Land of the Rising Son

BY : escapeasy
Category: +. to F > Code Geass
Dragon prints: 481
Disclaimer: I do not own anything pertaining/related to Code Geass and I’m not making any profit from this work.

I packed my bag, I'm on my way

I am prepared for any season

I am prepared to stay

Here is my heart, my beating heart

Oh, how I'm longing for this love affair to start

How I'm longing for this love affair to finally start

-•-

Land of the Rising Son

Part 4

Suzaku observes the news privately from his quarters.

Little more than a week has passed since the unveiling but Lelouch has been smart about keeping himself out of the public eye through the scandal. Without an official statement one way or another, everyone is left wondering. Conclusions build all on their own, false or not, but his silence only seems to strengthen the authenticity. What was initially treated and speculated to be some juvenile prank has matured into something much more serious. And with the inevitable fact in-pour of the princes' shared history…

It appears to be going just as Suzaku thought it might. (Which isn't something he often gets to say.)

However, Suzaku has a hard time believing Lelouch would unleash Clovis on the matter…

Nonetheless, the older brother has stepped forward in a rather offhanded interview with a well known Britannian journalist – not Milly, and Suzaku figures that's because she's too close to the story – where he reveals, other than his apparent love for himself with his constant self-checks in the monitor, that he knew of a "supposed" relationship between the two princes. Clovis seems to pride himself more in the fact that he was in the loop instead of being informative – but then it all makes it a lot more sense. Clovis is vain, but he isn't stupid. If Lelouch allowed him this moment in the sun then it must've been clear between them that his role as an informant should be minor at best. In short, Clovis gets the exposure he likes while also feeding the story without directly involving Lelouch or Suzaku or any of their intimate details.

Suzaku isn't sure if it's clever or not. What he does know is that all the new information certainly puts dates with suitors to shame, so he hasn't had any – although he still wonders why his father isn't fighting against all this as much as he can. Like he had been. Just as well, because Suzaku has a bigger problem at the moment.

He's been busy dissecting what was presented to him by his father; documents, forms and photos splayed out on his desk while the news drones quietly in the background. Suzaku briefly considered calling Lelouch about this because he's fairly certain he can manage another stolen moment with Kaguya's cell – briefly because he knew Lelouch wouldn't be… honest. While that is worrisome in its own way, it's also the least effective method of proving anything. Tangible proof and undeniable facts are the only currency his father takes, so it's what Suzaku will work to gain.

His lead is little more than faith in Lelouch and a name on a sheet of paper. Suzaku starts by pulling the profile; a picture of a red-haired, blue-eyed young woman whose convictions also hold his faith that this rebellion isn't what it seems.

That it could be much more.

•-

-•

"It's…So…Hot…" Kaguya's complaint barely takes flight from her lips as she flaps her wooden fan at her face. She's sprawled out on a sofa in a sitting room and stripped to the bare minimum of a tank top and shorts with her hair bundled up in a messy bun. "Why couldn't Suzaku's birthday be in a cooler season?"

"Yours isn't any cooler." Tohdoh placidly notes from his stance at the window, looking out at the garden. His hands are firmly clasped behind his starchy back.

"Well, when my birthday comes I'll complain then, too. Don't you worry."

"Drink your ice water." Chiba says from a nearby cushioned armchair. "You'll feel better."

"I'd rather swim in it." Kaguya wines as she lazily wags her fingers at the misty glass of water on the table in front of the couch, just out of reach. "But I just can't go to the beach without Suzaku and he's still holing up in his room."

"About that… Are you sure this is ok?" Chiba stands up and passes the glass to the girl suffering heat-induced lethargy. "He's been in there for days."

Tohdoh's eyes stare at the sun-scorched plants and flowers until Chiba's worried reflection appears in the window, her minty plaid yukata brisk against the sunny spread outside.

"He knows his limits. I trust he'll be fine. It's something he has to do himself."

Chiba frowns. "That doesn't make it any better. If anything that makes it worse."

"I know." Tohdoh solemnly agrees with a slight hang of his head. "But this has reached a point where only father and son can tread."

"I suppose so…" Chiba's quietly murmurs, expression not lifted, only resigned to a purse of discontent.

Kaguya, on the other hand, snorts quite loudly. "How dramatic of you, Tohdoh!"

And it makes Chiba chuckle, her smile carving strongly in the pale reflection on the window, bursting a huff of laughter from Tohdoh's chest before he glances at his wife with a sympathetic smile.

•-

-•

The eastern prince invades the Emperor's office like a charging bull seeing red.

"You were wrong." Suzaku curtly informs as he drops the same bole-coloured folder that started this with a plap on the desk.

Genbu glances between it and his son with suspicious scrutiny – don't tell me you've been wasting your time on this.

"That 'minor rebellion' wasn't a rebellion at all." Suzaku iterates each word on the flow of his irritation. "The truth is that they were drug lords that also dabbled in human trafficking. Their primary objective was manufacturing and distributing Refrain to the rest of the world. A highly illegal psychotropic drug that—"

"I know what it is." Genbu nearly growls.

Fair enough. "Well, upon closer investigation it was discovered that they were root of the drug itself."

"Is that so?" his father doesn't sound impressed as he lazily flips through the files.

Suzaku clenches his jaw.

He's not a child showing his father someone caught in the cookie jar.

"Am I wasting my breath? Maybe I should just toss all of that hard work into a fire now and save you the effort after I leave."

"Stow the attitude." Genbu rigidly warns, stabbing at Suzaku's nerves with a tongue like an icicle – but waves Suzaku along, surprisingly. "Continue."

"The gist of it is this: Her Highness Cornelia li Britannia was sent to the southern Britannian continent, which has always been a little… unstable. Lelouch joined her. Through spies they soon discovered it was the underground Refrain ring and consequently bumped into an Interpol agent—"

"Interpol?" Genbu skeptically glares at the pages in his hands; a cryptic codename for a green-haired, amber-eyed woman without any real background information. "They don't involve themselves in the military or politics—"

"Because it wasn't politics." Suzaku vehemently reminds. "It had nothing to do with what you thought. Yes, there's still unrest in that part of the country but it wasn't nearly as severe as a rebellion – that was a farce enforced and incited by the criminals like a smoke screen. They were trying to use the people to cover their movements because they knew Interpol was catching up. The village caught in the landslide was a small-scale but busy manufacturing plant with a network across the entire globe. Lelouch even worked closely with the same agent to chase down criminals that fled after the landslide and he shut down their extensions, crippling the drug's lifelines." Suzaku takes a breath. Furrows his brow. "It wasn't about cold-blooded murder."

"…This still doesn't explain Lelouch."

"It says it all right there." Suzaku waves his hand at the file and leans back on one foot. "Her Highness Cornelia li Britannia was in charge of determining the severity of the situation. Lelouch has beyond exemplary marks in every strategic combat simulation he's ever done. I imagine she wouldn't have objected to his cooperation in containing the situation. If you're inquiring about his intentions, I think he was searching for his calling."

"Is that so?"

"Yes." Suzaku doesn't doubt that. "But he didn't find it there, did he? In the end he came back to be with me. The Refrainers were heavily fortified to the extent that military force was needed. That's why they aided in removing the enemy. Apparently there were complications, I'm not sure, but the easiest course of action was to drop rocks on them even though some did escape. They kept as much about it as clandestine as they could to prevent hurting their intelligence in tracking the network."

"How does this not qualify as a rebellion?"

Suzaku falters.

When his father mentioned a rebellion Suzaku assumed he meant something along the lines of "the oppressed against their oppressors" not "armed thugs just looking to weigh their pockets."

"I don't know all the specifics. I scrounged and fought for what I did find and it's more than I would've thought or hoped I could."

Genbu hums. Almost a disappointed grunt that hits Suzaku like a hammer. "…So what's to say any of this is even true?"

"You're not the only one with resources." Suzaku sneers. "Stadtfeld Kallen? She was a classmate of Lelouch's and mine as well. All this time I had wondered where she was and hoped she was safe – clearly, she's been taking very good care of herself. Even though she enlisted in the Japanese military she's proficient at Knightmare piloting and was sent to train with Britannians. From there she was pulled by Lelouch and they worked together, but, there was only so much she was allowed to tell me. Doesn't matter. She was more than helpful. Only one link in the chain. …You can follow up on it, if you want. I've written down every person I've spoken too, what they told me, where they pointed me and how you can contact them."

"Assuming that I can follow your notes to the same end."

"It wasn't easy, but you're the Emperor. I'm sure you could find out even more than I could – don't know why you didn't in the first place. Didn't want to, I guess."

Genbu glowers but doesn't take the bait. "And you have no qualms about any of his actions – or even if this rebellion had been real?"

Suzaku scowls.

Why does his father insist on turning this into something it isn't?

Always twisting this into that in avoidance.

"…I don't necessarily agree with his methods"—Lelouch has always been more radical than Suzaku—"but he accomplished something that's unprecedented and thought virtually impossible. He helped in shutting down the entire Refrain circulation in as little as one year despite an organization like Interpol having been on the case for more than a decade."

"So the ends justify the means?"

"You should know that better than anyone, shouldn't you?" Suzaku emphatically shakes his head to bypass that subject. "Look, you're not going to try and turn me against him just because you don't like what's happening. I know him and I love him. Unless you're willing to have a legitimate discussion about that, I'm done with this petty game."

His father doesn't respond and Suzaku feels himself swallowed up in the silence.

Can feel his skin burning under the spotlight of a nation as seen through his father's eyes—

Eye that can't even seem to look at him.

Suzaku fists his hand, feeling his blood boil through his veins. "If you can't accept me as I am, then… Maybe I'll spare you the embarrassment of having a son like me. I could leave, let all of you appoint someone who you think is capable of caring for your country."

"Traipsing into absurdities are we?" Genbu sighs.

Suzaku laughs, a sourly sardonic hiss that curls his lips and flares his father's eyes. "I'm being serious. If I surrender my right to the throne I can be with Lelouch and you can find someone more suitable to replace you. Everyone'll be happy."

"That isn't how it works. Don't be so naïve." His father's voice is level but at least Suzaku has reeled in those brown eyes.

"No?" Suzaku is still smiling but it's cuttingly condescending, painful even to his own lips. "I don't have to be a prince or the next emperor – the right to refuse is about the only one I have."'

"Do not threaten me." Genbu slams his palm down on his desk. "And stop behaving like a petulant child."

Suzaku scowls. "I'll be 20 years old very soon, a legal adult in this country regardless of how you see me. And if you want to see me, then you should take this more seriously – I've already drawn up all the necessary paper work, which took some real effort to gather. I gave you the copies." Suzaku gestures with a jut of his chin and his father, after a begrudging pause, rummages for the forms. "Just imagine the scandal: the only son of the Japanese Emperor denies his birthright to marry a Britannian Prince because he wasn't allowed to under the crown." A sickening smile rakes across Suzaku's lips like nails on a chalkboard. "What would people think of that – of you – I wonder?"

The red sun is outlining his father's eyes again.

Indignant.

Insulted.

"You are way out of line." The Emperor's voice is a heavy ricochet in Suzaku's bones (in his little box) but he doesn't flinch. "I won't tolerate much more of you—"

"It's just politics." Suzaku bites off his father's words without fear – the sharp end of his patience sawing clean through all the good manners with which his father bound him. "And you won't have to tolerate me much longer. You have until my birthday to decide what it is you want to do, because I know what I'm doing." Just as he's at the mouth of the office's entrance, he turns only to pin his father with a snarling eye over his shoulder. "And maybe next time you'll make sure to get all the facts before you try to prove some ill-conceived point, yeah?"

Once Suzaku is clear of the room, his father leans back in his creaky wooden chair and huffs.

…A faint touch of something prideful bending his lips.

•-•

Suzaku doesn't stop marching until he's closed up in his bathroom – hidden away from the guards assigned to watch him and the one posted inside his room – with only the sound of his heartbeat following him in the darkness. He splashes icy water against his face to quiet the rushing pulse in his skull and heating his face, releasing a shuddering breath when he notices his hands are shaking. He tightly balls them until his skin is pulled white over his knuckles. He gasps again, tangling his fingers and pressing them against his forehead as his heartbeat flushes down the drain with the running water.

Suzaku wasn't bluffing.

Not exactly.

He'll do what he feels he needs do, but he doesn't want to leave. Suzaku thinks that his "desertion" will only cause more problems than it will solve in the end and he hopes his father recognizes that.

Before it's too late.

•-

-•

Suzaku wasn't sure he understood Lelouch's motive when this began, but now, as he sees so many of his people giving their support, Suzaku thinks he understands.

It's not about Suzaku.

It's not about Lelouch.

It's not about Japan.

It's about everyone.

The Emperor is a person of fairness. Logic. Rationality. But he serves his people just as they serve him. He trusts in them to choose their futures as they trust in him to shape it into reality. He looks to them for guidance. Nothing is perfect. But the Emperor works day and night forever trying to reach perfection.

Suzaku's father fears what he perceives to be a dangerous flaw in his son because that's what he was been told to believe when he was young, but now…? Lelouch knew His Majesty Genbu doesn't like civil unrest, so he let the people speak just as they always have – and they've mostly accepted Suzaku. According to the latest poll Suzaku saw on same-sex marriage, more than half of their people were for it – a shift from some years before when the larger half wasn't on board. So if all these people want their beloved Prince to be as he is, and it inspires them to be as they are, the Emperor can't really deny them of that, can he…?

An interesting approach for Lelouch, Suzaku admits. Different, but interesting. Britannia only appears to be more interested in Lelouch's choice being Crown Prince Suzaku Kururugi than just another man. The Western beast is largely more lenient when it comes to their royal's partnerships even if same-gendered ones are mostly treated as "rebellious phases," as Lelouch has said. The social dynamics of everyday life has shifted greatly for the common people, not unlike Japan. However, unlike Japan, there are few restrictions still posed on same-sex couples and they are able to marry – a change earned only within this decade but that's still well ahead of their insular Eastern ally.

Suzaku just hopes – wishes – that his father will stop overlooking his son and this topic as some sort of tantrum, turncoat tactic…

•-

-•

Suzaku stares dully at his reflection in the full-length mirror in front of him in his changing room, frowning somewhat at the heavy, jet-black silks and pearly white collar and under-layers of his kimono – and not just because of the heat. He smoothes his hand down the sides of his chest, feeling how tightly his regal garments squeeze his lungs when he tries to breathe as deeply as possible. It was tailored for him, but only for his still posture. Like all of his clothes. His eyes hold and trace the yellow, tight-pinwheel flowers on both sides of his chest that look like a pair of suns lost in deep space. Only the Emperor and Suzaku are allowed to wear this crest…

Suzaku isn't sure what to expect after being summoned once again to join his father in another formal sitting room. A date, he would've guessed because his father has always been one to struggle more and more against what he perceives to be wrong. But even that doesn't seem to be likely. All Suzaku has to go on is that he has to wear his most formal black kimono emblemized with the yellow Imperial Chrysanthemum – a crest that only the Emperor is allowed to wear, but he's long ago shared that privilege with his only child. Suzaku wasn't even this formal for his miai meeting with Sayoko, but today it's all five of them? – it just doesn't get more formal than this. Although Suzaku has frequently seen his father adorned in all their yellow blooms he can't remember the last time he himself has worn them with such distinction without meeting some one important.

So, Suzaku pretty much fears the worst. (He wonders of his father's retaliation to his threat at abandoning the throne, of course, but can't even begin to predict what the Emperor's plans – and doing so only plunges his gut to his feet where he nearly trips over it in trepidation.)

•-•

When Suzaku does join his father in the aforementioned room – an outdoor one for viewing the sprawling garden in the very heart of the palace – he finds his father is also decorated in all five of his mon. Two on the chest, three across the back of his shoulders and spine just like Suzaku. Yeah, that doesn't make Suzaku feel any better. The Imperial Chrysanthemums look like the mane of a lion on his father where Suzaku just feels they look flashy and inappropriate on him.

Like they always have.

The Japanese Prince self-consciously shuffles towards his father with a respectfully ducked head as he's been raised to do when in this formal of a setting with the Emperor. His father doesn't speak, only briefly gestures with his hand for Suzaku to sit beside him in one of two identical chairs – ornately carved from some dark-stained wood rather than anything upholstered that could be damaged by the weather. Suzaku stares down at his tangled and clenching fingers while his stomach sloshes nauseously, bouncing his knee to keep from clicking the edges of his short thumbnails together – an old habit his father made sure he broke when he was younger; a crutch to replace biting his nails, which was previously fixed.

The air is thick, humid.

His kimono is hot.

And his heart is beating so loud he's afraid his father can hear it.

Just as Suzaku is reminding himself to breathe, an attendant scuttles into the room and announces their guests have arrived. Suzaku stands with his father as their servant is about to formally introduce—

'I've come to make amends for the actions of my scheming son!' Empress vi Britannia enters with a flourish of midnight-blue and white, as bright and vivacious as her old nickname, Marianne the Flash, would imply; startling their little attendant into the background. 'You see, he's just too smart for his own good.'

Suzaku doesn't even have a chance to be confused—

Because Lelouch is right at her heels—

And Suzaku's body operates solely on reflex, nature superseding nurture with sparks flaring through his body like shooting stars as he scampers up to the other prince—

"Suzaku."

—managing to wrap an embrace around Lelouch even as his name oozes from his father's mouth with disapproval, but he doesn't let go.

He only squeezes more tightly.

'I've missed you so much.' he quietly whispers into Lelouch's ear, eyes clenched shut and fingers hooking into the back of Lelouch's formal tailcoat – feeling the Britannian's heart beat just as fast as his (comforted that if his father could hear his heart at least now he'll hear both of them.)

Lelouch smiles very softly and pats Suzaku's back with black-gloved hands.

Genbu bears a half-frown while Marianna wears a half-smile.

"Thank you for having us, Your Majesty." Marianne says, redirecting the Emperor's eyes as she passes by the two boys to shake his hand. 'I do hope we can settle this matter.'

Lady Marianne isn't big on formalities.

"…Yes, of course." Genbu responds, grabbing her bare hand for a firm shake and inviting her, and her son, to sit with him.

The Empress smoothes her long, billowed skirt underneath her as she settles where Suzaku was perched while Genbu settles his gaze on the princes. Lelouch tilts his head to a courteous angle as he's pulled to sit across from their parents in another set of twin wooden chairs. Marianne is tugging at the bottom of the snug, snowy, gold round-buttoned vest of her dress when she looks up, smirking very softly at the entrancement in their eyes; at the bridge of their conjoined hands between the arms of the chairs.

Suzaku can't let go of Lelouch's hand.

If he does…

(Will the sun fall out of the sky?

Will he be left in darkness?

Alone?

Again?

Forever?)

He just can't.

"Children, why don't you go play while the grownups talk, hm?" Marianne sweetly asks with a glimmer in her sapphire eyes that drift from the equally captured stare of the Japanese Emperor to their sons.

Suzaku opens his mouth but finds himself without a word to say at her smile and looks to his father.

Looks for approval.

'…If that's what you want.' Even Lelouch appears to falter at his mother's command.

'I think it would be for the best.' She holds her smile strongly in place with such confident authority that Suzaku can see her son inherited it from her.

Lelouch stands but Suzaku isn't so quick to move.

The stern gaze of his father holds him in place as if he's under a thumb.

But those old brown eyes slide away; a dismissive—flippant flitting wave of permission telling him to go.

Suzaku rises from his seat with measured poise, surprising himself at how calmly his body moves when every muscle in his body feels like a horse charging out of the starting gate. He bows for their guest, for his father, and leaves the room with his father's eyes on his back and Lelouch at his side.

Suzaku; wrapped up tightly in layers of tradition from shoulders to ankles, shining under the sun like liquid ebony. Three yellow flowers embroidered across his upper back like Orion's Belt.

Lelouch; a walking blue iris with long, sharp coattails falling behind his knees like swooning petals. Goldenrod edges his jacket and cuffs while lines of it stem down his legs and torso.

East and West held together by interlocking fingers.

Marianne waits until the princes' ears are far enough away, crossing her leg over the other before speaking. "I'll be frank: my son stepped on your toes, but he is an adult. I acknowledge responsibility as his mother, however, I'm not going to make excuses nor will I take it all back for him."

"And what of his father?"

"Charles has always been very supportive of our children and respectful of the relationship he has with you." She curtly responds, not at all appreciative of Genbu's needling. "Don't make this into something it isn't."

"You are quite a brazen woman." Genbu pulls his eyes away from Suzaku to her face.

"I'll take that as a compliment." She scrunches her nose at that, flicking long waves of onyx off her shoulders. "Now, I didn't come here to discuss politics and I won't allow you to slander my husband."

"Not talking politics will be difficult, considering how political this situation is."

"Only if you let it be that way. The point of all this is that my son wants to marry yours. I know his methods are not… sensitive, but he is sincere."

"You understand the full extent of what he's done, don't you?"

She arcs her eyebrow. "I understand the marriage proposal was intentionally released into the media, but you must understand that isn't uncommon in Britannia."

"This isn't Britannia. He cannot do as he pleases."

"Like I said, he stepped on your toes. You want a formal apology? He'll give you one. He understands his actions have consequences and he'll accept them."

Genbu is becoming irritated. "He created a scandal."

Marianne is quiet a moment, body loosening in her chair.

"I understand that things are different, in your country, but what harm has come of this, exactly?"

"The manipulative nature your son's intentions are problematic." Genbu nearly growls. "You think I should turn a blind eye to that?"

"It sounds to me like he's opened your eyes." Marianne counters with a gleam that doesn't quite coat her nude lips with a sneer. "He isn't twisting your arm, and neither am I. If you think this is some sort of ploy to turn your people against you, then that's more than disconcerting – it's troubling. How could the open support of your son be a bad thing?"

•-•

"…What do you think they'll talk about?" Suzaku asks with a backwards, lingering glance of worry at their parents.

"I wouldn't worry about it." Lelouch says, keeping his sight forward. "She can be very persuasive."

"So… I take it that means she's fine with all this?" Suzaku tentatively pries. "I mean, with you and me, and…"

"Of course." he answers as if that's a needless – stupid – question. "She's my mother."

Is it really that simple?

"What about your father?"

"…He doesn't matter," Lelouch's supplies with a frosted, flat breath.

And Suzaku turtles up a little at that.

Lelouch never – willingly – speaks of his father and Suzaku has never been able to ask without immediately withdrawing. It's clear that family can be a touchy subject for Lelouch beyond his mother, sister and a few half-siblings. Lelouch has always understood the disparateness of Suzaku and his father and he figured that's because Lelouch is under a similar situation with his own father – perhaps they even bonded over it despite the western prince's closed mouth. It's just more troubling because it contradicts how Empress Marianne speaks so positively about her husband and his involvement with their children.

Suzaku clenches his jaw and just swallows the matter as he looks ahead.

"You know, I… actually worried I might not ever see you again." Not the best topic change, Suzaku realizes, but it's an honest concern.

"I told you I would handle this." Lelouch shields with a defensive tone.

"I know. But, my father…" Suzaku stops them on the exposed gravel pathway through the soft, lush grass and he looks into Lelouch's eyes with a bright, impish smile. "You have no idea how badly I want to kiss you right now."

"I think I have some idea." Lelouch smirks. "And it doesn't stop at kissing."

Suzaku's smile deepens before his evergreen eyes toss to the side with a woeful sweep when all he can do is squeeze Lelouch's slender hand and wonders, with great lamentwhy he chose to follow the Britannian tradition of wearing gloves.

"…Maybe we should kiss."

"What?" Suzaku blurts – shorthand way of saying you can't possibly be serious – with a whip of his eyes.

"It might change the impression your father has on our relationship," Lelouch seductively shrugs, head tilting back towards the man mentioned. "What with him watching our every move…"

The eastern prince clenches his jaw, knowing well enough his father's eyes are that burning feeling on his skin and not the Japanese sun above them. He momentarily considers Lelouch's suggestion, though, wondering what effect it would have on his father – most that come to mind are negative. Perhaps it's that rebellious taste on his tongue that nearly convinces him to indulge, but he ultimately decides that a kiss, even a small and innocent one, might only do more harm than good.

Suzaku simpers and tugs Lelouch along by his hand. "I'd rather him think of this as being more innocent than what he already perceives."

"Well… can't blame me for trying." Lelouch murmurs, not sounding surprised but openly disappointed. It rekindles that fuzzy something warm in Suzaku's blood.

"That I can't."

They walk along deeper into the garden, bathed in sunlight of a maturing summer.

"Looking back," Lelouch says in a cool note, "three years was a long time to keep our secret."

"Yeah… but we didn't see much of each other for the past year." Suzaku wonders about everything he's learned of Lelouch from this past year but decides that now isn't the time to discuss it. "It was hardest during school." Suzaku wonders how he should even bring it up…

Lelouch hums. "True."

After all, if Lelouch wanted to talk about it he would have.

"And now the entire world is in on it." Suzaku says, a bit offhanded. "You couldn't have at least warned me about that?"

"I thought you like surprises." One corner of Lelouch's lips quirk at him.

"Not that kind."

"I'll keep that in mind." Lelouch sounds amused and only mildly apologetic.

"I don't understand why you couldn't just tell me. You announced our relationship to the entire world."

"Are you angry?"

"…Nnnot exactly…"

"Then what's the problem?"

The problem is that Suzaku should've been told when he asked. It's their relationship; he had a right to know. But, Suzaku supposes he'll just sit on this for now, too. He doesn't want to waste what little time he might have right now by picking at a troubling aspect of Lelouch's personality. The truth is that Suzaku understands that Lelouch is secretive by nature. He doesn't mean to be malicious. It's just the way he is. No, he isn't perfect, but he's the best prince charming Suzaku could ever have and the only one he'd ever want…

Suzaku shakes his head with a laugh that's much rowdier than he means it to be.

Lelouch curiously slides his gaze over the brunet.

"You are just too…" Suzaku sighs, eyes glittering at the man attached to the hand in his tight grasp. "I just really love you. A lot."

"…Not sure why that's funny." Lelouch murmurs.

"Because you're really cute." Suzaku grins.

Lelouch looks at Suzaku.

Looks away in thought.

And then looks at Suzaku again.

"You're not funny."

Despite Lelouch's bland insult, Suzaku laughs with another hardy shake of his belly. He should probably be more bothered that Lelouch took action on his own, but Suzaku has already forgiven him. Suzaku is so in love it's almost stupid. And that makes Suzaku laugh with pure mirth because it's all he can do short of pouncing on Lelouch right this moment.

•-•

Looking on from a distance, an Emperor watches his son smile and laugh euphorically like he hadn't with that nice, respectable, Japanese woman.

"They do make a very cute couple, don't you think?" Marianne says as less of a question as she stands beside the Emperor at the edge of the room, watching their sons.

Genbu's gaze keeps him from replying.

The intertwining of bare fingers with gloved ones.

The exuberant smile on his son's face that doesn't wane.

"You really can't deny it." She insists, cheeky and sincere all at once as she playfully bumps him with her elbow. "And they look so happy."

Genbu is a bit startled by the lighthearted but unexpected jostle, momentarily losing his composure. "…I wouldn't expect you to have the same concerns as me."

"Concerns?" Marianne echoes not hiding her distaste.

"Suzaku is my only child. He is all that's left to lengthen our lineage."

"Then maybe you should've had more children if that is all that really matters to you." Marianne spits with derision so palpable is practically sears his skin and earns her a glance. "…Don't give me that look. You want to speak to me with a tone I'll give it right back to you – and I most certainly don't like what you're implying." She tiredly scratches at her forehead with short, un-manicured nails. "Listen, I despise politics. I won't deny that Lelouch is privileged in that he doesn't have the same pressures as Suzaku, but that doesn't mean he's completely free of any burdens. You have no idea what it's like to be a child of the Britannian Emperor. It's no picnic, to say the least, and if you think so you are very, sorely mistaken."

"It was not my intention to insult you."

She appears to accept his sort-of apology, looking at the two princes once again. "I understand your situation. I won't tell you how to manage your life. But… my Lelouch has never been happier. I'll fight tooth and nail for him to keep it if I must." She glances at him sideways. "Sacrifice whatever I need to."

"I have no doubt of that."

"Of course." A sly grin. "That's what loving your child means."

Genbu hums a vague sound but doesn't otherwise respond.

The vivacious sound of his son's laughter carries all the way to their ears like a songbird instead.

"Besides, it's not as though Suzaku can't still have children." Marianne crosses her arms with a casual shrug. "And if you're worried about Britannian influence through this marriage, that can be settled very easily as well."

The two princes take shelter from the sun on a black, metal bench under the shade of wide, webbing branches from a large oak tree.

"You must be coming around in some way to all this. You've let us visit you."

Genbu doesn't immediately respond.

Suzaku sandwiches Lelouch's hand between his on his lap, smiling as if nothing could ever take it away from him.

"…Seeing is believing." Genbu finally says.

"Oh?" Marianne's thin eyebrows rise and she follows the hard eyes of the man beside her that have cemented on the two princes.

Lelouch's arm extends to rest on the back of the bench. His eyes never stray from Suzaku.

"Change isn't always easy. But it always happens one way or another." Marianne smiles, gentle and coy. "Your people certainly seem to have accepted it, for the most part."

Suzaku's head tilts into the fingers that delicately tangle through his hair, his mouth curving like the tender bloom of a sweet flower.

"You don't want to be on the wrong side of history, do you, Emperor Kururugi?"

A heavy breath seems to seep from Genbu's chest as he rubs his chin.

Watching his son caress another man's cheek as their foreheads touch as if sharing a chaste kiss.

Suzaku's face is never without a smile.

•-•

'I'm assuming everything went well.' Lelouch says to his mother on the drive home in their white, mini limousine.

'A little too well.' She looks away from the tinted windows to quirk her lips at him. 'Kind of boring, really.'

'This isn't for your entertainment.' He dismissively chides, tiredly reclining into the ivory leather seats with fingers kneading his forehead.

'Why so serious?' Marianne's chuckles are saccharine drips from her lips. Lelouch frowns, but before he can retort the fingers of his mother are delightedly pinching his cheek. 'Don't be so disgruntled. It went just as you predicted, my little lotus.'

'Stop that!' Lelouch flails as more of her laughter rolls sweetly right down her arm and into the hand as she shakes his head.

'More importantly,' Marianne clears her throat when she releases her grip, 'don't be such a brat. Show some gratitude.'

'…You did do very well.' Lelouch mutters, sourly rubbing his red cheek. 'Thank you.'

'But, of course!' she smiles a toothy smile and winks. 'Who did you think gave you your charm?'

•-

-•

A few days pass after the visit of Empress Marianne and Lelouch, and Suzaku hasn't heard anything else since. It's been quiet on his father's end and he has yet to have his phone or any other lines of communication returned to him.

Suzaku is left wondering how long he'll watch Japanese celebrities voice their support – a few coming out of the closet as he "inspired" them to do – before his father can do the same. It's comforting to see them, and their fans, standing behind him even if in the smallest and subtlest of ways. He didn't know he meant this much to them (how did he not know he means so much to them?). It's humbling. But saddening.

Suzaku isn't sure what to think.

It's been an entire month since Lelouch arrived back in Japan and in only a few days' time it'll be his birthday.

And there's only one thing Suzaku could ever want…

•-•

Emperor Genbu sits alone in his office, pen resting on paper and the strong shine of the sun stretches across the floor from the windows behind him. Rainbows and celebrities of every colour and creed are a fluttering news cycle on the TV that his eyes don't watch.

The white photo album, the offering from Tohdoh, sits unobstructed on his desk. To the side, out of the way, but not out of sight.

The flag of his people fills the TV screen. Small in the flicking wrists of crowds or large and flapping from buildings. Naysayers and wary politicians don't seem to get the same amount of air-time or attention anymore—

His tumbleweed eyes that are magnetized to the book lead his swollen, calloused fingers to touch the surface. A fleeting trace along the golden bracket of one corner and the book is hoisted off the desk.

—That red son framed by white ripples in tandem with the banner of seven colours. Of people who quietly tucked themselves away. Behind the fallacies. To keep themselves safe and out of sight—

A collection of his son's smiling face protected by little more than plastic is timeless under his eyes. Never changing but always growing.

Suzaku and Lelouch in a sea of sunflowers: hand in hand as they climb up a small cliff.

Suzaku and Lelouch on a rooftop: a self-taken photo by Suzaku with their temples touching and him winking while Lelouch complacently half-smirks.

All the moments sealed away and never shared with him. Kept close to Suzaku's chest. Kept quiet.

—A rally of persons who are just like Prince Suzaku Kururugi and rejoicing for him. Japanese faces. Britannian faces. The faces of those in between—

Genbu gently closes the album with a deep exhale, his gaze shifting upward; at first unseeing, but focuses on the black telephone on his desk…

•-

-•

When Suzaku's birthday finally dawns, he rises with the sun in a sluggish haze – the black hole from before returning and swallowing any dreams and restful sleep he could've had, along with his morale (and faith). The Emperor hasn't conceded anything yet to Suzaku and now he stares down at his desk in the creeping of morning light, rubbing at his tired eyes.

Before him lies an intricate itinerary for the beginning part of his day – rubbing the right elbows with some notable guests in some meetings as well as some courtesy visits to certain shrines and businesses around Tokyo to keep face before he's left to his own devices. To enjoy himself on his birthday.

And then there's the neat stack of documents he has to sign, have sealed, notarized, authorized… and then Japan's future will be someone else's problem…

•-•

There are a lot of words, terms or titles Suzaku would never give himself and "actor" is one of them; probably near the top of the list. He surprises even himself at how effortlessly he can pull a polite smile across his lips and force sugared words through them – not exactly insincere in themselves, just the feeling behind them. But then, Suzaku remembers that he's been playing a role since he was a child. The only difference is that up until now he believed in his own act – believed that if he wore that mask long enough it would meld itself to him and become reality. Now that Suzaku has decided he never wants to learn if that's actually possible, when he looks through the eyes of the mold he thought he didn't fit and sees just how much of an actor he's become.

Suzaku had been dreading his hobnobbing rounds and now that he's truly tested the strength of his false smiles and lighthearted pleasantries he feels more like a dead man than he ever has.

"…So, you've been together for 3 years?" Kaguya incredulously asks from beside Suzaku in the garden gazebo.

"3 and half." Suzaku mutters, not at all feeling up to humor his vivacious little cousin as he rests after a tasteless lunch.

"And a half?" Kaguya chirps, sitting sideways on the bench unlike her cousin who leans his back against the sculptured stone table and empty dishes of their light meal – well, hers are mostly empty. Suzaku doesn't have an appetite. Just a hollow pit.

"…February 2017." She's not even much of a distraction anymore…

Kaguya flicks open her trusty wooden fan and flaps at her face with great disgust. "And there wasn't a single moment in all those 3 – and a half – years when you thought to tell me?"

"Kaguya." Suzaku tiredly groans.

"I'm your favorite cousin!"

His only cousin!

Duh!

"I already told you it wasn't personal. We didn't tell anyone."

"Lelouch's brother knew."

"That… He figured it out before we did."

Kaguya gives him a look like she just caught a whiff of something foul. "…Well, I guess I shouldn't be surprised."

"You're very funny." Suzaku blandly barbs – and before Kaguya's cheeky grin can utter another word—"And you don't have any room to talk, Previously-the-Future-Wife of Lelouch vi Britannia."

That catches her off-guard, a mental trip that shows in her stunned blink.

"Hey, I can like whomever I want." She brushes off the remark with a smooth shrug. "You can hardly disagree with me on that."

Whatever.

She just wants to argue for the sake of arguing and he's not going to bait her more than he already has. He sighs instead, looking across the tamed, recently-cut grass and organized, structured shrubbery that barley shift in the slight breeze.

He supposes this is the last day he'll ever see this garden.

Sit at this table.

Inside these walls.

Under this sun…

Maybe Suzaku should forgo this whole celebration today, but he felt it would be wrong to everyone who's worked so hard to make today special. Everyone who looked forward to this day more than the actual man of honor did. (And, maybe, he's giving the Emperor until the very last second to keep everything from ending by him cutting himself out in an ugly carve.)

"Kaguya, there's something I want to tell—" Suzaku's words are mangled into a yelp when she suddenly whacks the back of his head with her fan. "Shit!" he rubs the abused area even though it doesn't really hurt and turns to look at her. "What the hell—?!"

Finding his father standing behind them and Kaguya on her feet in a slanted bow – laughing at his colourful outburst.

Damn it, Kaguya!

Suzaku scrambles to about-face and also bow at the same respectful angle as Kaguya with practiced perfection for the Emperor that had quietly approached them. Genbu's crow-feet eyes flick between the two green-eyed cousins only once.

"Kaguya, I need a moment alone with my son."

For all of Kaguya's carefree brashness she's respectful when she needs to be – and that means now towards the Emperor in his palace – so she nods and leaves, although Suzaku can see her lingering within earshot.

Suzaku holds his breath to settle his nerves, feeling them ungainly thrash in his stomach as he stares right into the sanded sovereign gaze of his father. It's just so… unnatural to see his father outside his office, let alone seeking his son personally. Suzaku doesn't know what to make of it – so many of Suzaku's worst thoughts surging up like a tsunami of fists that pummel his brain – and he doesn't know if he should be more nervous, but he is.

He hates that office.

But it's familiar territory.

Out here, in the open, he somehow feels more vulnerable – less caged, but less safe.

Perhaps fortune is smiling upon Suzaku because his father doesn't speak any more than he usually would. He presents a thin, lightly glossed black leather folder (goddamn, not another folder – especially not one that looks like—) with a simple green ribbon bowed on the top open corner. Suzaku takes it, jaw clenching as his bated breath pounds against the inside of his skull, and opens to see Lelouch's smiling face in a framed oval picture—

And Suzaku gasps, oxygen hitting him like a head-rush that slackens his knees.

"This is—?!" the prince starts, throat crimping on his voice when tears bundle behind his eyes.

"You're getting your wish." Genbu answers with caution rather than reassurance. "Don't come to regret it."

His father hasn't exactly rolled out the welcome mat and his words are far from a hug, but…

It might also be the closest Suzaku has ever come to either.

Suzaku is too overwhelmed with emotions he didn't know could weave and tighten so blindingly in his heart that he nearly hugs his father—

Hands clenching in the air at the end of arms mid-reach when he catches himself and quietly pulls them against his chest with the folder instead.

"…Thank you." Suzaku quietly murmurs, not able to pull his eyes up from the ground or utter another word.

The Emperor doesn't stay a second longer than he needs to, but he does pause when he turns to leave.

"Suzaku…" his father calmly says, lifting his arm like a baby bird using it's wing for the first time and rests his hand on the crown of Suzaku's head. "You've… done well."

Suzaku's heart stops.

The weight of his father's hand on his head is immense almost as if that glass ceiling has fallen right on top of him, shattering the instant the hand his lifted. His clenches his eyes shut a moment to keep himself together and not crumbling with the pieces that fall away and lighten his shoulders. It's no "I'm proud of you" or "I love you" but it's still more than he ever thought he'd ever hear from his father's mouth. When Suzaku opens his eyes again he has to repress tears, feeling them burn as if he'd been staring at the sun as he turns to watch his father pass—

Where a set of smirking violet eyes await him.

Suzaku tries to swallow the hot knot twisting and swelling in his throat as his father lets the Western Prince, donned in white, pass after receiving a respectful bow. The Emperor lingers on the nearby veranda with a ginning Kaguya as his son is barely able to keep from instantly rushing right up to his guest, waiting until Lelouch draws closer. Suzaku hops the very second Lelouch is in reach, smile brighter than sunshine as he clutches the other man with hands that were shaking self-consciously at his chest just a few breaths ago; instantly forgetting the folder as it plops to the table. With arms that couldn't embrace his own father, Suzaku wraps them around Lelouch as if he might fall off the Earth and into the emptiness of space. Lelouch stumbles back a step at the unexpected force but holds the Eastern Prince to keep him grounded and not lost in the stars, the sun. Suzaku lifts his face from nestling in Lelouch's neck, tears he tried to hide from his father roll down his cheeks and Lelouch gently wipes them away with a fond smile.

Then they kiss.

"You did the right thing." Tohdoh quietly assures, appearing at His Majesty's side.

"…Maybe." Genbu says at length before turning away, patting his old friend on the back as they leave the two princes alone.

Suzaku is too absorbed in Lelouch – in his moment in the sun – to pay much attention to his father's departure.

This taste.

This touch.

This smell.

Everything distinctly Lelouch and everything Suzaku feared he might not ever get to experience again pour into him like warm honey, a slow-coating euphoria that calms his nerves and blankets his thrashing heart. He laps at the delightful ooze he can feel spilling into him in a deep kiss Suzaku doesn't mind drowning in, fingers threading tightly in Lelouch's hair like the arm looped securely around his waist. Lelouch holds him close with equally strong affection – emotions that he keeps sealed in his chest (unlike Suzaku is capable of doing) perceptible only in the thudding of his heart. Suzaku can feel it against his chest, in the softness of the palm cupping his face and in the heat of their kiss. Taste it on his tongue.

For however long he's lost in this moment, in his lover's embrace, their bodies, Suzaku doesn't bother keep track. He only knows that he feels himself smiling widely when their lips magically come unglued and he feels Lelouch's fingers tangle in his hair as a tender kiss is placed beside his eye.

"I told you I would take of it." Lelouch murmurs – and it would've killed the mood if not for the gentle breath that sweeps his words right into Suzaku's ear, and down his spine.

Suzaku opens his eyes, realizing they were closed, and looks up in that small slant of their height difference to meet Lelouch's strong gaze.

Violet.

Unrelenting violet.

And inside the palace walls, no less.

Suzaku struggles to find words, sliding his hands around Lelouch and gripping the fabric on his back and letting his nose nuzzle into an ivory neck.

Oh God.

How he missed this neck…

Unable to resist – not that he really tries to – Suzaku puckers a small kiss against the soft skin he hadn't forgotten but entices him and he's sucking lightly before any faint-hearted caution can stop him. Lelouch's long fingers sift in his brown waves and the arm around him constricts like a hungry snake when he scrapes his teeth against a thick pulse—

But the handle on his hair is tugged, not roughly but enough for Suzaku to notice.

"Hey, before I forget…" Lelouch mutters as he detaches the Japanese leech at his neck and releases his own hold to rifle inside the pocket of his white pants.

Suzaku is wiping his mouth, trying to pull his focus up from the rather swift stirring down south and up on the little black box presented to him in Lelouch's fair-skinned palm – and that includes not thinking about where he'd rather have that palm at this moment.

…Wait.

Box?

"Are you going to open it or stare at it?" Lelouch smirks. "Because I can promise you the inside is infinitely more exciting than the outside."

Suzaku lifts his hand to take the case not as if he's afraid it will bite him but that it – and this new reality – might shatter if he's too hasty. Once the soft velvet is safely in his touch and he pries open the box to see a glinting ring inside, Suzaku isn't sure this is really real.

"Do you like it?" Lelouch asks, almost impatiently – or maybe even insecurely. "I know you have modest tastes but I wanted it to be special – to give you something with pizzazz, you could say."

Suzaku admires the small but rich round cuts of ruby – Suzaku's birthstone – embedded across the top quarter of a platinum ring with a tender smile—

But it falls and he shoves the box against Lelouch's chest.

Lelouch's eyes flit between Suzaku and the ring with mild confusion.

"I think you should do it." Is all Suzaku says, plain and resolute as he offers his left hand.

Lelouch smiles faintly and plucks the ring from the box and takes the offered hand—

"Aren't you getting down on one knee?" Suzaku stops him.

Lelouch stares.

Deadpan.

"Go on!" Suzaku flaps his waiting-to-be-brandished hand. "Down on your knee."

Lelouch doesn't repress or even lessen his heaving sigh of reluctance as he slowly settles with great pains on his knee like a rickety old man and reaches again for Suzaku's hand—

"You're not going to ask me the question?"

"Suzaku."

"Why are you being so difficult?" Suzaku is grinning.

"Because you're just doing this to mess with me."

"It's not my fault I have to make you be romantic."

"Considering everything I've done to get this far, I'd say I've been very romantic."

Suzaku's cunning lips soften into a simper.

Lelouch might be right, but it's his attitude that still needs work.

"Indulge me."

"…Marry me?"

"…" Suzaku lifts his eyebrow at the very lackluster efforts of his prince charming.

'Just say yes so I can stand up.' Lelouch tiredly insists. 'I'm kneeling on stone here, you know.'

Suzaku sighs, wistfully, and gives Lelouch is hand. "You could've tried a little harder than that. But maybe it's my fault for hoping you'd actually deliver a heartfelt speech of your undying love for me."

"You've been watching too many movies." Lelouch mutters as he gets to his feet, rubbing his knee.

Suzaku shakes his head, briefly admiring the ring as he cups Lelouch's face with the same hand.

"Well, I love you now and forever. Even if you don't always have the best bedside manner."

Lelouch smirks. "I think my bedside manner is just fine."

Suzaku's eyes twinkle and his lips flirtatiously curve at Lelouch's implication as he pulls himself closer to his fiancé. His ring-clad hand laces in licorice locks while his other palm presses against a beating heart as he gazes up into the violets that speak all for themselves. Another kiss stitches their lips together and their arms around each other; simmering in a sweetness that could boil—

"Ahem."

—if not for the subtle clearing of a throat. They break to find none other than Kaguya at the source, fist in front of her curling lips.

"I'd like to have the honor of being the first person to congratulate you." She smiles as she saunters up to them.

Lelouch's lifted eyebrows make him look genuinely pleased by that as he unfurls an arm from around Suzaku's waist to take her hand.

"The honor is all mine, Lady Sumeragi."

She eyes his hand with an impish gleam. "Don't suppose I could kiss the husband?"

"Kaguya!" Suzaku exasperatedly admonishes, still hanging an arm around Lelouch's neck – as if there's any other tone familiar with her name.

Lelouch, however, tilts her by the chin and plants a chaste little kiss on her cheek.

She promptly turns a shade of red Suzaku never would have thought is humanly possible.

"That's the best I can do, I'm afraid." Lelouch says, his voice framed by a light smirk. "You understand."

She silently blinks at them with an astonishment brought on by her own wicked ways and Suzaku couldn't be more pleased with the result.

"Well, I certainly approve." the Japanese prince laughs.

•-•

Prince Lelouch vi Britannia took it upon himself to announce his relationship with the Japanese Prince to the world, so Crown Prince Kururugi Suzaku takes it upon himself to confirm it to the world. Proper and formal announcements will follow today's festivities—but Suzaku is sick and tired of formalities and doesn't – can't – wait until all the politics catch up to him, which could take a day or two or more.

To put it bluntly: screw it.

Suzaku appears at the parade in his honor alongside the Emperor in their elevated, and heavily protected, box to view the procession and he brings a special guest—

Kaguya does make a rather showy and indulgent entrance during the introductions, but no. That's not who he means.

11th Prince of the Britannian Empire, son of the 98th Britannian Emperor, Charles zi Britannia, and Imperial Consort, Empress Marianne vi Britannia, Lelouch vi Britannia – and it's not just that mouthful of a title that makes waves amongst the crowd. Lelouch is the personification of royal grace and sophistication as he conservatively joins Suzaku's side with a polite wave and mild smile for the surprisingly substantial turnout (that couldn't just be due to the "scandal," could it?) Suzaku takes that elegantly swiveling pale hand into his sunned grasp, smiling with all of his teeth as he slides their fingers together. Lelouch's reserved grin sharpens into a more characteristic smirk that Suzaku has come to love.

To put it crassly: fuck it.

Suzaku raises their joined hands up high, a very easy way of expressing "yes we are and yes we will" that the adoring side of his public responds excitedly to with waves of hands and flags.

If Suzaku's father has any sort of issue with this, he doesn't speak of it.

Perhaps he knows he won't be heard over the roars of the crowd.

•-•

Perusing festival stalls turns into a non-stop-fidgety-dance-of-remembrance-that-he's-in-public-and-can't-touch-Lelouch. It's something that surprises even himself despite being born and raised in a conservative society. After everything that's happened, all the obstacles big and small he had to climb over, public modesty just feels so trivial. But he does adhere to the common customs like a good boy, even if it's difficult – Lelouch's natural introversion certainly helps. That he decided to dress down with Suzaku by wearing a slimming yukata that reveals his milky neck and some of his chest, however, does not help.

Still, the festival isn't unpleasant – it all wafts by through clouds of cooking steam and prowling children. Suzaku roams alongside Lelouch, weaving through people under the eyes and in the radius of security – including Jeremiah – as they taste this on a stick and slurp that through a straw while hopping from stand to stall. Suzaku is greeted amiably by those who wish him well and treated politely by those who might not understand his "choice." Even then Suzaku finds it hard to not smile when he sees the occasional rainbow.

•-•

A nice change of pace comes in the evening when Suzaku is reunited with his old club friends at Ashford Academy. The entire school is decked out for the affair, as one would expect from the former Student Council President, with strands of lights, lanterns, banners and balloons. Spontaneous pops of confetti come from all the current students who stayed during summer break, littering the school grounds with colourful papers and streamers; reveling in the fun of music, refreshments and games.

Suzaku and the graduating council club of 2019 gather on the rooftop for a fireworks show that, Suzaku learns, Milly took complete control of in her typical muscled fashion. Suzaku only laughs at the thought. If anyone will do a party finale justice, it'll be Milly Ashford. She mostly sits back and basks in all the hard work she didn't do, letting Nina immerse herself in the technical details of the firework performance while Rivalz hovers near her as she teases Shirley's chlorine-tinged hair. Milly's uproarious laughter is a sound Suzaku didn't realize he'd forgotten and he laughs with her despite Shirley's defensive muttering. Even Kallen is able to join them thanks to Lelouch who "pulled a few strings" to get her temporary relief from active-duty. She goes rigid when Suzaku hugs her as she tries to bow to him while Lelouch ignores all of Milly's prodding, personal questions about his relationship with the Japanese prince with Rivalz trying tirelessly to distract her.

It's good to see the gang hasn't changed.

And he's happy to have a more private celebration – of his birthday and his engagement – with his friends, with Lelouch, in such a nostalgic setting. He doesn't worry about looking too forward in Lelouch's arm or against his lips. On this rooftop where he and Lelouch would sneak away from the eyes of others, to hide in their secret, they are sharing what he thought they might not have the chance to share.

With his friends.

With his people.

With everyone.

Suzaku isn't hiding anymore, and he never will again.

That's a feeling – a fact – proven by fiery, flamboyant flowers and plumes of abstract designs along with simple text in the sky that shine down on him and Lelouch from the darkness.

Filling the void until a new sun rises.

•-•

Despite all the fun, the time comes when Suzaku wants Lelouch alone.

Sneaking away from the rooftop party wasn't all that difficult once alcohol began pouring through lips and spilling out of glasses. Maybe Suzaku should feel guilty about slipping away, but he's been waiting all day, afternoon and evening to celebrate with Lelouch.

Privately.

In this case, Suzaku doesn't mind being behind locked doors.

That's why he follows Lelouch's stealthy lead with a giddy smile so that they arrive at his bedroom in his empty villa – Clovis, apparently, is out enjoying some company of his own and Lady Marianne is visiting the Ashfords. They have the whole place all to themselves for the entire night…

Suzaku is curious to know how Lelouch was going to pop the proposal had the surprise not been spoiled, especially since Lelouch's home and bedroom are without anything unordinary in sight. No little surprises. No little romantic touches. Just Lelouch's immaculate nest and his scent like permanent perfume in the room.

But, it doesn't matter.

However Lelouch might've initially planned to ask for Suzaku's hand, he's already given Suzaku more than he could've hoped to have. Moreover, the only thing Suzaku needs is Lelouch.

Suzaku tries not to but he's recounting all the maddening, heart-abusing time he spent locked up like a princess in a castle wondering if he'd ever see his prince charming again (which is exactly what Suzaku said he wasn't.) It doesn't quite compare to the months apart when Lelouch was gone. They had contact then. It wasn't really a fear of never seeing Lelouch again so much as a craving that dragged its teeth down Suzaku's heart… and crotch.

But this.

The past weeks that coiled around his heart, each moment constricting around him in rigid circles one by one like a tightly packed spring—If Suzaku thinks about it too much he realizes this feeling isn't knew, only that he outgrew it. Perhaps that's why it strangled him so perilously he nearly snapped. It's hard to push all of that away, drop it in a box he can open and sort later, because up until only hours ago that was his reality. Inside that box. Trapped.

But now he's free. Now he can focus on Lelouch and everything that he hoped to find over the rainbow. Something that goes beyond their clumsy courtship days of school and hearts growing fonder over distance and time. Right now he can smell Lelouch. Feel the pulsing under his hands. Taste the salt on his tongue…

Kissing is important. At least, it's apparently become the most important thing at the moment as their lips are the only connection that carries them to the king-size bed where they roll in the sheets – devious silks that have always seduced Suzaku's skin as if it's sinful to remain still.

Unlike all his lavished kimonos that demand statuesque posture.

Not allowing a single flaw to show.

But now he gets to bathe in the freedom of Lelouch's bed.

Sliding in satin and love.

Their clothes a distant memory on the floor.

Skin flushing under Lelouch's lips and fingertips.

Gasping on sounds he didn't know he could make.

Head thrown back as a mouth sucks at his neck.

Body curving underneath the one moving between his wrapping legs.

Losing himself in the other boy—man that never gives himself to anyone else…

•-•

"I don't like the idea of him being out all night." Genbu grumbles the very second Tohdoh enters his softly-lit office. "You should've brought him back."

"Suzaku is an adult now. Let him celebrate his birthday however he wishes." Tohdoh stops across his sitting Emperor and friend with a bottle of sake and two small cups. "Can't blame him for wanting to spend it with his fiancé, can you?"

Genbu sneers a little but doesn't rebuff. He watches the other man pour their drinks on a clear space at the front of his desk, eyes inevitably falling on the neat stack of documents that nearly left him without a son.

"You didn't tell Suzaku you helped them, did you." Not a question.

Tohdoh doesn't immediately respond, lowering the bottle to rest as a small, sly smile pinches a corner of his lips. "…No more than you told Suzaku that you used Lelouch's military stint only to test him."

Genbu doesn't laugh but he looks like he might. "You know me too well."

Tohdoh, though, does laugh with a bouncy chuckle scraping in his chest. "Anyway, this really belongs to them, not me." He offers a cup to the other man. "It's a big moment in their lives even if they are young."

A deep and tired exhale pushes Genbu up to his feet to take the warm rice wine. "When did we become such old men?"

"When you weren't looking," Tohdoh teases and Genbu leers.

"…Suzaku…" Heavy brown eyes sink into his cup, "he's not a bad son. Just… so much like his mother."

"Yes…" Tohdoh quietly agrees, letting a silence pass thickly between them. Glancing briefly at the small, black picture frame lying face-down on Genbu's desk, Tohdoh raises his cup. "To our wives."

Genbu's gaze lifts instantly, a distant glimmer in his eyes that raises his hand to join the toast—

But stops. Holds his cup apart from Tohdoh's, hovering as his eyes seem to pull back to the present. "…And husbands."

Tohdoh doesn't conceal his surprise but does nod his head with subtle cheer and their cups clink together in front of the red Japanese sun.

•-•

…But maybe the only thing that tops making love with Lelouch in his bed of petals guarded by thorns is never having to leave. Suzaku can lie in the heaven of tangled limbs, face-to-face and chest-to-chest, and listen to beating hearts for as long as he likes.

…Relatively speaking.

"…Can I ask you something?" Suzaku murmurs into Lelouch's chest like a fluttering feather.

'Sure.'

Suzaku props himself up on his elbow to stare down at Lelouch and waits for those violet eyes to open before continuing. "How did you know this would all work out?"

The amethysts Suzaku's waited to see dull. 'You're seriously asking me this question?'

"Yeah, you're a brilliant mastermind and whatever, but how did you know?"

'Not to undermine my own talent,' Lelouch comments with his cool confidence that comfortably closes his eyes. "But it wasn't exactly rocket science."

…Did he just call Suzaku stupid?

"That doesn't answer my question."

"Suzaku," Lelouch says in a tone that really does call Suzaku stupid, "if you don't know me well enough to answer that question for yourself then I'm very concerned about our future together."

What an annoying Lelouch move: turn the whole thing right around on someone who isn't him.

Even so… he has a point.

Suzaku knows Lelouch isn't graced with only tactical brilliance but also people smarts – his lacking an understanding in romance and sometimes even sentiment notwithstanding. In fact, his ability to read people is only a part of his tactical brilliance.

Even so…

"…But I actually threatened to renounce my right to the throne – and not only did I not tell you that, but it happened after you…"

Lelouch peeks at Suzaku when the brunet falls off into a pondering pause.

How could he have known that Suzaku would…?

No. Maybe it does make sense. Suzaku has revealed more of himself to Lelouch than anyone else.

But that just means he manipulated Suzaku too, doesn't it? He did order Suzaku to not do anything stupid, so…

…It's not possible that Lelouch planned this entire thing, is it?

All of it?

(Even from the moment he arrived…?

'…Suffice to say, I was prepared for something like this to happen.')

Or is it just that he predicted Suzaku would pressure his father with such an extreme measure – even if that's a bit too extreme for Suzaku? That Suzaku would couple Lelouch's effort in hitting another of the Emperor's soft-spots…?

"…Are you saying you knew that all of this would happen?" Suzaku finally asks, utterly astounded.

Lelouch coyly shrugs. 'Does it really matter? We've acquired what we wanted.'

Suzaku stares long and hard at Lelouch – not that the Britannian can see it.

…And decides that, in this case, he'd rather not think about it.

Ignorance is bliss… right?

'You are scary.' Suzaku settles with slowly enunciating, snuggling back up to his husband-to-be and under the silk sheets despite his honest words. Lelouch chuckles and Suzaku can feel it against his palm when he rests it against the Britannian prince's chest. He feels himself melt into a warm smile when Lelouch's arm slinks more tightly around him—

"Just think: right now your father is in his office pretending we're not having sex."

—and then he cringes so hard he nearly gags on his own stomach.

"…Why would you say that?" Suzaku whines with horror, mourning the pleasant moment Lelouch effectively slaughtered as he looks his lover right in his open left eye.

Lelouch, however, is smirking. "Because I wanted to see the look on your face."

"…I can't believe I still love you," Suzaku says.

'I know.' Lelouch smiles.


Stay tuned for the wedding (and wedding night ;]) which is in Lelouch's pov!



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