Epilogue: Back To Who I Was
Lelouch leaned on the balcony, staring out into the garden of the Imperial Palace. He sighed, playing with the empty glass in his right hand. He wanted to delay going back into the ballroom as long as possible. The press of bodies and the constant low hum of talking was enough to make him want to run. Lelouch turned his head, watching the play of lights in the glass.
It had been a long few days. Lelouch had barely had time to breathe since he had arrived. They had been rushed to meet the emperor and then Lelouch had gone through a long series of parties and social calls. To his horror, the attention had been diverted from Cornelia and Guilford to himself. To make it worse, Cornelia seemed to prefer that Lelouch took up all of the attention.
At least the end was in sight. Cornelia and Guilford had been married that morning and the reception was still going on. Lelouch couldn't imagine Marianne wanting to stay once the bride and groom had left. Then again, he had noticed that his mother had seemed livelier since coming back to Pendragon. Lelouch shivered in disgust. He didn't want to live here; he missed the quiet and calm of the castle. There was some part of him that knew that he would eventually get bored of that quiet, but he still felt too exposed in Pendragon, he still needed people to tell him things. Without his memories of the people and how they acted, he was just another puppet to be used. Having Marianne and Nunnally as allies wouldn't protect him for long and Lelouch preferred to be able to stand on his own, he had been doing that for too long to change.
He tipped his head back, staring at the sky and a bit disappointed that there was nothing but just black. The lights from Pendragon and from the imperial palace itself were too bright. Lelouch sighed and went back to staring at the lights reflected in his glass, catching glimpses of people as they went past. He tensed as something blocked the lights from the hall, turning around to see who was coming.
Suzaku was standing in the doorway, looking concerned. Lelouch smirked, turning around completely so he could lean his back and elbows against the railing. "Afraid that I had managed to fall off the balcony?"
"It is my job to protect you, your highness." Suzaku frowned, walking over and leaning on the railing. Lelouch tipped his head, watching Suzaku out of the corner of his eye. "And you're not making it easy on me."
"I have been the picture of the perfect prince."
"Yes, but you have a habit of finding places to hide when you need to." Suzaku sighed, tapping a finger on the edge of Lelouch's glass. "And that makes it difficult for me because I have to give you the illusion of being alone while making sure you're completely safe."
"Is the job too complicated then?"
"I like a challenge, your highness."
Lelouch chuckled, looking away from the ballroom so he could see Suzaku's face. He was disappointed by the blank look on Suzaku's face. That was something for the other knights who were just assigned to their royalties, Suzaku was his best friend. He snorted and reached over to tap his finger against Suzaku's forehead. "None of that. When we're alone, I'm just Lelouch."
"We're hardly alone now."
"Here and now, I'm just Lelouch. Add a prince in front of it if you have to, but nothing else. I'm just starting to have people scraping and bowing to me."
"But you enjoy it."
Lelouch's first instinct was to deny it, but the look on Suzaku's face said enough. Suzaku could easily counter any argument that he came up with. The easiest way to win and to save himself some of his pride was to concede.
"I do, but it does get tedious. I need one person who will set me straight."
"I live to serve."
Lelouch raised an eyebrow at the comment but didn't speak, turning his attention back to the dancers. Every once and a while he would catch a familiar face, his mother dancing with one of the noble men, Cornelia with her new husband or Euphemia dancing with Crown Prince Simon. He craned his neck, almost sure that he saw Nunnally dancing with a very embarrassed Rolo. He relaxed, abandoning the princely posture that he had kept up the entire night. "Did I ever like these?"
"You liked them more than I did." Lelouch shot Suzaku an annoyed look. Suzaku chuckled and shifted a little closer. "You tolerated them."
"Ah. That makes sense." Lelouch pushed away from the railing, intending to go back into the ballroom. He had remained out on the balcony long enough. Marianne or one of the other princesses would come to get him any minute and encourage him to join the party again. A slow dance was just finishing up, so he wouldn't have to choose a partner too carefully, he would just have to work through the daughters of Marianne's allies. He still remembered what most of them looked like from when Marianne had pointed them out at the start of the reception. He would just back out during the slow dances again, to avoid having to choose a partner that would have any serious political implications.
Lelouch reached for his glass, freezing when he saw that Suzaku's cravat had come undone and was resting over his shirt. Lelouch shook his head, stepping closer to Suzaku. "Stand still."
"What?" Suzaku jerked back, earning a frustrated groan from Lelouch.
"I said hold still." He stepped in front of Suzaku, pinning him against the railing. Suzaku froze, staring up at him as Lelouch undid the cravat. Suzaku jerked back, his hand rising to cover the tattoo on his neck. Lelouch rolled his eyes and pushed Suzaku's hand away. "I won't make you go out there with that uncovered. I'm just fixing this. How did you even get it like this anyway?"
"So you say." Suzaku chuckled, adjusting his coat. "And you make it sound like I've been taking every chance to mess this up."
"I don't know, have you?"
Suzaku looked shocked before he broke into laughter, actually leaning on Lelouch for a split second before he remembered himself. Lelouch paused in the act of reaching for Suzaku before dropping his hands back to his side quickly. It wasn't that they weren't allowed to be affectionate around each other, being the personal knight to royalty came with the expectation that they would end up in bed together as some point, whether it was a relationship or just a one night stand. But Lelouch was unsure enough around the guests in the ballroom and he didn't want them invading this part of his life, what was private would be kept private.
He looked up as Suzaku cleared his throat, the knight offering him a smile. "I've been doing my best to keep from ruining this outfit too much. A knight is a reflection of his prince, remember?"
"Suzaku, you look like a mess!"
"Hey, I stayed inside all of today and didn't move from my chair once this…thing was on."
"As my knight-"
"I'm not your knight yet, Lelouch. I'm too young."
"As my knight to be you have to look the part. You reflect me, remember?"
"Of course I do, Lelouch."
Lelouch blinked, staring for a moment before he smiled softly. "Yeah, I remember."
He stepped to the side, using the motion to disguise how he reached for Suzaku. Their fingers brushed against each other before Lelouch moved away, picking up his glass from the railing. He raised it, looking through it at the people in the ballroom, heaving a sigh. "Come on. I have to make an appearance before someone thinks I've been kidnapped."
Suzaku tensed. "That's not funny, Lelouch."
"I know it's not." He lowered the glass. "But I feel confident enough in saying that you would come and rescue me no matter what trouble I got myself into, whether or not you felt that I could get out on my own."
Lelouch gave Suzaku a smile, trying to apologize for the comment. He wouldn't apologize out loud because it would imply that what he had said was untrue. He was sure that Suzaku would come after him no matter what, and he would never apologize for believing that. It was the same strange logic that spurred him on to return the favor. He wouldn't be able to do everything that Suzaku could do, but Lelouch was sure that he would be able to work through the system if Suzaku ever needed it.
Lelouch paused just outside of the ballroom, shivering. "How much longer?"
Suzaku looked thoughtful. "An hour, maybe two. But definitely not longer than three. Cornelia and Guilford should be heading to bed by then, so the party will break up."
Another hour sounded like torture to him, especially judging by the eager looks that he was already getting. Lelouch guessed that it was a bit too early to start turning down women, especially since he couldn't dance with Suzaku, Suzaku would probably protest because he wouldn't be able to watch Lelouch properly. But he was thoroughly sick of listening to them talk and simper about things he didn't know about and could care less about.
He reached up to rub the bridge of his nose with one hand. "Is there a chance of sneaking out earlier?"
"I'll look into it." Suzaku bowed before slipping back a pace from Lelouch's side.
Lelouch turned his head, disliking the distance between them but accepting it. It was the proper etiquette between a prince and a knight, but he would have preferred to have Suzaku closer. He was sure that Suzaku would intimidate some of the worse ladies away. Then again, Suzaku did possess a certain boyish charm that might attract them. Lelouch sighed, giving the idea up as a lost cause. He would have to remain for at least another hour before he could slip out, he was sure that Suzaku would have found a way out by then. All he could do was smile and keep himself from making too big of a mistake.
He gave Suzaku one last look before carefully making sure that he kept his bland smile on. He had quickly found out that the people of the court responded better to a smiling prince than one with just a blank expression. The knights and the emperor were the only people who could carry the blank expression and be left alone. Sure that he was ready, Lelouch stepped into the room.
Almost immediately the girls that had been waiting for him rushed over, Lelouch barely keeping his smile in place as he was encircled. He nodded at them, managing to part them for a short time to retrieve another drink and deposit his empty glass before he was surrounded again. He resigned himself to listening to them babble over the latest news of the court, useless to him because he had never heard the old news.
He let his gaze wander as they talked, quickly finding and meeting Suzaku's gaze. He had meant to go through the crowd and mentally rehearse the names of the courtiers again, but he found Suzaku quickly and easily. Lelouch relaxed, his smile coming a bit easier. It didn't matter that he would have to suffer through another hour of the party, because he would be done after this. He could sneak up into his room with Suzaku and enjoy the peace and quiet there before spending the next day with his mother and sister. Maybe Euphemia would come over as well. And it would be enough, his own private world in the whirlwind of the court.
There he could be just be Lelouch. Not Prince Lelouch vi Britannia, the newly returned prince and current favorite of the courtiers, a long lost brother with a carefully constructed mask and act. Not Lelouch Lamperouge, the lost Britannian from a Japanese orphanage who had spent his days staring at a locket in the hope that some memory would return to him. He was just Lelouch, the one who rivaled Marianne for stubbornness, worried a bit too much about his sisters and was probably hopelessly in love with his knight. It was all far better than he would have thought his life would have turned out to be and he was fine with that. He was fine with just being Lelouch.