Prologue:

5 days post Z.R. (Zero Requiem)

Suzaku resisted the urge to tug at the restrictive cloth of his high collar as he made his way wearily through the halls of his new home – of Zero's home. The residence –too large for a single person really, but it served as both dwelling and office– had been a gift from Lady Kaguya, his cousin who could never know who he truly was, could never know he still lived. He hadn't wanted to accept it, had thought it too much, too grand, but Kaguya had insisted, telling him that the people needed a symbol, a place as well as a person, and he couldn't refuse her because he knew she was right. It was what Lelouch would have done.

He tried to shrug his shoulders unobtrusively, hoping to ease the pressure at his throat. How had Lelouch stood this restrictive clothing? It kind of itched too. Still, he didn't see why it bothered him so much, it wasn't all that different from the uniform he'd worn while piloting the Lancelot. He wondered if his discomfort had less to do with the nature of the cloth of his current garb and more to do with the weight of expectation surrounding it.

The five days since the completion of Lelouch's "Zero Requiem" had been an overwhelming whirlwind of activity. He'd attended meeting after meeting with all manners of foreign powers, local authorities, and representatives of the people of the new world order. What with the reorganization of the government and military structures, the reallocation of Britannia's territories, and taking command of the Black Knights, he had hardly had time to breathe. It didn't matter that Zero was not the official leader of the UFN; he was in fact if not on paper. It seemed everyone needed Zero's opinion on something.

He was grateful for the framework that Lelouch had left in place for him, for them, for this. He shuddered to think what would have happened without all of his former friend and conspirator's careful planning. The evidence of his foresight was staggering. Had a seventeen year old truly been able to predict the tides of politics and the mass psychology of human nature so well? He was truly a master strategist in all things. And yet there was still so much left to do. Thinking of all he had done in the last few days and all he would have to do, in the near future, beyond that, Suzaku felt aged beyond his years.

"Damn it, Lelouch," he muttered to himself, "you weren't kidding when you said we'd both have to die to carry out this plan. Suzaku Kurarugi really is no more."

Still, this was his penance. He would endure for the sake of a better world, a peaceful future.

Suzaku nodded to a passing staff member –the appointment of a private staff he'd conceded on his own, as it was in keeping with Zero's established character– as he made his way through the wide halls. Just a little further and he'd reach his destination and perhaps, at last, find a bit of the peace he so desperately craved. If nothing else he might conceivably catch a few minutes' rest – the staff seemed loathe to disturb him in his study.

Suzaku paused before a heavy wood door, ornately carved with curling strokes vaguely reminiscent of leaves. A curious choice for Kaguya, as it was far more in keeping with Britannian tastes in carpentry than Japanese, but perhaps she had commissioned it with Lelouch Lamperouge, the Brittannian schoolboy, in mind. Pushing the door open, he stepped inside only to stop mid-motion.

Across the room, facing the window, was a woman.

She was not tall, but she had an energy and vitality, even now, that demanded attention – though he fancied he could sense a sadness in her that had not been present before. It was not that she had not held sorrow for all the time he'd known her, but rather that this was a different kind of sorrow, more personal, deeper perhaps. Still she held her shoulders squared and her chin raised, determined to face this new world head on.

He cursed himself in the confines of his mind for not noticing the presence of another before entering. Dangerous, he scolded. Was he slipping so much already? And now, when he could afford it least. Still, he supposed it was understandable - he wasn't used to this kind of weariness. Physical exhaustion he could push through, but this constant intellectual exercise was something entirely new to him – as was the weight of knowing that his decisions now affected the entire world.

Understandable, perhaps, he conceded, but still unacceptable.

He studied the woman's back, noting for the first time her apparel: dark slacks and a businesslike jacket. It was, perhaps, the first time he had ever seen her legs covered. The professional look seemed at odds with her spiked out locks, but then, he was so used to seeing her in her uniform –school or otherwise– that perhaps it was only that.

At least he wasn't in danger from her.

He felt some of the tension seep from his body as he stepped soundlessly into the room and closed the door behind him; yet he was still uncertain. Why she was here? What was it she wanted?

She did not move, did not turn, and yet he knew that she knew he was there. Of course she did, because it was her. For long moments there was an expectant silence.

"This was his plan from the beginning, wasn't it?" she spoke suddenly, her voice carrying in the dead silence of the room, seeming louder than it actually was. She didn't seem to require a response from him as she continued. "Him becoming Emperor and being struck down? To change the world he had to destroy it; had to rally it against a common enemy. He needed a villain so evil everyone would hail his killer as a savior, and when he couldn't find one he created one – became one." She gave a bleak laugh. "And I didn't figure it out until the very end." Her fists clenched. "Until it was too late to save him, too late to tell him . . ." Her voice faded to nothing, and he could hear in it the tears she was no doubt holding back. "I was such a fool."

She reached out, pressed one palm flat to the glass of the window and stared out into the distance. He wondered if she was seeing what was out there, or if she was lost in her own mind, in a world of thought and memory and grief.

"You know, I don't think he ever intended to live into this new world of his," she said softly. "I think he knew. Always knew." She shifted, and for a moment he thought that she would turn and face him, but in the end she merely leaned a little closer to the glass, resting her head on her hand. "What was that he used to say? 'Those who kill should be prepared to be killed.'" She drew a deep breath and finally, finally, turned to face him, hands falling loosely at her sides.

"Hello, Suzaku," she said quietly. There was no evidence in her expression of the tears that had earlier threatened to fall. He hadn't expected otherwise. It didn't surprise him that she knew who he was either, and it never occurred to him to try to deceive her. Wearily, he removed the mask, holding it under one arm and running his free hand through his tousled brown locks.

"Kallen, what are you doing here?"

"You're Zero now."

Uncertain what to make of that statement, Suzaku said nothing.

She took a step forward. "Have you forgotten?" she asked him. "I'm Zero's Knight."

His eyes widened as he came to understand what she meant. "Kallen—" he began to protest, only to be cut off.

"As long as Zero exists, I live for him."

Her gaze held his steadily, almost steely, as if daring him to refuse her. For a time there was silence as they measured one another. It was pointless, he decided, he could see that. And, really, would it be so bad to have someone to share the burden with? To have someone with him he knew? Who remembered? There was Nunnally, of course, but Nunnally was still a child, there was only so much she could understand, only so much he would burden her with. But Kallen . . . Kallen was stronger than anyone he had ever known. He would never have asked it of her, but if she was willing – and more so, determined . . .

"Well, there's not much point in telling you no, is there?" he asked ruefully.

"Not really," she responded, and one corner of her mouth quirked upward just a bit, an echo of what it might have been before— just before.

Suzaku took a step, closing the distance between them, and offered her his hand. "Welcome to the team."

XXXXXXXXXXX

A/N: I'm well behind the fanfic train, I know, and this series didn't make it huge, so I'm not expecting much response, but I wrote the first couple chapters of this maybe 9 years ago and I felt like finishing it off and posting it. Hopefully someone out there will still enjoy it.

Thanks for reading,

reenas-as