Chapter Twenty-One: Castle in the Air

Suzaku glanced at the man besides him. The warm light from inside fell upon the end of his glowing cigarette and his dark eyes. Following his gaze, he found himself staring at the two children romping around with the small silver kitten. Clasping his hands together, he leaned forward to rest against the cool railing of the balcony, where down and out below, spread the cityscape. Even from the distance separating him from the beating heart of the city, he could still hear the dull roar of pursuit and passion. Breathing in the acrid smoke of the night’s haziness, he blinked up at the never-ending fathoms before addressing the uninvited third guest.

About a half hour after Lelouch’s arrival, Suzaku had figured out who his new neighbor was. Somehow – for some reason – he had had a creeping feeling that the woman and child who had moved in across the hall that morning weren’t just any woman and child, and now, as he stood on the balcony, he saw the truth of his premonition. And though he didn’t know how it came to be that Lelouch Lamperouge was living with his former fiancé – whose name he could remember had been tarnished with dishonor – he didn’t feel particularly inclined to inquire. Instead, he pursued an alternate path of discourse – one that was equally as sensitive but one that couldn’t be avoided, unlike that of his friend’s relation with the woman inside.

“…I saw something today,” he began slowly. Gently shaking his glass and listening to the ice dance, he stared at his trigger finger as the blinding images flashed behind his eyes. Rubbing his eyes and sighing, he blinked at his friend. “Why did you do it, Lelouch?”

The man beside him remained silent, and Suzaku watched as a silver cloud drifted out from his lips as the dim ember fell to his side. Drawing his lips into a thin line, he silently mulled over his next words. The Weiss Ritter had never been a conversation that had ever merited Lelouch’s entire attention as Suzaku had learned in the past, and he guessed that even now, with all that was going on and all that had happened, he didn’t particularly care to discuss it, which…made sense. Especially considering their relationship during the day.

He knew that any link between them other than that of cop and robber seemed paradoxical and hypocritical. How dare he wear that shining badge while calling himself a friend of the criminally-inclined? How could he possibly sleep at night, knowing that he had betrayed the trust that the people had put in him? For breaking his promise to them that he would protect and serve?

But most – if not all – Pendragonians had personal ties to the Weiss Ritter, whose web ensnared all sorts of princes and all kinds of paupers. And while those ties may or may not be more illicit for some more than it was for others, so long as those ties and connections were exercised behind the rich, velvet curtain, it would be allowed. It had been decreed so by the public, whom he had given his life to, so while it was the public that would point fingers at him, they were also the ones to rise up in his defense.

“You know, I—”

“Why are you here, Suzaku?”

He looked up as the cigarette was snubbed out. Green eyes flickered up from the light gasping for its breath before returning to the life that was being taken before him.

“Why is it that you’re fraternizing with the enemy? What is it that you want?”

What did he want? Well… Well, he had wanted to welcome his new neighbor. He had wanted to get to know and become friends with the young woman and her son, who they had found out was as old as his daughter was. But as he stood there, taken aback by the absence of an answer, he realized that there was something else that he wanted.

What Suzaku wanted – the exact thing that he desired – was a confirmation and a rejection. The reason why he had welcomed Lelouch back even after all of the carnage he had witnessed, the reason why he had sat down at the table and broke bread with him, was because Suzaku had, more than anything, wanted to believe – to prove to himself – that he was wrong. That Lelouch really wasn’t the monster that he had led him to believe in. More than anything, he wanted to trust his judgment and know that when he said that he believed him to be good, he was right and could stand by his words without even a speck of hesitation.

Stuffing his hands in his pockets, he stood up and turned his back on the glittering skyline. Setting the sweaty tumbler down, he watched the two children play, and beyond, the women sitting inside. And then he watched the man – the monster- stare at them almost as if they were all some mirage that had been woven out of sadistic cruelty. He watched him as his eyes glittered from the light illuminating the picture before them, and he carefully took note of the way he finally tore his eyes away and turned his back on them – but not all the way – to train that blank, fathomless gaze on the city who had birthed them both.

Politics divided them and society confined each to his own, but as Suzaku stood there beside him in that blinding darkness – as he himself felt the comforting weight of his family in spite of the siren call of the stars on the horizon – he began to understand just why it was that he was fraternizing with the enemy.

As he stood there caught between the two, he realized just why it was that no matter the fear and disgust he harbored for what the man had done, he would never be able to bring himself to hate the demon that had assumed the name of Lelouch Lamperouge.

Suzaku felt his skin crawl.

.           .           .

“He seems kind.”

C.C. looked away from where she had been watching the children and faced the voice. The young woman smiled at her, and, for the umpteenth time since her son had opened the door, she was taken aback by the genuine warmth radiating from her being. Everything – from her crown of thick, pink hair, to the tips of her toes, seemed to drip in well-being and good intentions. So benevolent was she that there was something quite childlike about her, with her unassuming manner and complete and utter trust, and the more she got to know this woman, the stranger she felt as the more she got to know her, the more she realized that she herself had once been like this woman. Maybe not quite so intense, but she too, at one point, had once been as unsullied as this woman before her… Hadn’t she?

“And he seems to make you very happy.”

Shocked, she barely gathered her wits enough to form a reply. Immediately dropping her gaze to her hands, C.C. fussed with the band of pearls gleaming softy around her wrist. Counting them one by one, she tried her best to smile past the fluttering heart and shortness of breath.

It wasn’t that she was wrong. By all means, her observation had been correct in the assumption that Lelouch made her happy – so extremely happy. It was just that…. She had never realized that it was that obvious that a stranger could so easily pinpoint what it was and how it was that life was made so bearable. She had never realized that she hadn’t been the only one to catch her smile when he had finally returned safely and soundly, or hear the clarity of her son’s laughter that was reserved only for the man’s ears.

For what seemed like the first time in her life, C.C. felt a certain youthful shyness as if she had been caught picking a beautiful flower she had been forbidden from, so she turned her eyes away, unsettled by the warmth of the blood rushing to her face.

“I hope we can be good friends.”

She looked up into her smile as the young woman briefly squeezed her hand and blinked her pretty eyes. And in spite of her jaded ways – in spite of her ruined innocence – C.C. could, by some miracle, bring herself to believe her. Her innocence was so blindingly overwhelming, even she couldn’t help but believe in her and trust in her sincerity, and it amazed her to no end as she tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear and glanced up with a quiet smile in reply, and the two women sat together as they watched over their progeny in companionable silence.

.           .           .

When Leopold had first met her earlier that day, he hadn’t really been quite sure what to make of her. In fact, he had been at somewhat of a loss because he had never before really had someone like her come up to him and smile as brightly as she had. Sure he had seen others his size, but never before had any one of them actually come up to him, and he found the experience rather peculiar and surreal and something he wasn’t quite prepared for.

But as the hours went by and they colored together and compared their favorite colors – his being silver and hers being a special kind of mint-green very similar to that of her eyes – and played marbles together and teased Lulu when she finally woke from her nap, he soon found himself thinking less and less about how strange it all was and more about… Well, he didn’t really think much, actually. How could he, when he had never before had this much fun as now? In a way – dare he say it? – even the games that he and Maman and Uncle Lelouch had played together couldn’t compare.

That wasn’t to say that he’d never play games with them again. Of course he would. But he had to admit that it was nice to play with someone who could come up with as stories as interesting as his and was just as fast, if not faster, on her feet and was as clever. It was nice having someone who he could – only if she wanted to be though – call a friend. Because that’s what friends did, didn’t they? They played together, didn’t they? And laughed and chased each other and helped count his caramels and her chocolates before trading one for the other?

Right?

Silver and gold sweets spilled out of his lap and skated across the cool wood floor, but they were forgotten as the French doors to the outside swung upon and the evening air swept inside. Throwing his arms up, he scampered towards Uncle Lelouch, who caught him and scooped him up high into the air. Shrieking, Leopold giggled as the familiar rush of falling made his stomach feel funny. Watching the ceiling grow closer and then farther away with eyes half-closed in laughter, he beamed as the strong arms safely caught him.

His hair ruffled by the breeze, he squirmed until he was set down, at which he clung to his hand because he had to, he explained in a matter-of-fact tone as if it was something that had already been decided and was a mere formality, defend his unearned title of heavyweight arm-wrestling champion. Obviously. Or else how was he going to prove to Sakiko that Uncle Lelouch really was the strongest man in the entire world?

“Please?” Leopold drew it out as long as his breath would allow, his voice jumping up and down in time to his bouncing. “Please?”

“If it’s that important to you.”

Uncle Lelouch slightly wobbled as the child hugged his waist in thanks. Smiling, the man gently patted his head, all the while doing his best to ignore the cold sweat sliding down his feverish neck and soaking into the collar of his damp shirt.

.           .           .

“No!”

All eyes turned to the boy who tore himself away to curl up into the corner. As he huddled behind the curtains, Sakiko’s triumphant smile faltered as she watched her new friend turn his back on her. Her pigtails drooping, she slowly untangled herself from her father’s embrace to see why he was hiding, when her friend’s papa stood up. Her strong brows drawn together, she watched as he knelt by the corner and pulled back the drapes, partly sad and partly afraid because in all honesty, she hadn’t meant to make him cry. She liked Leopold; she had had lots of fun with every game they had played together, which was what she had thought this was – just another fun game. But Leopold apparently hadn’t thought the same and was now angry with her.

Biting her lips, Sakiko crossed her legs as she bunched up the hem of her shirt and let out a small whine. Maybe it was his first time losing? She remembered how upset she had been when she had lost her first game. Maybe she shouldn’t have won. Maybe she should have lost. She really hadn’t meant to hurt him.

With wide, teary eyes, the little girl turned to her daddy and wordlessly pleaded to him for help.

Suzaku watched as the young man drew the boy out from the shadows and set him in his lap. Holding his daughter for comfort, he watched as the man gently peeled away the hands covering the boy’s face as he leaned down and quietly spoke to him. The child peeked out from behind his hands as he sadly replied with a watery mumble. The two spoke for some time, with the boy’s hands creeping lower and lower with every word from the man until finally, they were curled up into loose little fists beneath his chin. The boy looked up at the man, his small frown permanent on his face, until the man gently smiled at him and lightly scratched his chin as he coaxed him for a smile.

Suzaku absentmindedly smoothed his daughter’s hair as he watched the frown on the boy’s face wobble dangerously until finally, a reluctant giggle spilled out from his stubborn lips. He seemed upset by his lack of resolution, but it was quickly forgotten when the next laugh tumbled out, and the next, and the next, until the child had forgotten the loss and was laughing and squirming in his father’s arms.

And soon enough, his own daughter pulled away and tapped the man on the shoulder to ask if he could tickle her too. Within minutes, both children were rolling on the floor and in tears as their fathers attacked them with feathery fingers and smiles of their own, their laughter loud enough to drown out even the roar of the city beyond.

.           .           .

Euphie thoughtfully studied her reflection as she brushed her hair. Running the soft bristles through, she sat on the edge of their bed as her husband rummaged around the dresser for his pants in the dim yellow light of the lamps. When he’d found them and climbed into them, she put her hands in her lap before announcing something that had been on her mind ever since they had bid their new neighbors good night.

“I’d like for Sakiko to play with Leopold. I think it would be nice for Sakiko to have a playmate so close by. And for Leopold as well.”

Her husband froze from where he had been sliding into his side of the bed. Wincing, he rubbed his neck as he always did whenever he was put into an uncomfortable situation. His lip curling back, he carefully averted his eyes and made no effort to voice his thoughts.

“Wouldn’t you agree, Suzaku? That it would be good for both of the children.”

“Of course I do,” he sighed. “Of course. Sakiko seems to like Leopold, and he seems to like her too, but…” He glanced up when she put her hands on his. The rough callouses grated on her palms, but she held onto them anyway and earnestly looked to him for his thoughts.

“But Euphie we have to remember that they’re still… We can’t forget the people that they know, and the people that know them. I like them too, and—and I really wish that I wouldn’t have such a hard time answering this, but… But the current circumstances make it a little difficult for Sakiko and Leopold to… Well… It makes it a little difficult for them to be children, I guess is the phrase. It might even be best to keep a little distance…” he hesitantly hazarded.

“But isn’t that what a parent is supposed to do? Isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? Isn’t that why you go out there everyday even with all of the danger? To make it so that they can be children even with all that’s going on with the world?” Her eyes glittered in the half-dark. “Suzaku, they don’t have to play every day, but at least every so often, they can at least be children together. Don’t you think they deserve at least that much?”

She squeezed his hands in silent plea, but he merely looked away, unable to bear seeing her beg so.

When he furthered the silence, Euphemia realized how troubling the matter was for her husband and was about to retract her request – at least for another time when they weren’t so tired – when he reluctantly nodded. Her eyes wide, she stared as her husband tightly held her hand and agreed.

Smiling, she kissed him on the cheek in thanks, glad that her husband was once more by her side. But later on, after they had gone to bed, and her husband lay quietly as he obliviously snored the night away, Euphemia continued to lay there, kept awake by her thoughts of the family they had met only today and yet felt so…so familiar.

There was just something about them that kept her from falling asleep as quickly as she normally did. There was just something about the way Leopold was so quick to run to Lelouch, and the way that C.C. and Lelouch had looked at one another and had moved around one another that so quietly showed how much they loved one another – as if they were meant to be together since the beginning of time itself. As if their love was one that belonged in those aged and forgotten fairy tales, their happiness seemed to be one unfounded in the crime and corruption tainting their beings. And while their love in no way excused them from what sins they had committed… It didn’t mean that they should be isolated for it, did it? It didn’t mean that the child should be reprimanded and punished for it, did it? How could they, to a people who seemed so content with the presence of the other, be so cruel?

For all their sin, Euphemia didn’t feel that they were so different as those behind the door across the hallway. And perhaps that was made all the difference – the fact that she could see herself – her family – in those eyes and those faces and could hear themselves in their voices. Perhaps because she thought them no different than themselves, she couldn’t bear the thought of leaving them be to face the world on their own. Because for all she knew, they were the only ones that they had.

And that made all the difference in the world for her.

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One thought on “Chapter Twenty-One: Castle in the Air

  1. Sean says:

    Suzaku’s little internal conflict when it comes to Lelouch is an interesting one and I think it’s conveyed well with his thoughts about the man. And this all comes with a number of events happening in quick succession from the mountain of burning bodies and now having C.C. and Leopold living across the way with Lelouch being there as well is bringing it all even closer to home and his family. He gets the danger they represent and is thus very conscious of his family’s safety in relation to that. And of course he is aware of the hypocrisy of his relationship with Lelouch but also reveals through it how much the Weiss Ritter has spread itself to everyone and everything whether someone like Suzaku likes it or not. There’s something sad about him wanting to keep seeing the best in Lelouch despite what he just saw. And then ultimately failing due to Lelouch’s behavior and then simply observing him closely. I’d sort of take it that his whole reason is because of a sense of pity or perhaps seeing how Lelouch has this sort of longing denied due to the things he’s done?

    C.C.’s conversation with Euphemia was a nice bit of development I thought since it shows multiple things. One is the contrast between the two women which C.C. herself notes while also having the realization that she was once very much like her. And her reaction when Euphemia when she points out how Lelouch makes her happy is a combination of heartwarming, cute and a display of character development in how much more open she is about it now. That she gets all shy about is also very cute and funny. Though I suppose having it pointed out by someone as innocent as Euphemia might also feed into it. It also provides something of a contrast to her brief interaction with Shirley when she seemed scoffing and jealous over her innocence, though Shirley’s innocence is of a different type than Euphemia’s. At the same time, if Euphemia can see it then others may be able to spot it though of course Schneizel seems to know what’s going on and he’d be the biggest danger I’d think. Or perhaps not since it could just be that Euphemia’s nature lets her spot these things better than others.

    It’s also nice to see C.C. forming a friendship with this woman she’s just met. She has always come across as being rather isolated and alone aside from her son and a few others like Sayako and Lelouch more recently. So this was an important development for her to see her world expand a bit from the enclosed one she’d been in since marrying Schneizel. Even more so since it’s with a fellow mother which establishes a commonality they have as mothers. Very happy to see this development for her.

    The section with Leopold and Sakiko is of course as adorable as you’d expect. I do love Leopold’s view of the whole situation such as not thinking of her as a child like him but someone his own size. I don’t know why I love that so much. There’s something sad that this is his first real time playing with someone his own age, but he takes so quickly to it that he doesn’t even notice. And I like the emphasis that playing with an adult when you are a child doesn’t compare to playing with another child because there’s simply a difference in perspective and priorities. I think most of us as children think of ourselves as supremely clever to the point that adults can’t seem to understand and his perspective her conveys that. His little hesitance of calling her his friend was cute and sad as well, though of course they will be. How could it be otherwise?

    Him running to Lelouch like that is also so heartwarming and one of those things that calls attention to him being Leopold’s father (or papa as Sakiko said) to anyone looking on. I can only imagine it feeds into Suzaku’s conflict or at least why he can’t hate him when he sees a display like that when he knows this man just committed a horrific act not so long ago. I also note that Lelouch still isn’t doing so hot either despite trying to keep up a front for Leopold’s sake. And of course this led to the outcome of the arm wrestling contest.

    I liked the tantrum. I think Sakiko’s angle that it was the first time he’d ever lost is a large part of it since this is sort of the first time his world has really opened up where that was possible. And with all that’s happened I’d imagine it just makes things seem so fragile again. I think another aspect could be how Lelouch losing sort of cracks the image Leopold has of him as someone strong who can’t be beat and the like. Perhaps also a reminder of how his actions led to Lelouch getting injured not so long ago and thus the thought could occur that perhaps he lost due to that. Lelouch manages to dispel his sour mood though there’s still a risk there, but then I suppose part of being young is that it can be easy to forget and simply move on to the next thing.

    Lelouch’s manner in handling also displays how far he’s come along in being a father to Leopold. He quietly calms him down and then does his best to cheer him up, which ultimately succeeds. The image of him slowly calming down is actually pretty adorable to imagine in its own way I think as is the tickling that ensues. And then when Sakiko comes and asks to be tickled too…it’s just too much cuteness.

    I like Euphemia bringing Suzaku around to letting the children play and not shutting them off despite their associations. She’s always seemed a character who sees the best in people and is able to maintain that belief whereas Suzaku here is jaded to the point he’s willing to shut them off out of a concern of the possible danger. She can see to the heart of things and that’s one of her greatest strengths so I’m glad to see it preserved here as well as Suzaku being convinced by her to let it continue for everyone’s sakes.

    Thank you. And sorry if this is a bad review or if I just didn’t get something.

    Like

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