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The Things I Do For You

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     As near as Suzaku could tell, Lelouch ran his entire administration like a neverending pageant, with no hint of the on-stage/off-stage distinction most monarchies employed. Under any other Emperor, the residential halls of the palace would have been the wings of the stage, blocked from the publicly accessible world by physical doors and metaphysical curtains that never let through any light to show Lelouch at play, Lelouch at rest, Lelouch in his polka dot night shirt and worn-in velvet dressing gown. Not with this man. Every outfit, no matter how casual, had to be a costume, and every man, woman, and child was an audience whether citizen or servant. If there was even a chance of someone peeking through a keyhole or a telephoto lens, their dear, abominable tyrant Lulucius Augustus Imperator Maximus the I Don't Care If I'm the 99th, You've Never Had a Bitch Like Me had to be in character. Which, of course, meant that his right-hand man, the Knight of Zero, was always on stage as well.

     Not that Suzaku didn't understand why. He supported every move, and he would go on supporting this as long as he had breath and strength in his body. Most of the time, it wasn't even that exhausting. But right now they had a public appearance scheduled to start in five minutes. As much as the Emperor liked his dramatic, last minute entrances, there were limits. If Lelouch was late, tongues would start to wag, and this was cutting it close even for him. All he needed to do was put on his fancy clothes and walk out on a balcony to deliver a speech, for crying out loud! And now he was nowhere to be found!

     Was it so much to ask for Lelouch to tell him before doing these sorts of things?

     The man cowering at Suzaku's feet offered his life in payment, again, for the crime of getting distracted by the Emperor sending him out for a sandwich, which the Emperor had insisted on doing instead of letting the servant dress him, during which unattended time that very same Emperor had slipped out a secret passage into some recess of the palace that didn't show up on any blueprints and refused to reappear. That wasn't how the poor heap on the floor phrased it, naturally. The words echoing by Suzaku's ears as the weeping drudge yelled at the carpet were closer to, "I have no excuse for incurring His Majesty's impatience, please, my lord! Let my severed head atone for my sins, but please, spare my family!"

     Severed head, was it? So he was hoping for quick and painless. It was nice to have dreams.

     The man's understanding of the situation being as it was, Suzaku could still guess what had actually happened. With the orchestra outside already halfway through the processional for the ever-growing armed guard, Lelouch had secreted himself away in the bowels of the palace because of some new crazy whim and there had been a delay. If Suzaku started down right now, he might just be able to fix the situation and drag his monarch up in time for no one to notice.

     No one else, anyway.

     "Get this cur out of my sight," Suzaku stage-murmured to a guard standing nearby. He couldn't deign to sound like he cared about the wretch, after all, and he had to stay the calm, quiet counterpoint to his liege lord's eternal brilliant spectacle, but everything had to be said loud enough to be heard. So, technically a murmur that the servant was meant to know only the guard should have heard, because the Knight of Zero would never talk to a person like him, but all the same loud enough for the man to hear every syllable of his being pushed aside.

     God help the poor soul, he looked relieved not to have been handed a number in the executioner's queue.

     Ten steps down the audience chamber, halfway to the vast doors, Suzaku added, "The Emperor will decide what to do with him", and the echoes of a creature collapsing in hysterical sobs on the ground rang off the marble exactly as Lelouch had meant them to when he'd decided on the ratio of stone to drapework throughout his rooms and corridors. Cold as hell, and if someone screamed just right, you could hear the sounds a mile away.

     Well, almost a mile. One thousand, seven hundred forty-three yards was the record.

     The nearest entrance to the secret passageways was just beyond the audience chamber door, but not even the guards were allowed to know how the Emperor appeared and disappeared, swooping out of nowhere at a moment's notice, so Suzaku usually took the one in the hidden alcove just around the corner. He rolled down the stairs at a fast clip, the back edge of his cape dancing in the air above the stairs behind him (Lelouch preferred cape designs that fluttered off the ground at even a hint of speed, since it kept them from picking up dirt), and cranked open the door to His Majesty's secret room without bothering to knock.

     The Royal Nincompoop caught the harness he was struggling with over his chest with an eyebrow twitching in the desperate hope that he hadn't been spotted looking like an idiot. As soon as he saw it was Suzaku (which he should have known anyway, since this whole network of back rooms only they knew about had been Lelouch's idea), the Emperor straightened his back and pulled his chin up into his most dignified profile. "Perfect timing, Suzaku. I could use your help securing this."

     This.

     Unless Suzaku was very much mistaken, 'this' was a man-sized set of powered repulsor wings like the ones on his Knightmare, which Lelouch was trying to strap to his back. Suzaku dropped his forehead into his hand, and as he dragged his face up until he was shaking just his chin into his palm, he heard his sigh drop into a growl.

     "Is there a problem?" Lelouch asked, dropping the Emperor act to pout like a friend in just the way that he knew Suzaku could never say no to.

     There wasn't enough time for that conversation. Instead, he walked over to His Infernal Majesty and started tugging straps and buckles into place -- no more harshly than was justified. "Why..." Yank, click. "Do you need wings?" Cinch, tug, and click again.

     "For the sake of inspiring awe. I should think they'll do the trick."

     "Has it never occurred to you that our lives would be a hell of a lot simpler today if you weren't such a drama queen?"

     "I think it'd be best if we arrived at the parade in your Knightmare, don't you?" Lelouch asked, dodging the question with as much subtlety as he ever seemed able to muster. "I can ride posed on the head, and hover on my own wings down to the podium. I've arranged for them to crackle with lightning. It'll set the perfect tone for the day."

     Suzaku finished laying the specially designed, wing-friendly cape between the lighting blades and stormed for the door with his Emperor striding behind. "Well, we're not going to make it in time if we don't fly, so you'd damn well better not fall off."