Leopold very rarely ever left Lulu’s side. The two were inseparable, both from the boy’s desires and the kitten’s. They slept in the same bed. They played in the same spot of shade, and if he had his way, they would have eaten from the same plate too. Unfortunately, much to his dismay, Leopold could not have his way, and so, they did not eat from the same plate. They did, however, while their youth away together, and this healed what wounds he incurred during suppertime. Even the scratches from that one mistake of introducing her to his pirate crew healed, given enough time. Of course, it still stung at times, but that was alright. Lulu couldn’t like everything he did. Or else that would just be plain boring.
The only time the child would really, truly willingly leave Lulu was when he and Uncle Lelouch and Maman went out. Sometimes they’d go out around the fields near their home with Lancelot and Guinevere – as he had named the handsome dapple-grey’s – occasionally breaking out into a gallop, much to his startled delight. Other times, they’d go to the beach or into town, like they had that morning for a visit to le musée d’art d’Haza. And during these trips, Leopold – being a four-year-old and having only the attention-span and mind-power of just that – quickly and easily forgot Lulu to the various faded paintings as quickly and as easily as he had fallen in love with her. With each brief pause, the thought of his beloved friend dissipated as he busied himself with two seconds of appraisal and a subsequent sprint to the next painting with all his might in spite of the short distance between each exhibit.
Though he didn’t particularly hold an affinity for art, there were plenty of interesting portrayals of the countryside and the sea that managed to pique his interest for seconds at a time. His mother and Uncle Lelouch, being adults, were better at feigning higher pursuits of culture, though whether the art was actually interesting to them, he wasn’t quite sure. He doubted it; they were all so boring; who would like them? He could draw just as well. Maybe his drawings should be hung up in a museum.
Once his patience had been spent and he had been satiated of classical art – not that a child had had such an appetite to begin with – he demanded that they go out and see the world beyond the white walls of the museum. And so they did upon his third plea.
The sky was a deep blue, fringed by the canopies of the ancient trees from around. Green shade splashing the walkway with color, Leopold hopped from shadow to shadow as Charlie excitedly bounced around from where he sat in the pouch that hung around the boy’s neck. Wellington’s catching the bright sunlight, he threw up a hand to protect his little game of hopscotch and continued to softly sing to himself as he went from brick to brick of the old path in the park until tiring of the game and rushing to his mother. Clutching her leg, he begged for a cool treat – it was just so hot, he was going to melt right this minute if he didn’t have something cold to eat – he happily rushed to the swing-set on the playground in the company of Charlie and a sweet vanilla ice cream cone.
And it was from there that he watched the adults. He watched as they spoke to one another, and the way his mother’s face would slowly bloom like a beautiful flower as she carefully formed her reply before parting her rose-petal lips, and he watched Uncle Lelouch as he listened to her pretty song, and how he’d sit there, his entire being turned towards her, and he’d look at both of their expressions and see how much they… They…
Well, it was…rather difficult to place. He wasn’t quite sure what the correct word was, but if he had to guess, he felt that it was the same way he himself looked at Lulu and the way that he’d play with Charlie. But also kind of different the same time? It wasn’t exactly the same, but not exactly very different either. Which kind of made sense. Sort of. His mother and Uncle Lelouch had gone to school together after all. It only made sense that they would be good friends in the same sense that he and Lulu and Charlie was if they had found each other after so much time had passed since they had left school.
Though he did wonder about some things. Like when his mother had planned this holiday. It could have been a surprise on her part, but his birthday had already passed, and Christmas hadn’t even arrived yet, so that couldn’t be the reason. Not that he didn’t like it; he was glad to have come here, and though they had had a rocky start, he was glad the Uncle Lelouch had come too. He could hardly imagine what it would have been like if he hadn’t been with them; still fun, but maybe a little… A little empty. If that was even the correct word to describe it.
Though sometimes he did worry about Uncle Lelouch. He was always eating something from those tiny bottles, and once or twice, they had had to cancel their swimming lessons because he had been too tired or something. He wondered if maybe he was sick like his mother had been, but that didn’t make much sense; Uncle Lelouch hadn’t been caught out in the rain recently like his mother had that one time, and when he had, he hadn’t been sick. So it was all rather puzzling to him that a man who looked so strong could be stuck in bed from time to time. He looked fine all of the time. Maybe… His eyes widened. Maybe a witch had put a curse on him! Sometimes the witches in his books put curses on knights and princes, so maybe that was what had happened! But then what was the cure? And what could he do to get it? There was always a cure, and there was always a way to get it.
Of course, most of the time, it was usually true lo…
Leopold stared at the man and woman. He had never really considered such a possibility – hell, he hadn’t even been aware of such a notion until twenty seconds ago – but it wasn’t impossible… Was it? His mother had told him that Uncle Lelouch was like one of those knights in the stories he so adored, and his mother was by all means a queen, so going by that logic…
But they could also just be friends. People didn’t care about other people just because they were in love, they did it because they were friends and they cared. Right? Not that he really knew anything about friends, but something made him scratch his head at the sudden idea. Nothing he could think of seemed quite right, but it wasn’t as if they were nothing. They were something to each other, right? In the very least, they meant something to each other, though whether that something was as friends or more, he wasn’t quite sure.
Maybe they were special friends.
Yes, yes, that was it. It had to be it. They were special friends; there was no other possible answer. Nothing else made sense.
But! But if that really didn’t sit well with him, and he really, really couldn’t figure it out – if that shoe didn’t quite fit – he could always ask them. His mother had, after all, never once lied to him, and had also helped him put the right shoe on the right foot on numerous occasions. He seriously doubted she would lie to him about this; people only lied when they had something to hide, and why would she want to hide something as beautiful and as wonderful as love?
Proud of his cleverness, Leopold grinned to himself. He was a natural sleuth, he was. Just as good as Mr. Holmes, if not – dare he say it? – better. And Charlie would be his Watson! Yes, it was all perfect; the hardiest of riddles and conundrums didn’t stand a chance in the face of Leopold Holmes and Dr. Charlie, that was for sure. Not even the matters of the heart.
Especially the matters of the heart.
. . .
C.C. knew her son had a tendency to wander as all children often did, and while she had no qualms in letting him explore under her watchful eye, when she saw where his curiosity had taken him, she felt rather…regretful.
Shrinking back before the imposing building, she shivered in the worn stone shrouded her in its bleak shadow. Determined not to be cowed, she stared blankly up at the glimmering Catherine above her, but try as she might, she couldn’t help but feel her heart tremble.
So engrossed was she in her struggle for control that she started when she felt someone gently pry her hands open. Bewildered, she sharply turned to discover the identity of the culprit, only to find herself looking into his dark eyes.
Swallowing, she scrambled for some excuse, when she heard: “He’s inside.”
“…I know,” she reluctantly admitted.
“I’ll be with you the entire time.”
She nodded stiffly, but it was still some time before she could gather herself up to take a shaky first step up the stairs. Even with the smite of God upon her, she walked towards the doors – to the gates of her hell. She had to find her son. Even if it meant returning to the very place she had abandoned in her anger and resentment, the only place that no longer welcomed her, she would go in. But she’d also never let go of his hand; as determined as she was, as she dove into the cool, quiet cavern, she couldn’t help but quail from the onslaught of memories. She pressed herself close to his side and nervously fingered the pearls around her neck.
Glancing all around her, she was made acutely aware of the murmurs of prayer ghosting about the impossibly high arches as she fought for herself. God didn’t exist. She had decided at least that much years ago. He didn’t exist, and he never had, she reminded herself. And yet, in spite of all these reminders, she couldn’t help but ask herself if she truly felt that way, why did it feel as if he was lying in wait amongst the shadows to strike her down?
A chill ran down her back, and unable to withstand the incredibly pressure any longer, she dropped herself into one of the pews in the corner, back where the darkness fell over the faces of those who dared to sit far from the reaches of the holy light. Breathing shakily, she tightly clasped her hands together as if in prayer. And pray she did for strength to overcome this forgotten demon of the past.
For once – shockingly – her prayers were answered in the form of the heavy comfort of his jacket on her shoulders. Looking at him gratefully, she sought for something to say – perhaps an excuse to explain why she was being so foolish or to crack a self-deprecating witticism at her own weakness – when she heard the voice of Providence.
The color draining from her face, she immediately turned to the source of the reverberations, and, to her relief, saw her son running towards her with a wide smile lighting up his face. Hurrying out from the pew, she knelt onto the frigid stone floor, ignoring the protest from her knees, and embraced him as he threw himself into her arms. Holding him tight, she closed her eyes as he giggled and squirmed.
“Maman, guess what? I found a father!”
She opened her eyes, and sure enough stood a young man before her. He couldn’t be much older than herself, and he stood with unexpressed mirth as he took in the overly-dramatic scene before him. Rising, C.C. tightly held her son’s hand with one hand and pulled on her lover’s jacket with the other as she thanked him.
“It is always a pleasure and an honor to be with the children of God,” he replied.
She returned his wide smile with a strained one of her own. Unsure of how to excuse herself, she glanced around the cathedral, suddenly aware of how few people there were.
Returning her attention to the priest, she stared at him at a loss for words, when she heard: “Yes, we are.”
“Ah! Well, may I please welcome you to Orpheil! Please, you must join us for Christmas Mass! We would be pleased to have more join us on that joyous occasion!”
Somewhere, somehow, from beyond her daze, C.C. heard her son whisper something to Charlie with one ear while listening to the man besides her reply with the other.
“That’s very kind of you, but we’ll have to decline. We’re not of this faith, and we don’t wish to intrude.”
The priest nodded sympathetically before clasping his hands together and saying, “Well, I do not mean to be tenacious, but we would be happy to have you all the same. The House of God closes its doors to no one, whether they be beggars, thieves, or otherwise.”
“We’ll be sure to attend if we can.”
. . .
At one point or other, C.C. found herself seated at an outdoor café. The sun was shining brightly, and its warmth fell on her shoulders in spite of the calendar reading “janvier.” And though the light was blinding and she knew of the sun’s embrace, she drew the jacket close and gave a half-hearted smile in response to Leopold’s curiosity before he turned and asked the same of Lelouch, who thankfully gave an answer that sufficed for them both.
Closing her eyes, she did her best to calm down. The danger – if one could even call it that – had long since passed. She had long outgrown such fear of fiction, and while Leopold had been able to amuse himself with Lelouch in the meantime, and Lelouch had been understanding, it wouldn’t do to continue on with this immature absurdity. She had a responsibility to fulfill; she owed her son at least that much. Firmly wrapping her hands around her cup, she took a sip of her tea before joining the conversation she had been but a spectator of for some time.
“Pendragon Country Day, my love.”
“Oh, yup! That’s the name! I’m going to go to that school next year. I’m really, really, really excited,” he hurriedly explained as if there were some timer ticking, “because that’s where Maman went, and that’s where I’m going to go. You get to milk cows and learn new stuff! Isn’t that funny?”
“I wish I could have learned how to milk a cow when I went to school,” was the delightful reply that the boy received, as well as an equally – if not more so – delightfully somber tone. Nodding sympathetically, he patted his hand.
“It’s not too late. Maman says it’s never too late to learn something new. If you want, I could teach you after I learn,” he offered shyly.
“I would like that immensely, thank you.”
The child beamed at him from behind his juice and hurriedly wiped his mouth with the back of his hand so as to make his voice available to the whims of his curiosity.
“What school did you go to?”
The moment the question left his lips, his mother moved to intervene. But even when she saw that the man’s expression had hardened, his shock soon melted into an easy smile and a clever joke, alleviating the responsibility of protecting him.
“Certainly not one where we learned how to milk cows.”
Her son giggled, and C.C. smiled, all the while never taking her eyes off of the man. After flashing a smile to her son, he had cast his eyes into the depths of his coffee and losing himself in his past. That is, he had been lost in his past until she had lightly touched his shoulder and drawn him away from such painful reverie. He looked up before smiling and taking her hand. And there, the three sat in the café, the boy chattering and giggling as he drank his orange juice and the man and woman holding hands and listening with fond smiles.
. . .
“It will be just the two of us today.”
“What of Alstreim?”
“She won’t be joining us. I believe she’s asleep.”
Jeremiah nodded as he took the pitcher from her. Setting it on the table, he went to wash his hands at the kitchen sink, when he heard her add – seemingly as an after thought: “I don’t think they’ll be home for dinner either.”
His mistress had been going out often, and for long lengths of time, which, in itself, wasn’t strange. On the contrary, it was quite normal – to a certain degree. She did go out often, to boutiques or board meetings, but that wasn’t what was so strange. What was strange was that when she went out, she stayed out longer than she had ever before they had come to Orpheil. Or go out in the company beyond that of her son.
Jeremiah knew. He knew, as did Sayoko, and most likely Anya Alstreim, what had been going on for some time. Though they were discreet with their affection, it still bled through, coloring the slightest flicker of the eye or the inflection of their tone when they spoke to one another, with desire. It had been carefully concealed beneath calculated words and the most modest sleights of hand, but it was still there all the same, and that alone made all the difference in the world.
He did not speak of the matter with anyone. Not even Sayoko, who also never brought up the matter. By some medium of fantasy and imagination, they had all agreed to turn a blind eye without so much as a word uttered in consultation. It would, they had wordlessly said, be alright so long as she was happy. It would be alright, they had quietly agreed, because they knew he was genuine in his motives, for which he had none but to stay by her side.
And Jeremiah knew this because the man himself had told him. Though he was skilled in the art of masking one’s truth and was adept at lying through his teeth, the young man was far from gifted enough to fool him, he who had been bestowed an extraordinary talent for divining the hearts of others. For though it was by no means obvious, Jeremiah could see it in the way he carried himself, and could hear it in his voice, how much he loved her.
And it was because of this that Jeremiah concluded his investigation. The man was more…honorable than he seemed. His reputation betrayed him, he had decided; though he could see the shadow of the described monster, the demon itself could not be found. He couldn’t be, what with his mistress, and what more, his young master. For just as the man’s relationship with his mistress was illicit, the connection between his young master and the man was pure, and good, and left no room for such ungodliness. And while it was true that there had been very little occasion for him to show off his corruption, Jeremiah seriously doubted that the mask he would wear was anything more than skin-deep. Capable as he may be at killing, the man amused himself with filling the quiet halls of their home with the music of the boy’s laughter and quickly basking in the warmth of Venus’ favor. Even if he were a monster – which seemed less and less true with each passing day – they at least would be safe from the fangs of such a beast.
He was a good man, Lelouch Lamperouge was. A strange man, and an enigma of a man at that, what with his antithetical nature, but…
But who was to say that man wasn’t but a descendent of Janus? Who was to say that it wasn’t man’s nature to contradict himself?
. . .
“Who was the man on the cross?”
The child failed to catch the shock on his mother’s face. So quick was she in hiding her truth, even his quick eyes never witnessed the expression of hurt and surprise that had caught her by the ankle and tripped her. Her hands never ceasing their work, she gave a flippant smile before lightly probing.
“Why do you want to know?”
“Because he looked like he was hurt and I was wondering if there was something I could do to help him. Sort of like how you help me when I’m hurt.”
Rooted to her spot, she watched as her son obediently put his boots into the closet before reappearing from the dim, expectantly waiting for an answer. Smiling uneasily, she barely stopped herself from wringing her hands or so much as letting her face cringe into the slightest of frowns. Folding her trembling hands, she said: “Some people believe him to be their savior. To be the good and pure of this world.”
“Because he is the son of God.”
“Is God someone powerful?”
“Some believe him to be, yes.”
His impatience gave her no room to reply, thankfully. As he sat on his bed, his kitten in his lap, he tilted his head to the side as if he were appraising something, before bombarding her with questions.
“What did God do for people to think that he’s their savior?”
“Will I ever get to meet him?”
“If I do, will he be like Fath—”
“That’s enough for today, Leopold.”
Taken aback, he blinked at his mother’s sharp tone. It wasn’t that it was the first time that she had spoken to him sternly. It was more the combination of her tone and her expression that had surprised him so much. Or rather, the lack of. The warmth that was usually so plentiful in her eyes was scarce, with the beautiful gold cooled to a metallic bronze.
For the first time in his life, Leopold saw.
“Didn’t you promise to help Sayoko with supper, sweetheart?”
And just as quickly as it had happened, the boy lost the light as quickly and as easily as as kitten loses its grip on the sunlight, as he rushed out of the room, affording his mother the privacy to release her palms from blood-stained nails.
. . .
If, somehow, someone had been able to perch onto the limbs of the wisteria tree, and knew which window to look into, they could have seen a man standing before the window, partially tucked away by the soothing cool of the silky shadow. A harsh light in his eyes, he glared at something to his right – a map of a city far, far away from that peaceful countryside, but the intruder wouldn’t have known that – before quietly relaying orders in a cold voice. And just as the intruder wouldn’t have known of the map, they would have been oblivious to his ordering of fifty executions. With little – if at all any – regret, he sealed the fates of not only those fifty, but of hundreds more. All their friends, enemies, family, lovers – whoever knew them and whoever would have known them – would soon have their lives made miserable by some invisible omnipotence. Even those whose only connection would have been mistakenly catching their eyes on the streets wouldn’t be spared from his reach; all lives connected would be affected by the loss of those fifty. And this, the man knew and knew well.
Ever since he had accepted the chains of that ivory tower, he had been aware of what it would mean – and what it would cost – to remain in that throne and to hold that scepter. And though this burden – among others – weighed on him heavily and made him draw his face tight, he neither retracted his order nor expressed any remorse.
Even so, when she wrapped her arms around her waist and he drew her closer, he held her for as much his own sake as he did for hers.