“Quite the fashion statement,” remarked his friend. “I didn’t take you as someone who was inclined to flaunt, but I suppose marriage can change a man.”
The prince didn’t even so much as glance up from the fifth page of his wife’s flowing cursive. The ring on his finger winked at him, and Alexei Aleksandrovich leaned back in his seat to better watch his friend. He studied his expression change as he turned over the letter. His reaction was subtle and could barely be found out, but they hadn’t known each other their whole lives for nothing; amused, he watched as he moved through fascination to delight to concern all the way back to complete and utter adoration. He was besotted, wasn’t he? Not that Alexei was complaining. By all means, it was somewhat of an improvement; now at least Lelouch would have someone by his side. Friends they may be but there was only so much he could do when they lived so far apart.
“And so? What has your darling princess spoken of for your ears to flush so?”
“…None of your business,” he muttered. Carefully folding the letter with their original crease, he slipped it into the inside pocket of his coat. “She asks that I thank you again for escorting Fromage. I quite frankly thought the private dinner was more than enough, but it appears that your one simple act of charity has had a resounding effect on my wife.”
“Jealous, are you?” he teased. The prince couldn’t help but scoff.
“To be jealous would require insecurity on my part. Do I seem doubtful to you regarding where her affections may lie?”
He chose not to spoke and merely sat and played with his Oriental cigarette holder. Knocking it against his knee, he sighed and paused the drumming to lean forward as he restlessly shifted his weight from here to there.
“If Mother Nature calls, please do not burden yourself with etiquette and excuse yourself at your own leisure,” he said wryly. Alexei made a face as if they had returned to their younger, more youthful selves.
“Do you kiss your wife with that mouth? In all my travels, I’ve never met a prince who spoke so freely of relieving oneself.”
“And I’ve never met a diplomat who sits like a babe would in his mother’s lap, much less an ambassador who fidgets so, but here we are, aren’t we?”
The two men sat in companionable silence for some time, both satisfied with the barbs they had poked the other with. One sat dreaming of his wife, while the second of the savory fragrances that wafted through the palace from the imperial kitchens. Both experienced a terrible hunger, but as was the custom to ignore all and any human needs, neither men spoke of their appetite.
“Say, Lelouch. I had been meaning to ask you but – and forgive me for asking – is it true what they are saying?”
“What who’s saying?”
“About your wife. Is it true?” Alexei knew how easy it was for rumors to fly around. There seemed to be nothing in the world that could travel faster than gossip, and as they sat there, thousands and thousands of miles away from the very person who sat in the thick of it all, Alexei knew that he was contributing. Even with the innocence of his intentions, he was still technically perpetuating that blue-blooded custom, though with him, he at least wouldn’t pass the news on to any others as he honestly had not much else to speak to. Perhaps his sister, but she was a quiet, introverted specimen. He knew as well as his friend did that he was a dead end. Perhaps that was even why they had become friends; because of the security that only he could provide.
The prince stared at him for some time before slowly turning away to glance out the window and at the falling snow. He seemed lost in thought, and the Ambassador considered repeating his question, when he heard a soft: “Do you suppose it’s snowing back at home right now?”
Alexei frowned. “I don’t think it would take too much of a stretch to imagine that it is, yes.”
“…Do you know, perhaps it is because I grew up there, but I am quite familiar with the castle in which the royal family resides in and how drafty it can become in the wintertimes. More so when there are snowstorms raging outside its stone walls.”
“Lelouch, what are you mumbling on about? Why such sudden interest in the weather?”
“Because,” he said glumly. “Because my wife is with child, and it’s far too cold for her. I hardly want to imagine her shivering in bed all by herself, with no one to help her keep warm, but that’s all I can think about in this confounded weather. If there was a way I could change the seasons, I would.”
Alexei couldn’t help but laugh. Oh, it was so like his friend to be so melodramatic. Surely the handmaidens would ensure that the princess was so warm she’d be surprised to find it snowing outside. As well as her Majesty, the Queen Consort. She had, after all, finally gotten what she had wanted for so long; surely she would do all in her power to see that the child was delivered with no harm to either child or mother.
“I see your opinion of your people is as low as the depths of hell. I am sure you are just fretting senselessly, like an old woman does when she has nothing better to do with her life. Worry not, my friend; your princess will be well taken care of. She is now the most prized and valued person in all the nation, is she not? Even above his Majesty, the King, I would say. The King after all cannot provide an heir as much as he may like to.”
Humming to himself, Alexei Aleksandrovich chuckled lightly. Beside him the fire roared alongside him, and he studied the curve of his armchair when he happened to glance up at the morbid tone of his friend’s words.
“…My mother passed away during childbirth.” He spoke so quietly, Alexei nearly lost the words over the roar of the winter gales outside. “And my wife… She’s never quite recovered from consumption. Not to mention how during the months leading up to my birthday, she had been placed under a great deal of stress. The Queen may do her best to help deliver the child in any way that is not below her, but she may also smother her in the process. I don’t know what I would do if I lost her, Alexei. I think I would kill myself.”
He looked up sharply, all trace of previous mirth gone. “How selfish you are to even entertain such a thought,” he scolded crossly. “While I understand that you love her, you must not let your emotions get the better of you. Your people need you. You cannot throw them away just because of a spousal death. As cold-hearted as it sounds, the life of your wife is not worth the lives of your subjects.”
He had spoken rashly, so he braced himself. Perhaps he would demand a duel to recover his wife’s sullied honor, or choose to ignore him for the rest of their lives. God knew how much the man adored his wife. But there was no reaction. He just continued to sit with a pale face and a stricken expression. Alexei frowned; he couldn’t be serious about ending his life, was he?
“I belong by her side. Not here, thousands and thousands of miles away from her. She tries her best to act as if she suffers not from pressure, but she and I both know that all the nation is watching her with bated breath. I can only imagine the loneliness she suffers from, and the grief she must endure through.”
Alexei was alarmed to see how wet his eyes were as he continued to speak of his wife. The prince covered his eyes but his voice was thick and broken as he gave voice to his private thoughts.
“I don’t want to lose her. Mother passed away in childbirth as did Lottie. Who is to say that she won’t fall victim to the same tragedy?”
“Loretta was always fragile. She was not fit to give birth. Your wife is significantly healthier than your brother’s. She will prevail.”
“But how do you know?”
“God would not have given you the love of your life only to take her away. He is not so cruel like that. For now, my friend, it would simply be for the best if you doubled your efforts on your assignment. That is the only way to return to her, is it not? In the meanwhile, comfort your wife; I remember you used to be quite the poet. Perhaps a poem or two would warm her heart and strengthen her.”
The prince didn’t look up. He merely sat with his eyes covered, his tears dripping from his chin. Alexei sympathetically reached for his shoulder. Patting him lightly, he told him that he would pray for them both before excusing himself. They had known one another since they had learned how to walk; Lelouch would want his privacy after recomposing himself. He had much to think over and much to tell his wife. Alexei knew at least that much; so he left to give him the peace and quiet necessary for conferring with the exquisite creature that was her Royal Highness, Céline of France.