Ah, Suzaku remembers. He catches Lelouch's hand as it pulls away from the shower.
"No. I don't hate it- not at all," is his answer before he brings Lelouch's hand to his lips and kisses the back of it tenderly. "I... apologize for whatever made you think that."
It is not a lie that they haven't touched- on an intimate enough level to call romantic, that is. (For the record: he's not like C.C. He's only ever kissed Lelouch's face, and only when he was sure that Lelouch was asleep. Once.)
When Lelouch laughs breathlessly and clutches Suzaku's hand tightly, the elder lunges up and uses the momentum to launch his (fully clothed) body against Suzaku's in the shower. It's enough to catch his counterpart off guard, having not expected the other to pull himself up like that.
Luckily for them both, Suzaku is (military-trained) strong enough to keep them both relatively steady, strong, wet arms wrapping around a thin, clothed waist to keep the one who came up from falling. Suzaku's back presses to the wall a moment before pushing off of it until they're both standing under the showerhead and the pouring water dousing them from above. It's hot -- hotter than what Lelouch expects it to be by his telling shudder -- but it doesn't seem to bother the old Emperor much, because he's raising his hands to grip muscled upper arms and his lips are pressing against Suzaku's neck.
It's also not a lie that Suzaku doesn't know what's going on when Lelouch cranes his neck to move his (trembling) lips up to the stronger line of his jaw, soft and insistent even thought Lelouch is getting soaked under the direct line of falling water. He doesn't know what's going on either when Lelouch whispers his name repeatedly against his overheated skin and clutches him close.
Suzaku doesn't know what to do, but he keeps holding on to Lelouch tightly enough, hoping to imprint his everything (his delicate frame, flat chest, and thin limbs) into his memory so that he would never forget anything again. "Lelouch," he mutters, running his hands up his ex best friend's back. "You're getting wet; really wet."
"It's alright, Suzaku," the dark-haired male breathes against his cheek now, tone amused and unmistakenly warm, "A little water isn't going to hurt me." His lips press against Suzaku's cheek. "Give me this moment, Suzaku. Stop questioning me. Accept me. I'm real and I'm here, and I'm not going anywhere."
Zero does not correct him, instead letting out a formerly repressed shudder as he holds Lelouch helplessly. It's a wonder how, a few days earlier, Suzaku would have shot away and had a panic attack if Lelouch so much as brushed against him. Touching Lelouch and having him solid the way he is is an affirmation of Lelouch's immortal existence.
The warmth in his arms should not even be alive, and yet he does not find himself cursing it.
"I'm not going to disappear just because you crushed my lungs and broke five bones of my ribcage."
A fact that makes Suzaku twitch and give Lelouch a look he recognizes all too well. He reacts accordingly, turning his head and pressing his lips to Suzaku's to soothe his guilt, if even just a little bit.
From there, it takes them a half hour to get out of the shower after a long, thorough, hands-on full-body examination in which they attempted (and succeeded) to relearn each other's body with gently touches. They are men, both still very, very human in terms of attraction, but they do their best to hold back because there's no point holding on to one another like that- not yet. Suzaku tan and firm under Lelouch's hands, and Lelouch is pale and soft.
After they are dressed for the day, Suzaku is moving to put his mask back on. It's not as much of a heavy burden to wear anymore, instead something of a beloved thing he keeps close to him at all times. It is what everyone most identifies when they think of Zero, and it is necessary to his existence.
It's also what is being cradled in Lelouch's hands, a precious thing tied to a more precious person.
Honestly, it's not as weird as he thought it would be to watch how his old friend runs his fingers across its smooth surface and gaze at it as if it were (once) the most important thing in the world to him. Lelouch, who was once Zero, is not someone the guard would have thought held on to such old things. Zero is a symbol; it's not an almost overbearing grudge against the ninety-eighth Emperor of the Holy Britannian Emperor
"What is she planning on doing about the rebellion," the immortal asks, inspecting his old mask with a half interested look on his face as he sits at the desk.
Suzaku blinks once, twice, before moving to stand behind Lelouch and set his hands on the other male's shoulders. He takes a moment to massage them and responds only after the royal melts back into his touch, "We're meeting with the leader shortly after Schneizel returns home. The Knight of Three returns from his vacation with his son soon after him; he'll be bringing his child by the palace to visit, too, so I'll be busy the rest of the day playing with him while Sir Weinberg speaks with the Empress. A week after that is when we... what?"
Lelouch has tilted his head back and is pinning his old knight with a look, eyes wide and disbelieving. "So he managed to settle down, did he? Interesting," he leans back further and settles his shoulders squarely against Suzaku's chest to anchor his thoughts in Saneville. "Son or daughter?"
Gloved hands move from his thin shoulders to a dark head of hair, threading his fingers through it gently. He doesn't answer for a moment, remembering back to when he first met Gino's child -- a warm spring day when nothing hurt and everything was beautiful -- and smiles a bit.
"Hm," is the non-committal hum. "How does he behave?"
"He's a good boy- going through his early rebellious years, thought. Trying things he shouldn't be trying just to see how his parents will react, doing things he shouldn't be doing for the sake of doing them... things like that. They aren't sure what to do with him. The first child is always the hardest to raise; Kallen has Ohgi and Villetta giving them pointers, but theory is always more difficult when put into practice."
Pale lips laugh at that even as an ever-young body stays pliant under the care of Suzaku's surprisingly caring hands. "That's rather wise, coming from you."
Before Lelouch knows it, the mask he is holding in his lap with careful hands is snatched up by Zero, who slips it on without much of a problem. For a moment, Lelouch laments the loss of warm hands chasing away any oncoming headaches, and then he remembers that Suzaku has the hands of a wolf in sheep's clothing. It doesn't bother him as much as it used to; now, he's able to incline his head to the side to watch the symbol of cold, hard Justice trot back to his bed where the cape lies innocently. The red contrasts brightly when sitting on black sheets and near even blacker bunched up blankets.
"How old is he?" He asks suddenly, wanting to take Suzaku's mind off of work for once.
Zero pauses. "Twelve. Kano turns thirteen next month next month. His birthday is a day before mine," he answers briskly as he picks the cape up and shakes out any excess unnecessities that may or may not have actually gotten on it while he didn't have it on.
"I doubt Kallen was very pleased about that," the other tries to joke lightly, putting his hands on the arms of the chair and pushing himself out of it when he hears Suzaku just grunt softly as his reply.
He moves quickly to take the extravagant cape out of Suzaku's hands, throwing it out behind broad shoulders when Suzaku turns to question his motives, still unsure as to exactly why Lelouch decided to grace him with his presence after twenty years. The fasten is done by nimble fingers, fingernails scraping lightly against the smooth exterior of the cape before elegant hands run down the fabric covering Suzaku's arms from view.
His smile is cryptic -- speaking more words than he could ever possibly say -- but gentle, and it's enough to put Suzaku at ease for the passing moment.
To think that Suzaku had shied away from this person; this person, who has only his Code to protect him, the power of Absolute Obedience long gone in the sands of time. It makes him briefly wonder how the other even got passed security, nevermind actually in the newly renovated palace, and if Zero really did need to tighten the already tight safety band keeping everyone safe. He's already had to once in the past when Milly Ashford managed to sneak her way into this room. Admittedly, the fault is his own for being naive enough to think that no one would ever be able to slyly get passed security.
Needless to say, things have changed since then.
There are fingertips on the soft underside of his chin to remind him of the task at hand, making his head jerk in response. His eyes land on Lelouch's amused face behind the mask and he stammers out a quick, "Yes?"
Lelouch shakes his head with a soft chuckle and asks, "What do you want for your birthday?"
Peace. "I'm thirty-eight," Suzaku points out, a thin brown brow raising though he knows Lelouch can't see it. "It's been twenty-one years since I had a proper birthday, so why should it matter now?" Even twenty-one years is a lenient time; he honestly can't remember his last proper birthday.
"While you do have a fine point, I want to celebrate your birthday with you. Would you like cake?"
Knowing exactly where this is going (and knowing that, somehow, Lelouch would actually be able to snake his way into the kitchens and bake him a god forsaken cake), the ex soldier's shoulders stiffen. "No," he rejects quickly, stepping away from Lelouch and Lelouch's wonderful hands while he tucks his arms at his sides. "If you'll excuse me, I have a speech to give."
And, with a stiffer bow than he's ever performed before, he turns on his three-inch heel and vacates the premises before Lelouch tries to talk him into some crazy stunt.
His Emperor sighs when he leaves, letting himself tip over to the side and fall on to the bed in a mess of stark white, royal purple, and inky black. His arms come up and cover his eyes -- much like what Suzaku did on an earlier day (Suzaku, whose skin tastes like ash and ember) -- while he contemplates the day's plans.
Lord Zero delivers his speech without a single visible flaw.
Pictures are taken and will be seen in the papers the next day and questions are asked only to be met with vague and subtly invasive answers said in a firm, hard voice. They cannot tell that the old leader of rebellions is more restless than usual and full of pent up energy, back to making exaggerated hand gestures. Some suspect that he is back, but most know better than to assume something so far-fetched.
He can tell that they are eager to fight for their right to just live in peace again and hunger for redemption once more, if the telling gleam in their eyes lets him know anything. It's not how they were when Lelouch ruled the world and times were bleak and dark, the people resigned to their fate of being ruled by a tyrannical emperor; for that, Suzaku is relieved.
He is patient with them, even though they are yet again making him out as their towering pillar of hope in their seemingly hopeless hours. They have nothing to fear, he tells them, and they are nothing but inclined to believe his words, sold by the clear cut conviction in his tone and the resolve so plainly painted by his words. They are willingly caressed once more by the warm blanket of security their beloved symbol has offered them for the last twenty years.
The Empress pulls him away afterward in a shocked sort of awe, beaming at him with a certain glow he hasn't seen in years. Years that have certainly begun to take a toll on her; and yet, now, as Suzaku gazes at his most precious Empress, she seems so much younger than she is.
It suits her, he admits to himself quietly as she congratulates him on a successful speech.
Immediately he wonders if she is thinking of her brother when she tells him that he has done a good job. After all, Lelouch is original Zero; it would only make sense. The thoughts are quickly banished, however. The faith he has in her to not connect him to Lelouch anymore is high enough now that he doesn't mind holding her hand when she reaches out to him and smiles. He hopes that she never forgets how to smile like that like Lelouch did.
Lelouch may be 'gone', but life goes on and the dead are forever dead; Suzaku knows that he is cruel for not letting her see her brother again, immortal as he is. There is a special place in Hell for those as cruel he, but he is not afraid.
(One morning, Suzaku was brave enough to remove the drapes from the mirror so that he could just look at the monster he had become.)
It is his own cowardice that denies him that level of bravery ever again.
Even now, as he holds Nunnally's hand and lets her talk about future plans and their home bound precious people, Suzaku cannot bring himself to ask her what she will speak to Gino about. Gino, who has already taken his shot at figuring out who Lord Zero is.
But, it would break his heart in two.
Nunnally's voice breaks him out of his reverie, "Lord Zero?"
tilting his head to the side, he nods his acknowledgment. "Is something the matter?"
In a moment of abrupt shyness, the twenty year queen's cheeks redden and she gives him a more bashful smile as she asks, "Would you walk with me? I would like to see the gardens again, if that would be alright."
"Of course. Whatever Her Highness wishes," he tells her, pulling his hand away from hers and moving behind her wheelchair. Vaguely, there's genuine curiosity as to why she wishes to go there, but he dismisses it as another one of his Empress's whims.
He does not tell her that he dislikes the gardens, and that, even under the mask, the smell of the flowers always gets to him and rubs him the wrong way. He does not tell her because it is her favorite place to be with him; heading her wishes is always better than having to explain why he is displeased with the change the of location.
When they reach the main garden, Nunnally asks him to place her on the swing nearest to the wing he stays in. It is further in the depths of the gardens, but he does exactly as she wants him to: he abandons the back of the wheelchair and moves to the front, watching her reach out to him with beautiful hands. He is gentle when he picks her up, arms and hands cradling her against his person as if she were a delicate doll; however, she is anything but, and rests her head against a strong shoulder of her personal guard, trusting no one else to protect her and treat as she deserves to be treated (in Lelouch's eyes, of course).
Her hands would feel different from Lelouch's hands, he knows. Just comparatively speaking, hers would be warmer from resting in her lap and holding other people's hands; Lelouch's are only that warm when he's clenching them (or getting out of the shower, the back of Suzaku's mind reminds him grimly) from the latest bout of frazzled nerves.
He's gotten better at it, though; Lelouch is calmer now, less prone to angry fits, and wiser with knowledge gained from around the world. He had always been booksmart, and knew his way out of an alley fight (Geass withstanding), so it originally came as no big surprise to Suzaku.
But, Lelouch could never rid himself of that one nervous habit.
(Suzaku would like to hold them, feel them as they run through his hair and touch his dry skin. He'd like to warm Lelouch down to the very bone, until cold fingertips feel like fire on his flesh.)
Setting Nunnally down on the soft-colored and floral-designed swing, Suzaku quickly takes his place to the right of her and off of the swing. She merely smiles breezily at him and takes in the view of lush green and quiet, sparkling blue.
"What will you do?" The woman asks, not taking her eyes off of the scenery before her. When he tilts his head to inquire his Empress further, she laughs and continues, "About Kano, I mean. He may not live here in the palace, but he truly respects and admires you."
The last time Suzaku seen Kano, he was eight and bright-eyed, expectantly full of questions and brimming with more curiosity than his small body could seem to take. Now, he is twelve and just as curious as before, if not slightly subdued by the knowledge wrought by history class.
Honestly, Suzaku does not know what to do about Kano; he's Kallen and Gino's kid, not his own. He had no idea how to handle a child like Kano. It's not as if Genbu Kururugi was a bad father to him- he just wasn't a good father, either. He made sure his son was well fed and well taken care of, provided for as he grew up from a baby to an adolescent. More a diplomat than anything else, Genbu has Kyoshiro Tohdoh train his son (more like babysit if anyone asked Suzaku's inner ten-year-old), and Suzaku became quite the bombshell.
Back then, he would attribute his father's avoidance to his mother's death. Suzaku still does twenty years later.
With Nunnally looking at him with a patient, but imploring expectancy, the elder decides not to linger on it any longer than he already has.
"The fact that he may or may not respect me does not guarantee that he will listen to me, Your Majesty," he starts slowly, watching the woman next to him reach up with one hand and gently entwine their fingers together. "Was there anything you had in mind specifically that you wanted me to do?"
"Not at all. You are Zero, the man of miracles. You are not my brother, but I'm sure that you will figure something out. Won't you?"
He squeezes where their hands are connected. "Yes. Though, may I inquire as to what he did this time?"
The last time Kano got in trouble, if Suzaku is remembering correctly, was when Kallen came by last month and talked to Nunnally about this and that. She gave him that look again --
("I know who you are," she says with a certain air about her, hands clenched at her sides and eyes burning with passion and determination. "I know what the two of you were doing. And I know... I know enough. So I wanted to come here and tell you that I forgive the two of you. Just in case you didn't know.")
-- but once again, he brushes it off (the look, that is). He is still more than confused about the forgiveness, moreso about why she even decided to approach him in the first place, knowing that he would tell her that she knew nothing. If Lelouch told her nothing, then she knows absolutely nothing. Suzaku Kururugi is dead. At least, dead enough that his morals have dulled slightly; when Kallen flushed and threw a punch at him that would have connected to any other guilty man who didn't want to hit a girl, Lord Zero caught her fist and used it as leverage to yank her forward until she lost her balance. After that, he remembers actually taking the time of day to smack her upside her head and throw her entire body over his shoulder by her arm until he felt her body collide with the cold ground behind him.
Naturally he was on the receiving end of an angry lecture from Nunnally about how to treat ladies properly in which he countered with a very logical statement -- that Kallen threw the first punch, so he had no choice but to defend himself from her -- which, he remembers very vividly, was around the time Gino Weinberg shot him a look. Suzaku didn't care then, and he doesn't care now.
Nunnally shakes her head fondly and smiles up at him like she usually does, perpetually unaware of the other's thoughts as she answers him in hushed tones, "He got into a series of fights in school and ended up sending someone to the hospital... however, he broke his arm in the process, and now it's in a sling."
He can't say he's surprised; Kano's temper matches his mother's own, and his pride won't let him back down. Honestly, Suzaku is impressed. A kid his age, beating up a group of boys. He shouldn't be impressed, he knows, because when he was Kano's age he was doing more than just beating up the kids his age.
"What do you want me to do about that? His temper is the problem; almost anything can light a fuse as short as his," he contests, eyes narrow under the mask. Playing mediator has never been his strong suit.
His Empress laughs and retracts her hand to cover her mouth with it, shaking her head again and looking at the ground. Eventually her hand falls to her lap, folding over the other as she closes her eyes. Suzaku smiles a bit before looking ahead of himself, taking a moment to admire the view.
In the end, Suzaku knows that something should be done about Kano (not necessarily must, just should); the last time he spoke to Kano, the boy happily told him that 'school is going great' and that he would 'make Lord Zero proud'. Two weeks later, he pulls this stunt. He's not sure proud is what the kid is trying to make him.
Nunnally uses her hands to shift herself on the swing, turning to the Lord and staring at him for a long moment. "Will you take off your mask for me," she begins hesitantly, as if she already knows the answer and, really, she should already know that it's no and no forever, "Just once? Only once. I only need to see you once and I'll be satisfied."
Suzaku tries to find the trick in this, the loophole of emotions that trickle and prod until he can't stand it anymore, but there's no trick. There's no magic today; just a wry Empress and her achingly stubborn personal guard who refuses only this wish. But, he does it because it's what he has been ordered to do by someone who holds more influence over him than her; there is nothing that says he has to do as she says.
Even this sudden suggestion makes him raise a brow under his helmet and outwardly shake his head before responding to her in as cold a tone as he can, because if he doesn't then she'll get hopeful. Hope will only hurt her in the end; she knows that, but he- he knows it best. He knows how it feels to hope for something so much that it hurts until it bleeds and branches out in stems on the forehead of a familiar face, on a day where disappointment reigned supreme and hurt so much more than it should have. Because, he wants to believe and trust but he can't in fear of that rush of disappointment that would flush up his throat.
"That is neither productive nor necessary, Your Majesty."
And, just like that, he ends the conversation- but not without reaching out when he sees Nunnally flinch at his answer, his hand smoothing through the curls nearest her shoulder. Suzaku continues on, "But one day. I'll show you one day, Empress."
In all actuality, he doesn't know if he really will, and that is why he does not make his words a promise. However, this seems to placate her, because she is smiling soon after that and the worried crease to her brow is thinned out with avengeance. Suzaku feels successful (and content) in that moment as he watches Nunnally place her hands on her lap and states that she would like to be taken around the palace and to the kitchens for a cup of tea made by Lord Zero himself. He agrees to go along with her.
The rest of the day goes by smoothly, transitioning from a peaceful morning to a quiet afternoon, until it bleeds into the tender, cool air of the evening. Sayoko takes Nunnally away from him around eight -- and he lets her -- saying something about getting her to bed early for tomorrow's activities. He tries to think of what those activities are, eventually deducing that she's talking about the meeting with the old student council as he's given the rest of the day off so that he can 'spend more time taking care of himself'. This helps him improve his room when he walks through the palace and into his room only to-
-- catch Lelouch vi Britannia, now L.L., posing in front of Suzaku's long vanity and wearing one of Zero's suits. The drapes are pushed off to the side, present only as a dark heap of cloth on the floor. But, that's not what catches Suzaku's attention the most; it's that Lelouch is standing there in the middle of a pose, looking completely at home in his suit while a bloody mask hangs high on the mirror.
It is not as if the old scars were healed. On the contrary, Suzaku fully acknowledges that he will never heal quite like that. He will never forget the sight of Lelouch, disguised as Zero, shooting down the woman Suzaku always thought he would serve for the remainder of his life, because she is killing like a barbarian. The horror from that day is less relived now, thankfully enough; regardless, his dreams tend to focus more on the man before him.
Like the instant twenty years ago when Lelouch ordered Kallen to kill him. At the time, Suzaku found it ironic: the man who used Geass on him to order him to live, giving out an order to his ace to do what no even his strongest enemies could do. She fails that day, just like she fails when they fight on the Damocles. Suzaku wonders how utterly foolish she must have felt when she assumed the new Zero was Suzaku and realized that she might have failed yet again to kill the man who will never die.
(He imagines that she is hurt, too, but does not think too long on that.)
Suzaku's mask comes off without much difficulty and he, with practiced ease, places it on his desk. It's a very precious thing to him now, the one thing universally recognized as 'Zero's'; it's his identity. Zero, who is Lelouch and Suzaku, and neither, and absolutely nothing at all. He's extra careful not to look at himself when he hurriedly moves to Lelouch's side (his body in the part of the mirror where he just cannot see himself), lips curving up into a smile. Lelouch's head tips to the side in inquiry, prompting Suzaku to speak, "Lelouch. Why are you in my suit...?"
Lelouch scoffs at that. "I'm testing it out, naturally. Did you have it altered? The chest area feels a bit loose," he says, fingers tugging on his cravat in an obviously nervous gesture. He did not count on being caught by the other; Suzaku doesn't usually come back so early.
Slowly, Suzaku shakes his head and responds, "Not at all. You're imagining things, I'm sure... or, you lost weight. Where are you getting your food, anyway? You haven't been sneaking down to the kitchens, have you?"
The kitchens are on the other side of the palace and a good five minute run away at a leisurely pace. If Suzaku is calculating it right, then Lelouch would take at least four times as long walking there, and twice that time if he's trying to avoid the guards. That is, of course, if Suzaku doesn't take any other unexpected surprises into account.
Dark brows furrow, violet eyes looking down as his fingers fiddle with the fabric some more. Trying to figure something out, those same eyes narrow and Lelouch shakes his head finally.
"No, it's definitely loose. And these aren't the stitches I made," he points out with an incessant frown, taking in the lighter threads with disdain and ignoring the comment about food. His ex-knight has made it his job to be a mother hen since that night, constantly making sure he's well-fed and taken care of. So, really, he doesn't have any reason to go to the kitchens when he could just make Suzaku do it.
Laughing quietly, Suzaku shakes his head and reaches out, one hand settling on Lelouch's shoulder and turning him around to face him. He turns easily enough and gives the brunet room to speak. "I had a set of fourteen made, recently. I've gotten taller, after all; taller than you. However, they don't count as alterations if I've had them remade," then he pauses and moves his hand from Lelouch's shoulder to the flaps over his chest, "And, this particular one is the only one I left alone. You've lost weight, which means I need to feed you more."
The suit Lelouch is wearing had been left alone because it's the suit he wore the day he killed Lelouch, He doesn't say anything about that particular thing, however, wanting to avoid talking about his lingering attachment to that day and what had happened there.
The dark-haired male seems to pause at that, before he looks sideways and raises a brow when Suzaku drops his hand.
"What makes you think I'll be staying, Suzaku?"
He has a point; a valid enough point that the symbol takes a moment to consider it as he tilts his head to the side either way once. "I never implied that you were. I may not think I'm hallucinating anymore, but Zero's power can only go so far. I can't hide you in this room forever- not without someone noticing. And you know how sharp Schneizel is."
Oh, they both know how sharp that man is: sharp enough to notice when Suzaku is on Refrain, sharp enough to distinguish hallucination from reality. It makes at least one of them thankful, at least, that he's like that.
Lelouch begins undressing right then and there, not particularly caring that Suzaku is standing right in front of him or, when he sheds the last layer of jacket, that Suzaku darts away. He doesn't see the problem with this. After all, he's wearing another layer underneath everything- and really, Suzaku has seen him naked before.
"Schneizel will listen to Zero, past and present. He won't be a problem," he counters as he steps out of the suit the rest of the way, revealing the black tank top and white shorts he had taken to wearing recently. "But Nunnally can't know."
A passive voyeur, Suzaku nods, not taking his eyes off of Lelouch.
"You've forgotten the future- and his Geass is broken. He in no way has to listen to me. He can always disobey, and I will not punish him for it... Not, of course, that he has ever disobeyed," Suzaku says. "And Nunnally will never know. I'll make sure of it."
Ah, Lelouch had chosen to forget about that. His left eyebrow twitches as he shakes his head and walks over to the bed, languidly sitting on it and crossing one bare leg over the other. He's obviously displeased with being reminded of this tidbit of information, and he more obviously seems to want to Geass Zero's way back into Schneizel's pompous head.
Instead, he sighs. "Yes, so you've told me. You've also told me it wasn't you who ordered it."
Holding his ground, the brunet moves away from the dresser to pick up the drapes from the floor and throw them back over the mirror and mask. Honestly, it does not take much thought from him when he answers, "I have no control over Geass. When he broke it, he regained his wit along with his mind. It's better that way, I think. He and I made a deal, after all."
Then again, if Suzaku remembers correctly (and he does remember with a clear clarity) then it really isn't as much of a deal as it is a promise. But, it's not something he really wants to talk about with Lelouch.
"What deal?" Is what he's asked, though he knows that he probably has an idea about what it is, only wanting to hear it come from Suzaku's mouth personally.
"Nothing that's worth your time, I assure you," and it really isn't, "It's between he and I, and no one else. I'm just glad he's managed to keep up his end of it all for all of these years." And he almost smiles; his lips almost quirk up in a more than happy way, and his eyes almost glimmer and gleam because he's just that damn glad.
They don't, because Lelouch is standing up from the bed then and scowling at him simply because he doesn't like being defied- especially not by Suzaku. It prompts him to continue, makes him turn away and head over to his desk and circle around it to sit down on the chair. "I don't see why it matters. He's dependable, and that's all that I need to be sure of."
However, he knows that Lelouch will always be suspicious of his older brother. Suzaku has completely acknowledged that Lelouch will never fully get along with the other male, and he accepts it; so much that when Lelouch swipes his hand out in front of himself and points out the obvious, "For a reason," he doesn't get angry.
When he sits down, he leans forward against the desk and presses his elbows into the hard wood, folding his hands over it patiently and explaining, "It doesn't negate his efficiency. If anything, that makes him even more dependable in my eyes. When I ask him to do something, he gets it done without question." And then, he pauses and finally smiles. "I told you before: he's my precious aide."
This only worsens Lelouch's bad mood, however; his scowl turns up as he laughs at Suzaku's words, a hand coming up to press against his forehead as he keeps on, as if he's amused by the incredulity of it all.
He settles down by the time Suzaku's brows furrow in concern, waving the hand he had on his forehead to dismiss it all before smirking. "Ah. That's good to hear, then. I was worried I'd be leaving you aideless by my request."
That has Suzaku's concerned expression thinning out. If Lelouch is feeling fine enough to be a sarcastic jerk (other than the rather obvious dissatisfaction written all over his posture), then he won't think too much on it.
"Request?" Is his amused question, parroting it back in a clear show that he doesn't quite understand what Lelouch is getting at. He continues with an amused lilt to his voice, "Schneizel will keep up his end of the deal. I trust him that much, at least, not to betray me."
It is then that Lelouch turns back to him sharply, giving him bright but defiant eyes as he blatantly ignored the jab that's made at him. He didn't willfully betray Suzaku, and in the beginning he didn't even know Suzaku had survived to become the pilot of that accursed white Knightmare that he would come to covet over the next year.
In all honesty, Lelouch didn't know how to tell Suzaku that he was alive. He may have been vague about the details at first, and he might have goaded and irritated Suzaku, but this is all to find out where Suzaku is mentally. The outfit under the pillows (the pillow in general, actually), all tell him that he misses him even when he tries to say that he doesn't and never will simply because the dead are dead.
"I need Jeremiah Gottwald to accompany me to the EU Federation," Lelouch bites out, every inch the fierce rebel he once was once upon a time.
Raising an eyebrow, the still younger one leans back and taps his fingers against the surface of the desk. "There's no need to tell me that. Just call him and tell him to go with you," he states quietly, shifting so that he could start shuffling around the papers on the desk. There's always something to do, always papers to go through, and this day is no different.
The things he does not take into account are what Lelouch gets angry enough to tell him in a hurry, "The surveillance placed on him as a result of his service to me is still in place. I want-," he pauses and continues after he waves a hand, "- I need you to remove it and give Nunnally a plausible reason, that doesn't involve telling her about me, for doing so.
I have no power over Britannia right now, and have desire to Geass everything to my will again."
If Suzaku had been any younger, he would have laughed at the irony at that. Now, though, he just shakes his head and acknowledges Lelouch's words with a thin smile. "Ah, yes, that's right. That. I'll speak to the Empress about removing the surveillance, then. However," he holds a hand up, cupping it in the air before going on, "You have power over Britannia, Lelouch. You have me here, after all."
After Suzaku shrugs, it's Lelouch's turn to shake his head and say, "I don't have power over you, Suzaku."
Because, he does not know that Suzaku is scared, deathly afraid of losing him again. He doesn't know that Suzaku can't stand on his own and that Schneizel is one of the only two anchors to his sanity that he has left. If it had been up to Suzaku, he would have packed everything up and left.
Lelouch has more power than he thinks he does- power, at least, that will sway the sole ship of Suzaku's dignity, sculpted through years of just him saying no to himself. Unwilling to regret anything ever again, he keeps himself grounded in place with an anchor made of steel, closing his heart with a lock and tucking the key away somewhere safe. Even making Schneizel the calm center of his proverbial cyclone of right and wrong has not dulled his senses enough to make him give in to fleeting temptation.
But, Lelouch... Lelouch probably is that fleeting temptation, and he came at such a time in Suzaku's life that he isn't sure he wants to resist anymore. But, he has always been good at denying himself the things that he truly wants, and he is even better at hurting himself in the process of doing just that.
He sighs through his nose again and pinches the bridge between his eyes, gloves rough on his skin as he explains to Lelouch the way he would explain to a young child, "If you didn't have power over me, I wouldn't let you have as much freedom as you do. And, I certainly wouldn't be planning on asking the Empress to remove Jeremiah Gottwald's restrictions. If Schneizel were still in Britannia, I would have had him remove them himself temporarily, but..."
Trailing off, the brunet makes a mental note to start pulling some strings. With the way things are right now, he could call Kanon aside and have it done; Schneizel had told him before he left that he would tell Kanon to do whatever Zero wanted him to do as reassurance. So, he would call Kanon and hopefully he would go ahead and do as he's told.
The immortal is scowling again when Suzaku looks at him. "I should be thankful that Schneizel isn't here, then," he starts before crossing his arms over his chest as his way to protect himself, "After this, you can pretend I'm still dead. I apologize for remaining alive."
Then, Suzaku remembers that Lelouch made a promise to him about dying, and Lelouch is actually apologizing for it. He frowns in response, eyes narrowing as he waits for Lelouch to take it back; when he doesn't, Suzaku lets himself talk. "You would be. You shouldn't apologize for good things, Lelouch," and he stops for a single beat, wanting nothing more than to get up and walk over to the other to wrap his arms around him. He chooses to plow on instead.
"You're not returning, then? Even after you said that you wanted to celebrate my birthday with me this morning. That's very cruel of you, Lelouch."
It seems that Lelouch had only been testing his reaction to it, because the other surges forward and places his hands on the desk. It's hard for the other to focus on much else other than the fact that the dark-haired male is still effectively in his underwear and a thin shirt that doesn't cover his arms. Suzaku has spent years avoiding the part of himself that would always wonder about this- he doesn't have time to think too much about it.
"Don't you already have Schneizel for that?" Lelouch asks, leaning forward until he's right in Suzaku's face, lips turned up into a sneer.
"You were the one who wanted to celebrate it in the first place, Lelouch. I'd really rather not, but for you I'd let the Empress cajole me into taking the day off."
A smug smile makes its way onto the other male's face, and he starts walking around the desk, taking his sweet time. "Isn't he your precious aide?" He questions, fingers tracing along the edges of the desk. (Show no fear.)
Skittering in his seat like a wild animal, Suzaku's eyes narrow dangerously as he watches Lelouch pause. "He has better things to do than celebrate something like that. Precious aide or not, I'm not going to force him to do something like that."
"And he has Kanon." It is stated like a fact that glares a stark color in Suzaku's face as he moves again and slides in between Suzaku and the desk, putting his hands on the desk behind him and lifting himself onto it regardless of the papers there. One leg crosses over the other, skinny legs and bones more breakable than a bird's when faced with the strength of the man in front of him that stares at him blankly. He speaks again, hands moving to fold over his lap, "I wouldn't have minded if Zero married Nunnally."
The other catches the past tense and blinks. "You'd mind now?" Not that Suzaku would really mind; he would understand and then move on with his life.
"I don't have any say in who she chooses to marry. But you would, logically, be the best partner for her."
Then they're quiet for twenty precious seconds. It's time that Suzaku uses to stand up and argue without himself about the merits and demerits of actually letting himself continue the conversation; Lelouch uses it to uncross his legs and just watch Suzaku. He watches the crease in Suzaku's brow when he starts thinking too hard, and he watches Suzaku's lips turn down in a frown that threatens to stay permanently on his face.
When Suzaku talks again, it's only to sigh and say, "If only to keep her away from the other suitors- and if it's her wish, I would marry her, your Majesty. She doesn't seem to interested in such things; her mind is kept more in politics and trying to keep Britannia together. Ideally, she'll fall in love with someone who isn't me."
"I trust you'll take care of her more than anyone else," the old Emperor counters, hands leaving his lap and settling as his sides. He knows that his knight isn't surprised that he is still putting Nunnally first, and he's grateful that he doesn't question it or point it out.
"I can take care of her as her guard. I don't need to be her lover. She'll find someone else before she comes to me, I assure you," and his lips only stop moving because he falters, closing his eyes, "I'm... glad you put so much trust in me when it comes to her, but I'd rather not talk about it."
Lelouch looks away, eyes focusing elsewhere. "I'll have to return from time to time and see who this 'someone else' is."
Suzaku actually chuckles when he hears that, head shaking as he fights to control his momentary glee.
"Of course. If her lover isn't Lelouch-approved, I'm afraid I wouldn't be able to let her date him in good conscious," is what he lets himself admit, reaching his hands out to press against the table on either side of Lelouch. "I think- you should stay here. With me. I can keep you safe from the world."
Turning his head back to face him, the immortal doesn't shy away from the intimate sort of closeness instead leaning in a bit to feel the warmth between them while simply murmuring, "I can protect myself just fine- and I'll stay because I want to." He even goes so far as to tip his head into the gloved hand that reaches up right then to cup his cheek and brush up and under Lelouch's bangs, the tips of the other's fingers grazing across the Code.
He is very quickly faced with the desire to tilt his head and incline upwards so that he can kiss Suzaku's palm, but he doesn't on the principle that he isn't sure if such a thing is appropriate for where their relationship stands. As is, Lelouch doesn't know if this is really a relationship; after all, Suzaku could be lying about his aide, about the man he considers precious, and there's still Nunnally to take into account.
No matter how much he wants to, Lelouch can't just waltz into someone's love life. The other is not immortal, and that mortality is apparent in the fact that he has aged. Perhaps not noticeably enough that he has wrinkles (what has he done to Suzaku?), but enough in way of height and his more wry personality. Adding to that, he has to take Nunnally into account. Just because Suzaku won't marry her now doesn't mean that he will not marry her in the future.
Suzaku's voice cuts into his thoughts alongside a smile. "Beyond your immortality, Lelouch." And then, his smile tips to one side. "I'd be happy to have you as long as you want to stay."
"Schneizel is in the EU, isn't he? I can stay for a few more days. That way, I'll be leaving just as he arrives. That'll prevent unnecessary complications from arising... between the two of us, he and I." There is a point now where Suzaku steps forward, a knee separating Lelouch's legs so that a firm body can move in between them. Lelouch lets this happen, sighing when Suzaku's hand slips from his forehead and into his hair. This- this is nice. He'll admit that.
Nodding then, Suzaku skritches gently at Lelouch's scalp, watching as Lelouch curls a bit into it. "He is- he's on vacation there, after all. But, alright. I'd hoped you would stay a little longer than that -- at least until the peace talks with the rebels were over -- but I'll take what I can get."
Because, this is how Suzaku is: always settling for less than what he deserves, always gritting his teeth to bear with the unfairness of it all, smiling and saying that it's alright when it's not. The emperor knows this all too well, and his eyes narrow when he realizes that his old knight is just settling. "I'll be back after I settle matters in the EU," he adds quietly, as if amending what he had said earlier.
It is completely worth it when he sees Suzaku's face brighten. "I'll be expecting you, then." One of his eyebrows shoot up, though. "Matters? Are they matters that I'll be privy to knowing?"
When Lelouch just mutters matters under his breath, he takes it as a 'no' and leans over to press his forehead to Lelouch's. Dark eyelashes flutter at the contact and he can't help but smile fondly as he continues, "Yes. Matters."
And while he knows that Lelouch keeping secrets is a bad thing, Suzaku can't bring himself to force it out of him. It's obviously something important or else he would be told, and since Lelouch doesn't want to tell him...
That's just fine. He's used to being out of loop.
"Don't do anything dangerous. Return without a single scratch on you." His hand sifts through Lelouch's hair, tangling in the ends of the straighter strands. "Don't let me lose you again."
His words are completely serious, but the immortal laughs at them none the less. "I couldn't be scratched, even if I wanted to," he says, leaning into Suzaku's warmth with a smile. This is enough; all that he needs right now is this persistent heat pressing into his front.
Suzaku is going to die one day; he’s well aware of this fact, but he’s more aware of the strong line of Suzaku’s jaw and the flutter of Suzaku’s eyelashes over a pretty green. He’s aware of rough hands and rougher fingertips, of long legs and smooth skin. He should not focus on things like that, shouldn’t have really come back to help his ex-knight, but when C.C. is off making a life for herself until the day she dies he really couldn’t resist the temptation.
He’s more than prepared to be alone for the rest of his life, but that doesn’t mean that he has to be alone. As a matter of fact, at long as Suzaku is alive, Lelouch could—
(But, that is so unbelievably selfish; to hide from Nunnally in this room with the man who murdered him while he is immortal until the day this man dies.)
— stay for the rest of Suzaku’s unnatural life.
(Watching someone this strong die is going to hurt.)
He is sure that Suzaku won’t mind if he does end up staying. He won’t even have to change the way he does things; Suzaku can continue on with his life during the day, afternoon, and his evening just the way he has been doing all along. As long as Suzaku is there with him during the midnight hours and the earlier mornings, then Lelouch will be alright with staying. Suzaku leaves him his computer, and he’s sneaky enough to walk around the palace without being noticed.
“Lelouch, I’m being serious,” Suzaku says grimly, brushing his nose against Lelouch’s cheek and looking quite tense by the way his shoulders seize. How Schneizel deals with how paranoid this boy is is something that Lelouch will probably never understand, because it’s beyond him. He is actually pretty surprised that Schneizel had even been able to go on vacation without Suzaku tearing him in two for the exact information on his whereabouts.
A smile crosses Lelouch’s face. “I know.”
When Schneizel comes home, it's hard for Suzaku to remember that he missed him in the first place. Not because Lelouch filled in the gap in his life that he sorely lacked like a soulmate, but because he was able to push away those feelings of loneliness in favor of throwing himself into his work and hearing about Lelouch's travels on the side.
Now that his aide is walking off the (second) Avalon, the feelings come back full force and Suzaku has to grip the handles of Nunnally's wheelchair to keep from pitching over or, worse, running to Schneizel and clinging to him. It's something a child would do and he is no child. Yet, Schneizel smiles like he knows, and his Lordship has no doubt in his mind that he does know because he knows him better than anyone else in the entire world. And, later that day when the meetings are over and the speeches are given by Lord Zero, he and Schneizel settle back comfortably into their old ways.
It's while Suzaku is leaning his masked head on Schneizel's shoulder that Schneizel speaks to him without the formal overtones, "Nunnally says that you've been moping around more often since I left."
That is met with a snort and an indifferent shrug, the younger melting against a strong side. "I haven't been moping around. Just...waiting."
"Waiting? For what, pray tell?"
For a war to break loose. For Lelouch to take his throne back. For a Prince or a Princess to be shot down. For death, for life, for everything in the world to go bad all at once, and for Schneizel to come home safe. What is he waiting for? Suzaku is waiting for...
"The end." And then Suzaku hunches forward, shoulders sagging as he looks empty under the mask. "Schneizel?"
Blue eyes watch a Lord with unveiled curiosity, calculating but interested as the silence begins and Suzaku takes the mask off.
Throughout the ten years Schneizel is conscious of his actions when serving Zero, he has never once taken the other for a loud crier. When he cries, it's quiet and subdued, building and cresting over a long period of time; the result of more agony that one can actually comprehend, agony that he has to endure alone. It's by himself, in bed, and sometimes under three layers of heavy blankets if he has them.
Now, as he looks like he's going to cry, lips indefinitely in one of the saddest smiles Schneizel has ever seen on the other; and, for a moment he looks so lost.
"I'm sorry," he says, eyes gleaming and a hand reaching out to gently stroke down the side of Schneizel's face. "No matter what happens, I will never abandon you. I won't leave you behind. Do you understand?"
It's honest and true and Suzaku's eyes are open, his heart out there on his sleeve for the only person he feels safe enough around to be able to do so. Schneizel, who has never really had the time of day to stay up with him and pull him through the nights when he was not able to survive without a warm body next to his, is safe. He is reality.
“I’m aware of that,” he confirms slowly, watching Suzaku as he shudders and shifts closer. It’s only when Suzaku closes his eyes that it hits Schneizel. Ah.
After being so close to someone for twenty years, one inevitably learns things about them.
For one: Suzaku can’t eat in front of people anymore beyond the obvious fact that he is Zero, let alone stomach heavy foods. He has the irate tendency of blaming it on something medical like stomach ulcers, but Schneizel knows it’s psychological- mostly, anyway. That day had been rather hard on him between meetings; Schneizel had thought that it would cheer Suzaku up to have something sweet to eat for once, something that had cheered him up time and time again before. At the time, he didn’t know about the problem with Suzaku’s weaker stomach, thinking the food in the tiny fridge had been there just to snack on.
Vividly he recalls watching his Lord the next day, pale as a ghost but pushing himself so that he can fulfill his duties. The force is masked well enough by years of practice, but Schneizel makes sure to drop subtle hints to Nunnally that her guard isn’t feeling well. He’s sure she gets it because the paperwork is forwarded to him instead of Zero that night, along with a thick book about medicine and easy access to a private doctor who diagnoses it as stress. He is given a bottle of pills for Suzaku to pop every morning so that he doesn’t faint, but the moment he’s handed them he’s also suggested that Zero see a therapist.
Schneizel shoots him down immediately; not because he knows for a fact that Suzaku won’t see a damn therapist, but because he doesn’t believe that Suzaku needs to see one. (Except that he... does need a therapist. One visit really wouldn't hurt anyone.)
Back then, his decision not to echo the suggestion to Suzaku might have had to do with the fact that Suzaku confessed to him during the twelfth year in an intimate hush that there is no one he wants at his side more than Schneizel. But, he only admits that to himself and locks those words away in the back of his mind.
Just like how he has locked away the second major thing: physical contact must first be acknowledged before it is initiated. Suzaku acts like a jittery, nervous creature who has never been touched before, but Schneizel supposes that is the soldier in him reacting. Soldiers cannot afford to just let anyone close; one wrong person and Suzaku could lose his life.
Schneizel only briefly wonders why he is trusted above all others when he is no longer caged. Suzaku keeps him without chains, and while that is a comfort it is also a discomfort; sure, he can say that he wouldn’t sell Lord Zero out for all of the F.L.E.I.J.A. in the world (all of which he has already, so moot point), but on what basis does Suzaku trust that?
What runs through Suzaku Kururugi’s head when he sees him walk into the room? It’s not a pressing matter that he even remotely wishes to speak with the other about, but it doesn’t stop Schneizel from wondering about it. It is near-impossible for him not to think about it from time to time (especially when their fingers brush together on accident but Suzaku doesn’t pull away), and were he any younger he would have brought it to the other male’s immediate attention. Schneizel knows his place, acknowledges that it’s at the side of a man half-dead, but he’s not going to deny that he’s curious.
The day isn’t even close to ending, but with the warmth seeping against his side he’s thoroughly convinced that it’s alright to relax for a little while longer.
“Schneizel.” It’s not choked or rough from any tears and Suzaku has slipped the mask back on simply because it’s second nature now. He feels the tips of fingers on the back of his hand, drawing his attention rather than demanding it, and it makes him smile briefly. “You know, don’t you? About the rebels in Italy.”
That gives him pause and slaps the smile right off of his face. But, it’s only momentary as he is soon looking at his Lord and nodding a bit. He can almost see the look of trepidation on Suzaku’s face and fights back another smile because of it, instead reassuring him, “You have nothing to fear. I took care of everything.”
← ❝part one.❞ (doesn't take you tho actual... part one yet sorry)