Relevant notes: Spoilers up to R2, Turn 8. Takes place after the end of Turn 8.
A/N: Where is the Lelouch/Kallen apology scene for what happened in Turn 7? Where?! (Not enough L/K fic around here, so you'll probably find me spamming the place with it, when inspiration/time allows me to. Requests welcome!
Edited 28th May 2009.
A Measure of Sincerity
She stood a little further along the platform from her fellow Black Knights, her Zero mask clutched in her hands. The real Zero- Lelouch- was somewhere in the crowd of identically dressed passengers, and it unnerved her, somewhat, seeing all those clones.
No, not clones, she corrected herself. They looked like Zero, but in no other way were they similar to the original. He's one in a million. She smiled at how apt the cliché was in their situation and wondered if Lelouch's ego had prompted the plan.
Ougi and some of the others began trailing inside to assess the accommodation available. They called to her as they headed in, but she waved vaguely and promised to join them in a moment.
The sun was setting and her mood sank with it, becoming strangely pensive. She hadn't had the chance to visit her brother's grave before they'd left Japan, but she'd managed to slip a message to her mother, sixteen words smuggled in by a Geass'd nurse at the treatment centre: I'll come back, Mother, and by then the world will be a better place. I promise.
'We aren't leaving forever,' a familiar voice told her.
She looked at Lelouch as he stepped up beside her, naturally still clad in his disguise. She shrugged and he tilted his head, inquiringly.
'You don't think so?' he asked.
There was a touch of disbelief in his words. She was reminded of the time he'd told her she had not been Geass'd into being his slave, and she'd expressed uncertainty. The knowledge that people didn't always trust him unwaveringly seemed to hurt him.
'I do,' she said, not quite truthfully. 'It just... It doesn't make leaving any easier.' She didn't want to admit to him- or to herself, for that matter- that lately she'd been having doubts of whether she would survive to see the downfall of Britannia. If Lakshata hadn't had the Guren upgrade ready... If Lelouch hadn't appeared when they'd been trapped in the Order's submarine...
'You're worried about your mother,' he said, slowly; thankfully, he didn't seem to have penetrated any further into the source of her melancholy. 'Don't. Suzaku wouldn't stoop as low as to target your family.'
It surprised her to find that the word "family" reminded her of people she'd thought she'd forgotten.
'How are the Student Council members?' she asked. He didn't seem surprised by the abrupt subject change. Maybe he understood.
'Good. Kaichou had us working in her new garden-'
'That must have been terrible.'
'How so?' Lelouch asked, sounding confused.
'You and physical exercise don't mix,' she said, promptly and triumphantly taking the opportunity to avenge herself for his past jabs at her.
'It's kind of you to think of me,' he returned, just as quickly, 'but raking and shovelling aren't quite marathon runs.'
They stood in silence for a few minutes.
'I'm glad they're well,' Kallen sighed.
'They were concerned about you,' Lelouch informed her. 'Shirley asked Suzaku whether he could get a pardon for you from the Governor.'
'A pardon?' she repeated. She laughed, partly at the idea and partly to suppress the questions his mention of the Governor had springing to her lips. He said something else, but she missed it, too busy staring at the Zero mask she was holding and wondering how much of their current strategy had been formed because of his sister's position. Was it unfair of her to think that? She didn't think she would have been able to fight directly against her brother...
'You have an odd fascination with that mask,' he observed suddenly.
'What?' she asked, startled out of her thoughts. 'What do you mean?'
'You haven't let go of it since we left Japan.'
'What else am I supposed to do with it?' she asked, directing an exasperated look at him. 'Throw it into the water? I would wear it, but one mysterious strategist on this ship is enough.'
'You're neither mysterious nor a strategist, Kallen,' he said, sounding amused.
She glared at him, her hands tightening unconsciously around the mask. 'I'll admit the strategist part is true, but you don't know enough about me to say I'm not mysterious. Everyone on this ship is mysterious, in some sense.'
'You don't think that by now, I would have learned as much as I could about all of you?' he asked her, a smile in his words. 'No, I'm afraid you're not very mysterious to me.'
'Have you never heard of "invasion of privacy"?'
'Have you never heard of "knowledge is power"?'
An odd shiver ran up her spine at his retort. He might have noticed her expression change, because suddenly he was turning to look at the water, his arms resting on the railing.
'What do you know about me?' she asked, careful not to reveal anything on the off-chance he wasn't as well-informed as he claimed to be.
'What don't I know about you?'
'Stop being cryptic,' she snapped, and it struck her how easily he pushed her temper up and over boiling point.
'You're so easily fired up, Kallen,' he commented, echoing her own thoughts. 'Perfect for a Knightmare pilot, but not very good for an obedient subordinate.'
'An obedient subordinate isn't always the best role to play-' she started heatedly, before catching herself just in time and stopping. The incident she had in mind was too embarrassing to bring up.
She didn't know how he did it, but he glanced at her when she hesitated, and seemed to pick up straightaway what she was thinking of, his next sentence evidence to that fact.
'About the other night, Kallen-'
'No, it doesn't matter-' she began, interrupting him and in turn being interrupted by him.
'It does matter,' he said firmly. 'You put your faith and trust in me despite all that's happened, and I took advantage of that.'
She was tempted to put her hands over her ears, but she mimicked his pose instead, turning away to look at the ocean. She hoped he wouldn't see the hot blush spreading over her cheeks.
'And... I'm sorry,' he finished, somewhat awkwardly.
He didn't seem very comfortable with apologies, but she appreciated it all the same. She glanced at him; she wished she could see beyond that mask, even though he was probably glad he was wearing it.
'It's fine,' she told him. 'It was understandable, your position-' And suddenly they were treading dangerous water again, the image of Governor Nunnally taking occupation of her mind. She tried to think of something to say that didn't have anything to do with Nunnally. Lightly, she said, 'I'm not going to apologise for slapping you, though. You deserved it.'
'Oh, I did. And I suppose I should thank you for it, and for what you said. You're quite the speech-maker.'
She blushed again, though she was glad that they were returning to easy banter mode. She'd never been comfortable with feelings and sentimentality.
'Not of my calibre, but...'
'Lelouch Lamperouge,' she hissed, the blush fading with her exasperation. 'You need to watch your ego before that mask becomes too small for your head.'
'Fine, fine, I'll stop,' he sighed. He tapped his palms on the railing and stood up straight, preparing to leave. 'I really am sorry for that night, Kallen.'
She nodded to show that she knew, even if sincerity was a hard thing to measure when someone was speaking from behind a mask.
'Next time, I won't be so forceful.'
It took a moment to register his words; her attention had been caught by a dog racing along the ship. They'd brought a dog along?
'W-Wait!' she half-gasped, half-screeched, as what he said finally sank in. She ignored the curious faces turning her way. 'Next time?'
She swore she could feel his sly smile when he answered.
'Well, maybe. We'll see.'
He escaped before she could answer and she realised suddenly that she really hated that mask. It was irritating, not being able to see someone's expression.
'Stupid Lelouch,' she muttered, hitting her Zero mask with vigour.