lelouch's eyes, and what it precedes. The professor looks at him narrowly, mischievous enough to make Suzaku anxious.
"What're you thinking about?"
"Nothing extreme." Still wearing that brazen look, Lelouch loosens his tie and casts it away. It lands on the desk. Next is his suit jacket, which he actually takes the time to fold.
Oh, I see where this is going. Following his lead, Suzaku pulls off his jacket and toes out of his shoes, excitement mounting. But there's something bothering him. "All the blinds are open."
Lelouch watches him for a moment, one eyebrow raised. "Why are you getting undressed?"
"Because you were," he answers slowly. "Did you want to do it for me, or what?"
The low light of the single lamp near the edge of the room makes Lelouch look somewhat eerie. His tone only greatens the effect: "I took off my tie because I'm uncomfortable, not because I want to have sex with you. Not at this very moment, at least. Put your shoes back on, I have something to show you."
Well, okay then.
"…yeah." Consumed by the ebb and flow of embarrassment, Suzaku just nods, blindly following Lelouch through the dark house. "Where are we going?"
"To the garage," says Lelouch's voice with a hint of exasperation, as if this were a normal occurrence.
The sudden surge of light when they arrive is blinding, but once the stars have cleared, Suzaku sees a glossy new Hyundai, the same model as Lelouch's, but black rather than navy. "Wow," he says, "you got a new car."
A chuckle. Lelouch's amusement is nearly tangible. "Take a closer look at it."
Used to humoring the prince by now, Suzaku rounds the vehicle, looking quizzically toward the other all the while. In time, he notices a large red bow stuck to the trunk, the sort you see on a –
"Lelouch." He basks in the audacity of it for a moment before continuing, "Was… this the present you were talking about the other night?"
"It is. I kept seeing you on the internet looking for a new bicycle. I think this exceeds your expectations…?" he's smiling that I-know-all smile that is usually more annoying than charming, but this time may be the exception to the rule.
"Yeah, of course." Suzaku opens the driver's door and he's drenched in new-car smell. New car. "You didn't have to do this for me. Really. I could've dealt with it on my own."
Lelouch looks incredulous. "My own car is completely paid off as of last month. Nunnally and I are comfortable, you know. Besides, Pendragon is one of the universities that doesn't frown on driving to class, so you might as well take advantage of that."
Of course, the professor completely missed the point. "I really am grateful, but –"
"No buts. I always thought your essays had too many. I swear, people your age use prepositions like you do ranch dressing." He snorts and readjusts his glasses. Suzaku frowns.
"Don't be redundant."
Any other day, Suzaku would roll his eyes at Lelouch's offensive strategies in conversation, but the way he's looking at him now – as if to say,
(you deserve it)
washes that and all the other negative impulses away.
"Thank you. Really."
"You're welcome," Lelouch says glibly, with a crooked smile. "Merry Christmas too, I suppose, even though it's a little early. I have yet to wrap Nunnally's presents, though," he adds thoughtfully.
Staring at Lelouch, feeling the warm gaze of those violet eyes, Suzaku feels sick, soon envisioning something very recent in his mind's eye (himself and Euphemia outside the movie theater, where she'd done that and he'd felt so – so disgusted with himself and the cold was just too much -) "You should probably get to that."
The tender expression fades. "Something's bothering you."
(yeah, the fact that you're suddenly a telepath.)
Suzaku scratches at the back of his neck. His sweaty neck. "What makes you say that?"
A long sigh. Lelouch blinks at him, looking wan. "I'm tired, Suzaku, so riddles are beyond me right now. Tell me what's happened."
Oh, wow. He never thought it would be that straightforward. It's almost a relief. "It's about Euphy."
Lelouch just takes his hand, leading the way back into the house silently. They're about halfway up the main staircase before he asks, "So is she dying of terminal cancer, or?"
"It's a valid question," the older says heavily. The bathroom door is ajar, and light leaks dimly into the bedroom. Lelouch makes a beeline for his cluttered sink, running warm water over a hand towel and pressing it to his face for a long moment. "My jaw locks up so often in the winter." After a moment of silence, he looks over at Suzaku.
Well, here goes. "I'm sorry. It's just kind of difficult for me to get out. Euphy- she kissed me," he says in one breath, anticipating the storm. But Lelouch doesn't fly up or question him. He just turns on the faucet and runs more water.
Finally: "I was right, then." Lelouch holds the towel on his jaw once more, suddenly contemplative. "I'd thought she was still in love with you."
"I knew that," Suzaku says dryly. "I just didn't think she'd act on it."
"She's either very bold or very stupid. Possibly both." The professor tosses his towel in the hamper. Suzaku follows him toward the bathtub. "I don't really have anything against her, Suzaku. That would make me a hypocrite. After all – isn't that what I did? Kissed you even though I knew you had someone already?"
"That's different. She…" He breaks off, distracted by the sight of Lelouch's bare shoulders and back as he leans over the tub. "She's been in love with me a long time. Since we were kids."
"…you're right. She's far nobler than I am, at any rate." The older laughs softly, but what Suzaku can see of his face is serious. "Hey."
"Do you plan on getting undressed too or are you going to make this a challenge?"
Instead of teasing like usual, the professor sounded rather cold. That's why the message takes a little while to sink in. "…are you up for it?"
"If you are."
But the eyes locked on his are misty, and Suzaku knows he's feeling hopeful. That's fine. Having spent the evening in the company of Euphemia, all soft curves and sweetness, his aching for Lelouch's sharp angles and coy remarks has been lingering beneath the surface, just waiting to stir.
Suzaku undresses quickly ("slow down; we have all the time in the world" Lelouch tells him with a leer), and he is apt to listen when the older tells him to lie on his back. Suzaku shivers as he reaches for the lamp, dimming the lights and pushing long fingers through his hair, tickling his scalp. He closes his eyes, lets Lelouch run his hands all over him. His nipples peak in response to the cold touch; a leg shakes in anticipation.
"You know something, Suzaku?"
"Mm?" is all he can manage.
"You and I -" the places where Lelouch kisses his neck grow chilly once he pulls away - "have had one hell of a week."
"We – " Suzaku inhales greedily. "You haven't been here…"
"I know, but first there was France, and then… your father… and now this whole Euphemia business. It's as if the fates are out to get us."
The younger thinks that over, sitting up a bit in the tub. "They always have been. But." He runs a hand through the hair that sticks to Lelouch's damp forehead. "It seems like that doesn't matter in the end."
Lelouch's eyes narrow. "Are you just saying that because I bought you a car, or – "
Suzaku takes this opportunity to kiss Lelouch's smart-ass mouth, and from there, he can no longer think about fate or France or ex-girlfriends or forgotten assignments. He can no longer think, period. Lelouch has a lot to do with that, with the way he moves his tongue (in Suzaku's mouth) and clutches his hand (in Suzaku's.)
Eventually he winds up fucking Lelouch against the wall, only their ankles still in the water. The older cries out with each push forward, his grip tightening against Suzaku's shoulders (to the point where it's started to hurt, but really, Suzaku could not give less of a damn).
He doesn't think he's ever been this deep inside Lelouch before, and the heat of it is just electrifying – "Lelouch, I –"
"Shut… up," Lelouch grunts, breathing heavier before starting to whimper again. Suzaku sees sweat on every inch of his body, and he must look so much worse – but it doesn't matter. "I – Suzaku –"
After the younger changes angles, Lelouch stops talking, "oh" being his only noise, increasing in volume with each bump against his prostate. Finally, he just inhales sharply, and Suzaku pulls away from the other's chest, where his head has been the whole time. Lelouch's eyes – he's never seen them look so bright in his life.
"Am I hurting you?" he asks, pulling out quickly. But the question is answered for him by the sight of sticky whiteness running down the older's thighs. The sight of it is enough, and Suzaku follows suit, teeth fastened to Lelouch's shoulder.
Sometime later, once the harsh breathing has quieted, Lelouch surprises him by being the first one to speak. "Suzaku, I'm thinking it's time for a legitimate bath."
And eyeing the both of them, Suzaku rather agrees.
Lelouch visits the Saffron Building the next day, moving quickly and almost clumsily along. After two weeks, his mailbox must be positively overflowing, and besides, what's to stop him from preparing for next term?
Not Suzaku, who's at his grandmother's. Not C.C., who is thankfully nowhere to be found. He hasn't been able to find her since he came back to Britannia, actually.
Besides, there's always the lurking possibility that Schneizel may have had someone paw around in there. While he may be royalty, his older brother has always had the persistent ability to hire idiots to do his dirty work. If someone has been inside, he'll likely know in an instant.
Alas, everything looks the same as it did the day he left – even the computer is undisturbed, his lesson plan still illuminating the screen. Odd. He'd been sure that in the event of his absence, Schneizel would have jumped at the opportunity to search the place (and that Dean Carlan would have jumped to host royalty) but it appears that neither have happened.
Relief coursing through him, the professor sits down at his desk, toying with a broken pen and the idea of moving out of Nester. Would it be better to stay at Arbordale or change residences completely – a blank slate?
The phone rings and he literally jumps, snatching it off the receiver. "What?" he demands sharply.
"Lelouch?" A curious, French-accented voice queries. "Is this a bad time?"
"Daniel." He huffs out a breath. "No, it's fine, you just startled me a bit." He can think of only one reason why his old friend would call, and that would of course be news about the job at the Linguistique Ministère. "What's going on?"
"A call came in from Director LaSalle just this morning! I've tried to call you several times, but I continue to get the answering machine! What have you been up to?"
"I'm on holiday leave," Lelouch says, realizing that his leg is shaking rather quickly beneath the desk and trying to steady it with his free hand. "I probably should have given you my cell number… what's going on?" he licks his lips.
Daniel pauses a moment; the ex-prince figures it for a hesitant silence and only grows more tense.
"She said that she spent a lot of time deciding since we both seemed so eager. The woman honestly draws out everything much farther than she should, as you know, she's no poulet de printemps –" the other laughs, finding himself quite funny. Lelouch frowns. "But she told me I have the job. Can you believe it? Everyone was sure it would be you…"
Lelouch feels a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach, but it is short-lived. "I'm happy for you," he says genuinely, remembering the Frenchman's anxiety and often hopelessness in the week they spent trying to woo Director LaSalle.
Perhaps he'd just been a bit distracted, the ever-present thoughts of Suzaku clouding his ambitions. It is clear, though, that they'd chosen the better man, and he can't help but smile for his old colleague. The odds seemed one-in-a-million that he'd succeed, but he still had. It must have been fate.
("It seems like the fates are out to get us," he'd said last night, rather breathlessly, and Suzaku had responded,
"It doesn't seem to matter in the end.")
He listens to Daniel prattle ecstatically; his words often unintelligible, and eventually they lapse into French, Lelouch laughing easily along with him. It's strange, the lack of pain he feels over losing the job - in fact, as odd as it may sound, Lelouch is truly relieved.
This means that he won't spend countless days trying to dredge up the courage to tell Suzaku he got the job - a job he'd worked so hard to convince Suzaku he didn't care so much about in the first place.
Smiling rather stupidly, Lelouch wishes Daniel good luck a few more times before dismissing the conversation. "I wish I could talk about this more, but I really have a lot to do before term starts again. You should email me sometime."
"Oh, but of course." Though it is going to be the other who will soon have no free time. "Good-bye, Lelouch."
He dials Suzaku as soon as the call is terminated. The student doesn't pick up until the third ring, undoubtedly searching for a place in which to hide from his grandmother. "Lelouch?" he answers, sounding a bit harried. "What's the matter? Is it Nunnally?"
"No. I just wanted to talk to you."
"...oh." Suzaku sounds, if anything, mildly frustrated. He has every right to be, as Lelouch promised he'd be busy all day, and that he should probably just turn his phone off. He also remembers the boy saying something about his grandmother being rather neurotic. "I'm sorry, but you're going to have to make it fast. My grandma has some friends over and we're all playing shogi."
" Sounds fun," Lelouch replies with feigned enthusiasm. "I'll make it quick, then. I didn't get the job. At the University of Paris."
A moment passes. There is a bit of shuffling. "I'm sorry," Suzaku says, though he doesn't sound like it at all. "You bought that plane ticket and everything."
"I know you couldn't be less sorry if you tried," Lelouch laughs dryly, but not without mirth. "Honestly, I feel better about not getting the job, if you can believe that."
"I really can't." Suzaku's voice has softened a bit, but there is a sharp noise in the background. Lelouch hears him speak his native tongue hurriedly. "I - Lelouch, I have to go now. I'm still coming over tonight, aren't I?"
"You are, as far as I know. But Suzaku - "
A huff. "Yeah?"
"...why did you forgive me? For lying to you?"
Silence. He looks at the phone a moment just to be sure Suzaku didn't hang up on him.
Then: "Because I love you. Now I really have to go."
Now he really has been disconnected, but Lelouch can't be bothered to notice, his gaze fixated blankly on the dark wood of his classroom door. His mind is currently ruled by what he's just heard, a short phrase that normally would've irked him, but this time actually appears to have hit home.
(because I love you)
Reader, he never imagined it could be that simple.
Let me start with an apology. I'm sorry it's been so ridiculously long since I've updated. Five months, was it? I feel like a complete douche now. But! I made it ~ Also, happy one-day-early birthday to Lelouch! (Even though since Code Geass is set in the future he's really only about a year old, our time...)
So, this is chapter eleven. I've worked on it in broken up intervals, often out of order, as I've been really short on time for writing these days. I have managed, though it did take a regrettably long time. As always, I hope you all enjoyed it, and I'd like to thank my lovely Betafor working her way through my long ass, errors-aplenty chapters without a single complaint. Thank you, Jessica! C:
The preview to this chapter in the summary is also a little misleading. I planned for that scene to happen between Suzaku and Lelouch in person, but the way it turned out, it was a phone call in the end. I doubt this really upset anyone, but I did feel the need to point it out. OCD runs in my family, you see.
As this will probably be my last update until next season, with the way things have been going, happy holidays to all of you! The one thing I'm not looking forward to is my inevitable winter weight gain. D: does anyone else have this problem?
Thoughts, praise, opinions, concrit – all welcome. I'm looking forward to hearing from you all!