Therefore, to commemorate Lord Kururugi's birthday, I now present you with a fic!
Title: Between The Lines (Infinity Part 9)
Fandom: Code GEASS
Characters/Pairing: Schneizel el Britannia x Kururugi Suzaku
Warning: Not much plot. Only fluffy angst or angsty fluff or any other combination of those two.
Word Count: 2724
Challenge: 30_nights #03. Find me in the dark
Summary: When his knight disappeared from the party, Schneizel found that not everything was quite what it seemed.
Previous installation: Of Falling and Rising
See the complete list of stories
When Klaus quietly approached him and murmured in a low voice that Lord Kururugi was in the palace gallery, Schneizel knew at once what he was doing.
It was rather unexpected, frankly speaking. Suzaku had displayed the most impeccable sense of responsibility in carrying out his knightly duties, and except for that one time when he had fallen asleep during the opera, no one could find fault in his record. It was only natural, to expect that for a party which was basically a celebration for his victory, his knight would show exactly the commitment of the same wholehearted manner.
The prince considered his options. Most of his siblings were present, even Odysseus whose geniality had appeared a bit forced after the unforeseen defeat of his knight. The absence of one prince should not be immediately noticed in that case.
He left the ballroom as unobtrusively as possible and made his way to the palace gallery, his pace fast but unhurried. Suzaku had come to the celebration and dutifully accepted his share of congratulations, smiles and expressions of gratitude ready on his lips. He had been an ideal picture of an imperial knight, if still a tad too quiet, and Schneizel had found himself reflecting on his decision to choose a disgraced Eleven as his knight – and the ripe fruits he now harvested – with no small sense of contentment.
That not everything was quite right had only been noticed by him when they had come within close proximity to each other. It had been strange, to feel his knight shying away from him instead of his usual firm, steadfast presence at his side. But Schneizel knew that he had not only been imagining it, nor the slight waver in Suzaku’s smile when he politely greeted nobles after nobles, receiving their compliments in a subdued manner which belonged only to him. Or the fact that he rarely looked up, as if afraid to catch his master's gaze – as if he had something to hide. These changes had come as an unexpected surprise to the prince, even unpleasant, and for the briefest moment, it let him entertain a bizarre thought that they had suddenly, somehow, stepped back to the day after Euphie had died. And they were strangers once again, with oceans of differences and chasms of prejudices to separate them.
Half an hour later, he had discovered that his knight was no longer in the party. It had taken him another few minutes to make certain of the fact, and finally ordered his manservant to quietly look for him. Schneizel had learned not to ignore his instinct – for it was in fact talent honed by knowledge after knowledge, so fine that it could play in the subconscious level.
There was only one reason why Suzaku would visit the palace gallery. The unknown factor was why he had suddenly abandoned the party for a glimpse of Euphie’s portrait, which he could visit just about any time during their stay in Pendragon. The prince had a few theories of his own, but the idea that Suzaku would embrace one of them to excuse himself from the party was quite ridiculous.
Two guards were standing on duty in front of the entrance to the gallery. Both quickly straightened up their posture at his arrival and confirmed the presence of Lord Kururugi inside the Hall of Virgil. The pair of heavy oak doors were swung open, and behind them was a long corridor with paintings hung on each side, framed by gilded pillars and painted ceilings. They were portraits of his honoured ancestors, emperors and empresses of both greatness and mediocrity, arranged by the order of ascension. He remembered that Clovis was the only prince who had paid attention to them, and even his interest lay in shades and colours, hardly the illustrious subject of the paintings.
At the end of the corridor was another door, and it stood half-ajar. Schneizel could see him, standing in front of his beautiful princess – his eternally beautiful princess – like one lone mast of a ship on the verge of sinking. The idea made him pause for a moment, and he watched, piecing his thoughts together, assessing them, filing some and dismissing the rest, all done quietly before making his entrance.
Suzaku turned around sharply, his body visibly tensing at this sudden intrusion – and the prince realised that it was exactly what he was doing: intruding on an inner sanctum. Suzaku was his, but even now there were certain limits he would never allow himself to trespass. His knight’s face clearly said that he was now inches from one of those limits, and it slowed his steps down. He stopped just before the invisible line, close enough to see the gentleness of Euphie’s smile, but not to recognise the hard lines on her knight’s face.
“Your Highness,” Suzaku’s voice was a shade too reserved, a shade too formal, a lowly foot soldier instead of his personal knight. He remembered the breathless laugh and the shy smile, just this afternoon as they had shared a particularly intimate kiss, and discovered that he was now frowning at this obvious change.
“You left the party,” he said, not an accusation but it might as well be one because Suzaku tensed up even more, guilt written all over his face. And there was something in the way he had both of his arms crossed in front of his stomach, tightly, like he was trying to hold himself together in one piece. Schneizel felt his frown deepen and bridged the distance between them, any concern over limits postponed for the moment, and saw the fear flickering in those large green eyes.
The prince registered the faint note of panic in Suzaku’s voice and felt his concern triple almost immediately. What in the name of the empire could his knight possibly be afraid of from him – a reprimand for abandoning his duty?
But it was not until he had rested a firm hand on the younger man’s shoulder that the situation shoved itself to his face. Suzaku gasped at the first contact and violently recoiled from him, feet barely holding him up as they took a few unsteady steps back. Schneizel stared, unsure what to make of this reaction, and of that expression etched on Suzaku’s face. Horror – there was no other word for it.
“I’m so sorry, Your Highness, I really didn’t mean to…” the rushed words, desperate, awkward, muddled, trailed off into strained pulse of silence. But even then, he was still miserably opening and closing his mouth, as if expecting words to form out by themselves and finish the sentence for him.
A terrified, wounded animal, a voice supplied in Schneizel’s head. Suzaku held his shaking body even tighter, perhaps in hope that it would abate the tremor, eyes wild and imploring. Very terrified, and very wounded.
“If you do not like my touching you, you should have said–“
“No!” His voice was harsh now, violent, with a slightly hysterical edge in it that cut into every word. The prince arched his eyebrows, and it was not only because his knight, for the first time since they had known each other, had interrupted him. “It’s not that at all, it’s not…nothing can be…no…”
Another silence swallowed him, brutal, raw, aching with dread. Suzaku looked down, away from his eyes but still shaking his head mutely, frantically, until Schneizel came to a decision and stopped him with both hands.
Perhaps it was the warning tone in his voice, or the steady clasp of his hands. Suzaku stilled almost instantly, eyes wide and feral, staring at him, afraid of him, but the prince did not let go. His gloves made it impossible for him to tell if the younger man’s cheeks were warm or cold, but he imagined that they were cold.
“You should not have been here alone,” he said, softer, perhaps, than he had intended.
A small tremor raced through Suzaku’s body and his intake of breath was sharp. But he did not recoil or tear his gaze away – a definite improvement, Schneizel noted with some pleasure. He kept his hands on Suzaku’s cheeks, and a part of his mind vaguely wondered why it felt like he had never done this before. This was something more tangible than a caress, much more intimate. He could feel when his knight swallowed, when he breathed, its pattern rough and messy, even when he blinked. It was easier to focus on them, on his beautiful green eyes, counting seconds between each blink, than the trembling curve of his lips, or the way they traced the outline of his palm, slow, uncertain, fearful.
That was why it caught him completely by surprise when Suzaku suddenly stumbled forward and kissed him. The press of his lips was insistent, nothing affectionate, enough for him to recognise that it was not an act of love. It was an act of desperation, from the fingers that curled on his shirt to the hand that clung to the back of his neck, but he wrapped his arms around the small body all the same.
There was a faint sound, a half-choke and a half-sob, coming from Suzaku’s mouth as he tilted his head up even more, offering, allowing him to plunder his mouth. It was all too easy, all too foreign, all too strange. The prince found himself pulling away from the kiss, a little abruptly, and the eyes which stared back at him now looked even more terrified that before.
“I’m sorry,” Suzaku breathed out shakily, his small voice barely audible past his red, quivering lips, “I’m sorry, Your Highness, I know I shouldn’t have–“
“Suzaku,” he interrupted the flood of words which would no doubt take shape into a train of jumbled apologies on how he had no right to initiate a kiss and the likes. “What happened?”
His eyes widened – trapped – and Suzaku tried to look away, but Schneizel kept his face firmly in place with a hand on his chin. “You don’t usually behave like this,” he said again, now with a hint of steeliness in his voice. “What happened?”
Suzaku looked up at him, and when he answered, it almost sounded defiant. “Nothing, Your Highness. Nothing unusual.”
The prince wondered what actually constituted as ‘nothing unusual’ to his knight, but since Suzaku’s degree of tolerance was often quite extreme, even to the point of outrageous, it might as well be anything. A noble who remarked a thing or two which grazed a little too close to the mark, wanting to hurt him after the outcome of the Spring Tournament. Even His Majesty perhaps. Nothing was outside the realm of possibility.
But a part of him was disappointed – and he was well within his rights to be disappointed. It was almost like having a knight who did not trust him.
“Am I not worthy of your confidence?” the prince asked, his voice dry.
It earned him an immediate response. “No, please…” Suzaku whispered, his voice caught in his throat, and he looked like he had just lost Euphemia all over again. “Please don’t, Your Highness… please, it isn’t about…“ He bit his lips, close to tears, holding the sleeve of the prince’s coat in a pitiful grasp. “…I can’t… it’s just…”
Maybe it was not a matter a trust. Schneizel knew that it was not when he bent down slightly to kiss Suzaku’s brow. “I understand,” he said, keeping his voice as gentle as possible. “You have the right to keep your privacy. I apologise for implying anything.”
Suzaku only shook his head mutely and looked down. Surprise was a shy guest in front of the Second Prince, its visits few and far in between, not to mention brief. But today he felt like it had more than well-acquainted itself with him, when Suzaku rested his head on his shoulder, first with a breath of uncertainty, and then with the clearer hint of need, almost desperation as his fingers curled possessively on his coat. He was a mass of nerves and convoluted thoughts, and Schneizel kept his arms around the shaking body until it had calmed down, until his breathing had evened out.
Wordless. Firm. It was a wonder how much a touch from another human could do. And then Suzaku sighed and breathed deeply, as if trying to memorize his scent, arms wrapped around his waist so tightly that he could feel a faint tug in his heart.
“You are a stubborn one,” Schneizel said softly, and felt another shudder rippling through his knight’s body. His lips parted, but no word came out, only a little sigh that settled on the base of the prince’s neck like a lover’s kiss.
“I…” Suzaku swallowed and drew one hand back to rest on his chest, “maybe I should go back to the party.”
“Do you want to?”
“It is my duty.”
“Yes, it is,” the prince agreed, and allowed himself a small, affectionate smile. “But you did not answer my question. Do you want to?”
A moment of silence passed between them, and like the fate of all silence, it met its end in an ungraceful manner. Suzaku pulled away to look up at him, straight into his eyes. “Yes.”
Schneizel raised his brow. “Are you lying?”
It was a very faint, a very shaky smile that appeared on his knight’s face. “Would it matter, Your Highness?” he inquired quietly, and took one step back, away from his arms.
“Of course. Why, Suzaku, you are my knight.”
Something snapped somewhere, in between, and his eyes acquired a distant look that the prince could only relate to one thing but chose not to. “Yes,” he murmured, a trace of resignation in his voice. “I suppose I am.”
And then, before the prince could say anything, he added with a firmer voice, “And that is why I will go back to the party.”
“I fail to see the connection between the cause and the effect,” Schneizel said matter-of-factly, but did not attempt to annul the newly-built distance between them. Suzaku managed a subdued smile.
“I am Your Highness’s knight, am I not?”
Sometimes, he thought about weaknesses and wondered if they were strengths instead. The world had its paradoxes, and the rest their contradictions. “You are the worst kind of liar,” he said, and arranged his voice and countenance not to betray more than they must. “The kind that actually believes the lies he builds around himself.”
Suzaku maintained his smile, even if the flicker in his eyes had dimmed. “It can be useful at times,” was his only reply.
“Terribly useful, I dare say,” Schneizel murmured and pulled his knight close to his chest again. Suzaku did not resist. He leant into the touch instead, finding crooks and angles to fit the curves of his body. A familiar rite, built stone by stone from nights of taking the young man to his bed and pretending that what they did was less than it was. It had never mattered to him before, never stirred more than the perfunctory amount of sympathy – if there was any – but Suzaku stood here and stared at his sister’s beautiful face, dead smiles and frozen paint and golden frames, and the prince realised that it did matter.
It never needed much explanation. Attachment, in all its glory was a prelude to love and its magnificent power to bring down kingdoms and tear down heavens. He knew Suzaku was in love with him, and there were times when he both cherished and regretted the fact, but the prince had never let himself think about reciprocation. Affection, perhaps, but anything beyond that would be worse than nuisance.
It was only natural, he decided when he let the younger man go and saw those wide green eyes, sweet and bright and innocent. After all, Suzaku was his knight. There was bound to be some degree of affection, with or without his consent. It might as well be inevitable, in a way, although he admitted that one had to be incredibly brave or incredibly foolish to love the person who was supposed to protect one’s life. In most cases, it proved to be less of the former and more of the latter.
But sometimes it was inevitable.
Notes: What a gloomy present I bring *sighs* This piece is really, so damn hard to write. I don’t think I will try my hand on Schneizel’s POV ever again. Anyway, thank you for reading and do leave a comment if you have one.
Next installation: Mire