The air was dry and stifling as they made their way down the shaded street. Their uniforms crinkled and their medals flashed in the bright summer sun, blinding the children who stopped in their tracks and openly stared, and their mothers all of whom tried to turn them away all the while never looking at them properly. If she didn’t see them, they told themselves, then they wouldn’t come to her and she would never have to face the horrible reality that everyone was so eager to ignore.
“This the correct address?”
“Shades off, Sergeant.”
The soldier obediently tucked his sunglasses away. Green eyes squinting in the sun, he pulled on the edge of his stiff uniform. He had never really liked the way it felt on him. Even with all his years in the army, he had never quite stopped feeling so exposed in the uniform. It just felt so fake. Like it was all for show.
“Let’s get this over with.”
Stiffly, he knocked on the door three times. From inside the small cottage, they could faintly hear the sounds of the television. Glancing over his shoulder, Suzaku listened to the green trees rustle. The street was completely barren.
Clenching his teeth, he reached up to knock again, when the door suddenly opened to reveal a little girl and boy. The boy couldn’t be older than four, while his sister seemed to be a little older and wiser, but still not enough to hide her excitement. Grinning, the boy clapped his hands happily.
“Is Papa home?”
For all his training, Suzaku could only open his mouth and gape. This wasn’t in the handbook. None of the black and white print had prepared him, had debriefed him and instructed him on what to do should he run into children such as this on duty. Even his superior officer seemed caught off-guard, and the two simply stared at the pair who peered up at the two men wearing the same clothes their papa wore curiously. Why weren’t they saying anything?
“Leopold? Aurelia, what are you two doing?”
Heads shooting up, they saw a face emerge from the shadows of the house. He was young; younger than even himself, and he had only just passed his mid-twenties. Swallowing hard, Suzaku stared as he tried not to let his eyes water too much.
“Can I help you?”
“Is Mrs. Cera Lamperouge on the premises? It’s imperative we speak with her.”
“Mum went to go pick Alexander and Marie up. She’ll be back soon though. Is there something I can do for you though? Why do you want to talk to Mum?”
The two men glanced at one another. Five children? Army men usually limited themselves to one or two. Feeding a family of four was hard enough already on the small support the government offered. How did this family of seven even survive?
“We will come back another time when your mother is home. Good-bye.”
As they turned on their heels and marched away, they couldn’t help but overhear the young voices clamoring for their older brother’s attention.
“Julius, where’s Papa?”
“Isn’t he coming home?”
“I want Papa!”
“Papa isn’t coming home today, silly. Now why don’t you close the door? It’s starting to get hot again.”
“But I want Papa!”
They didn’t even make it off the driveway though when a car suddenly turned onto the concrete. The soldiers stopped, taken prisoner by the sight of the aforementioned children spill out of the car, as well as their mother.
Mrs. Cera Lamperouge was a beautiful lady. Though she looked a little worn, her exquisite beauty still remained, and if he hadn’t known of the great, horrible secret he held, she would have easily been a woman Suzaku would have dreamt of, with her lithe body and soft, silky hair.
Slinging her bag over her shoulder, she swung her son’s hand. Even with the heat, she was wearing a blue cardigan much too big for her. A man’s cardigan. Probably her husband’s.
“Mrs. Cera Lamperouge?”
The moment she saw them, her smile vanished and she turned to her daughter.
“Marie, go take Alexander inside and give him his snack.”
Her daughter obeyed as all good children did when their mother spoke to them in that low, frightening voice. The three adults stood quietly until the door slammed shut behind the children, keeping them safe and separate for at least a little longer from their father.
“Mrs. Lamperouge, the Secretary of the Army has asked me to express his deepest regret that your husband, Colonel Lelouch Lamperouge, was killed in action by sniper fire yesterday in Southern Iraq.”
She seemed to reel, and soon her legs gave away from underneath her. Her chest heaving, she looked up with glazed eyes at the two messengers. Tears in her eyes, she gasped for breath. No. No, it couldn’t be. Not her husband. Not Lelouch. They had just spoken last night. She remembered. He had been there on that screen, and he had asked after Julius and his progress in school, had comforted Marie when their daughter had told him of losing in the science fair, had kissed Aurelia through the screen. He had laughed at Leopold’s elephant story and applauded Alexander’s drawing because he had been right there, right across that screen. Just last night, less than 24 hours ago, he had spoken to her in that low voice of his, soothing her worries and teasing her with that twinkle in his eyes as he told her of what he was going to do to her once he came home. Less than 24 hours ago.
Just last night, he’d been there. Alive. Breathing, laughing, smiling, talking. He’d been right there. What did they mean he was dead? She’d seen him just last night!
“You will receive a more complete report as soon as possible, ma’am. What we can tell you right now is that the ambush took place during patrol. It was an instant death.”
She covered her pretty face as the tears began to run. Suzaku felt his stomach sicken and his heart twist, and for a split second, his humanity got the better of him and his face crumpled under the weight of her tragedy.
“A Casualty Assistance Officer will contact you within the next four hours to help you arrange the funeral. Is there a friend, or a neighbor, or a family member who can stay with you and help you through your difficult time?”
A week after, Suzaku found himself in the cemetery, watching from the shadows the funeral. The widow sat still, her face covered with a black veil, as her four-year-old son sat in her lap and her six-year-old daughter buried her tear-soaked face – a face that had never stopped crying since she was sat down on the living room and sofa and was told by the strange man wearing her father’s uniform how she would never again feel her father’s warmth or hear his voice – into her mother’s black dress. Julius and Marie Lamperouge flanked their mother and siblings gravely and somberly, the only sign of consciousness their flinching during the 21-gun salute. The third of the children, Alexander Lamperouge, was nowhere to be found. Faint at heart, and the one who had loved his father so much, he had had to be sent away to his grandparents for the week, lest he try something dramatic.
And as he stood there, lurking, Suzaku couldn’t help but wonder how people could say that war was good, that war was necessary, when there were five orphaned children who would never again smile so brightly as they had before the morning of that summer day.