As she watches Zero speak to the assembled delegates of his Union of Nations, Kallen wonders how anyone could think Lelouch was anything other than born royalty. The poise, the grace, the sheer force of personality that drew you in were the qualities of a king that one could never simply emulate through thought and practice.

She feels uncomfortable simply sitting on the sidelines, especially having just been released from Brittanian captivity, but this is not an arena she is comfortable with, or able to compete in. That is left to Zero, to Toudou, to Ougi, and even to Kaguya.

"Kouzuki-san. A moment, if you would?"

She starts at the voice, bristling slightly- expected, perhaps, considering the last time she heard it she had ended up in the hands of Brittania.

Her reaction to his voice did not go unnoticed, and Xing-ke smiled apologetically. "I wanted to... apologize for that incident. I hope you aren't too upset about what happened that day."

Upset? Kallen nearly snorts out loud. She gets humiliated and defeated in combat, dragged off as a hostage, imprisoned for weeks, and he thinks she might be upset?

God, and she thought Lelouch was insensitive. Maybe those two were more similar than she first thought.

At the last moment, however, she remembers her place, and his as well- Xing-ke is the man behind the throne, a military genius that bested even Lelouch and one of the most valued members of this alliance.

So, she plasters on her best smile and replies, "None, though I would like to have another go at you in that Knightmare of yours." It would have sounded peaceable, except for the fact that her best smile turned into more of a baring of her teeth and her voice was laced with an undercurrent of challenge.

Okay, so her diplomacy could use work.

However, Xing-ke merely continued smiling, this time showing more amusement. "Ah. I've injured your pride as a warrior." He bows deeply, gracefully, like a prince and not a general. "If that is the case, I would be happy to have a spar against you some time."

Outside, a deafening roar, like the howl of a triumphant beast, rips through the air, and Kallen knows that Lelouch has once again stirred the world in his favor through nothing more than words and cleverness. She turns back and watches as he makes yet another outlandish, yet captivating gesture, like a maestro weaving the dissonant instruments of his orchestra together. It is beautiful in its naked power.

Her gaze shifts and turns slightly to glance towards Xing-ke, who, unlike the thousands of people outside, is not watching Zero but instead the fair haired and fragile form of the girl behind him, as though the unending cheers of the crowd would harm her. His eyes are not hungry but protective, like a wolf circling a cub, as if fascinated by her every shiver and shake, the way she clutched at Kaguya as a shelter from the wildness of the people.

It makes her remember the look in Lelouch's eyes every time Nunnally appeared, the way his eyes would trace every movement of her hands, ever waiting for her to fall, so he could catch her.

"Why aren't you up there?" Kallen finds herself asking, before she can stop to think about it. "She could use your help, it looks like."

Xing-ke does not take his eyes off his Empress, not even for an instant. "She cannot depend on me constantly. I will not be here forever, after all." His fingers shake as he speaks, and there is the faintest of tremors beneath his skin.

She remembers how Naota's skin trembled just like that as he bled out, as the fire in his eyes flickered and faded into utter oblivion.

"But you're here right now, aren't you?" she turned fully towards him, shoulders set, lips set determinedly with the light of challenge. "You can be here for her while you're still here."

Xing-ke, in answer, turns back towards her, the barest skeleton of a smirk gracing his lips, and Kallen is eerily reminded of Lelouch. "You're quite concerned with the life of the man who handed you over to Brittania."

"As you said, I shouldn't be too upset," Kallen answered with false sweetness.

"So I did," he murmured, lips tracing back into a softer smile. "I can see why Zero was so upset to have you stolen from his side."

"He was upset?" she blinked, and tries not to notice the flush of pleasure that comes from that thought. "I know he was angry that you took me but..."

"It was much more than that, Kouzuki-san," Xing-ke chuckled mirthfully. "The sound of his voice when Xianglin confessed you had been handed over to Kururugi Suzaku was quite terrible indeed. I had not expected such a reaction, even over his ace pilot."

"Ah. I see..." Kallen trailed off, shuffling her feet, suddenly feeling much more awkward. She wondered what Lelouch would say if she asked him about it. Wryly, she believed that he would merely smirk and evade her answer, the way he always did.

"I must admit, though if ire did partially run against myself, it relieved me to see it." Xing-ke's voice intruded upon her thoughts, shaking her back to reality startlingly. At her questioning look, he continued amusedly, "It showed me that he wasn't just a cold blooded strategist."

"No, he's certainly not," Kallen murmured softly, eyes trailing back to the dark form of Zero as he finished his speech.

"Tell me, Kouzuki-san," he questioned, also gazing out towards the leader of the Black Knights, "What has Zero done to command such loyalty from you? Is it his results? His words, his promises?"

"It's because Zero showed us a dream," Kallen replied quietly, "The dream of the Japanese."

Of Naota. Of her mother. Of herself.

"I see." Xing-ke's voice is soft, and she thinks maybe he really does understand.

Then, suddenly, she starts as his fingers thread through her hair, twining them between his fingertips, and she pulls back quickly, startled. "Wh-what are you doing?" she demanded, face flushed.

"You are quite a remarkable woman, Kouzuki Kallen-san," Xing-ke replied gently, eyes twinkling as he pulled his hand back. He took a step forward and leaned in close to her ear, his breath tickling against the base of her neck. "I'm quite jealous of Zero now."

And with that, he strode off towards the stage, leaving Kallen flustered and with a single indignant thought.

He really is like Lelouch!