The city of Orpheil was a city of means. With a history emblazoned on it streets, it stood tall and proud on the shores of the French Riviera, its buildings of the past mingling with the lean skyscrapers of the future. Small fishing boats swayed in the wake of gleaming yachts in the pier as multi-millionaire moguls strolled along the white sands of the very beach whose rocky shores served as a playground for barely-clothed children who fished from early morning to the last rays of sunset. And yet, in spite of this disparity in wealth, every Sunday afternoon, the entire town congregated among the narrow aisles crisscrossing the worn, scraggly brick towers and fairy-tale mansions all for the local market.
Everyone – from the newborn to the priest himself – no matter their gold or blood, could be found there, chatting, joking, and arguing with one another as if there were no families but one large one encompassing the denizens of that glorious city. So it was only natural that Leopold try his best to bear witness to such chaotic beauty, given his affinity for wonder and loveliness. Not to mention how much he liked to spend time with his mother and Uncle Lelouch. For some inexplicable reason, there was just something about the three of them going together that made his stutter less prevalent and his heart fuller. Kind of like it did now.
The sunlight slanted through the windows of the train, cocooning him in comfort, as they swayed through the streets and cut through a sea of people. The breeze playfully ruffled his hair as it passed through the open windows, and he lightly kicked his legs. In his palm sat the pocket watch his mother had given to Uncle Lelouch for Christmas. Watching the fragile hand tick by, he traced the engraving on the cover with his finger as the mechanical heartbeat tickled his hand.
So fixated was he on the time that he missed the owner of the watch frown. He had been looking out of the window, occasionally directing his faint smile at the beautiful woman who sat a seat over as they wordlessly flirted with one another over the child’s head, when something rather…agitating had caught his attention.
Lelouch hadn’t really noticed him when they had boarded. He had seemed normal enough, dressed in slack and a button-down, as he stood there with one hand wrapped around a silver pole and the other shoved in his pocket. In fact, he had thought nothing of him until he had noticed, out of the corner of his eye, how strange his expression was. His eyes- black pupils – had been flickering wildly, from here to there, as if they were searching for something. And while that was fine in itself, what wasn’t fine was the ring on his finger.
As far as he was aware, very few men in this day and age owned signet rings, and even fewer wore them on a daily basis, and what few he knew certainly weren’t romantics and travelled to foreign countries on mere whim. More so if they were currently engaged in a war against the kingpin of the underground.
Reeling, he glanced away. He hadn’t seen them yet, but that could all be arranged in a matter of seconds. Hands curling into a fist, he grimaced before gently placing a hand on her arm and speaking in a low voice.
“It looks like there’s going to be rain.”
The light in her eyes immediately sputtered out. She stiffened, and her expression hardened, but she otherwise remained still and silent. His grim expression breaking into a smile, he lightly asked her, “Wouldn’t it be a good idea to get an umbrella? In case it rains?”
“It’s going to rain?” Leopold tore his eyes away from the gilded face and allowed his attention to stray to the windows. Pulling a face, he turned back to the man whose side he had been leaning on. “It’s not going to rain.”
He merely placed a hand on his head as he stared at the boy’s mother. Just over her shoulder, beyond the newspaper of the man behind her, he could see the stranger’s eyes sweep closer, and closer, and…
A hot breeze leisurely drifted into the car, nearly suffocating its occupants. Leopold shifted uncomfortably in his seat, suddenly sensing that something was very, very wrong. Tugging at the collar of his shirt, he fell limp against the back of the seat as his legs gently swayed in the wake of the next stop. Rubbing his nose, he shifted to ask when they were going to go home, when his mother abruptly stood up and, taking his hand, headed for the doors. Bemused, he stumbled after her as she briskly wove her way through the people, until he realized that Uncle Lelouch wasn’t following after, at which point he immediately dug his heels into the floor.
“Maman, what about—”
He shrunk back when he saw his mother’s expression and allowed himself to be rushed along. Looking over his shoulder, he bit his lip as they stepped out of the stuffy car and onto the wide streets of the town. As the car let out a sigh, he craned his neck to see if Uncle Lelouch was going to slip out from the crowd, only for the doors to slide shut in his face. Leopold paled.
“Listen to me closely, sweetheart.”
With wide eyes, he turned to his mother, who knelt before him and tightly held his hands. She rubbed the pads of her thumbs over the backs of his hands before looking up with a gentle smile that, for once, seemed out-of-place and savagely failed to comfort him.
“We’re going to play a game, sweetheart. Uncle Lelouch and Maman thought it would be nice to play a game today, since the weather was so nice. So we’re going to play cops and robbers. Would you like that?”
For some inexplicable reason, Leopold felt as if the only right response was nodding his head. So he did so, and much to his relief, her smile widened.
“I’m glad. Now, why don’t we go before Uncle Lelouch catches us? We wouldn’t want to lose the game now, would we?”
He shook his head on cue and tightly held his mother’s hand as she hailed a cab, all the while the weight in his pocket – which had once been so comforting, like when his mother hugged him or Uncle smoothed his hair as he did from time to time – suddenly became that of a stone dragging him down to the impossible depths of the deep blue.
Biting his lip, the boy shifted his weight as he tried to find the comfortable position he had been in on that tram. But for some odd reason, the watch that had once fascinated him so seemed to only hinder his comfort and distract him from any possible reprieve. Almost as if he was missing something.
Almost as if a support he had grown to depend on had mysteriously disappeared, leaving him to balance wobbly on his own two feet.
. . .
She herself had very little to pack. Unlike the others, in spite of the months she had spent in that countryside, there was very little that Anya had chosen to keep by her side, so when her superior took the liberty of calling her to inform her of the recent development, by the time the young woman and the boy had returned to the manor, her single bag was already squatting by the boot of the car.
She stood by the car, gun in hand, and watched as her compatriot loaded the car with various suitcases. The majority had gone ahead under Sayoko’s care, but there was so much luggage, one journey wouldn’t have been enough to carry all they had. Eyes flickering from the older gentleman to the rustling boughs of the trees above, she waited, unblinkingly, for both friend and foe. And when she finally heard the long-awaited sound of crunching gravel, she silently raised the muzzle until she saw who had arrived.
“We’re leaving? But you said we were playing a game!” Latching onto his mother’s leg, he whined “We can’t leave without Uncle Lelouch!”
“We’re not going to leave without him, sweetheart.”
“Then how come Jeremiah’s already putting our stuff into the car?”
“We’re not going to leave without him.” This time, her voice was frayed with impatience. “Maman promises.”
Even from where she stood, she could see the glimmer of doubt in his eyes as he peered at the car but otherwise, he remained silent. His mother glanced over her shoulder and at the settling cloud of dust that was the only trace of their hurried arrival, when Jeremiah slammed the trunk shut. She whipped around.
Anya locked the door behind her. A little silly, but should Lelouch Lamperouge fail, it would occupy them, even if it was only for a little, and though neither had given her reason to doubt, Anya knew that Jeremiah Gottwald and Sayoko Shinozaki would have a difficult time protecting both themselves as well as their charges. More so if the aggressor had been able to rid of Lelouch Lamperouge.
Then, trying the door one last time, she climbed into the waiting car and sped away until the house was but a mere pebble on the horizon.
. . .
To say that she was comforted by their escape would be to lie. Even when they had arrived at the taxiway, unscratched and unharmed, apprehension still continued to gnaw at her – and probably would continue to until 8PM – the deadline for his return.
She tried her best to keep up with her son in the meanwhile, who had become rather excited by the sudden flurry of orders and commands from the adults who knew better. But there were times when, though she loved him dearly, she had little patience to expend on him, and it seemed that one of those times was now. All the same, she tried her best to help him through the excitement and answer any and all questions he may have.
“When is Uncle Lelouch coming?”
“But how soon? Soon or soon soon?”
“He’ll come as fast as he can, sweetheart, and not a second later.”
“Okay, but when will that be, do you think? Because I haven’t finished the duet yet, and Uncle promised to play it together and he promised to keep his promise.”
She nearly forgot to answer when she heard footsteps coming up the stairs until Sayoko appeared in the doorway and dipped her into the shadows as she blocked out the dying light of the sun. Heart twisting, she quickly picked herself up from where she had fallen into brisk despair to tend to the child leaning on the arm of her chair and tugging on the sleeve of her dress.
“I don’t know, sweetheart, but in the meantime, until Uncle Lelouch comes back, why don’t you make sure Lulu is alright? I can only imagine how frightened she must be; this is her first time flying, isn’t it?”
He stared at her as if he could see right through her before slowly straightening up. C.C. thought of reaching for him. She thought of holding him, of promising him that he would come back.
“Okay,” he said with that quiet anger so characteristic of betrayal. C.C. balked but remained staunch. Because even if it pained her to bear witness to that human corruption – even if it pained her to be the inspiration of such sorrowful inevitability – how could she think of feeding him such false hope? She herself doubted his return, and while there was the merit of giving him peace of mind, she would ultimately only make his wounds more severe in the case that everything did go to hell and he really didn’t return. And she couldn’t do that. She wouldn’t do that. Not to him.
When he felt her, she covered her face with her hands. She didn’t know why, but all of a sudden, she felt exhausted. Worn and yet tense, she sat on the edge of her plush seat. From down the hall, she could just faintly hear her son’s voice interwoven with the gentle guidance of his nanny. When she decided that he was occupied enough, she finally let her emotion seep through the cracks of her mask.
She knew he was capable. It only made sense; he had to have proven himself to be where he was, and she had witnessed displays of his cunning and ability. But at the same time… At the same time, she still worried. Even if he was prepared for the likes of the situation that they faced now, it didn’t change the fact that he was still sick. Given, it had been some time since his last spell, but they had become increasingly worse as time had worn on, and…
He had to come back. He had to. For as much as Leopold’s sake as for her own, it was imperative that he return. She didn’t know whether her son could withstand the heartbreak if he didn’t, but she never wanted to find out.
. . .
When she woke to the sound of the engines, her heart nearly jumped into her throat before plummeting down into the pit of her stomach. The knot that her heart found just barely distracted her from her stiff body as she delicately rose from the seat she had fallen asleep in. Bracing herself against the wall, she swayed for a moment before carefully taking a step. Hand naturally falling to her stomach, she made her way through the rest of the plane, as it became more and more curled as she walked through and discovered her aid and her son but no trace of the one she was looking for.
Stomach churning, she stood in the frame of the bedroom, when she noticed the sliver of light leaking through an ajar door. Curiously – hopefully – moving forward, she stood before the door with the intention of going inside, when she suddenly stopped herself.
From inside came the familiar rush of running water, and through the crack, she could see, much to her relief, the white fabric of his shirt. And while there was nothing wrong with this, C.C. felt herself yellow.
She wasn’t sure why she didn’t go inside right away. Perhaps it was from the fear of coming face to face with what had happened to him during their separation. Their last had changed him so radically and had hurt him so badly. Who was to say that this one wouldn’t do the same? But when he shifted to the side and she saw his reflection from the mirror, she understood that there was no place for her hesitance. If this time had hurt him – and it clearly had from what little she had seen – then it was her responsibility, not only as the cause of such injury, but as someone who loved him, and cared for him, to help him. But even as she realized this, when she opened the door, and saw the rusty water swirling down the drain and the violence illuminating his dead eyes, she stopped short.
With nothing between them for the first time, she could see how ragged he looked. A gash marking his cheek, she stared at the violet bruise decorating his cheekbone and the blood smearing the corner of his lips. But when she moved closer to look for other wounds, he immediately stepped back. Running into the corner in his haste, he nearly stumbled. She firmly caught his hands.
He tried to pull away, but she knew it was just an act. If he really wanted her to let go – if he really wanted her to leave him alone as he so desperately tried to pretend to – he’d have forced his way out. He’d have closed the door completely and locked it, or stepped out when she had stepped in. He was stronger than her, and if he so wished, could push her away. But he hadn’t. Instead, she had pushed himself further into a corner, had retreated further into the room, and though he tried to free his hands from her stern grip, his efforts ebbed until they had completely vanished and his cold hands lay limp in her own.
She looked up into his eyes, or at least tried to. But he always turned away as if his gaze was too heavy to lift up and meet hers. So she tilted his head up until he had no choice but to look at her. And there they stood in that small room, time just barely trickling by, as she leaned in closer and pressed her ear to his chest. Closing her eyes, she listened to the steady ticking and felt the rise and fall of his chest, and loved him. Supporting him, she held his rough, calloused hands in her soft ones, and loved him. And when she felt his remorse for the life he had taken, she continued to hold him even as he sunk to the ground, and loved him until he had wept himself free of his humanity.
. . .
When Lloyd grabbed her shoulder, Cécile winced as he pinched her. His hand tightly holding onto her, he stared at her with wide eyes – almost as if he didn’t recognize her – as the dark circles under his eyes stretched and yawned until they had faded into the shadows of the dark room. As he stared at her, she glanced at the stubble on his chin and the dirty smudges on his glasses before repeating her question a third time.
But it wasn’t until he finally answered in a thin whisper that she understood why he had burst into her room at 3 in the morning. It wasn’t until he took hold of both her shoulders and gently shook her that she saw, and understood. Her eyes mimicking his, the two owls stared at one another as they reveled in the impossibility of the god-like feat they had just accomplished.
Oh, what a joyous occasion!