Chapter Nineteen: Down the Rabbit Hole

Leopold was a little less than pleased when he woke up. Though he was relieved to find Uncle Lelouch on the plane with them, his respite was short-lived when he found out that not only did his mother agree with his father’s desire to return to Pendragon, but that Uncle Lelouch did as well. Sulking and snapping at whomever came near him, he lurked in the shadows for the remainder of the flight home. Hiding behind the walls of his fort – which only he, Lulu, and Charlie were allowed to go beyond – he ignored even Sayoko who had done him no wrong until they landed, by which point he had grown tired enough of such hostility to permit his mother to carry him off the plane.

Not that he forgave them for their betrayal. He refused to speak to them and busied himself with Lulu, who was feeling rather bewildered over the sudden turn of events. So upset was he that he didn’t even ask if Uncle Lelouch was going to stay with them, or if he was going to go back once they got home. Even with his curiosity, the sting of his wound was far too severe for him to bother.

That is, it was too severe until they turned into the driveway of his childhood, at which point the home he had grown up in – a large part of his world – erupted in a fit of passion. The roof collapsing, the edge of his world groaned as its stomach burst with flames and stone belched fire. Hell rained down from above, and a shadow loomed overhead as black smoke billowed up into the sky. Clinging to his mother, Leopold stared with wide, disbelieving eyes. It had been standing there as it always had, the glorious palace gleaming in the sunlight. How could it possibly become nothing but stone and mortar so quickly?

And yet, in spite of all this, nothing frightened him more than the man besides him. The change in his expression – slight and yet so distinct – was enough for him to forget the debris that had once been his home. There was little emotion to be found, if any at all, and as they raced under the canopy of dead trees rustling in the wind, his stomach turned at the cold light in his eyes. Kind Uncle Lelouch, Uncle Lelouch who was so indulging to him, and so kind and gentle, was dead. This man he looked upon. That couldn’t possibly be him. Where had he gone, with his gentle smile and warm voice? Off elsewhere, he realized, to somewhere far, far away. But the explanation did little to comfort him; Lulu mewled her protest in his arms, but he only held her tighter, pressing her against Charlie as his mother forced them down. Through her arms, he could hear the bullets splintering the thick glass of the car, but he paid them no mind. Instead, he watched, fearful, as Uncle Lelouch reached into his jacket and pulled out a shining black gun.

Just as it was with the bullets, the gun didn’t scare him. Just as it was with his expression, he was made nervous by the way the man’s grip was so familiar, and the comfortable manner in which his finger rested ever so lightly on the trigger. Leopold could just barely make out through the mess of cat, weasel, and hair the cold in Uncle Lelouch’s eyes, but he saw it nonetheless, and what he saw made him shake. No longer a man was he, but a killing machine.

He stiffened the moment he felt his mother’s nails digging into him and heard the tinkling of glass as the window finally shattered under the pressure. And then that was when it finally began. The angry crinkle, the perfect lack of warmth and humanity, the blank face, the sound of the gun discharging bullet after bullet after bullet through the sharp teeth of the back window. The sound of tires screeching before the cars from behind spun into one another. The deaths of their pursuers.

Uncle Lelouch’s quiet inhumanity.

Lulu trembled against him, her claws greedily eating into his soft skin, and though it was painful, he still held her and nearly smothered her with his fright. Squeezing his eyes shut, he tried to block out the noises of the gunshots but failed miserably, and soon enough… Soon enough, the tears began.

They started quietly – much like Uncle Lelouch’s transformation – but escalated into sobs in a matter of seconds until he was wailing. Wanting to be alone and away from the din of war, he struggled against Lulu, against his mother, and against anything and everything piled on him and choking him. He struggled against the noose around his neck, and, gasping for air, jerked forward, when suddenly, somehow, through his tears, he could see Charlie – Charlie, his bestest friend in the whole world, Charlie, who’d been with him since he had been born – make a leap for freedom.

Leopold screamed.

Throwing himself after, he desperately grabbed for him, but his fingers merely brushed his worn brown fur. And with that slight graze, he was forever lost. Leopold would have leaned forward – would have thrown himself out after – if someone hadn’t suddenly grabbed the scuff of his shirt and jerked him back. Twisting around, he opened his mouth to protest and scream, when he saw that it was Uncle Lelouch who had pulled him back and…

With wide eyes, he stared at the crimson blossoming on the man’s white shirt. Not even the loss of Charlie distracted him from the way his mask gave way to a fracture and pain briefly ruptured his face before returning to that blank mask that frightened him so. Quiet and still, the boy could only watch with horror as the red slowly spread down his sleeve until black was dripping down onto the leather.

“M-Maman—”

“Be still, Leopold. You mustn’t move.”

“But Uncle Lelouch—”

“Leopold.”

He saw that she too had seen, and for the first time, he realized how weary she looked, and how old. It was as if she had aged fifty years – undoubtedly because of him and the sin he had just committed. Whimpering, he hid behind Lulu, unable to bear for a second longer the weight of the scarlet staining the man’s once-pristine shirt – a weight that had been caused by his own action. A weight that he was to be blamed for. Him. Leopold. Not those men, but he was responsible for hurting the man.

Leopold squeezed his eyes shut. It was nearly impossible to breathe; there was a strange weight on his chest, and on his shoulders – one that ground into him and kept him there. Breaths uneven, he dugs his nails into his palms and wept in shame for what he had done and what been stolen from him.

.           .           .

When he woke, Leopold found himself in a dimly-lit bedroom. Lulu lay at his feet, curled up into a tiny ball, and when he sat up, looked up at him. Crawling up to him before rubbing herself against his arm, she purred. Groggily rubbing his eyes, he patted the kitten before looking all around him.

It was not his mother’s bedroom, and when he wondered why, the memories of his home burning down into silvery ashes returned, and with it, a fresh wave of shame and sorrow. His heart seizing, his lips trembled as he tried his best to hold in his tears. But a long time ago – or at least it seemed that way – his mother had told him that it was okay to be afraid, and right now, Leopold was afraid more than anything. He was afraid that Uncle Lelouch hated him, and he was afraid that he never wanted to talk to him, and even if he had scared him back then with that look in his eyes, it didn’t matter because Leopold knew that the real Uncle Lelouch was someone who was kind and gentle and nice. There was no way that that monster had been his uncle. There was simply no way that was the real him, so that was why he hoped, more than anything, that he wasn’t angry.

“…Do you think he’s angry?”

She glanced up from where she had been licking her paw but otherwise, he received no reaction. Brows knit together, he drew her into his lap.

“It’s just you and me now then. Ch…” He gulped, fighting against the strange lump that had suddenly appeared in his throat. “Charlie’s gone, so it’s just you and me, but you won’t leave me, right, Lulu? We’ll stay together? Even if Charlie and Uncle Lelouch are gone?”

He waited for reassurance, but like the time before, she merely ignored him and continued to pay attention only to her paw. Sniffling, Leopold looked around the room, huddling away from the strange shadows on the walls. He had never before felt so lost, and now, without Charlie by his side, all sense of adventure had completely and utterly vanished without a trace. All of the mystery and thrill that was normally promised fell flat, and the magic had simply dissipated. But it wasn’t as if he could keep sitting in bed. He had a responsibility not only for Lulu, but for himself as well. He had to return to his mother, who was undoubtedly searching for him. And he couldn’t keep Lulu in here either. She liked the sun, and after what had just happened…

Sliding off of the bed, he scooped up his one and only companion and left the room. Outside, he found himself in a hallway. It held nothing – not even any other doors – save for bright, painfully white lights. It bent around a corner, and for a moment, he nearly lost the will to venture beyond the room – he didn’t like the room, but at least he knew what was inside. At least that had its four walls so he knew all there was to know about that place. Who knew what was waiting for him around the corner? – when he heard footsteps.

His skin crawling, he turned and tried to go back into the room, but the handle was just out of his reach with Lulu in his arms. Hand slipping on the knob, he stood on the tips of his toes as he struggled to go back inside. But Lulu made things all the more difficult as she began to squirm. Hissing at her to be still, he shifted his arm to get a firmer grip around her, when she clawed his arm. Crying out, he immediately dropped her. Once free, she bounded away. Leopold made to chase after her, when he looked down to find out why his hand was strangely sticky.

When he saw how vibrant his palms were, he stared, confused, when he suddenly felt a hand on his shoulder. Gasping, Leopold stumbled back and fell as he looked up with wide eyes at the shadow that loomed above.

.           .           .

Back when she had been younger and freer, Cécile would have scarcely believed it if someone had told her that she would be involved with the mafia for a living. She would have politely smiled at them, but she would have never guessed that it would become her reality. And why would she have? She was studying science, which was something removed from crime and immorality – one could hardly commit any crime in the pursuit of knowledge. Certain methods, of course, could led to some reprehension by the law, but as she neither planned nor desired to engage in such unorthodox practices, she would have never believed them.

Of course, the Camelot sector had never been particularly close to the heart of the Weiss Ritter – they were more autonomous than anything. The only real relations they shared was the one of funding, as well as the occasional technological breakthrough so as to put down the masses. But other than those cases, they remained relatively isolated. And for all she knew, Cécile would have thought that things would continue in that fashion until she found herself elbow-deep in the affairs of those closest to the Weiss König. Though, of course, she should have realized this sooner. The moment Lelouch Lamperouge had arrived at the gates of Camelot, after all, had been and was the reason why she was so familiar with not only him, but his history and those involved in his history as well. Was it not?

Carefully reading the monitors, she tucked loose strands of her hair behind her ear before turning to the young woman.

“Thankfully there doesn’t seem to be any trauma, although I would be very careful from here on out. As you’re already aware, they’re particularly fragile during the earlier gestation period. I understand how difficult this request may be, given the current situation, but please do your utmost to avoid any stressful circumstances. Just so that we can eliminate as much risk as possible.”

She nodded, and Cécile relaxed some. A warm smile lighting up her eyes, she clasped her hands together and gently added, “And may I congratulate you on the news? You must be excited.”

“Thank you.”

If she had smiled in her presence before, Cécile couldn’t remember, but if she had to guess, she would have to say that she never had. She would have remembered such a beautiful smile. Her eyes seemed to change hue – the dull copper shone like gold – and she could see the traces of the person she had once been and who she could have been in those brief seconds when she smiled. So brilliant was it that she couldn’t help but return it in kind.

For all of the danger, Cécile was genuinely glad to see that there was more color in her cheeks since the last they had met. She looked far more beautiful with those gold eyes, than the copper of the past, and she hoped with all her heart that there would be no trace of copper to be found in the future.

.           .           .

“Well, hello there! You must be Leopold!”

The child looked up at him with the eyes of a doe from where he had melted into a small puddle of nerves. Nudging his glasses farther up his bridge with a single digit in a neat, calculated push, he gave him a wide grin.

“Care for some pudding? I can take you to where the pudding is.”

“I-I don’t want any pudding,” he whimpered. He inched away, and as he moved back, Lloyd spotted the scarlet handprints trailing in his wake. Arching a brow, he tilted his head to the side, the warmth of his eyes briefly freezing into an icy blue as he appraised him before returning to their usual good-natured hue.

“Then what is it that you want?”

He must have surprised him because he gaped like a fish out of water. Scratching his head, Lloyd rubbed his chin as was his habit when in deep thought before snapping his fingers.

“Ah! I know just the thing to fix you up. Why don’t you follow me, and I’ll show you want it is that you want?”

“I…How do you know what I want?”

“How could I not, child, when it’s written all over your face? Come now. It’s best to get these kinds of things over with as quickly as possible. Akin to ripping off a band-aid, it’s best not to dilly-dally. The sooner we do this, the less work it will take to repair the damages. Your kitten can come too.”

He held out a hand. The boy looked up at skeptically, but, seeing that he really had no other choice, eventually took his hand with great hesitance. Painting his own palm with the blood on the child’s palms, he pulled him up onto his feet and, with a smile, marching off down the hall and around the corner.

.           .           .

Lelouch looked up when he heard Lulu’s quiet meow. The kitten stood near the door, her head tilted to the side. The pet, at least, seemed to have recovered far better than any of her owners had, as she frisked towards him. Sitting on her haunches, she peered up at him as a child would before mewling again. Bending down to pick her up with some effort, he scooped her up when he spotted an anxious violet watching him from the doorway.

“Aren’t you going to follow after Lulu, Leopold?”

The boy remained silent as he sluggishly dragged himself into the room. Standing far, far away from him, he rocked on his heels as he nervously eyed the man. Lulu – oblivious to the tension – sat atop the dresser her master had placed her own and began to lick her paw nonchalantly. Lelouch glanced at the boy before returning to his shirt.

“…Where’s Maman?”

“I believe Ms. Croomy is keeping her busy so as not to let her fret too much.”

“…Is it bad?” he whispered.

“Is what bad?”

He pointed with his chin towards the heavily bandaged shoulder. Arms behind his back, he began rocking back and forth on his heels while sucking his cheeks in. When several tense seconds had passed by – during which Lelouch kept a careful eye trained on the child – he finally burst out into apology. His regret rushed out, as did his tears and shock. Desperate to make him understand, his words stumbled over one another as he tried to tell him how he hadn’t meant to hurt him, that he hadn’t meant to get in the way, before demanding to know why he had hurt himself for his sake, when he first felt a hand rest heavily on his shoulder and then a kiss on his forehead. Shocked, Leopold opened his eyes and looked up into the man’s benevolence.

“I’m glad that I did, Leopold. I’d rather it be me than you.”

“B-But… But why…?”

He found his answer in his smile, and when he saw it, it made him reach for the man. Surprising him with a tight hug and a broken sob, he buried his head in the crook of his neck, wrinkling his unbuttoned shirt as he wailed. And though Lelouch had always hated the sound of crying since he himself had been a boy, he couldn’t help but feel grateful as the child clung to him and wept himself free of his sin.

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2 thoughts on “Chapter Nineteen: Down the Rabbit Hole

  1. Sean says:

    No surprise on Leopold’s reaction to the events going on despite the relief from having Lelouch return. He’d probably become comfortable at that point in Orpheil and the fact this was according to his father’s wishes likely only compounds that for him. So him being a bit bratty is almost to be expected here and I do sort of love he builds himself a little fort away from everyone. When you’re a child (and even as an adult) it can be so easy to become consumed in one’s own problems like how he doesn’t seem to notice the condition Lelouch is in. I do love the dramatic timing of their house erupting into flames upon their arrival, thus allowing for the maximum shock to hit Leopold as it disappears before his eyes.

    Him seeing Lelouch when the latter is dead focused was also an interesting scene as he basically watches this person he’s come to love morph into something much more frightening that he just doesn’t understand. And all he can do is cower there confused as to what’s going on as all this chaos just erupts around him. Something like this from the perspective of a child is just very interesting to see. Leopold losing Charlie was actually really sad to read despite it just being a stuffed animal since by this point you understand how much it means to him and how he sort of relied on him in his own way. Him trying to get him back despite all that is going on is thus completely understandable and when he fails I was so sad even if I knew he would. Also with what happens with Lelouch I got how Leopold would blame himself for it all.

    The whole experience comes across well as being a traumatizing one for Leopold with all that has gone on now to be topped up by waking up in a completely unfamiliar place with no one else around. It can be hard to look to a kitten for comfort since while Lulu is clearly affectionate with him, she’s still a cat. That the world has seemingly lost all sense of adventure for him just demonstrates further how much he relied on Charlie as a safety blanket and source of confidence.

    The bit with Cecile was interesting in her reminiscing over how she’s come to be a part of this inner world of crime despite her position being one that generally always kept her on the fringes of it at most. And of course we have the revelation that C.C. is pregnant by Schneizel again, which has the possibility to complicate matters in a number of ways. Still, it is nice to see she is happy about the news. Even if it came about due to an unloving marriage, the fact she’ll have more children to raise and create this family is still something joyous for her. I do wonder how Schneizel will treat this news though perhaps he just won’t care other than it being another complication. Lelouch and Leopold’s reactions too are something I’m curious about.

    I sort of imagine Leopold’s reaction to Lloyd is about the reaction most children might have to someone like him. Granted, Leopold’s also injured and scared so that probably makes it worse for him. I do like how Lloyd handles the situation, though just taking a kid’s bloody hands is kind of creepy as well.

    The scene at the end with Leopold apologizing was very heartwarming with how he’s able to work up the courage to apologize and how Lelouch handles him by reassuring Leopold of how things are okay. It also serves to perhaps relieve Leopold some by seeing Lelouch in a state he knows and perhaps separating him from that fearsome side he’s seen.

    Thank you as always and I hope I’m coherent enough here. 🙂

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    1. C.C. says:

      This chapter is probably one of the most important for one of the central themes of this story – that theme being “loss of innocence” as it’s in this chapter that Leopold loses Charlie – or the symbol of his innocence – as he witnesses the violence of man with his own eyes and what it can do to even the kindest people (i.e. Lelouch). And you can see the effects of losing innocence later in the chapter when Leopold no longer has the bravado and whimsy to go out and explore on his own, when he normally would have been able to set out on his own without a second thought.
      C.C.’s always wanted a family of her own; even if it’s not with the man she loves, that doesn’t mean she’s not going to love her children.
      There’s a reason why Lloyd took Leopold’s hand. Symbolically, I mean. In other pieces of literature, there are – at times – the argument that intellect and the pursuit of are amoral and can do neither good nor bad. Intellect doesn’t take sides; it just is. But we see that Lloyd – the key intellectual in the story – willingly covers his hands with the blood on Leopold’s hands – blood which represents Leopold’s corruption after his loss of innocence – and consequently takes sides.
      But even with his loss of innocence, we see that all isn’t lost as Leopold is comforted by Lelouch and that there’s still some hope of his recovery.

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