“You promised you wouldn’t have to leave anymore.”
“My will is not of my own. If it were, I’d spend every passing second of my life next to you. You know that as well as I do.”
She leaned against him helplessly. That didn’t mean it hurt any less. He must have been thinking the same thing because he tilted her chin up.
“I swear to you that I will do any and everything in my power to return to you.”
Her eyes fluttered close as he leaned down to kiss her. Holding his face in her hands, she said her goodbyes silently. Reluctantly pulling away, he studied her face carefully as he traced the geography of her face with a finger. He’d be taking a small portrait of her (it was small enough to keep in his pocket, which served as some form of comfort) but what kind of a sorry and pathetic substitute was that for her? They had employed their nation’s most celebrated artist and still the prodigy had failed to capture the pretty twinkle in her eyes when she laughed, or the feeling of her sweet lips when she whispered into his ear her most secret thoughts that only he had the privilege of knowing, or the sheer joy he felt every morning simply from waking beside her and not anyone else in the world – a happiness he was to be deprived of for the next seven months all in the name of their motherland.
When he had been told how long his absence would run for, he had vehemently protested. For the first time in his life, he had rejected the task that had been set before him. Seven months was just too much. Not just for her, but for him as well; seven months would kill him. He struggled through seven hours without her. How was he to endure through seven months? But his pleas had been ignored, and his grandfather could do little else than apologize. There was no one else they could trust; Lelouch had been successful in the past even when the odds seemed dismal, and with war imminent…
“I have something for you.” She held out a small box. Shyly, she looked up at him. “For us.”
He opened the case to find two silver rings glittering at him in the morning sun. With engravings decorating them, they shone innocently at him. He found it difficult to speak.
“The royal coat of arms…”
“I…took the liberty of excluding them since our marriage is built on so much more.” She blushed. “Perhaps I ought to have consulted you on their design. I do not mean to cause any offense.”
“They’re perfect,” he said softly. Holding up the smaller of the two, he gently slid it onto her finger. The shaft of light coming through their bedroom window set off a shower of sparks as the ring flashed at him happily. He looked up to see her smile. He offered her the other ring and watched with bated breath as she too gave him her vow to wait for him until they could be together again, no matter how long it may take or how painful it may to be away from one another.
“You’ll be late.”
He nodded but remained rooted to the spot.
He looked up from the cool metal band.
. . .
“Lelouch!” The King frowned. “What are you still doing here, boy? You should have made your departure long before now.”
“Grandfather, I beg of you: let my wife accompany me.”
“That’s unheard of. No wife has ever accompanied an agent of the ministry of foreign affairs. It has been the policy for centuries, and for good reason. I understand that you hate to part from her, my boy, but-“
“But she could be of great advantage to us. Grandfather, think of how vast and important the social occasions are. What have those of the fairer sex been trained for all their lives but to kindle camaraderie amongst even the most estranged of men? Please, Grandfather. Send her with me.”
The King studied him for some time. He looked at the misery etched on his face and the desperation. Lelouch was rarely one to let passion get the better of him. He had always been a reasonable child. What had changed?
“What makes you cower so, Lelouch?” Speaking his name for the first time in what seemed an eternity, his grandfather leaned forward. “What is inspiring such hesitance?”
He stood silently, and a heavy silence settled in. The prince averted his eyes. How could he possibly convey to him the fear that upon his return, everything would become ruined? Had his wife also not been touched by that same worry? Why else would she have arranged that gift? As beautiful as it was, as thoughtful as it was, he knew what she had been thinking as she had made such a commission. Why else had they spent so much time together during the days leading up to today? It had been as if they had been conjoined. From the moment they woke until the moment they fell asleep beside one another, they hadn’t left the other’s side save for a handful of minutes each day, which was extreme even for them. He had his business to attend to, as did she, but both had completely neglected their responsibilities to cower from a history that may or may not repeat itself.
“Might you not think of her accompanying you selfish? Here she at least is familiar with the people. I remember you always worried over how uncomfortable she felt when she first arrived here; might you not think that she would experience the same feelings there? Especially when you’re closeted away for long stretches of time to tend to official matters.”
“I…” He pursed his lips. He could see how his grandfather thought him rash. And maybe he was being a little rash. Maybe he wasn’t really thinking straight and he was just letting his emotions get the better of him, but at the same time, did that not prove how much he loved her? How much he wanted to avoid going back to that horrid time when he had driven her to tears? Didn’t that at least prove something?
“Trust in yourself, Lelouch. Trust in yourself, and trust in your wife, and trust that you two have built up a relationship whose integrity can withstand separation in spite of the past. My son, you are to inherit the throne one day. The bond you share with your wife must be strong enough to tolerate the burden of the crown, but how can you expect to temper your relationship if you find yourself unable to be far from her?” He spoke with a stern gentleness, but the grandchild only stood silently as he rose from behind the desk.
“She loves you very much, as do you. This I know. But if you are to ascend to the throne one day, you are going to have to exercise a great deal more faith in the integrity of your love. It is your duty. I am sorry to be so cold with you, but time is beginning to run out, and you must begin to prepare.”
“…Is that what this is? A test?”
When there was no reply, the Prince stepped away. Giving a stiff bow, he turned on his heel, baring his back to the King, as he stormed away. Lelouch loved his grandfather – he had been the only one to pay any attention to him. He had been the one to help him through that miserable excuse of a childhood he had inherited as his birthright – and he was the single most important influence on who he was today, but…
But he had no business in tearing him away his wife – especially when she was in such a delicate and fragile position as she was in now.