Warning(s): slow, slow moving romance. Past Suzaku/Euphy. Past, partly still unresolved Gino/Lelouch. I'm warning you here and now, so you won't complain.

A/N: This was inspired by a prompt from the cgkinkmemeii, but more than though the idea to write slow romance was fuelled by my lovely friend Sarah/syrraki. Who writes it beautifully. This is the first part of four. Updates should be frequent since I'm more or less done, but … yeah, I'm lazy and slow these days (my life? Not so funny recently).

Thanks goes to Rex Sun for editing the first two chapters. Reviews would be nice, but it's not what keeps me going. Just knowing that people are reading is :)

I. Autumn

"You don't have to make such a face, Lelouch," Marianne said, watching her only son with a mixture of concern and amusement while he zipped his bag shut. She sat down on the bed and sighed, running a hand through her fine, thick hair. "The household won't go to the dogs without you."

Lelouch shot her a bemused look, shaking his head. "You sure? The last time you tried to cook the kitchen nearly burnt down." He smiled then, a bit of a teasing glint in his eyes. "I actually hope the house will still be here when I return."

"You know, you really shouldn't talk to your mother this way!" But Marianne was smiling, and there was so much affection in her voice that Lelouch couldn't help but smile back at her.

"I hope … I just can't help thinking that you and Nunnally -" Lelouch paused, stopped pacing around the room and sat down beside his mother, grateful that she was here, though she really wasn't helping him pack at all. "I guess I'm trying to say that I'll miss you."

Marianne took his hands and squeezed them, tightly. "You are the one who wanted to do an exchange year. And it's only for a year, it's not like that much can change within such a time frame."

0.o ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~ o.0

It was Gino who saw him off at the airport.

Airports had always daunted Lelouch a bit: the hustle and bustle of people dragging, carrying or being bedecked with suitcases, bag packs, and other assortments always striking him as unnecessarily stressful.

And those colours!

Why were airports so full of yellow and orange and sparkly ads that really, really made him not want to leave - okay, Lelouch realised, he was, maybe, a bit nervous.

"I'm glad you brought me here," Lelouch said, his throat a bit dry. It was still difficult, after everything.

But, at least, they were talking, could still look each other in the eyes without wanting to hurl objects at one another. Then again, he and Gino had always agreed that they wouldn't stop being friends even if … right, not going there, Lelouch decided.

He was going to leave London, his home, for an entire year. There was no need to make this any worse. "I really mean it. This would have been hell if I'd been here on my own. So thank you."

Gino smiled, but the smile didn't reach his eyes, and Lelouch saw that he was clenching his fist so hard that his knuckles had gone pale. And when he spoke, his voice was a little strained, just a tad bit cautious as if he was holding back. "Don't - you don't need to thank me. It's the least I could do." He looked away, coughed, his voice quiet as he said," Just because we're no longer, you know , doesn't mean I can't still do things for you."

Ah, it was hurting again - that tell-tale ache in his chest, and Lelouch nodded, trying to ignore the heavy dullness creeping over his body. He wanted to say it, the 'I am sorry' and 'I wish things could be different', but there would have been no point in it, would there? "Just thanks then. Really, thanks. I'm glad you're the last one I'm seeing before leaving."

Gino smiled, a real smile. "I know. Had it been Nunnally or your mother, you'd have just stayed -" he dug his fingers into his pockets and shook. Lelouch wasn't quite sure how to respond to that. It wasn't that he disagreed with Gino. Distance was good, and he needed it - felt that it would give him the time he needed to think over what he wanted to do with his life. He was twenty-three, and it was time he did some serious thinking … But, on the other hand, it wasn't like he'd left because he'd been fed up. But then again …

Thankfully, Lelouch managed to evade an answer because, as he looked at his wrist-watch and saw the time display, he realised he had to be getting on. He looked at Gino and opened his mouth to say something - anything, but Gino just nodded and pulled Lelouch into a hug.

"Guess, that it's then," he whispered into Lelouch's ear, and Lelouch held on, allowing himself for the moment that small stolen moment of assurance. That small hint of selfishness that he knew he shouldn't indulge in, but still needed …

When they broke apart, Lelouch's heart was heavy, and it only grew heavier when he grabbed hold of his trolley, started pushing it and, throwing one last long at Gino, took those first few steps towards what might not necessarily be a new start or life, but was still a change, nevertheless.

o.0 ~~~~~~~~~~ o.0

The tight feeling in his throat hadn't quite left him when he boarded his flight.

So, it was hello to the United States. A place that, aside from the few times he'd briefly visited (and he could count the times he'd visited on one hand) and those Hollywood films with their white picket fences and all, he knew little about.

He was certain that the place he was going to would be nothing like London. No mention of tubes, or Oyster cards or those red brick buildings or dark clouds in May -

Ah, his throat was going drier and his heart thumped. And, as he felt the plane beginning to move, Lelouch thought, considered, if he shouldn't start screaming for it to bloody stop moving and let him go because …

Stupid, he was being so stupid. Lelouch didn't know what it was, but he didn't quite understand why his emotions were all over the place today.

It was a year. Nothing dramatic. He could, during the holidays, always come back. Besides, he'd promised Euphy that he'd come and visit her once. And that didn't necessarily make him feel better, but consoled him a little, because he'd really promised her often, but had always failed to keep it in the end.

This time he could visit - only that … she wasn't there anymore, and there was nothing Lelouch could do about that.

Nothing at all.

o.0 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~ o.0

They usually said that the first eight months after a person's death were the worst.

Or that was what Suzaku had picked up from one of those oh so knowledgeable magazines that, for once, hadn't focused on the newest trends or on how to improve one's living room.

If you asked Suzaku, he thought it was still hell even after two years.

And it was not because he could still see Euphy everywhere - he had in the first few months until, following his father's advice, he'd thrown her things away. His heart had hurt, yes, and he'd hated himself, but Genbu had told him that he couldn't wallow in self-pity when he had a child to look after. A child that would never know her own mother.

So, he'd tossed the things out and only kept a few small things that reminded him of Euphy - a pen she'd used to write with, a pin she'd given him back in high school-

"You should get married again," Genbu said, his voice completely serious, and Suzaku snapped out of his reverie, not quite believing his ears.

Genbu was looking at Suzaku with concern, something Suzaku realised because his father only frowned like this when he was worried. Otherwise, his face remained eerily impassive, unmoved.

Suzaku shifted on his seat uncomfortably. "I can't. I'm not ready." He didn't feel like adding that he probably never would be. "Euphy has only been dead two years, Father. Don't forget that."

Genbu sighed. "You shouldn't only think of yourself, but Yune as well. You can't raise a child on your own. You're barely managing right now, in fact."

"I -" Suzaku started, but stopped talking. His father had hit the nail on the head again. But it wasn't like it was his fault; he couldn't be there twenty-four-hours a day. "When she starts school, it will be better. But it's not so bad right now, even -" Suzaku smiled," I've got so many people willing to help me." There was his aunt, and Kaguya, and Lloyd, or better said, Cecile, didn't object to his bringing Yune along to work sometimes when it was safer to do so … Suzaku really couldn't complain. "I don't think I have to worry about her being neglected."

Suzaku would have rather been skinned alive than neglect his daughter.

"Yes, but it's not a replacement for a real mother. Or -" Genbu took a deep breath, clearly thinking carefully about his next few words," a companion for life. You're still young; I don't see why you can't find yourself falling in love with someone else again."

Suzaku suppressed the feeling of anger and nausea welling up inside of him. He had no right to get offended when it was clear that his father just wanted the best for him. Taking a look at his father seated in that chair, with his proud face and stiff posture, Suzaku knew that, even if this man could seem heartless, he only wanted to help. Even if in this case there was no remedy. Suzaku's hand shook, but he forced himself to remain calm. "Euphy was my first and only love. I don't think I could ever meet anyone who could even come close to-"

His father interrupted him. "It's not about replacement. It's about not being dead inside. Just because she died, Suzaku, doesn't mean you have to be dead too. Remember that." Genbu stood up and winced a bit - he always suffered of backache these days. "I'll go and prepare some tea."

Suzaku immediately rose. "No wait, I'll -"

"No, stay put. I'll do it," Genbu replied. "I just want you to think about what I said."

Suzaku acquiesced, sitting back down again and listening to the retreating footsteps of his father. His head felt heavy, and he felt so tired, just tired.

He knew Genbu was right. But then again, he felt that he was just a tad bit hypocritical too.

After all, he hadn't remarried after Suzaku's mother had died either, and she had died when Suzaku had been three, and that had been twenty years ago.

His father hadn't even talked about remarrying for himself once.

o.0 ~~~~~~~~~~~ o.0

The apartment was … desolately small, Lelouch decided. At first glance, it really hadn't seemed so bad, not for a student like himself. One bedroom, a living room that also served as a dining room and a kitchen as well as a bathroom – it even had a small balcony. And yet, something was missing.

Something in the form of Nunnally and his mother – and Lelouch frowned, as he surveyed his apartment once more, searching for traces of them. Anything that would make that odd feeling in his stomach to go away …

When the phone rang, Lelouch picked up immediately. "Hello, who is this?"

"Still suspicious … as per usual." A loud laugh followed and Lelouch shook his head. "Sorry, I just had to call, even if it's only been a –"

"A day exactly," Lelouch answered as he tapped his fingers against the small table that phone was situated on. "You know, this is going just great. We've barely been parted, and you're already calling." This wasn't a reprimand, but just a statement of bare facts.

Gino laughed again. "Well, would you prefer if we never talked to each other again?" He didn't sound serious, his tone playful; the same tone he used when he conversed with friends, the sort that made people assume that nothing could make him stop smiling.

And yet, Lelouch couldn't help but frown. "I don't know. Usually, you're not supposed to be –"He stopped talking, suddenly hesitating. "Forget it."

"No … you wanted to say that we're supposed to hate each other, right?" Gino sighed, and Lelouch could imagine that he was rubbing his neck. "I don't know, our break-up wasn't the sort that involved tears or lots of yelling. To be honest, -"Gino stopped talking, another loud sigh escaping his mouth, and Lelouch knew he was biting his lips. Something he always did when he was nervous.

He didn't have to continue, Lelouch knew where this was going, and that odd feeling was right back, but this time it wasn't just longing, but tinged with a bit of sadness too. "I know. We'll … just have to wait and see." Right. That was all he could do right now. Just wait and see.

Gino laughed again, but more lightly this time. "Thanks. I … needed to hear that, I think. And yeah, I hope you're alright." His voice softer, gentler at the 'I hope you're alright'.

Lelouch smiled over the phone. "I am. Though the apartment seems so small without the whole lot of you – Gino, will you …?"

"Of course, I will. I'll look after them in your stead."

Lelouch imagined that he was shaking his head over the phone, that usual grin playing on his features, and that same wave of longing rolled over him – he really was far away now. But, as he clenched his hand, feeling the cord of the phone pressing against his palm, he knew it was too late. He'd made his decision already. "Thanks. See you then."

"See you."

The moment Gino hung up, Lelouch surveyed the apartment again and thought that it maybe didn't look that small after all. It wasn't like he would stay here forever.

o.0 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~ o.0

"And you really don't mind me bringing her over?" Suzaku asked, watching as Cecile eyed Yune gently as she scribbled things of an indefinite shape with the new crayons she'd gotten from Kaguya a few days ago.

Cecile shook her head, and then smiled. "Why would I mind?" She chuckled, giving Suzaku another of her 'you worry too much' looks. "She's cute, and it's definitely easier to look after her than some other people." She rolled her eyes and crossed her arms. "Lloyd is worse than a toddler at times."

"If you say so," Suzaku said, trying to keep a grin from forming on his face; he knew that Cecile wouldn't mind if he grinned, but his father had always instilled him to not show any disrespect towards his superiors, no matter what their conduct was. He let out a sigh then, remembering what would await him once he entered the laboratory. "Well, I have to get going now – another round of testing."

Cecile gave him a sympathetic look that clearly spelt out that she didn't envy him anyway. "I'll be here, waiting." She smiled warmly, looking at him directly.

For a second, Suzaku had that odd feeling that she was flirting with him, and his father's words shot through his head. Certainly, Cecile was an attractive woman, fond of Yune, and Genbu Kururugi would have definitely approved … and Suzaku nodded, walking through the door leading to the lab.

He didn't have time nor the will to purse such thoughts.

"Isn-isn't that dangerous?" Suzaku really didn't want to probe, but this looked rather risky. That and he was pretty sure that one of his lecturers at college had definitely advised against … well, but then his lecturer hadn't been Lloyd Asplund.

"Oh, don't worry!" Lloyd said as he smiled and urged Suzaku to not pay any attention to the cracking sounds or the smell of something burning, saying that it was all perfectly alright.

Suzaku did stop protesting; he'd learnt quite a while ago that, while his boss was a bit … crazy, he mostly did know what he was doing. Keyword being 'mostly'.


Lelouch really couldn't believe it. He made a motion to move towards the door and bloody leave.

"No need to be so overdramatic, younger brother." His voice was still the same annoying mixture of cool nonchalance and charismatic sophistication – a mixture that both belied and accentuated his personality.

Lelouch sighed as he turned around, looking at the man he really didn't want to see here. "You know, when I said I'd be coming to study here, this wasn't an open invitation to … come pester me." Because Schneizel did that often enough when they were at home, visiting so often that Marianne often jokingly suggested that he should just move in. "Besides, I thought you had work in … back in London."

Where he supposedly lived the last time Lelouch had checked.

Schneizel leaned back against his chair and shrugged his shoulders. "As it stands, I recently found out that they were offering a place here, so I decided to accept. Change of scenery and all –"He smiled pleasantly, motioning Lelouch to take the seat opposite of him. "Believe me, not everything revolves around you."

"Of course, and pigs can fly," Lelouch muttered as he walked forward, sitting down where his beloved elder brother had gestured him to do so. He rubbed his temples as he took in Schneizel's desk – spotlessly neat. "Just say that you accepted because you can't live without making my life a living hell." He smirked. "Or just say outright that my mother has something to do with this."

"That's rude, Lelouch. Well, I admit that your mother might have suggested something and that it's easier to keep an eye on you while one of us is here as well , but –" Schneizel continued smiling, even though Lelouch sent him a death glare," I accepted this position because I was genuinely interested."

Lelouch couldn't argue against that; he recalled Schneizel talking about wanting to go abroad a few times, but still. "Did it really have to be here? I wanted –"He trailed off, knowing that his brother was very well aware of what he wanted.

"Distance, I know." Schneizel sighed as he leaned forward, sitting up straight. "Don't worry, I'll make sure that I'll treat you no differently just because you're my relative. When we're at university, our relationship is that of a supervisor and student."

This actually made Lelouch smile; he knew that Schneizel was serious about his job – there was no point in denying that. "Good, then I luck forward to it, Professor." He relaxed enough now that he was no longer clutching his knees, but had them placed comfortably on his lap.

"Good, Lelouch. Good. I think it'll be interesting to work together with you," Schneizel said, his smile warm with genuine affection now," I did hear good things about you."

"I aim not to disappoint," Lelouch answered, smiling back now. Perhaps, this would be a less awkward than he had anticipated. Perhaps, he'd even learn something useful.

"Oh, to talk of less academic matters. Have you visited Euphy's husband yet?"

Or not. Lelouch let out an irritated huff. "Look, I haven't had the time yet –"

Schneizel smiled pleasantly. "Really? It's rather close to this university, and you know how much it would have meant to Euphy-"His smile was only growing more pleasant, and, somewhere, a clock was ticking – loudly.

"Schneizel, just because I promised her doesn't mean I have to immediately rush to see him …" Lelouch stared at his brother, who stared right back at him. The clock was still ticking. Lelouch started counting. One, two, three … and Schneizel's smile just kept being so irritatingly pleasant.

Damnit. Lelouch let out a sigh. "Okay, I'll go and see him today in the evening."

"Good, just what I wanted to hear!" Schneizel said, still smiling while Lelouch grumbled and muttered something about 'evil elder brothers'.


Suzaku sighed as he tried to focus on the lines, but his vision was blurry, and the words were not making much sense. So this book was about clothes, brands and some man called Patrick Bateman who liked listing what kind of electric devices he kept in his apartment … and who talked all the time about what kind of clothes someone was wearing. Suzaku rolled his eyes.

Why had he allowed Cecile to recommend something to read, anyway?

He was actually rather grateful when the doorbell rang; it gave him an excuse to stop reading. Perhaps, it was his father … no, scratch that, it could only be Genbu, Suzaku reasoned. Only Genbu visited him at these hours, anyway.

But it wasn't Genbu. Instead, as Suzaku opened the door, he was greeted with the sight of a young man with black hair and what Suzaku assumed one would consider 'finely chiselled features', but he wasn't looking, really.

"Oh um. I don't buy anything," Suzaku blurted out without thinking, but the young man just looked so prim and serious in that black suit that he could only be a salesman! It was only when he noticed the frown on the man's face that Suzaku realised how rude he had been. He coughed, a slight blush creeping on his cheeks. "I apologise, I really do, but I really don't need anything. So if you would just try somewhere else …" He muttered a quick 'bye and take care' and was about to close the door when the young man stopped him.

"Huh?" Suzaku watched, utterly stupefied how the other man just walked right past him and closed the door behind himself, doing all of this with a self-assured air that was befitting of a prince, rather than the modest and eager to please attitude of the salesman that Suzaku had believed him to be at first.

"Right. That's charming. I finally do drop by and nearly get the door slammed right in my face," the young man was saying while he leaned down, took off his shoes, placed them neatly next to the row of shoes, stood up straight and smoothed the non-existent wrinkles on his clothes away. He frowned at Suzaku. "What?"

Okay. "Excuse me, just who are you?" Suzaku didn't want to be rude, he really didn't want to be, but … this was a bit strange, he thought, while he stood there, trying to make sense of this situation.

The young man let out a laugh and shook his head. "How rude. You don't remember me?"

Suzaku just frowned. "No, I'm sorry. I have no idea who you are." He was pretty certain that, if he did, he would have been able to tell immediately – the young man, with those violet eyes of his, was pretty striking in terms of appearance, after all.

For a second, the young man narrowed his eyes – in anger or sadness, Suzaku wasn't sure. But then, his expression softened, and he wore something of a smile on his face. "Lelouch Lamperouge. And I guess, it's alright. We only, strictly speaking, saw each other once and, back then, you were rather … preoccupied." And then he did smile, tentatively, carefully, but it still brightened up his features. "Not that I'd have expected anything else of a groom on his wedding day. Euphy looked gorgeous."

It wasn't the 'Lelouch Lamperouge' that rang any bells, but the mention of 'wedding' and 'Euphy' that did. Suzaku looked at Lelouch again, tilting his head to the side. "You're … Euphy's cousin ... The one who lives in London?" He swallowed. Euphy had many relatives, and he really didn't know if he was right about this …

"The … younger one, yes. The 'black sheep' of the family if you so want to term it." The way he shrugged his shoulders was casual, nearly flippant, but something dark glimmered in Lelouch's eyes, and his tone had been cooler than before. Nearly hateful …

Yet, Suzaku didn't inquire into that, but just motioned Lelouch to follow him; he reasoned that it wasn't any of his business really. He and Euphy had not really talked much about her family, only about Cornelia and she'd sometimes dropped a name or two, names associated with the time she'd spent in England before moving. He knew that she'd maintained contact with some of her relatives from back then; however, he'd never probed, and Euphy had kept silent.

Not because he hadn't cared or Euphy hadn't trusted, but because they had both had known that, even if you shared everything with each other, there were some things that you just needed for yourself.

Lelouch had to say that Suzaku Kururugi looked about the same and yet very different from when he'd first seen him.

On that day, Suzaku had struck him as an extraordinarily ordinary boy with a goofy smile and bright eyes that shone full of love and affection for Euphy. Otherwise, there had been nothing special about him, and Lelouch had mostly thought that it was good that Euphy had found someone who loved her, but that had been pretty much it.

This Suzaku looked sadder, his eyes duller, and Lelouch couldn't quite believe that they were the same age because Suzaku, though he didn't look old, walked like someone who was weary of life.

"So … this is a nice living room," Lelouch said, just for the sake of making communication, shifting a bit on the sofa. He was already regretting having come over. Clearly, this Suzaku fellow wasn't too keen on his being here if the nervous glances he kept sending at his direction were anything to go by.

"Is it? Euphy … um, she had a hand in designing it." Suzaku smiled, and that smile told Lelouch everything he needed to know. He was still in mourning.

"She liked things like that: she often rearranged and decorated my room when we were still children–" Lelouch trailed off, feeling that he was starting off at the wrong track. "I'm sorry, I shouldn't …" It had been two years, but Lelouch knew himself how little time that really was, especially when it came to healing.

Suzaku spoke so quickly Lelouch nearly jumped. "Um, no. It's fine. I rather … I mean I don't mind hearing what she was like during her childhood." He paused, chewed on his underlip. "So you're that cousin, the one she wanted to marry once."

"Oh God," Lelouch said as he buried his face with his hand, his cheeks growing hot,"don't tell me she told you all about that."

"She did. And she told me all about the cross-dressing too." Suzaku was chuckling now, and Lelouch – even if this was embarrassing – looked at him, surprised at how young Suzaku looked when he did that. And yes, right now, he looked very much like the boy at the wedding – the eighteen-year-old bridegroom. "Hmm. Though … wait, if you're that cousin, you must be around my age … right?" Suzaku was looking at him rather curiously, as if that were an outrageous thing.

"I'm twenty-three, yes," Lelouch answered, shrugging his shoulders. "Why? Did you think I was older?"

Suzaku laughed – a bit nervously and played with the hem of his sweatshirt. "No … actually, no. I thought you were … it's just that everyone seems so young compared to me."

"Twenty-three isn't exactly ancient …" Lelouch hesitated for a moment, but then decided to go for it, "it's not like being in your twenties makes you a Grandpa, Suzaku." He shook his head. Really.

"You wouldn't say this if you were widower and had a kid already," Suzaku said, his tone lightly mocking.

"Oh, I am sorry to disappoint. Just a graduate student here." And gay to boot, which rather slimmed down his chances of experiencing the joys of having kids. Unless he adopted, and he and Gino had always – but that wasn't something he was going to think about now. Lelouch noticed that Suzaku looked less nervous right now, but increasingly more interested. "I am doing an exchange year, in which I'm aiming to start working on my thesis."

"Hmm, thesis?"

"MA thesis in literature." He didn't mention that he was studying law as well. That wasn't of any interest to Suzaku. "I might also be holding some classes myself."

"So you're aiming to be a professor?" Suzaku asked, sounding truly intrigued. He smiled before adding, "I don't know you very well … but I think it fits you."

Lelouch smiled back. "Why do you assume it fits me?"

"I think you're the type that likes to give orders," Suzaku answered immediately. He shrugged his shoulders. "You give a bit off an authoritative air."

"The same can be said for a king." Lelouch smirked at the confusion brimming in Suzaku's eyes. "Both things also require you to like giving orders, but it's a lonely path …" Suzaku merely looked more confused, and Lelouch had to keep himself from slapping himself on his forehead. Of course. Was he an idiot? This wasn't Schneizel. Lelouch shook his head as he crossed his legs. "Forget about it." He coughed and swallowed audibly.

Suzaku suddenly stood up. "Oh! I've been so rude. Do you want something to drink?"

In all honestly, Lelouch wasn't thirsty at all, but Suzaku looked so earnest in wanting to do something useful that Lelouch nodded. "A glass of water would be fine."

"Okay, wait. I'll be right back," Suzaku said in a way reminiscent of an eager puppy … but then Lelouch admitted he was just tired and that his metaphors were getting strange at this point. Still. He couldn't deny that Suzaku was a rather kind person. Just the sort of person he had always imagined Euphy marrying –

At that moment, there was a knock on the door, and footsteps rang through the apartment as Suzaku rushed to open it. It turned out to be Genbu Kururugi – a man Lelouch had seen at the wedding as well.

The man acknowledged him with a nod, stern and stiff, and Lelouch introduced himself, polite and aloof. The man merely acknowledged it with a 'hmm' and 'it's nice to meet you', no flicker of recognition passing through his eyes.

Lelouch was relieved, even letting out a slight sigh of relief when Genbu turned his attention to Suzaku. Not because he cared if Genbu recognised him or not, but he just seemed so stern that … Lelouch was rather adamant about his leaving.

"... Already?" Suzaku looked disappointed, a frown on his face. "You've only been here for a short while." There was an undertone of 'I wanted to talk more with you' there.

Lelouch sighed. "I have some errands to do." Which wasn't a lie. Even if he could have done them tomorrow.

"Oh, okay," Suzaku said, smiling, "but … do come over again, sometime?" But he didn't sound too pressing, something Lelouch was grateful for.

Because, as nice as Suzaku was, he saw no reason for lingering around.

After Lelouch left, Genbu actually sat down, and Suzaku did so too, not quite sure if he was grateful that his father had come. After all, he had been about to find more about Lelouch. Oh well. "So what do you think of him?"

"A very serious young man," Genbu said, his tone strangely contemplative, and Suzaku looked at his father, wondering what he was driving at.

"I thought so too, but he's a university student, and they tend to be rather s-"

Genbu frowned. "I didn't mean that. It seems like he has a heavy burden on his shoulders. He was very tense."

"I .. what makes you think so?" Suzaku thought that he himself had been rather tense, not so much Lelouch. He had, very much, acted so very confident and assured that Suzaku had only started to relax because of him. But that had been when he and Lelouch had been alone …

"He has a very watchful look in his eyes, like he expects everything to collapse around him the moment he stops looking." Genbu said this in a way that was neither approving nor disapproving.

Suzaku frowned. "Maybe … it doesn't really matter, does it? I doubt we'll see him around that often." And he wasn't sure if he was happy or unhappy about it, or if he felt anything about it at all.


Lelouch already knew why Schneizel being here was a bad idea.

He crossed his hands. "You do realise that I have no idea about those kind of things?" A lab? He'd bloody well slept through those classes in school!

"You're smart," Schneizel replied as he smiled pleasantly. "And I just need you to keep an eye on things. Mr Asplund is a bit … eccentric."

"Right," Lelouch replied, as he rolled his eyes, "if he's as eccentric as you say, why do you keep on financing that man?" Though that question itself was stupid; he knew that Schneizel just had a knack for those things - all for the benefit of research and education. Sometimes he did ask himself if the man was a bit dotty. "It's weird. You've not even got anything to do with this field -"

"But this man happens to be brilliant, and I don't see why I can't encourage him - I especially liked his proposal regarding Knightm-" A slightly dazed expression crossed over Schneizel's features as he rubbed his hands - not in a frantic way, but that graceful elegance that accompanied all of his actions.

"... you do realise this has nothing whatsoever to do with my thesis?" Lelouch scoffed. So typical of his brother. Pulling him into affairs that really shouldn't have been any of his concern. "Can't you … send your beloved assistant Kanon over?" He thought that Kanon followed his brother around like a loyal puppy.

"I could, but - I'd rather have you help me out in this case. But I won't insist." Schneizel sighed. A loud sigh that made Lelouch sigh in return.

"Fine, I'll do it." But he expected something in exchange. "It's not like I have anything else to do in the mornings."

Besides, the lab was located in his university, which was the only good thing about this whole ordeal.


Suzaku frowned as he watched Lloyd muttering to himself while going through the lab like an overexcited child. "What's the matter with him today?" He paused in his typing, and even Cecile had stopped.

Cecile sighed, irritation spelling out all over her features. "Oh, nothing special. Just a relative of our sponsor coming over."

"... Okay," Suzaku replied intelligently, and shrugged his shoulders. To him, this was nothing monumental: he just knew that the sponsor was someone from England. "I thought the sponsor loved Lloyd's work?" He frowned. Okay, maybe it wasn't something to be shrugged off that easily.

"He does, but apparently he wants someone to supervise the work - not out of any malice, but to see how things are going," Cecile said and smiled then. "Which is good because it will … finally make him focus on something that isn't nonsense."

Suzaku just nodded in response, deciding that his input really wasn't necessary here. In any case, Cecile already had a very firm opinion of her own. He just nodded in response and went back to typing in the various data into his computer.

Cecile still hadn't started. Suzaku turned to her, frowning. "Something wrong?"

"I forgot to say that you're supposed to meet him today. I can't, and well Lloyd isn't in the right mind - today is just for the preliminaries. Just tell him about our work and all, it's … easy!" She smiled encouragingly, and then moved her chair to his, so she could pat him on the shoulder.

"Oh, okay." Suzaku tried to smile back, but his mouth had gone a bit dry. What if the relative was some scary, old scholarly guy in glasses? He'd never been good with that type.

In the end, the relative turned to be out someone he really hadn't envisioned at all. He was neither old nor did he wear glasses.

"Ah, you?" Suzaku blushed immediately afterwards. "Sorry. I just am a little surprised." He rubbed his head. "Hi, I guess …"

Lelouch smiled a little. "Well, I am too - the world really is a small place." He was dressed a little less casually than when they'd first met, wearing jeans and a violet shirt. But Suzaku wasn't paying attention to how it fit his upper body snugly or how it brought out his eyes - though a flitting thought of 'he's skinny' did shoot through his mind.

"Hmm. So you're … ah, -" Suzaku stopped; he had no idea what Lelouch was to this mysterious sponsor guy.

"Half-brother of the sponsor of the charming on-goings here, and -" Lelouch's tone was a little strained, "well, I'm here to make notes. Nothing bad though. Schneizel just loves to learn how … brilliant men tick." He sighed again, and Suzaku got the feeling that he wasn't really thrilled to be doing this.

"Well, Lloyd Asplund is brilliant, though …" Suzaku lowered his voice, even though they were the only ones in the room, "he's a little weird." And that was really an understatement.

"Yeah, I heard that - but as long as he doesn't create another Frankenstein, it should be fine." Lelouch chuckled. "So … actually we're done now." He shrugged, looking at Suzaku, and then away into his distance. "So I should get going -"

"Hmm, yeah I guess," Suzaku said before an idea flashed through his mind. "... We could, as we have the time, hang out a bit …" He cleared his throat, hoping this didn't sound too awkward. He just thought that, seeing how abruptly Lelouch had left last time, it would be nice to talk with each other. Besides, the interior of this room was a little stifling.

"Hang out?" Lelouch asked, fixing his eyes on Suzaku's again.

"... If you have the time?" Suzaku frowned. Had he been too forward? "I mean, you don't have to -"

"No, it's fine. I don't have anything to do at the moment," Lelouch replied, and he smiled then. "But you have to suggest a place since I'm really new here."

The cafe he took Lelouch to was one of the few places Suzaku frequently haunted. Usually he ate at home or at his relatives'. Before Euphy had died, they'd sometimes gone out: nothing too fancy, just restaurants with a little garden or something that provided eating outdoors. Euphy had hated being 'stuck inside some stuffy room' as she'd always termed it.

They were seated outdoors too, it still not being cool enough to render that impossible. Only a light breeze was blowing, and Suzaku inhaled, taking in the smell of leaves; even if the breeze light, it slightly ruffled the umbrella situated above their heads. Their coffee still had not arrived yet. "They take a while here," Suzaku said, as he saw Lelouch tapping his fingers against the wooden table.

"That's not a problem," Lelouch replied. He gave Suzaku a questioning look, tilting his head to the side.

"Well, you were tapping your fingers -" Suzaku coughed a bit. "Well, I just thought you were restless."

Lelouch raised an eyebrow. "I was just lost in thought." He didn't seem annoyed though, more amused if the slight smile on his face was anything to go by.

"Do you have a lot on your mind, then?" Suzaku didn't know why he kept asking such inane questions. But he was curious, recalling the words from his father …

Lelouch shrugged, resting his head on his elbow. "Sometimes. At other times, my head is just … a vacant lot."

"Ah, I know that feeling," Suzaku said, looking down at the ground. "When Euphy died, I just … went blank." He was gripping the edge of the seat, trembling just a little. "Funny, isn't it? In movies, people always cry and scream when someone passes away."

"Not really - it's a state of shell-shock. And movies have little to do with reality." Lelouch's tone didn't carry any emotion in it.

Suzaku looked back up. "I guess so. I just felt … weird that I couldn't cry, though I loved her as much as I did." Still love her, he wanted to add. "The tears did come … though not right after."

Lelouch just nodded, not saying anything, but then there wasn't anything to say, and they fell into silence - not uncomfortable, but one that Suzaku thought was filled with understanding. He was sure that, even if Lelouch wasn't making any outward sign of it, he was thinking of Euphy too.

When the waiter arrived, Suzaku was nearly angry that he'd interrupted. The last time he'd been able to mention Euphy this openly had been ages ago.


His message box had three messages when he returned home - one from Gino, the second from his mother, and the final one from Schneizel. Lelouch smiled as he sat down on the coach and dialled the first number that popped into his mind. The phone rang for a second, and then a familiar voice was on the line. "Nunnally."

"Big brother!" And she sounded as happy as he felt. "How are you?"

"Fine," Lelouch replied, earnest enough. "I miss you and mother a lot though."

"We too, but … " Nunnally was giggling, "you know, with big brother Schneizel at your side now you won't be as lonely- he said to keep it a secret from you that he was going there too!"

"... Yes, it was a huge surprise to see him." A very huge one, indeed. "Anyhow, how are things going with you?" He let some of his concern carry through his voice. His throat felt dry, so, so dry. How he wanted to see her right now - so very much.

"Fine … I told you before that I can manage without you, brother. You can't stay by my side forever just because I can't walk or see," Nunnally replied, her voice full of conviction ... and strength. It always amazed Lelouch how strong she was.

"I would change the world for you, Nunnally," Lelouch replied then, his voice thick with emotion. "I didn't leave forever, just … I can come back anytime."

"No, don't come back till you are ready," Nunnally said, her voice determined, and he could imagine that she was smiling. "You have to do something for yourself as well."

Lelouch shook his head. "And how is mother?"

"Busy, but loving it! And the house hasn't burned down yet." She was laughing softly, and Lelouch laughed along.

"Oh - you know, I met Suzaku." He felt Nunnally deserved to know. She and Euphy had been fond of each other as children. She hadn't been able to attend the wedding, much to her sorrow, and now Euphy was gone. This was the only thing he could give her. "He's very nice. Just the sort of man Euphy always dreamt of."

"... That's good to hear; I'm glad she found someone to love. She always wanted to be happy … and, "Nunnally paused, her voice trembling a bit, "the ones she loved to be happy as well. Us included."

"I know." Of course he did. Even if they hadn't been able to meet up (because of their blasted family, because of jealousy tearing up and ruining everything -), Lelouch had always been grateful that Euphy had kept in touch. Short as their phone calls had been, her e-mails had been longer, and there'd always been that undercurrent of affection, of hope that someday they would be reunited.

Lelouch only realised that he'd fallen silent when Nunnally added, "I am sure she's happy that you are visiting Suzaku in these hard times, making some of his loneliness pass away. He probably needs all the help he can get now."

And he was about to protest that it wasn't like that, that he had no intention of really doing more than just … but then he sighed. "I'll try to help him. He's lonely." He replayed their conversation from earlier today at the cafe, when Suzaku had told him about Euphy, his eyes sad even if he'd been trying to smile.

"Good! You should play with Yune too a little bit - tell her cousin greets her from overseas!" She laughed again. "I'm sure she loves you already; you were always so gentle and kind to me when we were still children."

Lelouch bit back the reply that he hadn't even inquired after his niece yet. When they said their mutual goodbyes, he let out a long sigh, put the phone away and felt that, somehow, Nunnally had managed to make him do her bidding yet again.

o.0 ~~~~~~~~~~~ o.0

Sometimes, there were times when Suzaku really hated being a father. No, he never outright cursed his fate, nor wanted Yune to go away, but there were times when he wondered if it wouldn't just have been better if he had followed through his father's advice and allowed his aunt to take care of her. She loved children.

"It wouldn't be a parting; you'd still see her whenever you'd like, and she would be in good hands," Genbu had said then, but Suzaku had refused. And a part of him still seethed.

Looking down at his daughter, her green eyes looking back at him, he remembered that he'd promised Euphy to never let Yune taste loneliness; something both of them had known as children.

He pulled her closer, pressing a kiss against her forehead. She let out a childish squeal of delight, continuing to play with his hair - her little fingers surprisingly strong for a child of that age.

"Ouch. You're hurting Daddy," Suzaku said jokingly and was about to give her a piggy-back ride when the door rang. Suzaku, with Yune in his arms, walked to the door and opened it, not really sure who it was this time. His father attended his club meetings today …

"Ah, Lelouch!" Suzaku was surprised himself at how happy he sounded. "I wasn't expecting to see you so … soon again." Not that it was bad. He looked down at Yune who was staring rather curiously at Lelouch. "This is Yune - " He didn't say his and Euphy's daughter because he was sure Lelouch knew.

"She looks just like you," Lelouch said, smiling as he leaned down to greet Yune, his tone much gentler and sweeter than Suzaku had imagined possible as he introduced himself as her 'uncle'.

He looked at Suzaku who nodded. And then, with a gentleness that surprised Suzaku again, Lelouch took her into his arms, Yune not even protesting as she usually would have, but settling rather comfortably, happy sounds escaping her mouth. She seemed to take a particular fondness to Lelouch's hair too …

"Yes, and she takes after me when it comes to punching too." Suzaku laughed, and letting Lelouch walk into the living room, closed the door.

Yune was in bed by the time Lelouch and Suzaku started really talking. She'd gotten sleepy not long after Lelouch had come, and Suzaku had watched Lelouch carry her upstairs, both amazed and surprised at how gentle Lelouch was. Like he had experience with taking care of others, and a bit of jealousy had crept up Suzaku's spine because he himself never managed to handle Yune with such seemingly effortless ease.

He was curious as to why Lelouch was so good with this, but he figured he wouldn't probe. Besides, Lelouch was talking about his new life in America in a more conversational tone than the other times they'd talked. "I must say that getting to spend time in the lab isn't as much as a nuisance as I expected. In fact," he looked at Suzaku and smiled, "it probably keeps me from bashing my head in boredom."

"Boredom?" Was university life really that dull?

"I don't have anything to do in the mornings," Lelouch said, as if he'd captured the questioning look in Suzaku's eyes. "Most of my classes are in the evening …"

"So you're not as busy as you assumed you'd be?" Suzaku wasn't sure; evening classes sure sounded tough to him, coupled with the fact that he was to be there to observe their activities.

"Yes, and it's only three times a week," Lelouch sighed. "And only one course requires me to be there all the time actually."

Suzaku couldn't quite hide his surprise. "That sounds surprisingly … lax." And it did, even if he didn't know much about graduate schools. "So I guess the thing with the classes fell through -"

"Well, they expect me to start working on my thesis, and I already have all the credits, so -" Lelouch sighed. "Still, even I'm surprised that it's so little … I wish I could teach at … but oh well." Another sigh escaped his mouth.

"... you thinking of going back home?"

"Sometimes." Lelouch's eyes dulled a little. "I do miss home. I do miss my family. And Gi-" He stopped, then added, "I mean, my friends."

Suzaku didn't inquire whoever the person with the 'gi' syllables was; it was weird, he thought, how Lelouch had cut himself off so suddenly, how he'd tensed for a second there, but it wasn't his position to judge. "... if you're lonely, you can always come visit us. Even when my Dad is around, he doesn't bite -" Suzaku laughed. "Not any more than Lloyd does!"

"You think I ran off last time because I was scared of him?" Lelouch sounded a little indignant, and he was looking at Suzaku questioningly.

"Well, last time you ran off so suddenly -" Suzaku shifted a little; this seat was getting uncomfortable. He wasn't used to it. No wonder; he usually sat there where Lelouch did - normally, his father favoured this very seat here.

A sigh escaped Lelouch's lips. "Okay, he did seem a little intimidating."

"He isn't really," Suzaku replied, getting up and then settling down next to Lelouch; the other looked at him, stiffening a little, but relaxed soon enough. Suzaku chuckled a little; Lelouch really was tense, always so cautious! "He's a nice man, just a bit stiff."

"A bit?" Lelouch asked, raising an eyebrow.

"Well, a lot. But he really doesn't bite. Trust me." Suzaku sighed as he settled back against the sofa, comfortable enough around Lelouch by now that he could be less worried about posture and manners. He looked at Lelouch, a smile tugging at the corners of his mouth. "So will you hang out with us this weekend?" He didn't care how lame it sounded.

Lelouch just nodded and then yawned. He looked at Suzaku, and there was that stiffness again; it made Suzaku frown. "I should get going …"

"You can spend the night here," Suzaku replied immediately, not feeling awkward at all, in spite of the fact the fact that Lelouch was giving him a rather strange look. "You are … practically family," he smiled. "Besides, it's too late to get anywhere." And he figured that Lelouch didn't own a car nor had the luxury of calling a cab here.

For a second, it looked like Lelouch was about to say 'no', his violet eyes dull for a moment, and a heavy silence descended on them, but Suzaku didn't mind. Like this, he could examine Lelouch more carefully, for the first noticing how beautiful the other man was.

He'd noticed it during their other meeting, but under the not-too-intense burn from the lamp hanging above their heads, surrounded by the quiet lull of the evening, Suzaku noticed for the first time that Lelouch's skin was not a ghostly pale, but still white, only accentuating the darkness of the thick hair that fell - not in curls, but straightly - across his cheeks - and that as he breathed, his chest rose and fell, his shoulder rising a bit and that … for some reason, this struck Suzaku as very graceful.

When Lelouch finally replied, it seemed like hours had gone by, though it couldn't have been more than a minute. "Fine … but you don't have to bother yourself too much about -"

Suzaku shook his head. "There is more than enough space here. And there's a spare room in the house." His tone fell a little at that, again that sadness rolling over him. "Euphy always said that we should have one, just in case." He smiled then. "So don't worry."

Lelouch's expression was unreadable, but he nodded. "All right. Thank you."

And with that, Suzaku just smiled again and motioned Lelouch to follow him as he got up.

o.0 ~~~~~~~~~ o.0

The moment Lelouch had entered that room, he'd known that it had been intended for him all along. Even if Euphy hadn't seen him in years, she hadn't forgotten that he loved books, as evidenced by the bookshelf filled with carefully chosen titles (Crime and Punishment, Divine Comedy -).

He wondered how much time she'd spent picking them as he traced a finger among the volumes; there were flecks of dust here and there on the top of the books, making it evident that no one had touched them for a while. Maybe not since Euphy had passed away -

Lelouch felt his throat go dry, grateful he was alone now, glad that Suzaku had, yawning, decided to go to sleep right after bringing him here and providing him with some of his pyjamas. While doing that, he'd smiled sheepishly, actually apologising for them probably being too big him on him. How silly. How -

Very much like Suzaku, Lelouch's mind supplied, realising that he hadn't met anyone like Suzaku before. But now wasn't the time to muse on why Suzaku struck him as so different; he was tired, and … yet, he could admit one thing: being around Suzaku definitely made him feel less lonely.

A smile tugged at the corners of his mouth, and he couldn't suppress it. Perhaps, being here - even if it meant not seeing Nunnally or his mother - wasn't as bad as he thought.

And, as he dozed away, he couldn't help wonder what the next day would bring.

The next day brought Suzaku shaking him awake, and Lelouch muttered a 'sod off' to him in an angry, frustrated tone. He actually managed to hit Suzaku in the face.

"Rude," Suzaku said, rubbing his cheek. "And you've got a good aim. I'm surprised." And he really did sound a bit taken aback, but there was no trace of anger in his voice.

Lelouch rubbed his eyes wearily, only now taking in that the room was bathed in light, the curtainless window allowing the rays of sun to shine through. But it didn't cheer him up, and Suzaku was still standing there, leaning over him. A stupid grin was playing on his face.

"What?" Lelouch snapped, not caring that he was a) insulting his host, and b) behaving like a total wanker. He was tired, and wanted to sleep. Everything else could go to hell.

"It's seven am - Time to get up?" And with that, Suzaku actually tore the blanket away from Lelouch. A motion that left Lelouch stunned, his mouth gaping as he found himself blanketless and exposed to … well, not earth-shattering coolness, but still!

"... give that back!" Lelouch got on his feet and tried to fetch the blanket that Suzaku was holding. But that idiot was actually fast, and - whenever Lelouch got close to grabbing the blanket - he just moved away, chuckling all the while.

Indeed, it wouldn't have been all so bad if Lelouch hadn't grown tired quickly, his stamina never having been the most admirable trait of his character, and after some five minutes of playing 'go catch the blanket' with Suzaku, he was already out of breath and sitting down on the bed. He fixed Suzaku with an angry glare. "Excuse me, how old are you exactly?"

"Twenty-three years and three months!" Suzaku replied all too cheerfully with the eagerness of a schoolboy.

"You were born in July?"

"Yeah!" He was still grinning, looking so boyish and … innocent that Lelouch had to wonder if this was the same sombre young man he'd believed Suzaku to be when they'd first met.

"... seven months."

"Hmm?" Suzaku looked at him quizzically, holding the blanket protectively against his chest.

"You're seven months younger than me." Not that it bothered him in any way, but Lelouch had, in a way, always believed that Suzaku was older than him. Strange that.

"Oh! So you'll be celebrating your birthday … around Christmas?" He sounded oddly excited, and that made Lelouch roll his eyes.

"... 5th of December. Not really around Christmas, but I guess close." He crossed his arms, not getting why Suzaku was smiling like this. "What is it?"

"So you're older than me." Suzaku just tilted his head to the side, eyes wondrous. "And you're neither a morning person nor … very athletic." Suzaku laughed and plopped down beside Lelouch, so close that their knees were brushing. "... I like learning all these new things about you."

"Indeed. I am sure it's fascinating." Lelouch shifted away a bit, never having felt comfortable when people got so close.

Suzaku didn't seem to notice or care because he just continued talking. "... It is! And you're stronger than you look."

That made Lelouch stare at him. "So you think I look like a wuss?" He asked this casually enough, but there was a warning edge to his voice.

"A wuss?" Suzaku laughed again, and shook his head. "No."

"Then?" Lelouch really was curious now, and why was Suzaku so close? He'd actually breached the gap between them, and their knees were brushing again.

"Hmm, kind of pretty and fragile. Like someone who's meant to be admired -" Suzaku said, not a hint of a flush on his face, and his tone completely serious.

… But Lelouch actually felt his cheeks warming up. Was Suzaku some kind of idiot? "You shouldn't say such things -" Unless you wanted to flirt.

Suzaku was frowning. "... Huh? Why? It's a compliment!" The worst thing about this was that he sounded completely earnest.

"... Forget it," Lelouch said, clearing his throat and sighing. "I guess, thanks."

"You're welcome! But you should really get up now! I need to wake up Yune too, and -" Off Suzaku went babbling about giving her a bath, and how difficult that was because she hated baths, and … Lelouch just sighed, already knowing he'd wind up helping Suzaku.

This really was the beginning of a beautiful relationship, he thought.