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Fic: Palace of Illusions (Schneizel x Suzaku)

Title: Palace of Illusions (Infinity Part 5)
Fandom: Code GEASS: Lelouch of The Rebellion
Pairing: Schneizel el Britannia x Kururugi Suzaku
Rating: PG-13 at most. Only some insinuations present.
Warnings: Fluff. Yes, it’s a warning, because this kind of fluff is bad for your health.
Disclaimer: Code GEASS belongs to Sunrise.
Challenge: 30_nights #31. Finally together
Word Count: 4662
Summary: A taste of nobility for a fledgling imperial knight.

A/N: After spending so many nights listening to so many waltzes, here is the next installation of The Tale of Schneizel and Suzaku and the long-awaited sequel to Fairy Tale. Yes, the waltzes are relevant, but there is a serious downfall to them. They, intentionally or not, make this fic horribly, obscenely fluffy, so much to the point where even the authoress blushes when she dutifully proofreads the fic. Then again, it was the only way I could write this scene, so please bear with it. Anyway, I hope everyone still enjoys!

Side Note: Better served with either ‘The Blue Danube’ or ‘Emperor Waltz’ by the illustrious Johann Strauss, set on repeat.

Dedicated to herzog_ludwig, because the uke-Schneizel picture scared me so much that I felt I must set things right once more.

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Previous Installation: Outside Understanding
See the complete list of stories

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The ballroom was abuzz with lively conversations, threaded with the slow rise and fall of smooth, flowing notes played by the chamber orchestra. Noble guests in elegant dresses and other formal attires filled the hall with life and colours none of the sculptures, elaborate carvings, or detailed tapestries could offer. Leather boots and high-heeled shoes danced across gleaming marble floor with practiced ease, trailing after the cadence of Tchaikovsky’s Waltz of The Flowers. From the richly ornamented ceiling hung many columns of crystal chandeliers, brightly glittering in the impressive Hall of Dionysius.

In the middle of this painting of splendor and opulence, Suzaku found himself at odds with his own sense of duty. It firmly ordered him to stay, keep that politely interested look on his face, and listen. The rest – real common sense – told him to run away as fast as possible.

He knew that he should have listened to the latter when the conversation took a turn for the worse.

“’Tis lavender. I’m sure of it.”

“But I have been told that it has the most beautiful shade of periwinkle.”

“Oh, but the edge of the petals is undoubtedly violet.”

“It is much too difficult to describe the colour correctly with one word, don’t you agree, Sir?”

The twittering ladies giggled in chorus, their eyes repeatedly batted at him, and Suzaku smothered a wince. He had expected the party to be unbearable, but not this kind of unbearable. Hostility and snide comments he could deal with, but this inane, pointless chattering regarding the many hues of colour of a particular orchid in the Imperial Garden was just a little beyond his limit of tolerance.

To run away though, was sadly not an option at the moment – not when the reception was held in his honour.

In all honesty, everything had gone better than he had dared to expect. The knighting ceremony had proceeded without any significant trouble, at least until the prince informed him that there would be a reception they would have to attend later that night. Suzaku had a suspicion that the reason why this information had been withheld from him until then was to avoid any protest and subsequently difficulty from his side. He certainly wouldn’t put it past the Second Prince, that tactic of such deceitful, Machiavellian nature.

No matter how irritated the situation had left him, it still didn’t change the fact that they had a party to attend. Suzaku hadn’t known what to expect – the halfhearted response like it had been with Euphie perhaps – but the ballroom, already crowded with people when they had arrived, spoke differently about the extent of power of the brother and the sister, and the all-too-obvious disparity between them.

He had then proceeded to spend the first hour being introduced to many lords and ladies of distinction. The present aristocrats basically could be divided into two groups: those who clearly thought that he was only an Eleven whore who had the most outrageous luck in the world for getting in the Second Prince’s good graces, and those who shared the opinion but not the open display of contempt. He realised that many of them viewed his appointment as an opportunity to get in the prince’s good side themselves, particularly once they took his inexperience in this side of the world into account. The overwhelmingly friendly ladies in his current company were a good example of such case.

It was not to say that everyone was ready to welcome him with open arms. Some of them barely deigned to shake hands with him, although their choices were evidently more limited with the Second Prince standing so closely next to him. It was a different story once His Highness had left to entertain his own circle of guests, but after living among the most foul-mouthed Britannian supremacists in military for months, Suzaku rather believed that he could take just about anything.

There was in fact a third group, who hardly gave a damn whether he was an Eleven or not. Lloyd had been a great help to him, intruding on many unpleasant conversations whenever he saw fit and somehow, never failing to make Suzaku smile. For a high-ranked aristocrat, he had an incredible talent of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time, so much that it was almost as if he enjoyed turning the situation worse and even worse still.

Into hour number three, however, the party was becoming wearying. Lloyd had suspiciously disappeared since half-an-hour ago, leaving him alone to deal with these ladies whose conversations he could barely follow. Suzaku knew that he should feel grateful that he wasn’t completely shunned or ignored, but even his appreciation started to wear off along with the amount of flowers they were dissecting.

On the verge of losing his entire interest in the majesty of white camellias, Suzaku glanced across the ballroom to where his lord-and-master was speaking to a man to whom he had been previously introduced as Lord Rothermel, the Duke of Schomberg. The prince caught his glance and gave him a look of combined sympathy and amusement, but apart from that, did nothing of consequence to rescue him from the predicament. At least someone seemed to enjoy his suffering, he thought acidly and shot a particularly vicious glare at the very man who had promised that ‘I will not let anything bad happen to you, Suzaku-kun’.

Right.

He pointedly looked away and took a deep breath, mentally scavenging for the remnants of his endurance as Lady Vivian Wethington launched into a lengthy description about another bush of pink roses which was magnificently blooming in the southeast corner of the palace garden. She quickly lost him in the beginning of her third sentence.

Suzaku couldn’t help but wonder how he was going to survive the following years. From what he had gathered during his two-month crash course, attending formal balls was included in his list of duties. In fact, it was so important to the point where it stood on the same ground with his foremost duty, which was to protect the prince.

Yet another difference with his old position. Somehow he couldn’t quite picture Euphie being here, or making him do this. She was sincere, frank, innocent in a way, and completely without pretense. Schneizel was anything but, and these people were…intimidating.

“Is it by any chance true, Sir Suzaku?”

The question shook him back to present attention, but before he could devise a response – or a question, since he had no idea what in the world they were talking about – Lady Philla Gisborough had said, aghast, “Vivian, your curiosity is outrageous.”

“Oh, don’t tell me you are not curious,” Lady Wethington giggled unabashedly behind her golden fan. “There are rumours circulating around, my good Sir. You must pardon my insolence, but is it true that you are, shall we say, the current recipient of His Highness’s affection?”

Suzaku had eight weeks of strict etiquette learning to thanks to for keeping his face straight. That many had known about his liaison with the prince was not unknown to him, but to think that they would come as far as addressing the matter so openly with him was beyond his wildest imagination. They were looking at him expectantly – as if finding the subject fascinating instead of repulsive – and he began to regret not following his instinct to escape earlier when a pair of hands suddenly appeared and covered his eyes from behind.

“Guess who.”

He stiffened for a second or two, but then his recognition skill quickly caught up with his panic. Tearing the hands away from his face, Suzaku turned around and found a familiar face grinning at him.

“Jacques,” he breathed out, relieved to see his friend and lieutenant – and saviour too, for the impeccability of his timing. He couldn’t remember the last time he had been so happy to see someone.

“Sorry I’m late,” Jacques squeezed his shoulder lightly and then turned to the ladies in their company – who, for some reasons, were now sporting a deep flush on their face. “Good evening, Ladies.”

But then again, he was a handsome man.

“Viscount Strathallan, it has been ages since you last appeared in a party,” Lady Estella De Landtz spoke with a note of reproach in her voice.

“Military duties, Ma’am,” he bowed gracefully at her, earning himself a coy smile from the lady. “I could not bear to disappoint my distinguished superior, seeing how accomplished he is at present and no doubt for many years to come.” His mischievous golden eyes once more rested on said superior. “I believe I have not offered you my congratulations, Sir.”

“Not for the millionth time, no,” Suzaku answered wryly, recalling the period of two months when he couldn’t as much as walk to the mess for lunch without receiving at least ten congratulations from ten different people. Jacques particularly had enjoyed making this a daily ritual, much to his exasperation.

Soon they had excused themselves from the ladies under the pretext of business to discuss. Suzaku was infinitely glad that they hadn’t pressed on the matter of His Highness’s affection and quickly put as much distance as he could between them while he still had the chance. Jacques followed him obediently but with a certain glint of amusement in his eyes as they made their way in the sea of chattering guests.

“You don’t know how glad I am to see you,” Suzaku sighed deeply once they had reached the other end of the room, near the long tables laden with various kinds of refreshment.

“It shows,” Jacques grinned cheekily at him and snatched two glasses of wine from a passing waiter, offering one to him. “I planned to arrive early, but something came up. Turns out it was only because my father didn’t want me to come.”

“Your father?”

“You’ve probably met him,” the taller man shrugged as if he couldn’t care less. “Lord Sedgwick, Earl of Perth?”

“Oh.” Suzaku fell silent. He could see it in his mind, a tall, sullen-looking man with slanted eyes which never looked at him even once. But Lord Sedgwick? How he could have failed to make the connection was beyond him. He remembered reading a list of earls and countesses in a haze of drowsiness – which he admitted was one of many details he still failed to commit to memory – but the name ‘Sedgwick’ never managed to get through his mind.

“But you’re here,” he said, unsure as to why Jacques would go against his father’s order if such was the case.

“I picked the lock on the door to my room and escaped,” his friend replied dryly. “Come on, it isn’t like I’m still under his thumb or something. Of course I can choose whoever I want to be friends with. He’s just a little bit miffed because His Highness chose you and not my older sister.”

“What do you mean?” Suzaku could feel the frown on his face. This conversation was going to a direction he entirely didn’t like.

Jacques gulped down the rest of his wine and exchanged the empty glass for a new one before answering, “Her name was on the list of candidates for His Highness’s knight. She’s more than a bit disappointed at the result, that’s for sure, and so is my father. If he was by any chance rude to you earlier, I apologise.”

“No, he wasn’t,” Suzaku said quickly, not caring if he lied a little. “I have no idea–“

“Suzaku, please,” the other man interrupted, a trace of exasperation in his voice. “His Highness has made a choice: you. It means you deserve it, no matter what others say. Besides, it’s a competition – there will always be winning and losing, and this time Daphne got to swallow the bitter pill. Not that I care much anyway. Her ego is already big enough without being the prince’s knight.”

“But she is your sister.”

“She had her chance,” Jacques said flatly. “In the end, Schneizel-sama chose you and that was that.”

Suzaku wasn’t sure what to say to that. He couldn’t help thinking that the ‘competition’ was not as fair as it should have been – as it could have been. He knew he had worked hard and his achievements up till now were far from insignificant, but the fact that he had slept with the prince repeatedly came and nagged on his conscience, again and again. Things might be different had he not. It might be Jacques’s sister who had taken an oath today, who was the current recipient of His Highness’s–

The rush of ill feeling in his stomach told him that he wasn’t fine with the image. Suddenly, it didn’t really matter if the competition had been fair or not.

“Let’s talk about something else,” his friend said decisively, allowing him an escape before the full realisation of what had just transpired in his inner mind could get through the thick haze of denial. “Do you know how many ladies in this room who are looking at you?”

This new topic was scarcely better than the last, but Suzaku decided that if he was going to face many more uncomfortable conversations later – somehow, he just knew that any attempt of talking about illicit liaisons and its equally excruciating minions wouldn’t end here and would be pursued even more vigorously in the future instead – he had better well-acquaint himself with them.

“How do you know they aren’t looking at you?” he tried retaliation, indicating to the close distance they were sharing.

“Because I’m an old hunt,” Jacques answered, the grin already back on his face. “There’s this maniacal gleam in their eyes, if you know what I mean – like they’ve just spotted a fresh meat. And you’re the only one new around here, very good-looking and eligible too. Just let me assure you that these ladies can be quite scary once they have set their eyes on something.”

Suzaku resisted an urge to roll his eyes. “You’re the son of an earl, Jacques,” he pointed out with a matter-of-fact tone of voice, and then added guiltily, “I must admit though, that I didn’t even know you were one until ten minutes ago.”

Again, Jacques shrugged his shoulders. “Does it matter?” he asked and Suzaku wondered if he was imagining the hint of challenge in his voice. “I mean, yes, maybe it does now that you’re the knight of the Second Prince, but it doesn’t make that much difference in military, does it? Titles are as good as useless if you can’t pilot a Knightmare properly. And it isn’t as if you can’t have one once you’ve proven yourself, but you know that best, don’t you, Sir Suzaku?”

“Don’t call me that,” he shot back before heat could rise to his cheeks. The appellation sounded strange in front of his name, like it didn’t belong there – which might be the case, actually – and the way Jacques had said it hardly helped if at all.

“You have to get used to it,” the other man said mildly. “That’s how everyone will refer to you from now on.”

“It’s just because I’m a knight.”

“It won’t be long until you get a real title, believe me,” Jacques told him with a grin, “and then I’ll have to refer to you as Lord Kururugi.”

This time, he wasn’t quick enough to prevent the blush from creeping up to his face. “Jacques, please.”

A hand grabbed his shoulder and whirled him around to face the crowd. “Look around. Are you telling me that you don’t realise why they are here? Who they all came here for?”

It was, Suzaku reflected, the only question designated to him the entire night which he didn’t need to think twice before delivering the answer. “The prince I’ve pledged myself to.”

“And you are the knight of that prince,” Jacques pointed out with a tone of voice which left no room for argument. “You really have to do something about your low self-esteem, Sir Knight.”

“I know,” Suzaku heard the note of frustration slipping into his voice and turned around again to look at his friend. “Do you suppose this is why they can’t accept me?”

Something flickered in the other man’s eyes, something he couldn’t quite decipher. Suzaku wondered if it was pity, but before he could decide, it had disappeared, its pale traces replaced with a wry grin.

“They will have to, sooner or later,” Jacques announced with a solemn voice. “Maybe sooner, if they choose to retire early and let their sons and daughters take over. We have a more open mind.”

Suzaku couldn’t help a smile. They were silent for a few moments, half listening to the light notes gliding in the air. Yet another dance was nearing its end, the pairs parting from each other’s arms to make a bow to one another. Among them, he noticed, was a lady with long red hair cascading down her back.

“Is Claire coming too?” he asked Jacques. “I haven’t seen her the whole night.”

“No.” The grin quickly faded from his friend’s face. “I thought you knew.”

“I didn’t even know you were coming.”

Jacques shifted his eyes away from him uneasily. “I mean about this party,” he said with a low, reluctant voice. “Only nobilities are invited. She has the title of a knight, but I don’t think it counts this time.”

Suzaku did not know what kind of face he was making at this new bit of information, but it made a thin smile appear on the other man’s face. “It’s outrageous, isn’t it?”

Outrageous? It was unbelievable. “She’s no different from me,” he heard himself murmuring, his entire willpower depleted on the effort to suppress all kinds of emotions raging just beneath the surface of his voice. His fingers, he couldn’t help but notice, was gripping the fine crystal glass so tightly that it threatened to break.

“But you are His Highness’s knight,” Jacques’s voice was gentle, almost careful. “Believe it or not, that makes all the difference in the world.”

The subdued chattering of the guests filled the bare expanse between them as silence found him once more. Suzaku let his eyes wander, following the elaborate patterns on the marble floor as his hand fiddled with the stem of his glass. Perhaps it was due to his closeness to the prince, because there were times when he simply forgot that the man he had come to love was, indeed, a prince – a very, very powerful man who could easily have the world under the tip of his fingers should he only wish for it.

Then again, it had been the initial reason why he had sunk into the prince’s bed again and again, hadn’t it?

“You will be asked for a dance.”

“What?” He looked up at Jacques who was repeatedly glancing at something behind his back, a mischievous glint in his eyes.

The other man leant closer to whisper in his left ear. “In about ten seconds, Lady Agatha Dunrossil will ask you for a dance,” he said in a sly voice, and then pulled back with a complacent air before adding, a smirk on his face, “Enjoy, Sir Knight.”

True to prediction, a lady with long golden hair tightly knotted at the top of her head and a red elaborate dress on her slender frame approached him and made the proposal for the next dance. Suzaku vaguely remembered her as one of many noble’s daughters who had been introduced to him – or more likely, to the prince who had been standing next to him for the most part of the hour. It made him wonder if it was him or Schneizel whom she was actually asking for a dance.

They stepped down onto the dance floor, amidst many other pairs who unabashedly stole one or two glances at them. It was his fourth dance tonight, but he realised why this one attracted many attentions – those sleepless nights he had spent studying and learning about the members of the aristocracy ladder were not for nothing, after all. Lady Agatha Dunrossil was the first and only daughter of Lord Alastir Dunrossil, the Duke of Norfolk, and she asked him for a dance. He could almost hear the wheels in their head turning.

The orchestra began another waltz, one Suzaku knew he recognised but could not, for the life of him, remember anything about it at the moment. It was a slow, melodious music, reverberating in the spacious hall as the couples gracefully followed its three-quarter beat. He couldn’t stop counting in his head – one two three one two three one two three, he was nervous as hell – as they glided around the room. Thankfully his partner, her gloved hand comfortably resting on top of his and the other one on his shoulder, didn’t seem to realise.

They kept the conversation light, on neutral and harmless subjects which everyone could easily respond without thinking. His uneasiness gradually wore off. To lead a woman like this, in a dance, reminded him to an evening long, long time ago – or so it seemed. Euphie’s smile and soft-spoken instructions as she tried not to laugh when he tripped again and again, either over her feet or his own. He had been a poor picture of teenage clumsiness, but for reasons he had yet to fathom until now, she hadn’t seemed to mind.

This was different. The lady’s manner was impeccable, her smile was amiable but not without a touch of stateliness in it. A queen material, he couldn’t help but reflect, and swallowed the bitter taste in his mouth the thought had brought. Not yet.

Not yet.

The music went on, a slight increase in the tempo propelling them into faster steps and turns, and the ballroom faded into a mosaic of colours and indistinct whispers. His partner was now smiling radiantly, her pale blue eyes lighting up with every twist and spin she deftly executed. She clearly loved to dance, and it made Suzaku wish that he was a better dancer.

The dance ended with the couples bowing to one another. Breathless murmurs and applause quickly crowded the empty canvas in the absence of music. Suzaku stood there, waiting, but Lady Dunrossil did not pull her right hand back. Each passing second made him sink deeper into alarm – it was inappropriate for the gentleman to pull away first. In any case, he knew that he should open his mouth and make way for pleasantries, but he wasn’t able to think of anything to say

And suddenly, the music had begun once more.

There were excited whispers as the couples swiftly paired up again, eager for another round. Suzaku tried not to glance around in panic and search for Jacques to save him from this situation – rule #42: Dancing twice with someone you have just met in a party is absolutely prohibited and is to be avoided at all cost – when the lady unexpectedly led him into the first step and the counting started again in his head. He had no choice but to take the lead from her and joined the other pairs.

“You dance very well, milord,” Lady Dunrossil said all of a sudden, sounding very calm despite the social blunder she had just, perhaps inadvertently, committed.

“Not half as well as milady,” he responded automatically, his lines were coming straight from the etiquette handbook which contents his tutor had hammered into his head. The fact that he was dancing twice with such a distinguished lady hovered over his head like a nightmare coming true. This would obviously cause myriad of problems, so many that he couldn’t even begin to list them.

A social calamity. And this was his first party.

“May I interrupt, Lady Agatha?”

It took him one second too long to notice that his left hand was no longer holding hers and was held by another hand instead. And then he realised that they had stopped dancing and that his partner was blushing slightly, either out of embarrassment or awe he couldn’t tell.

“Certainly, Your Highness,” she said and quickly retreated from the dance floor. Suzaku was left looking at the Second Prince who was smiling innocuously at him as the couples continued to twirl around them.

“May I have this dance?”

There was a moment when he was absolutely certain that his heart had stopped beating and finally allowed him to die in peace, a perfect escape from this mortifying hell. On the next second, he discovered that he was, in fact, still very much alive and still very much stuck in said hell. His mouth opened and closed a few times before he could work his throat and produce a decent word.

“But– Your Highness…“

“The answer is no?”

“I… I’m not sure if it’s appropriate.” Great. Now he was stuttering. And why was that hand still holding his?

“To say no? Indeed, it is most inappropriate after the vow you just made to me this afternoon,” the prince replied with a nonchalant voice which made Suzaku want to decimate something – mainly because the person he wanted to hurt was unfortunately the same one he had sworn to protect. Schneizel seemed to notice this as well and attempted to dissuade him.

“I was jesting, Suzaku-kun,” he said soothingly but still refused to let go of his hand, a fact which Suzaku was painfully aware of. The prince only went on, completely unperturbed by his knight’s distress. “That reminds me. Am I allowed to call you in a, say, more intimate manner from now on?”

And of course they had to discuss this subject in the middle of this crowd. Oh yes, he perfectly understood why.

“Your Highness has the right to call me in any way he sees fit,” he managed to say through gritted teeth. And he just knew he was going to regret it as soon as the last word had left his mouth.

“Well then, ’beloved’, perchance?”

Suzaku could literally feel the heat crawling to his cheeks. “I’m afraid the term is quite inapplicable in public, Sir,” he said in the stoniest tone he could manage.

“Ah, but I said nothing about using it in public either,” the prince replied, his voice an exemplary mirror of calmness. The amused smile curving his lips, however, belied how much he actually enjoyed the moment. “As a matter of fact, the occasion I was thinking is quite different. After all, a first night is supposed to be celebrated, is it not?”

There was a section in his little etiquette book which Suzaku would very much like to show the prince right now – private matters are to be kept for oneself and not, under any condition, to be brought up in the company of others except one’s families and intimate friends! But since his book was regrettably not there with him, he could only stand there and suffer another embarrassing abuse to his face.

“If Your Highness demands it,” he answered in a fashion best described as an indistinct mumble.

“Excellent,” the prince smiled and brought his hand to his lips, kissing the back lightly. The ballroom ceased to exist, and so did the dancing couples whirling past them. Perhaps no one saw – or perhaps everyone saw – but Suzaku found that his concern over matters of such trifling nature was vanishing rapidly.

And then it was back to making another greeting to yet another noble. He slipped back into his role of a perfect knight and set to his duties, a smile firmly in place.

It was a palace of illusions – the noble lords smiling amiably at him, the beautiful ladies vying for his attention, the romantic treatments the Second Prince showered him with – but at least the warmth lingering still on the back of his hand, almost tangible despite the thick material of his gloves, was real enough.

For now.

End

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Someone is smitten. Hard. Muahahahaha.

Now I know why Schneizel enjoy doing that to Suzaku. I can’t believe how much fun I had torturing him this way *_*

Now, technicalities. About the title of nobility, since Britannia is an empire, I’m not sure if it follows the UK peerage system or the Holy Roman Empire (with ‘Pfalzgraf’ instead of ‘Duke’, ‘Markgraf’ instead of ‘Marquess’, etc.) but I decide on the UK to avoid further confusion. I think in one of the picture book series, Jeremiah referred himself as ‘Margrave’ but said that his father was an earl. Oh well, let’s overlook that detail for the moment, at least until the anime staff officially makes an announcement on this subject.

Thank you for reading and please drop a comment!

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Next Installation: Knightly Duties

Tags: !series: infinity, fandom: code geass, pairing: schneizel/suzaku
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