Pie Nine: In Vino Veritas

“She’s hired someone without even consulting me,” he muttered into his palm. Sighing, he leaned back in his chair with a look of exasperation. “I made it extremely clear to her that I would retain control over the kitchen even with her recent involvement, but she still went over my head about this. I don’t know why I ever thought I could trust her to keep her word. That woman never has, and she never will.”

Suzaku drummed his fingers on the table nervously. Well… In C.C.’s defense, Lelouch had been taking forever. At the rate he was going at, he’d have never found another cook. And as far as he could tell, Alexei seemed like a nice guy. He’d been friendly, and he hadn’t noticed anything different about his order from when C.C. or Lelouch prepared it. But his best friend always had been sensitive about his restaurant, and with the combined effect of C.C. “meddling in his affairs” – as it had been so eloquently put – when he had shown up at for the private dinner party, he had done nothing but gripe, gripe, gripe.

“So… Are you going to fire him then?”

“I can’t fire him without probable cause. C.C. signed him on, and it’s stated in his contract, God damn that witch.”

Euphemia patted her brother’s hand sympathetically. “I’m sure C.C. has good reasons for signing him on in such a hurry. She has good judgment when it comes to cooks. And this way, you can have more time for yourself and for Leopold.”

The three adults turned from the light of the single lamp hanging over the table and to the doorway that led to the bedroom that the little boy was fast asleep in. Briefly Lelouch’s expression softened as he realized the truth in his sister’s words, but the resentment remained in the pit of his stomach, and eventually, he resumed his frowning. Suzaku tried to reason with him.

“Well, what do you even know about Alexei? You’ve only worked with him twice.”

“Oh, I’ve found out enough.” He spat out his name. “Apparently C.C. found him in some street-side snack shack when she went to Okinawa.”

The couple exchanged a look at his words. If that was the very first thing that came to mind when he thought of Alexei…

“Do you know how many awards Ambrosia‘s won since it’s opened? The reputation that we worked so hard to cultivate? And she just wants to throw all of that away for some…some nobody she picked up during vacation!”

As he sat there with his face buried in his hands, Suzaku discreetly inched his wine glass away from his friend as he deliberated over what to say next.

“But… Are you sure that’s why C.C. hired him?”

“Suzaku, I heard him call her Cera the other day.”

Oh…shit… So this was why Lelouch was in such a bad mood. It couldn’t have just been the new addition to the staff. There had to have been something more; if Alexei Aleksandrovich really hadn’t been up to his standards, then Lelouch would have had his probable cause and would have rid of him as he had done so before with so many cooks in the past. But he hadn’t even after a full two weeks had passed and a taste test from Lelouch’s notoriously sensitive palate, which could only mean that there was something else, a far deeper issue that had been drawing him to go beyond his usual period of complaint. As they sat there, Suzaku and Euphemia could only wonder how long he had been carrying this fear by himself. Since she had boarded that plane? Or maybe earlier than that, when they were signing the papers? Or when they were in the process of convincing themselves that they no longer loved the other…?  Did Lelouch himself even know the answer?

“…Sometimes I wonder if I’d be better off just giving her my share of Ambrosia. Then I wouldn’t have to be reminded every day.”

“Of what?”

But he never replied. Head down, he sat silently for some time before quietly asking, “Do you think it’s my fault? Because there must have been something that I did or said that told her that she didn’t feel the same way anymore. A trigger of some sort… There must have been.” He pitched forward, his words slurring into a sigh. “But what was it? What was the trigger?”

“…Lelouch, I… You’re a really great friend, and there’s no better brother than the one that Euphie and Nunnally have, and I know all of your employees like you. Not to mention how you’re such a great dad to Leopold. There’s a reason he won’t stop yelling for you until you’re by his side; because he just loves you that much, because you’re that special to him. Don’t worry about things like that; it’s all in the past. There’s no point in stressing over something like that.”

He sat sadly in the chair, and Euphemia reached for him. Squeezing his hand, she smiled gently at him. Blinking at her in the harsh lighting of the room, her brother stared at her in such a way that for a moment, she was reminded of the time when she had made the mistake of asking him where their father was and he had been unsure of the gentlest way to break her four-year-old heart. Her heart trembled at the uncanniness.

“Lelouch, why don’t you sleep over tonight? It’s late, you’re tired, and you’ve had a lot to drink. You can have the guest room.”

“…Yeah, maybe,” he mumbled. Suzaku stood to help him up but his brother-in-law shrugged him off. “Thanks, but no thanks.”

He nodded and stepped back but continued to watch him closely as he shuffled into the dark hallway. It wasn’t until he heard the door shut that Suzaku calmed. Reclaiming his seat, he glumly stared at the empty chair across from him, when he felt a cool hand on his nape. He looked up to his left and into the sad smile of his wife.

“…Do you…?”

She nodded, and he sighed. Shaking his head, he clasped his hands together as she hugged him and kissed his head to comfort him and help soothe the gloom of his soul.

.       .       .

“…I’m going to have to be honest, I’m kind of surprised you married him.”

She looked up from her phone, slightly distracted by the spam of messages that had suddenly flashed on-screen. “Why is that?”

He shrugged. “He just doesn’t really seem like your type. Really uptight and all.”

She gave a light laugh. “He’s not always like that. You ought to see him when he’s with Leopold. He’s a whole other man then.”

“Yeah, but there was also a time before he was born, like when you two were dating.” He chuckled to himself. “It’s just funny to imagine. You don’t seem like his type, and he doesn’t seem like yours.”

“Well, you’re right because I’m not and he isn’t either. That’s why I’m sitting here instead of in bed with him.”

“Speaking of which… You going to invite me up?”

She smiled as the wistful light in her eyes faded into teasing. Leaning forward, she gave him a short, sweet kiss before pulling away and whispering, “Sorry, but tonight’s not your lucky night.”

“You’re going to have to one of these nights,” he joked. “These dinners aren’t cheap, you know.”

“Maybe a night when there’s more than just a wall separating us from my son.”

He nodded, and she gave him one last kiss on the cheek before opening the door to go up the steps leading to her apartment. Alexei watched from his car until she slipped inside and out of sight. Drumming his fingers on the wheel, he thought on the night that stretched out behind him, of picking her up, of sitting down with her at that high-end competitor and judging their dishes, laughing and joking at the expense of the other, nitpicking and pulling them apart until they found out even the most hidden and secret flavors, trading stories and past-experiences…

She may not say that they had gone on a date, but deep inside, Alexei knew that they had. To anyone else it would have been obvious: no one prepared so elaborately for market research. If it hadn’t been, she wouldn’t have kissed him. She wouldn’t have teased him about coming up with her. He had seen the proof in her eyes over the rim of her wine glass and had heard it in her laughter, and what could possibly be more honest than a man or woman drunk on emotion – the wine of the soul?

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One thought on “Pie Nine: In Vino Veritas

  1. Sean O'Brien says:

    I liked this conflict since it felt like one that could come up given the way Lelouch and C.C. can clash at times, which made it feel quite in character that she would pull something like this. Both do have good points for both their positions, though C.C.’s is only really demonstrated by Suzaku. Going beyond their agreement and doing all this behind his back is a pretty shady move to pull honestly. It does sound like Lelouch is extremely picky and was taking a while to hire someone, but C.C. at least could have brought him forth as a recommendation. I mean, it’s made clear they did do this eventually and he passed with flying colors, but not till after C.C. had completed hiring him. I suppose this could speak to both her confidence and wanting to get the details done as soon as possible though. This definitely seems like something to add some strain to things, which no one really needs.

    Euphemia does bring up a good point about C.C. having good taste in cooks and given her own skill one could presume she knows he would be a good fit for the kitchen. No one else mentions any complaints either. And it’s clear Lelouch can take some pleasure in having a bit of the burden taken off and thus giving him more time to spend with his son.

    Of course, that’s not the central issue here. All the other bits are certainly true and do nag at him, but his own jealousy and possible heartbrokenness are what’s really fueling the fire here. Given he was just thinking how she couldn’t have been with anyone else, here comes some guy who C.C. met while she was away who calls her by her given name. The fact he’s apparently good looking and really nice probably just makes it all worse.

    That he may be having the thought process as well about whether she had found someone else a long time ago must make things even worse really. I’d imagine there’s a comparison constantly running in his mind observing Alexei and then seeing how they interact with one another. Watching your ex and someone you presume she’s involved with right in front of you doesn’t sound like any kind of fun. I can’t blame him for considering selling his share given how much history and emotion is tied into this place with her.

    It’s just very sad watching him slowly go from rage into sorrow as he just starts wondering what went wrong and what it could have been if it was his fault. It is sweet seeing Suzaku and Euphemia trying their best to make him feel better by pointing out how everyone likes and loves him. I’m not sure if they realize how much he still loves her though or at least don’t fully realize it until after this display just now along with the other hints. Is Leopold staying at their place though?

    Curious what the spam of messages was. Euphemia or Milly? I like the small comment about how Lelouch is with Leopold because there’s a fondness there that seems clear to me. The whole conversation is just really sad with how dismissive she seems, especially after the display from Lelouch just before.

    Sort of with Alexei on this one since that does really sound like a date. Actually, her entire demeanor speaks of an attraction so I can’t blame Alexei for having the perspective he has at all. They seem like they compliment each other well and get along quite a bit as well. If she isn’t serious, then she’d better knock it off with the kisses and flirting about sleeping with him because she comes across like she’s leading him on otherwise. Or you could say it’s a personality flaw or quirk in that that’s just how she acts. Alexei certainly seems to have it bad anyway.

    He’s really quite the contrast to Lelouch. He doesn’t fight, is generally in a good mood, and doesn’t seem as uptight compared to Lelouch. Honestly, I couldn’t blame her if she moved on to him since it’s often hard to tell what exactly C.C. liked about Lelouch in the first place other than being good in bed though I need to reread the next few chapters of course. I imagine these are all the sort of thoughts running through Lelouch’s mind as well.

    Thank you 🙂

    Like

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