The young woman drew quick, shallow breaths as best she could through her gag. Her eyes wide and her face streaked with tears, she could only make muffled screams as she looked up with fearful eyes. Immaculate shoes stopped just inches from her nose, and eyes gleamed down at her from the darkness as she lay on the cold floor of her ransacked home.
“We come to offer you deliverance, Ms. Einstein. Not pain. Do not misunderstand our intentions; we mean to help, not harm. The burden of your creation has proved too much for you, has it not? It has left you sleepless and wracked with guilt as you bemoan your past enthusiasm and blindness, and you now pray for forgiveness from a god that doesn’t exist for you, yes?”
He knelt down and studied her as if she were some exotic specimen put on display. The poacher pursed his lips as he saw the small pool spread below her skirt.
“We are the answers to your prayers, Ms. Einstein. We’ve been sent to help you.”
For a split second, she believed him. Perhaps they really were here to help her. Perhaps they were here to take her away to safety, away from this graveyard of haunting innocence. If anyone had a way out, it had to be this man. Wasn’t he the most powerful in the city? By some miracle he had escaped the wrath of the state. Surely he could grant her perfect sanctuary.
But then he stood up and turned away, and she remembered how they had stormed in, knocked her to the ground as they had bound her and sacked her house and home. All around the upturned furniture and the glass shards glittering atop all her papers stood as a forgotten reminder of what these people were probably going to do to her. And sure enough, as she watched him crush her life’s work under his feet, one of the hands wordlessly raised the gun and pulled the trigger three times.
God would forgive Nina Einstein for her sins. With her guaranteed silence, she had paid the price demanded of her with her blood. As she had so desperately prayed for, her sins had been absolved.
She was forgiven.
. . .
She looked at him in awe. Last night had felt like a dream, and as she stood there beside him with the morning light warming her back and his wedding band teasing her as he held her hand, it was difficult to wrap her head around the realization that finally, after a four-year delay, they had finally been able to marry as they had so promised all that time ago. When they had left the church and had returned to their room at the hotel, she had had little opportunity to dwell over what had happened, but as she stood there in the airport, she was given all the time in the world to ponder over who she was now: Mrs. Lelouch Lamperouge.
The thought made shivers run down her back as a wide smile lit up her face. It was embarrassing to react so giddily like some little girl, but she couldn’t help but blush as her heart swelled. Mrs. Lelouch Lamperouge, huh? My God, it was simply mortifying how silly the mere thought made her. How was she ever going to live the rest of her life with this new title?
Happily, of course.
She tried to wipe away her smile, or at least make it not so silly as it felt on her face, but try as she might, she couldn’t and soon enough resorted to burying her face into his chest. He seemed to have read her mind because he only chuckled and wrapped his arm around her. But hiding only made her smile brighter as she felt his cheek resting on her head and his arms around her waist as he gently rocked them back and forth.
“I hate myself.” Her words were muffled but he heard her anyway. His lips twitched as he tried not to laugh.
“Well, I don’t. I love my wife,” he said softly. “My beautiful, lovely wife.”
Her ring flashed in the sunlight as she – Mrs. Lelouch Lamperouge – embraced her husband.
Her beautiful, lovely husband.
. . .
Euphemia sat quietly in the kitchen. From the living room she could hear some cartoon playing on the television. Her attention briefly wandered as she thought of whether her daughter was actually watching or if she was staring into space again – something that she had never done before her father’s passing – and if she should go and check up on her, when a breeze from an open window blew the plane tickets off the table and into her lap. She stared.
When C.C. had offered her – not only once, but twice – she had told her on both occasions that she had wanted to stay here, that she had wanted to be here for the day when her husband’s death was no longer for vain and his faith in the city – in humanity – was proven to be correct instead of laughable and naïve as so many had called it. That the war was almost over now, so she thought it would be better for Sakiko if she were to stay where they were – avoid the whole trauma of introducing her to a new world – even though she really, truly was grateful for the offer. She understood how much of a commodity plane tickets had been, and to think that she had offered her two was just…
But that Euphie had been the one who had been trying to recover from the enormous, gaping hole in her chest that her husband had left. She had talked herself out of going even though for a split second, she had wanted to hug her and tell her that yes, more than anything would she like to leave this hell on earth because she hadn’t yet felt ready to move. To entirely uproot the home that they had built and just leap over the ocean like that… Maybe if Suzaku had been there with her, she wouldn’t have been so afraid of so much change in such a short period of time. Maybe if he had been there for her to speak her true thoughts aloud to, she wouldn’t have been so disoriented by the possibility. But there had been no one, and so she had declined.
Had she made a mistake in saying no? Had she doomed her baby to a fate of misery and pain by choosing to stay here in this city full of painful reminders of what had once been? Perhaps Sakiko would have been able to better cope with the pain if she had been with Leopold all this time. She remembered how they used to run around together, giggling and shouting as they amused themselves with their imaginations and little contests.
She covered her face with her hands. Perhaps she had been wrong. Perhaps she had been selfish and in the process ruined her daughter.
. . .
Cornelia drew steady, ragged breaths as she stared at her sweat dripping onto the ground in the swinging shadow of the punching bag. Admittedly it had been some time since she had last gone to the gym; that enough was evident in how labored her breathing was. And maybe she shouldn’t really be spending her precious time at the gym – there was a reason she had let her strict training regimen go – but she’d come anyway because if she hadn’t, she’d have probably ended up taking it out on some poor unfortunate bastard – probably Rolo – who’d done nothing to deserve such rage.
It was because they’d been forced to let go of him. Even if they had had the evidence, they had still been forced to release him because of some legislative loophole or some technicality bullshit, and when she had received the order that allowed Kanon Maldini to walk away a free man, Cornelia had done her best not to lose her temper in front of her subordinates. She had stifled her thoughts until she was in the privacy of her office where only Guilford witnessed her immense displeasure, but it wasn’t until she had thoroughly exhausted herself at the gym that she felt herself finally regain her composure.
Oh, sure enough, the release of Maldini still pissed her off. The fact that some of those damn, dirty politicians had survived the hellfire that had rained down upon them irritated her, but she would have to deal with them later. Now, she had other criminals to worry about, like Mao Qing, the second-in-command for the Hóng Hè and undesirable number one for the Weiss König murder case.
So she headed for the showers; Maldini might have slipped through, but Qing definitely wouldn’t. She would make sure that all technicalities and legislation were in the clear.
She had let her prey get away once. Never would there be a second. Not if she had anything to do with it.
. . .
She couldn’t help but smile at the way his eyes lit up when he felt them kick. There was such surprise and wonder in them, his expression was reminiscent of Leopold’s when he had first been told of his future as an older brother. Tearing his eyes away from her stomach, he looked up at her with wide eyes.
“They must know it’s you,” she murmured. “Their father.”
“We’re going to have twins…”
She smiled as he sat back in disbelief. He always did this when they discussed the children. It was as if every new conversation was the first time he was being told. In a way, it was somewhat endearing: watching the revelation take him by hold, then the awe and then finally the excitement. Sometimes, he’d even become misty-eyed, which never failed to remind her of how they used to discuss their hopes of having a familiar of their own one day, and how far they had come since then with not only one, but now three beautiful darlings to call their own.
He covered his eyes as he quietly laughed to himself. “Twins. I can’t believe it.”
“This isn’t anything new. You’ve known for quite some time if you can remember,” she teased. His hand shifted down, and he shook his head disbelievingly.
“I still can’t wrap my head around it.” He ran a hand through his hair as he beamed at her. “It’s so…” His voice tapered off as he searched himself for the proper word in a sort of childlike wonder. “This is all that I’ve ever wanted. You and our children, safe and sound. That’s all I’ve ever wanted, and here I am… Finally.” He looked into her eyes with an intensity she had never seen before. “Finally.”
She reached to touch him. He closed his eyes at the slightest kiss of her fingers, reveling in the cool metal of the wedding ring he had given her. On his other cheek, he could feel her lips and then her hand brushing his hair away from his eyes – all the better to see his wife with. His eyes locked on her lips as they curled up into her pretty little smile – her Mona Lisa smile – and traced over the curve of those soft petal roses as she smiled at him and held him and whispered, “Twins.”
So content was he that he barely even noticed the plane ascending into the air. And why should he, when his whole world – his universe – was filled with nothing but the infinite, boundless love for his family? His dream come true.
. . .
“Mama, when can I see Leopold again?”
Sakiko stared at the shiny medal sitting in her palm. It had been meant for her father, Uncle Gino had said, but he was sure her father would have liked her to have it. So she had accepted it from that lady (the Commissioner, her mother had whispered in her ear) in front of all those adults and had stood tall before all their pitying looks and polite clapping. She had said very little at the ceremony, except a quiet “Thank you” and a listless “Okay” when her mother had suggested that they kept it in its special box so that it would be safe and warm in its own little bed.
But sometimes she would climb up on one of the kitchen chairs and spirit it away, where she would then stand in front of the bathroom mirror and stare at its cheerful glow, all the while contemplating why the adults thought that this piece of scrap metal could replace her father. Other times, when it didn’t hurt so much, she tried to imagine what Leopold would say if he saw her standing with that glorious prize. Probably gape in awe; he’d always been easily amazed.
“I’m not sure, but I hope it’s soon. I know you miss him.”
The little girl picked at a scab on her knee. Shrugging her shoulders in reply, she sat for a little while more before loping off to the secret hiding spot in her bedroom where she squirmed inside to turn the little nightlight on and stare at the shrine she had built in honor of her father as she looked at the familiar crinkle of her father’s beautiful green eyes and tried her best to remember his voice and his warmth and his scent that was already fading away too quickly for her tears to catch up.
. . .
She herself personally led the raid of the headquarters. It was highly unusual, but she felt the need to be there. She had already sent in so many ahead of her, had sacrificed so many to do her bidding. Why shouldn’t she step out onto the field? She wasn’t so above getting her hands dirty. But when they arrived, there was no opportunity to; the building was barren. Inside were mere scatterings of the organization that it had once housed, but whether they had deserted their fortress or had been chased out, there wasn’t even a ghost to be found. Only shipments of weapons marked and designed alike to that of the Weiss Ritter.
For the first few crates, they had assumed thievery. Why not? The Hóng Hè were notorious for their dirty tricks, why wouldn’t they be above stealing from their self-proclaimed sworn enemy? But as they delved deeper into the building, they began to suspect otherwise. There was just too much of the Weiss Ritter’s property. There was no way that the security for the syndicate ‘s property had been so loose to allow so much theft. But it wasn’t until she had found the charred remains of a directive from Kanon Maldini to Mao Qing that the connection finally clicked and officers were dispatched to the Estates Tower.
She had had her suspicions, but without more evidence, they hadn’t been able to do anything about a possible connection between the two groups. But now, incriminating letter in hand, Cornelia had all the excuse she needed to kick down the door.
And yet… Something still bothered her. Even with this small victory, she couldn’t help but frown in disapproval. So the Weiss Ritter was connected to the Hóng Hè. So what? Nothing could really be brought out of this investigation unless they had some sort of piece of evidence to prove, without a doubt, that the Britannia Enterprises was the Weiss Ritter. Not until they found that key piece would all the dominos collapse, a key piece like…
When the report of the bombing of the Estates Tower, Cornelia didn’t even register the lives she had squandered. Someone was trying to cover his tracks, and she’d be damned before she let him finish the job. Phoning in the property office, she ordered the instant removal of Article 3742-D. They could bomb the office and hack into the mainframe for all she cared so long as they had that flash-drive. That tiny piece of metal and plastic housed the original copies, and without it, they would never have a fail-safe in the case of evidence tampering.
But it was already too late. No one picked up. The office had already gone up in smoke, and with it, any hopes of connecting the monster to the man.
. . .
He had been unable to sleep during the entire flight. Beside him, C.C. leaned against his shoulder, fast asleep, but he had had trouble sleeping so restless was he. He kept thinking of how he was mere hours away from seeing his son again, and how excited he had been over the phone when he had told him the night before that they would see each other very, very soon. He tried to stifle his smile; they had spoken over the phone, but they had yet to break to him the news of their “engagement” (they had both agreed to keep silent on the wedding; him finding out he hadn’t been “invited” to the wedding would only serve to depress him), and he could scarcely imagine his reaction.
“What do you think he’ll say when we tell him?”
Stirring beside him, she rubbed her eyes before sleepily smiling at him. “I’m sure he’ll have about a million questions and then he’ll dance around with Lulu before asking to hear about the proposal.”
He drummed his fingers on the armrest, when she put her hand over his gently.
“The important thing is that he’ll be as happy as we are. Maybe even happier. But first thing’s first, let’s get home to him before we worry about which proposal story to tell him.”
Of course. That was sensible; there was no use worrying over it. He’d done that long enough – six hours, to be exact. It was for the best if he just focused on finishing the home stretch without any incident.
Unfortunately, there was incident almost as soon as the plane slowed to a stop not to a jet bridge as per usual, but on the middle of the tarmac. The strange feeling in his stomach growing stronger – during the flight, he had noticed a bizarre absence of children. All passengers on the flight had been adults, which…statistically seemed highly improbable – he instinctively reached for her hand as he led her down the aisle and the last surviving wisps of his happiness evaporated at the sight of Kanon Maldini.
“I’ve come to escort you home.”
He began to reach for his gun, when he felt her dig her nails into his hand. Turning, he could just barely make out the gun pressed against his wife’s back.
“Anything you may so much as consider is futile,” he said politely. “We’ve hired enough mercenaries to fill an entire plane.”
When there was still no movement, the consigliere folded his hands before him. “I give you my word that no harm shall befall your wife or child if you come with me.”
“And why should I trust you?” he spat.
“They’re both still alive, aren’t they? Though I cannot vouch for the duration of their present health; that, Mr. Lamperouge, is completely up to your choosing.”
His lips curled back. Check.