Title: Flash in the Pan
Summary: You can't fight against your blood.
Gen, major angst, pompous character study, just a little fluff and genetics being a bitch.
Characters: Lelouch, Marianne and some Charles.
A/N: I'm afraid this is a gen fic about Lelouch and Marianne. Not my best, but hey it was uber fun to write. I know R2 will kill this, but I couldn't resist the plot bunny.
SPOILERS (Stage 1-25)
Disclaimer: Code Geass is not mine.
This one is for hopechan, who said she wanted realms' fic (go figure), lb_x , who said she wanted more CG fic (I totally sympathize) and runesque, who actually puts up with my CG obsession on a daily basis.
When the child was a child,
It was the time for these questions:
Why am I me, and why not you?
Why am I here, and why not there?
When did time begin, and where does space end?
(Lied Vom Kindsein by Peter Handke)
People are not equal. Had she been born the daughter of Emperors she would have settled down and knitted patiently for nine months, her long needles dancing like butterfly feelers over a sea of woolen colors flowing down her long legs. But she is no princess, no damsel, no generous wife. She was born in red sheets like the daughter of a woman, and she takes pleasure in wielding her sword in storms, in riding unreliable horses, in riding brutal men. With her nails and her smiles, she moves and she swings so very fast. Even when they think they have her, she is already gone.
People are not equal. Had he been born under more auspicious stars, he would have wrapped himself with the black fabric of his gifts, the velvet of his voice sheltering peacefully those he holds dear, his sure steps always leading to the best path amidst a labyrinth of veiled destinies. But now he is dead.
Dead, he is a ghost in his sister's life, a comforting whisper to her ears, a hand on her shoulder, a squeeze to her frail wrists. Dead, he haunts printed wars, chess boards and noblemen's unkempt libraries where all doors are closed. He is gambling with his boredom, leeching to survive where he can, biting where soft spots are revealed. Ravenously. He has no name of his own.
And he lies, so frequently, so fundamentally, sometimes there is only poison left – and he who could have been a guide is completely lost. One night a checkmate turns into a quarrel and he has a gun pointed at his face. Detachedly, he looks sideways and realizes Rivalz is tugging his sleeve, mumbling apologies for his sake.
He is not afraid, and yet he shakes. Haughty, he glares down at the drunken man across the chessboard, thinking how dare you, how dare you, old man.
And thinking do you know who I am?
Until he draws back in disgust, black hair hiding his tightly shut eyes. He is not like that. He is exactly like that. And when Rivalz drags him outside, the scent of cigars and booze clinging to his carefully pressed uniform, he realizes he is sick as no corpse should be. Rivalz catches him when his legs give out and he retches over a rose bed, wishing this whole damn, revolting world was gone.
To become nothing, just like he has become.
Now she is sick. Now she is heavy with life gleefully fighting for her own. It's like being drunk, like being infatuated with herself. But most of all it's like a game. Black hair falling in her face, she dives with her imperfect machine into battles, possible and real - her swollen belly between her and the multicolored control panel, her toes curling up in pain, her skin drenched in sweat while her men scream their deaths in the background static. It's nothing, it's nothing, it's just her son being born. And any child of hers should know the value of being born with glory.
"Marianne-sama, you must retreat!"
The hell she will. And they say Lelouch Vi Britannia was born in a battlefield, his placenta buried under the hazel tree of his mother's triumph, his first breath the smoke of war - a slap, a cry, the warmth of his mother's bosom. And they say he had his mother's beauty and his father's strange eyes - and that the scent of ozone in the air and the thunderbolts in the dry sky augured a criminal life and imprisonment in high towers.
That, at least, is what they say.
It's also said that wolves breed the best Emperors. But when she didn't come back to the capital, when she didn't paraded her son in the court and for her husband in Asian silk and African diamonds, everybody knew Charles and Marianne had conceived a weaker child than they had expected, and so the Brittanians called him the Black Prince – he who takes in all light and has no light of his own.
Sitting in the shadows of the shrine's trees, Lelouch measures time by Suzaku's mistakes. The truth is that he doesn't understand the subtleties of swords, but he likes the sound they make. It takes him back to the vast gardens of Aries Palace where his mother liked showing off like the queen of fools. And that is always nice, even if now her theatrics are starting to embarrass him a little, and making him smile a guilty, condescending smile.
"You are not concentrating."
Toudou and Suzaku don't look half as silly, and Suzaku would throw a fit if he caught him watching. Such trouble, such nuisance, such pointless joy. So he just waits outside and reads, comforted by the clashing wood marking the tempo between his thoughts, and he falls asleep, peacefully. So peacefully that Suzaku, when he comes out in the sunlight, sees just an ordinary boy napping with tall grass tickling his nose. And then the clouds shift in the sky and he sees Lelouch.
He sleeps like that, sometimes, if he is distracted enough, having no idea how disturbed Suzaku is by the way he dreams and the way he doesn't.
People are not equal. Together, Marianne and Charles had plotted to have the most powerful Emperor of the most powerful Empire. Instead, they had Lelouch. Marianne should hate this child. For princes and princesses are expandable like her smiles and this time when Charles makes fun of her he will have a good reason. She is too young, too bright, too fit for this, and there are times you just can't get away with maiming an Emperor.
"This is absurd." She grumbles morosely. "This way he won't be even 15th in the line."
"Ï wonder whose fault is that."
"Oh, don't get me started. My status wouldn't matter that much if he had the decency of making up for it."
"Really." C.C. raises her bored eyes, her green hair caressing the baby's face as she turns around and leans over Marianne. "You can always kill him and start from scratch. Save yourself the trouble. It's not like Charles would care. He didn't care when you went to war with him inside your belly. He won't care if you leave him for the crows."
"You know the contract..." Marianne begins with narrowed dark eyes. But C.C. shrugs like a reversed angel of annunciation, and rises from the bed in a blur of green. "What about us?" Marianne asks, thin eyebrows arched in disbelief, and yet C.C. just shrugs again, dons her white silk robes and leaves the bedroom with naked feet.
Now there is only the scent of flowers, earth and rain – and the Empress alone with her son. It's not like Charles would care. She looks down at the baby and he looks back at her with curious eyes. This well planned child is a mistake – no Schneizel, not even a Cornelia – for in Britannia you can tell, you learn to tell. And she wonders how such an ordinary thing like him can look so safe, so sure that he will get what he wants in the end, when his own mother is considering breaking his neck in a neat, painless twist.
And she wonders, very secretly, if she is not looking in a mirror.
Decent mammals eat their unviable offspring and move on. And yet she can't help but laugh a sincere laugher and - like an Empress- shrug. Then she sets her mind on delivering a stronger child. For more than anything else, Marianne hates to lose.
The first thing he remembers is being on his mother's lap, the white curtains billowing slowly in the sunlight. He remembers the scent of maps and ink. He remembers touching the country borders with his fingers and frowning down at the unreadable names. And he remembers Cornelia, listening attentively to everything she says, her long hair falling on her shoulders as she smiles, ever so rarely, and always to Marianne. And Lelouch, looking up at his mother, rests his head in the lances of her dress, and listens to the humming of her voice. And he sleeps peacefully, ever so peacefully, until the sun moves across the sky, kisses a sword blade on the wall and falls back in his face, and now he is awaken again, listening to his mother's voice until time is halted once more.
The first thing he doesn't remember is a huge man wearing sky blue, leering down at him with squinting eyes and a twisted mouth which looks like an open scar.
"So is that the 89th Emperor of Britannia?" The man asks his mother with a smile full of teeth.
"Of course not." She answers with a sweet, dangerous grin of her own. "This is just Lelouch. He takes after your side."
"My side?" The man's wide eyes makes Lelouch clutch at his mother's skirts. And the man laughs and laughs, until he finishes with "Maybe I should give this boy some credit. I've never seen a man embarrass you before."
Thus he doesn't remember the first and only compliment his father will ever give him. To Lelouch, mother looks happy, not embarrassed at all. Lelouch doesn't know that she looks like she is in love. He doesn't remember that a father is somebody who takes one's mother away. And he doesn't remember the gifts, or the open windows, neither does he remember the nights alone with the green haired lady. He doesn't remember what the lady whispered in his ear, as she guarded him carelessly, tickling his toes with warm breath and cold fingers as he whimpered and sulked in his own, restless way.
"You can't fight against your blood, can you?"
Babies are not equal. Her boy was born in the twilight, her girl is born at dawn – what one reveals the other must hide, and nobody knows where Nunnally was born, nobody knows whether there was magic, war, death, legend or pleased smiles, and her fate was cast in silence.
But when she is born Marianne knows she has been right to accept Charles' challenge. The girl is so perfect that the court, out of envy, says she can't be his. And Marianne laughs and holds her close like a beloved prize in her new palace wing, and she lets them wonder who is right and who is wrong, who will rule and who will grovel, who is ascending and who is in decline. She lets them wonder because she can, but most of all because that pleases her.
Following Marianne's son around the Aries Palace's fountain, C.C. asks herself what happens when the Bluebeard's wives have children of their own. But Lelouch just walks around carefully on the wet pebbles with his new shoes, perfectly awed at the golden fish and their steady flow.
Girls like parties, with their colorful dresses and shining jewelry. Whenever Mother is home, there are always pretty lamps hanging from the trees, and music in the corners, and masked faces grinning from the many rooms. When girls grow up, their dollhouses only get bigger and bigger, with flowers and ceilings full of stars.
Smiling shyly at the endless stream of guests, Lelouch wishes his mother had given him a brother. And he wonders if wishing hard enough will make that happen. It would be nice, he thinks as he smiles between a baron and a general, it would be really nice. But when Schneizel enters radiantly and ruffles his hair as if he were a dog, he glares down at his shoes and changes his mind, just to change it back again.
In this palace of flickering winters and shining summers, in this palace of military men and perfect household mess, Nunnally dies now and then. Sometimes she is poisoned, sometimes she is stabbed by a maid, sometimes Jeremiah Gottwald finds her floating in the garden's fountain, her sandy hair painted with rose petals already in decay. One day, she dies before Lelouch's eyes, her tiny body convulsing amidst a dozen plush animals and Chinese music boxes. That's the first time he sees anything die, and the first thing he remembers about death is that it is slow and painful.
Later, Mother comes to him with blood on her skirts and murder in her eyes, and gently explains that his sister is safe in her room, that the dead girl just looked like Nunnally – a pawn, a bait to snare their enemies out in the open, but Lelouch is a little too young to understand the intricacies of the court, or that little girls are not equal either.
All he understands is that mother has two beautiful dresses. With the golden one, she dances in her dollhouse, with the bloody one, she shelters and speaks gently. And that is everything he will ever know.
Sooner or later, she will learn that he is not only too tiny for his parents' ambitions, too unnoticeable to awake the court's resentment - that, she knows better than anybody else, could have been fixed. But he goes a little beyond that, he is simply too different. Puzzling, unexpected, too different. And kind and smart, they say. It shows whenever he feels every insult aimed at her as if it was his own, whenever he listens to Euphemia as if she mattered, whenever he looks thrilled as he rises on his tiptoes to watch his sister sleep, when any proper son of his father should at least feel a little resentful.
He is raw like bad poetry, he can't avert his eyes. And that's not weakness, not exactly weakness - Marianne reminds herself. And yet that's not strength either, that by caring her son grows up into a man.
Lifting his gaze from Nunnally, he turns around and tugs her skirts with a tiny grin:
"Does that mean we are a family now?"
She opens her mouth, then she closes it. Then she opens it again, then she gives up completely. Awkward and just a little sore, she throws him in her bed and tickles until he begs for mercy, her black hair cascading on his face, his skinny legs kicking the silks and pillows off the mattress. And that is primal, uncomplicated and fine. And she thinks, You laugh like Charles. And she thinks, what the hell am I going to do with you?
"You speak too bluntly for your own good."
Kind and smart, they say, and that is not frailty either. But Marianne can't trick herself into clinging to foolish hopes. She knows that is not enough. It takes a measure of cruelty, it takes a measure of violence, a measure of insensibility to rule Britannia.
"Lelouch," she gives him a strained smile after he manages to catch his breath. "Do you know what a wimp is?"
He nods and grins, tiny hands clutching her frilly sleeves.
"Do you mean like Clovis-oniisan?"
"Lelouch, it's wrong to speak of your brother like that."
He just treats her with his best skeptical look.
Predatorily, she laughs, falls upon him and resumes her merciless tickling of his most tickly spots.
"How shameful. Didn't your parents teach you the difference between right and wrong?"
"You are not turning into a Clovis, are you?"
"NOOO, I SWEAR, I SWEAR!!"
"Do you really?"
"I SWEAR, I SWEAR!"
"On your mother's grave?"
"MOTHER,THAT'S SILLY! YOU HAVE NO GRAVE!"
She is, indeed, very silly...and maybe just a little mean. She withdraws, Lelouch squirms away from her with a victorious smirk and sneaks out of the bedroom in a hurry, smoothing out his wrinkled pajamas with his hands in his way out, and making sure he doesn't slam the door– and that is fine, if Lelouch is idiotic and scary. Sometimes. Even adorable. Sometimes.
Civilian. is Marianne's realization of the day. My son is a bloody civilian.
And it's embarrassing how she likes him that way.
"But it takes roughness." She tells C.C. when she emerges from behind the velvet curtains.
"It takes madness." C.C. replies with a surprised tilt of her head. "But why have you started making excuses for yourself?"
Marianne shrugs majestically and makes a point of ignoring her. Anything but considering the possibility that she might be the one who doesn't have what it takes.
"I'm not making excuses. I'm just being rational. You know Nunnally is the one with true potential. She takes after my side." She gives C.C. a sly smile. "Besides, there is no harm in sheltering Lelouch a little so he can become a Vice-Governor or whatever his kind does. Who knows? With a little luck, that might even count as love."
Mother was in Anatolia, Mother secured the Belgian border, Mother crushed the Chinese in the Pacific and Mother suppressed the rebellion in Area 5. It's all in the newspapers.
Sitting in a forgotten corner of the Ashfords' library, Lelouch easily follows his mother's wits with a map, a compass and a void in his heart. Once upon a time Marianne's name was in every mouth - crazy, astonishing, simply brilliant. And he hates looking back, because he knows there is no clue there, no motherly tip on how to take down the Empire she helped to build. There is only the nobles seething powerlessly in the shadows, Nunnally being a brat, Clovis being an idiot, Euphie smiling over a tea cup and Mother holding him nicely whenever she returned from a long campaign, and whispering I've missed you.
And what if he misses her, what if he misses her too?
If pressed, she doesn't remember Lelouch's first words, nor when he learned playing chess, or when he started pretending he is not scared of bugs. Truth be told, she was not paying attention.
But she remembers his first fight. Three princes against one – innocent enough so Cornelia wouldn't interfere, serious enough to bruise his pride. He fought because of her and that was probably one of the few things that would make him fight. And she remembers how he was taken from the gardens and through the Palace gates, with a torn violet shirt to match his eyes and dirt on his face. And she remembers how she knelt in front of him and whispered soothingly in his ear.
"You could have run, you know."
"I could." He said with the smuggest of all smiles. "But then I wouldn't be your son, would I."
And she remembers realizing, for the first time, that she didn't want him to get hurt. And she remembers realizing, for the first time, that he inevitably would. And she remembers being scared, so scared, for the first time in her life.
And he remembers the first time she didn't laugh.
And she remembers the first time he told her everything would be alright.
Looking back, Lelouch thinks it's quite possible that Suzaku, in his faithful denial, couldn't help but realize that Zero is the unappeased ghost of a dead child, masquerading as the theatrical Britannian prince his friend never was. So aristocratic , so perfect, so grandiose he can transfigure an Empire. Even Lelouch doesn't miss the irony - and he knows - that he has chosen to hide himself with the very mask that exposes him the most.
C.C. would rebuke him for clinging to the past, but to Lelouch that has nothing to do with what went before.
All he wants, he should have told her when she left, is to stop lying.
So when Suzaku meets Zero, and points his gun at Britannia bent on destroying Britannia, Lelouch doesn't see his whole life flash before his eyes. He just sees what lies beyond, between the two people he loves the most, his mind racing for a different time, a different life, so close, so close if only he lets himself go far enough to grasp it.
Besides, he is sure Suzaku would never shoot him. Suzaku is angry, mad, and murderous but Suzaku would never, ever shoot him. And when he fails, Lelouch hopes to take care of him and Nunnally, to remember himself, again and again.
"How naive." Suzaku snarls as he raises his gun once more.
To Marianne, love is the underbelly of loss. But that's not who she wants to be. So she just watches her children play, smiling indulgently, as they run about their flowered garden. Nunnally darts past her like a bullet, laughing merrily as Lelouch stumbles after her, half pleased, half concerned she will fall on her face.
Marianne doesn't know where Lelouch got the idea that Nunnally needs him more than he will ever need her. Nunnally, who rarely gives her any real reason to worry except the most obvious ones. Maybe it is her own fault. She has always been a lousy mother to him. And she wonders with mild amusement when he will use that sharp little brain of his to figure that out.
"Not fair!" He shouts gleefully when his little sister dodges him once more. "Not fair, Nunnally!"
She is about to call them back when C.C. places a hand discreetly on her shoulder and whispers in her ear the story of her life. It doesn't come as a surprise, and yet her first impulse is to stand up and scream, or fight, or protest, too soon, except that now Nunnally has fallen as predicted and is laughing her head off, and Lelouch is helping her back on her feet with a flustered smile. And she wonders with fright whom he got those instincts from. Not from her, never from her. And why do they look so alone? And what if she has been betting on the wrong horse, caught on the blind side, what if she has never been right?
Sadly, C.C. asks her the meaning of a meaningless existence.
Too soon. Watching her children go back to their pointless running and falling, Marianne swallows hard and realizes she knows the answer.
But the truth is, even now she wants to live.
"Answer me." He commands, and his brother's eyes go wide. "Who killed my mother? Answer me."
Clovis flinches before he dies. Why did he have to shoot point blank in his face - Clovis is no more than flesh inside out, and so much blood. And Lelouch, staggering in a wave of panic and nausea through the ghetto's dark streets, knows he finally has a chance to tear the world apart, transform it, break its natural rules. Clovis ordering a massacre. Clovis losing at chess. Clovis being an idiot. Clovis, the wimp, managing the feat of making the restless Vi Britannias keep still for seven hours, so he can commit their smiles to eternity. Clovis saying "Even if we were born from different mothers..." And he could have woven his way through one thousand paths, but not a single one would take him back to the point where everything has started, because Lelouch won't hesitate to discard his very skin with his bare fingers, even when deep inside he knows he will never aim at their faces again.
"Onii-sama, you were a little scary last night." Nunnally tells him gently, in that place where time is always still, the scent of warm food pleasing and welcome around them, the ticking of the clock deceiving in the soft light. Safe, comfortable. She demands that he never lies, so that they might meekly exchange their half truths. And they do, for a long while, delicately moving around each other so nothing will get crushed in between.
And for a long while, he is alive as he has not been since that day when Britannia got just a little bigger. And for a long while, they can find a little peace in their tiny home devoid of pictures, letters or memories, for now Lelouch has found hope in the verge of despair, and his hope - just like his pain - is a contagious thing.
It's a plot, a trick of the eye, the last card played, the final act. When the curtains of Marianne's labyrinthine scheme fall, she is morbidly pleased by the way C.C.'s usually bored eyes go wide like twin medallions.
"There will be a high price."
"There is always a high price." She answers flippantly, because saying she has no other choice would be a shameful lie.
And yet being shot was not part of her plan, or everything that happened afterwards.
Marianne doesn't move when Nunnally suddenly runs crying amidst the shooting. She has got too used to phony daughters and sons, too used to Lelouch helping Nunnaly back on her feet. Too used to knowing exactly what to do. But this is her real daughter, and Lelouch is a scream away. And this is not a jealous Empress she can easily intimidate.
It dawns on her, like a sword inside a nightmare, that there is no time left. And Marianne, fast, so fast, spins in the rain of metal without thinking, and dives to shelter Nunnally with her own body as the bullets pierce through their graceful, living flesh.
She is not supposed to die outside a battlefield, unseen, unaccomplished, too soon, disheveled, eager, brutal, witnessed only by her servants and Lelouch, who is frozen at the top of the stairs, bewildered, terrified, dying with her. His frailty, his strength.
Not supposed to. She is too young, too bright, too fit for this. Fit to have another seven rightful heirs –better than these, so much better than these. And yet she wraps her arms around Nunnally. And yet she curses Lelouch for killing her since the very day he was born.
And she wants to say: Damn you. And she wants to say: I'm sorry. And she wants to say: I love you. And she wants to say: I didn't want you to get hurt. And she wants to say: You can run.
But she knows he won't. He can, but he won't.
And with her last breath she wonders if he will ever blame her for this.
Lelouch tries to descend the stairs, to where his mother was, to where his sister is, to where his destiny waits. Like something amiss. But his feet won't move, his legs won't bend, his heart won't stop. Jeremiah steps forward with trembling hands and Cornelia holds him tightly through the scent of gunpowder, shouting something that will stop making sense in the next second. And he knows he should speak up like a Prince of Britannia, and tell her I'm fine, I can deal, go away. But his eyes alight on a green haired lady in the shadows, her black dress rustling on the broken glass and bullet shells. She bows to him, and she looks so sad, and she leaves without taking him with her, like a reversed angel of death whose name he will never forget.
When the doctors take him instead, and then make him sleep, he dreams of a flowing path of golden fish leading across a flowered garden, past a fallen tower, past the end of a storm, past the end of the world. There, he finds his mother's beautiful dress drying in the wind and sun - and past the end of the world, he is quite alone.
But he wakes up, eventually, and in the end there are no tears, there is no mourning. In the end he is nothing, nothing, just Marianne's son being born. In the end, he is just Marianne's son confronting Marianne's man for the first time, and for the second time, in the throne room, and thinking
How dare you, how dare you, old man. Do you know who I am?
It takes roughness, it takes madness, it takes pain, it takes hope…
And thinking - with murder in his eyes and a broken smile
"Emperors are not equal, you know."
For they had called him the Black Prince – he who takes in all light and has no light of his own.