Standard Disclaimer: Code Geass and its characters are not my property, etc. If you're offended by explicit, mature themes, then read on and let me try to change your mind. 18+ please.
Timeline Note: This chapter covers material from R2, Episode 25.
Author's Note: There's character death in this one – big surprise, right? :)
The Castaway Prince - A Code Geass Lemon Fanfiction by ClockMaker411
Chapter 8 – Sacrifice
Trailing her fingertips lightly over the smooth, acrylic-glass walls of the holding cells, C.C. walked slowly down the curving corridor, each soft footfall accompanied by the quiet rustle of polyester fabric and the intermittent clink metal buckles adorning her restraint suit. It was an old habit, keeping a hand on a wall as she moved – perhaps a consequence of having so often had to find her way in the dark, by which the sensation of touch offered the only sense of security and direction. Though she had, for the most part, schooled the behavior from the rest of her mannerisms, it did tend to manifest itself when she was apprehensive or absentminded. And today, she was both.
Over these past two months, how many times had she come this far, only to turn back, stricken with second thoughts? It galled her to be so indecisive – it wasn't like her, and yet, considering just what this scheme would entail, how could anyone be resolute? That was just an excuse, she knew, and she grimaced. This time, there could be no stopping halfway – it would be her last chance, if she were truly going to go through with it. Today had marked the culmination of Lelouch's plan to unify the world, when the E.U. had at last ratified the U.F.N. Charter and been assimilated, if grudgingly, into his fold. Tomorrow, the Emperor of Britannia by rights, and the ruler of the world by conquest, would celebrate the occasion of his victory with the public execution of the few enemies unwise enough to stand against him.
Her gaze flickering off to the left, C.C. frowned as she regarded the wide expanse of cells that she passed, all of which stood empty. All save for one, at least – and that one was still a ways off yet. It wasn't the absence of other prisoners that troubled her – Lelouch had cleared this entire level of the tower prison for the benefit of its sole inhabitant. No, what worried her were the shafts of sunlight stealing in from the narrow slit windows inlaid in the far walls. What she had recalled as slashes of bright yellow and white only moments past were now darkening into orange and red. Sunset, already...? Had she come too late? Would she have enough time? That woman could be intolerably stubborn, when she put her mind to it... C.C. quickened her stride.
Her haste seemed to have the desired effect, as almost abruptly, the cell came into view, distinguished by the pair of visored guards posted at its door. When they saw her approach, they saluted crisply, raising right fist to left shoulder. It was good that they recognized her – it would allow things to go far more smoothly. Her position as Lelouch's... consort?... had granted her considerable authority – she was the one woman in whom the Emperor confided, and was thus, by some, accorded a rank second only to Lelouch himself.
C.C. paid them little heed, stopping only when she stood before the plexiglas doorway to the cell, her hand floating in hesitation above the illuminated access panel as her eyes scanned the interior of the narrow room. It was spartan in its furnishings, with a low cot flanking the left wall and fixtures of stainless steel on the right. The woman herself sat astride a bench at the far end of the cell, one leg drawn up, clutched to her chest with both arms, while the other extended almost languidly along the length of the bench. She was staring absently at the setting sun through a tall slit window. And she hadn't noticed C.C.'s arrival, yet.
Her hand trembled, but willfully she banished those reservations, reminding herself again why she was doing this. It wasn't because she felt guilty over keeping them apart, both by deceiving Kallen when she had left the Ikaruga, and by stopping Lelouch from contacting her when they had escaped from Kaminejima. The separation had been unavoidable, even if it had been accompanied by the added incentive of advancing her own private agenda. It was because that now, even after the need had passed, he still refused to see her, out of a twisted sense of justice dictating that this was what he deserved – despite just how adversely that punishment was affecting him. It was because she had seen his eyes, beneath the mask of smug arrogance he upheld for the rest of the world. She had seen the pain, the sadness, the loneliness – sentiments with which she had been far too familiar in the innumerable decades of her immortal life, until... Until she had met him.
And now, C.C. had the chance to relieve some of that suffering – to grant a last measure of happiness to the man she loved. So what if that meant that he would find comfort in the arms of another woman? What did it matter that her heart felt as if it were being wrenched from her chest? Drawing a long, steadying breath, she forced herself to tap the keypad with a fingertip, opening the door in a soft hiss. She would fulfill the promise that he himself had made to her – to let him die, smiling.
"If you're here to gloat," Kallen called dryly over one shoulder, glancing at the green-haired woman standing at the entryway to her cell, "don't bother. You can have him, C.C. – I thought I'd made that much clear." A lilting chuckle answered her, and ignoring the sound, she returned to observing the world outside, seen through the narrow slit window of thick acrylic glass. At least Lelouch had been kind enough to provide her with a view, even if it only overlooked the wide crater that FLEIA had carved out of the Tokyo Settlement, three months prior.
Disregarding the cold welcome, C.C. stepped smoothly inside, the paneled door sliding closed behind her. "I'm here to talk, Kallen," she remarked quietly. The mirth was gone, and in its place was something that sounded like an oddly reticent sense of… concern. "You may not be so eager to give him up, once you hear what I have to say."
Perhaps it was the sentiment in her speech, one she had never before heard from C.C., or perhaps it was the knowledge that the other woman would not be dissuaded, that made Kallen turn her attention away from the window and look at C.C. in earnest. She was dressed in a white restraint suit, fitted with black straps and metal buckles; the attire differed slightly from the simpler prisoner's garb that Kallen herself wore, but it certainly didn't look out of place in the stark white and stainless steel setting of her cell. And neither did she, much to Kallen's chagrin, when C.C. took her pillow in one hand, clutching it in both arms as the helped herself to a seat on the foot of her mattress. Because the far end of the bed abutted the wall on which her own seat was bolted, Kallen had no other choice but to look at her squarely, sitting as she was astride the bench.
In the silence, hard blue eyes regarded passive yellow, those irises of amber peering out from behind the white cushion of the pillow. Kallen grew irritated. "Well? Out with it, already." Her gaze narrowing, she added bitterly, "And if this is some scheme he's cooked up to make me go to him, it won't work. If he wants me, he can come down here and use his Geass on me himself. I'm just surprised he waited this long."
"It isn't that simple." Breaking off her stare, C.C. glanced back to the clear paneled door, as if having second thoughts about her decision to come here. Slowly, she drew a breath, and as she released it, her attention shifted back to Kallen, the cast of her features grim, but resolute. "Lelouch's Geass doesn't work that way."
Furrowing a brow, Kallen studied the woman suspiciously, her tone carefully guarded when she spoke. "What are you talking about?"
"His power," C.C. began slowly, as if contemplating how to phrase the words, "it's not without… limitations." She took a moment to adjust herself around the pillow, letting her chin rest comfortably on top of it, then continued. "He's used it on you before, Kallen – he told me that much. Once he casts a Geass on a person, they gain a sort of… immunity, toward it. It won't work on the same person twice." Her lips pursed, her look considering as she added, "Though I suppose there is a way around it, but it's complicated. Suffice it to say if he were truly determined, it could be done. But he isn't going to use it on you." Golden eyes shifted back to Kallen's blue, holding her with a very intent stare. "You must have realized that, yes? Or else why would he wait?"
That detail had nagged at her since the beginning of her incarceration, almost two months ago. On the first night, she had waited, anxious and angry, dreading what would come, and yet… nothing. Days passed, and gradually those days lengthened into weeks, with still no word or command, no pair of guards coming to drag her from her cell and cast her at his feet. It puzzled her, and much to her dismay, Kallen found that it also annoyed her – hadn't he said, when they had spoken in the Student Council Clubhouse, that he would have her at his side, even if it meant taking her against her will? She knew it was foolish to feel slighted – by all rights, she should have considered herself lucky to have been overlooked – and yet, ridiculous as it was, the feeling remained.
She spoke suddenly, as if an abrupt realization had come to her. "So when he threatened to use his Geass on me, back at Ashford…." C.C. finished the thought.
"It was a bluff." She let that sink in for a few moments, and then continued, the character of her speech soft and considerate. "I don't know exactly what he said to you," she murmured, her gaze dropping down to regard the pillow in her arms, "but I'm certain that they were only half-truths, meant to vilify him in your eyes. To make you resent him, so you wouldn't be a party to… all of this." She flicked her hand, the simple swish of her wide sleeve seeming to gesture to everything that Lelouch had done since becoming Emperor. "Surely that isn't a novel concept for him – casting you away, to spare you from his fate. That was what happened aboard the Ikaruga, wasn't it?"
Leaning back slightly, Kallen turned to look out through the narrow window, at the shadow filling nearly the entirety of the bowl-shaped crater. It was late in the afternoon, edging into early evening. If what she said could be believed, then Lelouch did have another plan, some other rationale behind taking over the world. But that was if C.C. could be trusted. She knew that C.C. had feelings for him; what motive could she have to divulge his supposed "good intentions" to a woman who had once been a rival for his love? Kallen pursed her lips, schooling the suspicion from her voice. When she spoke, her question was calm and even, though she still had not turned to face the woman across from her. "And why are you telling me this, C.C.?"
"Why?" C.C. mused idly, "Well, I suppose there are three reasons." She shifted uncomfortably on the bed, the movement betrayed by the faint squeak of mattress springs beneath her weight. "I feel as if I owe it to you, to tell you." Kallen's attention flicked back to C.C., just in time to see an irritated twitch of her brow disturb an otherwise unreadable countenance. "On the night I left the Ikaruga, there was an uprising on Shikinejima. I trust you remember it?"
"Of course," she replied, somewhat indignantly, "We thought Lelouch was behind it, so I went there to find him." Kallen, at least, had wanted to find him – the others had only wanted to see him dead.
"Yes. Shikinejima was just a diversion – all the while, we were on Kaminejima, at the ruins." Golden eyes stared steadily into blue, unwavering with her next admission. "When we were leaving the island in Shinkirou, Lelouch wanted to contact you. I convinced him otherwise."
Kallen regarded her flatly, her lips twisting in distaste. "You. I should've known." It was certainly not the first time that C.C. had interfered, coming between Lelouch and herself. Her thoughts drifted back to that night, to their parting conversation in his quarters. "Kaminejima... you knew where he was all along, didn't you?" she stated accusingly, unable to keep the spite from her expression. "You knew, even before you left."
"I didn't know for certain, but yes, I had an idea where he might be." C.C. seemed unruffled by her show of anger. "There were... larger events afoot, that night." A hint of color stained her cheeks, and she admitted quietly, "Still... I wanted time alone with him – to ascertain something for myself." Her voice hardened. "As to leaving you in the dark... it was necessary – then." Her tone softened, becoming almost sympathetic, as she continued. "But now…." C.C. shook her head grimly, a frown shaping the line of her mouth. "Now he refuses to see you, out of some misguided notion that suffering is what he deserves. As part of a penance that he must pay, for all the sins he's committed thus far."
"And why would he suffer? This is what he wanted, isn't it?" The words sounded bitter, even to her ears, as she looked out the window, at the columnar towers that dotted the rim of the crater – prisons that Lelouch had erected after the battle at Mt. Fuji, as a way to deal with "dissenters". His actions over these past two months had only served to corroborate what he had said to her in the Student Council Clubhouse, at Ashford Academy. With Damocles and the power of FLEIA behind him, Lelouch had brought the U.F.N. to heel, joining Britannia to the Federation, and using the majority thereby gained, he had elected himself to both the position of Head Chairman to the U.F.N. Supreme Council, and to CEO of the Order of the Black Knights. It was a farce that he upheld well – seeming to go through all the proper channels on the surface, when the true impetus behind his ascension was his Geass, and if the rumors told it true, the added threat of knives in the dark.
"I love him, Kallen." The simple, yet powerful admission drew Kallen's attention back, and she watched, stunned, as C.C. clutched the pillow tighter. Gone was the usual mask of cool serenity, and in its place were features raw and unfettered in their emotion – from the quiver in her downcast eyes, to her trembling lower lip, C.C. looked as if she were on the verge of tears. It was… startling, to suddenly have so much revealed on a visage that for so long had given away nearly nothing. "If you saw him now… if you saw what this is doing to him, you'd understand." She smiled, sorrowfully. "I love him, but he doesn't… I can't…." C.C. shook her head, then finished in a quiet, tight voice. "I think only you can get through to him, now."
Kallen spoke gently into the silence. "…And your third reason?"
It took her a moment to reply, C.C. collecting herself visibly, drawing a steadying breath through parted lips. "Tell me," she began, dabbing at her eyes with the edge of a wide white sleeve, "Do you really think of him as evil?" She laid the pillow flat on her lap, smoothing the wrinkles from the pillowcase. "Do you think he's doing all of this for his own sake?"
She didn't answer. Kallen wanted to believe her, and with that unexpected display of emotion, she thought that C.C. could be trusted, but...
C.C. continued, her voice quiet. "His methods can be cruel, yes, but they are a means to a worthy end. This has all been part of his plan, you see – what he calls Zero Requiem. Tomorrow, that plan will reach full fruition." Amber irises slid back to sapphire, the look in her eyes one of solemn resignation, of sad acceptance – a look that made Kallen swallow inadvertently, as she continued in a timbre of chilling finality: "Tomorrow, he will die – and you are the only one with a chance to save him."
His eyes widening, Lelouch staggered in mid-stride, so startled that he would have fallen, were it not for a clenched grip on the curved door handle he had just turned to step inside his bedroom. It had already been late into the evening when he had retired to his quarters, and noticing the light that crept from beneath the closed, ornately-carved double doors leading to his bed chamber, he had thought that C.C. may have wanted a word with him, but he certainly had not expected... "Kallen," he choked, having to blink several times to ascertain whether the woman he was seeing was real, and not merely a phantom apparition born both out of weary exhaustion and his long-suppressed desire to see her, "...What are you...?"
Wearing? Doing here? Oddly enough, the first of the two questions seemed to be more pressing, as she rose from her seat at the gold-canopied bed, taking a single step toward him onto the lush carpet underfoot. Lelouch couldn't recall ever having seen Kallen in a formal gown, and especially one that would not have looked out of place at the Imperial Court. It was an elegant design of yellow silk trimmed with white, accented by stylized red diamonds at the hips and shoulders. She wore it well, impossibly snug at the bodice, only to flare out in a wide, gently pleated skirt, cut just below the knee at the front, though it appeared to tapering to ankle length at the back. A frilled white collar tied with a red ribbon at her throat complemented the ensemble. She had even straightened her hair.
What lingering hesitance and momentary surprise that marked her features were quickly replaced by a deep, angry scowl, as the single step became a half-dozen more, Kallen smoothly closing the space between them despite the height of her red and ivory high heels. Lelouch, transfixed by the smoldering blue embers of her eyes, did not flinch when her hands became fists in the draping white linen of his imperial robes, forcing him stolidly against the double doors through which he had just entered.
He barely registered the jolt. How long had it been since he had last seen her? Two months… more? After the taking of the Damocles, he had distanced himself from her out of necessity, but now that she was here, within arms reach, it seemed as if all the bottled-up emotion and longing for her came welling back to the surface, summoned by the piercing cobalt augurs staring up at him.
And she, too, was full of emotion – of that there could be no doubt – though its character was of a distinctly different nature. "Lelouch…." She spoke in a low, tight growl of a greeting, seething with ire now breaking the surface, the name seeming to crackle in the air. But what struck him most was the mixed sentiment of her gaze; there was anger there, certainly – that was to be expected. But gone was the horror and disgust with which she had looked upon him at their last, bitter parting – the accusatory eyes that had cut him so deeply, nearly fracturing the façade of wry indifference he had been forced to uphold. Behind the wrath of her glare, he could see pain and doubt, anxiety and sadness, conveyed as clearly to him as the red rimming her eyes attested that she had been weeping. Lelouch understood what that had to mean – he had realized it from the moment he had seen her. That she was here, and further, that she had agreed to wear that dress, affirmed it. She knew.
"C.C.," he muttered under his breath, as if a curse, "…she–". Kallen interjected, the words bitten off through clenched teeth.
"Yes. She told me everything. About you. About your power. About… what will happen tomorrow." At that last, her voice faltered, and she glanced down at his chest, where her hands, fingers clenched, yet pinned him to the door. The way she clamped down hard on her lip made it seem as if apprehension were beginning to overtake her anger, but when her brilliant blue eyes snapped back up to his cool violet, the fury burned all the hotter. "You lied to me," she began harshly, beating her fists on his chest for emphasis, "…you manipulated my feelings, made me hate you, made me think you were…."
He continued smoothly when her speech trailed off. "Evil? A monster?" His tone, calm and collected, stood in marked contrast to her fiery accusations, as he gently but firmly took hold of her wrists, just above the white lace at her sleeves. Those fists were starting to hurt. "That's not far from the truth." Though his inflection never changed, Lelouch understood all too well that he was beginning to fall beneath her spell – from the warmth of her nearness, to the lingering scent of lavender on her skin, calling forth sweet memories of those tender moments together with her – thoughts that would only weaken his resolve. She was too close to him – close enough for a kiss. He had to keep his distance.
Easing her away just enough to sidestep from out against the door, Lelouch released her arms, showing only a hint of visible reluctance, and walked casually toward the carved cherry-wood armoire at the far side of the room. Kallen followed on his heels, her irritation palpable in the weight of her eyes on his back. It was only after he had settled the gold-accented, four-corned mitre on a faceless ebony bust within, and had begun to hang the divided imperial cape and stole, that he addressed her, speaking almost conversationally – matter-of-factly. "Do you remember what I told you, outside my quarters on the Ikaruga?" With his back still to her, he did not wait for her answer, instead pre-empting the reply. "That there was something that I wanted so desperately to achieve that I would give up my morality, my soul – that I would become evil, to have it?" Closing the cabinet doors with a soft click, Lelouch turned, amethyst eyes staring unflinchingly into sapphire blue. "Even if it meant using you – forsaking my love for you and garnering your hatred."
"You could have told me the truth." The scowl had darkened, and she stood just two quick steps away, her arms folded beneath her breasts in a pose of clear feminine agitation. He shook his head, lips twisting wryly.
"And had you known, could you still have brought yourself to fight me?" Despite himself, Lelouch found his own irritation building, and latched onto the feeling. Yes, he had regrets, but in the last two months of reflection, he had come to terms with the fact that this had been the best option – in truth, the only option that would grant her a semblance of a normal life after he was gone. "Or would the feelings you had for me, and the knowledge of my intentions, have swayed you to my side, despite the fact that your only rewards would be the hopeless love for a man destined to die, and a life of lonely exile once Zero Requiem had come to pass?"
"It was my choice to make," she mumbled grudgingly, looking away, the line of her lips pressed into something of an angry pout, suggesting that she knew just how weak that line of defense would prove to be. The sullenness in her expression made him smile inwardly, working to cool the rising irritation inside him. When he spoke, his tone was gentle and familiar, and only barely did he restrain himself from unconsciously lifting a hand to cup her cheek.
"You've always been too rash, Kallen – quick to let your emotions overtake your reason, and cloud your judgment." The affection in his voice took the sting out of the softly spoken admonishment. "I didn't want to put you in that situation, and have you come to regret it."
But if anything, his soothing words had the opposite effect, Kallen's retort sharp and biting as her gaze swung back to him, the flame in her deep blue irises rekindled. "And after the last battle – after you had won?" Taking a step toward him, she let her arms drop to her sides, hands balled into fists so tight that her knuckles turned white with strain. "You could've come to me, explained everything, like you'd promised, and at least I could've spent the past two months with you…." She paused, drawing in a ragged breath as she fought back the tears welling in the corners of eyes, "But instead, I had to hear it all from her… and hear it on the night before, when tomorrow you'll…." Averting her eyes, Kallen bit her lower lip, unable to finish her sentence as wet tears rolled down the sides of her face.
Again, he resisted the urge to touch her, to comfort her, now that she was within arm's reach – to enfold her in his embrace and kiss away her tears, to reassure her that he loved her, and that that would never change. But in the end, wouldn't such thoughts only make things more difficult – both for him to let go, and for her, to move on? And yet, by the same token, he couldn't find the strength inside him to send her away – to be ruthless. In his mind, he could picture C.C., staring at him with those unsettling golden eyes: a look that said "I have given you a chance to make amends; do not waste it." And so, he stood his ground, neither giving in to his feelings nor rejecting her outright, and simply answered her unvoiced question. "I never came to you because I didn't deserve your forgiveness." The tight smile that shaped his mouth was bitter, and never touched his eyes. "I didn't deserve whatever happiness may have come from telling you the truth."
And that was when she flung her arms around him, closing the distance so quickly that Lelouch stumbled back against the carved armoire, her clinging embrace tight and desperate, her voice a stifled sob into the white linen of his tunic. "And what about me? Did you ever think about my feelings?" Drawing a long, uneven breath, Kallen tilted her face upward to look at him, moisture staining her cheeks even as new tears welled in her eyes. "Did I deserve to spend two months alone, hating you and hating myself for still feeling something for you?" One of her hands slid higher, to the back of his neck, entangling itself in his hair almost painfully. "And now, after all this time, I'm suddenly told that it was all just an act – that my love for you wasn't misplaced, despite all the time I spent doubting you, second-guessing myself, convincing my heart to deny what felt so real…. Tell me, Lelouch, how am I supposed to respond to that?" Kallen lowered her head and bit her lip hard, those welling tears now falling as her eyes shut tight and she finished, in the faintest whisper, "How do I cope with the fact that the man I loved – no, the man I still love – will be going to his death tomorrow…?"
Unable to remain stoic amidst the sincerity of her confession, Lelouch felt himself returning her embrace, one hand nestling in the small of her back as the other cradled her head into the curve of his throat. Logic and reason and rationality be damned – he wanted this, wanted to surrender to his emotions, to follow the dictates of his heart knowing full well what tomorrow would bring. He loved her, and that would never change; perhaps it was selfish, but at least for tonight, he would set aside the heavy stole of Emperor, to simply become Lelouch vi Britannia, the man, providing what comfort he could for the woman he loved. "I'm sorry," he murmured softly, tenderly, as the hand at her neck slipped up to smooth her hair, "I'm so sorry, Kallen. I don't expect you to forgive me, but know that I never wanted to put you in this position. You weren't supposed to know – not until after…." Pursing his lips in distaste, Lelouch fell silent, shifting the arm at her waist to hold her closer.
But to his surprise, Kallen pushed back, her hands flat against his chest as her eyes peered up at him from beneath thick lashes. There was a gleam of defiance in that stare, perhaps a lingering ember of the anger that had so taken her before. She mumbled a single word, only barely audible, but as he raised his eyebrows, she repeated it more clearly – what he thought he had heard. "Idiot…" she said again, letting her arms slide loosely around his neck, "I'm here, aren't I? That means I've forgiven you already." A slight hint of color bloomed in cheeks still somewhat damp from her tears, as she continued in a coquettish voice, eyes shyly downcast, "But now that I am in this position, are you going to take responsibility…?"
At her coyness, the trace of a smile flickered across his expression, Lelouch bringing his hand up to carefully cup her chin, tilting her face to look at him. "Of course," he said in reassurance, a small thread of amusement in his inflection as he spoke, "And what is it you ask of me?"
Her demureness fading, Kallen sidled closer, so that he could feel the comforting familiarity of the line of her body pressing up against his own. Looking up at him with eyes still trembling with shadows of doubt, she spoke in a quiet, careful voice, solemn and hesitant in its timbre. "Tell me… and tell me truthfully." Glancing away, she continued in that same uncertain tone. "You've shown me so many masks, so many sides of yourself that it's hard to separate the truth from the lies… so I want to hear it from you." Meeting his gaze again, she smiled, the gesture sad and halfhearted, betrayed by the glossy sheen of tears in her eyes. "Lelouch, tell me… do you love me…?"
The hand at her chin now gently caressing her cheek, Lelouch brushed away a welling tear with the edge of his thumb as he leaned down, close enough that her breath tickled warmly against his skin. "Making you doubt me, hate me… that was the most painful thing I've ever had to do." His voice thick in his throat, he knew the truth behind those words. After Clovis, Shirley, and Euphie, he had thought himself hardened to anything that his chosen path might have him face, and yet the heart-wrenching agony of forcing Kallen to turn against him had shown him just how thin those defenses really were. After that, even using his power against Nunnally had come easily.
Pushing those thoughts aside, he returned to the matter at hand, his fingertips now lightly tracing the edge of her earlobe. "Not a day went by that I didn't question that decision – whether I should have confessed the truth, and prayed that you would understand." He smiled, an almost perfect reflection of the same sorrowful smile she had given him moments ago. "But what I never doubted, not even for a moment, were the feelings I had for you." Lelouch drew a deep breath, and then spoke the words with all the honesty, sincerity, and affection he could muster, his amethyst eyes open and bared, drinking deep of the sapphire blue pools gazing up at him. "I love you, Kallen."
With that intimate admission, she released a breath held in anxious anticipation, her countenance transforming as she smiled radiantly, beautifully, even as more tears welled in the corners of her eyes. If only that moment would have lasted forever, so that he could revel in each subtle sensation, savor every fine detail, from the gossamer softness of the fine hairs at the back of her neck, to the way her hair, in shimmering swaths of deep red, perfectly twinned the hue of rising blush in her cheeks. And, enveloped in her enchanting warmth and the familiar scent of lavender, he kissed her, gently, tenderly, a lingering brush of his lips to hers. He felt her tremble against him, uncertain for just the barest instant, before she returned his kiss, deepening it in turn, reacquainting herself with him in a passion made all the hotter by the time they had spent apart, such that when he finally broke the kiss, his breath was ragged as he asked, amethyst eyes aflame, "…Stay with me tonight?"
She didn't answer – not directly – but instead, pushed him back a step, her eyes downcast, shaded by thick lashes. Lelouch relented, if reluctantly, watching as she walked slowly to the side of the bed, away from him. The bodice of the dress, cut low at the front, was styled similarly at the back, exposing the delicate lines of her shoulder blades in a square, trimmed with red accents and white lace. As if she felt his stare on her, she turned her head, lips slightly parted, one eye regarding him over her shoulder as her hand idly lifted to trace the draping curtains of the bed, gathered in folds and tied at the head post. "On one condition," she murmured coyly, the sultry gleam in her eye making his pulse quicken when she continued, her voice breathless, "…you'll have to help me out of this dress."
Shifting restlessly atop the otherwise empty bed, C.C. tried, in vain, to find a position that would afford a bit more comfort. That was not to say that the mattress, in itself, was uncomfortable; it was soft and welcoming, Lelouch having spared no expense, and in truth, she herself was accustomed to far worse. But still, the bed was unfamiliar; or rather, it lacked the familiar presence that would have rendered it inviting.
Sleep, she knew, would never come; lying in bed was just a pretense, a formality born out of decades of routine. How could she sleep, knowing what was happening only a few doors down the hall? It was past midnight, surely… would it already be their second time? Or the third? Scowling into the darkness, C.C. hugged his proxy closer – not the usual Cheese-kun plush, but instead, the blue, pillowed hat that she had rightfully won at Ashford Academy, what seemed ages ago.
Had this been the right decision? Again, she considered that question in her mind. She was his partner, his confidante, his accomplice – by all rights, it should have been she who comforted him in his final hour. But if she had been the one awaiting him, would he have taken her in his arms, enticed by the promise of one last night of indulgence? In the past two months, she had slept in his bed, yes, but it had been nothing more than simply sharing his warmth. Only once had she attempted to go further, and he had summarily rejected her advances, showing her his back: cold, rigid, tense. After that, she had not tried again. If she had had the courage to receive him in his bedchamber, bedecked in the finest silks and lace, would he have turned those cold, empty eyes on her, dismissing her as a triviality? She loved him, even if he didn't return her feelings, and that kind of painful rejection would have been all too much to bear, much worse than anxiety and doubt she suffered now. Yes, even if she did not like it – far from liking it, this irritated her to no end – this had been for the best.
She bit her lip, almost hard enough to draw blood. Could she be content with this kind of farewell? There would be no seeing him tonight, not with Kallen sharing his bed, and she had vowed not to witness the execution on the morrow. Nor would she have gone, even had he asked. C.C. knew well the destructive power of memories – how they could, over the decades, eat away at one's sanity; it was for that very reason that she had locked away inside herself all the details of her past lives. What good would it do to add to that already cumbersome burden, the memory of the man she loved, meeting his end? No, there would be no seeing him tomorrow. And as for tonight….
A decidedly naughty idea came to her, and she toyed with it half in jest, and half in serious contemplation – to steal into his bedchamber and take her "goodbye" from him as Kallen slept beside them. That would put him in quite the sticky situation, which even he, the brilliant strategist, might find difficult to overcome. And although it amused her to no end to imagine the look of distress and vexation he would give her when she first made her presence known, she knew that nothing would come of the idle thought. It wouldn't feel right, to take him against his will – especially while the woman who had his heart shared the same bed.
She held the pillowed cap closer, burying her nose in its yielding blue plush. Though it was faint, it still carried his scent – a last, lingering reminder of him, one that was soon to fade, just as her memories of him would disappear, stowed away in a construct of her own making, to spare her sanity. And so, too, would the thought of this bitter goodbye; no matter how heart-wrenching it felt at this moment, it could only become another ripple in the churning vortex of past memories, of lives and loves, all lost to the unending spiral of time. But for now…. C.C. loosened the tight restraint she maintained perpetually over her emotions, and allowed herself to cry.
Lavender eyes wide, Nunnally stared in stunned shock at the unmoving figure in white before her, crumpled and bloodied, just out of arm's reach – at the figure of her brother. The crowd to either side of the causeway had broken their lines in an uproar, the clamor deafening as they rushed forward to overwhelm the escorting soldiers and free the captives arrayed on separate transports on either side of the caravan. But for Nunnally, nothing existed except for him, her Onii-sama, as he lay dying, gold-trimmed imperial white tunic now indelibly stained red, his skin a deathly pallor, violet eyes shifting in and out of focus. Even now, his shallow breaths were becoming more erratic, more infrequent, his head lolling limply to one side, with only the arrhythmic rise and fall of his chest attesting that he yet lived.
How could this have happened? Only moments before, the procession had slowed to a halt; she had thought that her newly regained sight must be deceiving her, when her gaze had fallen upon the caped form of Zero, alone in the middle of the causeway, as if to singly block their path. But a hushed silence had settled over the onlookers, every eye drawn to the black-clad figure standing in open opposition before the parade. It was impossible; Onii-sama was…. Her head swiveled, staring up the angled float to find her brother, the incredulity that had painted his features now transforming into unbridled fury and outrage. He barked a command, inaudible to her, and suddenly the Knightmares mobilized, the quiet that had descended torn open by the staccato crack of gunfire. Yet Zero was longer standing, but sprinting, moving with a speed nearly too fast to follow, dodging the barrage as he wove ever closer, the ground erupting in long gashes of concrete rubble in his wake.
And then he had reached them, vaulting up the height of the first Knightmare, leaping past Jeremiah – no, not past, but over him, using his shoulder as a foothold – to the lead vehicle, where Schneizel Nii-sama stood chained, and up and over again, landing lightly on the platform where she herself lay manacled, only to spring forward once more, up the height of the main float, to confront the Emperor himself. In a smooth, fluid motion, Zero drew the sword at his hip, simultaneously knocking the pistol out of her brother's hand, and then….
Flinching at the memory, Nunnally pushed it from her mind, but the aftermath was all too visible in the long smear of blood marring the gold-edged purple banner of Britannia, marking the path from where he had toppled from the upper dais and slid down the ramp to her level of the float. "Onii-sama…?" Lelouch gave no response. He couldn't have much time left, not after losing so much blood, and she had to know, she had to understand why. Steeling her will, she forced herself to look at his eyes, doing her best to ignore the blooming red stain at his left middle. That empty gaze was heavy-lidded and somnolent, staring at something unseen in the distance, those once vibrant violet eyes beginning to dim.
Her hand floated only inches above his, suspended by momentary hesitation. This was a talent she had, a gift for empathy, working almost as a sixth sense; with those she knew well, she could feel that person's motives, intentions, and sentiments, even at the barest touch. Steadying herself with a breath, Nunnally grasped her brother's hand in hers.
And that sense overtook her, consumed her, flooding her thoughts with not only auras and emotions, but with a bevy of images – a soundless blur whirling through her mind – yet amidst that onslaught came understanding. Everything he had done since declaring himself Emperor had been to this ultimate end; with a dictator's iron fist, he had ruthlessly conquered his enemies, subjugating them beneath the guise of democracy, all for the purpose of focusing the world's hatred upon himself. And when the demon Emperor fell, slain by Zero, the very symbol of justice, that cycle of hatred would end, and through the institutions of democracy he had created as Zero and solidified as Emperor, the nations of the world could resolve their disputes not by war, but through diplomacy and negotiation. But it was more than that. From the one touch, she knew that part of what he had done had been for her sake – to create world in which she could live happily and without fear.
Tears streamed unnoticed down her cheeks, Nunnally's vision blurring as sobs racked her frail body. She had not wanted this – had not asked for it; how could this world be a better place, if it came at the cost of her one and only Onii-sama? Face stricken with grief, she cried out his name in anguish, clutching herself to him. She wept openly, inconsolably, for a brother she had thought was lost, and had only now been found, but all too late to matter. Her brother, her Onii-sama, was gone.
At first, there was just the sound. It was a song, or rather, a melody – there were no words to it; pleasant, light, lilting. Unfamiliar in its tune, but the voice... yes, that voice was familiar. A voice that had been a constant companion, ever since the beginning... And then, an image, a woman's visage, coupled so strongly with the voice that to hear the one without picturing the other seemed so unnatural. Eyes that looked like burnished gold, slightly curious, slightly mocking, peering from out of a pale face, her features elegant, chillingly beautiful, framed by perfect falls of silken, green hair. A name. C.C... yet how could that be? The song she hummed was no memory, no illusion, which would only mean... It could only mean that somehow, he was alive.
And with that realization, the rest of his senses began to return to him, but in a piecemeal fashion, as if his mind were just now reacquainting itself with the faculties of his body. First was proprioception – the sensation of body position: he was lying supine, his arms limp at the sides of his body, legs straightened. Movement still seemed beyond him, but with a bit of effort, he could feel his limbs – cold and numb – but his chest was warm, tingling, the feeling blossoming as he concentrated on it, turning into a sharp, throbbing pain, centered at the left side of his torso, just above the line of his ribcage. Ignoring that sensation, he instead tried to open his eyes, but his eyelids seemed too heavy, almost leaden, and it took a deliberate effort lift them, as though even the flutter of eyelash were too tasking. When he did manage, and his vision refocused, Lelouch found himself looking up at a sky of foreboding black spires, gleaming with muted, dissociated stars – a sky that made no sense to him, but one that nagged at some half-buried memory, some vague thought or connection floating just beyond his mind's reach.
Abruptly he realized that the humming had stopped, the absence of which seeming to conjure her familiar form, above him, C.C. clothed in the same white restraint suit in which he had found her, those intent golden eyes looking down at him amidst a shrouding curtain of green. "You're awake," she murmured as she swept back the matted locks of his black hair, laying her hand gently against his forehead. "And the fever has broken, as well." Her fingers felt cool as they lingered on his skin, those polished eyes considering him for a time before she withdrew her touch.
In the moments of silence, Lelouch took stock of his surroundings. What he had mistaken for a distorted starlit sky was rather a spreading expanse of stalactites, wetly reflecting the light from a single fluorescent lantern illuminating the interior of the high-ceilinged cavern. The makeshift pallet on which he lay cushioned, if only thinly, the cave floor beneath, and the ground was uneven besides, with rough points digging into his back and hip. Turning his head slightly, he glimpsed from the corner of his eye a bit of yellow – indicating that the pillow that propped his head up at a slight angle was, in fact, C.C.'s Cheese-kun plush.
It dawned on him then where he must be – the image of C.C. in her white uniform bridging the connections to that hazy, familiar memory, and drawing it to the surface of recollection. He had carried her to this very place after she had suffered a wound from shrapnel and had fallen unconscious, and he had tended her until she woke. It was here, in a cavern amidst the mountains of Narita, that he had learned something of the person she had been before Geass – it was here that she had let slip her real name.
He opened his mouth to speak – control was coming easier now – but his voice would not come, Lelouch realizing only then that his throat was terribly dry, that his lips felt unbearably parched. The tip of his tongue slipped out in an attempt to moisten them, and C.C., seeing the gesture, turned away for a moment, rustling in some unseen pack beside her, to produce a clear bottle of water and a small, scalloped dish. "Here," she murmured, filling the dish and lifting it to his lips, "Drink." He did.
At first, it hurt to swallow, but want of water overcame that discomfort; she had refilled the dish for a third time when he finally was able to speak, though in no more than a hoarse croak, asking after the bottle. She hesitated, her brow twitching, but then obliged, holding it for him as he drank deeply, but too quickly, Lelouch sputtering as some of the liquid caught in his throat; he coughed, and when it had settled, C.C. dabbed at his chin with the edge of her sleeve. "...Thank you," he managed, his voice somewhat more even than before. "How long...?"
"Tomorrow will be the third day, since your..." She let her words fade, those yellow eyes flickering unconsciously to his middle. Brow drawing down and changing the subject, C.C. looked back up at him with a tight smile. "I had dinner a little while ago, but there's a bit of stew left over... it might still be warm. You are hungry, Lelouch?" It was more statement than question, and though the thought of food sparked a sharp growl from his stomach, his mind was elsewhere. He nodded absently, barely noticing C.C. as she rose smoothly and stepped out of his field of vision.
Three days gone, with little to show for it save for a few snatches of fitful dreams, lingering like cobwebs in his memory. So much would have happened in the time of upheaval following his presumed death. Could the structure and stability he had imposed upon the nations of the world, embodied by the U.F.N., still hold fast amidst the vacancy of power left by his deposition – a void that would be filled not by one man alone, but a delegation of representatives? Or would they revert back to what they were before – splintered groups and weak alliances, motivated only by their own self-interest, with even Zero, symbol and savior, unable to keep them united?
And there was Nunnally's welfare to consider, too – he had made careful arrangements to ensure that she rose smoothly to the place of Empress of Britannia after his fall, but Lelouch knew all too well that even the best laid plans could go awry, and so much more so when left untended. Now that he was alive, he could influence events in real time, if only from the shadows, ensuring a bloodless transition from dictatorship to world democracy. Now that he was alive, he could–
That thought ended abruptly when he tried to sit up, the pain in his side roaring to the surface so viciously that it banished all else. When he managed to breathe, it was through tightly clenched teeth, and even then it was more an inward groan than breath; it felt as if the sword were running him through all over again, but instead of cold steel, the blade were wrought of white hot flame, the searing agony radiating throughout his side.
And then C.C. was beside him, the soup for the moment forgotten, her white hands gently but firmly easing him to lie back down on the narrow pallet. Dimly he was aware of her mutterings – something about "a foolish boy" said under her breath, despite the thread of concern in her voice – but it was as if heard through another man's ears, as taken as he was by the overbearing, mind-numbing sensation. It was fading, but slowly, the pain that had constricted his chest now relenting enough to allow him to draw a shallow breath. Lelouch felt more than saw C.C. dabbing at his forehead with a folded handkerchief, where beads of cold sweat had broken out across his brow.
Lelouch did not resist, allowing her push him down onto the pallet, her left hand keeping him pinned as her right fussed with the kerchief. His jaw clenched, and only in part against the lingering pain; perhaps he was being foolish, yet "stubborn and impulsive" were certainly not in it. But rather, he had been so long immersed in the plotting, intrigues, and strife surrounding global affairs, that to be suddenly torn away from that life was… jarring, to say the least. To be, in effect, dead to the world.
When C.C. was certain that he would not attempt to sit up again – and the sharp-eyed gaze she fixed on him suggested she may not be as gentle with him were he to try – she carefully peeled back the linen sheet that covered him, revealing the pallid skin of his chest and lower torso, the latter wrapped several times over with strips of layered bandages. Despite her former glare, her fingers were careful as she delicately inspected the wrappings, over what he presumed must be thick gauze, padded snugly beneath the tight bandages. "Good," she said at last, shifting her attention back up to him, "it seems that you haven't torn your stitches. I hope that serves to tell you that you aren't fit to move – not yet. What you need is rest, Lelouch." Just as carefully, she drew the blanket up around his chest, settling it beneath his underarms. "Rest, and food. A thin broth is all I've been able to get into you, and that only when you were lucid enough to swallow."
He nodded, and C.C. turned to retrieve what she had set down upon rushing to his side – a small pouch of metallic foil, torn open at the top. He arched an eyebrow. "Field rations?"
With shrug, she produced a spoon and began to stir the stew absently. "They're certainly not my preferred cuisine, but they're edible, at least. There isn't much else available, this far into the mountains." Satisfied with its consistency, C.C. proffered him a spoonful, her lips quirked in amusement. "Say 'Ahhh'."
He eyed the offering doubtfully – the sauce was thick and dark, smelling sharply of spices, and he thought he could recognize what might be a cube of carrot along with a chunk of some unidentifiable, dark gray meat – but hunger overcame his sense of fastidiousness, and he accepted the first spoonful, chewing carefully. It was over-seasoned – a common failing of emergency reserves, to help prolong their shelf life – and was slightly chalky and bitter besides, as though it had been left too long together with its chemical heater. Still, he ate what was left in the pouch – or rather, was spoon-fed the remainder of its contents, C.C. barely allowing him to swallow before insisting on the next bite.
Setting down the spoon and the now empty foil pouch, C.C. began to turn away, reaching out for the water bottle, but he forestalled her, catching her wrist with his right hand, in more firm a grip than he thought he could muster given the circumstances. Though her eyes widened in slight surprise, she recovered in an instant, her countenance blank as golden eyes shifted back to meet coldly cutting amethyst. "Your Code," he said quietly, his voice devoid of any emotion and sounding all the more chilling at the lack, "you've passed it to me." He waited – not expectantly, but passively, for affirmation of what he already knew to be true.
She studied him, her features smooth and unchanging despite the implicit accusation and the weight of his stare. For the briefest moment, a thread of emotion flickered across her face – sorrow, tinged with hurt – but it was lost as she gently shook her head, the green falls of her hair swaying softly with the movement. "Does my word mean so little to you, Lelouch?" Her lips curved in a sad, mirthless smile, as she glanced at his hand, he still holding her wrist. "I promised that I would not force this on you, and I did not. Not even to save your life." C.C. lifted her other hand to her head, pushing back tapered green bangs to reveal the dark red symbol of her Code, a diving bird with wings upswept. "Not mine," she murmured, eyes lifting back up to regard his own, her stare intent and unwavering, "Charles'."
Stunned, Lelouch released his hold on her, so consumed in his own thoughts that he hardly noticed C.C. ostentatiously rubbing her wrist. Coming to a sudden realization, he opened his right hand, turning his palm upward, knowing exactly what he would find there. And sure enough, incised there in his skin, as if it were a part of him, lay the deep red mark of the Code – his Code – a perfect twin to that gracing C.C.'s forehead. "Charles…" he said to himself in breathy disbelief, dark brows drawing downward as he contemplated the sigil. "But why…?"
Sitting back on her heels, C.C. shrugged lightly, setting her hands on her lap and idly toying with one of the metal buckles sewn into her sleeves. "I don't know why, Lelouch. I've been considering it for some time, though. Perhaps he did it out of a simple act of spite – to curse you with immortal life, thinking you could not bring yourself to pass the Code to another." The corners of her mouth curved upward in a humorless smile, her attention shifting back to him with an unnerving intentness. "And if you did, that would be a punishment in itself, no?"
C.C. leaned to one side, retrieving the half empty water bottle and handing it to him; he accepted, unscrewing the cap and taking a sip, if mostly to clear his mouth of the lingering chalky aftertaste from the overcooked stew. "But just as likely," she continued, "more so, perhaps, Charles may not have had a choice in the matter. I do not think a Code can be destroyed, even in the World of C – only transferred. And you were a prime candidate. Either is better than the alternative…." The gleam in her eyes made her mirthless smile all the more sinister as she added, in quiet foreboding, "…that the World of C is not finished with you yet."
Lelouch returned her stare with a level look over the tilted end of the water bottle, the ambiguity of her last supposition having given him pause. He did not know which was more unsettling – the possibility that his particular type of influence would be needed so soon, or the notion that the collective unconscious made physical in the World of C was sentient enough to have "intentions", much less any actual "plans".
For the first, he had lost so much, perpetrating unforgivable atrocities and trading away his morality, his humanity, all for the sake of achieving the noble end of a lasting peace. It was disturbing to think that it may all have been for naught – that despite everything, the depth of sacrifice would yield such meager fruit.
With Zero Requiem, he had been prepared to die, as a form of atonement, if only partly, for having used his Geass on others. In a very real way, he had died – and not only in the fact that he remembered dying. There could be no going back to his life before the Code; if word got out that he was alive, that the public event of his death had been pre-concocted in collusion with Zero himself, then the painstakingly wrought peace following Zero Requiem would all fall to shambles. At best, the U.F.N. would splinter into much the same factions that existed prior to his father's campaign of world conquest. At worst, some unforeseen power would rise to fill the void left in the wake of his death, and the world would again be plunged into an era of war and turmoil. He could not allow that to happen, even if it meant leaving Japan – which it most certainly did, as here, his face was all too well known. He would not allow that to happen, even if it meant cutting off all ties to everything – and everyone – in his old life.
As for the other…. The little he knew of the World of C he had pieced together from the tidbits that C.C. had let slip and from his own encounters with his father, and afterward, his mother, in the Sword of Akasha. All human beings, alive and dead, were part of the collective unconscious – the same souls, spun out endlessly, to be born anew, live, and die, in perpetuity, but remaining always as a part of the whole.
The only exception to this were Code bearers, who stood apart from that whole; upon death, they returned not to the collective unconscious, but to the same unchanging flesh, for as long as they bore the Code. Moreover, the Code granted the bearer the ability to bind contracts with those still bound within the collective unconscious. Binding the contract was not the same as bestowing the power of Geass. Rather, it was a sort of awakening, a form of transcendence – the realization that all souls were connected, and as such, they could be influenced. Geass itself was the power born from that knowledge, taking advantage of the link bridged between souls by the collective unconscious in order to affect the mind of another.
But as such, Geass was an artifact of the collective unconscious, and not of the Code bearer's making; this was likely why the power tended to manifest itself differently across individuals, attuning to the person himself, as opposed to the one binding the contract. Further, this explained why users of Geass could still have the Geass of another cast upon them – though awakened, they still were a part of the collective unconscious, and were hence susceptible to the weakness that that connection provided. On the other side of that coin, Code bearers, who had been excised from that network, were immune; there was no link, no conduit, via which the power could travel.
Abruptly a thought struck him, and his brow furrowed; his eyes, having never left C.C., now regained their focus, as though seeing her for the first time. In the intervening silence, she had held his gaze, unflinching as it was while he had lost himself in deep contemplation. For some reason, a faint blush tinged her otherwise pale cheeks, and he noticed too her fingers worrying over one of the buckles at her sleeves. To show nervousness was unlike her, but he dismissed it, returning to thought that had brought him out of his ruminations.
"With Charles' Code," he began, carefully replacing the cap back on the water bottle, "…what of my Geass?" Oddly, his voice sounded slurred in his ears; he wet his lips, as if to help loosen his tongue. "…Is it still… intact?"
She gave him that same mirthless smile. "If you could see yourself through my eyes, you wouldn't have needed to ask. I had to remove your contact lenses as you slept, but I'm afraid they'll do you no good now, in any case." She stretched out her hand.
Lelouch stared at her upturned palm for a moment, puzzled. Oh yes, the water bottle. Slowly, he handed it back to her, but it nearly fell from his grasp before she caught it; his fingers felt weak, his arm impossibly heavy. It was becoming difficult to focus, as though a blanket had been drawn over his mind, muddling his thoughts. What was that she had meant, about his contact lenses? Of course. She had warned him once, long ago now, it seemed, that overusing the power would eventually deem even the lenses useless in masking it. Which meant that he retained it still – his Geass. That confirmation should have been more momentous, but he felt so exhausted, so tired, that a slight nod in affirmation was all the response he could muster.
He knew there was something wrong with him – despite the boost of energy from the meal, now he could hardly think in a straight line. And then suddenly, the fog parted, if only somewhat, allowing him to make the connection: C.C. stirring the stew, its slightly chalky, bitter aftertaste, the insistence with which she spooned it into him, and her nervousness as she waited for the drug to take effect. "You…." He trailed off, unable to say the words, his tongue thick in his throat.
"I gave you something," she admitted, "…but only to help you sleep," she added quickly, her look abashed as she shifted beneath his accusatory stare, the blush now full in her cheeks. "I'm sorry… but you do need rest, Lelouch." Visibly, she collected herself, exhaling in a long breath and offering him an apologetic smile. "In the morning, when you wake, we will talk, but until then, you must sleep." Leaning over him, he could feel the locks of her hair tickling his skin as she bent down to bestow a light kiss on his lips.
"Sleep, Lelouch," she murmured softly, her large amber irises catching the light, filling his slowly narrowing field of vision as his now leaden eyelids began to slide shut. "Sleep, my prince." And then, blackness consumed him, a blackness haunted by a pair of intent, luminous golden eyes.
Lelouch woke to the familiar feeling of warmth nestling against his right side – of C.C. curling contentedly into the crook made by his chest and upper arm, her head resting atop his shoulder. It seemed that she had switched off the lantern before making up her bedding beside his and summarily helping herself to her pillow, but the dim early morning light trickled in from the entrance of the cave, refracting along the slick cavern walls and providing just enough illumination by which to see. Lelouch tilted his head to look at her; deep in sleep, she wore an innocent, serene countenance, her lips just slightly parted as she drew slow, even breaths.
She had been right, both about the rest, and the food. Though a lingering haze remained at the edges of his mind – courtesy of the last dregs of whatever she had slipped into his dinner – the fire in his left middle had subsided considerably, dulled to a low, pulsing throb centered just beneath his last rib. There was no denying he would have to favor his left side for some time yet, but he felt confident enough to at least sit up without being overwhelmed by the pain… provided that he could do something about the girl still tucked snugly into the curve of his chest.
Not wanting to wake her, he carefully extricated himself, supporting her neck with his upper arm just long enough to slide the Cheese-kun plush beneath her head. She stirred at the sudden loss of his warmth, unconsciously clutching the thick blanket they shared more tightly, but her breathing did not change, the deep sleep a testament of how tired she herself must have been after having tended him for nearly three days.
Mindful of the wound in his side, he slipped out the rest of the way from beneath the blankets, moving slowly and deliberately as to not unsettle them too much. The cave held little heat, and the cold morning air pebbled his exposed skin; it was rather difficult to ignore the chill, especially when he discovered that aside from the strips of bandages wrapped about his chest, he wore not a stitch of covering. Irritably he rose, rubbing his forearms with his hands for warmth, and received a painful twinge at his side for his haste. Perhaps C.C. had sidled against him in sleep as much for shared body heat as for companionship. Perhaps.
Clenching his jaw both at the stinging at his side and to keep his teeth from chattering, Lelouch strode quickly to where C.C. had laid out her pack, against a large stalagmite that had begun to meet its inverted twin to form an hourglass-shaped column. A large pile of discarded rags, white spotted with red, made him frown – C.C. had never been one for fastidiousness, and apparently she had cut up what was left of his Emperor's garb as makeshift bandaging.
Turning his attention back to the pack, he sorted through her things until he found what he sought – a change of clothing, specifically, what appeared to be the black slacks of his Ashford Academy uniform and a spare white long-sleeved shirt. The patent leather loafers he had spotted right away, toes poking out from under the backpack. He donned the pants and shoes quickly, willing to bear the discomfort of moving too fast if it meant protection against the cold, but he hesitated at the shirt, eyeing instead the bandages that bound his chest. Coming to a decision, he undid the metal fastener and unraveled them carefully, baring the skin beneath.
To his surprise, the stitching with which C.C. had sewn him up came away with the gauze, as if expelled by his body. The wound had closed, the flesh re-knitting itself to leave only an angry red slash of raised, half-healed scar tissue. He examined it lightly with his fingers; it was tender to the touch, but he doubted that there was much risk in reopening the wound, if he took care.
"It will never heal, not fully – the mortal wound that awakens the Code. The pain will fade, given time, but the scar will always remain. Though I suppose you know that already." Lelouch regarded her over his shoulder as he continued to dress, shrugging on the shirt and beginning to do up the buttons. She lay on her side, lounging, her head propped up on her right hand, elbow bent. The blanket pooled at her left hip, revealing the low-cut strapless one-piece undergarment she wore beneath her restraint suit.
"Charles' Code revived him only minutes after he died," he observed offhandedly as he turned back toward her, pausing only to switch on the fluorescent lantern set up next to her things, which cast a gentle white nimbus throughout the cavern. His fingers now nimbly fastened the buttons at his sleeves. "Yet it took me nearly three days to recover. Why?"
"Your guess is as good as mine." Catlike, she stretched, sitting up and languidly reaching both arms overhead, then splaying them to either side. "Perhaps it was because the Code was dormant for so long inside you. Or maybe your Geass interfered with the Code asserting itself." She shrugged, dropping her arms and leaning back on her hands. "Either way, it worked in your favor, didn't it? The world believes you to be dead."
Abruptly deciding she had spent enough time in bed, C.C. threw back the coverlet and rose smoothly to her feet, padding lightly across the cavern floor to stand before him; she showed no sign of being affected by the cold, despite bare limbs. "You should consider yourself lucky," she mused, at first straightening a collar that did not need straightening, then proceeding to smooth shoulders that needed no smoothing, "in less civilized times, your body would likely have been dragged through the streets, if not quartered. You'd have found waking from that to be rather… unpleasant, I think."
Lelouch bore her attentions with a good a grace as he could muster, his violet eyes studying her covertly while she fussed over his clothing. He had had a taste of those "unpleasant" memories, as a consequence of inadvertently delving into her consciousness what seemed so long ago. He suppressed a shiver that had little to do with the cold. That she could remark upon that kind of suffering with casual amusement made him wonder what wealth of experience lay behind those burnished gold eyes – her lives and loves, lost in the swirl of time, overwhelming her such that she had voluntarily locked away her memories to retain a semblance of sanity, all driving toward her one last wish: release. She was his confidante and companion, privy to secrets he had kept even from Kallen, and yet she remained largely a mystery to him. As if reading his mind, C.C. gazed up at him, her smile knowing and her amber eyes gleaming.
He stilled her hands by taking them in his, though his gaze was hard as he met her stare. "And who else knows the truth – that I'm alive? You couldn't have brought me here unaided." It wasn't that he doubted her ability – on the contrary, he had a very acute estimation of what she was capable of – but rather, absconding with his body even in the chaos following his death would not have gone unremarked… unless she had help.
A fine brow arching in challenge, C.C.'s lips quirked, golden gaze considering him for a long moment. At last, she gave a dismissive flick of her hand, the metal buckles adorning her wide sleeves clinking with the motion. "Suzaku knows, of course. Not everything, but enough. He saw your hand." She moved past him, walking the short distance to where her pack lay propped up against the tapering column. "He does not believe you intended this," she said over her shoulder, "…otherwise you'd have likely woken up in a stasis capsule – if you woke at all. He was the one who contacted me, afterward." Bending at the waist, she unzipped one of the pack's large front pockets and turned back to him, now holding two foil pouches in her hands. "And Jeremiah. That man would follow you to the ends of the earth, I think. The supplies and transport came from him."
Trying to suppress a grimace, Lelouch accepted one of the packets, absently turning it about in his hands. Checking to make sure it wasn't tampered with, he realized, and C.C. seemed to sense it as well, flashing a small smirk. He did not look forward to another meal of field rations, to be sure, but the hunger gnawing at his middle would not discriminate. "Suzaku," he said quietly as he followed her to the unmade pallet, C.C. kneeling on the coverlet while he leaned his back against a short stalagmite, to favor his side. "He must have given terms for my release."
C.C. shrugged, most of her attention focused on opening the foil packet and perusing its contents. "What you might expect, I suppose. You've been exiled, Lelouch. He wants you to disappear, to leave Japan, and involve yourself no longer in world affairs, either openly or covertly." Leaning the empty main pouch against a small rock, she unwrapped and added the chemical heating pad, then proceeded to fill it up halfway from her water bottle. Soon enough, steam began to rise from the open end of the bag as the heating pad oxidized and the water started to boil.
Following suit, Lelouch chewed on one of the white biscuits included with the meal as he waited for the water to heat, adding the divided pouch of the entrée after it reached full boil. The biscuit was very dry, moistened just a bit by a single-serving packet of strawberry jelly, but he chewed mechanically, trying to ignore the taste, and washed the last of it down with a swig from his water bottle. "Only Suzaku and Jeremiah, then?" he asked offhandedly, the forced casualness in his voice making the care with which he phrased the question all the more obvious.
C.C. flashed him that knowing half-smile again, clearly seeing through his attempt at subterfuge, as she sucked on the last bit of jelly from the squeezed-empty packet. "She doesn't know," she said finally, her attention turning downward, tentatively checking the meal pouches with thumb and forefinger. "I didn't think it was my place to tell her, now that things are… as they are."
They broke fast in silence, a meal of hard sausage and an ample complement of scrambled eggs, the first having only toughened with heating to more closely resemble jerky, and the latter of which had conformed to the shape of the pouch as they cooked. C.C. barely picked over the food, whereas Lelouch ate without tasting, his attention having turned inward. He was well aware of what he had been doing – attempting to shift his focus elsewhere so that his mind wouldn't linger on thoughts of Kallen. It was to distance himself, as means of coping with the course of action to which he was already committed, even before hearing of Suzaku's demands.
In a way, his question had been unnecessary. Had Kallen known that he was alive, then he would've wakened to find her there in C.C.'s stead, tending to him as he recovered. Lelouch had asked just to reaffirm his deduction. But it was all for the best, now that things were as they were; there could have been no cleaner a break between them, with Kallen believing him dead. She would mourn, but that would pass in time, and eventually she would come to feel for another, what she felt for him. Detached as he was, that thought did not pain him as much as it may have before.
And besides, from a rational standpoint, there was little he could offer, and in turn, so much that she would lose, if he made his survival known to her. How could he ask her to abandon her mother, her friends, cutting off all ties with those she loved, emigrating from the very country for which she had sacrificed so much, in her fight to liberate Japan? It was for those very reasons that he had denied her complicity in Zero Requiem. He had made the choice for her, then, and she had resented him for it, just as she would resent him for this choice too, were she to know. But that did not mean it was not the right choice.
Even if she did choose to go with him – and even that was uncertain, a thought in itself disconcerting – it would be a poor bargain, with things as they now were. His was to be a life not only as an exile, but as a nomad, never settling in one place for too long, both for fear of recognition and to avoid, for the most part, contact with other people. They would have one another, yes, but would that be enough? Further, Lelouch was not naïve; he could only imagine the strain that his immortality would place on their relationship. Embittered by regret for the life she had given up, would she grow resentful, as the years wore on her but left him untouched? C.C. had once said that the power of kings would isolate him. Those words rang all the more true for the power of gods.
Yet despite the number of logically sound reasons against it that he tallied in his head, Lelouch couldn't quite suppress the desire within him to see her again. He loved her, and a part of him, and a considerable part, in truth, wanted nothing more than to hold her close, one last time, to breathe in her scent, to kiss her – logic and reason and consequence be damned. He quelled the thought forcibly. After everything she had been through, after all that he had put her through, Kallen deserved better – she deserved a chance at real happiness. And to give her that chance, he would shelve his feelings. He would let her go.
"So what will you do…?" C.C. asked tentatively into the silence, drawing him back to the present with a momentary start. She could not read his mind – surely, that must be beyond her – but the impression she gave, that of the immortal witch, sometimes made him wonder. Having long since finished her breakfast, C.C. sat with her knees drawn up, tucked against her chest and held close by her arms. Her head was tilted slightly, so that only one golden eye regarded him pensively, the other obscured by a swath of green hair. He furrowed a brow, and she continued, clarifying the question. "You have both your Geass and a Code; I don't need to tell you how potent that combination can be. With that kind of power, are you really content to just disappear?"
Amethyst gaze narrowing, Lelouch studied her for a brief moment, and when he replied it was in guarded tones. "You of all people know that what I did – what we did – wasn't for my own ambitions." It was true. He had had the world at his fingertips – or perhaps more appropriately, he had held it at the point of a sword. If he wished to rule, then he could have just as easily maintained his position as Emperor, and forced peace with an iron hand. But that would only serve to perpetuate the cycle of hatred, and eventually, either during his reign of afterward, the world would revert to what it was, rife with violence and bloodshed. Any chance of significant, lasting peace lay not in dictatorship, but diplomacy. Yet C.C. knew all of this, and he began to suspect, with growing apprehension, just what motive lay behind the asking.
She nodded to herself absently, as if expecting the answer, that single yellow iris having taken on a predatory gleam. "So you have accomplished all that you intended, with Geass." Slowly, languidly, she moved toward him on her hands and knees, looking like nothing so much as a she-leopard closing in on unsuspecting prey. "I've fulfilled my side of our contract," she said huskily when she stopped, her face bare inches away from his and her breath a warm murmur against his lips. "It's time for you to fulfill yours. Grant my wish, Lelouch. Take my Code." So close, those haunting eyes of burnished gold overwhelmed his vision, intent and unwavering, as if gazing into the very depths of his soul.
With unyielding stone behind and her legs and arms to either side, Lelouch was very well and truly cornered. She wasn't touching him, not yet, and he surmised that only the barest contact was necessary for C.C. to transfer her Code, but there was not a doubt in his mind that she would not force it on him, should he refuse. If that were her aim, she could have done so when he lay unconscious, and he would have woken to find her body lifeless beside his. That, and she had given her word. And it was a promise that she would never break; though many things about her remained a mystery, Lelouch knew how she had inherited her Code – it had been thrust upon her by her forebearer, a woman whom she had loved and trusted, but who had deceived and betrayed her, using her only as a means to end her own immortal life.
The silence that fell in the wake of her request stretched on for what seemed an eternity, his violet stare meeting her yellow without flinching. With her so near, his pulse had quickened involuntarily, but his breathing was calm and even, and his countenance was smooth, revealing not the barest hint of his intentions. C.C. had been with him from the beginning, and with their pact, she had made everything possible; in more ways than one, he owed her his life. He had promised to grant her wish, promised to let her die, smiling, and yet….
When he still did not reply, her eyelids slowly drifted shut, C.C. tentatively closing the fingerbreadth of distance between them. But at the last moment, he tilted his head away, so that her kiss brushed not his lips, but the corner of his mouth. "I'm sorry," he said quietly, and he felt her tremble, a shiver of warmth along the line of his jaw. And then, as if all her hopes were dashed, she collapsed against his right side, shifting into the curve of his chest although their legs remained a tangle, with her cheek pressed to the side of his neck. Instinctively he let his arm slip around her waist, supporting her as she embraced to him, C.C. still mindful of the wound at his left middle. He felt no wetness, no tears – only her long, deep breaths, each followed by a shuddered exhalation.
Not wanting to draw out his refusal, Lelouch changed the subject, still speaking softly, but matter-of-factly. "I'll get in touch with Jeremiah and arrange for our pick up; with his help, it should be easy enough to secure transportation out of Japan. Perhaps to Australia, or one of the less populous nations of the E.U., so there's less of a chance that I'll be recognized. We can leave–" She cut him off.
"I won't be going with you, Lelouch." Paradoxically, she clung to him even tighter, unwilling to let go despite her words. "If you won't take my Code, then it's here that we part ways."
Still faintly stunned by her admission, Lelouch blinked several times, letting the statement sink in. "Why...?" he heard himself ask, his left hand moving by its own accord to hold her at the nape of her neck. C.C. had been at his side for so long that he had never considered the possibility that she might leave him. Even when their plans had been set to culminate in his death, C.C. had remained steadfast, willing to see all of it through until the end. When he had awoken to his newfound immortal life, he had taken solace in the knowledge that she would be there for him, a constant companion, so that the decades would not wear on so unbearably. Had he taken that for granted…?
"You know why. If it can't be you, then I must find another who can free me from this curse." She chuckled, stifled softly against the side of his throat, but the sound held no mirth and was heavy with cynicism besides. "You've made my task harder, I think, with how you've changed the world… but eventually I will find someone. Perhaps we will even meet again, before the end." C.C. tried to push away from him, but he would not release her, and so after a moment, she relaxed, settling back with a soft sigh.
Lelouch released a long breath, one he had been unaware of holding. He had resigned himself to losing Kallen – despite how much it pained him, that had been necessary – but now he was on the verge of losing C.C., as well. That thought had shaken him to his core, making the long years ahead seem all the more lonely and foreboding. But he hadn't lost her yet. He spoke in a careful voice, his words low and intimate. "Stay with me," he began, fingertips stroking the fine hairs at the back of her neck, "Stay by my side, where you belong. It was my vow to you, wasn't it…? That if you were a witch, then I would become your warlock." He paused, drawing in a deep breath, then finished in a murmur, "…Your wish – your true wish – maybe I can still fulfill it. You would never have to be alone again."
When she tried to push herself back, this time he relented, allowing her to shift just enough to look up at him. In the dimly refracted half-light of the cavern, her features seemed more delicate, more vulnerable, than he had ever remembered, from the way that her lower lip quivered ever so slightly, to the way that her eyes, wide and luminous, searched his own. It was not quite the innocence and inexperience of C.C. the slave girl, but not too far different, either. This was C.C. herself – not the ageless witch, but the woman beneath, after all the masks, the pretenses, were cast away. "Is that a confession, Lelouch?" she asked in a quiet whisper. So uncharacteristic of her, there was no mocking, no bemusement, in either her voice or her expression – just a trembling hesitance and frail uncertainty, her emotions laid bare. "Are you saying that you… love… me?"
Flustered by her unexpected openness, Lelouch, much to his chagrin, found that his reply was difficult to voice, the words escaping him. To lie was out of the question, not when she gazed up at him with that look in her eyes. "No–," he uttered, then grimaced, amending the tightness in his voice, "–Yes… I–, I don't know." Drawing a breath to steady and collect himself, he continued in a more level tone, his gaze having never strayed from hers. "What I'm trying to say is, you've always been more than just a friend to me – more than just my accomplice." He had come to realize that when she had lost her memories following the attack on the Geass Directorate. What he felt for her was not love, exactly – it was not what he felt for Kallen, certainly – but it not so dissimilar, either, if somewhat different in scope. In a way, she was a part of him, tied to him by strings of fate; losing her would be to lose a part of himself. "I care about you… deeply. Stay with me, and in time, that might grow into something more."
Wordlessly, she leaned forward, her stare intent and searching, as if to make certain that he would not turn away a second time; only when her lips met his did she lower her lashes, and he followed suit, closing his eyes. It was a timid, tentative kiss, the barest brush of the warmth and softness of her mouth along his. She made no move to deepen their connection, and so neither did he, Lelouch remaining still even as he felt her tremble against him. It lasted just a moment longer, but it was C.C. who broke it off, withdrawing as slowly and as deliberately as she had leaned in. When he opened his eyes, he found C.C. with her gaze downcast, a bitter smile tight in the curve of her lips. "Perhaps you do care about me," she intoned sadly as she looked back up toward him, golden eyes sorrowful beneath a curtain of thick eyelashes, "…but there's no question that you're still in love with her." Her hand lifted to gently stroke his cheek. "That's why I can't stay with you."
To that, he gave no reply, except to grimace faintly and avert his eyes. She seemed to accept that as an answer, for she gently untangled herself from him, removing his arm from around her waist and his hand from the nape of her neck. Lelouch did not protest as she lightly rose to her feet and stepped away. He felt… tired. Drained. Defeated. In a moment, he would steel himself, harden his resolve and garner the strength to move forward, but right then, he was content to let the feeling of loss soak into him – the regret, the sadness. For the life he had ended, for the love that he had willingly turned aside, and for the companion who was soon to leave him. If this was what C.C. had been through in her innumerable years of immortal life, then there was little wonder why she had locked away her memories in a partition of her mind; it was a burden that could crush one's spirit.
When he shifted his attention back to her, C.C. had already donned her characteristic white restraint suit and was just slipping on her second high-heeled white boot. She gave him a sidelong glance as she tugged the boot firmly into place, and then zipped the thigh closures of the suit down to just above either knee. "Here," she said, straightening and drawing something out of her wide left sleeve to toss it to him. He caught it clumsily, trapping it against his chest with his hand. It was her cell phone. "I'm taking the truck outside. Jeremiah's awaiting your call." She knelt at the far end of her pallet, rolling it up together with the coverlet and cinching the buckle tight.
Regaining his composure in a long, indrawn breath, Lelouch stood unsteadily, having to catch his balance with a hand on the stalagmite beside him. The wound below his left rib flared up at the sudden motion, but it was a distant pain, something he could ignore, wrapped up in a shroud of indifference as he was. His gaze followed her as she walked to the column where she had propped up her backpack, kneeling to fasten on the bedroll. "Where will you go?" he asked levelly, and C.C. paused in her work, tilting her head slightly as if considering the question, though she still did not meet his eyes.
"Does it matter?" she replied quietly before going back to tightening the remaining straps. "I'll be fine on my own, if that's what you're worried over. I've lasted this long, haven't I?" she added, the thread of amusement thick in her voice. There was no question that C.C., the woman, was gone; it was C.C., the ageless witch who spoke with him now. "Don't come looking for me." Getting to her feet, she slung the pack over one shoulder and finally faced him. Her burnished gold eyes seemed to glint in warning, though her countenance was perfectly smooth, her thoughts unreadable. "If I need you, I'll find you." Hesitation flashed briefly across her visage, and after a moment, she let out a small sigh, her features softening to offer him one last regretful half-smile. "Farewell, Lelouch." And with that, she turned her back to him, the scuff of her boots on stone echoing faintly as she walked away.
Clenching his jaw, Lelouch's fist tightened on the cell phone almost to the point of breaking it, but so caught up was he in his vexation that he neither noticed nor cared. This wasn't how it was supposed to be – not how it was supposed to end…! "Wait!" he called out after her in a voice roughened by frustration bubbling to the surface, "…stop, C.C.!" She paid him no heed, her footfalls maintaining the same even rhythm as they had before. Grimacing, he caught up quickly, ignoring the stabbing pain at his side as he reached out with his left hand to seize her shoulder and turn her around. "Stop, I said!"
Still refusing to listen, C.C. jerked away sharply, twisting out of his grip, but for that briefest instant, he had caught a glimpse of her face, of her eyes. It had been a visage stricken with anguish, her golden eyes red-rimmed and glistening with unshed tears. This was as painful to her as it was to him – perhaps even more so, by the hurt that was in those eyes. Taken aback by that realization, Lelouch stood stunned, rooted ineffectually in place as he watched her leave, her stride quickening to little short of a run. The cave mouth was perhaps twenty steps ahead of her, delineated by the crisp border between sunlight and shade, and somehow he knew that if C.C. were to cross that threshold, she would be lost to him forever.
Lelouch drew a deep breath, and then spoke a single word, in a voice that was a clear and resonant caress, the sound lingering as it reverberated along the cave walls to cut through the noise of her footfalls. It was name, her true name, which he had overheard in her sleep so long ago, in this very same place – her name, imbued with the broad spectrum of emotions he felt welling inside him – all the affection and concern that he could muster, alongside his inevitable remorse and yearning, intertwined by threads of apprehension, distress, desperation, and perhaps more than just a little pleading. And as the echo of her name faded, silence once again settled within the cavern, a silence interrupted only by the intermittent dripping of water from the stalactites above. C.C. had stopped.
He approached her slowly, as if afraid that she might bolt at any moment, but to his relief, C.C. stood stock-still, her back to him, not flinching even when he laid his hand lightly on her left shoulder. Gently, he relieved her of her pack, setting it down off to one side. And the he took her in his arms, embracing her from behind and letting her head tuck into the curve just beneath his chin. "I'm sorry," he confessed in a low murmur, "I thought that–" He cut off with a grimace, and then shook his head lightly. "Well, it doesn't matter. If I can't be the one to grant your wish, then allow me to keep the promise I made to you, that day on the Sword of Akasha." Lelouch cleared his throat, then finished, "Your Code – I'll accept it."
Tensing at those words, C.C. remained still just a heartbeat longer, and then turned in his grasp to look up at him. Her eyes were twin pools of liquid gold, gleaming wetly in the light, and Lelouch thought he could see faint, glistening streaks running down either cheek. Unconsciously she chewed her lower lip, the hesitation plain on her features, and then asked, in a breathy, trembling voice, "Are you certain…?" Still holding her gaze, Lelouch gave her a single, deliberate nod of affirmation, and she pursed her lips, as if biting back more tears, her small white hands making fists in the fabric of his shirt to cling to him. "You refused before… why change your mind now?"
Shifting uneasily at the question, Lelouch had to avert his eyes in shame, the embarrassment made all the more obvious by the sudden flush of heat in his cheeks. When he voiced his reply, it was uneven and strained, stammered in an irregular, piecemeal fashion. "It was… selfish of me," he admitted, "…I thought that… if I couldn't have her, then I could at least… have you." Shaking his head briefly, he forced himself to look back at her, and the bitter smile matched the sad sentiment in his eyes. "But if I'm destined to lose everything, everyone who's important to me, then…" he trailed off, twisting his mouth in distaste, "…If I have to lose you, then at least I can relieve your suffering… At least I can let you die with a smile."
Burnished golden augurs scrutinized him for a long moment, her stare so piercing and intent that he felt weighed and measured to the ounce. "Very well," she breathed, and she did smile then, a small smile, accompanied by a flicker of mirth that shone through the lingering sheen of her tears. "You still have a lot to learn about women, Lelouch," she remarked in tones of wry amusement, "– not the least of which is that no woman wants to be your second choice." The fists at his chest flattened to open palms, and she gave him a firm shove, C.C. laughing lightly at the sudden surprise that flashed across his features when he stumbled back a step.
Puzzled, Lelouch watched as she knelt by her backpack, unfastening the bedroll and letting it fall to one side, forgotten, as she began to dig through the pack's contents. "What are you looking for?" he asked curiously, brows furrowing at the small box she pulled out and set beside her before going back to her rummaging. It was crafted out of dark-grained, highly polished rosewood, and was of a size with a small hardcover book, the piece accented with decorative silver scrollwork at the hinges and front latch. There were no markings on it that he could see.
A murmur of pleasure brought his gaze back up to regard her. "This," she breathed, drawing out a carefully folded bundle of white silk, edged with delicate red trim, and holding it reverently to her chest. Lelouch recognized it immediately; it was the white Chinese dress, the cheongsam, he had given her as a gift upon returning from the Chinese Federation, while they were still staying at Ashford. He flushed faintly, at the memory of what they had done when he had last seen her wearing that dress. Perhaps the same thought had crossed her own mind, as when her head tilted up to face him, there was a definite bloom of color in her cheeks. "I've been a prisoner for as long as I can remember…" she explained, offering him a nervous smile, "…but you're finally setting me free. I don't want to die while wearing a prisoner's clothes."
Lelouch considered her for a moment, and if anything, her blush deepened, but he simply nodded, extending his hand and helping her to her feet. "Would you mind turning around?" C.C. asked shyly, and he blinked, but did as she had requested, folding his arms as he waited for her to change. He hadn't intended to ogle her, certainly, but C.C. had never before expressed any reservations over allowing him to see her unclothed – she had, in fact, taken great pleasure in teasing him incessantly by lounging about in various states of undress, until he had become largely desensitized to it. That she was timid now somehow made this all the more intimate, what with him listening as she shed her clothes: to the rustle of fabric, the sound of zippers coming undone, and the hollow clink of metal buckles as the restraint suit fell to the floor. "All right," she said finally, after the telltale signs of movement behind him had ceased, "You can look now."
He turned to find C.C. standing barefoot amidst the pile of her discarded clothes – she had even taken off her boots – her eyes downcast and her hands folded nervously at her waist. The dress fit her very snugly, showing off her curves to full advantage, and the white silk, just a shade lighter than her own creamy skin, complemented her complexion beautifully. He took a step toward her, cupping her chin in one hand and tilting it up toward him. "You're stunning," he confessed, his look abashed, Lelouch unable to quell those insistent memories now that she was right there in front of him, wearing that dress. C.C. smiled gratefully at the compliment. She had been blushing, too. "Are you sure about this…?" he asked tentatively, letting his hand to fall.
"I am." She gave him a warm smile of assurance, though the sadness still lingered in her eyes. Lelouch pursed his lips, glancing away for a moment, and then opened his mouth as if to speak, a pained, apologetic look on his features, but she forestalled him. "It's enough," she whispered breathlessly, "…that you're keeping this promise to me, is enough, Lelouch. About the other…." Her voice trailed off, and she let out a small sigh of resignation, of sadness. "I know that you can't change how you feel."
He met her eyes and nodded once, a wry twist in his lips, Lelouch not at all taken aback that she had once again read his thoughts. "Shall we, then?" he asked, clearing his throat of the unexpected thickness in his voice. Without waiting for her answer, he pulled her close, his left hand grasping her right wrist as his right slipped to hold her at the small of her back, leaning forward and dipping her backward – in the same pose with which his father had held her, on the Sword of Akasha. Her eyes widened, but she recovered quickly, an amused smile flickering in her features as she allowed herself be dipped, her free hand settling on his chest.
There was no myriad of color, no aurora of lights as he drew closer – only the luminous golden eyes that had haunted him in his dreams, filling his vision, yellow irises gleaming brilliantly as they looked up in breathless expectation. Those eyes held uncertainty as well, mixed with traces of anxiety and lingering sadness, yet what shone through above all was a barely restrained sense of hope; it was a fragile thing, as if tottering on the cusp of a dangerously high peak, where any misstep or misspoken word might upset that precarious balance and cause it to fall, plummeting to the ground.
But he gave her no reason to doubt him, and when the short distance between them became a fingerbreadth, then a hairsbreadth, she lowered her lashes, lifting her lips to meet his own. Lelouch felt her tremble at the touch – she felt like a shivering bundle of warmth in his arms – but her reticence faded quickly as she deepened the connection, sliding her hand up his chest to hook behind the nape of his neck and drawing him closer; it was a long, lingering kiss: slow and sensual, yet melancholy, in its own way, for it was a kiss of farewell.
But it was over too soon, and when he opened his eyes, C.C. was staring up at him, biting her lower lip as if on the brink of tears, her features a blend of wonder and elation, of gratitude and relief. "Thank you…" she whispered breathlessly, her hand shifting to lightly touch his cheek with her fingertips. "Thank you, Lelouch."
He returned her smile, but the gesture never touched the solemn sadness in his eyes. "It's done, then…?" he said in half-question, straightening and drawing her up with him to allow her to get her balance.
She seemed to sense his mood, and her smile faded, gaze lowering to the floor. "There's just one last thing left to do." Her attention shifted to the carved wooden box she had set aside earlier, when she had been looking for the dress, and she bent to retrieve it, considering it for a long moment before glancing back up toward him. "But not here." Stretching out her arms, the box held lightly in one hand, C.C. asked with a playful smile, "…Carry me outside?"
Lelouch narrowed his eyes at the request, but acquiesced – she was barefoot, after all – scooping her up with one arm around her slim waist and the other at the back of her knees. Though her right hand still held the rosewood case clutched to her chest, her left slipped around his shoulders, holding onto him tightly. She was lighter than Kallen, yet he still struggled for the first few steps, and her brow arched doubtfully at his unsteadiness, but he gained his balance and carried her the rest of the way out of the tunnel, crossing the threshold between darkness and daylight. Oddly, the wound at his side had hardly given him a twinge.
It took a moment to blink away the sudden glare shone down on him, what with the sun nearly halfway to its noonday peak, clearing the tree-topped mountains to the east. The entrance to the cave was surrounded by rocky outcroppings, interspersed with shrubbery and trees as mountains yielded to forest. A broad clearing opened up not far from where they were, but even from this distance, he could see that the earth had been torn and gashed, although the land was showing signs of recovery – remnants of the Battle of Narita, from what seemed so long ago.
"There," she said, gesturing toward a large gray stone that sat aslant, "Bring me there." Taking care to check his footing given the uneven ground, Lelouch picked his way toward the boulder, hefting her in his arms only once to adjust his hold on her. She eyed him askance again, apparently disliking having been jostled, for when they reached the slanted rock and he set her on her feet, she stood just long enough to push him down, forcing him to sit with his back against the stone, and then promptly settled herself on his lap.
"And now, for the last…" she murmured to herself as she ran her hands along the outline of the rosewood box. A fingertip undid the small front latch and she carefully lifted the lid, revealing a bed of green velvet, cut to shape around a silver syringe. The device was already loaded with a dark gray glass vial, and two identical vials rested in their own cutouts beside it. He recognized the syringe, having come across its like before, but he doubted that it was Refrain that those vials held.
"Will it be painful for you…?" he asked in a voice that held no small amount of concern. Her features were smooth as she traced a fingertip over the loaded cartridge, thoughts unreadable.
After a moment she shook her head, as if just then registering the question, and took the syringe in hand, sweeping back the green tresses of her hair to expose the side of her throat. "A small dose will make you sleep," she explained quietly, shutting her eyes and wincing a bit as the needle pierced her skin, the vial emptying its contents when she depressed the plunger. "But with this much, I will not wake." Letting out a long breath, C.C. offered him a half-hearted smile, meeting his gaze once again. "Now, your turn." Numbly, Lelouch watched as she replaced the spent cartridge, then raised the syringe to his neck. He hardly noticed the prick of the needle, but he felt the effects almost immediately – warmth radiating throughout his body as the chemical coursed in his veins.
But the tightness in his chest had nothing to do with the drug; after she returned the syringe to its case, he took the box out of her grasp and set it aside, holding her closer with one arm encircling her waist, while the hand of the other slipped to the back of her head, cradling her to him. "Is this really a mercy…?" he said quietly to himself, and she let out a small sigh, settling herself more comfortably in his embrace.
"It is." She laid her hand on his chest, as if to feel his heartbeat. "Perhaps you'll understand, one day, when you've lived as long as I have." Was that heartbeat slowing…? The heat had already suffused through him, and she felt just as warm beneath his touch. "But what you said, before – you're wrong." Her words were a soft, sleepy murmur, spoken under her breath. "You don't have to lose everything – you wouldn't have to lose her. Surely you must have considered it… to have immortality for yourself, and the power to bestow it upon another…?"
Frowning in an attempt to focus his thoughts, Lelouch tilted his head, looking down at her. She had closed her eyes, but her features were smooth, bearing no trace of mocking or cynicism; she had meant what she said. He blinked, trying to banish away the haziness; in truth, the thought had crossed his mind, only to be rejected just as quickly, on largely the same grounds that had led him to the realization that even letting Kallen know he was alive would be a mistake. "You know that would never work," he said slowly, his voice thick, "…you should know better than anyone." The greatest gift he could offer Kallen was to allow her to lead her own life – a normal life. Possessing two Codes would not sway him in that.
"Perhaps you're right." She sighed softly, nestling her head against his shoulder and letting her hand fall away to settle in her lap. "Perhaps I thought of it only because it… pains me, knowing that you'll be as alone as I was, throughout the decades. Until there's nothing left for you but to find someone else to bear your burden of immortality. But you're strong, Lelouch – stronger than I ever was. The years may not change you as they did me." C.C. paused for a moment, but added, in a whisper so soft that he only barely caught the words, "…and when we meet again, in the next life, perhaps I will be the one you choose."
And then silence fell between them, a quiet disrupted only by the mournful sound of the wind as it swept through the treetops. He felt exhausted, his limbs leaden, unable to move them even if he had cause to, and his wits felt muddled, as though a thick blanket had been drawn over his mind. To his surprise, one clear thought rose to the surface of that haze, and he voiced it, though it came out in a thick slur. "After you're gone, how do you want me to…." He trailed off, clearing his throat and furrowing a brow, "… I mean, what should I do with your…." There was really no delicate way to put it.
C.C. understood, however, despite his difficulty at saying the words, and laughed softly into his chest – a low, throaty laugh, full of amusement and genuine mirth. "I'm a witch, Lelouch," she murmured, as if the answer were the most obvious in the world, "…give me up to the flame." And then his eyes drifted shut, with the memory of her laugh echoing in his mind.
When he woke, he was alone – well and truly alone. And on his left palm, in mirror image to the sigil on his right, he found the Code, inscribed indelibly into his flesh, as if a part of his skin.
Throughout the morning and into the afternoon, he toiled, building up a funeral pyre from the heavy branches and fallen timbers scattered throughout the surrounding forest. When it was done, he did as she had asked, and surrendered her body to the flames.
Hefting the overstuffed grocery bag onto her left hip to balance out the one already resting on her right, Kallen glanced back over her shoulder, having to crane her neck a bit to peer around the stout leaves of a thick, green leek. Her gaze found the tall, fair-haired Britannian by the checkout stand a few paces behind, with little Naoto in a baby carrier strapped to his chest. He was waving a brightly colored rattle in front of the infant who reached for it with chubby fingers, gurgling happily.
Noticing her looking at him, Gino's smile widened to an even toothier grin. Kallen only scowled. The man vexed her to no end. It was very much like him, to be playing around with Ougi and Villetta's baby while all of the hard work and heavy lifting was left to her. Well, that wasn't quite fair – he was better with the baby than she. Still, it wouldn't have hurt to have helped her with some of the shopping, at least.
Easing the bags into a less precarious position and almost dropping one in the process, Kallen cursed having ever accepted to run this errand on Villetta's behalf. Since the wedding, the dark-skinned woman had taken it into her head to play matchmaker for herself and Gino, whenever he was in Japan, which seemed to be happening more often of late. She knew that they were all just thinly veiled attempts to set them up together, but now that she had graduated from Ashford, fewer and fewer excuses to get out of them came to mind. Saying that she was studying for her medical school entrance exams could only go so far. But this errand was nearly over, and she was looking forward to the reprieve it would grant – more than two weeks, certainly. Well, at least two weeks. Surely that.
"So? Are you coming?" she asked flatly, brows drawn down in disapproval. That ridiculous grin never wavered, and he nodded, gesticulating gleefully to the baby with the rattle. Kallen couldn't tell if he was actually unaware that she had no interest in him whatsoever, or whether he only affected not to notice, but either way he never relented, always maintaining that flirty and playful attitude whenever he was with her. It grated on her nerves. She supposed that he would be considered handsome by most women – according to the rumors she had heard, Gino had established quite a following at Ashford, though his attendance there was brief – and he was tall and broad shouldered, with a wide smile and an easy laugh, but all of that counted for little in Kallen's book. It wasn't his fault, not really. He just wasn't Lelouch.
Bags in each arm, Kallen hurried through the sliding doors at the grocery store's entrance, but had to halt just beneath the store's overhanging eaves. The air had been hot and humid upon entering, and now the sky had decided to open up, letting loose a thick torrent of heavy rain that pelted the busy street outside. She scowled again, though her anger was direct more toward herself than to him. In her haste to be off and done with this errand, she hadn't checked the weather report, much less given a thought to bringing an umbrella along.
"Should I call a taxi?" Gino asked from behind her, giving one look to the weather and frowning briefly before turning his attention back to her and brightening almost instantly. At least he hadn't brought an umbrella, either – there was some comfort in that.
"It's just a summer storm," she replied, glancing to the sky, "It'll pass in a few minutes." But much to her chagrin, the rain persisted, for five minutes, and then ten, her mood growing darker with the darkening sky. Very wisely, Gino said nothing, and little Naoto seemed content to play with the rattle in his hands.
Kallen was starting to reconsider hailing a taxi – she was up on her tip toes, scanning up and down the length of the avenue for the next one that was free, though many other pedestrians seemed to have the same idea – when her gaze fell on him: a tall young man cloaked in black who stood at an intersection, beneath an unlit streetlight, up the road, oblivious to both the pouring rain and the river of umbrellas flowing past him. A man whom she had believed to be dead. The hair was different, longer than she had remembered, but there was no mistaking his face, or his eyes, staring at her so intently that she wondered how she had missed it before. Abruptly, as if realizing his presence known, the man pivoted, mingling smoothly with the throng of people crossing to the next street.
Her shock at seeing him lasted only a moment longer, and she turned, taking a quick step toward a surprised Gino and thrusting the bags into his arms. Naoto abandoned the rattle, reaching instead for the access key to her Guren, which she wore perpetually around her neck, nestled in her cleavage, but Kallen she pulled away before the baby could take hold. "I'm sorry!" she shouted over her shoulder, "Don't wait for me!" And then she was running, paying the rain no heed even as it soaked through her clothes, her footfalls splashing through puddles on the sidewalk as she wove in between the milling stream of umbrellas, racing after the figure in black, with Gino's voice called ineffectually behind her. She did not know how it could be possible, but her mind was not deceiving her; that had been him, she was sure of it… he was alive!
Rounding the next corner and ducking quickly into a narrow alley, Lelouch stopped a moment, panting, one hand extended to support himself against the side of a building as he caught his breath. The hand became a fist, and he ignored the pain as his knuckles connected solidly with the concrete wall.
This had been a mistake – a grave mistake. He knew that now, and knew it all too well, in truth. He had been naïve, coming back here – back to Japan. More than anything, what had driven him to return was the desire for closure – to see her, if only from a distance, one more time, as the last act in laying to rest the life he had lived before inheriting his Codes. And he had had his fill.
What did he expect – that she would remain true to the memory of a dead lover, more than a year after his death? It was ridiculous and selfish of him to assume so, and further, it wasn't what he had wanted for her. A chance for a normal life – that was his final gift, and the fact that she had embraced that new life was not something he would hold against her. Still, it did rankle, just a bit, seeing her together with Gino – he would have thought her to have better taste in men.
But her choice in his replacement was a trivial matter, when compared to the other reason he could not turn that one last look, from a distance, into something more. And that reason was her baby – their baby? – strapped to Gino's chest. Given what he had done with Kallen, he should have considered the possibility that she would end up with child, but to his slight embarrassment it had never actually crossed his mind. And that child made all the difference, firmly stamping out any half-formed notions of meeting with her; by necessity, he was forced to deprive that child of its real father, so how he risk the same of its mother?
Straightening, Lelouch pushed himself off the wall with his fist and began to walk down the length of the deserted alley. When their eyes had met, he thought he had seen recognition in her features, but he could still limit that damage, if he disappeared entirely now, as he should have a year ago. After her search turned up no trace of him, she would begin to question her certainty, and in time it would fade away in memory and perhaps forgotten entirely, dismissed as a trick of the mind.
He laughed darkly, the sound chilling, and without mirth. The rain had not stopped, still pelting in thick, heavy sheets, but the weather suited his mood. In exchange for using his Geass on others, he had been prepared to die, but this was far more fitting a punishment: to be cursed not once, but twice, to wander the world eternally, alone and friendless, having lost the two women closest to him. Yes, it was a very fitting punishment, indeed.
Abruptly he became aware of splashing footsteps closing in quickly from behind him, and he turned instinctively, just before being tackled bodily to the ground, shoulders hitting the paved alley floor with a hard jolt. And when he looked up, he found Kallen, straddling him with her knees to either sides of his hips, her hands on his shoulders, pinning him in place; she was panting, a look of breathless exuberance on her features, her dark red hair clinging to the sides of her face in the rain. She looked… beautiful.
"Really, Lelouch," she began with a smile, the sapphire eyes he had missed so much now radiant despite welling tears, "…did you think you could get away from me that easily?"
Afterword for "The Castaway Prince"
It's been just under two years since I began this story, so I'm glad that I've finally been able to bring it to a close. This ending has been rolling around in my head for a long, long time, and it's a satisfying feeling, to at last have it down on paper and out there for you guys to read. Thank you all for bearing with me, and sticking with the story, despite the lengthy waits between chapters.
As for future plans… I'm most likely finished with the Code Geass fandom. I say "most likely" rather than "definitely" since I have a vague inclination to write a future fic, which could be considered a sequel to "The Castaway Prince" (albeit not a direct continuation). The potential for this sequel was one of the reasons for the open-ended nature of my ending, and among other things, it would answer the question that everyone wants to know: did they end up together, or not? It's still very much in the conceptual stages, and likely nothing will come out of it, but if I can think up/flesh out a few major plotlines to drive the story, then I might throw out a chapter or two and see where things go from there. It wouldn't be a lemon. I know, you're disappointed.
I'd like to keep writing, but there currently isn't a fandom out there that interests me as much as Code Geass did. Still, I'm open to recommendations, and I'll check out anything with similarly deep character development, and perhaps a love triangle/harem thrown in. Let me know what you've got.
I guess that's it, for now. Again, I hope you enjoyed the fic, and with luck I'll have something new put out for your consideration at a later date.