Cécile carefully counted the dust motes floating in the still air. Illuminated by the early morning sun, her kind, doe eyes drifted around the ghostly apartment, her back as straight as a pin from the tension in the air. She nervously wrung her hands; she felt as if she should be doing something, not just sit and wait as if she were helpless. After all, wasn’t that why Lloyd had shaken her awake before the sun had even risen? Wasn’t that why she had come to Avalon? To act? That was what she had thought during the entire journey here, but when they had arrived, her partner had given her the responsibility of tending to the Weiss Königin before promptly locking himself in the room to see if he could coax the Prince to rise once more.
Not that she didn’t like being with the Weiss Königin. From what she had heard and what little she had seen, Cécile saw her as a good person, as someone she held no grudges against and probably never would come to hold grudges against. It was because she was just so…untouchable. She glanced at her from across the small kitchen table for the seventh time during the past minute alone, struggling not to fidget in her seat. Her eyes were cast down, looking at something but seeing nothing. Her long hair settled on her shoulders limply, and her clothes seemed to hang on her small shoulders. Ever since they had arrived an hour-and-a-half ago, she had been silent, save for eight words spoken in a thin, weary voice: “He’s in the bedroom,” yes,” “no,” and a very quiet “I’m fine.” Which only served to make her more anxious for something to do. The Madame had clearly been shaken to the core after her discovery. So much so that she had neglected to ask why it had looked as if Death had taken him away. Though Cécile supposed that was to be expected – she hadn’t yet forgotten the bits and pieces of the story she had managed to extract from Mr. Lamperouge over the course of a year, and seeing from the Madame’s lukewarm treatment of her husband and Mr. Lamperouge’s ever-elusive smile…
Not that it was any of her business. No, her business was making sure Cecaniah Corabelle was taken care of, to make sure her nerves were soothed and her worries appeased. Not speculate over what had been lies and what had been truths between the former lovers. So, smoothing her skirt, she shifted forward so that the woman could hear her softly say: “Lloyd may be flamboyant at times, but he’s a genius in his own rite. The Weiss König wouldn’t have recruited him if it was otherwise. I promise you that he’ll do everything within his power to restore Mr. Lamperouge’s health.”
When the young woman looked up, Cécile was taken aback by the mélange of emotions she saw in her eyes. Sadness – a great, terrible, consuming sorrow – welled up before it was glossed over by a sheen of haughtiness, itself soon replaced by gratitude. Though she still remained without a voice, her eyes told her of her thanks for her kindness, and in that moment, Cécile truly understood how cruel the world could be if it had so sadistically ruined such an innocent as the person before her.
Her maternal instinct taking over her, she, determined, moved to ask if she’d care for a cup of tea, to at least try and warm her, when the door to the bedroom finally opened.
Worried, her stomach turned as Lloyd leaned against the doorway. But she immediately forgot the tension as a wave of relief washed over her at the sight of his grin. Returning his smile, she looked to see if the Madame would finally be relieved of her burden, only to find her shoulders slumped as she hid her face behind her hands. When she saw the picture before her, Cécile’s smile faded away, replaced by confusion. Mr. Lamperouge was clearly safe from any immediate danger. She had clearly seen Lloyd’s silent report too. So why…?
“Cécile, my darling. Would you be so kind as to go out and faire ses courses? When Mr. Lamperouge awakens, he’ll most likely be ravenous, and we wouldn’t want to give a gun to a man so attuned to his stomach, would we?”
“…Yes, of course…”
Brows furrowed, she glanced at the young woman but remained mute. Her colleague failed to catch her look of concern; too busy with his search for a credit card he rarely ever had the need to use, his disposition remained cheerful as he said, “Here is your funding, thus granting you divine purchasing power. Within reason, of course.”
“Is there anything in particular I should look for?”
“Madame? Would you like Cécile to buy anything?”
Silence answered in her stead. She didn’t move, and for a split second, Lloyd’s easy smile hardened before his smile brightened again and he said: “Hurry along, Cécile. I don’t know what time the beast will awaken, but I do know that he’ll want to be fed when he does.”
“I’ll be back as soon as I can.”
“Thank you, my dear.”
The room was still – along its occupants – until they heard the front door close. When it closed shut, Lloyd released a long-held sigh. Slipping his glasses off, he rubbed his face tiredly before filling a kettle with water. Setting it on the stove, he took Cécile’s seat. The two sat in silence for some time, the only sound the bubbling of water, until he finally addressed the ugly wound that had been festering for some time.
“Has Mr. Lamperouge ever told you how it was that he came to join this particular band of cutthroat thieves and murderers?”
Glancing at her small frown and furrowed brows, Lloyd nodded understandingly. Of course he hadn’t. Why would he ever reveal such a tragic turn of events? Crossing his legs, he drummed his fingers on his knee before beginning the story.
“The Weiss König himself delivered Mr. Lamperouge to the gates of Camelot. You must understand how surprised we were to receive him – though he visits Camelot often, his Majesty rarely brings such gifts as a human life with him. Albeit a human life suffering from great wounds. You see, when I first made his acquaintance, Mr. Lamperouge made quite the first impression. He was guilty of every detrimental thing you could have possibly done to your body, just short of slitting his wrists. Quite frankly, we were astonished to discover him still breathing and alive, albeit barely. It was a very sobering affair, meeting him for the first time. To this day, I have never seen a man as gaunt, defeated, and dead as he was that day. He was an alcoholic. He refused to be parted with his cigarettes. And he was addicted to drugs. Or rather, shall I say, a drug. Refrain, I believe it’s called? The one that allows you to relive past memories?”
“His liver was very nearly irreparably damaged, and his lungs were charcoal black. But the conditions of his body were nowhere near as grievous as the state of his mental health.”
He paused, lost in his memories, before sighing. “Cécile and I worked very hard for a very long time for the sake of his recovery. The Weiss König himself had requested that we help him recuperate, and if his Majesty wishes it… Well, his wishes are our commands.”
“…And?” She finally raised her head as her faint voice asked, “How was his recovery?”
“Very, very rough.” His lips drawn into a tight line, he confessed: “There were many a time when we almost gave up on him. He refused to eat, to drink, to cooperate. He especially refused to let go of the past. The times when he bothered moving or getting out of bed, he’d be possessed with an insatiable rage, throwing things and breaking them, screaming, before collapsing and breaking down into tears. The experience took a great toll on Cécile, something that I can understand; it was extremely unpleasant to watch someone fall into such great despair so quickly.”
She tried to swallow as the guilt she had so carefully oppressed rushed back to her, claiming her every smile again. But the stories of Lelouch sick, of Lelouch in tears only made her want to throw up with self-disgust. To think that she had given him so much pain… Why hadn’t he moved on? Why had he stayed? Why did he insist on making this so much harder for the both of them? She cursed their first meeting. Even if with all of those subsequent years of happiness, it still grieved her, and she regretted her decision on that first day. But even as she swore, she wondered if, in the case that she had known of the tragedy that was to be born of their meeting, whether she would have ignored him as she wished she had. Or would she have stayed, choosing to have loved and lost than not loved at all?
“There is a reason why I chose science over the dealings of men so many years ago, Madame. Man is far too emotional for my taste. But I’ve paid attention. I know far more about the peculiar and irrational social conduct and impulses of mankind, despite what some may think, and I know enough to say that you had best spend wisely what little time you have left to spare. After all, regret is perhaps the most terrible form of torture known to man, is it not?”
Lloyd wasn’t one to intervene in the affairs of others – especially those affairs that involved past regrets – but he refused to lose a good man to this nonsensical waltz. He had invested far too much into Lelouch Lamperouge; if he had to intervene, then so be it. He wasn’t so above his fellow man to join him for once. He only hoped they weren’t so lost from the voice of reason, they couldn’t be saved.
“His condition, thankfully, has stabilized. So long as he avoids any task that requires force or strength or anything that demands of the body, he shouldn’t suffer, save for the occasional wave of nausea or fatigue. At least for another 24 hours, since we both know how unhappy he’ll be to hear that he can’t go out and use what God-given gifts he’s earned.”
The scientist held out a hand just as the impatient elevator doors began to slide shut.
“I’ve told him that his medication is not optional but mandatory. He should be awake in time to take his next dosage, but in the case that he doesn’t… Well, my number can be found in Mr. Lamperouge’s cellular device. The passcode, I’m sure you can deduce as long as you keep in mind our earlier discussion.”
“Please don’t hesitate to contact us, Madame,” added Cécile not unkindly. “We sincerely do wish to help in any way we can.”
She nodded and thanked the pair. And with a returning nod from the scientist and a gentle, reassuring smile from his partner, they were hidden behind the doors of the elevator and she was left alone with the man she had prayed to never meet again.
C.C. hesitantly perched on the edge of the bed. Watching him sleep seemed so normal, was so painfully nostalgic; memories of her lying awake while he slept besides her, his arm a comfortable weight on her stomach, of his warmth lulling her to sleep, rushed back to her as did the overwhelming illusion she had so ardently believed in when she had been young and foolish. How naïve she had been, to think that no matter what tomorrow held for them, no matter what came of the world, that they would still be together. How stupid of her.
She listened to his shallow breathing as she studied the shadows that fell across his face, hinting at the face Lloyd had greeted that night when the two men had first met. Her eyes swept over the light sheen of sweat on his forehead and flushed cheeks before settling on his lips.
She wanted to reach out and touch him. Take his warm hand in her cool one, brush his hair aside, even go as far as steal a kiss from him just to make sure he was real. And she nearly did. As if caught in a trance, she leaned in, when a telltale twinkle caught her eye. Stiff, she warily eyed the ring.
That was right. She was married. She still had a husband, no matter how she felt towards this man. Nothing could change that. Not the years of grief, not the way he had always made her heart flutter with the slightest smile, and especially not the tears she had shed. Because… Because even if she loved him, it changed nothing. Because even if she’d realized what her answer to his question was while his life had hung by a thread, she had married someone else, not him.
But even if she knew it wouldn’t change anything, C.C. let the tears fall. She tightly squeezed the hand she had unknowingly reached for as she finally allowed herself to acknowledge and accept the truth – that she loved this man and had loved only him and wanted to be with him. Shoulders shaking, she tried to stifle her sobs as she said aloud the truth of her feelings for the first time in what seemed like an eternity and wept in the quiet, sun-filled room, her ring hidden from sight by the hand she had never once let go.
Cécile was always the one who drove. She had trusted the bespectacled scientist to take the wheel once and had regretted it immediately after. It wasn’t that he was a bad driver – it was just how absentminded he could be. As someone who had never really conformed to others’ expectations all his life, traffic laws were no exception to Lloyd Asplund. But the highway pileup had been some years ago. Nor had he been this grave at the time, so Cécile consented to sitting in the passenger set.
It was tense in the car as they sped down the freeway. She glanced at the speedometer – the needle was dangerously inching closer and closer to 100. She snuck a peek at the man besides her, wondering if he were aware of how fast they were travelling. He apparently was. His mouth, which could usually be found pulled up in a faint smile, was a stern horizon. But the pursed lips was nothing compared to the humming.
There was no humming. It was dead silent. No sound was heard, save for the high-pitched whining of the engine as it desperately worked to meet the demands of the driver. It worried her – Lloyd was notorious for two things: his penchant for pudding and his humming. He hummed all the time, no matter what he was doing. Rarely was there a moment when he wasn’t humming, so when it was completely silent in the car, without the quiet singing she had grown used to, that was when the full gravity of the situation hit her. That was when she genuinely realized how severe the situation was.
“Mr. Lamperouge, he… You’re going to keep your promise, aren’t you?”
He remained silent for some time before announcing his verdict.
“I am going to try my best and do what I can, Cécile. But humans are fickle creatures, and there’s no telling what could happen. All we can do is give our very best and hope.”
Lloyd Asplund wasn’t a man who walked with God. It wasn’t that he sneered at the thought of a divine and supreme being; it was just that he liked to believe in science, for science was the one that gave him results, was the one who granted him material, tangible evidence and cold, hard facts. Science was just easier to invest his faith into, and it would be science that would revive and save the life of his creation. For Lloyd Asplund had assumed the role of Dr. Frankenstein, and God knew he’d rather damn himself to hell than allow for the Monster to perish all because of the passion of men.
He didn’t believe in God. Nor was he going to start believing in a god. But just for this once, he couldn’t help but pray that he would be able to make good on his word and deliver Lelouch Lamperouge from the clutches of Death itself.
Lelouch lay in bed for a while. Groggy and dazed, he blinked in the weak twilight, unable to grasp where he was or how he had ended up in bed. He looked down to see what great weight was sitting on his chest, and he tried to lick his lips, only to realize why it felt as if someone had stuffed his mouth with a cruel mixture of sand and cotton. His clothes and the sheets were damp with what he assumed was his sweat – which wasn’t a new experience – as he struggled to free his hand. Holding it up to block the last of the sun’s dying rays, he groaned. He had completely lost his hold on reality. Nothing felt real, save for the gnawing feeling that he was forgetting something extremely important, something that he…
Stumbling out of bed, he swayed in place, thankful that his stomach was empty. Gagging, he steadied himself before dragging himself out of the room, only to be struck dumb by the sight of her in an apron in the kitchen – the very vision that had eluded him for so many years. Holding himself up by the doorway, he tried to think of what to do next, of what to say, when she noticed him first. Like a deer caught in headlights, she stared with wide eyes, as if she had been caught red-handed in some unforgivable act. And it was unforgivable to see her like this, to see her cooking for him, to see her care for him.
“…I made some porridge.”
“You went out?” he croaked.
“No. Ms. Croomy was gracious enough to go out in my stead. So there’s no need to be so abrasive.”
Too tired to pick a fight, he sat down heavily in the chair. He would have fought her if he had been well. He would have been upset with himself for showing himself to her so intimately, in his disheveled and casual appearance. But he wasn’t well. He felt sick to his stomach and exhausted. And though he couldn’t see his reflection, his face was pale as if all the blood had been drained. He could barely hold himself up. He wasn’t going to fight her. Not now. Not with his demons tugging at his hair and cackling in his ear.
It was silent, save for the pot’s quiet bubbling. After laying the bowl of porridge before him just as she had when they had still been together, when they had been free and safe to live and love as they pleased, she stood by the table, hovering as if she wanted to say something. But she apparently decided against it, for she turned away to leave. Rather, she had intended to leave when he, refusing to let her slip away, grabbed her wrist. He didn’t know why he had, but he knew he didn’t want her to leave. They stared at the forced connection until he released her, refusing to meet her eye while mumbling an apology. Cradling her wrist – not from the pain, but from his warm touch – she silently escaped to the privacy of her room where she would be safe from his everything, save for the beautiful memories her husband had made so painful.
Lelouch sat quietly, frozen, with his hands balled into fists. His jaw clenched, he glared at his lap before slowly exhaling. Unable to forget the look in her eyes when he had touched her, he balefully stared at the bowl, all the while unaware of the diamond ring quietly twinkling on the countertop, forgotten and abandoned by its owner.