Stage 25 - A Royal Wedding
July 7, 2017 a.t.b.
Of all the bad ideas his sister had talked him into over the course of her life, this one had to be the worst of the lot. Worse was that she’d talked him into bringing Naomi as his plus one. And then there was their grandmother, of course. She wandered about without anyone he could see watching over her but himself and rubbed shoulders with people she had absolutely no business even meeting. Was that the Knight of One and the Knight of Four she’d just engaged in conversation?
Naoto scanned the crowd and consoled himself with the sea of faces. No doubt intentionally, it was a rather eclectic bunch that comprised Kallen and Lelouch’s personal guest list. They spanned all ages and every background from powerful empresses to servants and even lowly numbers. He even spotted some tall blonde aristocrat with a Japanese woman hanging off his arm. The only people missing were their cousin and that Breisgau girl from the war in Russia. And if rumour were to be believed, she, too, had been invited.
Well, Marrybell and her circle of friends were absent as well, but that was another matter entirely. Putting her and the emperor in the same room – or garden, as it were; Exelica Garden, specifically, where imperial weddings were traditionally held – would ruin the occasion. They’d still be watching, of course, just from Japan.
“Oh, it’s you.” Naoto turned to a pair of young girls Nunnally’s age. He had a vague recollection of having met the amber-haired one who’d spoken, though he could not recall when or where. “Aren’t you Marrybell’s friend?”
“Sort of…” It was as honest an answer as Naoto could give. He had no idea exactly where he and the princess stood with each other. Regardless, he knew the true intent of the question. “We met through Kallen and Lelouch.”
The suspicion remained, but the two girls toned it down significantly. “How did you meet the royal couple?” Perhaps not the acute awareness of the delta in their social standing, however.
Nonetheless, Naoto answered the blonde. “I tutored Kallen while she was living in Japan before the war. She introduced me to Lelouch years later.” Horribly misleading, yes, but still true.
Naomi, uneasy in her current surroundings, scrambled for the response they’d rehearsed in advance. “A job interview. Countess Stadtfeld considered putting Naoto in charge of her colonial estates, but he declined in favour of charitable work. We met briefly then.”
Naoto winced internally at the badly accented answer and carefully kept from reacting when the younger girl eyed him like a puzzle, her curiosity now aroused. The stark contrast between his accent and his girlfriend’s only highlighted his own’s origin. He could see the question running through the girl’s mind. Why did he sound like nobility? It was, unfortunately, something to which Britannians paid an inordinate amount of attention, often even without conscious recognition, a quick social sieve to sort people according to their class.
If only I had any skill at faking an accent…
Naoto sighed to himself. This was going to be a long day. Still, a small smile crept back onto his face. His sister was happy. That was what mattered for now.
History repeats itself. Ruben held up a goblet of wine in a solitary toast to the happy couple who’d become his family’s patrons. He silently nursed it as he gazed out the window, watching pensively as the final preparations for the ceremony were put into place. You would be so proud of them. Lelouch takes after his father in all the best ways, and you made a huge impression upon Kallen.
It was in these quiet moments that Ruben missed Marianne the most. She’d been such a boisterous child once she’d gained a little stability in her life. Incredibly paranoid, yes, but far and away worth all the trouble. He loved his children dearly, but none of them had ever possessed the same electric magnetism.
Behind him, Ruben heard the door open. He glanced away from the window to see a pair of women at the entrance to the room. He recognised the one in the lead as Elizabeth Ward, or rather Anne the OSI agent. In contrast to her time at Ashford, she wore her hair up and had donned a long but light, earthy bronze dress that matched her eyes. Clearly, she was here for the wedding.
Behind Anne stood a woman who Ruben had long thought dead. Lelouch had informed him to the contrary, but seeing was believing. She, too, had dressed for the occasion. The maid cap still sat atop her head, however.
“Sayoko.” There was no question that it was her even before, but she did react to the name. “It’s wonderful to see you hale and hearty.”
The woman in question bowed low in apology. “Likewise, Lord Ashford. Please forgive my extended leave of absence.”
“Nonsense.” Ruben waved the very thought away. “I’m sure whatever Marianne had you doing was important. It’s enough that you’re alive. Join me for a drink?” After a moment to remember his manners, he added to Anne, “You may join us as well, if you’d like.”
Sayoko looked to Anne, who checked the time. “We don’t need to be in place for another hour. A drink would do us both some good, I think.”
As the two women pulled up seats and moved to join him, Ruben poured another pair of glasses. He considered his own for a moment before then deciding to refill it.
“To the prince and the princess.”
Anne smirked and raised her glass to Ruben’s. “To the countess and her earl. Let’s not pretend the prince is anymore immune to his consort’s charms than his father still is to his mother’s.”
Ruben laughed as Sayoko joined the toast. “To the vi Britannias,” she said simply. “By whatever names they adopt.”
They all drank.
For who knew how long, the three got lost in conversation. There was little Sayoko could tell Ruben about where she’d been and what she’d been doing, but it apparently involved protecting Marianne’s family. That was enough for him. He, in turn, updated her on the details of what had happened over the past eight years, something which also clearly captured Anne’s interest.
After some time, Anne began to fidget. When called out on it, she said, “Ruben, could I ask you for some…fatherly advice?”
“I don’t see why not.” He wasn’t so crass as to question why she was asking him instead of her own father.
“My situation is…complicated. Very simplified, I had to go deep undercover for a long time. Because of that, everyone believes I’m dead, including my family. There were…severe consequences to faking my death.”
Ruben frowned. Anne could barely be a year or two older than Lelouch at most. The emperor asked far too much of children. He’d said as much to Marianne when she’d first entered into his service. Not that the warning ever seemed to deter anyone.
“Recently, some intelligence leaked that made every legitimate reason for me to keep my distance pointless. But now that I can, I don’t know how to, well, rip the bandage off. Or if I even should.”
“Do you want to stay away from them?” Given her age and when she must have joined the OSI, Ruben considered it a prudent question. He’d seen more than one child with a less than happy family life run away from home and fall under Marianne’s command.
But Anne denied that profusely. “You have no idea how much I’ve missed them. How much I’ve missed.”
“Then you should tell them.”
“As I told her,” Sayoko commented, earning a glare from the woman beside her. “Perhaps she’ll listen to you.”
Anne demurred. “It’s not that simple, you two. Even if I told them, I can’t – the world can’t know I survived. I couldn’t be me with them around anyone not in the know.”
“I won’t lie and pretend that wouldn’t be frustrating,” Ruben began, “but I find it hard to believe an OSI agent would balk at a little undercover work amongst friends.” He pinned Anne with a knowing, sceptical look but said nothing more against the excuse. Not yet.
She turned away.
“Are you worried about how they will react?”
After failing to outlast both Ruben and Sayoko in a game of silence, Anne replied, “How would you feel if Marianne were to waltz right in through the door?”
“Ecstatic. Perhaps also upset over the deception, but the feeling would pass.” There were few limits to what Ruben would do to have his unofficial only daughter returned to him. Alas, unlike Sayoko, her death was beyond doubt. They had the body.
Anne, however, remained doubtful of his sincerity. “You lost your title because of her. Your livelihood. Ashfordshire.”
“My family endured. Even had we not…” Ruben shrugged. Marianne had never done wrong by them. If she’d needed to so thoroughly fake her death, he trusted that it was not without reason. “I loved that girl with all my heart. I’m sure your family loves you as well.”
“I know they love me right now, but–”
A new voice interrupted Anne. It’s owner was a young woman, barely an adult, with bright green hair and an impatient expression. “Where’s the giant pizza?”
Anne let out an exasperated sigh. She excused herself, rose, and went to speak with the newcomer. “Wait for the wedding feast,” she said as she pulled the other woman toward the door. “It’ll be held tonight in New York City. We’re both invited.”
“Hmm… They’ll know I’m there.”
“Not necessarily, but…” Anne apparently realised something as she said, “Oh. I see.” Now outside the door in the palace corridor, Ruben could barely overhear the conversation. “C.C., I… I don’t think I can fulfil our contract anymore. I don’t know what would happen if I tried. But they know now, and it’s not likely Charles is going to take the little troll’s code himself. If they’re together…”
Ruben knew he’d missed most of the context necessary to understand that conversation but paid it no mind. The two women seemed to have reached an agreement of some sort and parted ways. Anne stood at the door and watched C.C., he presumed, vanish down the corridor. Soon enough, however, she returned to her seat.
“Sorry about that, you two.”
“No apologies necessary,” Ruben said with a dismissive wave of his hand. “Now I believe we’ve reached the point in our conversation where I can only offer you some simple advice: take the risk. You’re obviously unhappy with the status quo, and the only way to change it is to move forward and ‘rip off the bandage’ as you put it.”
“I see…” Anne looked down into her lap, visibly conflicted. Her thoughts showed so clearly in the expressions she made as she tried to talk herself out of what she so obviously wanted. But, as Ruben happily deduced, she made the correct decision in the end. Her eyes rose up and met his own. She offered him a wan smile. “Once the happy couple are off on their honeymoon, would you listen to this poor ghost’s story in more depth?”
“If you’d like,” Ruben replied. “You are one of my students, after all.”
A roll of the eyes met the claim. Technically speaking, Anne had left the academy, but the point remained nonetheless.
Tokyo Settlement, Area 11
July 7, 2017 a.t.b.
Like the vast majority of the empire and perhaps even beyond its borders, Marrybell had the live footage of Lelouch and Kallen’s wedding up and running. At her left and right were Suzaku and Oldrin. Indeed, most of her household had gathered in the parlour with her to watch the ceremony; the royal and noble house guests she brought around, including the happy couple, were well liked.
From the cellar, bottles upon bottles of mead and sake had been unearthed for the occasion and spread amongst the staff. Inhibitions were lowered. Song filled the air. Oldrin, no longer entirely sober, had climbed into Marrybell’s lap and leaned into the crook of her neck. As no one here would talk, she’d happily reciprocated and rested her own head atop Oldrin’s.
Marrybell breathed deep, contented.
“You sure you won’t regret not going?” Suzaku asked.
Below, Oldrin giggled, and how pleasantly odd that felt. “Marrybell within stabbing distance of the emperor? That would end well.”
“Doesn’t he rarely show at these sorts of things?”
Too comfortable and relaxed, Marrybell barely mustered the energy to reply, “He pays attention to Lelouch.” She didn’t know if the emperor wanted a counterbalance to Schneizel or if, despite their differing politics, Lelouch was just his favourite son as Marianne had been his favourite wife. Perhaps it was something else. Right now, she couldn’t be bothered to care.
“Ooh! There’s Euphemia. Those are the Ashford kids she’s with, right?”
Marrybell glanced up at the television and hummed, “Mm-hmm.” The view slowly panned across the crowd, inadvertently revealing a smaller princess hidden behind Shirley. “Nunnally, too.” Interesting that Laila, at least, and Gabrielle aren’t with them. Perhaps those two are with Euphemia’s mother. Well, if Victoria got an invite. Lelouch and Kallen did have a very unconventional – scandalous, even – guest list for a royal wedding. It somewhat surprised her that those two were getting away with it.
The news coverage swapped to details of the wedding feast, partially open to the public, held in the bride’s ‘home city’. Oldrin let out a cry of surprise with perhaps a tinge of disappointment. She asked, “They’re making the world’s largest pizza in Central Park! How is this the first I’ve heard of it?”
A chuckle escaped Marrybell. She’d heard from Euphemia that Milly had wanted to make a giant pizza for the longest time. It seemed she’d gotten her wish on an even larger scale than she’d imagined. “Sorry we can’t go,” Marrybell mumbled to Oldrin. Regardless of the emperor’s possible presence, setting foot in the homeland was a very bad idea without an army at her back. Too many people with too much power there disliked her too intensely. “We’ll try to catch the next one at Ashford.”
“Wait.” Suzaku wore an incredulous expression. “Milly was serious about making one there?”
Marrybell shrugged. Knowing that girl, her intention could not be mistaken. Logistics, however, not will, posed the greater challenge to overcome. Thus it was more a question of would she succeed rather than would she try.
“Is Ashford’s population even big enough to eat it all?”
“Maybe if it only had a ten foot radius,” Oldrin offered.
That was still an enormous pizza easily able to feed every last person on campus.
In the crowd, Marrybell overheard Akane say, “It’s starting.”
And indeed, when Marrybell turned her attention back to the television, the crowd in Exelica Garden had finally moved to their places. Lelouch waited at the centre of the great rings of friends and family. Other guests stood farther off to watch with more casual palace residents clambering for a view in the distance.
Many of the faces Marrybell recognised, although not all. The emperor had chosen to attend, as she’d expected. Schneizel was there as well with Earl Maldini, his aide. The hotchpotch of people Lelouch and Kallen called their family stood together in one more or less contiguous group. She snickered when she saw Naoto standing behind Milly and who she presumed was his grandmother while trying not to attract attention. She wondered how he intended to explain his presence there to his little organisation.
Most of the Knights of the Round were present, including the new Knight of Twelve, Monica Krushevsky. The Knight of Nine had broken off from them to stand with Jeremiah, Sir Guilford, General Darlton, and the man’s adoptive sons.
Oh, now that’s interesting. Of little surprise, Anne had a place in the circle. Oddly, she’d secured a position next to the emperor. Unusual, but she did work for the man in some manner, so they probably knew each other. On her other side, however, stood the ever elusive C.C. and Sayoko. The other Shinozaki in the crowd had obviously noticed, as had Lelouch. No one moved from their places with the ceremony about to begin, but significant glances had been exchanged between all parties.
“Who is that officiating?” Suzaku asked. It came as no surprise that he didn’t recognise the face. He might perhaps not even know the name. But he would certainly know the man by title.
July 7, 2017 a.t.b.
The lush grass of Exelica Garden felt wonderful beneath bare feet. Lelouch rolled his toes about and enjoyed the soft, tickling sensation. A peculiar sense of pride bubbled underneath all the other emotions fighting for dominance. He was eager, yes. Excited. Happy. Even a little nervous, to his great surprise. It was only Kallen he was about to wed, after all.
But then it was Kallen he was about to wed, possibly the most desirable woman in the empire. She could have anyone she wanted, and if the last couple months were anything to judge by, she wanted him and demonstrated no hesitation in proving it. Honestly, she was becoming a bit of an addiction, he feared. He couldn’t find a more fitting description for his bride than the one he’d given Marrybell: passion and fire given human form. How could he resist when she came calling? Alas, his cruel fate.
As he waited for Cornelia to arrive with his bride in tow, Lelouch turned to the berobed man who would officiate the ceremony. As both a lord in his own right and the emperor’s knight, he had more than enough authority to do so. When Lelouch had suggested him, Kallen had immediately agreed. It was only fitting that the man who’d paid attention to two little children and given them their start should be the one to grant them another beginning.
“Thank you again for agreeing to this.”
Lord Manfredi, the Knight of Two, chuckled. “Again, I say it’s an honour. But it’s not like you, Your Highness, to repeat yourself so. Nervous?”
“Nonsense,” Lelouch casually replied. “I’m about to marry my knight, my lover, and my best friend. What is there to worry about?”
“Nothing whatsoever, but in my experience, that makes little difference. For what it’s worth, the anxiety will vanish the moment you lay eyes on her.”
Lelouch offered Lord Manfredi a thankful smile. “As you say.” It was at that moment he spotted two unexpected invited guests standing with Anne next to the emperor. When he met their eyes, Sayoko smiled warmly and bowed to him. C.C. just quirked an eyebrow at his staring. A quick glance at Shinobu proved that she’d long since noticed her cousin’s return.
With a deep breath, Lelouch pushed down the initial impulse to ruin his own wedding – in all likelihood the only one he’d ever have – and stayed put. There would be time to speak with those two later. Indeed, if they were here because his bribing C.C. had borne fruit, they would seek him out on their own. If not and if all else failed, he could contact them through Anne.
But such concerns soon vanished from his mind entirely. To much fanfare, the bride had finally arrived. The circle parted before her to permit her entrance. Voices raised in song to welcome her as she strode forward, a gorgeous streak of emerald dress and azure cloak against the muted colours surrounding her. Her hair she’d braided up into an intricate style of infinite complexity he’d spend hours untangling tonight. The one concession she’d made to her general disdain for jewellery was the glittering tiara nestled atop her head.
In the back of his mind, far from conscious thought, Lelouch acknowledged that Cornelia had delivered Kallen to him and went off to stand between Nonette and Gilbert, her own knight.
Kallen smirked, eyes alight with mirth and merriment, and poked his toes with her own, thus bringing Lelouch back to reality. “You look gorgeous,” he said plainly. No need to gild the lily.
“You look very handsome yourself.” Kallen held out her hand, which Lelouch took with his own. Once he had, they turned together to Lord Manfredi. “Shall we?”
As Lord Manfredi raised his hand, the whispers of the crowd fell silent.
“Prince Lelouch, Countess Stadtfeld, your family, your friends, your empire has congregated today to witness your exchange of vows and to share in the joy of your union. Let this ceremony be a declaration of what you mean to each other and to the commitment you will make.”
With the preamble finished, Kallen’s grip on Lelouch’s hand tightened ever so slightly as she shifted imperceptibly closer but for the slight pull between them. He returned the gesture.
“Love is a precious gift rarely given and more valuable than any other. It is love that carries us onward through every hardship. It is love that drives us to the highest peaks in its fulfilment and the lowest valleys in its privation. It is love that binds us and strengthens us. Love is not something to deny. Love is not something to be suppressed. Love is to be nurtured and celebrated in its expression.
“Love is life’s most frustrating, complex, yet rewarding mystery. It surprises in its rarity, delights in its depth, and perplexes in its inconsistency. Although it would be a pleasant fantasy, we do not love someone in the same way at every moment. Our affections ebb and flow with circumstance, never twice the same. Yet love, true love, endures. An unbroken bond, however tested, throughout all of life’s hardships.”
Lord Manfredi paused a moment to deliver a warm smile. With it, without words, he gave his approval. He knew the couple before him had already undergone enough tests in their years together.
“Your Highness, My Lady, although life has, by chance, created the bond between you, it is you who shall forge and temper it. It is you who shall decide its form and function. Matrimony is but one of many ways it might evolve. Should you seek to enter into this blessed union, this dream within a dream, you should strive to make real its intent. To honour and care for each other as you would yourself. To be stronger together than apart.
“Know that within this circle, you speak before all of your friends and family standing as witness to your declaration. The vows you make today will redefine and enrich not only yourselves but also all those who you call your own. Knowing this, do you seek to continue this ceremony?”
Together, Kallen and Lelouch both agreed. Not needing any prompting, they turned to each other and clasped hands. Right in right. Left in left. Their eyes met, clear blue and royal violet, and remained locked together. The elation he saw shining in Kallen’s he knew mirrored his own.
From his robe, Lord Manfredi withdrew a cord of black and red. He wrapped it loosely around their hands once, twice, and then finally tied the knot beneath.
“These are the hands which will hold you.”
The memory of an exhausted Kallen collapsing into Lelouch’s arms after fleeing her home came to mind. Those small moments when he just needed to forget. The night when she’d admitted to her geass’s permanent activation.
“These are the hands which will love you.”
There were certainly many recent examples of that, but Lelouch had a feeling Lord Manfredi meant something a little less carnal. Of course, the light tint to Kallen’s cheeks told him that her thoughts had followed a similar progression.
“These are the hands which will comfort you.”
Kallen, Lelouch knew, did have a way of soothing his more turbulent moods, at times even with something as simple as a gentle touch. Life was not all bad so long as she was there.
“In these hands lies the making or the breaking of this union. May they be blessed from this day forth.”
With an unobtrusive shift of their hands in preparation for what was to come, Kallen slipped her pinkie between Lelouch’s fingers to wrap around his own. She grinned at him as she evoked the memory of a much older promise they’d made to each other.
“Countess Stadtfeld, your vow.” Untraditional as it was for them to give their own vows, Kallen had insisted, and Lelouch had felt it appropriate. Besides, much of the standard fare was redundant or unnecessary between them.
Kallen wet her lips and then silently tested her voice. Once so prepared, she began. “Lelouch, I have sworn you more oaths than I care to count, but we both know which one truly mattered. I will be your accomplice wherever life takes you. No matter how bad, no matter how far apart, I will support you as best as I can. I suspected, as such, we would someday be lovers, or perhaps merely wanted it, but you asked me to be your bride. I will. I will be your wife, and I take you as my husband.”
“Prince Lelouch, your vow.”
The words came easy. “Kallen, I have sworn you only one oath, but I could not imagine another of greater meaning. I will stand with you wherever life takes you. Your wishes are my wishes. As your accomplice, I will see them fulfilled, whatever they may be. For years, I hoped those wishes would include me. I made every effort to ensure you would answer me honestly and without obligation. To my delight, you agreed to be my bride. I will be your husband, and I take you as my wife.”
With the vows finished, Lord Manfredi spoke once more. “And thus the bond is made.” With a gentle tug, he unknotted the cord tying Lelouch’s and Kallen’s hands together. For now, he returned it to the confines of his robe. “By the power vested in me by the state and having witnessed your vows, I now pronounce you husband and wife. You may seal your marriage with a kiss.”
They wasted no time. Kallen threw her arms around his neck, and Lelouch gathered her into his own. She rose with practised ease as he leaned down to meet her lips. To the sounds of applause and cheers, it was done.
New York City, Britannia
July 7, 2017 a.t.b.
As a young girl, Kallen had never really developed a coherent idea of what she wanted her wedding to be like. The strange mismatch of Japanese, European, and Britannian influences on the institution in Japan had predisposed her to few things. Besides, she’d held little interest in the idea anyway.
Over her years as a countess, those rare and idle thoughts had solidified. There would be a ceremony in a circle, not a great aisle. There would be none of that nonsense about white dresses that had infected Europe over the last century and a half. She’d not likely have a ring, although she did plan to keep the black cords from her hand fasting which she’d wound into a bracelet. Her husband – an infinitely better and more preferable man than she’d expected – wore the red ones.
And then there would be the wedding feast. Over a hundred years ago, those were lavish public affairs whenever a lord or lady married. There would be food, song, and dancing. And alcohol, naturally. All involved would mingle not as equals but more freely than at any other time.
Of course, then the world’s population exploded. Feeding tens of thousands – sometimes hundreds of thousands or even millions – was no simple task. With the rapid progress of technology, security became all the more important. Wedding feasts became private events, and that traditional connection between subject and ruler broke.
But Kallen was an absurdly wealthy seeress and had perhaps the world’s most eccentric wedding planner on retainer. She’d never once imagined participating in the baking of the world’s largest pizza meant for millions in her wedding dress. It was a show, really, a grand performance at Lelouch’s suggestion and Milly’s eager orchestration. Aside from all of his calculations – although it, too, likely factored into them – this was Kallen’s chance to show the city that she wouldn’t be abandoning them despite having married into the imperial family.
Beneath it all, however, Kallen would be a liar if she said she wasn’t having fun or enjoying the attention. Milly’s excited commentary over the loudspeakers only encouraged her.
After an hour of streamlined work with the dough having been prepared and rolled out in advance over nearly a day, the last of the sauce and cheese had been distributed. Kallen stowed the Ashford’s Ganymede in its trailer and observed the final components of the oven fall into place. If they hoped to have this monster baked and ready to eat by tonight, they needed to get started. There was, sadly, a limit to how much they could speed the process along by throwing money at it.
As Kallen made her way back to her husband – and how that thought sent a thrill through her – she ran into, of all people, the elusive C.C.. The woman had a plate clutched between both hands and an almost predatory look in her eyes.
Kallen couldn’t help but laugh as she approached. “I trust I’ve repaid my debt for the story.”
“You have. Well done.” A simple response for one so obviously invested in the payment. After a moment to ponder something, C.C. reached out and grasped Kallen’s arm. From beneath the fringe of her hair, a bright light shone.
Old memories forced their way to the front of Kallen’s mind in a jumbled tangle. If felt like someone took a rake to them as they sorted themselves out and grew increasingly narrow in focus. Eventually, only the very first assassination attempt she’d survived and its aftermath remained.
Except it was different now. She and Lelouch had both been there, and she’d certainly delivered the killing blow to their assailant, but for the life of her she couldn’t understand her own actions, let alone Lelouch’s. They’d just stood there as the man had–
Left with two versions of the same day in her mind, Kallen staggered back and put a hand to her head. That hadn’t been a pleasant experience. As she recovered, she contemplated the memories. They both felt real, yet without even thinking about it, her mind instinctively marked which one was not.
“For the pizza,” C.C. said. “You went above and beyond.”
“Thanks.” I guess. Kallen blinked a few times to try to get herself back to normal. A shake of the head helped as well. “What exactly did you do?”
“I forced you to relive your sealed memories.”
Right… “Who–” Even as she asked the question, Kallen answered it herself. She recalled the emperor had appeared at Aries Villa. He’d spoken with her and Lelouch together, and that had been that. “The emperor can block – no, alter memories?” Marrybell is going to freak.
“Not exactly, but close enough.”
Fantastic. At least it seems like he needs eye contact. Kallen did remember the emperor had specifically asked her and Lelouch to look at him. “Is he one of your contractors?”
Good. Unless he asked her to lie… Kallen did recall what Anne had said about C.C. keeping her contractor’s secrets. But then she just revealed the emperor’s geass, so perhaps not. I don’t see why he’d want that information to slip out through a third party and not just tell us himself.
But speaking of, Kallen had a request to make. “Would you do the same for Lelouch?” Best he not hear this information secondhand from her.
C.C. considered the matter for a moment. “Very well.”
“Thank you.” There were many other issues to be raised with C.C., but they would keep for a better time. For now, only one had much importance. “Thank you for looking after us – Lelouch and me, that is – for all these years as well. You’re always welcome in our home.” It was the polite way to inform her she didn’t have to skulk about in the shadows. Kallen understood why she had, of course, but the time for secrecy had ended.
With nothing more than a nod, C.C. went on her way.
Weddings, Lelouch decided, were entirely too much work for one person. That was probably why no one had ever tried to marry oneself. Well, not that he knew of. He had confidence in humanity’s ability to produce at least one such person. Regardless, he wondered what was keeping Kallen.
“I must admit,” said Lord Gordiengo, “I’m surprised I merited an invitation.”
“Nonsense,” Lelouch said with a small wave of his hand. “I much enjoyed our games and conversations. In truth, my final stratagem against Leila Breisgau in Russia stemmed from one of them.”
“Ha! I’ll be sure to tell the children you said so.”
“I doubt they’ll believe you,” Lady Gordiengo said. “Please don’t flatter, Your Highness. My husband will develop a swollen head.”
“If I recall correctly, it was your husband looking for a job as a flatterer, not me.”
Lord Gordiengo laughed at the joke, much to his wife’s confusion. “If only all royalty were like you. Ah, but we should be moving along. Do pay my respects to your princess for me.”
“I will.” To Lady Gordiengo, Lelouch added, “It was a pleasure to meet you. Enjoy the feast.”
As one pair of guests moved on, another arrived. It took Lelouch a moment to recognise them. They were Kallen’s guests, after all. He’d only met the younger one once in passing and never the elder.
“Good evening, Lord Gino.” Lelouch turned from the tall blonde to the foreign beauty. “And unless I’m much mistaken, this must be the ‘dragon child’.”
The woman in question flushed but managed a perfect curtsy. “Ryūko Toyotomi, Your Highness. I’m as honoured as I am surprised.”
Lelouch idly noted that whoever had taught Toyotomi English and Britannian customs had done a remarkably good job. “In my wife’s absence, I feel safe to tell you she’s incredibly jealous of your name.”
It was only a fraction of a second, but Lelouch noticed the amused smirk on Lord Gino’s face and braced himself. Sure enough, the very next moment, someone punched his arm. Even if he didn’t already know who, that level of control to draw a reaction just shy of actually hurting only came from one person.
“I’ll have you know,” Kallen began, “I’m very much attached to my own name, Lord Stadtfeld.”
Lelouch snorted even as he held out his abused arm for Kallen to take. “I should know better than to invoke the laws of dramatic irony.”
“Quite.” Kallen leaned in and whispered, “Sorry I’m late. I invited C.C. into our home and saw to a few other things.”
“Ah, whispering sweet nothings to each other already, eh?” Lord Gino teased.
Kallen, of course, replied, “Oh, we’ve been doing that for some time now. Anyway, it’s good to see you both here together.” To Lord Gino, she added, “I hate to spoil the mood, but if this” – she waved back and forth between the pair – “causes you any trouble with your parents, you’re welcome to join Ryūko at Stadtfeld Manor. Or Aries Villa, if you’d both prefer.”
“Thanks. I’ll try to figure stuff out on my own, but I’ll let you know.”
Ryūko added a small bob and said, “Thank you, My La – er, Your Highness.”
“It’s no trouble. Enjoy the feast.”
Once the other pair had left, Lelouch enquired, “‘Other things’?”
“Later,” Kallen said. From the wink of her left eye, Lelouch knew it had something to do with magic. “So how many people do we have left to greet?”
“Somewhere between too many and infinity.”
Kallen chuckled as their next guests arrived in a group. While Euphemia and Laila stood back, Nunnally swept forward and caught her in a hug. The girl looked up with a grin. “Hello, my sister who married my brother.”
A distinct frown grew on Kallen’s face. “None of what you said is inaccurate, but I disapprove all the same.”
For his own part, Lelouch just rolled his eyes and patted Nunnally on the head. “Have fun tonight. All three of you.”
“We will,” Nunnally assured Lelouch with a dangerous lilt to her voice.
As Laila and Nunnally moved onward, Euphemia wearily said, “I’ll keep them out of trouble,” before joining them.
A moment passed.
“You don’t suppose Nunnally is actually a bad influence, do you?”
Lelouch, knowing the root cause of the mischief, simply said, “I blame Milly.”
As the only real parental figure of both the bride and the groom left standing – Father wasn’t even here, anyway, even if he counted – Cornelia felt the pressure to not screw this up. Gilbert had returned her notes to her, and Nonette was deflecting most conversation sent her way at the table so she could rehearse. She was not the orator in the family and needed the time to prepare; pre-battle speeches were the limit of her expertise.
Dammit, I’m twenty-seven! I shouldn’t have to do this at least until my forties.
Cornelia heard her name and noticed that Lelouch had started his own speech.
“–first made me consider the idea. She spoke very directly on the subject. Kallen as a love interest? Madness, I thought.”
Cornelia tuned Lelouch out. Time grew short. Kallen would speak next, then it would be her turn. Soon enough, she heard her name again.
“–Euphie, and Nunnally introduced me to Lelouch. They’d weaved a crown of flowers into his hair when we first met.”
A smile slipped out. Cornelia remembered that day well. Lelouch and Kallen’s natural competitiveness had truly brought out the best in each other, and they’d quickly fallen into a vitriolic friendship. Or at least they had until the assassination attempt. Their behaviour hadn’t changed much to the casual observer, but she’d noticed those two close ranks with each other after the incident. Not surprising, really, especially for–
Realising she’d gotten distracted, Cornelia muttered a swear and returned to her last minute studying. Far sooner than she liked, however, Nonette poked her and delivered the bad news. It was time. As Kallen sat down, she placed her notes upon the table and stood.
“Obviously, I am the mother of neither the bride nor the groom. It should go without saying that our family has experienced hard times. I’d barely entered my twenties when I found myself saddled with three children, two of them half my age, the regency of this metropolis, and responsibilities abroad in the army. We were falling apart, and I had no idea what I was doing or how to fix things.
“As you might imagine, it was to my very great relief when I discovered Lelouch and Kallen were not only capable of taking care of each other – at least when they weren’t trying to outdo one another – but Nunnally as well. I worried as they grew older, of course. Kallen was a charming girl growing into a very beautiful young woman, and Lelouch… Well, we’re royalty. Perhaps it’s best I not comment on my brother’s attractiveness.”
If nothing else, Cornelia had managed at least some laughter from this torture. She’d need to thank Nonette for the assistance.
“Every time I returned to Aries Villa, I half-expected these two to be at each other’s throat or sharing a bed. I don’t believe it was ever a matter of if but rather when this day would come. Marianne, I know, would have encouraged this union with all her heart. I suspect Reese might have hesitated to agree to his precious only daughter marrying before she turned thirty, but if he would have approved of anyone, it would be the boy who treated her like a queen.”
Cornelia paused there for a moment to banish the familiar ache. The loss of Marianne had never fully healed, and although she’d not known him long, Reese had quickly grown into some strange mixture of friend, older brother, and father figure. On a whim, she proposed, “A toast to absent friends.”
Once everyone had drank, Cornelia continued her speech. “I have known Lelouch his whole life. He’s always been a sharp boy. I remember witnessing a five-year-old consistently beating his much older brother in chess to say the least. I think his defining trait, however, might be his patience with the women in his life.”
For anyone who cared to look, it was terribly obvious Lelouch, perhaps rightfully so, took offence.
“I will spare him his dignity and not tell stories. Instead, I will merely remark that he grew up in what was, more or less, an otherwise all female household made even more so with the addition of his now wife.”
There were a few laughs and far more smiles, the bride notably amongst both groups.
“Kallen entered our lives much later. She brought with her, in a word, energy. Indeed, she almost immediately accomplished the impossible: she managed to get Lelouch to exercise. Eventually somewhat of his own volition, even. I imagine that her being bright enough to challenge him in intellectual pursuits played a part in him wishing to mitigate his humiliation elsewhere.”
Cornelia noticed Lelouch bury his face in his hands. Kallen rubbed his back and whispered no doubt reassuring words into his ear as the crowd laughed at the reaction.
“In some ways, this marriage is an unnecessary affair. Kallen has been an integral part of the family for years, but today it’s my pleasure to officially welcome her to it. I wish you both a long, happy future together.”
Cornelia sat heavily to applause with some confidence that she hadn’t made a complete fool of herself in front of an audience too polite to simply say so.
I’m so glad that’s done. I’m never having kids.
Of course, Cornelia realised but seconds later that she would have to go through all this again when Nunnally married.
New York, Britannia
July 7, 2017 a.t.b.
Leaving cleanup and farewells to Milly and Cornelia, Kallen and Lelouch had left the feast early to retire to Stadtfeld Manor. They’d known in advance they’d be too tired to properly begin their honeymoon and so had decided on a short flight home for the night.
The moment they stepped through the front doors and made it through the congratulations of the staff, Kallen asked the most important question. “Your room or mine?”
“Your bed is bigger.”
“Good enough for me.” Kallen eagerly led the way upstairs and down the corridor to her room.
For the night, all was well.