Ogi shuffled nervously into meeting room at the Forbidden City first, not for the first time feeling rather awkward as the infamous Zero's second in command, especially since the legendary Toudou of Miracles was the one following him. Though he had been in this position for a long time now and even a chequered general like Toudou respected him, Ogi couldn't help but feel very out of place as the highest ranking member of the Black Knights attending this meeting, which was the unofficial start of negotiating the terms of China's joining Zero's Union of Nations.
As he entered, he glanced up and met the rather surprised dark brown eyes of Li Xing-ke, who gazed at him questioningly- as did, now that Ogi was looking, Xing-ke's aide Zhou Xianglin, standing at attention next to her leader.
"Where is Zero?" Xing-ke questioned politely, gaze wandering behind Ogi to make sure he had not missed the masked terrorist or that Zero was walking in last as a precaution. "I had assumed he would be joining us."
"Well..." Ogi began, scratching the back of his head nervously, shuffling his feet as he tried to come up with an adequate way to phrase the fact that-
"He's not here."
All eyes in the room turned towards C.C., who was standing off in a corner of the room clutching that strange plush toy of hers.
"Not here?" Xing-ke arched his eyebrow curiously. "And why is that?"
"Other business," C.C. replied evasively, a very slight, catty smirk on her face. "He makes his apologies, of course," she added, as an afterthought.
"More important than our joining this 'Union' of his?" Zhou cut in, looking rather severe as she frowned disapprovingly. "That's a rather disrespectful move from this Zero."
Xing-ke raised his hand, and she relaxed slightly. After glancing at her, he turned back towards the assembled Black Knights, and focusing a narrowed look on C.C.. "Xianglin raises a good point. Exactly what could be so pressing that Zero would need to leave not even a day after we began our alliance?" his voice, while cordial, carried a hint of doubt.
C.C. paused, meeting his gaze coolly and without even a hint of intimidation. "Perhaps it was pressing enough that he needed to leave immediately and in secret," she offered, soft voice tainted with just the barest hint of mocking, lips still curved ever so slightly into a smirk.
Ogi, Toudou, and Diethard all frowned at her insolence, but Xing-ke only smirked back, obviously amused, responding tartly, "Is that so?"
After that, Xing-ke seemed satisfied, and asked no more questions about Zero's conspicuous absence from the meeting.
"So, how was the meeting?" Tamaki asked as they returned to the bridge of the Ikaruga, a rather obvious amount of envy in his voice as he spoke.
"It went well enough," Ougi replied diplomatically, rubbing his eyes tiredly.
"It could have gone better, if Zero had been there," Nagisa said pointedly, icily. "This is his idea, after all."
"Oi, oi, C.C.-san explained that Zero has-" the Deputy Commander began, but Asahina cut him off.
"Yeah, yeah, Zero has 'pressing business' elsewhere," the remaining male member of the Four Holy Blades remarked, shaking his head. "Just like during the Black Rebellion."
"You have a point," Ougi agreed reluctantly, sighing. "I trust him, but-"
"But what, Ougi-san?"
All eyes on the bridge turned towards the speaker, and Ougi even jerked slightly in surprise as he saw the innocent smile of Sumeragi Kaguya gazing back at him.
"Ah... um... nothing, Kaguya-sama," he replied quickly, smiling tightly.
"Asahina was just pointing out that Zero kind of leaves without telling anyone all the time," Tamaki interjected, chortling.
"It is a bit strange," Kaguya agreed, tapping her finger against her cheek with pursed lips, "Zero-sama never seems to simply stay here, with his darling wife!"
"Maybe he doesn't li-" he began, when he was rather subtly but violently elbowed by Nagisa (in an act of feminine unity against male stupidity), who interjected, "I'm sure Zero does not mean any harm, Kaguya-sama."
"Where do you suppose he goes?" Tamaki questioned, rubbing his side with a wince.
"Maybe he's running secret missions only he can perform?" Ougi theorized, brow furrowing.
"Perhaps he's negotiating with important persons in secret?" Diethard responded skeptically, biting his lip in confusion.
"It's possible he could be making preparations for our war against Brittania," Toudou offered, crossing his arms, eyes closed in his usual relaxed pose.
"Maybe he's meeting some secret lover?" Tamaki joked, and was immediately pinned by glares from Nagisa and the rest of the female bridge crew, sans C.C. (who laughed) and Kaguya (who didn't mind).
"We really don't know much about him, do we?" Ougi murmured, half to himself, but the rest of the bridge heard and nodded reluctantly.
"It might not be that militaristic," Ayame, one of the new bridge crew members, chimed in. "Zero is still a human being like the rest of us- he could have a life outside of here."
At this, the assembled members of the Black Knights paused, most having never considered the idea of Zero being anything more than a mysterious figurehead.
"What, are you saying he has some kind of job outside of here?" Tamaki asked disbelievingly, laughing at the absurdity of the notion.
"Well, a lot of our original equipment came from him- we never exactly asked him where it all came from," Ougi pointed out.
"Didn't he say he received it from a duke or some another anonymous benefactor?" Minami reminded them, crossing his arms.
"Perhaps he stole it?" Nagisa cut in skeptically, pursing her lips.
"It is not our business to question where Zero-sama acquires our equipment," Diethard responded tartly, glaring over at her. "Besides, you didn't seem to care about our methods when Toudou-san was captured by Brittania."
"Why you-" she snarled, taking a step forward-
"Enough." Toudou's calm, solid voice shattered the tension, and all eyes turned back towards him as he continued, "This infighting is pointless. Speculation is well and good, but remember that we have no solid proof of anything."
"Y-yes, Toudou-san," Nagisa mumbled, flushed with embarrassment as she took a step back.
"You know, I don't think Zero could even have time for a job," Ougi wondered out loud. "Think about how much time he spends here- even if he could have a regular job, he would have far too many unexcused absences, not to mention a lack of sleep."
"So maybe he's got some kind of special job?" Tamaki replied.
"I don't think he works," Asahina interrupted, shaking his head.
"So why do you think he leaves then, four-eyes?" Tamaki challenged, crossing his arms.
"I don't know, I was just saying it's probably not some kind of other work," the other man responded condescendingly.
"Maybe Zero has some kind of medical condition and he needs to get regular treatment?" Minami postulated.
"Maybe he's got some other obligations elsewhere?" Ougi said, though it was clear he didn't quite believe it himself.
"Maybe Zero-sama goes back to Japan?" Kaguya remarked excitedly.
"To sow discontent amongst the people and disrupt Brittanian rule?" Diethard straightened, seemingly excited by the idea.
"Maybe he's secretly a married man and has to head back home to keep up appearances?" Rakshata suddenly added, chortling, causing the majority of the bridge crew to fall into a fantasy of Zero, the house-husband.
"Honey, I'm home!" Zero called out, a hat somehow placed atop his mask as he removed his cloak from his shoulders.
"Oh darling, you're back!" his faceless wife responded, hurrying to his side to help him take off his cloak. "How was fighting Brittania?"
"Tough, as always," the terrorist answered, pressing his mask against her face in a makeshift kiss. "Now, where are the kids?"
"Papa!" a gaggle of masked children suddenly rushed Zero's knees, clutching at the hems of his pants.
"I shot down a Brittanian Knightmare today daddy!" one of them, who wore a blue tinted mask, chimed in.
"I'm proud of you, son," he said fondly, ruffling the top of the mask.
"Daddy! I drew a picture!" a pink mask wearing child interrupted, raising a piece of paper. "It's a picture of you destroying Brittania!"
"Aw, thanks sweetie," Zero took the picture and presented it proudly. "Let's put this on the fridge!"
"Okay, so, anyone else seriously disturbed by that idea?" Minase, another new member, questioned, shuddering. Everyone, again sans Kaguya (who was imagining herself as the wife) and C.C. (who was laughing herself silly off to the side), nodded fervently.
"You know what, let's just never ask him, how about that?" Asahina mumbled.