Lelouch sighed under his breath, rotating his shoulder to work out a kink that had been building since he had suddenly appeared at Tianzi's wedding ceremony, and then settled himself down on the couch across from C.C., hoping to rest for just a moment, before returning to the other battlefield, the far more dangerous one- Ashford Academy.

Now there was a bit of depressing irony, he thought covering his face with his hand as he shut his eyes wearily. That the place he called home, the place he wished to preserve, where his most precious people were, was also a battlefield of its own.

And there, there were no Black Knights to command, no Toudo and his Holy Blades to support him, no Diethard to lay out his intricate plans, no Kallen to protect him...

Actually, at the moment, there was no Kallen to protect him at all.

Kallen... he gritted his teeth. Mere days after he had realized he wanted to protect more than just Nunnally, that there were others he cherished and held dear, one of those people he had sworn to protect was taken.

He would get her back. He had promised, and Lelouch Lamperouge, Zero, did not break promises easily.

"Are you worried about her?"

Lelouch stilled, realizing belatedly that his tension must have been showing.

Without moving upright, still sprawled provocatively across the couch, C.C. gazed coolly at him. "Kallen, I mean," she added, as an unneeded emphasis.

"She is strong," he said quietly, folding his hands. "She will hold until I figure out how to defeat the Rounds and save her."

"And if its more than just the Rounds?" C.C. questioned, still staring unreadably. "Suzaku might bring her to Brittania itself-

"Then I will get her back from Brittania!" Lelouch snapped, head whipping up to glare at her almost defiantly. His voice lost volume but not intensity as he gritted out stubbornly, "I will not lose anything more to them, to Suzaku, or Brittania."

"Sometimes the ones we love slip away from us," she murmured, eyes distant, expression so soft that it made him uncomfortable.

"Personal experience?" he challenged, arching a regal eyebrow.

"I suppose," C.C. affirmed vaguely.

"As I said, I won't lose," Lelouch stated calmly. "I have too much at stake to lose, and I won't allow even one person I care about to die."

"Hmph. And here I thought you'd grown up," she smirked, voice a lilting, yet soft tease.

"Shut up, witch," Lelouch muttered, standing.

"You're off then?" C.C. questioned, flicking her eyes up at him.

"For now," he agreed, moving towards the door. "But I'll be back."

"Be safe."

He blinked as he turned back towards C.C., who had turned her back to him.

And despite himself, Lelouch smiled briefly, before changing to a smirk.

"Of course I will, witch. I won't slip away that easily."

Behind the couch, the corners of her lips turned upwards into a the barest hint of a smile.

"Thank you," she whispered softly.