Sigh. I've missed these two. This is the last installment in this series. After this, I'll proceed to the "present" (within the timeframe of the anime).
Code Geass is not mine.
006 – Burn (2013 a.t.b)
He stared at the massive painting that hung on her wall. It was identical to the one in Euphemia's room. It was a portrait of the two, wearing white dresses and tiny angel wings. Cornelia was in a surprisingly girlish pose. He smiled wryly and stared at the younger version of his Princess.
She was beautiful. She wasn't an angel though; everyone knew that.
Guilford shook his head as she came up to him, taking the empty glass from his hand. His mouth formed a tight line. As a response, she rolled her eyes at him, "Don't be a baby."
"You do realize that I have work tomorrow?" He said, keeping his face serious.
"You do realize that I," Cornelia mimicked him as she shoved the glass in his hand, "... just so happen to be the officer you'll be reporting to tomorrow?"
"That's considered as abuse of authority, you know." He sighed and raised the glass in defeat.
"I'm Royalty. It's what we do."
For a moment, they drank in silence. Cornelia snorted in amusement as Guilford made a face. He could pretend to not like it, but she knew that he appreciates the slow burn of alcohol. She picked up the bottle and studied the label, "My brother's very generous, isn't he?" The Princess drawled as her thumb ran over the gold sticker on the bottle.
Guilford raised his head and cleared his throat, imitating the voice of the Second Prince at the gala earlier that evening. "'A bottle of the world's oldest brandy for the Spearhead of the Empire, with our thanks and admiration.'" He sighed, "The whole title sounded so wrong, you know?"
Cornelia threw her head back and laughed. When the scowl deepened, Cornelia reduced her laugh to a soft chuckle. She pats his arm carelessly, idly letting it linger, her hand becoming lighter and more comforting. "It's his way of saying that you ought to relax a bit. Enjoy the last few hours of your reprieve. You work too much."
"So says the 'Goddess of Victory'," He teased.
It was her turn to blush. It was an annoying weakness of hers; she was arrogant as hell, but she never did learn how to respond well to sincere flattery. Only five people can get away with teasing her, leaving the Princess flustered: Schneizel, Nonette, Lady Marianne, Euphie and him. It didn't last though, she tossed her hair over her shoulder haughtily. He rolled his eyes at the blatant show of egotism.
They stood side by side, studying the portrait. He couldn't help but notice that there was something off about her. "Your Highness?"
She closed her eyes, "Stop calling me that for tonight, will you?"
Cornelia cracked an eye open, "That too."
She swirled the contents of the glass, eyeing the dark amber liquid. "Can I be honest with you?" She whispered, bringing the glass closer. Cornelia looked at him and instantly wished she didn't. His icy stare held hers. The intensity she saw there, it scared her. She wasn't sure when it was, exactly, that she started noticing the way he looked at her, the way he spoke to her. Neither could she deny the way he held her as they danced in front of the entire Britannian peerage, it amazed her how he managed to bare his heart solely to her and hide the truth from their predatory scrutiny.
God, why didn't she see it before?
"Always." They both knew the double meaning behind those words.
"Anyway," The Second Princess broke their eye contact. She couldn't look into those eyes that offered her so much. She stared, unseeing, at the glass she cradled in her hands, "When I Knighted you, I felt like I was making the biggest mistake of my life."
They both winced at the harsh words.
His face was unreadable. He saw this coming. He was expecting it. But his truth was that it still hurt him to hear it from her. Atleast, it took a little over five years before she regretted her decision. It had to count for something. Right? Guilford forced a smile. It came out looking sad. "I did tell you that I may be unworthy."
Unworthy? Cornelia frowned.
"You fool." She shook her head, hair framing the sides of her face, and shrugged. "You're the Spearhead of the Empire; Ace pilot, tactician and at the age of 20, you were the youngest general in the Britannian army. You led the campaign for Area Nine. You're a freaking hero, Gil. You are, if anything, far from being unworthy. I wouldn't be surprised if they've commissioned to have commemorative plates of you."
He tilted his head to the side, ignoring the faint pounding inside his skull and the heavy feeling constricting his chest, "Am I unworthy of you, then?"
She looked at him sharply.
Goddamit. He glared at the drink in his hand, blaming it for the sudden surge of bravery (and stupidity) and bowed his head, "I apologize, Your Highness." Guilford knew he should've kept his mouth shut. It was going so well, too. With a sigh, he ran his hands through his hair, unsure what he should say. It was all a big mistake. Despite nursing his shattered pride and a broken heart, Guilford knew he'd still willingly serve the Princess he swore his life to. Shaking his head, Guilford placed the glass on the nearest end table and decided to just leave before it blew up in their faces. They'd fought enough times as children and teenagers to know how an argument begins.
Cornelia grabbed his arm, knocking over the glass in haste. The drink spilled all over the carpet. He stared. She whirled him around and looked up at him. She needed him to understand. "A Knight is someone who'd lay their life for you without question. And I'm not just a Princess. I'm the Chief General! I don't want you to be my shield." Her voice broke and so did his heart at the sight of her.
Unable to help it, he snorted. "'Does thy wish to abandon thy self, and be sword and shield for the sake of the greater good'," He echoed her words. It had been years ago, but he'll remember her face and her voice in that moment until the end of his days. "What is that, then? A joke?" He stared at her, "And what of earlier? Is that a mistake too?"
A hand colided with his cheek. He stared at the wall, the pain on the side of his face temporarily distracting the dull ache in his heart. She stares at him, dumbfounded. Cornelia inhaled and exhaled shakily before wiping the angry tears from her eyes. She pushed him away, but his hand was faster. His fingers wrapped themselves around her wrist.
Cornelia glared at him. Guilford stared back, eyes conveying everything - hurt, apology, heartache. It made her angrier. How could he look apologetic when she was the one who slapped him? And to her surprise, he knelt before her for the second time that evening, ignoring the fact that he was missing the stiff jacket, his shirt was wrinkled and partly unbuttoned (the cravat lay forgotten somewhere in this room) and she was only one layer away from just being in her lingerie. He held her hand in his, "You know I'd die for you, Princess."
The promise in his voice scared the living hell out of her. Oh yes, he was serious about dying for her.
"Didn't you hear me? It's not what I want!" Cornelia shouted, "If you die while protecting me, it's as if I killed you, Gil. Do you understand? I refuse to see you die in front of me. But you-" She jabbed her finger at his chest angrily, "-just had to let me sign your death warrant for you! I thought I was helping you by Knighting you. God. How stupid of me to think that. I would've helped you more if I left you alone!"
For the life of him, he didn't know how their intimate time together and playful banter turned into this conversation. Internally, he smiled humorlessly.
Fuck you, world's oldest brandy.
Cornelia fell silent and watched their hands, fingers still laced together. The other one found its way to cup his chin, tilting it upwards so he'd look at her. She watched as his eyes widened, "Swear to me, then." Cornelia murmured. He opened his mouth in confusion but Cornelia pressed a finger to his lips to silence him. "I want you to swear to me, Lord Gilbert G.P. Guilford, that you will always return to me alive. Since you're so adamant to serve me, you'd better not dare dishonor that pledge." Her eyes burned into his.
I need you, Cornelia's mind whispered. And damn you, I love you. She could only hope that his heart would hear.
He bowed his head and brushed his lips against her knuckles, holding her hands tighter. Cornelia sighed in relief and sat on gilded divan. Their relationship, if one could call it that, has always been so draining. But it was never dull. Unconsciously, she crossed her legs. Guilford raised an eyebrow at the sight of her alabaster skin. It didn't help as she toyed with his hair idly. Her touch burned him. Why was it that she was never really conscious of how attractive she is? He chuckled softly and let go of her hand, reaching for her ankle instead. From there, it slowly travelled up her slender calf, knee and coming to rest on her thigh, parting the robe just a smidgen wider. His thumb drew circles against the soft skin. His touch was slow, gentle and held a hint of teasing from an experienced lover.
Color flooded to Cornelia's cheeks as she remembered every touch, every kiss and whisper they shared earlier. She craved all of it. She masked her embarrassment. No way she would admit it aloud. "Why is it that you're good at everything that you do?" She asked in a slightly annoyed tone, as if it would hide the color of her cheeks and the sudden rise in the room's temperature.
"I make it a habit to excel," Guilford murmured against her skin as he placed a kiss on a spot just above her knee. His perfect teeth flashed briefly before clamping on and tugging at the ribbon that held her robe together.