“Well, um,” Suzaku rubbed his neck nervously. Glancing behind him, he looked around the small bedroom before turning back to the matronly woman who stood before him with a patient expression. “I’m grateful for the job and all, but… Why exactly do you need me? If there’s you and Mr. Gottwald.”
She stood quietly for some time and the young man wondered if he had already received a poor performance evaluation within the first five minutes of his new job.
“I’m sorry,” he mumbled. Unfortunately his quiet words fell upon deaf ears as she smiled and simply replied with: “As you will soon find out for yourself, the children can be quite the handful.”
He nodded. Of course. There were 5 in total, and seeing as how their ages ranged from 4 to 17, there could be nothing but chaos expected, and Suzaku was fully prepared – or so he thought – for whatever the children may throw at him. Well, unbeknownst to him, he’d find out in a matter of minutes.
“You may unpack and then join us in ten minutes for dinner. Dinners in the House of Britannia are often more…formal occasions compared to what other families may have, so please ensure that you are dressed appropriately.”
Suzaku frowned. How formal was formal?
“The dining room is on the second floor. Before you join us, would you be so kind as to collect Master Leopold? He should be in his bedroom, which is situated on the third floor.”
Suzaku was relieved to see her smile before bidding him goodbye. Closing the door after her, he stood still in his room for a moment – it was on the smaller side, but it was clean and did its job superbly, so he had no complaints – trying to recompose himself. When he had applied for the job, he hadn’t really known what kind of world he’d be stepping into, but… He scolded himself for his surprise. What else had he expected? Who else would hire the services of a child caretaker in the 21st century except for the insanely rich?
Ruffling his hair, he told himself to ignore the other voices. There was no point in freaking out or doubting himself. He’d already accepted the job, and they’d already hired him. Not to mention how he’d already sent the advance to Kaguya. So everyone might as well just shut up and let him get dressed for dinner and “collect Master Leopold.” He was already 5 minutes late, and it wouldn’t do to make a bad first impression, right?
. . .
Suzaku crept down the rich, cream carpeting of the hallway to stand at the end of the corridor. To his right were 4 doors (two on each wall) and to his left were 4 more. At the end of the right, double doors leered at him. The confusion cleared for just a split second; that clearly couldn’t be Master Leopold’s bedroom. It looked more like the entrance to the master suite than to a child’s room, so he crossed it off the list – leaving 8 more to stare stupidly at.
He glanced down at his watch before loosening the top button of his shirt. Well, if he was going to collect Master Leopold, he’d better start collecting now because he had to be on the second floor in three minutes. With a sweaty hand, he grabbed a shining knob. Swallowing hard, he tried not to think of what would happen if the person on the other side wasn’t his quarry – or worse yet what would happen if he walked into an empty bedroom just before the owner of said bedroom appeared to accuse him of invasion – when he heard a shrill whistle. Jumping ten feet into the air, he whipped around to see a small child of roughly 4-years-of-age standing in front of the double doors. Puffing his cheeks out, he blew into the silver whistle once more.
“H-hello,” said the young man nervously. “I’m, uh, I was just-”
“That’s Marie’s room.”
“Oh, I see. I’m sorry. You see, I’m looking for someone, and-”
“Hide-and-seek? I wanna play!”
He ran over to him, all the while letting out a weak whistle every time he took a step.
“Who’re you looking for?”
The child stared at him for some time with a strange look on his face before nodding seriously. “Yup, yup, no wonder you were looking in Marie’s room. Leopold’s the master of hide-and-seek. One time he wasn’t found for five whole days.”
“But I’ll help you find him if you help me with something.”
“I really need to find him soon.”
“It’s quick, I promise.”
Suzaku couldn’t help but glance at his watch. He really didn’t have the time… With a sigh, he resigned himself to the whims of the boy before him. Well, if he couldn’t find one of them, he might as well show up with another.
“Okay. But can I have your name?”
“It’s L…” He grinned slyly. “It’s Charlie.”
“Alright, Charlie. I’ll help you, but you need to promise me that you’ll help me find Master Leopold afterwards.”
“No problem. You can count on me.”
And so Suzaku allowed himself to be led towards the elevator by the small child named L… Charlie.
. . .
“Are you sure?”
Suzaku glanced down at the boy, who was watching him closely. Upon his question, he nodded eagerly, but he couldn’t help but feel uneasy. He didn’t exactly feel right rummaging through the fridge even if the action had been sanctioned by the tiny owner of said fridge. He stared at the glass cup of strawberries and cream before glancing back at the child.
“Isn’t dinnertime soon?”
He pouted. “No.”
Suzaku bit his lip. A part of him wanted to give it to him – they had only spent 2 minutes together, but already Charlie was proving himself to be one of the cutest kids he’d ever seen – but another part of him (perhaps some well-buried paternal instinct) was telling him that he clearly remembered Sayoko saying that they were going to have dinner, which meant that they hadn’t yet and that no matter how cute he was, Charlie shouldn’t have this cup of what looked to be dessert, so…
But also another, third, secret part of him wanted to eat it for himself. By God did it look amazing.
“Come on,” he whined. “You promised.”
“Come on.” His voice reached a dangerous pitch as he started to jump up and down. “Gimme it!”
Raising it up high above his head, Suzaku looked down at him, trying to decide which was the better choice, when the kitchen door swung open and an imposing figure stood in the doorway.
“Master Leopold! Everyone has been waiting for you, sir!”
“Bah,” he yelled before running through the legs of the man. Once he was gone, and the two men were left alone, Suzaku sheepishly set the cup back down on its tray.
“So… I’ll just go now…”
But Mr. Gottwald ignored him as he busied himself with the first course of the dinner. Slowly backing away, Suzaku inched his way towards the dining room, when he very nearly ran into Sayoko.
“Suzaku! We’ve been waiting for you.”
“I’m sorry,” he stammered. “I didn’t mean to- Master Leopold told me that he was Charlie and- I really didn’t mean-”
“No matter, no matter. It’s all in the past. But you must hurry; the children don’t like to be kept waiting.”
She ushered him into the stately dining room, where 4 pairs of eyes turned to drill into him. The fifth – belonging to the smallest and youngest of them all – imperiously glared at him before blowing as hard as his tiny lungs would let him into his whistle. Everyone jumped, relieving Suzaku of the burden of being treated like some animal in a zoo exhibit.
“Children. May I introduce to you Mr. Suzaku Kururugi, your new caretaker?”
Suzaku nervously smiled. Well… Here went nothing.