Leopold had refused to say anything during the ride to the airport. Hugging Charlotte – who had been found outside the door with a note around her neck from her former owner in apology for her behavior – he sat between his parents, drifting somewhere between sleeping and ignoring his mother and father out of spite. Silently he rejected her coaxing and his comforting and only looked into Charlotte’s eyes and telepathically vented to her how stupid all of this was.
For the past two days, ever since Maman had told him he was leaving for Orpheil, he had tried every and any method of persuasion available to him, but none had worked and his parents had remained resolute, leading him to refuse to leave the car when they had arrived at the airport. If he didn’t leave the car, then there was no way he’d be able to go onto the plane. There was no way they could fit a car into an airplane, so he sat like a rock until Papa tried to carry him out instead of trying to reason with him, at which he, frightened of his father’s unconquerable strength, began to kick and scream. Squirming and flailing, he wailed and wailed until his father finally set him down.
When asked what was wrong, Leopold stepped back to put more distance between himself and them before angrily accusing them of abandoning him. Missing the sorrow and hurt of his parents’ expressions, he stomped around in circles and jabbed fingers in their direction as he thoroughly detailed just how much he had wanted to stay with them, so why couldn’t he stay with them so that they could all leave together? until he had exhausted himself.
“Mon chaton, why would we abandon you?”
Tired, the child shrugged as his anger dissolved into sorrow and confusion. He didn’t know why they would abandon him. It didn’t make any sense to him; he had thought his parents had loved him, but maybe he was wrong. If they were just throwing him away like this, maybe he had been wrong about everything. Orpheil included.
When he had first heard that he was going to Orpheil, he had been so, so happy and so excited. His dream was coming true after all. But as time passed, he realized that while he was going to Orpheil, the place of his dreams, the trip couldn’t be anything farther from his dream; in his dream, he had been with everyone that he loved. He’d been able to play with them and eat with them and live with them, and he had been so happy because they had all been able to be together. But here he was, on his way to Orpheil, with less than half of the people that he wanted there with him. Here he was, on his way, while his parents stayed behind and left him alone.
Tears springing into his eyes, he ran to his father’s legs and knelt as he clung to them and begged to them to let him stay. “I’ll stop giving Charlotte my vegetables and I’ll brush my teeth without having to be asked and I won’t eat any caramels before dinner if you don’t leave me like Sakiko’s papa did.” Voice quivering, his tears slid down his white face. “Please don’t leave me, Papa. I don’t want to be alone. I want to be with you guys.”
“You will be with us. We’ll be together forever, I promise. But to do that, Leopold, Papa just needs a few days to make sure that we never have to leave each other ever again. Papa’s asking you for just a few days, and then it’ll all be over. And then Maman and Papa will be with you forever and ever. Okay?”
When he ignored his pleas, his father knelt down and gently wiped his tears away. “Then we’ll trade. You take my pocket-watch, and I’ll take your marbles. You can keep the green one like you always do so that I can find my way back to you.” He handed him the glimmering watch. Leopold held it with both hands as he blinked away his tears. “And when I do… When I find you and we’re back together again, we can trade, and you can tell Papa all about the time that you spent away from Maman and Papa. Okay?”
He hiccupped. “Are you really going to come back?”
Leopold bit his lip. Studying him, he looked for some hint of a lie. He still didn’t quite understand why Sakiko’s papa had left her forever, or where he had even gone, but ever since he had disappeared, he had been afraid that Papa would do the same to him. If Sakiko’s papa, who had loved Sakiko so much, had done it to her, who was to say that his own wouldn’t do it to him? And this sudden trip to Orpheil was just all too convenient. The timing was just too weird for him to be comfortable. Why so soon after her papa’s disappearance?
But Papa had promised. He had pinky-promised, and he always kept his promises, so maybe… Maybe it was okay to believe him over his own fears? Maybe it was okay to just trust that his father wouldn’t do the same to him and just…let go.
His father opened up his arms, and Leopold buried himself inside them as he was kissed on the forehead. Holding him tight, he breathed in his father’s faint cologne and tried to burn the memory of his strong and safe arms into his brain so that he’d be able to remember until his father came back to him as he promised he would. Peeking at the pocket-watch from over his father’s broad shoulder, he watched the seconds tick by. The ones passing by now hurt more than anything, and the ones that would come to pass would hurt even more, but he had been promised that there would be an infinite amount of seconds that he could spend with his parents. If he could just endure through the initial pain, then he could spend forever with them and be so happy that his tears now would only seem like nothing more than a bad dream.
Muffling his sobs, he tightly clung to him as he told him that he loved him and that he would see him later as they had promised each other. His father smiled sadly as he smoothed his hair and patted his back.
“I love you too.”
Drying his cheeks on his sweater, the boy hid his eyes as his sleeve soaked up the rest of his tears. Stumbling to his mother, he hugged her. She laughed softly and cooed at him as she wiped his nose. Taking unsteady, shallow breaths, he made her promise that she would come back to him too. Promising with her pretty smile, she kissed his eyelids before saying telling him that when she came back, they could have a pizza party together and all of the ice cream he ever wanted. He nodded glumly. As if ice cream would make things better.
Sliding down, he gently pressed his ear against his mother’s stomach. Petting his siblings, he whispered, “Bye.” He wiped his eyes as he sniffled. “I’ll see you guys later.”
Reluctantly taking Sayoko’s hand, he allowed himself to be led away. Looking over his shoulder, he unsteadily tottered after her. When his mother waved, he waved back, never once looking away from his parents until the doors had closed behind him and he could no longer see them and no longer be with them.
The couple watched with lined faces until C.C., unable to take the sight any more, buried her face into Lelouch’s chest. She had done her best not to cry in front of her son, but now that he really was gone, she could no longer help herself. He held her close as he watched with shadows on his face, his heart very nearly breaking under the weight of sending him away.
“We’ll see him soon,” he said quietly. “Don’t worry, love. He’ll be safe there, and we’ll see him soon. It’ll be okay, don’t cry.”
She nodded. She understood that this was for his own good. That was why she had decided to risk all and flee, wasn’t it? For the simple chance of saving her son, she had gambled everything she had had on that plan they had concocted together in their bedroom during the late hours. Not that it didn’t hurt. She had never seen her baby cry as hard as he had just then. Nor had she ever seen him act that way. Maybe she had had made a mistake in sending him away? Maybe she hadn’t thought things out thoroughly and she had been too hasty, too rash, in sending him away.
Lelouch brushed her hair away from her eyes. Tilting her chin up, he looked down at her and she saw how wet his eyes were.
“He’ll be okay. Don’t worry.”
Of course he would. He was better off there than he was here. He would be okay. Jeremiah and Sayoko were capable guardians; they would make sure that he was happy and safe until they were together again. They had promised one another after all, and there was nothing more important to them than keeping the promises they had made to the precious son they loved so dearly, they would betray even the devil himself just so they could be with him and love him.
. . .
Sakiko listlessly stared at her reflection as her mother braided her hair. She sat quietly with Ellie in her lap until her mother finished tying the black satin ribbons in her hair. As she watched her mother work, she thought of her father and his soft, curly brown hair. It was so fluffy and soft sometimes she would just grab fistfuls of his hair and impulsively tug. Her father had never once cried out in annoyance or swat her away, no matter how hard she pulled. Sometimes he would yell out in surprise when she ambushed him, but otherwise, he would let her tug all she wanted and then put all of her colorful clips and ribbons in. As much as she wanted, he would let her dress him up and paint his nails and put shiny stickers on his nose and face and hands until she couldn’t take it anymore and started laughing because he was just so silly with the way he didn’t know goofy he looked! But it wasn’t until she thought of the way he would sheepishly smile as her mother would giggle, and how she could never play with her father’s soft, curly brown hair that she began to cry.
She hadn’t even said goodbye yet and she already missed him.
. . .
He looked up from his phone to her frown. Slipping it into the folds of his jacket, he told her who it had been even if she had already guessed the caller.
“He wants to meet.”
“…How do you know everything will end once he dies?”
She pursed her lips. When he had told her that he was going to kill her husband – it hadn’t even been a question – she hadn’t known what to say. It wasn’t as if she hadn’t known that they would eventually have to resort to these kinds of tactics. Schneizel would never leave them alone, no matter what they did or where they went, so long as he was still alive, and, seeing how he had gone so far to separate them all those years ago, she seriously doubted he would willingly let them carry on. But thinking of doing something and actually doing said thing were two completely matters, and she still had no idea what to say about murdering her husband.
It wasn’t as if she held some form of fondness for him. She still resented him for what he had done to them, and she oft felt nothing but disdain on the mere utterance of his name, but there was a reason why Schneizel was still alive to this very day in spite of the enemies he had amassed over the years. There was a reason why no one had yet been able to so much as glance the tip of a knife into him and draw his blood – if he had any, that was – so the prospect of the love of her life and the father of her children willingly going out to attempt what no man before had succeeded was…distressing in the very least.
“After the Weiss Ritter collapse, the Hóng Hè can have the city for all I give a damn. Or what’s left of it. My only objective is to cut us permanently free.”
“What if they look for you? You’re directly beneath Schneizel. Why wouldn’t they look for you?”
“They’ll be too busy fighting off the Commissioner and saving their own skins to bother.” Slipping his gun into its holster he glanced up at her. “Loyalty is a commodity. It can very easily be bought out, or, if need be, traded in for something of greater value. Like your life.”
When he saw her expression, he softened. Taking her hand, he raised it to his lips, her ring nearly blinding him in the morning sun. “Do you trust me?”
He kissed her. “Then I’ll see you tonight.”
. . .
Rolo had been dutifully tapping away at his computer since earlier that morning. Ever since the war had broken out, the Commissioner had been in high demand, and, as her gatekeeper, he was the one in charge of organizing her schedule and ensuring that she was able to fulfill all responsibilities and address all concerns that were being directed towards her. She did a well enough job on her own, being the capable and self-sufficient person she was, but with the war, even she had some trouble keeping up with it all. As such, he had been hard at work since dawn that day, when the doors to the Commissioner’s office swept open with a large bang and startled him.
With a jolt, his hands hung in mid-air over his keyboard as she stood in all her imposing glory in front of his desk. Slamming down the brown package he had been asked to put in the Commissioner’s office, she growled, “Where the hell did this come from?”
Flustered, he stammered. “I have no idea; I was just told to put it on your desk.”
“Where’s Guilford?” she barked. “Someone get me Guilford immediately.”
“Yes, ma’am.” Digging through the piles and piles of papers on his desk, he snatched up the phone. “On it. I’ll call for the Lieutenant right away.”
As her secretary busied himself with getting ahold of her number two, she retreated into the recesses of her office. Turning to her view, she looked once more at the gleaming tower that rose far above the rest – this time in a new light.
She didn’t know who it was that had sent the intel, but whoever it was, it was imperative that she find them. She had to know if those files on that flash-drive were authentic, if the information could really be used as evidence to prove without a doubt what everyone had known but had never been able to prove: that Britannia Enterprises was nothing more than a front for the Weiss Ritter. If even one of those files could be proven truthful, they could not only charge the sons of bitches but prove them guilty enough to send them on their way to their Creator – Schneizel el Britannia included.
This was it. This was what she had been looking for, this was what she had been praying for. This Godsend. Tightly clasping her hands together, Cornelia watched the tower wink at her. The end was finally in sight. At long last, the end was in sight, and at long last could she finally keep her promise to her people. At long last would all those men not have lost their lives in vain.
The end was finally here.
. . .
She stood in front of the grave, knowing that Lelouch would never come; doing so would mean him confirming how much of himself he had lost – a revelation so painful he had yet to recover from the last time he had been forced to come face-to-face with it. So she stood in his place and spoke for him. She knew him best out of anyone after all; who better to speak for him than her? Especially to her: the girl that had lost everything because of him.
He hadn’t meant for her to get hurt. It was true that he didn’t care for her; he had admitted that much himself after hours and hours of ugly silence – but that wasn’t to say that he had held any ill will towards her. He hadn’t chosen her for the single purpose of hurting her. It could have easily been any other woman. Shirley had just had the simple misfortune of entering into his line of sight at the worst moment possible. If she hadn’t, who knew what she would be doing right now? Who she would be with, what she would be saying?
That wasn’t to say she thought that what he did was right. He had chosen badly on various levels: he had deprived a girl of her life; he had led her on and made sacrilegious work of her love; and he had cared little for the consequences of his actions. But as she stood there before her grave, C.C. couldn’t help but feel guilty. Even if she had done nothing to wrong her, she felt that in a way, it had been her fault. Who had driven Lelouch to make such a decision to use Shirley? For what had he been using her for? Had it not been because of her? Even if she had had no power or influence in what had become of Shirley Fenette, she couldn’t help but feel that in some way, she had had a part in her demise, so she apologized. Not for him. That was between him and her. No, she apologized for herself.
Even if she had never particularly liked Shirley – there had just been something about her that hadn’t sat well with her – she apologized anyway, and sincerely. If she had known what it would come to, if things had been different, she would have put a stop to it immediately. No, even if it hadn’t come to what it had, she would have stopped it; there was little more that inspired such disdain from her as abusing someone’s love, and she hated that he had resorted to what he had. She loved him, and she worried for him, and when he had struggled with himself and what he had done, she had been heartbroken, but she hated his decision to use her. And for that, C.C. asked her for forgiveness – for standing by and remaining silent.
“Thank you for coming.”
She turned towards the voice. Euphemia gave her a weak smile. “It means so much to us that you would attend. Thank you.”
She asked after her daughter.
“She’s a strong girl. Her father taught her well; she’ll be okay. And when she’s not… She has me. I’m only sorry for my shortcomings. I can only hope that I can be half the parent her father was to her.”
“I’m sure you’ll be a wonderful mother. You already are.”
She laughed tiredly. “You’re too kind.”
She would hardly say that she was kind, let alone too much, but she let it be. Euphemia sighed, her face suddenly aging several years, before she looked up with her gentle smile again.
“I’m glad to see that you’re well, but I remember Lelouch seeming ill the last I saw him. I hope he’s feeling better. How is he?”
At the sudden change of subject, C.C. could only muster up a sickly smile in reply. It was all she could manage to hide the fact that she’d been a nervous wreck all day ever since he had gotten that call from her husband and ever since he had left to finally put an end to the war that had been raging. Wringing her hands, she curled her lips back, afraid of the words that would slip out if she otherwise opened her mouth, as her fingers grated against the diamonds of the ring he had given her in promise of their new beginning. Pursing her lips, she dug her nails into her hand before smiling and telling her that they hoped he would soon be as well as he had once been.
. . .
He sat in the garage of the Estates Tower in silence and reminded himself of his words from earlier that morning. What had he said? He’d said that everything would soon be alright, that they would see their son again soon. As he had held her, he had promised her that there would be no more reason to cry after today. Once he left that office, there would be no more pain for them to feel. The ugliness of their past would be wiped away, leaving them with nothing but the life that had been intended for them: him, her, and their beautiful children.
What became of the city once he walked out no longer concerned him; it could be blown to kingdom come by the Hóng Hè or buried into the ground by the Commissioner and resurrected for all he cared. So long as his family would never be burdened by the hell that had been born out of his world, it didn’t matter to him what became of these people and these buildings.
So he thought to himself as the time drew nearer and nearer to their final and fateful meeting. So he thought to himself as he stepped out of his car and buttoned his jacket, as he slammed the door and locked it behind himself before walking towards the elevators. So he thought as he stood silently and rushed past level after level after level, all the way up to his mark.
So Lelouch Lamperouge thought to himself as he stared at the gloved hands that would kill one last time before being cleansed of all the blood that had stained his palms for longer than he could remember.
. . .
Jeremiah unlocked the door, gun ready in hand. Quietly stepping inside, he looked around the dusty kitchen. Ears straining for the slightest sound – you never knew what they’d have done to the place – he slipped out of the kitchen and into the dining room and thereafter the sitting room, surprised to find all untouched. He found it difficult to believe that the Hóng Hè hadn’t known of the manor; if they had found out about their stay at Orpheil, they would have known about the manor, and their first course of action would have been to pay a visit to see if they could find any clues. All of the furniture should have been upturned, the house completely ransacked and all its privacy defiled, and yet, it was spotless and untouched. Everything was as they had left it, making things all too serene and unnerving. Something was strange. There was no reason the manor wouldn’t be ruined; it just wasn’t in the Hóng Hè’s style to leave it immaculate. No, something had to be going on, there had to be greater powers at play here than what he knew of. But what? And more importantly, why?