She quietly thanked him as he held out the steaming cup. Fishing her hands out from under the blanket, she accepted his offer and breathed in the fragrant and sugary lemon wafting through the crisp autumn air. Looking out over the gold rim of the warm cup, she took a cautious sip as he settled in besides her on the bench of the third-floor balcony. Shivering, she looked up from her amber reflection. Leaning into his warmth, she sniffled and sighed, when she noticed the blackened tips of his fingers.
He caught her staring and wordlessly turned his hand over so that she could no longer see the incriminating evidence. The last of the nostalgia ebbing, she studied his blank mask. But before she could give any voice to her surprise, he reluctantly explained himself.
“…it helps pass the time.”
She turned away and looked into the depths of her teacup. For though he hadn’t said anything about it, she knew that he had given up on his first love a long time ago. Four years ago, to be exact. She knew because she had too, and she saw the same sorrow in him that she saw whenever she looked into the mirror. Because that morning four years ago, they hadn’t just lost one another; they had also lost all and every source of joy in their lives.
That is, until now. Because now, she had Leopold, and he had been reunited with his beloved music.
She had only attended Juilliard as she had had no desire to go on the path that her father had chosen for her, and had been fortunate enough in being a gifted enough harpist to be admitted. But he had loved it with all his being. He had lived and breathed for music. She may have been the love of his life, but music had been his mistress. She could still remember the permanent ink stains on his fingers as he wrote until the floor of their matchbox apartment was covered in treble clefs and decrescendos, and the gleeful smirk that always appeared whenever he thought of some clever little melody, or the agonizing frustration when he couldn’t get past the first ten measures. But he had been free of that frustration and that smirk and those ink stains for a long, long time, having been replaced by a stone mask, scarlet blood, and an unbeating heart. So seeing the telltale marks one more after all this time made her heart tremble. Because even if he hid them away, even if they couldn’t go back to who they had been, there was still hope that he could be as happy and as hopeful as he had once been.
Tightly holding his hand, she hid the ink with her own hand and turned the conversation to a more comfortable subject – one where he wouldn’t be as blinded by the spotlight.
“He went out to the market.”
“With who? Sayoko?”
He nodded. “As well as Anya and Mr. Gottwald.”
He didn’t tell her that her son hadn’t planned on going to the market. He didn’t tell her how his day had probably been one of staying home and amusing himself until he had caught wind of lavender and its magical properties. He neither told her of the boy’s stubborn and determined begging until he was given permission to personally pick and purchase the flower that would revive his mother, nor of the jingling in the boy’s pocket as he crumpled a few bills and a collection of shiny coins into his pockets. And so, with the new addition to the party, Sayoko had been roped into joining the expedition, consequently leaving the two lovers alone in the château.
And the reason why he didn’t tell her all of this was because he was aware of the boy’s desire to surprise his mother. he had made his wish known as he had left the house, running to the car while struggling to find the other arm hole of his light blue windbreaker until his nanny finally caught up to him and helped him shrug on the other half of the coat. So he didn’t tell her. Out of respect for the youth’s intentions, Lelouch simply held her close as they sat outside and looked out over the horizon at the patch of green that was their haven.
Leopold plastered himself against the glass, enchanted by the small puff of grey and black fur and its two charcoal eyes that slowly blinked at him. Ignoring the glass fogging at mouth-level, as well as the way his nose pressed against the cool glass made him look like a bright blue piglet, he stared as the puff revealed a small pink tongue mid-yawn before it stretched and curled up into an even smaller ball of fur. Thrilled and amused, the boy giggled to himself and pressed himself harder against the glass, as if doing so would allow him to fall through and land right besides the endearing puff.
His nanny called out for his attention from behind.
“Look, Sayoko!” Briefly tearing his eyes away, he hopped up and down as he excitedly pointed to the cat. “Look! Do you see that? It’s a baby cat!”
She helplessly smiled as he beamed at her. The young master was just so charming at times.
“Do you think Maman will let me get her? She likes cats, and I’ve been good, you know. I didn’t eat any of my caramels before dinner like Maman asked me not to. Charlie ate one before dinner yesterday, but I made sure he ate all of his carrots.”
“Can’t you see, Sayoko? Look at how she’s looking at me! We’re meant to be. We must be. Why else would she be smiling? And! And I can hear her purring!”
With eyes only for the kitten, he attached himself to the storefront once more until his nanny gently placed a hand on his shoulder.
“Monsieur, if we don’t leave now, the market will close and then you will not be able to purchase the lavender for your mother.”
“But…but how can I leave her all by herself?”
Clearly troubled by the predicament before him, he looked back and forth between the napping kitten and the swarm of people down the street that was the fringe of the farmer’s market until the woman suggested: “Perhaps the kitten will still be here once we have concluded our business.”
“Oh, that’s silly,” he dismissed promptly. “How could she still be here? She’s the most beautiful creature I’ve seen in my entire life.”
“But if we stay here, we will miss the gardener.”
Woefully, he looked at the kitten again before heaving a disheartened sigh. Swinging his arms, he mumbled, “I really do like this kitten though…”
“Perhaps if we return home soon enough, we can persuade Madame to welcome the kitten into the family before anyone else does.”
He looked up from the blue twin cats grinning at him from the tips of his wellingtons and at his nanny with dispirited eyes.
“…perhaps,” he sadly echoed.
She asked for his hand – which he gave – and tugged him away from the pet store and to the market to join the others who had gone ahead. The boy reluctantly allowed him to be led away, but not without a backwards glance and a promise to return for the sleeping kitten who had had no idea what had transpired before her.
Anya quietly nibbled on a sweet biscuit as she half-listened to the man speak. Cerise eyes wandering throughout the vaulted dining room, she glanced down at the firearm innocently sitting besides her platter of biscuits before reaching for another of the latter. Uninterested in what the others had to say, she silently debated over the wisdom of getting up for a cool glass of milk, when she heard: “Then that will be all. Thank you for your time.”
Reaching for the last of the cookies, she holstered the gun as the others stood up and promptly left the room to return to their originally planned programs. Watching the man gather up the papers before him into a neat stack, the dark ink on his fingers not escaping her notice, she stood still until he finally gave way and asked her what it was that she wanted. When she didn’t answer immediately, he stopped and looked up, his patience evident. She knew he was used to this – the deliberation of his personal aid that demanded his complete and undivided attention – and so used it for her benefit.
“Are you sure you’ve made the correct decision?”
Unsurprised, he busied himself with his papers once more – almost as if he had been expecting her to question him – and evenly answered, “It was a decision made under mutual understanding and consent of the risks and dangers.”
When she remained rooted to her spot, he glanced up.
“All’s fair in love and war, and I plan on using that fairness to my full advantage, Schneizel be damned.”
Satisfied, she left him to his devices. Wandering out into the garden, she scaled the wisteria tree and watched the little boy happily plunk the keys of the Steinway.
He had asked her of Lelouch earlier. Trotting besides her, he had asked her if she knew him well, to which she had replied that she knew him well enough. Not to protect her superior – though what protection a 30 year-old-man may need from someone nearly 8 times his junior she could only guess – so much as it was simply her enigmatic nature to reply in such a fashion. Nevertheless, none could deny her loyalty to her nature as she had remained staunch throughout the decidedly obnoxious interrogation until the raincoat-clad Sherlock had given up in favor of judging the lavender ladies dancing in the wooden boxes of the local horticulturist.
Anya decided that the boy was peculiar. He had had no shame in stubbornly pestering her for information, only to apologize later on and offer a half-eaten packet of sweet biscuits in peace offering. He was mature in some aspects – having grown up in a family with five other siblings, she knew how children – particularly young children – seldom gave up something like biscuits of their own accord for the purpose of giving them to someone else – and yet, still childish with others… But perhaps that was only to be expected.
After all, who was the boy’s father but a white knight?
Lelouch found him in the kitchen. He was kneeling on a chair, studiously bent over the table as he busily colored with carefully set aside crayons. He pretended not to notice the way the boy’s arm casually slid across the white sheet so that no prying eyes could see the drawing and simply walked past him for one of the various glass mugs kept in the cabinets.
Swallowing three brightly colored capsules, he watched as the boy scratched his head before putting crayon to canvas once more, until he asked him if it was a get-well card that he was drawing. And though he didn’t say it, Lelouch knew he had surprised him. He could see it in the crayons; they had slowed ever so slightly before resuming their previous determination.
Upon the silence, Lelouch turned to give the boy his space, when he heard: “…she likes cats. It’s her favorite animal. Just like me.”
There was a slow three-second pause before the child hesitantly ventured, “Do you… Do you like cats?”
“I used to have a cat. A Turkish Van. Her name was Coco.”
Coco had been a stray until he and Ceci had taken her in. she had used to curl up in her mistress’ lap, purring like an angel, but the moment her “master” came within a one-and-a-half foot radius, would immediately become satanic. It was strange as he usually didn’t have any issues with cats. They neither hated nor loved him. In fact, they were simply indifferent to him, so Coco had been – and still was – a mystery. Nevertheless, when Coco one day crossed the street in pursuit of a curious plastic bag and had never returned, he had grieved as much as one could over the loss of a constant in one’s life – even if said constant had bit and scratched his precious composer hands.
Stifling a sigh, he turned to leave in search of some privacy – memories of the past were never good for his heart; more so when he had just taken his medication – when he heard a frustrated whine.
“Where is it?”
“Where is what?”
Forgetting his hostility in his confusion, the child promptly replied with an indignant cry of: “My blue crayon! Somebody stole it! Now how am I supposed to draw a cat?”
“What’s your mother’s favorite color?”
“Wouldn’t she like it better if you drew a white cat instead?”
His hands falling away from his face to reveal a withering glare, the boy growled, “Nothing shows up if I draw on white paper with white crayon. Even I know that.”
“Have you tried using a black crayon? There’s no rule that says you have to color it in.”
Leopold gaped at him as if the man was Prometheus himself and had lit a fire out of nothing before his eyes. As the god left, the youth glanced between the unused, untouched black crayon and the blue crayon he had pulled out of his pocket before tentatively reaching for the former.
Well… Well, it was worth a try…
Though her face was still uncommonly pale and she still sneezed every now and then, she was well enough to bathe and zip herself into a simple dress and wrap a cashmere shawl around herself to weakly make her way to the dining room, whereupon she was shyly presented with a bouquet of lavenders and a heartfelt letter, complete with its own Mona Lisa. After gracing her son – and his ever-present companion, Charlie – with a kiss of gratitude, the meal began, and it was then that C.C. came to realize that her apprehension had been for naught.
She had known of the tension between her son and his guardian – albeit unwanted – angel, and had worried during the few moments she had been awake during the past two days, but now that she had returned to her place at the head of the table, her prince on her left and her knight on the right, she could see that it had all been without good cause. For while they weren’t as close as she wished them to be, her son didn’t quite shut out the young man as he once had before, and for that alone, she was able to smile without any burden.