00 - Passion Pizza - 00

Author's Notes: ... grovelling, explanation, begging, and a collection of miscellaneous other undignified activities to follow in the proper author's notes at the end. Until then, enjoy this chapter! At 10,800 words, it is definitely the longest of this fic so far. ^^;

Chapter 4: Turnabout

If Suzaku's house had been... unremarkable from the outside, its interior didn't offer much to remedy that.

Lelouch noted with a slight curl of his upper lip that the furniture in the living room had to be at least several years old, and the carpet beneath his feet, while clean, was also starting to show its age. There were a couple of paintings hanging on the wall opposite a curtained entryway that he assumed led further into the house: Eastern art, it seemed, crisp black outlines and wisps of color. The one on the left, with some sort of majestic red bird, caught his eye for a bit longer than it should have.

The ambience of the house reminded him of his old benefactors' - the ones who took him in when he first parted from his family and crossed the sea to get away from the rain and dreary atmosphere of England only to end up in a house surrounded by cornfields and, well, more cornfields. A quiet elegance that evoked weariness but also former glory, and -

None of that even mattered. Right.

After handing over Suzaku's frayed and old-fashioned jacket (and Lelouch had counted three stains and one dark smudge on it on across the right breast pocket), he had been invited in, engaged in a short and victorious battle with his dress shoes, and once again proved his own eye for detail and cleanliness to himself by picking the sole spot in the entryway to park said dress shoes.

He looked up, and found himself at the glittering mercy of three identically-colored and identically-shaped eyes staring up at him with childlike wonder (in Suzaku and the little kid's face), and that mom-look that betrayed a deep and longing desire to feed the recipient a wide array of home cooked meals complete with eventual regurgitation (on the mom's face).

"My name is Lelouch Lamperouge," he said with poise. "I know Suzaku from..." Well, he mostly knew Suzaku from his doorstep and X-rated dreams, but... "... from work, you could say."

Suzaku's mother nodded.

So did Suzaku.

The little girl, on the other hand, beamed and said, "Mom, she's really pretty."

Lelouch, for his part, flailed most elegantly. "I'm not a she."

"You must forgive Kaguya," Suzaku's mother said, twinkle in her eyes. "She's - actually, we're - not used to such good-looking visitors. Why don't you stay for dinner? We were just about to have some meat."

Lelouch nodded. "What kind of meat?"

The woman shrugged. "Just meat."

Lelouch paused, and looked from the girl to Suzaku (pretty eyes) back to the woman, and considered this.

For all the 0.3 seconds it took him to decide that if he had followed the siren's calls of those eyes long enough to end up on the mermaids' shore, he might as well go all the way.

And try to somehow leave with his sanity intact.

(... He wasn't entirely sure why, while he thought that last part, he thought he might have heard C.C.'s humorless cackle).

"Well, I'm a vegetarian," he said. Then considered it for a beat. "But I'll have whatever side dish you can offer."

Dinner passed without much incident.

Lelouch ate his dinner in silence, and engaged in a verbal ping-pong match with Suzaku's mother regarding his height (5'10"), income (six-lettered, thank you), and marital status (...) while Suzaku and Kaguya kept themselves to quietly eating their dinner while regarding Lelouch with varying levels of interest.

The family seemed inconsequential enough, Lelouch thought. Suzaku's mother - who Lelouch found out was named Mayu between several spurts of questions about his job and heritage - was, Lelouch decided, quite an interesting-looking woman.

Like Suzaku, she was all limbs and energy and fluorescent smiles, all skinny body wanly supporting a gigantic head of timeless beauty, topped off by a wild bird's nest of brown hair. She spoke with a lilting Japanese accent that was not present in Suzaku's voice, but that somehow managed to make her sound adorable rather than nosy.

"My Suzaku," she said, while swinging a piece of meat squished in tightly between two chopsticks, "he's really handsome, isn't he? I'm so proud of him - all the other women at the market always tell me that -"

"M-Mom," Suzaku protested, sending her an embarrassing glance. "Please, not in front of guests."

Suzaku's mother covered her face with her hand, and laughed. "And he's so humble, too."

Suzaku gave a strangled moan of the mortally-embarrassed, and turned his gigantic eyes to Lelouch.

And thus the tail-end of the last thought that had been snaking through Lelouch's head sort of slipped through his fingers, because, whoa, eyes.

It would have been so easy. So easy to say, "Yes, you're right, he's very handsome."

What Lelouch ended up saying, with a look down at his ramen bowl, was, "It's normal for mothers to praise their children," and that was the end of it.

Somewhere at the back of his head, Gino reprimanded him. Lelouch rolled his eyes and told imaginary back-of-the-head Gino to get lost or he'd cut off his ears, marinate them, and use them as fanciful pencil-holders in his office.

In the real world, Suzaku just laughed, and his mother protested mildly. Kaguya laughed as well, and the atmosphere continued to be light and fresh, with the sound of cutlery clinking, and the breezy hum of conversation settling across the table.

That is, until Lelouch (daintily cleaning his mouth by pressing the rolled-up ends of a napkin against the corners of his mouth) looked around the room and asked, "So, what about your father?"

The change was instantaneous. A noticeable fissure ran throughout the entire room, zipping from one person to the next until it sprang back up onto Lelouch and down his spine in a stomach-twisting curdle of regret.

"I mean, you don't have to tell me if you don't want to -"

"It's... fine," Suzaku's mother answered. "What, it's not like it's a big secret." (It sounded a bit like 'seek-lit').

Suzaku shrugged. "He's gone."

Inconspicuous silence brimmed.

"I'm sorry," Lelouch said with a nod. "My condolences."

All three Kururugis exchanged a short look before, once again, three identically-colored and identically-shaped eyes fell onto Lelouch.

Suzaku shrugged. "He's not dead."

The 'but' remained unspoken but tangible.

And just this once, Lelouch knew better than to dig.

The summer night wrapped around them like a thick cocoon when Lelouch and Suzaku stepped out in front of the house. They came to a halt a few feet away from Lelouch's car, cast beneath the bleary glow of a sole street lamp flanking the house.

"Thanks." Suzaku looked at his feet, and then up again, offering a small smile. "Mom, she... she's wonderful. But she can be a bit overbearing.

Lelouch nodded. "She must be busy, what with keeping the house clean all by herself. That's what she does, right?"

"Yeah. Yeah." Suzaku tilted his head. "Yeah."

Lelouch paused. "Does your mom not work otherwise?"

Suzaku laughed a little uneasily. "Yeah... " Quickly: "Listen." He came to a halt in front of Lelouch's car. "I'm really grateful you came here to bring me my jacket." He paused, and the corners of his eyes creased with his sheepish smile. "And thanks for answering all of mom' questions."

Lelouch shrugged. "Of course. Is there a reason why you think I wouldn't answer your mom's questions?"

Suzaku didn't say anything for a while, and their eyes met beneath the darkening sky.

Lelouch thought, for a moment, that he might have seen something in them move. Something like a flash and subsequent dash, like a deer darting back in the forest as soon as one spots it.

"I dunno. I don't think you share well." Suzaku's voice seemed to hang in the air for a few moments.

"Share what, exactly?"

Suzaku shrugged a little. "I dunno. Your things. Your past."

Lelouch thought about it for a second. "Do you want me to?"

Tiny laughter fluttered through the air. "Maybe. I dunno. We're friends. But then everyone has things they don't like sharing."

"Truer words," Lelouch said, and looked away.

"Yeah, so. Thanks." Suzaku nodded, and then fell silent, and for a moment, they looked at each other. Like this, standing in front of Suzaku's house, crickets chirping in the lawn beyond, moon dangling in the air like a burst of white egg and the clouds blotting out the stars up ahead.

Atmospheric, really. Or it might have been, if Lelouch hadn't felt so nervous.

Lelouch shrugged, and broke the moment. "I thank you for the meal as well."

"Hey." Suzaku paused, and considered something. "Are you doing anything this weekend?"

Lelouch shrugged. "Breathing, for starters."

Suzaku laughed. "Ah, yeah. Anything more exciting than that?"

Tolstoy? "No."

Suzaku tilted his head. "D'you maybe wanna go out with me and my friends? I'm busy, so we don't hang out very often, but we usually do something Saturday evenings. Some beer and conversation and stuff." He shrugged. "You could bring a friend and... join us?"

Somewhere down there, below his collar bone but above his belt, something in Lelouch's body shook.

"That might be possible," he said neutrally.

Suzaku laughed. "Well, I understand if you don't. You're a very well-respected business man, after all, and are probably busy." Then, he took a step back, and rubbed the back of his head. "But, well... the offer stands."

"I'll think about it," Lelouch said. "I'll let you know tomorrow."

"Sure," Lelouch saw more than heard Suzaku say.

And then he didn't see much of anything anymore because Suzaku smiled, one of those smiles that made the neurons around him buzz, and Lelouch stood there and realized only moments later that Suzaku had waved a few more times and then disappeared back into the house (out of which a wild gabble of Japanese drifted to him before the door closed and everything was cut off), and Lelouch stood there in front of his car calm as a Hindu cow, and without about as much intelligence.

Then Lelouch grinned, balled his hands into fists, and muttered, "Eureka."

Grin stretched across his face, he turned around and walked back to his car. Well, that had been easy, he thought. He was beautiful, rich, educated, spoke French, German, Italian - oh, right, and Russian, couldn't forget the Russian - and this would be as easy as predicting the rise of common stocks, of correctly predicting the business maneuvers of companies hailed by such plebeians as certain siblings, as -

Lelouch's eyes widened. Impossibly, impossibly wide.

"Ah -" He cringed. "Ow -" He cupped his groin. "Ouch - ow, ow, ow, ow -" His voice got higher, more high-pitched. "Argh -"

So, while he was on a clear-set course into Suzaku's figurative pants, he had somehow managed to drive his literal pants (and a sensitive area there) right into one of his car's side windows.

…. Well, certain deviations from the course were the norm. Occasionally.

Hello Suzaku. I think I'll come to this party of yours, after all. Let me know the time and place.

10:04 AM, from: LELOUCH.


10:45 AM, from: AS


10:46 AM, from: LELOUCH

im sorry its just a habit of mine. i can change it if u like.

11:38 AM, from: AS

. Not like that, either. -_-

11:39 AM, from: LELOUCH


1:01 PM, from: AS

.Please just text me your friend's address.

01:02 PM, from: LELOUCH


1:40 PM, from: AS

Yes, I'm somewhat prompt with texts. I'll be there.

1:41 PM, from: LELOUCH


2:03 PM, from: AS

Sometimes, C.C. reminded him of a really critical movie-goer.

Observantly sitting in her seat and watching as the wonders of technology allowed for heart break, explosions, and cheesy orchestra score-chaperoned love scenes to flitter across the screen up front, but always with a pronounced impassivity scored across her features.

She was the cynical type of really critical movie-goer, though. The type to remark, "Oh, that was logical," or, "That girl's getting old," or, "I'd rather give a behemoth a dental flossing than watch the sequel to this," while remaining on her seat, unmoving, slipping salty popcorn - or, in her case, greasy pizza - between her lips.

That would explain, maybe, why he had to listen to things like this:

"Well, don't you look exalted."

"Shut up," Lelouch said, rifling through his closet in search for an appropriate set of clothes. "I'm not talking to you."

"I could have sworn the way you just made your vocal cords swing would constitute as 'talking.'"

"Shut up." Lelouch threw a couple of shirts and pants - all designer clothes, mais bien sur - on the bed, regarding them as critically as a mother a row of her son's prospective daughter-in-laws. "God, I don't have anything to wear."

To her credit, C.C. didn't make the obvious chick-joke at this point.

To her discredit, she shrugged, and leaned against the door. "I wouldn't wear the Armani button-up. Clovis puked all over that last Christmas."

Lelouch groaned. "Oh, don't remind me."

C.C. shrugged. "He apparently fancies himself something of a fashion critic."

Lelouch tsssk'ed, and held up a couple of shirts to his chin, turning to the full-length mirror. "The Armani or the Hugo Boss?"

C.C. yawned demonstratively.

Lelouch rolled his eyes. "Right, you don't care about fashion. Don't you have some 4chan thread to troll?"

"4chan is child's play. I usually troll around in the deep web."

"Then what are you still doing here?" Hmm, maybe the beige looked a tad bit better on him... "I'm busy."

"Oh, I'm just waiting until you realize the obvious."

He gave her a look. "And what is that?"

"Who are you going to take?"

Lelouch paused at that, Armani and Hugo Boss and Oscar de la Renta taking a well-deserved vacation from the lit stage of his mental focus. "... Gino?"

C.C. sighed. "You're pathetic."

"...And your blouse is the wrong color. Blue isn't you."

"... Point."

Gino had this habit of not merely picking up his phone, but screaming into it as if he were somehow paid by the ear doctors of the country to generate as much income as possible by causing ear fractures in the general population. "H'lo!"

"I can hear you," Lelouch growled. "So can my neighbors."

"Yeah." Gino's throaty laughter spiraled through the air. "What's up?"

All right, Lelouch told himself. He could do this.

"I need you to go to a party with me tonight at seven," Lelouch said. "I'd assume that the dress code is stylish casual, but considering you dress like a deafblind on their day off, I doubt it makes much of a difference."

"Whoa, whoa." Lelouch could vividly imagine Gino raising his hands in startled protest. "Can't. I have a date with Kallen tonight -"

Lelouch groaned, and let himself fall face-first onto his bed, then propped himself up on his elbows. "... On the money I pay you."

"... Dude." Gino's amusement carried his voice. "Was that just a thinly-veiled threat?"

Lelouch shrugged. "If you feel inclined to take it that way, go ahead."

"Dude. Okay, right, let's get this straight." There was fumbling on the other end of the line. "It's about your thing for this pizza boy, right? Alice."

"His name is not Alice," Lelouch bit.

"It is about him, though, right?"

Lelouch scoffed.

"Maaaaan, I can't remember if I ever had it that bad before."

"Right, and your input is appreciated." He paused. "Not."

Gino laughed. "That's not what your mom said last ni -"

"You are not starting with those kinds of jokes." Lelouch's voice hiked up a tone. "You're not."

"Right, right. So, what's the story? He invited you to a party? Wants you to bring a friend?"

Lelouch groaned in reply.

"Makes sense. He probably thinks that would put you at ease." Pause. "And probably doesn't expect it would be hard for you to.."

"I had plenty of friends at Stanford," Lelouch bit.

"But here in Milwaukie, you call your secretary to go to a party."

Lelouch could just picture Gino nodding sagely. He himself chose to remain silent at that.



Gino's voice grew a little more serious. "I'll go, yanno? I'll bring Kallen too if that's okay."

"I don't mind." Lelouch felt petulant. "And I've only been in Milwaukie for about a year, and then I was busy founding my company, and then -"

"You don't have to justify yourself." Gino's voice was chipper. "I get it, man. I do." A pause. "So, who's the beau?"

Lelouch felt the itch to correct Gino's pronunciation of that French word, but held his tongue.

Gino went on regardless. "''Cause, man, I just realized that me going to this party means I'm going to meet him. That is awesome. Who is it? It's time you give me his name, if I'm going to be hanging out with him in a couple of hours. So far, we've only really referred to him as the 'pizza boy.' Well, and lately, 'Alice.'"

Lelouch averted his gaze, flexing it upon the linen of his sheets, then flipped onto his stomach.

His king-sized bed was big enough that he could make a snow angel in it if he ever bothered to cover its surface with something like snow. Big and wide, with glossy red silk sheets held up by real mahogany painstakingly handmade by gifted artisans somewhere in Lyon, and it was always -

Lelouch closed his eyes. "His name is Suzaku. Suzaku Kururugi."

Electronic blitzkrieg spat into Lelouch's ear as the other line went silent. Lelouch sighed. "Yes, I know. Strange name, I get it."

Still no response.

Lelouch wondered if the connection had been cut. "Hello?"

"You... like Suzaku Kururugi." A faint chuckle came from Gino's end of the line. "You... you like Suzaku Kururugi." The chuckle morphed into full laughter, loud and echoing and sharp in Lelouch's ear. "You... you fucking like... Suzaku - bwahahaha."

Lelouch's eyebrow slid together. "The fuck are you going on about?" And, more importantly: "Wait, you know him?"

More laughter.

"Dude." It sounded like Gino tried - and then failed - to compose himself. "Dude. Tell me the address he sent you."

"Fuck you," Lelouch spat.

Gino reined in his laughter enough to say, "Please?"

Mumbling something about impossible secretaries and their antics and C.C. and the stock market, for good measure, Lelouch pulled up the text with the address, and read it aloud.

"Oh man." Gino laughed. "Oh man, this will be good."

"Gino." If his life were a movie, Lelouch thought, that one word would have been accompanied by a Darth Vader-esque warped voice. Like, "Ggggino," with black smoke whisking out of his nostrils and his eyes glowing. "Make sense or I use your body to make ball sack soup. Choose wisely."

Gino, for his part, seemed undeterred by Lelouch's brief fandom confusion. "I know where that is. And I know Suzaku - or well, I don't know him that well personally, but I don't think I have to."

Lelouch could see that grin. Even though this wasn't a voice call, and Gino lived on the end of town. That was some sort of metaphysical accomplishment. That, or Lelouch just had an overly dramatic imagination. "What does that mean?"

"Meet me at the Starbucks near the office, kay?"

"I can't wait," Lelouch said, and watched himself step up to the gallows, the executioner glaring at him from beneath bushy eyebrows and the rope swinging limply in the breeze.

… It was probably the overly dramatic imagination, he decided.

Twenty minutes later, Lelouch arrived at the designated Starbucks, searched the entire cafe only to yield no finding of grinning, bottle-blonde Ken dolls yet, ordered a Venti-sized iced Americano, and proceeded to terrorize Gino's cell phone until said secretary finally walked in a couple of minutes later.

"Took you long enough," Lelouch said while flipping his phone shut and sliding it back into his pocket.

The first thing that Lelouch noticed upon seeing Gino was that he didn't look nearly as bouncy as usual. His usual shit-eating grin was absent, replaced by an almost sympathetic smile. When he slid into the seat opposite of Lelouch's, he held onto his eyes, and kept smiling that tiny, private smile. "Dude."

Lelouch took a large sip of coffee; the ice tingled and popped in his mouth. "Don't look at me like I'm a mewling puppy on the snow-covered edge of a highway."

"Did not," Gino said, looking the most offended Lelouch had seen him in a while.

"So did." Lelouch pinned him with a look.

"Did not," Gino said.

"... Gino, I do not believe it is befitting of a CEO and a secretary to have a debate on the level of grade schoolers. And I don't have all night." He threw a pointed look at his wrist watch. "We have to go to this party-cum-get-together in something like half an hour."

Gino gave him an awed look. "Given the circumstances, that is the most unfortunate use of this Latin word I've ever seen."

Lelouch threw a straw wrapper at Gino.

Gino caught it, and finally broke into his usual Gino-grin. "You like Suzaku Kururugi." Grin. "I can't decide if this is the fucking funniest or the fucking most terrifying thing I've ever heard."

In retrospect, Lelouch felt a little stupid at not having seriously considered the possibility that Gino might know Suzaku before. After all, he'd just been told a few days ago - "It's a small town. Most people in such small towns know each other -"

But he just hadn't seriously considered they might know each other. Coincidences like that, he'd thought, only happened in stories, staged reality TV shows, or those cheap romance novels with half-naked women on the cover with hair that looked like it came straight out of a shampoo commercial.

...In retrospect, the fact that Lelouch used to wonder what brand of shampoo those women used more than he paid attention to the generous cleavage that hair regularly dipped into may or may not have been a sign...

In any case. Lelouch decided that rather than reminiscing about the shampoo models of his past he better deal with the case at hand, and leaned forward a little on his coffee table. "Out with it already." He searched for Gino's eyes. "What do you know about Suzaku Kururugi?"

Gino shrugged. "He used to be..." And he trailed off dramatically.

Lelouch gave him a look. "What? A two-timing prostitute? A testosterone-bloated former illegal experimentation specimen? What?"

"A basketball star," Gino said, and the tension in the air kind of deflated with all the whining of a balloon blowing out air.

It made Lelouch slump a little in his chair. "Oh wow. That's wild. Next thing you tell me he has a basic understanding of calculus on top of that and I fear I'm going to be rendered speechless in awe."

Gino shook his head. "No, not just any basketball star." He paused for dramatic effect. "He was... well, one could say he was sort of this town's hope for a while. People were talking about how he might make it big in the NBA, and things like that.. On top of that, he was loaded. Positively loaded, man. Like, comes-to-school-every-day-in-a-luxury-car loaded."A look of longing flitted over Gino's features before the grin reclaimed its territory. "People who hated and loved him, and loved him yet hated him or hated him yet loved him, could probably be divided roughly into four equal quarters. If you were a high school student in Milwaukie, you had an opinion on Suzaku Kururugi."

Lelouch said nothing for a while; he let his eyes trail over the furniture set against the soft trinkling of the lounge music streaming into the posh little cafe, and thought. "Why?"

Gino gave him a smile, one that he rarely showed. Not the dopey grin that usually split his face into half, but a small, pensive one. "Because if you're in the spotlight like that, every little thing you do is magnified and stretched out of proportion, I think."

Lelouch nodded. "So he was a controversial basketball star. And? He's a pizza boy now."

"I dunno." Gino scratched the back of his neck for a bit. "When he was in his senior year..." He dropped his hand, and leaned in a little closer, grinning in conspiracy, "... he disappeared for about half a year, leaving his team hanging, and losing his potential scholarship to any college that might have accepted him on his athletic merits. The official story was that he was called to Japan during that time for some family business - nobody really knows what really happened, or those who do don't tell, whichever. His reputation never recovered. You don't know the kinds of wild rumors that circulated at the time."

Lelouch listened silently, rolling the new information over in his head.

"And then..." Gino continued, "you know, just like that." Gino popped his tongue, and held up his hand, flattening the back of it. "From top," and he made the little 'wheeeep' sound associated with crashing air planes, and let his hand nose dive onto the coffee table, "to rock-bottom. That's Suzaku Kururugi, right there."

Lelouch and Gino spent the next couple of minutes in heated discussion at the local Starbucks. Lelouch's voice continuously rode up and down from the shore of bewilderment down to the lake of resignation and up again, whereas Gino seemed content enough telling stories at the even plane of amusement that only once in a while hiked up Mount Envy.

At one point, Lelouch finally dared to ask a question that had been occupying him for a while. "So, you don't think he's…"


"Well, yes."

Gino grinned, and shrugged his massive shoulders. "No idea. Rumor has it he banged the entire cheerleading squad, but I can't say."

Lelouch wrinkled his nose. "I'm surprised there's something even you don't know."

Gino shrugged again. "It was high school, man. He was simply not in the kind of social group that could afford to be gay."

Lelouch raised an eyebrow. "What, being gay is a membership-only club now?"

Gino grinned. "You would know."

Lelouch threw another straw at him.

Gino caught it, again. "Hey, man, all I'm saying is that I don't know. Him and I weren't close. We didn't go to the same high school and all. Kallen did, but she doesn't really like him."

Lelouch frowned. "She doesn't?"

"No. Something about Suzaku and Kallen's best friend while she was in high school, something like that, eh, I don't even know. You know, Kallen and I don't exactly talk about Suzaku when we're together." He paused, grinning. "Or, you know, talk at all –"

"I get it, Gino. Kindly spare me the M-rated details."

Gino shrugged. "But you know, that address he sent you? Where we're going tonight? I know where it is."

Lelouch unconsciously leaned forward on the table a bit. "Who?"

Gino looked down at his iced tall chai latte. "You know, one thing I never understood about Starbucks is, why is the smallest size 'tall'? I mean, it isn't even tall, and why is 'small' 'tall'?" He put his massive hand over the top of his drink. "It's like –"

"Gino," Lelouch groaned. "Tell me who it is right now or -"

"All right, all right, all right, okay, okay, okay. Remember when we went to the porn store? There was this girl there who looked at you for one second and immediately knew you were gay."

Lelouch nodded. "Milly. Right?"

White flashed from between Gino's lips when he grinned. "Yeah. She's been Suzaku's best friend since they were little."

Lelouch blinked. "What? That woman?"

"Hey, Milly's cool." Gino shrugged. "I've never been that close to Suzaku, but Milly's awesome."

"His best friend's... that woman?" Lelouch repeated, with all the social grace of a robot with Google Translate as a language center.

Gino shrugged. "I don't know, I think I heard that they first got close because he was the only one who let her put make-up on him."

Lelouch stared.

Gino laughed. "What, didn't you know that those two knew each other? Come on, it's -"

Lelouch threw another straw then.

This time, it hit Gino in the shoulder.

Progress. That's what it was.

Kallen arrived about half an hour later in a red torpedo of clicking heels and bright colors. Predictably, she seemed less than pleased to hear she was going to Suzaku's (or, as it had turned out, to Milly's) party.

"We're going to hang out with Milly and… Suzaku? Kururugi?" She threw a look from Gino back to Lelouch. "Um, why?"

"He's the boss's new friend," Gino said.

Lelouch didn't particularly like the way he said 'friend.' Nor that little 'wink wink, nudge, nudge' business.

As it turned out, Kallen didn't know all that much more about Suzaku than Gino did.

She made comments such as:"I don't hate him anymore, I mean,I don't exactly like him, but it's been years since high school, so…" followed up by remarks such as, "Yeah, he was a bit of a playboy, why?" or "The school was very disappointed when he ditched the team for their final match. We might have won the state championship in basketball otherwise," and most damning of all, "Why are you interested?"

"Private business," Gino said.

Lelouch angled up his foot to make sure Gino knew what he thought of his comment with a well-timed kick into another private business, but Gino expertly caught his foot and tugged.

Lelouch slid forward on his chair until he was propped up on his elbows, trying very hard not to look like someone who just just literally had his leg pulled by his secretary.

Kallen sent them both quizzical looks.

Lelouch kicked at Gino's hand with his other leg, managed to free himself, and then straightened himself in his chair, giving Kallen a practiced smile. "Him and Milly are two people I recently befriended."

There was a brief, brief moment, when Kallen wrinkled her nose and looked at him, when Lelouch feared that Kallen might have connected the dots between the sudden appearance of Lelouch's pretend-girlfriend 'Alice' and his sudden interest in the history of one Suzaku Kururugi - but then she shrugged and thankfully dispelled that theory.

"Okay," she said, then shook her head and smiled. "So, are we going to that party?"

Lelouch and Gino nodded with varying levels of enthusiasm (Lelouch somberly and Gino with the hoot of a car full of frat boys calling after a leggy blond), drained their cups of coffee, and got up.

On his way out, Lelouch ran into a mousy-haired boy with violet eyes he'd never seen before.

"I'm sorry," the boy stuttered, searching for Lelouch's eyes. "I was just -"

"That's all right," Lelouch said, and pushed past the boy to join Gino and Kallen waiting by the entrance.

Once there, Lelouch paused, his memory spurred. Hadn't he seen that boy before -

He stood there for a moment searching his memory.

Then, he shrugged, decided it didn't matter, and followed his employees.

For what seemed like an eternity but had in reality been less than a day, Lelouch had been anticipating what he in his head called The Party (capitalized) with anticipation that was somewhere in between that of a high school girl awaiting prom and that of a Harold Camping fan awaiting the Rapture.

The only parties Lelouch had really been to since graduating college had been of the business banquet and gala kind at which the main function, rather than socializing, had always been conducting business and comparing clothing. Thus, the reality rather predictably fell short of his expectations.

Suzaku greeted them at the door, smiling. "Hey." His eyes fell on Gino and Kallen, and widened a little in recognition. "Hey..."

Not so much a party as a little get-together, inside the apartment the woman Lelouch recognized as Milly-from-the-porn-store sat at a table artfully decorated with several bottles of beer and one or two packs of cigarettes.

Upon noticing Lelouch, Gino, and Kallen's arrival, she grinned, and waved at them. "Heya. Gino, great to see you. Kallen, hey."

Once again, it occurred to Lelouch how stupid it had been to overestimate this town's size and neglect the possibility of all of them already knowing each other.

He dimly considered that his life was starting to resemble one of those soap operas where the girlfriends of any two-timing individual invariably knew of each other, only with less of the screaming and hair-pulling. He was too dignified for that.

Then Milly threw him a fire-cracker grin, and said, "Well, if that isn't the one from the store the other day," and Lelouch's assessment of dignity was promptly put to rest.

Kallen and Suzaku looked at him in surprise. "The store?"

Lelouch cleared his throat, let his gaze flutter from one of them to other, and said, "So, what kind of alcohol do we have here?"

Sitting around a table with Suzaku, Kallen, Gino, and Milly gave Lelouch ample opportunity to observe how each of them interacted with each other. It also gave him the opportunity to ogle how nice Suzaku looked (he wore red today; Lelouch had so known he would look great in red -), but that was beside the point. Seriously.

So far, after an hour of sipping on vodka mixed with Red Bull on a dingy kitchen table with specks of white wood showing beneath and cramped in between Suzaku and Gino, he had come to the following assessments:

Gino and Suzaku: friendly enough, but with a noted distance.

Kallen and Suzaku: friendly enough, but with an even wider distance, and the occasional awkward silence and spiteful glare from Kallen that Suzaku dropped his head at.

Milly and... everyone else: trying hard to stay afloat beneath this woman's level of energy - except for Suzaku, who just seemed to drift along with her zest. Lelouch could see how they were supposedly best friends; it was easy to see in the way they seemed to communicate without words, and in he smiled at her teasing comments and let them roll of his back easily.

As for himself and everyone else, it was mostly... well, supremely awkward.

"You all right there, man?" Gino asked at some point, raising his eyebrows at him.

"Of course," Lelouch said, and downed another cup of vodka mixed with red bull.

After about another hour of this, Lelouch seemed to feel Milly's gaze on him a lot. She was looking at him rather like he was a very interesting animal at a zoo.

Lelouch met her eyes across the lull of conversation (Gino and Suzaku were talking about... something, football maybe?) and raised an eyebrow at her.

Milly smiled at him, and then turned to Suzaku. "So, how did it go with Shirley?"

If this were a cartoon, this is the part where Lelouch's ears would have grown and rotated into the direction of Suzaku and Milly.

Since this wasn't, Lelouch remained where he was, cup of alcohol casually poised at his lips.

He could hear Suzaku fidgeting next to him. "Why, did she say something?"

"Oho~" Milly laughed. "Wouldn't you like to know?"

Suzaku gave an uneasy laugh. "It was nothing. I drove her home from the hospital last week."

Milly laughed, and that's when Kallen started a conversation with Lelouch, and he missed the rest of the sentence.


Lelouch set his mouth on auto-pilot while he continued to listen for Milly and Suzaku's conversation, but they had fallen into hushed conversation that eclipsed Lelouch's edge of hearing.

When he stole a glance away from Kallen, he caught Milly staring right at him.

She noticed his look, and reciprocated with the most sympathetic look he'd ever seen on her.

Some time a bit later, when Lelouch had exchanged enough small talk with every one of the other people at the gathering to fill his annual quota of it and he still felt like the progress he'd made with Suzaku hovered around the 0.01 percentile, Lelouch got up and excused himself to the bathroom.

Milly offered to show him where it was, and followed him out of the living room.

Upon exiting the bathroom, she was still there, waiting for him. A gigantic pink bubble she'd blown with her bubble gum popped in front of her mouth, and an equally pink tongue darted out to lick up the traces splattered around her mouth.

Lelouch looked at her for a second, at her tight red tank top and Daisy Dukes so short they might have passed as a belt in some of the social circles Lelouch was used to, and then back up at her eyes and brightly-smiling face.

"Is he dating her?" Lelouch asked.

Milly smiled, and shook her head.

Lelouch threw a look around, then took her by the arm and pulled her aside.

Somewhere beyond, Gino's boisterous laughter rang through the air.

"Then what did you bait him for in front of me?"

Milly laughed. "Oh, so you aren't even going to hide you're interested in him?" She paused, and her grin widened. "Of course, now the pizza boy porn thing makes so much sense. I could arrange for a discount next time you stop by~"

Lelouch flinched. "It's not like that. I'm just -"

Milly nodded at him. "Right. Sure. Don't worry." She winked at him. "I like learning of people's secrets, but I don't like leaking them. Iiii'm not telling him."

That did make Lelouch feel better. A little. "Right. You didn't answer my question. You brought this Shirley girl up for my benefit, didn't you?"

Milly glanced over Lelouch's shoulder for a moment before settling her eyes back on his. "Because you seem to think he's someone he's not." She shrugged. "And he isn't."

Lelouch thought it over for a second. "But you just said she wasn't his girlfriend -"

"Ah-ah." Milly raised her finger, and wagged it at him. "You're doing it again. Jumping to conclusions."

"So what are you trying to -"

"What I'm trying to say is," she said, and placed both her hands on Lelouch's shoulders, "is that you might want to consider what it is you really want from him."

Lelouch looked into her blue eyes for once, and thought that she was pretty much a female Gino, which led to him self-sniping with an involuntary image of Gino's giant legs spreading out from beneath the hem of a a pair of hot pants, which made him shudder, which in turn sort of ruined the moment.

Outwardly, he held Milly's gaze. "Well, if you could just tell me what I can expect of him -"

"Ah-ah!" Milly laughed, and wagged her finger at him again. "Like I said: I like knowing secrets." A wink. "But I'm not one to leak them."

Long ago, back in England, when Lelouch had been sitting in the garden with his book (On the Road by Jack Kerouac, if memory served right - in English, sadly), his brother Clovis had sat down next to him on the clammy grass, their bald pink knees knocking together.

"You know," Clovis had said, "You have this thing. This thing where you have brilliant plans, but you're kind of so confident that they'll never fail that you don't think them through as well as you could."

Back then, Lelouch snorted at him, and turned a page, girly hair falling into his eyes like a fringe, and that had been that.

He'd never given that theory much credibility, and he didn't now.

Funny, though, that he was remembering it now.

Near the end of the party, when the conversations had gained a certain lull to them, people started to throw glances at their watch, and the formerly nigh-unconquerable Mount Everest of beer bottles had shrunken down to your friendly neighborhood hill, something unplanned occurred.

"Let's play a game," Milly announced.

Apparently, the sound of her cheery voice saying those words had etched itself into the DNA of every male present to signify impending catastrophe, artfully demonstrated by both Gino and Suzaku visibly flinching.

"Truth or dare?" Suzaku asked.

"Nothing quite like that." She laughed, stood up, took one of the spoons on the table, and started to twirl it like a magic wand. "It's sort of like a get-to-know-you game."

In another world, where she didn't make a living selling people jack-off material, she might have made a good television announcer, Lelouch thought.

"It's like this." She pointed the spoon at Kallen. "You say something like 'favorite color,' or 'favorite subject in school,' or 'words that start with K,' or something, and everyone has to contribute."

"That's a lot more humane than I expected of you," Gino said.

Milly nodded. "Right. Who starts?"

Silence settled around the table.

Lelouch took another sip of his drink. He was starting to feel a little light-headed. "Aren't you drinking?" he asked Suzaku, noticing that the other boy hadn't touched his cup all night.

Suzaku smiled, and shook his head. "Can't. I'm driving."

"Oh - ow." He glared at Milly. "Don't whack me with a spoon!"

"You have this habit of not listening to announcements, I can already tell." Milly nodded sagely. "So, I'll start. Favorite color?"

Suzaku thought about it for a second. "Red."

"Blue," Gino said.

"Red," Kallen said.

Everyone turned to Lelouch. He blinked. "Green."

Milly and Gino both flashed him the same identical grin.

Lelouch rolled his eyes.

Gino threw a look around. "Right. Favorite movie?"

Kallen laughed. "Karate Kid."

Suzaku rolled his eyes heavenward in thought for a moment. "Mine might be Forrest Gump. I think?"

"Black Swan," Milly said.

Everyone looked at Lelouch.

"I'm not telling," Lelouch said, and sipped on his drink.

"He loved Titanic," Gino said.

Lelouch elbowed him.

Milly and Kallen laughed. Suzaku chuckled a little. "Well," he admitted, winking at Lelouch, "the sinking part was very well done."

The world kind of stirred and then fell apart at the sight of that wink. Until it was put back together with super glue that brimmed with tension when Kallen smiled at Lelouch and said, "Romance status?"

Milly popped her gum with a grin. "Single."

Gino looked at Kallen. "Well, everyone here knows about me already."

Lelouch stole a look over to Suzaku.

Suzaku shrugged with a mild smile. "Yeah. I'm single, too." He looked at Lelouch. "How about you?"

Lelouch looked at Suzaku. "Me too."

And for a moment, it was perfect, a perfect moment of looking into whoa, green, and forgetting about all else, until -

"Wait." Kallen blinked. "What about Alice?"

"Alice?" Suzaku echoed, looking at her.

"Ali~ice~?" Milly sing-songed, mischief in her eyes.

Oh. Fuck.

Kallen looked around. "Yeah. Alice, that girl that -"

Lelouch looked at Gino. Pleadingly. (Come on, help me, help me, do something, distract them, somehow, come on -)

Gino gave him a sheepish look. (What am I supposed to do, man?)

"Do you have a girlfriend named Alice?" Milly asked him, mirth in her eyes.

Lelouch squirmed, and continued to look at Gino. (Come on, I'm your boss.)

Gino shrugged. (Sorry, no go, man).

Lelouch sighed. (Fine. Fine. Pay raise, effective immediately).

Gino grinned, (Sweeeeet) and shot up to his feet so fast it startled the entire table.

Kallen, Milly, Suzaku, and Lelouch all gaped at the giant in their midst, standing up straight like an overzealous first-grader at the annual spelling bee contest.

"Alice!" Gino barked. "Alice! Who the fuck is Alice!"

Baffled silence reigned. And stretched on. And on. And on. Eons passed.

Then Gino plopped down on the couch, and grinned at Lelouch. (I was awesome, right?)

Lelouch stared at Gino until he realized that he really didn't have enough alcohol in his system, and he shakily refilled his glass to down it in one go. And then another.

At the very least, the subject of Lelouch's imaginary girlfriend was dropped for the remainder of the evening. The last of the beer was drained among the five of them, the clock ground ever on, and the alcohol level in Lelouch's blood rose steadily.

At one point, Lelouch decided that that was probably the only thing left steady here, after noticing that everyone's face had the habit of multiplying and rotating.

After a while, Lelouch noticed that Suzaku took special interest in him, asking him how he was, how he felt, if he could drive home. Lelouch assured him he was fine, but Suzaku didn't seem convinced, only slumping back in his seat with a tiny, tiny smile.

It was Kallen who eventually voiced the obvious, in the midst of shrugging into her jacket and thanking Milly for the evening. "He can't drive home," she said. "Who will take him?"

"I can," Suzaku said, as if it was the most natural thing in the world. Then, guilt seemed to flit across his face, and he turned to Lelouch. "If you don't mind, that is? Do you want me to drive you home?"

Lelouch didn't really trust himself to speak, but somehow he didn't embarrass himself too much when he said, "No, that will be fine."

The knowing grins of both Gino and Milly followed them as they left the apartment.

When Suzaku and Lelouch stepped out into the open, they were greeted by rain.

"At least I can't say it isn't raining anymore now," Lelouch said sardonically.

Suzaku laughed, and took Lelouch by the shoulder. "Come on. My car's over there. Are you okay? Do you feel really drunk?"

"Not that drunk." Lelouch paused. "I do, however, feel like I might wake up dead in a dumpster tomorrow." Also, you have a halo. Heh.

Suzaku looked confused. "Lelouch, you can't wake up if you're dead."

Lelouch thought that over for a second. "No, I guess I can't."

Suzaku broke into a careful smile. "Come on. One step after another. This way -"

Suzaku's car, much like his house, was simple and way beyond its point of glory.

Lelouch didn't care right now, though. He didn't protest when Suzaku opened the door to the passenger seat, and he didn't say anything when Suzaku started the engine next to him, and shrugged the car into the slick street.

Lelouch just leaned back into the seat, and busied himself with watching the blue rain drops clinging to the windows; he watched as the fat ones stayed in place while the thin ones tore themselves apart and sped down along the glass, leaving a wet line behind that was about as schizophrenically zig-zag as his own steps would probably be right now if a police officer asked him to demonstrate his sobriety.

His thoughts sloshed around in his head sluggishly, moving from side to side and aligning back in the center of his awareness every once in a while when Suzaku hit a bump in the road. The entire car would bob for a second, elevating Lelouch above the sad existence of his own mired drunkenness for just a second before they crashed back into the road.

Lelouch remained silent.

So did Suzaku.

Romantically, the last thing Lelouch thought before drifting off into a short, uneasy slumber was that Suzaku's car sort of smelled like him.

(Not so romantically, said slumber gifted him with an uneasy dream of him and Suzaku having sex in a bar bathroom).

Lelouch awoke to Suzaku shaking his shoulder. "Hey, Lelouch." His voice was gentle, but firm. "Lelouch, get up."

Lelouch snapped his eyes open, the image of his dream shredding in the center. "It's not what it looks like," he said shrilly, panicked.

Suzaku blinked. "You... were not just napping in my car?"

Lelouch paused. "…No, it's exactly what it looks like."

Suzaku smiled, soft and sweet and gentle. "Right. Let's get you of here."

Lelouch shuddered at the touch of Suzaku's hands on his own when he slowly guided him out of the car, holding on to his shoulder and hand.

A rain drop slipped into Lelouch's shirt and left a line down his back, as stray and without orientation as the ones on the window. Lelouch braced himself for more rain drops, and noticed only when none of them came that Suzaku had spun an umbrella above the both of them.

Lelouch looked up at Suzaku.

Suzaku's eyes had that thing about them when they wrinkled at the corners when he smiled, Lelouch decided. It was something he had noticed before, but back then he hadn't really paid it as much mind as he did now.

It reminded him of that silly emoticon that Suzaku had sent him in his text message yesterday. The eye-smile. Was it possible to smile with one's eyes?

"… in there," Suzaku said.

Lelouch blinked. "What?"

Surprise stretched across Suzaku's features before he seemed to understand that Lelouch had not caught the first part of his sentence. "I said that you should better get in there." He nodded over to the right.

Lelouch followed the nod with his eyes. Right. His house.

Big and lavish and bloated with wealth, with the sloped roof and now rain-glistening walls atop an opulent drive way lined by azaleas.

"Right," Lelouch said out loud, and every blink of his eye coordinated to the veil of alcohol lifting just the teeniest bit further. "Right."

Suzaku placed a hand on Lelouch's back, and applied gentle pressure, guiding him to his house.

The driveway's wet stones popped beneath the soles of Lelouch's dressing shoes and Suzaku's sneakers. The rain drummed against the baby blue umbrella, streamed down along the ridges, tumbled down in a thick veil at the edge and then splashed down into the ground.

Not a single light shone inside Lelouch's darkened house. C.C. must have gone to bed, or maybe she was in her basement, Lelouch thought absently.

"What… what's the time?" Lelouch asked, shaking his head to himself.

"Almost one."

Lelouch nodded, and looked down at their feet. Him and Suzaku almost walked in perfect tandem, like marching soldiers – right, left, right, left, right –

And then Suzaku stopped walking.

Lelouch looked up, and noticed they were now standing right in front of his own front door (Hand-made in Naples from Norwegian wood, $30,000) leading into Lelouch's house (designed by himself, parts imported from Italy, France, the Maldives and Qatar for a combined cost of about $700,000) with Suzaku (…without measure).

Suzaku's voice wafted through the air softly, like a whisk of perfume. "You should go in now." He squeezed Lelouch's shoulder. "Thank you for coming to my party. I'm sorry if my friends made you drink a bit too much. They can be a bit…. zealous –"

"No," Lelouch heard himself say. "It was my decision to drink." He could feel faint tongues of heat radiating off of Suzaku's skin when Lelouch brushed against his bare arms. Suzaku's scent worked itself into Lelouch's nostrils, mixing with the smell of rain, the stink of wet pavement, and the scent of moronic yet hopeful dreams.

"Suzaku," Lelouch said. Testing how the word formed in his mouth, how it tasted. He turned around to face Suzaku, beneath the umbrella, and raised his eyes to meet his.


A single rain drop pearled on Suzaku's temple, flattening a curl against his skin. (It was now or never). His eyes shone down at Lelouch curiously. (What did Lelouch have to lose? What?) Suzaku placed a hand on Lelouch's shoulder, and tilted his head as if to ask, 'What's wrong?' (Maybe everything. But it may be worth it anyhow.)

In reality, it happened within the span of a mere second, but to Lelouch, it seemed to be a slide-show. He stretched out his hands, and wrapped them around Suzaku's waist. He took a step forward. He brought their chests together in a hug, until he had his cheek pressed against Suzaku's temple.

If Suzaku's skin had burned mildly when they'd brushed their arms together earlier, it was positively searing now.

Lelouch's heart beat hopped up to the back of his throat, lodged there, and prevented any word from leaving his mouth no matter how much he tried.

The umbrella dropped.

Rain drilled down at them both within moments. The wetness trickled down along Lelouch's neck, scuttled down his spine, snaked around his waist and halted just before the front of his pants.

Lelouch shivered, his nipples hardening. Everything was cold, cold, except for Suzaku, who was warm, warm –

It took Lelouch a couple of moments to place that it had been him who had spoken when he heard a voice say, "Do you want to… come in?"

When he realized what he'd said, his heart plummeted from his throat down to his stomach, then trampolined back up to his throat, ping-pong. Ping-pong.

But before Lelouch had the time to beat himself up for making such blatant moves on Suzaku, he decided to be quiet and wait. Wait for Suzaku's answer, like this, with his heart beating at the back of his throat like a trapped animal. Wait, for Suzaku to say yes and come inside (hah) and then –

Lelouch felt the soft pressure of Suzaku's hands on his shoulders, pushing him away.

Lelouch raised his face, met Suzaku's eyes, and waited.

Suzaku looked good like this, with the rain running down his cheek and dangling off the clear-cut edge of his jaw. Really good – or maybe he just looked good in everything and in every situation (would he look good in a frog costume? Would he look good in a skirt? Where were these thoughts coming from, he was just too nervous, and he was avoiding thinking about what he's just offered, and - )

For a tightly-woven moment of crystallizing tension that ebbed and flowed from violet to green amidst the calming sizzle of the rain, Lelouch hoped.

Then Suzaku gave him a look that Lelouch couldn't quite read – a little apprehensive, a little apologetic, a little confused, with the eyebrows drooping – and then he bent down to get the umbrella, and held out the baby blue piece of rain equipment to Lelouch like a peace offering.

Or a slip of rejection. "I'm sorry," Suzaku said. He smiled; it was small, wistful, thoughtful. "You should go inside."

C.C. wasn't up and waiting for him like Lelouch had feared she might be when he stepped into the house. Instead, it lay there cold and empty, with the darkness coiling in the corners.

Lelouch walked inside, and closed the door behind him.

Then he went into the kitchen to drink a glass of orange juice. He walked up the stairs to his room, and into the bathroom, sprinkling cold water against his face and trying to finally sober up entirely.

He blinked at himself in the mirror. A face blinked back at him, violet eyes blazing and ink-hair matted against his pale skin.

Lelouch shook his head to himself, tore his eyes away, and walked into his bedroom.

It was only then that he consciously allowed the thoughts to slip past the barrier where they had been trying to burst through that he paused.

Suzaku had… rejected him.

He had. There was no alternative interpretation. This wasn't fucking modern art.

Suzaku had apologized and then he'd gone, and he had understood that Lelouch had offered him more than just a cup of tea or coffee there, had understood it or else he wouldn't have looked at him like that, which meant that Lelouch had gone all-in and been defeated at the dealing of the final card.

Shame was a dreadful net roping his insides together in a painful churn.

Lelouch didn't scream, or cry. He didn't have a childish fit of any kind, and actually behaved like what could have been expected of someone of his status and wealth.

He just sat there, thought, and decided to dedicate all his future efforts to damage control.

The door bell rang some ten minutes later. It ripped Lelouch out of his reverie, and he threw a disoriented look around, blinking against the dread.

He felt sober. Very, very sober.

Slipping into his house sandals next to the bed, Lelouch shuffled down to the bottom of the stairs, and then swerved over to the front door, opening it.

"Hi," green eyes said. Or perhaps, Lelouch supposed, a mouth somewhere below those eyes, but he hadn't gotten there yet.

"Hello," Lelouch said automatically.

Suzaku looked conflicted. His hair looked much darker against his skin than it usually was when it was dry and soft.

"Lelouch," he said, and fidgeted a little on the spot. He drew his eyes to the floor, at the polished, picture-perfect carpet.

"Yes?" Lelouch said. Cold. Waiting.

The rain continued to fall, onto Suzaku and around him, against the ground and the bushes and the roof up ahead; a constant, monochromatic sizzle and rustle and trickle.

"I…" Suzaku raised his eyes to meet Lelouch's, and then looked away again. "I was going to drive home, but then I suddenly wondered if I hadn't made a mistake. If I hadn't…" He met Lelouch's eyes again. "… Misunderstood."

Since Lelouch had been very little, he had made the experience that he sometimes came very close to the out-of-body tales he would sometimes hear of in magazines or on television, only less dramatic and without any kind of supernatural connotations.

Sometimes, he would just feel like his emotions detached themselves from his body and floated by his side as they watched Reason and Logic take over the host body.

This was one of those moments.

Lelouch felt himself give Suzaku a mild smile. "You might have. I didn't think you would react like this to a simple invitation to have some tea."

Suzaku looked at him. Torn. "It… it's just… when you hugged me." The corners of his eyebrows lowered. "I thought you wanted to… I thought you were inviting me in for something else..."

Lelouch's heart ached for a moment. Just for a moment, but swift and cruel like a knife's slash.

Suzaku went on, "That is why… I had to decline, but –"

"You were wrong." Lelouch gave him a small smile. "What, did you think I was interested in you?" He laughed a little, and threw an exasperated look around. If he hadn't felt so miserable, he might have congratulated himself for his acting skills. "It's nothing like that, I assure you."

He looked back at Suzaku, eyes slightly narrowed in arrogance, and brushed a strand of hair behind his ears. "I was drunk, and you had come all the way here just to see me off, it only seemed polite to invite you in. Don't you think so?"

Suzaku stood still amidst the wafting rain for a moment. His eyes rolled up for a moment, signaling that he was thinking it over.

Lelouch smiled. "So, if there's anything else –"

Suzaku took a small step forward. "Lelouch." He searched for Lelouch's eyes, found them – and then broke into a smile. Not the small smiles from before, not the concerned ones while Lelouch had been drinking and when they drove home, but the ones from the door step.

The ones that always, always, made something inside Lelouch move.

"Lelouch," he repeated, and then put his hand on Lelouch's shoulder in a soft, platonic gesture. "I'm glad we had this talk." He smiled, wider, looking completely relieved.

Lelouch's heart sank, but outwardly, he only looked at Suzaku quizzically. "Why?" He snorted a little. "Hey, I've got to say, if I swung that way I wouldn't think I was such a bad option, really."

Suzaku laughed. "No, no, not at all. I didn't mean it like that." He removed his hand from Lelouch's shoulder, and let it drop to his side. "I'm just glad we cleared it up. No more misunderstandings."

Suzaku then delivered the blow with such a disgustingly sincere smile that for a few moments after Suzaku had spoken, Lelouch wasn't quite sure if it had been his words of that smile that had punched out his stomach like that.

"Because to be honest, for a second… I was tempted." He gave a small, apologetic smile. "I'm bisexual, you know. Not very many people know this. It's not really a secret, but not something I go around telling everyone about, either."

Lelouch gaped.

Suzaku gave him a sheepish smile. "I hope you don't mind that I'm bi?"

Lelouch shook his head.

Suzaku nodded. "Great. So, I'm glad that this cleared it up and that it reminded me what we are." And he gave Lelouch the most sincere, unwavering smile. "Friends. Right?"

This time, Lelouch didn't need C.C. or Gino or Kallen or anyone else to tell him to know that he had fucked up.

He toed off his shoes and walked into his house, past a Monet painting, and then angled up a designer staircase back up to his room, feeling like he was shuffling through the house, blind.

It was when only when he fell onto the bed, listless (again) and let his head fallback against the pillow (again), that he started to laugh.

Because sometimes, when everything was just so absurd and Murphy's law had once again been proven to be correct, there was just nothing else to do but laugh.

So laugh he did. First high and almost manical, then gradually petering off to quieter and desperate, and then dying into a few scatters of giggles here and there.

"Congratulations, Lelouch," he told himself, ironically, "I don't believe there is any way in which you could have fucked up more."

Author's Notes: ... I just. I don't really have any words.

It's been so long since I updated this. I'm really sorry to everyone who's been waiting. I got distracted by RPing, life, other things... and so, even though I've had this chapter planned out in its entirety in my head for ages, it took me this long to get around to writing and posting it. I'm sorry. I can promise, though, that this fic isn't dead, and I really hope to update more than once before Christmas, and wrap it up early next year (we have PLOT now! Exciting (for me), lol), so... I don't know. On the plus side, I know where the fic is going, I know how it ends, it's just a matter of getting there.

At this point, many thanks for Drakyndra, who never stopped asking about this fic on MSN, Aki1 and Cat's Uke for always offering silent report, and anonymous reviewer rr for giving me the last push I needed to SIT DOWN AND FINISH IT, DAMN.

And of course, many thanks to everyone who reviewed, which is, luckless-is-me, SavTheRipper, Drakyndra, yumerin, Shirogiku, doodle808, nuttin2seehur, UndineAlice, gina, VampirePrinssess, jadedfox2, Atheist1, L. Lamperouge, Allora Gale, samiam13, Cat's Uke, The Walker of Dreams, flamesorcceress, cmcj, nachan, Ni-chan9, Algea, hislittlerobin, blackwingsgreeneyes, Rea, Boo-Boo, Storm's Pride, Lovegranted, and rr.

A few notes regarding this chapter:

- So, the story's location has now been determined as Milwaukie, Oregon. The reason being that I wanted it to be a town small enough that most people of any one age group knew each other, but big enough not to feel like a village. With a population of 20,000 Milwaukie fit the bill. And Oregon is nice, lol. (I grew up close to a town of 20k, and I'd always wanted to recreate that feeling in this fic.

- A few of the running gags continue. Don't worry, Rolo is eventually going to be treated more nicely... eventually.

- O HAI PLOT. Yes, there was a whole lot of plot in this chapter, wasn't there? I mean, relative to the LOLZ PIZZA BOY this fic was in the first few chapters. As some of you might be expecting, there will be a bit of angst in this fic. But overall, I feel like it would be too much of a departure from the origins of this LOLfic to butter on the angst too heavily, so I'll try to always balance the more serious stuff with something lighter and funnier.

- If you like this fic, may I suggest you check out Crimson Thread? It's a co-writing project between me and Aki1 (and the source of one of the aforementioned distractions), and it features the Lelouch from this fic, or a slightly adjusted version of him. That fic is a lot darker, though. Also, it already has porn. (Wheeeeee? :D)

- Lastly, to Lelouch: you're such an idiot. I love you anyway. XD

Aaaand, on a little side note: I had promised to review-respond to everyone, and then I didn't. In... a slight attempt at a defense, it wasn't that I wasn't going to, I got some weird error message when I tried to review-reply, like, 'no longer valid' O.o (even when I tried to respond on the day I got the review), so I HAVE NO IDEA HOW THAT HAPPENED, KIDS, NONE. Um.

I can only say I'll try again this chapter. I'm really happy about every review, and it keeps me writing. I feel like, together, we can finish this lolpizzaboy/lolangst/lolwhatisthis fic.


Til next time~!