She didn’t remember much of her father’s death. Before and after, she could recall with quite painful clarity, but the event itself… Even though she had been there herself, even though she had been right beside him when he had breathed his last, she’d never been able to speak of any of the details. She’d never been able to describe her father’s expression or the weather, or if the sun had even been up or not because… Well, because the truth of the matter was, her father, after losing their entire fortune and compiling enough debt to put a small country to shame, had in his despair tried to take the easy way out. And of course, because he loved his only child – his beautiful daughter – he took her with him. How could he not as her parent? How could he possibly think to grant her such a burdensome inheritance?
So her father – being the clever man he was – had asked her to go with him on the annual pilgrimage to her mother’s grave as he always did on the anniversary of her parents’ wedding. And she had naturally agreed without so much of a second thought; her love for her mother was seconded only by her father’s adoration, as proven by the way he had encumbered himself with so much debt in the name of wrenching his wife away from Death’s hold.
But it wasn’t until several days had passed, when she woke up in the hospital, bloodied, bruised, and feeling as if she had gone to the depths of Tartarus and back, that she found out the way her father had drugged his one and only daughter to drive them off a cliff and into the open arms of the sea. Only, her father’s grave folly, she had been told by the somber doctor, was forgetting the relaxation of a drugged individual’s muscles – a relaxation that had miraculously saved her life.
Thus, it was the doleful clanging of the funeral bells that signified the last of her old life crumbling away, the remaining debris swept away by the frigid surf that had swallowed the last of her family and the last of any hope of recovery until not even a trace remained. At the young age of 24, she had to her name only a poor – albeit adoring – fiancé, a scar under her left breast to serve as a reminder for the rest of her life of the death she had narrowly escaped, and $14.5 million worth of debt to none other than the Weiss Ritter – the only people who had been willing to lend even a dollar to her father, who had been blackballed by what seemed like the entirety of the just-shy-of-19-million individuals residing in the city he had once ruled.
And yet… Even that crushing debt wouldn’t even come close to the cost she would have to pay in exchange for the life of her true love.
“But why not? Don’t you know how to swim, Maman?”
“I do, but Uncle Lelouch will probably be a much better teacher than Maman. It’s been a long, long time since Maman’s gone swimming, and Uncle Lelouch has been in the water more recently,” she softly replied. Water dotting her navy swim-dress, she swept her hair out of her eyes as she reached to turn the faucet off, when she caught sight of the baleful eyes sitting underneath a head of slicked-back green hair.
“My love, Maman will be right there.” Kneeling before her son, she smoothed his damp hair and pulled his towel closer around him. “I’ll be only a few feet away. If anything happens to you – and it won’t because Uncle Lelouch is very trustworthy – I will be right there.”
“Then why can’t you teach me? Or Sayoko? Or even Jeremiah?”
“Because Uncle Lelouch offered. Now, Leopold,” she said, adopting a firm tone, “will you please try your best to learn from him? He’s a very good swimmer.”
He frowned. Pouted. Bounced up and down and whined, but when he saw how serious his mother was, the child reluctantly gave it a rest and mumbled, “Fine. But I’m going to splash water into his eyes.”
“I do hope you’re bluffing. I can scarcely imagine how disappointed it would make me if you were so rude to Maman’s friend.”
The boy wavered for a split second, slightly unsure if what he was doing was a good idea, but resolved himself almost immediately when he came face-to-face with his new instructor because as far as he was concerned, he’d never give in. No funny business. He meant it when he said he didn’t want the man to teach him, and he was going to show Maman just that. He’d show her that he hadn’t just been saying empty words. He’d show her, alright.
Unfortunately, the moment Leopold inched his way to the edge of the pool, all thought of rebellion fled his mind. As did any thoughts and desires to learn how to swim. Because when he had first seen those boys and girls happily swimming on television, and had told his mother that he had wanted to learn how to swim, he hadn’t quite accounted for the depth of the pool up until right this moment. He stared with wide eyes, clutching his towel to his heaving chest. The man slid into the water, but he ignore him. His head began swimming, and he desperately glanced around at the strangers around them, the unfamiliar faces swimming laps or giggling and splashing in the pool, before returning his attention to the man, who was now chest-deep in cool water. Knees weak, the boy struggled to swallow as he looked into his eyes and whimpered the words that had popped into his head the moment he had seen the immense public pool.
Sayoko very nearly forgot herself and was on the verge of standing when she saw the child’s quivering lips and the sheer terror in his eyes. Looking to his mother with the intention of inquiring after a course of proactive action, when she saw the expression on the boy’s mother; it was one of intense focus, akin to the focus someone had when fighting with themselves.
Sayoko realized her folly.
The Madame knew well of the child’s fear. She was probably doing all she could not to appear at his side and soothe him. The boy’s fear was obvious, so there had to be a reason why she had remained in her seat. The young woman, after all, loved Leopold Corabelle more than anyone else and wanted only the best for him. So Sayoko stayed in her seat and was silent even when the boy roughly wiped away the tears welling in his eyes as Mr. Lamperouge tried in vain to persuade him. She remained silent as the child violently shook his head and scrambled up onto his feet to run to his mother, his towel billowing out behind like a cape and the lifeguard’s shrill whistle chasing after him. And she quietly watched as Mr. Lamperouge looked after the boy before slipping into the pool, only to appear at the opposite end.
Climbing out, he accepted the towel Ms. Alstreim held out for him. His vibrant eyes, no longer shadowed by the fringe of his dark hair, locked onto the boy and his mother, when a young woman approached him with a wide smile to steal away his attention. Which was about the same time Sayoko realized something extremely important.
She was neither blind nor stupid. Though the Madame hadn’t said anything, she knew who it was that had so gently nursed her superior back to health – so gentle for a man of his violent station – and whose presence it was that calmed her even when her life was tinged by the black threat of death. She didn’t know everything, and she didn’t know the exact shape of the past between the two, but as she watched him reply before politely smiling and excusing himself, and the stranger watched him until he rejoined them, she remembered something important; the stranger had pulled a face before sashaying away. And though Mr. Lamperouge busied himself with coaxing the boy, Sayoko could tell by the nature of the woman’s reaction why she had stopped him.
Mr. Lamperouge was still young. Perhaps not as young as the accoster, but he was still, by definition, young. He was also wealthy, and by no means was he plain. But as she watched him, the nurse realized something that she had overlooked. For though he was all of those things, he was – first and foremost – unavailable to all but her mistress and her master. And for that, she was glad for his loyalty – if only for her mistress’ burdensome loneliness.
Ever since they had returned from the municipal pool, C.C. had noticed how quiet and unusually reserved her son was. He had asked for neither ice cream nor a game after dinner, which he had been silent throughout, rarely looking up from his untouched plate, and had quietly hid in his room after. Even now in the bath, he neither put on his usual acts of the swashbuckling pirate, nor those of a terrible sea monster that terrorized the seven seas. Rather, he simply sat in the placid and tepid water with a permanent cringe on his face. He bit his lip and grimaced at his faint reflection but otherwise remained private with his thoughts, and though she was concerned, the young woman did not inquire.
He would tell her in due time when he was prepared to tell her, and neither a second earlier nor later. Though he was young, her son was truthful and had excellent judgment for one his age. He would tell her in good time. He always did; it was just a matter of how much time he needed to sort out his thoughts. Even a four-year-old, she had learned, could have some troubling – albeit often trivial – dilemmas to face.
And tell her he did five minutes later. His voice croaky from temporary abandonment, he momentarily became a bullfrog as he called out for his mother’s attention – a breath wasted, as she had given him her full and undivided attention from the second she had realized that she was expecting him. She answered his call promptly, but between her answer and his second croak lay a small break, during which she carefully studied his fidgeting.
“…Maman, everybody hates me, don’t they? Nobody likes me, right?”
He finally looked up from the frothy, snow-white bubbles clouding around him, only to reveal the heartbroken tears welling in his eyes.
“Nobody likes me. No one likes me because…” He sniffled. “Because I couldn’t go into the pool so everybody thinks I’m stupid and they think that I’m a baby, and… And…”
He burst into a torrent of tears, his whimpers dissolving into an incoherent blubbering. Covering his face with his tiny hands, he sobbed into the palms. His mother gently peeled them away before holding his face in her hands and wiping away his tears as she made soothing sounds. He merely cried.
“Oh, my sweet Leopold… Mon ange, Everybody loves you. Maman promises. Sayoko loves you, as does Jeremiah. Think of who helps Sayoko prepare dinner so often, and who always makes Jeremiah smile. Leopold, my darling, even the end of the world wouldn’t be able to stop us from loving you. We all love you, sweetheart. Don’t doubt our love for even a moment.”
“But what about your friend?” he wailed. “What about Uncle Lelouch?”
“Leopold, I promise you that Uncle Lelouch still likes you.”
“…How do you know that?”
“Because you are the sweetest and most beautiful little angel, and we all know and understand. We were all like that too, my love, when we were your age. Sometimes older. We understand. It’s alright to be afraid. It’s quite alright. In no way are you a baby for being scared, and everyone agrees with Maman. Maman understands, as does Uncle Lelouch.”
He sniffled as his mother kissed his forehead.
“Do you trust me?” she asked.
“Then know that we all love you, Leopold. Nothing is ever going to change that.”
“Do you promise?”
“…okay,” he reluctantly replied. And though he felt better, Leopold knew that things weren’t quite over yet. Far from it. There was still something left that he had to do before all could be said and done. He knew. The strange feeling in his stomach told him so.
So even if it scared him, he went to go fix it the best he could.
Because it was okay to be scared.
Leopold stumbled upon him in the library. The man was reading something at the desk, and he could smell the smoke curling from the dim ember at the end of the cigarette. Trying his best not to wrinkle his nose – and failing horribly – he timidly stood in the doorway in hopes that the man would notice him and say something first.
“Isn’t it late for you to be up and about?”
“…I had something to do,” he mumbled sheepishly.
“Can I help?”
“I…” He stopped short, hesitant. He could help, technically speaking. He could help by forgiving him. Maybe if the man told him what his mother had told him, the sharp pain in his stomach would leave him be. But the question was… Would he? He had wasted his time, time which couldn’t be returned, and who knew? The man was one of his father’s, was he not? And his father’s men had a reputation for being mean, did they not?
“What is it, Leopold?”
He looked up at the kindness and warmth radiating from his voice, taken aback. He hadn’t expected such. But perhaps if he was kinder than he had expected, perhaps he would forgive him. Toes curling, he fisted the hem of his pajama shirt before squeezing his eyes shut and saying it all in one big rush.
He waited, tension coiled tight until he continuously heard nothing but silence. Slowly opening his eyes, he stared at the man who had adopted a thoughtful expression.
“Unfortunately, I am going to have to decline—”
His heart immediately crashed to the bottom of his stomach. Oh, no…
“—as there is nothing to forgive.”
With wide eyes, the boy watched as the man leaned against the imposing bureau and snuffed out his cigarette. He crossed his arms and all was silent in the musty library until the older said in a nostalgic tone: “I was afraid of swimming too. I know how it feels to stand at that edge.”
“…But you learned.”
“Only because I had to.” Kneeling before him, the man explained. “The bigger boys pushed me in that afternoon, and if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here.” Looking down at something – maybe his shoes – he stared at something that he couldn’t see, as if he wasn’t really there and he was looking at something that wasn’t of their time before his absentminded expression broke into a wide smile and he lightly joked, “While I’m grateful for their care, the orphanage lacked proper adult supervision at times.”
His lips parted in surprise, and he goggled at him. Orphanage? He had used to be an orphan? But before Leopold could confirm, the man continued on to say: “It’s true that we haven’t known each other for long. Nevertheless, Leopold, I can say that I genuinely wish the best for you. If you would like more time, that’s okay. I don’t mind at all. Just don’t push yourself. The last thing your mother would want is for you to hurt yourself. The last thing that I would want is for you to do something that makes you uncomfortable. Do you understand?”
He nodded slowly, and was answered with a small smile. Leopold’s heart skipped when he saw the warmth in the man’s eyes as he lay a hand on his head.
“Good. Then off to bed with you before your mother catches you out of bed. Should she catch you, even I won’t be able to protect you.”
Unable to speak, he merely nodded a second time before scampering away. But before he returned to his room, Leopold latched onto the doorway once more.
“…Thank you,” he blurted. “And…and good night,” he shyly added.
He looked surprised – but pleasantly so – before he returned the farewell. And then at last, the sick the feeling in his stomach calmed and he was able to retreat to the warmth and security of his comforter and his close companion, Charlie the Weasel.
Le maître nageur a soufflé le coup de sifflet avant avait aboyé un avertissement. S’était depose dans son siege, il a fait une enquête sous son domaine. Sa posture l’a trahi, respirent une impression imprudent quand un réalité, il nétait rien mais vigilante. Il a plissé sa moustache touffure avant s’était gratté le bec qui était son nez. Chantonnent une chanson du trajet de ce matin, il a scandé lentement et attentivement la longeur de la piscine pour un signe de dangeur quan quelque chose a attire sa attention.
C’était le jeune homme et son fils de nouveau – ou son neveu ou quoi que la relation était; ils avaient retourné depuis leur dernière visite quand le garçon avait pleuré. Il était heureux de voir qu’il ne pleurait plus et quoi de plus— Oop! Stupéfié du changement d’avis soudain du garçon, le sauveteur a observé comme le garçon a sauté dans les bras(armes) du jeune homme. Quoiqu’il se soit fermement accroché à lui et ne soit pas encore prêt à lâcher et apprendre à nager, le garçon était au moins arrivé dans l’association(le bassin) de son plein gré et comme un instructeur de baignade passé pour des enfants, il savait que c’était tout ce qui serait nécessaire. Cela et une paire forte de bras(d’armes) fiables. Et alors la moustache touffue a agité comme il a souri aux appels excités du garçon à sa mère qui se répercutaient des murs et du haut plafond de verre de l’association(du bassin), presque perdue dans le vacarme que des associations(bassins) municipales étaient célèbres de.
Quel jour excellent c’était.