The Japanese people fell in love with Lelouch vi Britannia before they really knew him, but once they became acquainted there was no change. If anything his following became that much more fervent once he temporarily took over Area Eleven in place of the disgraced Prince Clovis. By law Clovis still ruled but everyone, even Suzaku, would admit they'd die for Lelouch before they bowed for Clovis. Lelouch was half Japanese and beautiful and he had saved the life of Kururugi Suzaku on live TV, the son of the equally disgraced Kururugi Genbu, former prime minister.
Suzaku had been there to promote the honorary Britannian program, looking sharp in his uniform and smiling despite his nervousness. There had been others there too; a Politician, an actress, the head of a major banking firm and other prominent persons who had managed to make it through the war. Of the incident Suzaku really only remembered three things. The first was that despite the smiles and polite applause there was a feeling of forced cheerfulness that made him uncomfortable. It had been obvious after only a little while that he was the only one truly happy to be there, making his country…or attempting to make his country proud as a young man looking to a new horizon with as much grace and dignity as he could muster, a Japanese turned Eleven turned Honorary Britannian desperately hopeful to shatter the status quo. After the first half-hour of angry glares from the assembled Japanese below Suzaku's nerves had begun to crumble and he was dreading the moment that the two princes would make it to the end of the line. He didn't want to stutter in front of the world.
The second thing he remembered was the third time the Eleventh prince had looked him in the eye. The first contact had only been a sweeping gaze and brief. Suzaku had never seen that particular shade of lavender anywhere but in the Emperor's eyes, and even Charles' weren't so deep, so strikingly lined with thick black lashes, and pale skin. Prince Lelouch had looked like royalty in a way that Clovis didn't. His beauty was unassuming, natural, unlike Clovis' embellishments and grand, sweeping, ridiculous personality. Suzaku hadn't been so much awestruck as he'd been captivated, his nervousness increasing when he imagined looking into that face head-on.
It had been disappointing when the Prince had looked at him again, with a bored glazed stare marring the sheen as he scanned the line.
Then the Prince paused, his eyes sliding back down the line instead of moving forward again. Suzaku had blushed for the first time in a decade, realizing suddenly that he'd been caught staring like the fool he was when he should be waiting respectfully with his arms at his sides and his face forward. Still, he didn't look away, and couldn't bring himself to compound his embarrassment by seeming to be afraid even though he'd never been more nervous in his life.
The third memory wasn't much of a memory at all, just a rush of sensation and instinct that began with the same Prince's sudden lunge as he pushed Suzaku out of the way of a flashing knife. Suzaku felt a prick against his neck and saw a slash of blood. Those lavender eyes winced and for a moment they were pressed together, the prince at his front and the would-be murderer at his back.
Then there had been a cacophony as Suzaku took a hold of the only weapon available to him, shielded the prince, and without looking behind himself, he wasn't able to look, Suzaku struck the assassin through the heart with an ornate, jewel-encrusted sword. He had shoved the body off his back with an elbow, drawn the blade out of its chest and then turned it on the actor who was suddenly too close with some sort of weapon in his hand. Later he would discover it was a derringer and that if he hadn't been there the bullet inside of it would have shot straight through the Prince's head. Instead Suzaku felt a bright pinch of pain in his chest and a hot spray of blood as the tip of the blade cut cleanly through the man's neck. The actor fell back, someone finally screamed, guards jerked forward, and Suzaku dropped the sword. It landed with a clatter and Suzaku was on his knees just as quickly as he asked, "Are you alright?"
The Prince looked just as confused and shocked as Suzaku felt but he had enough wits about him to say, "I'm fine. You've been shot."
"Oh." Suzaku had said, wobbling a little as the world went blurry. He put a hand up to his chest and the fingertips came back crimson and dripping. They both stared at his hand for a moment.
"This is a little awkward," Suzaku slurred, sitting back hard on his heels. Only the prince's grip on his jacket kept him from sprawling into the bloody mess of bodies behind them. Instead Suzaku fell forward and they both landed in a pile, the prince exhaling in a grunt. Their faces were close enough that Suzaku, had he not been losing a significant amount of blood, would have felt a bit…lost.
Lelouch vi Britannia, seventeenth heir to the throne, smiled a little shakily and laughed, "No kidding."
And then, despite his very best efforts, Kururugi Suzaku passed out.
Saving the life of royalty gave Suzaku access to an entirely different world. He spent most of the Prince's visit recovering in the hospital, watching as Clovis announced reform after reform on the television. Legally he was still in charge of Area Eleven but the media still managed to get a few shots of his brother as he traveled from place to place while surrounded by a solid wall of suspicious knights. By the third day of Prince Lelouch's visit Area Eleven's administration passed integration laws that left most of the nobility with a permanent sneer; no former Japanese could be banned from a Britannian facility in Area Eleven. Suddenly the Japanese were allowed to travel, to go to school if they could afford it and eat dinner wherever the hell they liked.
Becoming an Honorary Britannian was no longer a three-year process. Children born in Area Eleven automatically had honorary status and adults with a job could have a temporary pass while their paperwork went through. After cutting a swath through the convoluted bureaucracy citizenship could be earned in as little as six months.
Unfortunately the Japanese knew that these changes were mostly theoretical, Clovis would never be able to stomach progression, but it was nice to see someone try for once, and a prince no less. Terrorism dipped in ferocity and curiously any event the Eleventh Prince attended progressed without a single hitch while Clovis was still having trouble keeping eggshells and paint off of his various transports. His statue was regularly beheaded.
Suzaku left the hospital with a new scar and, curiously enough, a basket of fruit topped with a large purple bow. The fruit had been delivered by a very tall man with an odd laugh and a lab coat who said a lot of things that Suzaku didn't really understand but seemed to be some sort of positive encouragement to recover quickly. Being in a hospital Suzaku had assumed that the man was one of his many doctors and asked for a little more morphine.
The man said something about not wanting to put foreign chemicals in one of his new parts. Suzaku went to sleep under the assumption that he was hallucinating but when he woke the basket was still there and inconveniently out of reach.
When Suzaku returned to the barracks he was met with a mixture of resentment and…resentment. His fellow soldiers hated that he was in the right place at the right time and his superiors had a serious issue with the fact that an Eleven had done what their best security officers couldn't. When the strange man in the lab coat reappeared he found Suzaku sitting on his bunk, eating an apple and wondering how the hell he managed to get himself into so much trouble. To make matters so much better the hallucination from the hospital showed up grinning.
"Time to go!" The strange man announced, throwing his arms joyously in the air while Suzaku stared. He leaned over to see a much more composed woman standing behind the man and she informed him, while he was being dragged to some sort of transport what was happening was that Suzaku was now Warrant Officer Kururugi, potential pilot for the experimental knightmare frame Lancelot.
Suzaku hadn't said a single word in between the moment he had been retrieved and the moment he was sent up on the towline to get into the machine, but by that time he was too nervous to speak.
There was a 99.97% chance that Suzaku was going to fail miserably and be punted back to the army corps.
"My name is Lloyd, by the way." The scientist said as Suzaku was getting comfortable in the cockpit. Manners finally prompted Suzaku's higher reasoning functions.
"Nice to meet you, Lloyd," Suzaku said breathlessly, "My name's Suzaku."
"So I've been told," Lloyd laughed that odd, wild near-shriek, and said, "Ready to fail?"
"Ready when you are," Suzaku groused back, scowling. From all the sedate, bored faces in the lab it had quickly become apparent that Suzaku was the only one who appreciated the fact that the glass was .03% full. Lloyd laughed again, but a little more sedately and with a curious gleam in his eyes as he smiled.
"I think we're going to get along," Lloyd said, "Let's begin!"
Suzaku showed them what he was capable of doing with just that .03% and when he was finished no one was laughing.
"Excellent as usual, Kururugi-kun!" Lloyd gave him the thumbs-up sign as Suzaku jumped off the towline of the powered-down Lancelot. He felt dirty and a little sweaty but always satisfied with a job well-done.
"Happy to please." Suzaku sighed, pulling down the zipper of the flight suit. "The environmental controls are broken, by the way."
"That's what I forgot!" Lloyd grinned and began scribbling on a notepad at his side. Walking up the steps Suzaku could just make out, 'He didn't pass out! Again! Phenomenon suggests user interface-'
Suzaku stopped walking and let his head hang, sighing as he started peeling out of his layers. He had found in his time with the R&D lab that it was easier to pretend Lloyd was a well-meaning child who hadn't quite caught on that the ants would catch fire if you tilted the magnifying glass just so, they weren't just bursting into flame because you were looking at them …it was just that some days Suzaku couldn't figure out if he was the ant or the magnifying glass and just sort of wished he could make Lloyd drink some cough syrup and just put him to-
The metaphor seduced Suzaku into a small smile as Lloyd continued running off at the mouth about something that was probably revolutionary, technically speaking, but was entirely wasted on someone who hadn't even finished high school.
Cecile gave him a small but sincere smile before going back to her computer, lines of data running across her screen so quickly that to Suzaku there was nothing but a blur.
Taking it all in, the massive computers, the shining steel walls, and Lancelot standing like a sentry in the middle of the hangar…it wasn't the first time Suzaku wondered why it was he that had been chosen to be a pilot when he knew for sure that there were other Britannians who were potentially just as capable.
Still, it was a start. Suzaku stared at Lancelot and saw more than an exquisite instrument of war. He saw options, he saw a beginning that had started to become more of a fantasy than a dream. Suzaku had forsaken his country for the chance to change another and that was exactly what he intended to do.
Then he got the summons from Pendragon.
Suzaku was lead through the palace by a servant…butler…immaculately dressed, extremely tall person who looked at him once, turned on his heel, and never acknowledged Suzaku again. From the inside the hallways seemed grander than the white towers outside, high and arcing in a rich dark wood Suzaku couldn't name. There weren't the gilded accoutrements that Suzaku had expected, nor sculpted marble, but the carpet seemed to be a world you could get lost in with miraculous knights, kings and queens re-enacting fables every few yards. Suzaku had never been more nervous just walking, suddenly grateful that Cecil had included a new pair of boots even if they were uncomfortable.
They stopped in front of a simple looking door with a brass doorknob and when one of the two posted guards knocked on it Suzaku felt the blood rush from his face. The butler left and when he was alone the guards began to smirk, glancing at each other as if sharing a private joke.
"It's alright lad," One of them whispered, "As far as I know this one doesn't attack without warning."
The other one added, "Inhale, exhale…that's it, son. Don't listen to him he's full of shit."
Suzaku started feeling less lightheaded when he added, "I've never heard him give any warning."
Suzaku took a breath, didn't faint, and managed to stand tall when a muffled voice announced, "Enter."
They opened the door, suddenly the perfect picture of a perfect pair of protectors and Suzaku walked in, careful to avoid the raised threshold. He didn't want to make his first entrance by falling flat on his face. He stopped a few feet in, careful not to flinch when the door closed behind him.
At first he didn't see where the voice had come from, the window was open and had blinded him, but after a moment of scanning he made out a dark shadow the corner. Suzaku turned towards Lelouch vi Britannia and bowed low, murmuring, "My lord."
For a moment there was nothing but silence as Suzaku tried to regulate his breathing and hold his stance, nothing but the feel of his heart pounding really touching him.
"You do that very well," the prince said, sounding amused, "Come sit with me Warrant Officer Kururugi."
There was a simple thrill in Suzaku's acknowledgment, first his bow, then his name and status. In the space of a few seconds Suzaku felt much more confident in his place and his grasp of the situation. Still, he stepped forward, careful not to look cautious, but letting his eyes adjust before finally standing near a small table. The prince was already seated, an ink pen in his left hand and a document before him. He wrote something in a few elegant movements and then nodded to the chair directly in front of himself. Suzaku pulled it out, sat on it, and waited out the silence.
After adding something to what seemed to be a list the prince finally looked up, not exactly smiling but not passive either; a little inquisitive, maybe amused, and still in possession of the most beautiful eyes Suzaku had ever seen.
The prince nodded to the side where a slim phone was resting on the table.
Suzaku reached for the phone and the prince began to attend his list again while Suzaku looked for the correct buttons. Under the record of recent calls Suzaku found one marked 'Service'. He pressed the talk button.
After a few rings someone finally answered.
"What Lelouch. I told you I'd be in an appointment with father," The voice was a hissed whisper, "There had better be an uprising or I swear to god-"
Suzaku heard the woman's voice and tone on the other end of the line, a voice every Japanese had become familiar with during the war, and realized that he'd just interrupted Cornelia vi Britannia in the middle of a meeting with the Emperor. People like him had been incarcerated for less.
"My deepest apologies, your highness. I seem to have called the wrong number."
After a moment, "What?! Who is this? Only Lelouch knows this line…if you've done something to him-"
"No, your highness, absolutely not." Suzaku fisted his trembling hand. "The Prince is perfectly fine. I just-"
"Called the wrong number," The Princess said dryly, "Hand the phone to my brother."
Suzaku immediately passed the phone, a hot coal would have been more comfortable in his hand, and was not surprised in the least to see a small smile on the prince's face, though Suzaku, if he were thinking properly, should have been expecting a glare.
"It's me." Lelouch said shortly, turning to look out the window. Of the few words Suzaku heard from the other line none of them were repeatable in polite company.
"It seems I have mistakenly entered your number where the pager for the kitchens should be." Then after a glance over, "Well, if I didn't know better I'd say he was going to combust at any moment."
Suzaku realized that he had blushed again, and knew his face was red-hot even without having to touch the skin. When he was a child he'd been teased mercilessly for the same thing. He was not overly surprised that a prince and a princess would have the same sense of humor as eight year old boys.
"Of course." The prince said, looking oddly pleased. "Shall I hand you over?"
Suzaku felt lightheaded again but he accepted the phone with a calm stare, pulling forward every battle technique he knew to keep an easy head.
"Yes, Your Highness?"
"The service number is under Clovis' name."
Suzaku listened to the quiet beep of the line disconnecting and then scrolled down the contact numbers to find 'His Royal Highness 99th Emperor Clovis li Brainless' and connected to the kitchens.
"Yes, Your Highness?"
"Prince Lelouch would like some tea." Suzaku kept his hysterical laughter under a tight grip.
"Where and what kind, sir?"
Suzaku put a hand over the receiver and asked, "What flavor would you like, my Lord?"
"The usual," He said, "And whatever you'd like, of course."
Suzaku took a moment to take in the room and remember the name of the tea he'd been drinking every morning for the last decade of his life. There was the table, a few couches, a small wet bar, a balcony, and in the mirror on the left-hand wall Suzaku could just make out the open door of a room with a canopied bed in the corner. The bookcase next to it was filled well-used bindings and sizes and shapes of every kind.
"My Lord would like his usual and green tea in the receiving room of his personal quarters."
"It will be up in five minutes, sir."
"The tea will arrive in five minutes, My Lord." Suzaku said, close to sighing when the prince's pleased expression never faltered.
"You know," He went back to his writing, "Of all the hundreds of Japanese I've met not a single one has ever asked for green tea."
Suzaku chose not to respond to what sounded like an observation. Lelouch looked up for a moment, his eyes a quick flash, as he asked, "How did you know these were my quarters?"
Folding his hands on top of the table (one thing Suzaku knew for sure about dealing with important people was that you should never look as if you were hiding something) Suzaku said, "I can see the reflection of your bedroom on the mirror closest to the far wall."
The prince's head lifted, the fastest move Suzaku seen so far, and turned to look at the mirror behind him, his eyes began darting across the room from reflective surface to reflective surface until he was looking at Suzaku with wide eyes. Lelouch stood and walked directly behind Suzaku, returning with a picture frame that he promptly threw off the balcony. There was a small scream of surprise and the tinkling noise of shattered glass before he returned, taking the seat and settling as if he'd never left. The chain of reflection had disappeared with the painting's removal, and the prince murmured, "Thank you."
"Anything, my Lord." Suzaku murmured back, nodding a small bow.
Tea arrived and looking down at the table Lelouch vi Britannia smiled.
Roughly forty-five minutes after entering the palace, Suzaku had gotten acquainted with Lelouch vi Britannia, had enraged his sister, and interrupted a meeting with the emperor. He had ordered tea, green, made the prince toss a piece of furniture off the balcony and discovered that Lelouch had the same opinion of his brother as the rest of the world did. Suzaku did all of these things with his heart pounding and his blood rearranging into places it shouldn't be while also not staring. When the prince suggested a game of chess Suzaku nearly sighed in relief.
Then he lost spectacularly, the prince frowned a little, and Suzaku's heart was back trying to make an escape through his ribs.
"I want to try an experiment," The prince moved the sculpted ivory and ebony pieces back into their places with ease, and then took away all of Suzaku's pawns except for one. For a moment Suzaku despaired, but the prince only wore a look of concentration, not disgust.
Their next game progressed much more slowly. Suzaku knew the prince was toying with him, but he didn't seem to be deriving pleasure from his inevitable win. He just kept watching the board and every once in a while, when Suzaku took a long, long time to move, he'd glance up at Suzaku's face. Suzaku was distracted enough by the game that the prince's inquisitiveness didn't bother him. Despite his best efforts Suzaku lost again.
"I could have killed your king twenty times," the prince said, picking up the crowned figure, "but I could have only gotten your pawn twice."
Suzaku wondered why it mattered and Lelouch took that one pawn and set it in that vacant space, putting the king where the pawn had rested.
"The king should always lead his people into battle," Lelouch said absently, then he looked up, "Do you agree, Kururugi?"
Suzaku would have squirmed under the stare of any other man, but under the Prince's regard he said only, "I am only a soldier, my Lord… I move where I am played."
"Does this bother you?"
"Of course not, my Lord."
Lelouch took the black king in his fingers and twirled it expertly, his eyes searching Suzaku's for something, but Suzaku couldn't tell what. All he could do was sit and wait.
"You know, I think I believe you." Lelouch set the king down between them with a decisive thump. "Come with me. We're going for a little walk."
"Do you like mazes?" Prince Lelouch pointed to a high wall of shrubberies that they had happened past without Suzaku really noticing. He'd been far too preoccupied with the prince and looking at all the other wonders that the Britannian palace so casually displayed. Unlike his father's spare but elegant garden everything on the grounds seemed larger than life. The flowers were brighter and bloomed with beautiful bobbing heads, watched over by grand marble figures of beautiful women or noble men, of children and fairytale animals.
Lelouch had gestured absently to a brass rendition of a spaniel, and said, "That's where they buried my dog," and then, smiling at Suzaku's expression, added, "I was eight and completely distraught. I stopped eating and all of that dramatic dribble."
"What was his name?" Suzaku looked at the plaque but time had made the words illegible. When Suzaku stood up he saw that Lelouch had a small, bemused (slightly embarrassed) expression on his face.
"You know, I don't remember."
"Oh." Suzaku could remember every single one of his pet's names. Even the carp that only lived a day.
"Do you think worse of me now?" They started walking again and butterflies took to the air.
"Well, you were only eight, my Lord." Suzaku watched the prince watch him, "And I'm sure you had more pets after that-"
"No, only that one."
Suzaku had started saying something around the likes of, "Um…" when the prince saved the conversation with a hedge-shaped segue.
"Of course." Suzaku sighed in relief. "Everyone like mazes."
The prince nodded, looking as lovely as the garden with the sun shining on his face, his dark hair looking like silk and his eyes bright with some kind of mischief. As Suzaku watched he reached down, plucking a columbine from the ground and handing it forward. For a moment their fingers mingled, the pale skin of the prince's hand making Suzaku's own seem very dark. He felt awkward, calloused and thick-limbed, but Lelouch nodded in satisfaction, saying, "We'll give it up as an offering when we reach the middle. Lead on, Warrant Officer Kururugi."
Suzaku started to get a funny feeling in his stomach, as if things weren't entirely what they seemed. It was odd enough to be suddenly summoned by a prince, an eleventh prince, no less, and it was another thing entirely to be alone with that prince in an enclosed space for what seemed to be no reason at all. He thought of these things, adding up smiles and questions, and the little ways the prince seemed to be saying something without actually saying anything, just watching as Suzaku did what he was asked or told to do with a look in his eyes that wasn't exactly friendly, but…Suzaku noticed that they had taken too many rights, looked up at the sun and backtracked, leading straight and then right again.
Next to him the prince simply strolled, following docilely with his hands in his pockets. With his head tipped forward Suzaku could only see a swing of hair so he could only guess what the look on his face might have been. The whole scenario had started to make Suzaku feel a little nervous. They had spent the whole day together, saved each other's lives, and all Suzaku knew about him was…quite a lot, Suzaku realized, stopping suddenly enough that the prince walked into his back.
"Whoops, sorry." Suzaku didn't want to but he had to grab Lelouch by the waist to keep him from falling over. He was glad to see that the man was only slightly startled as Suzaku set him to rights, not enraged that a commoner had touched his royal personage.
"I got distracted, my Lord, but I think we're getting close to the middle of the maze." Suzaku held up a hand and checked the position of the sun again, "Almost there."
"If you know where we are, what did you get distracted by?" Lelouch watched him keenly, not bothering to acknowledge that he must have been equally distracted to walk right into Suzaku's back when he was already three paces away.
Suzaku knew that Prince Lelouch was an excellent strategist, had an odd sense of humor, wasn't above playing pranks, had the same tea every day, read voraciously, and was curious to the point of distraction. Suzaku also knew that his first impression of poise and authority had been stunningly accurate. Being around Prince Lelouch was addicting, having his full attention was frightening and thrilling. He was brave, brave enough to save a stranger when his own life was on the line. And for Suzaku, invited to this place by this prince, there was no reason for him to be afraid.
"Thank you," Suzaku said quietly, "Thank you for the Lancelot."
The prince smiled, and for the first time since they met he looked happy.
"You're welcome." Lelouch said, just as softly.
Then, in a whisper, "You should let me go before people start getting ideas."
Suzaku lessened his hold and confused, looked around saying, "But there aren't any people-"
Then there was the soft brush of fingertips against his neck, sliding against his jaw when Suzaku looked back in surprise. Lelouch was touching his face, brushing his hair back with his thumb and Suzaku's body, much more aware than his brain, tightened its hold on the prince's waist. Leaning forward, his hands cupping Suzaku's jaw, the prince was close enough that Suzaku could feel his breath against his lips, warming them even in the heat of the sunlight. Despite all that Suzaku was simply caught up in his eyes, dark and narrowed with intent as he whispered, their mouths almost brushing together, "Like I said."
Suzaku exhaled shakily and forced himself to look away as he let his hand slip its grasp until they were apart again.
"I'll lead the rest of the way." Lelouch said, smoothing out his shirt as he started forward. "Don't forget the flower."
Suzaku picked the columbine up off the grass with a shaking hand, and when he turned the prince was entirely composed, but still watching with those dark, dark eyes.
The flower was for Princess Cornelia who was waiting in the middle of the maze with a man standing stiffly by her side. Suzaku gave it over to Lelouch when the prince opened his hand and Cornelia smiled, laughing softly at her younger brother as she told him to sit down. Suzaku stayed near Lelouch, standing a little awkwardly as the man beside Cornelia stared him down.
"Sister, allow me to introduce Warrant Officer Kururugi," There was no trace of the entanglement only minutes ago that Suzaku could see but Cornelia twirled the flower between her fingers with an assessing look in her eyes. "Warrant Officer, Lady Cornelia."
"We've spoken," Cornelia said wryly, giving Suzaku a slow glance, up and down. "Don't worry, I didn't tell the Emperor."
"Thank you, your highness." Suzaku didn't like how weak his voice sounded, but Cornelia had a reputation of despising former numbers, honorary Britannians or not. She ignored him anyways, for which Suzaku was immensely grateful, instead turning back to Lelouch who was smiling in such a way that even Suzaku felt a little provoked.
"I believe we have a wager," Lelouch said, crossing his legs, "Do you agree?"
Cornelia cursed under her breath and then looked to the man behind her. "Sir Guilford?"
"As you wish, my Lady."
"Wonderful." The prince turned, "Suzaku, would you like to participate in this wager on my behalf?"
"Of course, my Lord."
Lelouch had just said his name; Suzaku would have agreed to do pretty much anything. He envisioned many things he might have to do in a wager between a prince and a princess, but when the man next to her started taking off his jacket, Suzaku was fairly sure of the event. Suzaku removed and folded the Cecil's carefully tailored suit, feeling a little self-conscious bare-chested, but leaving the tank top would just be another handle for Gilford to grab.
Sir Gilford stepped forward, also clad in only in his uniform pants and dropped into a stance that was standard military training. Suzaku loosened his joints and prepared his mind for fighting. He ignored the others in favor of staring Gilford in the eye. The man was calm and steady, showing no emotion and none of the smug superiority that Suzaku had deal with every day in the Britannian army.
Still…there was nothing there. Sir Guilford was a knight doing as he was ordered but Suzaku was fighting for the prince. He told himself, wished, hoped that if he won the fight he'd win the prince's favor too, or just the right to be near him. At that moment Suzaku had no other purpose, not to fight but to win, for his own honor and to gain a trust that he desperately wanted.
If I win, Suzaku whispered even in his thoughts, If I win then maybe I won't have to be alone.
Guilford blinked, almost a flinch, and quickly settled into a different stance, not standard military, and Cornelia said, "Go."
Suzaku thought; fountain, three meters tall, Guilford roughly 220 pounds, deep frigid water, two hundred square feet to move, minus the space where the royalty had chosen to sit, mild sunny weather, smooth flagstones.
Guilford darted forward and then followed Suzaku's feint to the left. The space between them was wide open when Suzaku dragged his arm through the fountain's basin and drenched the flagstones between them, turning the surface slick and dangerous. In the back of his mind Suzaku noted Lelouch's delighted laugh, in the process of changing the terrain Suzaku had also changed himself. He ran his hands through his hair to dry his palms, but the rest of his skin was soaking wet. He was also counting on his feet to be rougher than the knight's as he was often forced to practice away from the smooth training ground and on rough cement. Guilford's pampered feet would be like socks on a linoleum floor. Suzaku darted forward, no more playing.
What he knew after thirty seconds: Guilford was built like a fucking rock. Still, Suzaku was faster, smaller, and had better reflexes. The few blows he had caught hurt, but nearly five years of being regularly beaten down by Todou had left an impression. His sensei had been a large man too.
Guilford grunted when Suzaku brought his elbow back into his ribs. Both of them, and probably Cornelia, knew that something in there had been cracked, but Guilford pressed on, punching Suzaku hard enough that he had to back into a roll or tend a broken cheekbone. While Guilford's arm was still extended Suzaku's foot was already kicking out, taking Guilford hard in his abdomen and completely unbalancing him. A princess's personal knight should have been able to pull himself together, and Guilford most certainly would have had he not slipped on the flagstones.
Only Suzaku's quick grab kept Guilford from braining himself on the side of the fountain, but even that wasn't gentle. He pulled Guilford closer just to bring his fist up hard into the man's solar plexus. Out of air and landing hard, Guilford was still up on his feet in seconds, swaying a little, but allowing Suzaku to retreat a few steps back and get out of his crouch. He didn't intend on keeping his skull at kicking level.
Then they were at it again, a tangle bodies moving violently from one side to the other. Suzaku caught another hit to the head, but when they moved apart Guilford was favoring his left arm and keeping his weight off of his left ankle. Suzaku felt like he'd been run over by a horse and he was pretty sure that the white dots in his peripheral vision shouldn't have been there. He flexed his left hand and realized some of his fingers were broken, the taste in his mouth coppery. He looked up to see Guilford spit a spray of blood and something that plopped into the fountain's water. Guilford turned his head, Suzaku stared back, and they both exchanged smiles.
Just as Suzaku was about to throw himself up into the fountain again Cornelia walked into the middle of the battlefield, her hand raised. She looked a little bewildered, a little amused, but mostly angry as she turned to face Suzaku with her hands on her hips.
"Who taught you to fight like that?"
"General Todou, your Highness." Suzaku barely kept himself from bowing to his opponent. He almost kept himself from wincing when he had to mention Todou's name, but to his relief and astonishment Cornelia only laughed. For a moment she was comfortable, calm, and Suzaku realized why everyone called her a beauty. Once the intimidation factor was taken away it was easy to see the grace of a princess of Britannia and not only a vicious warrior.
She looked over to Lelouch, and said, "Trial basis."
The prince smiled and twirled the columbine between his fingers.
"Should I call for a medic, Kururugi?" The prince sat back at his chair and started to write again. All Suzaku could think was that had to be the longest letter ever written by man, the way he was at it so often. He watched for a moment as Lelouch squinted before walking over to pull the chain on a nearby lamp. The sun was beginning to set and the room had darkened considerably. The prince looked up with a slightly startled expression, before saying, "Thank you."
"I should be fine if there's a first aid kit nearby, my Lord."
"Down the hall, left door, in one of the cupboards. Try not to get blood everywhere."
"Yes, my Lord."
Suzaku entered the room carefully, using the hem of his clean undershirt to open the door. The room was everything the hall outside hadn't been. Decorated with large marble columns and a few carved statues, angels, with accents of what Suzaku could only assume was gold. The shower had five different knobs, and next to the enormous bathtub there were row upon row of delicate crystal bottles. The sinks were just as ornate under the largest mirror Suzaku had ever seen. It spanned the whole wall to reveal the entire bathroom in its reflection. He guessed that the prince wasn't the self-conscious type and found a row of cupboards, scenes of gardens and the palace carved into the polished wood.
After a few moments of searching he found a large first-aid kit and a towel dark enough that it wouldn't show bloodstains. He took it to one of the sinks and ran warm water, drenching the towel before holding it up to his face with a sigh. He'd been hit hardest in the face and the warmth, the softness, took the sharp edge off of the pain.
Keeping his eyes closed he tried to dab the dried blood off of his face, the sweat, the dirt and eventually felt as if he wiped away an entire layer of skin. For a moment he looked into his reflection (scratch on his temple, deep purple bruise on his cheekbone, lumps hidden in hair) and smiled a little. Despite a truly incredible beating he'd managed to draw a match with one of Lady Cornelia's personal knights, and in front of the prince no less.
"If you want to you can take a shower." The prince's voice came from the doorway and Suzaku flinched, despite being able to see the entire room, somehow the mirror was angled in such a way that he hadn't known he was being watched. Suzaku looked over, feeling foolish for jumping, but the prince simply looked on.
"No, my Lord. I'm fine, all I need-"
"Let me put it this way," The prince sighed, a bit of a smile turning his lips, "You stink. Take a shower."
"Yes, my Lord." Somehow his blush made the bruises feel worse, he winced a little and the prince went to the cupboards, opened one and threw Suzaku a towel and a fresh bar of soap. Suzaku caught them both with one hand in a brief juggling act that made him smile at himself. When he looked up the prince said, "The cold water is the left-side handle."
The prince was smiling too.
Suzaku was warm and dressed in a new outfit when he finally exited the bathroom with his cuts cleaned and bandaged and a few of his fingers taped together. He found himself wearing white again. First Lloyd, then Cecil, now the prince…for some reason people like to dress him up in clothing that got dirty whenever he glanced at a patch of grass the wrong way. Looking at the Prince's bowed head Suzaku blushed a little. His dirty clothes had been gone when he stepped out of the shower and it was possible, in a horrifyingly embarrassing way that the Prince may have not only seen him naked, but naked and singing softly as he washed his hair.
Were warrant officers allowed to sing in front of royalty? And in Japanese no less…but the prince was just writing still, this time on a mostly empty piece of thick cream paper. Next to him there was a small red candle burning and what looked to be a heavy ring. In front of that…Suzaku's mouth started to water.
"Come eat," Lelouch said, "If nothing else you've earned a fine meal."
Suzaku didn't need to be told twice. He was on a chair in front of the prince in only a moment, cutting into a thick steak that was so tender and wonderfully flavored that he couldn't help but make a little hum of satisfaction and dig in for more, suddenly ravenous as the warm atmosphere soothed him into a sort of peace. When he had finally cleaned the plate with a swipe of bread he smiled broadly and looked up to see the prince staring, his eyes wide and his mouth open, leaning on the palm of his hand.
"Do they starve you in the army?"
"Ah, no." Suzaku was confused enough that he had to add "My Lord," a few seconds after the statement.
"You-" The prince leaned over, making a little noise of surprise, "I can see my reflection."
"…it was really good, my Lord." Was all Suzaku could say, blushing yet again. The prince looked up and they were suddenly very close with Lelouch leaning halfway across the table to look him in the eye.
He opened and closed his mouth, a number of expressions flashing across his face before he settled with a curious, "Tell me, would you like dessert…or perhaps another steak? Are you still hungry?"
Suzaku cleared his throat a little, and managed, "…ah..."
The little growl of his stomach gave him away and Lelouch looked down with wide-eyed astonishment, murmuring, "Well…I suppose that answers the question, doesn't it?"
Then before Suzaku could apologize, his mouth had gone pretty dry, the prince was on the phone again ordering, "Chicken this time…yes…and some sort of-" He made a face at the phone and gestured in the air before concluding, "Pie, I suppose. Do you make that sort of thing? Wonderful…what do you mean, what kind?"
Suzaku bit on his lip hard enough that he nearly re-opened the cut. The prince was looking curious again, saying, "Really?"
His eyes glanced up at Suzaku again and for a moment Suzaku felt normal, just sitting with the prince as he discovered the depth and variety of pie with a bemused look on his face.
"A slice of every kind you have." He said, gesturing again in the air, "Big slices."
For a moment Suzaku was afraid he was going to have to eat half the kitchen when the prince added, "And two forks."
Then, and Suzaku actually had to choke on a laugh, Prince Lelouch froze and blurted, "Toppings?"
Suzaku ducked his head, bit down on his hand, and tried to keep his shoulders from shaking too hard.
They were halfway through tasting a half dozen different slices of excellent pie when a sweet voice called, "Lelouch…may I come in?"
The prince startled and ended up making a loud slightly choked sound as he tried to speak through a full mouth. After about a quarter hour into the pie festival the prince had found out that the rhubarb pie that he had turned his nose up at originally was a halo short of divine and ordered up the rest. He'd given Suzaku a hard time about having an endless stomach, but he'd managed four large pieces of pie and was already nearly halfway through the rhubarb, whipped cream and all. Once Suzaku had found himself to be actually full, and he couldn't remember the last time that had been the case, he'd just nibbled on the chocolate cream and watched as the prince very princely stuffed his face.
He sent a look to Suzaku and started to re-try chewing and swallowing.
"Come in." Suzaku called, looking over his shoulder at the door. It opened to reveal a pale face and a silky spill of pink hair.
"Lelouch, I'm sorry. I didn't know you were still having-" Then she looked at the disaster on the table, her eyebrows nearing her hairline as Lelouch made a bad job of trying to discretely wipe off his face. Finally he just sighed, letting his fork drop back into the dish, "Come in, Euphemia."
The door opened further to reveal a beautiful young lady in a frilled gown. She smiled warmly in his direction and Suzaku stood, bowing and catching his chair before it could tip over from the sudden movement, "Your Highness."
"May I present Suzaku Kururugi," Lelouch stood and moved a chair from the side to the table, "He's the young man who saved my life while I was on tour in Area Eleven."
"Oh, how wonderful!" Euphemia vi Britannia fairly skipped to his side, extending a hand that Suzaku held gently, kissing the air just above her skin. She giggled again, clapping her hands together when he stood, "Wonderful! Don't you think, Lulu? You're perfect, Suzaku…may I call you Suzaku? Wait, I've heard that Elevens usually say their names-"
"He's not an Eleven," Lelouch stood and took his sister by the elbow, "He's an honorary Britannian. I'm sure he'll be thrilled if you call him by his first name."
Euphemia sat very gracefully as the prince pushed in her chair.
"Thrilled and honored," Suzaku returned, smiling helplessly as the girl surveyed the table with a small noise of awe.
Lelouch took his seat again and Suzaku followed, waiting for some kind of cue as Euphemia took a fingertip of whipped cream and put in her mouth.
"Lelouch, I thought you hated sweets?" She took another finger-full and smiled when her brother blushed, looking down at the remnants of what used to a pie. "Rhubarb?"
"Yes," Lelouch sat back in his chair, "It's not so sweet."
"Hm," She agreed after stealing the used fork and trying some of her own, "Very good."
"Shall I have some brought up?" The Prince looked a little exasperated, a little embarrassed, but his face closed off completely when Euphemia declared-
"Oh, no! I just came to meet your Knight!"
It had been close in the doorway at the beginning of the afternoon, but this time Suzaku jerked his face towards the Princess and very nearly fainted. The world went fuzzy around the edges before he finally took a deep breath and focused on Euphemia, listening intently as he forced himself to breathe. If it was true-
"Cornelia said he was very handsome and polite," She continued to twitter, between little tastes, "And you should have seen the look on Sir Guilford's face! I thought she was kidding when she said he was an Eleven, but here you are-"
She finally looked up at Suzaku and her smile turned from sudden confusion to a horrified blush as she looked back to her brother.
"Oh, dear. You haven't told him. Lulu, I'm so sorry…"
What steadied Suzaku was the small expression of disappointment that glanced across the Prince's face as he said, "No, Euphemia. I'm afraid I got sidetracked by dessert."
"Oh, Lulu," the princess said, her eyes gleaming wetly as she repeated, "I'm so sorry."
"It's alright," The Prince smiled warmly and patted the back of her hand, "Now, let's finish while you tell me about your day."
Suzaku did his best to look calm and normal when she glanced back to him, going as far as to take another bite of his pie while he and the Prince didn't look at each other. She smiled a little sadly and did as she was told, outlining a day of lessons; school, embroidery, etiquette, horseback riding, foreign languages, and finally dinner with her sister. The prince commented where he should, agreed and disagreed, but it was all with a flat look in his eyes, as if he wasn't really in the room.
"Oh, and I spoke briefly with Nunnaly."
A spark of life came back to Lelouch's face as he asked, "And how is she doing?"
"Very well," Euphemia smiled and stood, "She asked me to tell you she's having a splendid time and will call you soon."
Again Lelouch rose and helped Euphemia out of her chair, but even Suzaku could tell that his smile was a little false. Suzaku stood and bowed, giving his farewells and very suddenly they were alone, the door shut and locked by the Prince's hand. He walked over to a nearby table and picked up what Suzaku saw to be his writing supplies and the many sheaves of paper. Suzaku tried to help but the Prince batted his hand away and cleared the plates himself, wiping a cloth over their half of the table before setting the papers down.
They were close, sitting shoulder to shoulder, and just like that, not even touching, Suzaku felt as if they were back inside the maze with the Prince's fingers trailing over his face. Suzaku took the paper that was handed to him in silence and began to read.
June 25th '52, noon-24th interview for a personal knight
Warrant Officer Kururugi Suzaku, 17 years old 5'9" brown hair, green eyes and of Japanese origin
He acted quickly and effortlessly in Japan, not a single wasted movement and moved swiftly enough to use the decorative sword for something useful. He either has a sense of humor or the blood loss was worse than it seemed. He was watching me from the first moment I stepped on the platform, but not with any sort of intent. It wasn't uncomfortable to be looked at by him.
The bow is obviously practiced, but perfect. With further use his etiquette could be exquisite. He's nervous but seems to be handling it well. He's waited for nearly five minutes now and hasn't fidgeted once. Waiting seems to be natural to him then, and patience, he hasn't simply picked an object to stare at like the others. He's watchful as he waits.
He uses the phone better than I do, apparently, and takes sudden orders well even though he's unfamiliar with the protocol. Obviously terrified when Cornelia answered, but he never stuttered for even a moment. Again, his manners were impeccable. He was amused about the 'Clovis' joke, but wasn't overt about it. He already has a grasp on Clovis apparently. Does this mean he has good judgment with people or that Clovis is really so much of a fool that everyone can tell?
Had an effortless -and slightly worrying- grasp of my quarters. Does he regularly look into the reflection of a reflection of a reflection? That habit could be a security risk if he's motivated by something other than service-
-but he asked for green tea. Will continue interview.
Horrible at chess, but he doesn't play like anyone I've ever seen. Interesting results, at least, and it's possible he could be taught. That might be interesting considering his view as a 'piece'…a knight indeed, or at least not a pawn. His honesty reminds me what honesty is supposed to look like. I'm a little alarmed to realize that I've so easily forgotten.
He enjoyed the gardens. I think he studied every petal we walked past. I still can't remember that dog's name. At least the man is politic enough not to call me a poor pet-owner even if he's thinking it, though I suppose it was my fault for asking when I already knew the answer. Still…what else have I forgotten?
He has an excellent grasp of position and subtle leadership. He wasn't thinking about it when he had to adjust his speed to meet my own. He...I couldn't...It's possible... Never again . He didn't initiate and shouldn't be discounted for reacting.
Beat the shit out of Guilford. Excellent grasp of close-combat tactics with his use of terrain. Even Cornelia was surprised when he doused the fighting-grounds and later jumped up into the fountain for an aerial advantage. If he played chess like he fights… excellent form and a beautifully savage performance. Cornelia won't say so but she's green with envy that I found him first. I think he may have saved Guilford's life but it went too fast to tell.
I'd be safe with him. I feel safe just knowing he's in the other room and he's followed every order and completed every task I gave him without a moment's hesitation. It's possible that Earl Asplund wasn't over exaggerating his performance with the Lancelot. I made the right choice. It's surprisingly breathtaking to be looked at like that when... He knows when to say 'thank you'.
Good singing voice.
I'm not sure his superiors are treating him well. It's been three minutes and he's nearly done with his double-portion dinner. I think I'd like to
Interview completed. Score: 100%
I don't think he'll say no, he seems to need... and he's perfect for the job.
End of entry. June 25th DM '42, eight P.M.
Suzaku was crying even before he had finished reading. What fragile control he'd had halfway through was lost with the single sentence…'I'd be safe with him'. That was all it had taken for him to need to quietly wipe his cheeks to keep his tears off of the parchment. The final paper that was presented had the Prince's signature with his personal seal positioned perfectly at the side.
"Please," The Prince whispered, "I…Please be my knight."
"Yes." Suzaku finally whispered when he had breath, and he wasn't ashamed of his own unsteadiness, not when the prince's sudden grip on his wrist was tremulous. He pulled Suzaku's hand down to the table, so Suzaku's right came up to catch his slow tears. The prince took hold of that hand too, pushing it away only to cup Suzaku's jaw and turn his ducked face up and to the side.
"Why?" The prince asked, grief and confusion on his face as he thumbed a tear off of Suzaku's cheek. Suzaku could only do his best to smile as he grasped the Prince's hand and pressed his palm over his own heart. Violet eyes lost their confusion and began to shine in the low light, Suzaku let his hand pause and waited pushing the one in his hand against his chest until the Prince's own hand rose. Long fingers traced the back of Suzaku's hand, against his wrist and Suzaku watched the prince watch these touches and felt some kind of indescribable joy and rushing relief when his own hand was pressed against Lelouch vi Britannia's heart.
After a long moment their hands both fell away. Suzaku turned his face away in embarrassment as the prince allowed him to compose himself into a state of full comprehension. When Suzaku was finally dry-eyed and mostly steadied he was handed the Prince's elegant pen.
"I would appreciate it very much if you would sign as you did when you were young, but you don't have-"
Suzaku was slightly out of practice but his hand was true as he shifted his grip on the pen and wrote his name in their well-loved characters. For a moment it was as if he was truly home.
When he looked up the…his prince was smiling beautifully with upturned lips and nearly unbearable honest violet eyes. They embraced for a moment and Suzaku couldn't ever figure out who moved first, but that was more telling than a signed name. That warm touch was a bond that could never be broken by a simple rip.
"You've had a very long day." Lelouch pulled back, still gentle with his hands and his body as he turned to find his phone. He glanced back for only a moment, just in time to catch Suzaku run a finger against Lelouch's seal. Suzaku then went to consolidate their dinner plates, listening as Lelouch ordered maid service, medium-sized cotton pajamas and new sheets and pillows for his guest room. When he was finished he went over to his desk to produce two more documents bearing his seal and signature.
"That will be my copy, this one will be yours, and the last will be sent to Cornelia. She has been chosen to oversee my education and will take care of the formal papers needed to truly make you a knight of the land." Lelouch turned with something of a wicked smile, "Sir Kururugi."
Suzaku registered his words and blushed with pride, standing straight before bowing.
"My Prince." He felt a little giddy, grinning as he stood. Lelouch was suddenly very close, pressing a rolled document into his hand, and making deep, breathless eye contact before murmuring, "My Knight."
At that moment, so intimate despite the lack of even touch, Suzaku wanted desperately to be the type of person Lelouch was allowed to kiss, but he smothered the thought ruthlessly, just as delighted with a breath of laugh against his mouth.
A knock on the door separated them, but slowly, not as if they had been doing something to make them bolt apart.
Suzaku nodded a bow and asked, "Is there anything you need, my lord?"
Lelouch looked up with an easy, nearly normal glance as he said, "I'd prefer it if you come sign this now rather than later. I'd like to catch Cornelia before she retires for the evening. You should accompany me."
"Yes, my Lord." Suzaku ignored the girls who were moving swiftly through the room and went over to the desk and, very carefully wrote down his name in practiced English. He knew that anything else would displease the prince and enrage the princess. Lelouch laid down his own signature whispered, "Done well, Suzaku."
"You'll need to sign your own copy," Lelouch said, passing it forward as he threw a bit of sand across the drying ink. He handed it so easily that when Suzaku looked down he nearly gasped in surprise. The document he held was in flawless Japanese, a work of fine art if he were to show it to a practiced calligrapher.
Lelouch's signature looked beautiful and odd with its casual curves and though it could have looked silly the result was a moment of elegance. Suzaku once again wrote his name in the same characters as before, knowing that he couldn't mar the singular beauty by writing down his bare English letters.
"Thank you, my Prince," Suzaku whispered, pulling his hands away as Lelouch carefully spread some sand over the wet ink. When it had all dried he blew the ink off so that both signatures remained perfect, not one area smudged.
"My knight," Lelouch whispered in return. Both of them, Suzaku thought felt a certain thrill with this secret between them, "Are you ready to brave my sister?"
"For this I would brave the devil himself." Suzaku said, resolute. Lelouch chuckled, sending over a small smile.
"Cornelia's not the devil, but sometimes she's a close second."
Suzaku walked in front of Lelouch to open the door, shutting it quietly before following only a few paces away to the right.
One more obstacle, and Suzaku…Suzaku grinned and almost started crying again…he wouldn't be alone anymore, or lonely, but devoted to a man he already half-loved. And it was possible, Suzaku thought, remembering the struck through comments, that maybe Lelouch was just a little in love with him, too.