When they were children, Suzaku's hands were already rough and calloused, the hands of a boy who grabbed and scrambled and fought his way through life. Nunnally found them comforting, because they reminded her of her mother's hands.
A part of her felt vaguely disappointed, seven years later, when the first thing she noticed about Suzaku's hands was that they had become scarred without becoming any stronger.
"Kururugi," the Emperor of Brittania intones gravelly, as Suzaku drags the unconscious and bound form of Lelouch down to a holding cell as the process of erasing memories.
"Yes, your majesty?" he makes sure not to meet the eyes of the Brittanian leader.
"When you have placed Lelouch within the holding cell, I want you to return to Area Eleven and retrieve Nunnally."
At the sound of the name, Lelouch's body seizes up and he writhes, no doubt trying to fight the Geass one last time- like Euphie must have- and a single violet eye opens, glimmering with brutally pure hatred. Instantly Suzaku's grip tightens and crushes the painfully thin arms and weak muscles beneath, but his once and former best friend shows no pain, and whispers in a voice made hoarse from screaming and pleading and begging only minutes before.
"This isn't over, Suzaku."
And then he collapses, his will spent, and Suzaku knows that Zero is- not gone, never gone, not as long as Lelouch's heart still beats- but perhaps sealed, locked away like Izanami in the bowels of Yomi, a god made impotent.
No, Suzaku corrects, teeth clenching. This is no god. This is a man who made the whole world dance to his strings and come crashing down.
As Suzaku picks up Lelouch once again, the Emperor continues as if nothing had occurred, and informs Suzaku coldly that Nunnally is to know nothing about what has just transpired.
"And if she asks where Lelouch is?" he asks, fear overriding protocol before he adds, "Your majesty."
The Emperor smiles cruelly.
"That is for you to decide, Kururugi."
After the boy, V.V., let's her go, Suzaku brings her back to Brittania, and she asks him where her brother is.
"I don't really know," he murmured softly, gently stroking her hair in a gesture that was really more for his own comfort than her own.
"Is he dead?" she asks, voice trembling.
His hand stills for a moment, and she presses, "Please, don't lie, Suzaku-san."
And then his hand falls away, threading through her hair as it does like an errant zephyr, and he whispers brokenly, "Maybe."
Suzaku is asked to take her to the throne room, and Nunnally knows he does this only reluctantly by the way his hands shake as he takes her inside.
Nunnally knows her brother hates their father, but she herself finds herself incapable of feeling fear or anger towards this man. And this, she has come to understand, is the reason why the Emperor does not find her disappointing the way he finds her brother.
"Nunnally," he greets, and his voice is just as she remembers- deep and commanding, like a great ocean threatening to swallow everything.
"Father," she replies softly. Behind her, Suzaku stiffens, and his grip on her wheelchair is tight.
He is afraid of something.
She can feel her father's gaze on her, as if searching for something. She does not expect him to ask about her health, nor does she expect him to exchange any more pleasantries. Whatever it is he seeks from her, she does not know if he will find it.
Finally, his gaze relents, and he speaks again. "I have arranged for lodgings for you. Kururugi will take you there."
And with that, she is dismissed.
As they leave, Nunnally notes that Suzaku's hands have finally stopped shaking.
"Are you afraid of my father?" Nunnally asks him, as he carries her into her bed that night (having refused the maid's offers).
He says nothing as he tucks her into bed, rougher than her brother used to. His fingers lace around hers, his scars tracing themselves against her soft skin.
"I am not afraid of him," Suzaku finally answers, voice warm with a smile. He shuffles the blankets around her to make her more comfortable, brushing aside her hair as he does so, and she wonders if he's doing that for her or because her hair is the same texture as Euphie-nee-sama's once was.
"Onii-sama was, a little bit" she murmurs softly, catching his wrist with her hand, her small fingers barely closing over his bony wrist, their tips gently pressuring his unsteady pulse.
Suzaku remembers Lelouch screaming in agony as the Emperor raped his mind and tore apart everything that was precious to him and rewrote them with a liar's symphony, remembers how his fingernails dug deep grooves into the floor, how he struggled vainly against Suzaku's superior strength.
He remembers his last glimpse of the real Lelouch's eyes, and saw the hatred he felt reflected in those violet pools.
"I think he should be," Suzaku replies quietly, glancing away.
"You weren't afraid of anything when we were children," Nunnally adds sleepily. "You were always helping Onii-sama be more brave."
He remembers summer days.
Cicadas buzzing loudly, the taste of summer in the air as Lelouch nearly slipped off the cliff they were climbing, and only his hand on the other boy's arm kept the dark haired prince from falling.
"I can't do it Suzaku."
"Yes you can! Just trust me, I'll help you through this!"
And the last thing Lelouch said to him.
"This isn't over Suzaku."
A promise, a vendetta, a friendship's end.
"Yeah, I did make him like that, didn't I?" he says, chuckling bitterly. "Even after seven years, I'm always making Lelouch do something crazy."
Later, when Zero appears across the screens of the entire world, Suzaku feels an odd sense of pride, knowing that he has only fueled the fires that lie within Lelouch's heart.
And then, with a heavy heart, he goes to Nunnally and whispers that her brother still hasn't been found.
Because maybe he hasn't. Maybe Suzaku never again found that kind yet angry prince from those halcyon summer days, seven years ago; only a remnant, a grave marker remained in its place, that wore a mask and called itself Zero and killed the only woman who ever showed Suzaku that maybe he wasn't just a sinner.
Or maybe not.