All characters © Taniguchi Gorou
Summary: after the fall of the 99th Emperor and one summer nursing a cold, Jeremiah stays home sick from Villetta's wedding. Introspective character study of Jeremiah as he stops to think about how two years have changed him.
Author's note: In which Villetta keeps things in her blouse, Schneizel drools, and Jeremiah Gottwald talks to plates.
For all Jeremiah's metal armor did, it failed to render him impervious to deleterious microbacteria.
He would most likely get an icy phone call from Villetta in a few weeks, and he would have to explain to her that he had not attended her wedding thanks to the work of acute viral rhinopharyngitis, or as Britannians liked to call it, the common cold.
It would have given him immense pleasure to laugh in Guilford's face and watch him flush with the irony of his current profession, but alas Jeremiah did not think it worth sputtering and sneezing his way through the entire ceremony for. It wasn't like this could kill him; heck, the only two things he could die from now were a Gefion disturber and old age. Perhaps he would send Guilford some oranges in the mail as a joke once he mustered enough energy to actually go outside.
With Anya (and Arthur, amusingly) gone in his stead, Jeremiah had nothing to do but to lounge around and contemplate how much mucus one human head could hold, among other things. His life before this had not allowed him much time for self-contemplation, but spending the warm days plucking ripe oranges from the trees and watching as his skin slowly turned brown from the sun had caused Jeremiah to adopt a more introspective view of things.
Also, having a headache the size of Schneizel's ego made him feel quite sorry for himself.
Jeremiah sat at his kitchen table as the morning sun cast flickering, transient patterns onto his back. He was chilly underneath his white blouse, but he lacked the energy to go upstairs and fetch a blanket. Besides, the sunlight felt quite good. There was a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice on the table alongside a bowl of something Sayoko had apparently taught Anya how to make. Some Japanese soup called miso, if Jeremiah recalled correctly. He squinted at it, experimentally giving the bowl a sniff. She had said it was good for colds.
A Jeremiah of two years ago would have never even considered touching an "Eleven" dish, but a lot had happened in the past year and a half. With little regard for sounding corny (who would have heard him here, anyway?), he considered himself as a changed man. He had suffered his mid-life crisis at twenty-seven, thanks to Bartley, though Jeremiah doubted most middle-aged men received implanted cybernetics and the strength of a sumo wrestler on steroids. It had been an arduous transformation, but sometimes you had to go through hell to emerge clean on the other side. Like a monarch butterfly, he thought.
If Bartley had really succeeded, then Jeremiah wouldn't have been thinking at all. The Rosenberg Institute had been kind enough to do some intelligence tests after Bartley's crew managed to destroy half his brain cells. Luckily, Jeremiah's IQ remained unaffected. His emotional state, on the other hand...
They had said he was too impulsive, too rash. To gnash one's jaws with unwavering effrontery; never knowing abasement, defeat, or insecurity. This had been Jeremiah Gottwald's mantra for the first twenty-seven years of his life. But they would fix that, they had said. Something to calm those nasty effusions of anger. If one was emotionally shallow enough, one could live his life unafraid, they had said. In fact, they had planned on giving him a whole new set of emotions, emotions more suited to someone coming out of a prefrontal lobotomy than to a red-blooded soldier.
Bartley had tampered with his emotions, which Jeremiah had initially resented him for. Those damn white-coated psychophysiologists, spouting their biochemistry jargon about what they were going to do to his prefrontal cortex and how they were going to clean up his amygdala and blah blah blah Jeremiah hadn't really given a crap.
Now thinking on it (what else was there to do?), Jeremiah was quite glad that the Geass Order had never had time to finish their work. Ah, right. That had been his own doing, if he recalled correctly. In the end, Bartley hadn't been so bad. He had been a royal bastard, true, but loyal bulldog until the very end, which Jeremiah could respect. He could definitely respect that. Loyalty was something he'd always placed above everything else, and no emotional modification would ever change that.
The skin over his heart was covered by metal, but the heart underneath was still intact. Even so, he found he had become a lot calmer afterward (disregarding that little...setback he'd had during the Tokyo incident, naturally), and his mind was more at peace. Jeremiah wasn't entirely sure if that had been the Order's doing or his own, but it was a comforting fact to find out that he didn't care. He didn't get riled up at tasteless provocation, he saw no point in screaming his head off anymore, and he had absolutely no urge to kill innocent people. Instead of relying on his leonine temper all of the time, Jeremiah found he could just as easily rely on rationality. He was happier, actually—
An errant string of coughs interrupted him from his thoughts. Happier, yes, but not at the moment thanks to this damn cold. He rubbed his temples and groaned, trying to remember the last time he had gotten sick.
Jeremiah eyed her disdainfully as she held the handkerchief over. "Did you just pull that out of your boobs?"
Having worked at the Aries Villa for several years, Jeremiah had been taught proper verbal etiquette and was quite skilled in the arts of formal speech. Sure, everything coming from his mouth was either barked or shouted, but it never lacked that refined quality that was taught to him at the Villa.
Villetta had never once seen him curse. Jeremiah's vocabulary was surprisingly complex, and his choice of words suggested someone of royalty rather than a commissioner of battle machinery. His grammar was impeccable; he was a master of the active and passive voices, using both to convey his meaning and misusing neither. Villetta herself knew that in the lower levels of the military it was a running gag that the new recruits bring a dictionary to their first briefings with Lord Jeremiah. Sure, he was an expert at pontificating, but when he wasn't brazenly displaying his manhood and red-blooded passion, Jeremiah could be uncannily insightful, charming, and even witty.
And Villetta was pretty sure the word "boobs" was not standard Jeremiah vocabulary. "Your point?" she asked.
Although Villetta was not wearing her Knightmare suit, it being their day off from piloting, her outfit still lacked pockets. On a general basis, she kept little things in her blouse: money, the keys to her apartment, a spare handkerchief. It was the latter that she had pulled from her blouse a moment ago at the sound of Jeremiah sneezing from his spot at the computer. The handkerchief was a simple white one, monogrammed with the Britannian emblem in the lower right corner.
Jeremiah scowled at her for a moment longer before shaking his head and taking the handkerchief. Villetta watched as Jeremiah sneezed again. He did it pinching the handkerchief over his nose, as most Britannians of noble descent or with regal upbringing were taught to do from an early age. "I'll wash it and return it later," he told her as he blew his nose.
As the day progressed, Villetta found herself becoming more and more amused as Jeremiah's mood declined. He didn't appear to have anything worse than a minor cold; a sneeze or cough here and there, the absent rubbing of the temples. She wasn't worried.
His speech, however, became more ragged, with contractions and slang popping up more and more frequently. At one point Villetta thought she heard him mumble something about "those damn Elevens" and their "stupid kanji graffiti."
It wasn't until she heard him loudly proclaim, "fuck this shit," over stapling reports that Villetta had to step outside and have herself a quiet laugh. She decided that while she was out, she ought to head down to the cafe on the lower levels and get him something to drink.
Jeremiah, displaying his more chivalrous side, asked her, "What do I owe you?" as Villetta returned and set down a glass of orange juice next to him.
"Nothing," she said. "I know you don't like tea, but this is just as good. It will make you feel better."
Jeremiah squinted at the glass and cleared his throat. "You also know I don't like pulp."
"It's the only kind they had."
He made a disgusted sound and leaned back in his chair. "Fine," he said, sipping at the juice and trying to avoid chewing on the bits of pulp.
If he had foreseen the events to come in later years, Jeremiah would have laughed out loud.
The only way Jeremiah had known happiness was to obtain the respect of others. "You will only feel good about yourself if you establish yourself in the public eye," or something like that. Status was everything, or so he used to think.
And Villetta...well, she had turned out to be exactly the same way. Probably his equal in how obsessed she was with rank. At one time or another, they had been something like friends; informal lovers, even, but then when Zero shattered his career she had had the gumption to use him as an example— an example, of all things, of what to utterly avoid. Become like "Orange-kun," demoted and made the laughingstock of the entire Royal Guard, the Pureblood Society (which, by the way, he was the goddamn founder of), and the Emperor? Nuh-uh. The army was full of duplicitous scum, it seemed, and their loathsome pride was enough to override even friendship, leaving only a sour vestige of what you had thought of them behind.
Anya had told Jeremiah to put it behind him, as it was part of the past and therefore just a memory, but Jeremiah had not quite forgiven Villetta for that just yet. A man's wounded pride took longer to heal than a woman's, which was something that Anya would never understand.
Jeremiah vaguely remembered Anya, back when they had both stayed at the Aries Villa. He had been eighteen and she seven. She had been an apprentice for proper etiquette, like he had once been before he was assigned to Marianne's personal guard. Though she had only arrived a week prior to her Highness Marianne's murder, Anya had been a little girl with reasonable manners who had occasionally asked Jeremiah for help with her formal addresses. Jeremiah had even been the one who had taught her the proper way to curtsy, though she did not remember this fact. She did not remember much of the old days.
Jeremiah once found it curious that Anya's decline in memory recall had begun shortly after Marianne's death, but he had not drawn any connection to the fact. He had also forgotten about Anya altogether upon becoming Margrave. It was a very time-consuming job.
A lack of memories had made Anya apathetic to almost everything around her. She had not even remembered that they had been faint acquaintances at one point, which Jeremiah would never admit gave him a sense of nostalgia. Because it didn't, not really. Those had been the days where he had marveled, in a foolish obsequious daze, in Marianne's beauty and had enjoyed the opulent luxuries of the Villa. But he was older now, and Anya too; she had grown into a formidable— if not austere— young adult. When Jeremiah had crashed into her Mordred, he hadn't even recognized her at first.
It had been confusion that Anya initially expressed when he had offered to provide housing for her, but then again, she had been grateful for the man who had supplied her first memories in nine years. That they had once known each other for one week nine years ago was put behind them.
It was just a memory.
The other morning
"You just said bitch. Why did you say that?"
"Excuse me?" Jeremiah paused from the sink, where he had been cleaning his breakfast plate.
Anya stared at him impassively from behind a half-eaten bowl of bran flakes and milk. "Were you implying 'bitch' in reference to the soap or the dishes?"
"What are you talking about?"
Arthur curled lazily at her feet, and Anya gently rubbed her bare toes over his back. "I don't know about you, but I generally don't talk to my tableware unless I expect it to answer," she said.
Jeremiah sighed wearily and shook his head. "I'll talk to you when you actually wake up," he said, wiping his dish clean of suds. Anya shrugged and went back to pushing her soggy bran flakes around in the milk, and would have left it at that if not for a poorly stifled sneeze on Jeremiah's part that caused him to drop the plate altogether. The plate did not break, thankfully, but a piece of the rim chipped off upon contact with the floor. Startled, Arthur jumped up with an exclamatory "mrow" and dashed into the next room.
Anya, however, did not bat an eye. "Bless you."
Scowling perniciously and ignoring the formality, Jeremiah picked up the plate and inspected it. "Goddamn slippery thing."
"You're talking to the plate again."
"No, I'm not."
"I don't remember learning words like that at the Villa. Didn't you say you helped teach me proper etiquette?"
"That was a long time ago. We don't really need it anymore."
"So I can talk to plates too?"
Jeremiah held the plate in front of him and made a sarcastic burlesque of greeting it. "I apologize for dropping you," he told it, giving a wet sniff. "There; now I'm talking to the plate. Happy?"
Anya looked both amused at his behavior and coolly disgusted at whatever unpleasant thing Jeremiah had snorted back. She twirled her finger around one pigtail. "Do you have a cold?"
Jeremiah turned to her, his uncovered eye incredulous. "Why would you assume that?" he asked.
Anya shrugged. "You're not usually this funny."
"Oh, I'm sorry. I didn't realize my behavior was means of personal amusement for you," Jeremiah snapped, and stalked off to occupy himself elsewhere.
"You know you're going to miss the wedding if you're sick, and I'm not staying home to take care of you," she called after him flatly. The only response she got was him slamming the door to his room.
Anya spooned more of her bran flakes and watched as the milk dripped back into the bowl. "He could just be in a mad mood," she suggested to Arthur, who had timidly made his way back into the kitchen. "But then again, he looks a bit pale. It's not like I really care that much, anyway."
Arthur merely blinked and stretched his legs in the morning sun.
Although it had partially been Charles's doing, Jeremiah had been taught from an early age, along with verbal decorum, that it was okay to kill the weak. That people different or who stood in your way were also okay to kill. It was what his society had drilled into him, and who was he to dissent from it? Social Darwinism was a wonderful thing. Long live Britannia, hurrah.
Now that he knew better, Jeremiah couldn't think of anything more stupid in his life. Except maybe for eunuchs.
The events of the last year had brought about a complete apostasy of what he had grown up believing in; being in that tank for months on end had made him reevaluate his priorities. The events of the last year had also taught him that maybe the strong existed to protect the weak. And if the weak saw fit, they could protect the strong (and thereby questioning if the strong weren't really weak after all) and aahh, his head hurt just from thinking about it. Schneizel would surely have something interesting to say about it all. Perhaps.
Bartley's team had expected Jeremiah to end up brain dead after the cybernetic implants, Geass canceler, and emotional "enhancements." Hah, Schneizel made a better patient nowadays than him. Geass was a curious thing in terms of how much of the brain it controlled and how much it left untouched. Empress Nunnally despised the power and forbid any of the research teams from looking up on it, so unless they somehow came across C.C. again, Geass would remain a mystery.
Schneizel pretty much acted like himself, but it was as if he was under water. Not quite at the surface. He didn't play chess. He had become more mild-mannered and subdued, like a cat that's been neutered and has lost its spunk to wander. And, when given orders, sometimes he even drooled. The current Schneizel was a weakling. At least most of his motor functions were intact and he didn't need help going to the bathroom.
That childish scientist Earl with the glasses liked to poke fun at Schneizel at almost all hours of the day, Jeremiah remembered. He chuckled to himself, since he would only admit in private that Lloyd's antics amused him in a sadistic, Schadenfreudic way. Lloyd had abused Schneizel's budget even before the rebellion, but now Schneizel would have the most ridiculous purchases come up on his bill that would have the Knight of Three rolling around in laughter and the Earl's assistant shaking her head sadly. Other non-financial incidents involved the stealing and donning of Zero's uniform and trying to see if Schneizel would obey regardless.
The thought would have made Jeremiah guffaw if he'd wanted to risk another hacking fit. Perhaps he'd ask Kururugi Suzaku-no, Zero, about his views on strength sometime, even though the one thing they (unsurprisingly) agreed on most often was loyalty.
Speaking of Kururugi...
Suzaku sighed, eyes on his uniform. "Purple's never suited me," he said.
"I never thought orange would suit me," Jeremiah countered. Suzaku had no rebuttal for that other than the fact that Jeremiah didn't have to wear bright orange all the time, so he let the subject drop.
"It's almost time for the meeting," Suzaku announced, holding the mask in his hand. Jeremiah admired how it shone so resplendently in the overhead lights. Although he had contributed tremendously to the new nation, he visited Empress Nunnally's palace seldom and in secret, preferring to distance himself from everything for a while. Jeremiah deemed it beneficial to his mental health, and Kururugi actually preferred that he be around only for the times in which he was needed.
Besides, it was not like Jeremiah was exactly popular in the public eye anymore. He was hated by a good portion of the world's population. The weirdest thing, though, was that Jeremiah didn't even seem to care; or rather, he was content with it. Suzaku silently marveled to himself how much things could change. He looked down at the mask in his hands again, looking at the left side where a trailing bloodstain had long been washed off. So many things could change.
Instead of putting the mask on, Suzaku held a hand to his mouth and surprised Jeremiah by issuing a string of wet, barking coughs that sounded more appropriate to an enthusiastic seal than to a human being. Jeremiah found himself wincing. "Lord Kururugi?" he asked, concern vaguely lighting up his eyes.
Suzaku sighed again and shook his head. "I was slightly ill a few days ago," he replied. His green eyes fell to the mask in his hand. "It's just lingering."
Lingering my ass, Jeremiah would think a week later, when he was confined to the couch and silently cursing Kururugi for passing his supposedly non-contagious germs onto him.
"That sounds like a nasty cold. Be sure to drink lots of liquids," he told Kururugi then, if somewhat awkwardly. He was not a nurse nor specialized in that kind of thing. For the first time, he found himself wondering if Zero had ever needed to sneeze while wearing that mask and the cloth underneath. That would have been embarrassing, not to mention repulsive. Thank goodness Lelouch had never had hay fever.
"Do you need Sayoko to get anything for you?"
"No." Suzaku had put the mask on and had buttoned his collar; his voice came out muffled.
A surprising number of people know of Zero's true identity.
Those who had seen the previous Zero behind his mask, for one thing, and then there were people who were too smart for their own good. The Britannian army was not full of idiots; many, including those of the royal family had their uncannily accurate suspicions. Even those who had been in Zero's most inner circle had their thoughts to who exactly was behind that mask now.
Following the fall of the 99th Emperor, there had been an initial concern around the matter that people would discover Zero had been replaced by a double. The battle maneuvers were easier to cover up, since there were few wars to be fought now that peace was upon them. Zero's trademark gestures, such as the swish of the cape and the epic hand flails could be easily mimicked (much to Suzaku's horror). The different voice, however, was harder to cover up. Thankfully, Empress Nunnally had everybody swear to the Britannian-Japanese version of omerta. Even the ones suspected of knowing (Cornelia, for instance) were sworn to silence.
Empress Nunnally, after learning of the Zero Requiem, seemed to have forgiven the fact that Jeremiah once tied her up in restraints. She even financially supports him now, since he's only working part time. Jeremiah didn't think he knew of any other orange farmers who had diplomatic immunity and a hefty income. Hah! The bureaucrats knew better than to question Her Highness about the mysterious absence of funds, but there was more than enough to go around. Plus, they already had their hands full with Lloyd's more disturbing disappearances of the annual budget.
Jeremiah sends her fresh oranges from time to time and thanks her, occasionally mentioning just how much she resembles Marianne in her budding womanhood. Of course, he'd never put it like that (it was the slight fever and headache misconstruing his thoughts now into something potentially dirty), but the Empress really does look like her mother. It only deepens Jeremiah's loyalty.
Jeremiah stared sullenly at the glass of orange juice on the table, feeling that godawful stuffiness in his nose, and brought out a handkerchief. It was the same one Villetta had given him three years ago. He'd never returned it.
No great loss, though. Villetta was probably too busy to notice now. She would have fun with that Japanese prime minister; finally achieving a high rank like she always wanted. But that was just fine. In Jeremiah's own mind, he had achieved a rank even higher. It was a rank that didn't satisfy the people, like he'd initially dreamed of; no. It satisfied himself.
After all, he had been the one of four who had been in on what the Zero Requiem truly was. He was important. Jeremiah, who had once been called "cannon fodder" by the original Zero. He, who'd been disgraced by a man wearing platform heels, a cape, and a mask. He, who was submitted to a liquid tank; bound and experimented on and almost turned into a machine. He, who fell through the ranks and was made fun of by the entire Britannian army, he got back up.
So what if he'd had a minor emotional breakdown then? He'd emerged a better man. After blowing his nose Jeremiah sipped his orange juice slowly, and was pleasantly surprised at how nicely it had been squeezed for him.
Heck, he'd even learned to like pulp.