Cécile watched Lloyd breathe from the doorway. Come tomorrow morning, he was going to be irritable and complain of not only a broken back and neck, but of his human weakness and vulnerability to such trivial matters like eating and sleeping, and she would be exasperated with him for the umpteenth time and they would argue as they always did, and though she hated conflict, it was an argument that she would gladly have. He was, after all, finally sleeping.
Over the past few days, ever since they had returned home from the fiasco in Avalon, her partner had barely eaten or slept, all in his madness for a cure. He had eaten – once – and only because she had force-fed him. And even that had only been a spoon or two.
All because he had refused to spare even a second for himself.
She nursed the steaming cup as she quietly stood in the doorway. Her eyes wandered, touching on the hastily scribbled chemical compounds and equations written on any and every available surface of their lab. He was going to hurt himself or drive himself mad – the mad writing on the room certainly seemed to agree. But what could she expect? Lloyd was a an motivated by selfishness – selfish for his creation and projects to fare well.
She sighed. She understood his position. She wanted to find a cure as badly as Lloyd did, but the difference between her and him was that she wasn’t as reckless as he was. She understood that there were limits, that if she was to save Mr. Lamperouge, she would have to prioritize her own health first. Lloyd clearly ignored this rule and threw everything – his body, his sanity, even common sense – he had out of the window. If he weren’t so confident in the superiority of science, he probably would have tried selling his soul by now, if only for the sake of his creation.
And though Cécile truly did wish all the best for Mr. Lamperouge, she couldn’t help but feel trepidation. They already had one man with one foot in his grave. She didn’t want another man in such a position, though it looked more as if Lloyd was readily and willingly sprinting towards his, hell-bent on jumping in feet first, if it only meant that the monster he had pieced together was allowed to live.
Leopold was a little more than perturbed when he was roused. Sitting up and rubbing his eyes, he blearily squinted through the bright morning sun. His bright green hair sticking up in odd places to form the ears of a kitten, he blankly stared at the woman patiently standing at his bedside before he was able to register that it was not his mother waking him as she did most days, but his nanny. Leopold glowered. It wasn’t that he had something against Sayoko. On the contrary, she treated him well. They got along and he genuinely liked her. Neither was it the first time she had woken him up. But that wasn’t the reason why his morning had been so perfectly ruined. No, the reason why his morning had been ruined so mercilessly was because if his mother didn’t wake him, it only meant one of two things – that she was either sick or that she had gone out. And since she had made no mention of going out over dinner the night before…
Before she could scoop him up to take him to the bathroom to wash, Leopold slid off the bed and scampered to the hallway. Throwing the door open, he burst into his mother’s room and materialized by her bedside. Clinging to the sheets, he frantically clambered up onto the bed and peered down at her with his worried doe eyes.
A sheen of sweat covered her pale face, and her breathing was shallow and ragged. Biting his lower lip, he pulled the blanket up to her chin before kissing her on her forehead and gathering his hands together in prayer. So busy with his plea was the boy that he didn’t notice the rumpled and wrinkled state of the sheets besides her, as if someone had been laying besides her the night before, holding his mother close and staying up all throughout the night to nurse her. Instead, all Leopold noticed was the anxiety sitting in the pit of his stomach and the simmering anger for the man who was the cause of it all. For if it hadn’t been for him, if he had brought his mother home before it had started raining, she wouldn’t be sick in bed, would she? No, she wouldn’t.
She wouldn’t be at all.
Breakfast was an awkward affair. Left estranged by the sudden absence of their sole connection, Lelouch had tried – and failed – to make conversation. The boy had merely glared at him as he quietly chewed on his baguette and drank his milk. And though he wasn’t one to give up easily, he quickly abandoned any such endeavor. Some things were best left alone, and it seemed that the boy was in no mood to entertain his whims. That much was at least made clear when he suddenly threw down his butter knife and hissed: “We don’t need you” before sliding off of the chair and storming out of the room.
Lelouch didn’t even look up from his plate when the door slammed shut. It would be foolish of him to believe anything that the boy said during his temper tantrum. Four-year-olds rarely ever considered the weight of their words in the first place, and with his mother ill… He seriously doubted the sincerity of his declaration. It would do no one good for him to react. It would simply further encourage him, and God knew how much of a disadvantageous position he was already in with the boy.
God only knew how delicate their relationship was.
Leopold inched his way towards the table in the walled-off garden where the man was sitting. He didn’t seem to know that he was there, what with the papers in his lap, but just in case, he refrained from any sudden movements. Not because he loathed talking to him. No, not at all! It wasn’t as if his mother had heard of his behavior at breakfast – Jeremiah had probably told Sayoko; he always told Sayoko everything, who in turn told his mother everything that he did, good and bad – and had lectured him accordingly during the few minutes she had been awake after lunch. He hadn’t really been listening to her, but he could remember the disappointment in her eyes, and the shame he had felt because of that disappointment, and that was more than enough reason for him to creep towards the table.
Half-hidden in the shadow, the table sat near the whispering wisteria tree. The soft petals fluttered to the ground in the crisp autumn wind, and Leopold gently reached out to catch one. The sweet lavender wax rubbed against his palm, comforting him with thoughts of his mother. She loved wisterias… Maybe he should pick her a bouquet. The cold hadn’t yet gotten ahold of the flowers in the garden. Plenty of them still remained, a proud regiment of smartly dressed soldiers and finely dressed nobility, waving to and fro at the edge of the dance floor. He was sure they wouldn’t mind sacrificing themselves for the greater good.
Picking carnations, peonies, baby’s breath, and lilies, he quietly sang to himself as he gathered an armful of flowers when he reached for a scarlet rose and pricked his finger on its sharp thorn. Yelping, he snatched his hand back as a bead of crimson blood on his finger leered at him. Tears in his eyes, the boy crushed the flowers to his chest. The ghostly perfume of the buds reminding him of his mother’s scent, he turned to run to his mother for a bandage and a comforting peck on the head, when he ran into a impossibly long pair of legs.
“Are you hurt?”
Holding his bloodstained finger close, Leopold merely stared straight ahead. He refused to fold. His mother – for some unfathomable reason – liked the man, but he would never, ever, ever give in to him. He hadn’t with his father and his arbitrary gifts. He wouldn’t with him. After all, he had done nothing to receive such respect from him, and there was no rule that said that he had to be nice. Of course…guilt flickered through him as the memory of his mother’s admonishment stirred, but his mind was far too cloudy with the situation at hand for him to remember much else than the reason why he had received such a lecture.
That is, until the man bent down onto his knees and gently pried his hand away. The child stared as he opened his fist and looked at the crimson smears. Embarrassed and loathing to be treated like a baby, he made to pull away, when the man asked: “What do you want to do?”
Surprised, he nearly didn’t answer.
“…N-nothing. It doesn’t hurt.”
He expected for the man to nod as the other men did whenever he scraped his knee or tripped, when instead, he merely looked him in the eye and said: “There’s nothing wrong with giving into pain.”
“…I know.” A flare of anger hardening his voice, he snapped. “I’m not stupid.”
“I know you’re not stupid, Leopold.”
And as the boy looked into the man’s eyes, he could see that he was speaking the truth. Unsure of what to do with himself, he bit his lip. Carefully avoiding eye contact, he waited for the scolding, for the reminder of how young he was and how much older he was, but nothing came. Instead, the man simply lay a gentle hand on his head before rising to his feet and walking away. Confused, Leopold looked after him as he reclaimed his seat and crossed his legs, returning to how he had been before as if he had never seen him drop the flowers and had never heard him cry out.
Leopold considered going back inside. But there was something about what had just happened that told him that that wasn’t what he wanted to do. But what did he want to do? The intention of collecting a bouquet was – while still present – drowned out by the curiosity, and he stood rooted to the spot until he had slunk his way to the table without even realizing it.
He didn’t seem to notice him, but maybe he was just pretending like the way his mother pretended that he wasn’t there before scooping him up and tickling him until tears ran down his cheeks and his sides hurt from the laughter. But he wouldn’t tickle him…would he? No, no, that was impossible. No one was allowed to tickle him except for his mother. But all the same, he made sure to take the seat across from the man, and not the one closest to him. You could never be too sure after all.
He sat, twirling his thumbs, and looking all around the garden, when out of the corner of his eye, he saw just what the man had been absorbed in for all this time, and, curiosity now lighting an insatiable fire, couldn’t help but blurt out: “You know how to read music?”
Silence resumed once more, in which only the whisper of the wisterias was heard, until he hesitantly asked, “…What do you play?”
“…How long have you been playing?”
At his reply, Leopold’s mouth fell open. 17 years! That was longer than he had even been alive! In awe, he stared, seeing the man in an all new light, before leaning forward and eagerly asking him who his favorite composer was – all thought of his earlier ire blown away like waxy flower petals on a breezy, autumn afternoon.
That is, at least for the time being.
Sayoko had been searching high and low for Leopold. She had thought he would have been in the music room if not his mother’s bedroom, but he had been found in neither, greatly puzzling her. There wasn’t much else that he would be interested in. There were the stables, of course, but they were too far of a distance for him to consider going out without his mother’s hand to lead him. He hadn’t been in the library either, though how he would have read the thick, leather-bound tomes, she didn’t quite know. With each empty room she passed by, she began to grow increasingly worried and considered calling an emergency meeting with the staff to form a search party – the young master was notorious for hiding when sulking, and God knew how angry he had been in the morning after the news of his mother’s illness – when she passed by in the hallway and glanced out of the bright windows to see the small boy perched on a garden chair, leaning forward with an eager expression on his face, while speaking to none other than the very person who had been the cause of so much vexation just hours earlier.
She stopped in the hallway and watched them. Though she couldn’t see Mr. Lamperouge’s expression, she could very clearly see the young master’s, and what she saw pleased her. Madame was not the only one who wished for the young boy and Mr. Lamperouge to be on agreeable terms. After all, they were to live together closely for an indefinite amount of time. It would be in everyone’s best interest if they were took a liking to one another, and if Sayoko had learned anything from the four years of helping Madame raise the young master, it was that he hated when others helped him when he hadn’t asked for help. Master Leopold would make friends with Mr. Lamperouge. His mother wished it so, and if his mother wished so, then he would grant her wish soon after. Even if he did seem stubborn now, already, she could tell that he was starting to buckle under Mr. Lamperouge’s mild manners and respect.
And so, she left them be for the kitchen, where she was sure to find Anya rummaging around the pantry or the cooler in search of something sweet, so as to suggest to her tailing the young master. She was only slightly larger than the boy and could easily follow him into whatever nooks and crannies he crawled into. And Master Leopold was their prince, was he not? He was their Galahad, was he not?
Even if it had only been for a brief second, the boy had considered whether to invite the man with him on his visit to his mother. He had been nice to him and had been interesting enough in the conversation to retain his short attention span, but there was just something about him that still made him hold him at a distance. He didn’t know it, but to an outsider, it would have been obvious that it had been because of the boy’s father. His father had also been kind to him – if that’s what you could call it – and had feigned interest in him those few times they had been together, and though the boy wasn’t unjust, he was skeptical. There was still reason for him to be wary, even if he wouldn’t ever hate anyone as he did his father. And so, he merely gave him a short half-wave before scrambling off of his seat and following his nanny to help deliver his mother’s evening meal. Besides. Even if he had been attentive and fascinating to the mind of a four-year-old, he was still the reason why his mother was bedridden in the first place.
Although… Although he would have to admit that he was starting to have mixed feelings in that regard. The memory of his mother was still fresh in his mind, and how she had seemed like a different person. He had nearly been unable to recognize her, and perhaps it was this unfamiliarity that frightened him and had made him glare and scream. Why else would he have continued to be upset even though his mother had come home? She had saved him from the thunder and the frogs that he was so afraid of, as well as the fear of desertion and abandonment. She had returned to him and their home – for this was their home now, wasn’t it? – and had played with him and had tucked him into bed like every other night. But unlike every other night, his anger from the day before had remained to see the light of another morning and he hadn’t renewed himself.
She had been someone he had never seen before. That smile she had worn yesterday, the light in her eyes… Such intensity he had never been privy to, it had frightened him. His mother had not been his mother yesterday. Even as she had tightly held him, he hadn’t been able to fall into her embrace as he usually did without a second thought. Instead, he had glanced over her shoulder at the man, who was looking as soaked through as his mother was. He had been pushing his hair back and away from his pale face when he had caught him staring in the reflection of the mirror.
Their eyes had met, and Leopold had immediately jerked away as if he had been burnt. And the wound he had been given did feel like a burn, as he saw in the man what he saw in his mother. It had ben a much quieter declaration, but it had been there all the same. The same white-hot stubbornness had been hidden in those violet eyes. And to say in the least, he hadn’t been very pleased to make this discovery. Even her laughter hadn’t cheered him up as it usually did. In fact, it had only further unnerved him, for though she had laughed when she had been with him and had giggled because of him, she had never laughed as brightly as she had then when he had asked her if she was alright.
And while he was glad to hear that she was, he couldn’t help but feel dismayed as he hadn’t been the one who had made her so light-hearted and happy…. Not that he wasn’t grateful. If he couldn’t do it, then he was grateful that there was someone who could, for all people had a right to laugh at least once in their life with as much sincerity as she had yesterday.
Though he would have liked it much better if he had been the one to do that.
Leopold thought all this and more as he sat in his mother’s bed and watched her, propped up with pillows, obediently eat her soup. She looked so fragile and delicate, like one of those trembling chicks that he had seen peck their way out of the egg and out into the world. And she was just as wet too because of her fever. He wondered if she would take a warm bubble bath like the one his mother always drew for him whenever he was sick. He tried to remember if he had brought the bubble bath soap. Had he? He remembered when Sayoko had suddenly come into his room and had briskly ushered him out and into a car. He had had just enough time to grab Charlie and to stuff his backpack with a fistful of crayons, a small bag of caramels, and…
Oh. He hadn’t brought it. Disappointed with himself, he silently offered his mother a napkin, which she took with a warm smile. Glum, he sat with a pout, trying to figure out where he could get some soap for a bubble bath, when his mother asked him how his day was so far and if he had eaten yet, to which he replied that it had been okay so far and that no, he hadn’t eaten but that he would when she was finished. She nodded and tightly squeezed his hand, as if to say that she was glad that he was behaving so well. And that was good and fine, and he was happy that his mother thought so well of him – especially after that lecture she had given him earlier – but he couldn’t help but feel miserable when he returned from the bathroom and heard his mother ask after the man because…. Well…
Leopold understood why she was interested in his welfare. He would have been interested in what his friends were doing if he had had any friends to ask after. Especially any that had been sick the day before. So he understood, but at the same time… Maybe it had something to do with the way his mother had looked at the man because it had been in a way she had never looked at him before, or the smile that they had shared that he hadn’t been a part of. But whatever it was, he felt as if his mother was fading away from him. No longer could he see her the way he had once seen her. And while the boy still loved his mother, it was that same love that broke his heart as he remembered the man’s eyes in the mirror and how they had gone through him as if he was nothing but a wisp of smoke – insignificant and quickly nonexistent in the blink of an eye.
Hugging himself, Leopold crept down the hall, hiding himself in the shadows at the odd creak or click. His violet eyes glittering in the dim light of the lamps, he turned the corner of the stairs and moved to sneak down the last stairway, when he stopped short.
The man was sitting in front of the piano. His piano. He was sitting on the bench, staring at the black and white keys with a mesmerized expression – almost as if he weren’t really there and he was somewhere else, like he was lost in a memory. Leopold stared, surprised not only by his discovery but by his reaction, for in his childlike selfishness, he would have normally become incensed at the thought of someone else sitting in front of his piano without permission. And yet, he sat quietly, his head peeking around the corner and watching, riveted by the way the man looked so…so natural. Almost as if he were an extension of the instrument, as if he were equally as important and necessary as the pedals and strings and small hammers.
Almost as if he belonged there.
It made him feel strange. He didn’t believe that anyone was accepted by the instrument as he was. Not even his instructor was as much as he was, and he was a retired world class pianist. And yet, here was a man whom he was supposed to hate, for turning his mother into someone she wasn’t and for sapping all of the fun that was supposed to be in this vacation, brushing his fingers over the gleaming keys, and….and…
For the first time in his life, Leopold forgot all about Charlie as he scampered up the stairs. He never forgot Charlie. Not even when he was delirious with a fever, or when chaos had knocked on the door and sent him thousands of miles away from his home. He had forgotten the bubble bath soap, but he had never once in his life forgotten Charlie up until now, when the shadow of a thought had snuck into his head. For the idea and notion that passed through him frightened him so badly, all he could think of was putting as much distance between him and the sight before him. So he did the only thing he could do. He ran to his mother’s room and hid underneath the covers. Curling up besides his mother, he shivered as he anxiously waited for the morning to come and chase away the shadows and to restore the comforting light and dark.
Mouth and ears filled with cotton, C.C. turned over, wondering why her son’s hand had gotten so large, when she realized that it was her lover’s cool hand that was resting on her forehead, and not her son’s. Head splitting even from the soft golden light of the bedside lamp, she winced as he slid an arm under her waist and helped her sit up. Grabbing a fistful of his shirt, she heavily leaned against him as he helped her drink water and take her medicine. Eyes fluttering, she sat still and quietly asked after her son as he brushed away her hair from her eyes.
“I moved him to his bed. He’s asleep now. You don’t have to worry about him.”
She tightly held his hand before looking up and whispering, “…He’s young, Lelouch. He’s too young, so he doesn’t—he doesn’t mean—
“It’s fine. It’s okay. I’m not going to give up just because he resists the first time. I know he doesn’t understand, Ceci. It’s fine.”
She nodded, and he lay her down. Smoothing her hair, he quietly said: “The best thing to do now, my love, is getting better. For his sake. He was worried about you. It was written all over his face, and he was probably acting the way he was because of how worried he was. I know because I was… I was that way too before everything went to hell.”
“I want him to get along with you. He’s so lonely…” she mumbled. “So lonely…”
He merely held her close until she fell asleep, and then smoothed her hair until he too joined her in the embrace of Morpheus, their hands held tightly together as if they were afraid of losing one another even in sleep.