A/N: this is the first of the rewritten chapters, technically events in the previous version will still happen, but they have been pushed back to make way for how Lelouch adjusted and assumed the mantle of Zero years head instead of breaking up the flashback sequences.
This happens shortly after events of chapter one, and it shall be the introduction where our other main characters will appear as Lelouch's new classmates along with someone else from Lelouch's past who makes an appearance.
Thanks to Greatkingrat88 for cleaning up and editing the chapter.
The Neutral World
Four days had passed since Lelouch and Garibaldi's harrowing escape from the research station, but after a series of quick warps to shake off any possible pursuit, the shuttle finally made it to its destination.
After pulling into port and making the descent to Cera's surface, Garibaldi had hastily taken Lelouch aside as soon as he had secured their ship. He had been led to a safehouse and showed to a room. Garibaldi had assured him arrangements had been made, although Lelouch hardly even cared. A curious exhaustion had plagued him for most of their journey, something his companion had explained as a result of the revival process. 'Like jetlag', he had explained, 'except a hundred times over, I imagine'.
They had barely gotten him accommodated before Lelouch slumped into the bed he had been given, falling into a haunted sleep.
It was getting dark outside when he awoke, his head still feeling heavy. A look at the clock on the night stand told him he'd been asleep for over twenty-four hours, which really didn't surprise him. A sandwich had been left beside the bed alongside a soft drink, and Lelouch sat up, wolfing down the both of them. The sustenance of his breakfast- or supper, judging by the twilight outside- woke him up, but he soon missed the haze and daze of his half-sleeping state.
During his journey here, he had busied his mind with a hundred and one little things. He had helped Garibaldi calculate the course their vessel was taking. He had asked questions about the world they were heading to, some of which had been answered, and some of which had been evaded. He had even started to entertain hypothetical chess riddles in his head, trying to figure out which would be the most difficult to solve. He had slept when he could, despite the awkwardness of the ship. All of it had been done to keep his mind away from thinking about some very key things.
Here, left alone to his own devices, there were no such distractions. As his mind snapped awake, the thoughts came flooding in. Memories. Past sins, and the guilt that they carried with them.
He had been killed. He had been killed as per his own plans, after spilling an ocean of blood, after turning the whole world against him, after becoming a hated dictator. He remembered it as if it were yesterday- no, he remembered it as if it was a minute ago. He remembered pulling his gun out. He remembered missing his shot. He remembered smiling contentedly as he saw Suzaku, wearing the Zero suit, charging him with his blade raised. He remembered the pain of the sword piercing through his chest, rupturing his insides, a clean and fatal hit. He remembered sliding down the dais of his throne vehicle, down to Nunnally. He remembered dying in her arms. Her weeping face had been the last thing he had seen, and then… then it had all gone dark.
Then, he had died.
He gagged, a sudden wave of nausea overcoming him. It had hurt. He had found peace as he was dying, but the pain of it was still fresh in his memory. He fought the urge to hurl, clutching at his chest. Feverishly, he opened the jacket and shirt, fumbling with the buttons to get them open. With some effort, he managed to undo the buttons. Desperately, he grabbed at his naked chest, as if expecting it to burst open.
The skin looked almost flawless. Aside from an almost imperceptible scar where the blade had pierced him, he was as whole as he had ever been. He stared at it, beads of sweat forming on his forehead. It felt wrong. He had died in pain. It had been his penance for his crimes. It had been his sacrifice, to unite the world. Now… now he was made whole again. Who had asked him if he wanted it?
Another wave of nausea hit him, and Lelouch took a deep breath, hugging his legs close to his body.
He was supposed to be dead!
He had never feared it. It had been his own design. But death was supposed to be final, wasn't it? He had earned it. And now… and now…
In the midst of the misery, another set of thoughts came to him, unbidden. It had been a century since he had died, at least. What had happened to the others? They… they were dead, of course. Nobody lived that long. The realization hit him, in full force now, that he was alone. Overwhelmed, Lelouch trembled weakly. Brought back to life, for whose ends? For whose purpose? For what reason?
The door creaked, and Lelouch's head jerked as he looked up. The room was dark, the lights turned off, and as light flooded in from outside he blinked. Truth be told, he was grateful for the distraction, but nevertheless concerned.
"Who's there?" he said, wishing he had a weapon. Who knew who could be trusted? It didn't look like Garibaldi- there was long hair there, and the curves of the figure suggested a woman.
"Identify yourself!" he demanded.
"Good morning, Lelouch."
The voice washed over him like a balm, stripping his fears and anxieties for a moment. It was familiar, a beloved voice, one of the few he had trusted. Of course… who else would be around now?
"C… C," he said weakly, as the immortal witch stepped into view.
She sat down next to him on the bed, and to his surprise, she wrapped her arms around him in a tight embrace. Lelouch hugged her back, burying his face in her shoulder, trembling. Alone in the world, brought back from the dead… to see even one familiar face brought a joy he had never expected. Tears trailed from his eyes as he held her. Gently, the witch rocked him, almost like he was a child.
"I missed you," she said.
"C.C., you…" Lelouch said weakly.
"It's going to be fine, Lelouch. Everything is going to be alright," she said reassuringly. In the moment she said it, Lelouch believed it desperately.
After a few minutes, they broke off, and Lelouch stared at her. Just the same as he remembered her, from when he had last seen her- days as far as his memory was concerned, over a century as far as time was concerned.
"I'm supposed to be dead," he mumbled at last, "C.C., I am supposed to be dead. It's the price I paid. Why- why did they do this to me?"
"It was me," she said solemnly, "I had help, of course, but… I made it happen."
"Why?" Lelouch demanded, "Why?"
"Lelouch," she said severely, "do you think I would have done such a thing on a whim? You are needed. Not for me, but for the vision you had."
"What- you mean this whole PACT business?"
"I…" Lelouch said, shaking his head, "I- I don't care about that right now. Nunnally. What happened to Nunnally?"
"I thought you might want to know," she said, with a sagely nod, "it's been a century, and a lot has happened, but thankfully I was there to see most of it. Nunnally… well, I think you would have been proud. She ushered Britannia into an age of prosperity and kindness. She reformed the entire country. No longer did Britannian rule over numbers. The territories your father stole were given back. She changed the way things were through law, diplomacy and co-operation. She scaled down the military and focused instead on building wealth through trade. The people came to know her as Empress Nunnally the benevolent. She even created a parliament that the throne had to answer to, to make sure nobody had too much power at one time. Your sister Cornelia protected her fiercely, like a hawk. She had lost one sister already, and I think she was keen to protect what she had left. She became a great ruler, Lelouch. She died of old age, and even though the years hardened her, she never let go of the kindness that she had."
Lelouch nodded, tears in his eyes.
"Nunnally the benevolent," he said, nodding happily, "that- that is- I could not have asked for more."
"The others did well for themselves, too. Kallen finished school and became a test pilot for the military. Rivalz became a humanitarian lawyer, and Shirley became a doctor. Nina became the greatest scientist of her generation, and people still refer to her work in physics as a milestone. Tohdoh became supreme commander of the Japanese army. Suzaku continued to serve global peace as Zero. Milly… well, you'll see about Milly. The people around you grew old and died with a list of merits to their name."
Lelouch nodded, stunned. All of these people… it was reassuring to know they had lived and lived well.
"As for your legacy," continued C.C., "well, there were good news and bad news."
"…how bad?" said Lelouch. His death had to have had meaning. What else was it for? If not peace, then what for? He braced himself for the worst.
"The bad news is that your gambit did not put an end to war," said C.C. matter-of-factly, "conflict continued to exist. Some fifty years after your death, for example, there was a major trade war between the Chinese Republic and Britannia."
"I united the world in hate!"
"People's memories are short," said C.C. with a shrug, "but they did remember that a Britannian emperor subjugated the world. War was not gone. It's human nature, unfortunately."
"Then what is the good news?" said Lelouch keenly.
"That enough people sat down and negotiated long-lasting peace after your death. That the world had become weary of tyranny and oppression, and came together to create a more peaceful world. One where democracy became more common, where freedom was valued, and where trade was preferred to war. The world you created was not free of war, but it was better than the world ruled by the cruelty of Britannia, or the ambitions of the Chinese."
"Then… it was not for nothing," said Lelouch, relieved, "I didn't… I didn't die for nothing. I made a difference."
"You did," said C.C. with a nod, "although a lot of credit has to go to the leaders who kept that peace intact, like your sister."
"Then I left the world in good hands."
"And now you need me back to… protect my legacy?"
"There is much to talk about. Suffice it to say the peace you laid the groundwork for has been upended. The world you sought to build is being threatened once again by tyrants."
"This is unlike you," Lelouch said with a smile, "I can't recall a single time where you ever took a side in a conflict. You never cared about the struggle between Britannia and Japan."
"What can I say?" she said with a shrug, "You were a bad influence on me."
Lelouch chuckled, surprised to feel a little mirth sneak into his demeanor. Only minutes ago, he had been miserable.
"What was that about this new threat, then?"
"Tomorrow," said C.C., "there is much to do, and I'll explain when we're in a more appropriate setting. Sleep some more, if you need it. You may have a long day ahead of you tomorrow."
She stood up from the bed.
"Wait!" Lelouch cried.
"I have to go-" she said, but Lelouch took her by the hand. Quietly, he said,
"I missed you too."
She gave him a long, mysterious look, and he thought he saw something run across her face- regret, perhaps, or sadness, or perhaps joy- but a moment later, it was gone.
"Tomorrow," she said gently, finality in her voice, "I'll see you soon, Lelouch. Until then."
"Until then," Lelouch agreed, letting go of her hand. He watched her leave, sitting down on the bed again. Just what sort of world had he been brought back to?
The following morning, Lelouch felt a little groggy. He hadn't been able to go to sleep again, and the weariness his resurrection had brought about hadn't entirely left him. After breakfast, he began reading the books left in his room.
How did Earth avoid becoming part of the larger galactic community?
Among the questions Lelouch had was the galaxy itself, or more specifically, he wanted to know how the Earth fit in with the rest of the galaxy. Garibaldi had given him some off-hand details as they traveled to Cera, but now that Lelouch had plenty of time to himself he sought to fill in the blanks by reading through the historical texts available to him.
It was around noon when Garibaldi interrupted him.
"Its time to go."
Without a word, Lelouch traveled with Garibaldi using a vehicle the latter had obtained for their usage. He made sure to bring the book he had been reading; the history of the last century was fascinating to him, and he had only scratched the surface so far.
Lelouch observed the city outside. Although it seemed similar to any major city he had seen on Earth, there were some clear differences beyond the skyscrapers and tall buildings. Instead of the large television screens he had seen in Japan, the people of Cera, and likely the rest of the galaxy, used holographic screens for their advertisements, and they went a step further with full three-dimensional graphics to some of the ones he saw in passing.
The vehicles were drastically different from those he had seen on Earth. Although they shared the basic characteristics of cars and similar vehicles, they didn't seem to have any wheels, and their controls and method of operating them seemed more streamlined yet advanced at the same time. They seemed to run on autopilot, and a deceptively simplistic steering wheel riddled with little buttons hovered in front of the driver if manual driving would become necessary.
In the air above, instead of VTOL aircraft, Lelouch saw shuttles and similar craft propelled quietly through the air by what he assumed was anti-gravity engines, rather than the roar of a fossil-fuel jet engine.
This feels like I am in one of those sci-fi movies Rivalz would try to make us watch, Lelouch thought before they arrived at their destination.
"Follow me," Garibaldi asked.
The duo had arrived at the edge of the city's business district, before pulling into a parking garage that sat across the street from the hotel in question. It was modest, but nothing remarkable as Lelouch and Garibaldi made their way inside. On the fourth floor, the duo left the elevator and made their way to a room at the end of the hall.
Upon Garibaldi knocking on the door, C.C. opened it.
"Thank you for coming, Lelouch. I hope you enjoyed the sights on the way here?"
C.C. wore a simple white collar shirt with a black skirt and stockings. She gestured for the pair to follow her inside.
"Was that the reason you had me travel across town to see you?"
"I wanted to help you get more accustomed to this world." C.C. then noticed the history textbook Lelouch was holding with one hand out of the corner of her eye. "I see you have been reading up on history too."
"Yes, because I am confused. If humanity has spread across the galaxy, then-" Lelouch began before C.C. interrupted him.
"How does Earth fit into this?" C.C. said. "It would take hundreds of years to colonize space to this extent, if not thousands. So where did they come from? To be honest, I am not completely sure myself, but I suppose there are some possibilities. Its origins date back at least three thousand years, long before humanity is known to have traveled space. It's a mystery, even to me… well anyway, how much have you read about the Holy Ryuvian Empire?"
"I only began reading this morning, but I learned they were the first civilization to achieve faster than light travel. In time, using the resources from the colonies they established, they conquered the entire galaxy. They systematically wiped out any species they could've been a threat to them, leaving humanity to spread across the galaxy."
C.C. nodded, "I see you got as far as the founding of the empire, then."
"Yes, and the technology was described to have been capable of feats on par with magic, effectively turning their Emperors into gods. However, with such technology the early Emperors feared what would happen if such weapons were turned on themselves, so as a failsafe their most destructive weapons demanded the sacrifice of the Emperor's daughter, in an effort to discourage their usage."
Lelouch and C.C. reached a pair of chairs with a small table between them with the latter gesturing for Lelouch to sit down. Once they were seated the pair continued their conversation while Garibaldi heading into the kitchen to have a drink.
"That's right, but I am sure you can guess it wasn't enough."
"I am hardly surprised. Every major power tends to start off well, but over time, corruption and other internal issues begin to set in."
"Worse than you can guess, but in that regard the Holy Ryuvian Empire's bloody had something in common with Britannia- just how bloody their clashes for succession could be."
"In Britannia, my father proclaimed only the worthiest of his children could succeed him," Lelouch pointed out. "Yet I am sure being considered a god among your people was quite the incentive."
C.C. nodded in confirmation.
"That's right. Battles for the position of Emperor was violent, with assassinations, plotting, treachery and siblings trying to politically undermined one another. The worst of these battles for succession led to a civil war that nearly tore the Empire apart roughly two thousand years ago. Although the Empire pulled through, it eventually collapsed six hundred years later."
"No one knows for sure, but its widely assumed the wars for succession depleted the resources of the Empire, and they could no longer keep the worlds they ruled under control. Likely a series of uprisings led to the collapse of the Holy Ryuvian Empire, sending the galaxy back into the dark ages and forcing humanity to start over from scratch."
"Obviously, humanity returned to the stars at some point."
"Yes. It took awhile, but seeking to follow in the footsteps of the Holy Ryuvian Empire, a group of colonists found a lush world upon which they founded New Eden, and established the New Empire."
Taking into account what Lelouch had learned, he could take a pretty good guess at what their history was like.
"Let me guess- they began with good intentions, but those who came after became drunk with their own power, turning it into a tyrannical regime?"
"Of course," C.C. replied with a smirk. "In some ways they were worse than Britannia. They not only engaged in slavery, but they were far crueler in their treatment to those lesser than them, with plenty of internal corruption and power struggles worsening conditions for the people beneath them."
"I heard about the Solar Alliance, so I assume they opposed the New Empire."
"Yes, and war erupted between the two sides for control of the galaxy. The Solar Alliance, having been founded on the world of Solaris was very similar to the United Federations of Nation you created that opposed the tyrannical regime of the New Empire and the enslavement of others, so it was no surprise the two young galactic superpowers would trade blows. Then they were joined by what was left of the Holy Ryuvian Empire, which was now reduced to only a handful of planets, including their original capital world. Ryuvia became involved, hoping it could regain some semblance of its past glory."
Lelouch suspected that things for Ryuvia didn't work out.
C.C. seemed to be aware of what Lelouch was thinking, or at least knew him well enough to deduce it.
"With Ryuvia helping them, and thanks to the Solar Alliance discovering an ancient Ryder, it tipped the scales in their favor."
"A… Ryder changed the course of the war?"
"Yes. In case you were wondering, a Ryder is war machine designed for usage in space. It is like a Knightmare Frame, but much larger and capable of impressive combat feats, making it more effective than your standard space fighter, like in those sci-fi movies."
"I see," said Lelouch, intrigued.
"The Solar Alliance won the war, with the New Empire surrendering by signing The Treaty of Vespa, which was possible thanks to the New Empire's string of losses leading to uprisings among its enslaved populace, combined with internal power struggles."
"So they had no choice but to sue for peace, then. But what happened to Ryuvia?"
"Ryuvia and their forces aided the Alliance greatly and they experienced a brief resurgence. However, it was short lived, with the Solar Alliance refusing to return the world of Far Port to them. Far Port was conquered by the New Empire after Ryuvia abandoned the planet to occupation, not wanting to risk their forces, but the Alliance realized Far Port was too strategically important to lose because it was a gateway into the core Alliance worlds."
"Naturally, Ryuvia didn't take this well," Lelouch remarked, and thought to himself,
But I am sure the Alliance probably didn't want Ryuvia to become a potential threat like the New Empire, considering their history.
"Yes, and with a buffer zone now established between the New Empire and the Solar Alliance named the Neutral Rim, it crushed any chance for Ryuvia to reclaim its lost glory, continuing its slow descent into oblivion. Now they only have one world to their name."
"And the New Empire has fallen, replaced by PACT."
"Yes, but you probably want to know about Earth?"
Lelouch raised an eyebrow, which C.C. knew was an obvious question.
"Earth was discovered by the Solar Alliance while seeking new warp routes to explore space, but the New Empire also had the same idea, and discovered the planet around the same time."
"So the two sides began fighting over Earth?"
"Their exploration forces didn't quite compare to a full fleet, but there were a couple skirmishes between them. However, I think you can imagine reactions among the people on Earth once they became aware of the existence of aliens- or well, extraterrestrial humans."
"I can guess it was a mixed bag," Lelouch said.
"Yes, but to complicate things, the New Empire didn't waste time to mobilize a fleet to seize the newly discovered world. The Solar Alliance couldn't muster the forces either, but the New Empire was likely looking for a quick victory to boost morale considering they were being bested by the Alliance on every major front across the galaxy."
"Somehow I doubt the Solar Alliance would abandon a world- or at least those in command of the exploration fleet, I assume?"
"I can't speak for those in charge at the time, but they did try to help Earth as much as possible and even helped evacuate a number of people from Earth. Many chose to stay, willing to defend their planet while the Alliance took as many people as they could."
"I am to assume this was how the Alliance came into possession of my corpse?"
"Yes. Although your niece had to make some deals with the Alliance for it, I was shipped off with your corpse. I managed to keep you in cold storage the whole time after moving into the Solar Alliance, while establishing myself as a wealthy business woman in time."
Lelouch dreaded asking his next question, despite knowing the answer.
"It fell very quickly to the New Empire."
"I see. So it was the Solar Alliance that brought me back?"
"Yes and no. But as I am sure you already realized, it was a small faction within it that secretly had you brought back. It took a small fortune, a lot of hard work, convincing some very skeptical people, and some fairly intense work behind the scenes."
"I imagine so. But I had assumed I was brought back to bring down PACT? I heard the New Empire was overthrown not too long ago."
"Yes. It stands for People's Alliance for Common Treatment, if you hadn't heard. It began as the resistance movement known as Compact, before overthrowing the New Empire becoming PACT in its place. In fact, the New Empire just fell a few months ago before the leader of Compact, Veniczar S. Arcadius, reorganized it and their new captured holdings into PACT." C.C. answered.
"So they went from liberators to conquerors. Typical."
"Yes. After noticing some signs of aggressive military expansion of their forces soon after their victory over the New Empire, there are some in the alliance who fear PACT will attempt to invade. We are not convinced this is for defense."
"Then I take it they plan on expanding and conquering. Yet you want me to bring them down?" Lelouch asked. "I may have my Geass, but you know I am far from having the resources and manpower for that kind of undertaking."
"I know, but we have friends within PACT who are working to give you a foundation to work with."
"Compact isn't gone. When PACT formed, some of its members splintered off and formed their own resistance group. Right now, they operate on earth, inspired by the Black Knights and your actions as Zero."
Lelouch was honestly surprised by this revelation, but then again, it was not unexpected somebody might have followed his example. Where there was tyranny, there would be resistance.
"One of them you know… Jeremiah."
"Jeremiah is still alive?" Lelouch said, honestly shocked.
"If you recall, most of his body was replaced with machinery, and as a cyborg he has managed to upgrade it since, extending his life in the hopes he could serve you when you were brought back per Nunnally's wishes."
"I see," Lelouch said smiling faintly, knowing Jeremiah Gottwald had been his most loyal follower. Somehow, the fact Jeremiah would push his body to live until the day he would live again didn't seem that surprising once Lelouch thought about it.
"Aside from him, Lloyd is alive as well, in a sense. He transferred his brain into a machine casing, an android body, after leaving earth with me."
"I wouldn't have expected him to do that," Lelouch said. He remembered Lloyd Asplund, the scientist and chief engineer of Area Eleven. His work had always been stellar, rivalled only by Rakshata.
"There is one more, but you'll meet him later."
"Who?" Lelouch asked.
A knock at the door interrupted any further conversation between them.
"Oh, that reminds me. Lelouch, there is one more person from your lifetime who is still alive. Although circumstances around her own longevity are unusual to say the least, which might be a little hard to explain right now."
Lelouch raised an eyebrow. "Who exactly are you talking about?"
Garibaldi opened the door, and in walked a familiar busty blonde Lelouch had never expected to see again, considering his current circumstances.
"M-M-Milly…" Lelouch exclaimed in shock, wondering for a moment if Milly Ashford had somehow obtained a Code of Immorality.
Milly Ashford had aged a little since last he saw her, looking to be in her early thirties. But otherwise, she was unchanged for the most part. She was wearing a long white skirt, a blue dress shirt with matching white heeled shoes.
"Oh, Lelouch, you're alive again," Milly exclaimed happily rushing into the room to give Lelouch a big hug, leaving the former Emperor speechless.
But as quickly it had happened it was over, and Lelouch swiftly received a slap to his face.
Lelouch was still speechless, but he knew what that slap was for.
"WHAT THE HELL WHERE YOU THINKING, ASSASSINATING YOURSELF LIKE THAT!?" Milly snapped at the former Emperor as she proceeded to verbally chew him out for his actions. "How did I overlook that? Your absences from class… ugh. I should have known know something was amiss," The blonde woman said, and began tearing up, "but I just didn't want to believe it, I guess. Because I was scared. Scared that it might be true."
"I assume you know why I did it… all of it?" Lelouch replied tried to maintain his composure while one hand rubbed the sore spot on his cheek.
Under his mask of calm composure, Lelouch was trying to keep his already surging emotions in check, but he wanted to ask how Milly was still alive after so many years. Unfortunately, it seemed Milly wasn't going to give him a chance. Lelouch was fighting back tears himself. To see Milly again, the carefree, loveable student council president, his friend who had always been there, never missing a chance to tease or joke…
"Yes, I know."
"I have no excuses, despite my intentions," Lelouch admitted trying to fight back another wave of emotion.
"You just killed yourself… going down as the most hated tyrant in history?" Milly said with tears beginning to flow down her cheeks. "And don't even get me started on the things you did, both as an Emperor and Zero!"
"I doubt an apology would be sufficient?"
"You're damn right it wouldn't. You are going to be attending school." The busty blonde pointed out as her attitude began to turn back to her usual cheerful and mischievous self.
"Wait… what?" Lelouch asked flatly. "You must be joking."
"You're going to be attending Cera City Academy as a senior in its high school division," Milly explained straightforwardly, but Lelouch was instantly suspicious that the blonde woman had an ulterior motive.
"What's your game, Milly?" Lelouch demanded, his eyes narrowing upon the busty blonde, who for her part, merely shrugged it off with her signature smirk. It was enough to convince the former Emperor that she was up to something.
"Oh, nothing. But I think for someone who was Emperor of the World and a founding member of the United Federation of Nations being a high school dropout is unacceptable, so it's back to school for your last year of high school."
"Really," Lelouch said raising an eyebrow, "I don't know what you are thinking, but you have another reason, don't you?"
"Why, whatever do you mean?"
"I have known you long enough to know that nothing is hardly ever straightforward with you."
Meanwhile, C.C. merely sat in her chair, quietly grinning.
Two weeks later, following his meeting with C.C, Lelouch was enrolled into Cera City Academy where the former Emperor would spend his days adjusting to his new life, but Lelouch wasn't sure if he wanted any part in what was expected of him. After all, it wasn't his war, nor did he have a clear reason to fight. His sister and almost everyone else who had been dear to him was dead. Although C.C. and Milly were alive, it didn't change his mind. His first day had been uneventful so far, so much so that Lelouch couldn't believe he was thinking it, but…
I can't believe I would say it, but I actually miss Ashford Academy and the insanity around it.
The antics of Milly Ashford, the Student Council President, had been troublesome at times to say the least, but it kept his time from attending Ashford Academy from becoming repetitive.
Still, the academy he was attending in Cera City was in some ways better than Ashford Academy, as it had a friendly and more cheerful environment, which Lelouch credited to the lack of spoiled and racist children from privileged Britannian families. His attire consisted of the academy's usual uniform with black pants, matching shoes, a black jacket with white trim and a purple tie.
Classes had already ended for the day, but Lelouch was thankful for Garibaldi's lessons in preparing him for school life on Cera. It had been over a hundred years since he last set foot in a school, and time had kept marching on. Without knowing a little bit of recent history, new teaching methods and technology, Lelouch might have looked like an idiot.
He had also been given a Holo, which combined the functions of a laptop and phone into one watch-sized device on his wrist. It could even project holographic screens for watching movies, playing games, video calls and more, allowing someone to type and write forms using the holographic keyboard that would appear around the watch itself. It was a very useful device, and Lelouch found that he could do just about anything with it. It was one of the devices Garibaldi had taught him how to use; he had caught on quickly enough.
I guess I have to join a club now, but the only one left with openings, oddly enough, is the Student Council.
The only thing Lelouch found odd about the school was the fact that the Student Council had so many vacant seats with only the position of President and Vice-President filled. Lelouch shrugged his shoulders, especially since none of the other clubs appealed to him.
I'll find out soon enough.
Lelouch arrived at the student council club room, but upon entering, he found only one person inside. He was a year younger than Lelouch, but he had blue eyes, a fair skin complexion, and pale white hair. Like Lelouch, he wore the same uniform as him, with the exception that his tie was blue.
"Is this the Student Council Room?"
"Why yes, it is," The white-haired young man said, rising from his seat to greet the new arrival before asking, "Are you the new student I heard would be joining us?"
"Yes. My name is Lelouch Kingsley, and you are?"
"Kayto Shields. A pleasure to meet you," Kayto said extending his hand to shake Lelouch's in a friendly gesture.
"Likewise," Lelouch said returning the gesture before asking, "So where is the president?"
"She'll be along soon."
"I see. But something confuses me…why are there only two of you?" Lelouch said bringing his hand up to his chin to contemplate the question.
"Ah, well…" Kayto began nervously before rubbing the back of his head. "Let's just say our Student Council President can be both serious and quite…dedicated to her job." The white-haired student admitted while he had chosen his last words very carefully.
Before Lelouch could inquire further the door opened and walked in who Lelouch correctly guessed was the Student Council President.
She was the same age as Lelouch, making her a senior of the academy, but from a first glance, Lelouch could see what Kayto meant by being serious and dedicated. In fact, Lelouch was almost convinced he was staring at a complete and total opposite of Milly Ashford.
She stood at the doorway. She was immaculately dressed, and her posture and the way she wore her uniform felt reminiscent of a military officer. Briefly, Lelouch wondered if her family was army, or perhaps navy.
She wore the standard women's uniform: jacket, white shirt and a buttoned-up v-neck sleeveless sweater. The only thing that stood out was her tie, cherry red to match the color of her eyes. Smooth, shoulder-length brown hair framed the statuesque features of her face.
She must be from a strict military family, thought Lelouch. Nobody, not even the wealthier, less than spoiled children put that much effort into a neat, orderly outfit without even a trace of vanity.
"Are you the new student joining the student council?" Demanded the president.
"Yes. My name is Lelouch Kingsley… it is a pleasure to meet you," Lelouch said politely.
"I am Ava Crescentia, student council president. I take it you and my Vice-President have already met?"
"Yes. We just finished introductions before you arrived."
"Good. Since we are very short-handed on the student council at the moment, I won't bother assigning you a position like treasury or secretary. Think of you and Kayto being of the same rank. Responsibilities of the other vacant council positions will be shared between you both."
"I understand…" Lelouch replied. He had expected such a move. It was a logical one, all things considered.
Not much different from when I was the Vice-President, really. Milly tended to dump most of the work onto me.
"I trust this will not be a problem?" Ava inquired folding her arms across her chest.
"Not at all. I am used to pulling double duty on a student council, actually. I was part of the Student Council as well as Vice President of the previous school I had been attending, so if the processes and duties are similar in any way, I should have no problems handling it."
"Double duty?" Kayto asked with a curious expression on his face.
"Let's just say the Student Council President I worked under was curious and excessively playful, with a tendency to go over the top with school events and even create some very unusual events. Her boisterous personality defined her most, but she did leave me with a lot of the paperwork and reports to deal with." Lelouch said.
"Unusual Events?" Ava inquired now curious herself.
"Well aside from I suppose your standard events like school festivals, she had come up with some strange events like the cross-dresser's ball, the absolute silence party, and swimsuit day."
"Swimsuit day?" Kayto asked with a look of confusion, although he suspected what the event entailed.
"All students and teachers wear swimsuits throughout the school day," Lelouch replied with a matter-of-fact tone surprising Ava and Kayto who looked at him with the idea that he was making it up. "I am dead serious. Why do you think I transferred?"
That wasn't true, but it was part of his cover story.
The background story that had been concocted for Lelouch was that he was born of Cera parents and grew up on the planet, but had spent most of his school years off-world living with a relative who was studying aboard. Even through Cera was an isolationist state, it wasn't unheard of for its people to travel off-world to study on different worlds especially those involved with trading, space travel and other jobs and majors that would require time off world for real-world training opportunities. Even the businesses on Cera conducted trading with other planets for imported goods, metals, and ores not found on Cera, which only added more creditablity to his story.
"People dressing up all day in swimsuits couldn't have been all bad?" Kayto said with a shrug of his shoulders, but Ava's opinion was different.
"How could she have gotten approval for such a… it's… just unbelievable." Ava said in disbelief, seeming to be at a loss for words.
"Heh, the Cross-Dressing Ball was probably even more so, as I am sure you two can guess what that involved," Lelouch replied with a smirk.
Kayto was silent for a moment, envisioning the students of his school with female students dressing up as guys, and guys dressing up as girls. He quickly dismissed the thought when a mental image of him dressed in a female school uniform came to mind.
"Wow… okay, I could see why you left."
"No, it was Cupid Day that was the final straw," Lelouch said with a dramatic tone of voice, although that wasn't exactly true, he thought it would make for a good story just the same.
"Cupid Day?" Ava inquired, having a bad feeling about it in the pit of her stomach, but curiosity outweighed her hesitance. What could be so terrible about Cupid Day?
"Cupid Day was a time for couples to declare themselves by exchanging heart-shaped hats with one another, blue for boys and pink for girls, obviously. I was, unfortunately, a popular target for some reason, so I had a few girls eyeing to jump me before the event began. But what complicated things further was the president putting a bounty on my head."
"A bounty?" Kayto asked while Ava was beginning to see where this was going.
"She offered priority on the budget and extra funds for the club that brought her my hat," Lelouch replied with a sigh as he recalled the frenzy Milly had wiped the school into with that announcement.
The white-haired young man looked at Lelouch with disbelief in his eyes. "You're serious?"
"I wish... she got the whole school in a frenzy hunting me down. I had to dodge the science club, rugby club, horseback riding club and even the Fantasy Seduction Club."
"Fantasy… Seduction Club?" Kayto said as he tried to envision that one, but a quick glare from Ava stopped him.
"It's exactly what you would expect it to be, so needless to say returning to Cera couldn't have come at a better time," Lelouch said, concluding his story. Lying was second nature to him, and one with elements of truth to it was even better.
"Can I expect there will be no such chaos during my time here?"
"Nah I think you don't have to worry about a thing here," Kayto said assumingly.
Regardless, Ava was confident that Lelouch was a member of the council unlikely to leave.
The door opened at that instant as a voice familiar to Lelouch, but her arrival caused Ava to cringe.
Oh dear god, no.
Lelouch thought as he knew Milly had something planned for him, and his suspicions were realized with her standing in the doorway. Ava looked at Milly with annoyance, which was enough for the former Emperor to recognize that Milly was a regular in the school. Taking into account her older age, Lelouch began to dread the position she had in the school which he could only guess was one of an administrator or a teacher.
Please don't let her be the one in charge of this school! Lelouch thought, silently hoping she was just a teacher, because if she was anything higher up, then he feared the situation would only get worse for him. But then again, he had a hard time envisioning Milly as a teacher unless she was the principal of the school.
"Miss Ashford, how are you today?" Ava said with a forced smile as Lelouch could feel the friction going on between them. Which made sense, considering how much of a handful Milly had been as student council president. He couldn't even begin to imagine just how much Ava had to have put up with from Milly in a much higher position of power than she was in her school days.
He was already feeling sympathy for Ava.
Judging from their reactions when I recounted some of my time from Ashford Academy, I guess it's safe to assume that Kayto and Ava hadn't been pressed into Milly's troubling sense of fun, the former Emperor thought. He felt some relief at the thought, but knowing he was now a student subordinate to her, he feared much would change. The smirk Milly flashed him for a brief second made Lelouch nervous.
If I wasn't in hell when I was dead, I think I am now.
"Good afternoon to you too, Ava. But seriously, as student council president, you need to smile more and be cheerful."
"An overly cheerful personality and presentation will lead the students to believe you are a negligent leader who isn't taking their duties seriously," Ava said with emotionless tone and face to match. She seemed Milly's opposite in every conceivable way.
Noticing Lelouch's expression of confusion and worry, Kayto put a hand on his shoulder to pull Lelouch away from the two women to talk privately whispering to one another.
"So I guess you're wondering what is going on, right?"
"You could say that?" Lelouch said.
"The blonde is Milly Ashford, who is the teacher of the home economics class, but she is the overseer of the Student Council, and in charge of festivals and school events."
That last part is hardly surprising given Milly's preference for planning out school events and festivals. Lelouch thought as most of the administrative and paperwork was dumped on him and some of the other council members, but whenever a festival or school event was coming up Milly was always front and center in planning and getting everything prepared.
Lelouch was just thankful she wasn't the principal of the school.
I guess that explains she hasn't been able to go over the top as she normally does with school events.
The former Emperor observed how Ava was trying to restrain a considerable amount of frustration she wanted to express, but considering she was a teacher and a member of the school administration Ava couldn't do so.
Even so…you have my sympathy, Ava.
Later that evening, Lelouch returned to the new apartment C.C. had set up for him, only a short walk away from the school premises. Once there, he was surprised to see someone inside waiting for him. Lelouch instinctively reached for a gun, but he realized he didn't have one. But the man sitting on the simple padded chair raised a hand, gesturing for the former Emperor to calm down.
"Relax, Lelouch. I am not here to harm you, but I am not surprised you do not recognize me."
"Who are you?"
"Heh, take a guess, because…" The man began to say as Lelouch began studying his appearance.
He wore a brown trench coat over a white dress shirt with the top two buttons undone, with black pants and matching shoes. He looked old, ancient even. His skin was wrinkled, pale and spotted, and his thin hair was pale white, but at the same time he looked to be in remarkably good shape for somebody so old. His voice was strong and firm, and as Lelouch looked him in the eye, something felt very familiar.
"You ordered me to live."
A look of shock passed Lelouch's face as he asked, "Suzaku, is that you?"
"You know, I should be the one with that look on my face, considering I was the one who killed you." Suzaku Kururugi said matter-of-factly, cocking an eyebrow in fascination.
"You can't be glad to see me alive, can you?" Lelouch asked, his face turning serious.
"Yes and no," Suzaku replied sagely before he added, "when you live as long as I have, you see things and learn new things. On the one hand, you killed the love of my life, and even after all these years, I still miss her… but on the other, you paid the full price for your actions. And frankly, as strange as it is to say, I think we need you back now more than ever."
"It's about PACT, isn't it?"
Lelouch decided to not stand at the doorway gawking at his visitor, so he took a seat on the small sofa near Suzaku.
"When Earth fell to the New Empire, everything fell apart at the seams. Britannia, the EU and the Chinese Federation including the United Federation of Nations were completely undone." Suzaku began grimly.
"I was already so very old by then, but we didn't have any weapons with which to defend ourselves against them. They used orbital bombardments to wipe out major cities and military bases before sending in ground forces. By then, we were too scattered or ill-equipped to fight them off."
"Why didn't you push for Earth to join the Solar Alliance?"
"I tried, but the UFN chairman and some of the national leaders were very wary of the alliance, even with the threat of the New Empire. I even tried to propose a compromise where we would be under the protection of the Solar Alliance while we could begin a slow adjustment to the larger galaxy we had become part of. I guess too many people were nervous or scared. I suppose that was the one time I wished you were around."
Lelouch said nothing at first, but he instead studied Suzaku's old and tried expression seeing the frustration, anger, and sadness. He was sure his old friend had to have tried everything- something like this could never have happened without Suzaku having given his all to stop this. He could not be faulted for it.
"Those idiots…" Lelouch muttered, seething with anger.
"I think you were right…" Suzaku said sounding like he had just drunk a full glass of lemon extract.
"Reason is the slave of emotion, especially fear." Suzaku mused before he continued. "No matter how hard I tried, all of my attempts were shut down by their xenophobia."
"And they just wanted to hide their heads in the sand, didn't they?" Lelouch said with a look of disgust.
"Yes. And you already know what happened next?"
"I think I probably shouldn't know the details," Lelouch said as a part of him feared to hear what became of his niece and others he had been close to, provided they were still alive at the time, knowing that considering the possibilities and possible fates being killed might have been preferable to capture. Even though he tried not to think about it the various outcomes of what people might have endured was unsettling, to say the least.
"I managed to escape and join Compact, becoming one of its key members alongside C.C. and Jeremiah. The organization used the Black Knights and your exploits as Zero as inspirations to build themselves up, even creating a masked identity for their leader."
"Veniczar S. Arcadius. I heard he wears as mask," Lelouch asked which earned him a confirmation nod from Suzaku, "so they followed my example you say?"
"Mostly, but only after that Compact became its own resistance group. It didn't accomplish much at first, but after the Imperial Army began suffering defeat after defeat, more people began questioning the rulers of the Empire, allowing Compact to gain more followers combined with funding from the Alliance itself," Suzaku explained.
"Then almost a hundred years later, you guys finally won? The Empire was slowly dying ever since it lost the war due to vicious infighting among the imperial family and nobles that lasted for decades," Lelouch said knowing the New Empire had just fallen recently so the rest was easy to piece together. "But…how are you still alive?"
Suzaku laughed, before answering: "Well, I suppose that must seem quite strange. Unlike Jeremiah, I didn't convert my body into a cyborg. Not completely, at least. I had some light internalized cybernetic enhancements done to strengthen my aged body, and later some nanomachines provided by Lloyd have dramatically increased my longevity. You'd be surprised at how old some people can live up to if you got access to the right health care."
Lelouch raised an eyebrow, wondering if that was more to that tale.
"Science marches forward, I see. But I suppose we should get back to the matter at hand? You sound as if you were there when Compact overthrew the New Empire."
Suzaku smiled before explaining, "I was commanding one of their ships when we finally attacked and sacked New Eden, bringing down the New Empire once and for all, but things began to change radically after that."
"The change began with PACT's leader?" Lelouch asked.
"Yes…I have known most of those who assumed the identity of Arcadius, but the latest one to adopt the mantle was…different," Suzaku explained. "But he began working towards military buildup while consolidating his power, followed by speeches of unifying the galaxy."
"Not through peace, I presume?"
"No. He made various claims about the governments and nations outside of PACT being corrupt and greedy, along with a long list of claims which most of which weren't true, but his influence among his followers is disturbingly comparable to what you achieved as Zero."
"So he wants to liberate the galaxy, but rather it's just a justification for galactic conquest." The former Emperor inquired, to which Suzaku nodded his head in response.
"Lelouch, the people of the Neutral Rim don't have a chance in hell in withstanding the PACT onslaught, and aside from the military buildup, I heard that Arcadius has launched some secret projects. One of them includes the construction of a new flagship for himself, which is supposed to be unlike anything in the last one hundred years."
Lelouch deduced something by studying Suzaku's aged expression before asking. "Suzaku, there is something else that has you deeply disturbed about Arcadius, isn't there?"
Suzaku paused in realization as he felt his own emotions were being transmitted through his expressions, but after a moment Suzaku adopted a solemn facial expression before he answered.
"Not long after PACT secured its power base at New Eden, a group of survivors, mostly members of the nobility and the royal family, were found in a fallout shelter. They were mostly women and children," Suzaku said, which his expression and tone was already a clear indication of where this story was heading.
"They surrendered peacefully, but Arcadius ordered them executed, having no use for them…its how he did it that is the most troubling."
"He wanted to set an example, didn't he?"
"Yes. He cornered them, and had every last one of them lined up and shot, one by one. It was a brutal, bloody execution."
Lelouch felt taken aback. Even though he had done such things himself, it was an abhorrent thing to do.
"No one questioned it, and Arcadius instead blamed it on the remnants of the Empire trying to take as many lives with them as possible."
"And I assume there were similar incidents?"
"Yes, and those who questioned it found themselves marked as traitors or just disappeared," Suzaku said with a haunted expression on his face, which even Lelouch found unsettling to look at.
"What of Nunnally's daughter?"
"As far as I could tell she was captured following the initial occupation, but despite my efforts, I hadn't found any sign of her, so I am not sure if she survived or not."
"So Lelouch, I think I should give this back," Suzaku said, opening up a small duffle bag that had been sitting next to his chair. He pulled out an all too familiar shiny black mask before handing it to Lelouch who made no effort to take it.
"What makes you think I'll take it up again?"
"Aside from the obvious fact, this galaxy is going to need you when PACT inevitably begins its invasion of the Neutral Rim, I see it as a chance of changing the world…no…the galaxy on a scale no one has done in over a hundred years. Maybe then we can take back Earth, and having the gratitude of those people might help us towards rebuilding the Earth."
Suzaku paused for a moment.
"Furthermore, if someone doesn't do it, then some poor kids like us will probably end up going through what we did. Besides Arcadius and PACT were created from your legacy, or based off of it, so you are better qualified to deal with them," Suzaku said with a firm look of resolve on his face.
"There is no one left, Suzaku?"
"No," Suzaku said, shaking his head, "nobody that could do it. All the more reason for you to become Zero again."
"Huh," Lelouch said, surprised by Suzaku's choice of words.
"Most of them died believing everything we did had changed the world for the better. Sure, not everyone agreed with it, but you cannot deny the results we achieved in the end. Kallen, Nunnally, Kaguya, Rivalz, Jeremiah, Sayoko, and even Milly believed you gave them a better world. I am not asking you to become Zero again to seek forgiveness for your past sins, but to take up the mantle to make a real change this time, to show them their faith in you wasn't misplaced. If you don't, then someone else less experienced and less understanding of the consequences of his or her actions will suffer what we endured."
"You're saying, then, that I am the right choice because of my experience?" Lelouch asked in an almost self-mocking tone.
"Yes, if you consider your accomplishments and the fact you have your Geass still."
"I suppose, but do I even deserve a second chance?"
"There is hardly any point in debating it. You are alive again after you were killed, so you have a second chance now. Put it to good use."
Lelouch gazed at the black mask, as Suzaku set it on the table between them. The former emperor of Britannia was lost in thought as he began processing Suzaku's words and considered donning the mantle of Zero once more.
There was a part of him that almost made him reconsider doing so, but another part of him was of a different opinion.
He brought one hand to his forehead in a vain effort to calm the conflicting torrent of emotions and memories running through his mind at that moment, as Suzaku silently observed. He had expected Lelouch wasn't just going to accept the mantle again after one conversation after all that had happened, but he had at least planted the seed.
A coy smile appeared on his face as Suzaku thought, How ironic. I hated the idea he had become, Zero and everything he had done, but here I am trying to convince him to become that demon of justice once more.
A/N: yes that is right Milly is still alive, although I originally intended for her to be dead. However, a series of events led to her living well beyond her years if not solely to torment poor Lelouch for his previous actions. Then we have Suzaku who thanks in part to the Geass Lelouch had cursed him with is still alive…but barely who might even have some fight left in him. A few other CG characters who have survived, but two more will appear who have only made it by extreme means which I will reveal when they make their appearance.