“Why the long face, old friend? Has someone wronged you in a match of chess? You really ought to lighten up. Anyone else might suspect your dismay for this happy occasion.”
The Prince tore his eyes away from the couple he had been following for the past minute or so and at the source of the voice. A grin greeted him, and a curt bow followed quickly on the heels of the smarmy joke.
“Your Highness,” he intoned. Lelouch tastefully ignored him as the Ambassador straightened up. Glancing down at the black shoes peeking up from underneath the cuff of his tailored pants, he grimaced before asking what it was that he wanted. The diplomat adopted a shoddy look of disbelief.
“Your humble servant merely wished to comfort his Highness in his moment of loneliness.”
When his friend continued to look glum, the young man frowned. What exactly was eating at him for him to react this way? Especially before the Imperial Court? Lelouch had always been the one who was cautious around those who were prone to scrutinize and censure. Even as a child, the Prince had been the one to put a stop to several of his pranks on the servants. So what could it be that was gnawing at him so intensely that he was blinded to those who watched behind glowing white gloves and fluttering silk fans?
“Take a turn with me,” he quietly suggested. Taking careful note of those who were watching, he whispered, “Outside.”
“No, I won’t.”
Alexei struggled. He must smile. He must, lest he draw even more suspicion onto them than they already had. But as he stood there and watched his good friend – his oldest friend – grapple with whatever demons were plaguing him, he couldn’t help but let slip his dismay.
“Then you must at least write to me. Promise me, Lelouch, that you’ll write to me if you’re ever in need of counsel for…for whatever it is that burdens you.”
“I make no promises.”
“Then at least know that you have someone you can trust. Now if you’ll excuse me, your Excellency. I must take my leave.”
Lelouch watched as he bowed and traversed the ballroom. Hand tightly folded behind his back, he clenched his jaw as he watched his wife swirl around in a haze of beauty and grace, first in the arms of his brother, and then of his grand-father.
It was not so much that he was angry, though a simple onlooker may mistake his expression for such passion. It was more a simple case of…heartbreak. After he had returned, he found himself once again estranged with his wife whom he had believed had fallen in love with him as much as he had fallen in love with her. But how wrong he had been!
He had blamed her absence of reply during his sabbatical to her illness, which she had miraculously recovered from – a fate that his own brother had not quite been so fortunate enough to receive – but as he stood there, with his back to the frigid air of the wintry landscape beyond, and the warmth of celebration before him, he understood how wrong he had been, and how foolish.
His wife did not love him. She might have once, briefly, before he had left. But whatever had transpired during his leave had ruined all his effort, as now, she was as cold and as nervous with him as she was on the day they first laid eyes upon one another. And for that, the Prince couldn’t bear to smile even on his brother’s birthday.
How could he? When the one he loved hated him.