Not dead. Really.

Disclaimer: Not mine. Really.

The palace seemed to emulate all the chaos Kallen had felt over the past week. She had dodged at least four groups of panicking servants on her way to the western terrace that morning. Still, she had managed to arrive on time, giving the Duchess little to complain about. After her outburst the week before, the two had come to some form of uneasy truce – meaning Kallen didn't complain and Duchess Weinburg didn't bring up her relationship with Lelouch. Unfortunately, everything else was still fair game apparently.

"Take smaller bites and do not chew so loudly they can hear you in Russia. We have no need to emphasize your lack of manner anymore than necessary."

Kallen gritted her teeth, and complied without so much as a twitch of displeasure. Of course, it was hard to twitch at all, much less move when various strips of fabric tied her to the chair so she'd maintain proper posture. At least she had graduated from strutting across the room. The blisters on her feet were a painful testimony to the hours spent achieving this. Chewing slowly, she readied the fork for another bite, but stopped as the Duchess spoke again.

"You are done for the day," she said motioning for Adele to untie Kallen's bonds. "That last bit was good –" Is she actually complementing me? Has she finally gotten off that high horse? "– for a ill-bred number." Or not.

Freed from her restraints, Kallen stood, stretched and reveled in the face the Duchess made when her shoulders popped. Small revenge. "So what's the occasion?" she asked, cracking her knuckles as well.

"I thought as a warrior your senses were supposed to high," relied the Duchess getting up from her own position on the half couch under the widow. She did so with a fluid grace that Kallen envied, though she'd never admit it. "Did you not notice the commotion today? Seems your training was lacking." Kallen bristled and opened her mouth to retort, but the Duchess ignored her and went on. "A very important guest is arriving today, and with the party tonight I knew you would need extra time to get ready."

Kallen blinked. "Party? No one said anything about a party."

"I have already made the necessary arrangements for you."

Figures. "I think if there is going to be a party, I should be allowed to prepare myself," Kallen snapped. The Duchess only raised an eyebrow.

"You have almost no knowledge of the customs of this court, and I will not have you embarrassed." Before Kallen had a change to retort, the Duchess had already reached the double doors and past through them with a swish of her dark blue gown.

"Damn it," muttered Kallen, twisting her own red dress between her fists.

"Miss Kozuki, you are going to ruin your skirts," came Adele's voice. Kallen forced her fists to loosen.

"Adele, did you know about this?"

"Of course, Miss," came the reply between the clattering of Adele stacking the dishes.

"Then why didn't you say anything!"

"You didn't ask," muttered Adele. Normally Kallen would be pleased that Adele was not bowing and scraping the ground in her presence. Today she just wanted to strangle the world.

"Do you have to make my life miserable?" she groaned. The dishing clinking stopped and Kallen turned to see Adele was looking a bit flustered. "Adele," started Kallen.

"Do you need help getting back to your room?" Adele's voice was lace with embarrassment and Kallen found herself smiling at the young girl. It was more of an apology than any sorry.

"I think I can find my way," she said, glad that she had finally gotten used to the complex corridors in the palace. "Besides, I'm going to go to the kitchen."

Adele's face turned back to her usual blank look and Kallen knew she'd done something improper and 'unnoble' again. "You should begin getting ready for the party."

Kallen snorted. "I hardly need six hours to get a dress on."

"If you are still hungry, I can have something delivered to your room." Adele tried, in a final attempt to keep Kallen from leaving.

"Pass, I'm not going for the food anyway," Kallen replied as she grasped the brass handles of the door. As she left the room, she could have sworn that Adele spoke once again, but when she turned around, the young handmaid was busy with the dishes. Still the words rang in Kallen's mind all the way down to the kitchen.

"That's the problem."

The kitchen's turned out to be even worse than the halls and instead her planned activities, Kallen found herself in a corner peeling potatoes. Lots of potatoes. And her 'helper' was doing anything but.

"I think you should consider a future as a house wife," said Gino lazily from his sprawled position on the bench. He had himself propped up with one arm, one foot dangled half off the edge, the other stretched out the length of the bench as Gino tossed the knife he should have been using to peel potatoes in his free hand. Kallen watched the blade flicker in the light of the kitchen as it spun in the air, her own hands shredding the skin of a half peeled spud.

"I tend to think I'll amount to something that will benefit those around me," she growled.

"It'll benefit your family," he replied, not even acknowledging the growl. Kallen tossed the cleaned potato into a large, half-filled pot and selected another.

"I meant on a larger scale than a husband and some brats."

"What, you mean you'd including in-laws at your dinner parties as well?"

Kallen's knife imbedded itself in the bench next to his elbow. To her disappointment he didn't flinch. I guess he's more used to flying knives then the average person. Or he saw the murderous look on my face and knew it was coming.

"You should be careful with blades Kallen," said Gino cheerfully, plucking her knife from the now scarred wood and flicking it back at her. It landed in the potato she'd dropped in favor of threatening him. She would not admit it was impressive.

"Play with a lot of knives, Gino?" she asked casually, twirling the blade.

"Knives aren't really my thing. Too girly," he replied with a grin.


"Well, it doesn't any muscle to use. Any housewife can kill with a weapon that small."

Kallen was tempted to stab him, but she feared such action would only encourage him. "So saying you were said housewife – " he gave her a look, which Kallen gleefully ignored " – what would you use? A pot?"


"Gino, housewives don't carry swords."

"This housewife takes offence to that. I'll have you know that nothing goes with a pink, frilly apron like three feet of sharpened steel." He said it with a completely straight face that had Kallen laughing almost as much as the image of him in an apron and sword did.

"Pity I've got neither, then," she said when she caught her breath.

"What, no sword? I thought all you Japanese were samurai and stuff."

Kallen rolled her eyes. "And are all Brittannians knights running around on white horses?"

"Galloping, dear Kallen, it's called galloping. And my horse is roan."

"…I'm going to kill you."

"Want me to teach you how to do that with a sword?"


"Yep, if you promise to not go around hacking the head off everyone who annoys you."

"I promise I'll kill you first so you don't have to see it."


Two hours and a sizable dent in the potato pile later, Sarah kicked both Kallen and Gino out, stating "Makin' more mess than peeled potatoes over there" and "Don't forget to try the shrimp roles Miss Kallen."

"Well," started Kallen as they exited the kitchen, stretching her arms up over her head, "personally I – "

"Miss!" cut off a rather relived and frantic sounding voice. "Miss, finally!"

Kallen blinked and looked over at a rather annoyed looking Adele, standing with her arms crossed and glaring. It was a startling change from the girl's usual behavior of bowed head and meek voice and Kallen found herself taking a step back in surprise. Adele, sensing a possible retreat into the kitchen, lunged forward and grabbed Kallen's wrist.

"Oh, no, you're not going back in there," she said, starting the pull Kallen down the hall. "I've been waiting for hours out here! We don't have anytime left!"

Kallen glanced back at Gino only to find the man had fled at the first sighting of the angry girl. Smart man. "H-hey Adele, slow down. We've got tons of time."

"Tons of time? Tons of time?" The girl whipped her head around, her black braid hitting Kallen in the face with the force of her turn. Kallen was half worried that Adele was going to snap her own neck doing that, half worried that Adele was going to snap her neck instead. "We have less than two hours."

"Plenty – "

"No, it's not plenty of time! We have to do bath, hair, make-up, dress insertion –" Kallen didn't like the sound of that one " – jewelry, accessories, and don't even get me started on finding you an escort."

"I need an escort?" Adele gave her a final look and started pulling her down the hall again.

"Duchess Weinburg assigned you an escort, but he is sick! Sick! Who gets sick on the eve of a ball?" Adele jerked Kallen around another corner. "Stupid man, stupid kitchen staff not letting me in, stupid ball."

"Adele, I think this is the time to remain calm. I really think you're getting worked up over nothing," started Kallen, but Adele was lost in her own little world.

" – stupid halls, stupid kitchen being across the whole palace, stupid architect –"

There was nothing else for Kallen to do but let herself be dragged through the halls and pray she didn't hit any of the walls during a turn.

Adele continued muttering to herself all the way to Kallen's room, where Kallen found herself thrust inside, into the bathroom, stripped and dumped in the tub. As Adele made her way to the edge of the tub, soap in one hand and a scrub in the other, Kallen finally held up her hands in protest.

"I can wash myself."

Adele ignored her and began flaying the skin off Kallen's back.

"Ouch! Adele, really I can do it!" protested Kallen, shielding away in a vain attempt to protect her back.

"You take hours when you bath. I need you out in ten."

"I can do that!"

Adele looked at her, head tilted, green eyes calculating. "You've got seven minutes."

"You said ten!"

"Six." And Adele slammed the door.

Kallen stared blankly at the door for a second before bursting out laughing. "I can face down hoards of pilots, men armed with the most deadly technology currently known to man, and a thirteen year old girl is bossing me around."

"You've got five minutes left," came the voice of the said girl through door. Kallen rapidly started scrubbing. "And I'm fifteen."


Kallen had expected to find herself greeted by a fuming Adele when exiting the bathroom – she had taken eight minutes and who knew what Adele was capable in her state – but found herself promptly pounced upon by three older maids she'd never seen before.

"She's out!"

"I've got the shift, Mel, where'd ya place the blow dryer?"

"Daft are you? Blow dryer will ruin her hair."

"No time to dry naturally – here."

"Towel it!"

"Bite me! Here, take the dress, and stop whining. I'll be done in a tick."

"H-hey guys?" Kallen tentatively tried to cut in, hoping they'd stop whipping her around for a second so she could get her bearings. It was a useless attempt and it soon became apparent that the maids were not listening to her at all.

"I can't find her shoes!"

"Oh, just snag another pair out of the closet – the place was stacked high!"

"Got the jewelry. Did you finish her hair?"

"What hideous stones! Hide them under the pillow! She isn't going to wear those!"

"Rae, don't strangle the poor girl with that corset! Loosen it, or she'll faint on the dance floor and be a laughing stock."

"The Duchess will have a cow if we don't use -."

"Do I look like that old lady? No. Exactly. Adele may be from the Weinburg estate and all timid and quiet, but I've been serving at the palace my entire life! Sarah told me to make sure the girl was fit, so she'll be fit!"

"Make up!"


The whole crazy process took less then ten minute and then Kallen found herself staring at her refection in a floor length mirror.

"Well, what do you think?"

"Wow," was all Kallen could get out. Kallen couldn't recall the last time she'd really dressed up, and could barely believe the girl in the mirror was herself. She spun slightly, the hem of the deep blue dress brushing the floor and resisted the urge to giggle. Her gloved hand trailed the beaded bodice, following the twisting design. It was the most intricate part of the dress, the only really decorated part in fact, what with the simple cut and gathering of fabric at the waist and no sleeves. She was pleasantly surprised to find that the cut of the dress rested at the top of her bosom, and her bare shoulders and neck, adorned only by what appeared to be a strand of wire worked sapphires, drew more attention that her breasts for once. Coupled with her hair in its twisted knot laced with more sapphire strands and pair of dainty drop shaped earrings, Kallen looked elegant rather than childish, striking rather than sexy. "Wow," she said again.

The servants laughed. "Don't get dressed up much do you," tease one lightly. Kallen felt her checks flush.

"Shouldn't the gloves be elbow length," she muttered, grasping the only piece of ball fashion she could recall in an attempt to feel less inexperienced.

"Perhaps, though that rule went out the door last year at Princess Guinevere's birthday ball. Now that was a scandal and a half. And I personally think wrist length look better on you. You have lovely arms."

"T-thank you," said Kallen, going even redder.

"Where is the jewelry the Duchess gave you?" Came a questioning voice from the doorway to the room. Kallen turned her head and spotted Adele standing there, hands on hips and wearing a slight frown.

"Those rocks were large enough to break the girl's neck!" retorted the eldest of the maids. Adele sighed.

"They were supposed to show off wealth, not look pretty," she muttered, coming over to the group. "At least you stuck with the same dress." Kallen's mouth dropped open.

"The Duchess chose this dress?"


"But it's not hideous!" Adele gave Kallen a look that said 'obviously' and strapped a card to Kallen's wrist. Kallen amended her statement. "I mean, the dresses she usually makes me wear are not what I'd choice for myself."

"I gathered. You know how to use a dance card?"

"Yes, but the Duch –"

"Good, your escort should be here any minute. I've written him in for your first dance. He's not what my Lady Weinburg would chose, but a Knight of Round was all I could get last minute, what with all the regulars already paired."

A Knight of Round! I'm going with Gino? Involuntarily, Kallen felt her face heat for the third time that night, and a moment later when a hesitant knock sounded at the door, Kallen found herself opening it immediately.

"Thank goodness it's you and not som-" Kallen stopped mid sentence.

"Lady Kōzuki," said the uniformed figure with a sweeping bow that caused his blue cloak to flair.


To say Kallen was please would be lying. To say she was annoyed would be an understatement. She could not, absolutely would not be escorted by Him. Which was why she currently was striding down the hall as fast as she could, trying to lose the man following right behind her.

"Kallen." She ignored the voice. "Kallen, please wait." I'm not listening. "Kallen!"

"I can escort myself, thank you!" she finally snapped.

"The ballroom's the other way." Kallen stopped, fists clenched and tried to remember how to breathe. Suzaku spoke again. "Please Kallen, at least let me take you to the room. If you don't want to associate with me inside, I won't force you."

"Fine, but I'm not dancing with you." She pretended not to see the small smile that formed on Suzaku's face as she stuck out her hand rather than waiting for him to offer his arm. When he had arranged her hand on his forearm, she motioned for him to lead the way.

"You haven't changed," he said softly as he started down the hall. Kallen gave him a look. Suzaku fell silent. He didn't speak again until they reached the double doors that Kallen assumed led to the ballroom. The two men at the doors bowed and opened the doors and moments later Kallen found herself and Suzaku at the back of a large room filled with people. A grand staircase took up one end of the room and as names were called, pairs of people glided down the steps.

"I assumed you wouldn't want to be announced," said Suzaku as another pair of names – "Lord Junipie of Gliem and Lady Cathrine of Veshtine!" – was called and two more elegant figured descended the stairs.

Kallen refused to feel grateful and removed her hand from his arm.

"Kallen," he started, but she was already pushing through the crowd of lace and coats and had lost him in seconds. Good riddance. She surveyed her surrounding, taking in the smiling faces, fancy dresses and sparkling jewels, the marble floor and pillars, the woven tapestries lining the walls and glass windows showing the darkening sky. I feel like I'm in an old time painting. Finding a spot to stand next to one of the pink marble pillars, she started watching the entering guests with growing impatience.

The sky had fully darkened by the time Kallen finally heard the name she was listening for. "His Highness, Emperor Lelouch vi Britannia!" All of the chatter stopped immediately and the entire room seemed to follow the man decked out in robes of white. Kallen felt her breath catch and her heart swell. The world seemed to stop around her as Lelouch stepped onto the stairs. He was stunning, the perfect image of royalty, so noble, so strong, so handsome, so –

"You're drooling."

Kallen's head snapped around to glare at Gino who'd taken up residence next to her and was giving her a cheeky smile.

"You -!" she started, only to be cut off by Lelouch's voice spreading across the ballroom.

"Citizens of Britannia, welcome." Lelouch stood on a dais next to the stairs Kallen had not noticed before, gesturing grandly, an action that brought a smile to Kallan's face. "Thank you for joining me in this celebration to honor the arrival of our esteemed guest. Please, drink and be merry and let the celebration begin!"

Musicians started playing, and before Kallen could blink most of the floor had been cleared and pairs of people were making their way onto the dance floor. Lelouch seemed to have disappeared into the crowd, and Kallen started to make her way towards where she'd last seen him. A hand on her shoulder stopped her.

"You haven't dance with me," said Gino with that same cheeky smile. "Don't go running off yet. Where are your manors?"

Kallen knew she was being teased and rolled her eyes. "I don't believe that's the proper way to ask." Gino's grin widened.

"My Lady Kōzuki," he said, with a flourishing bow that made Suzaku's from earlier seem normal by comparison. "May I request your fair hand for this dance?" Kallen swore she saw a nearby girl swoon. She resisted rolling her eyes this time at his flamboyant actions. Two can play at this game, Gino. Dispassionately, she studied the card hanging at her wrist.

"I'm afraid, my Lord Weinburg, you do not seem to be written on my card." It took all she had not to laugh at the surprised look that came over Gino's face. He probably didn't think I knew what this piece of paper was for. Kallen felt her smile grow a little predatory. "I am afraid that I am unavailable at this time. You will have to find another partner for this dance. There seem to be many willing here." She gestured to the surrounding women, many of who took her refusal a signal to move in on the stunned Knight. "I bid you adieu," she finished, sweeping out of the closing crowd of women as grandly as possible. Gino was blocked from following by the many women now offering their dance cards to the blonde man, showing the empty lines indicating their freedom to dance with him. Kallen laughed at the sight, please that she could dish out some of his own medicine. Take that, oh extravagant one!

"I see you tease as merciless as you fight," came an amused voice from her left. Kallen turned to face the voice and found her face mirroring the look on Gino's from moments before.


The raven haired man smiled. "I have not seen you for some time, Kōzuki."

"Uh, yah," came Kallen's witty reply. The Chinese man's smile only grew at her shocked stated.

"I'll admit I am also surprised to see you here, as last I knew you were in Japan," he said, giving her time to re-gather her wits.

"Right, yes, Japan. Well, I'm here now."

"I gathered." Kallen didn't miss the amused glint in Xingke's eye this time and she felt her face grow hot.

"What are you doing here?" she asked defensively, trying to turn the tables. It ended up back firing as Xingke only raised an eyebrow.

"I am escorting Her Highness, Empress Tianzi. I thought you would have seen her when she entered with Emperor Lelouch."

Now Kallen did turn red, mentally scolding herself for being so focused on Lelouch she missed the tiny, white haired girl who Kallen was now realizing was the guest of honor the whole celebration was about.

"I – oh, bother. I was distracted," she muttered, hoping he wouldn't pry. He didn't, looking instead out to the dance floor.

"They're starting the second dance," he commented.

"Yah." Kallen was relieved he changed the topic, not wanting to explain to her former comrade that she had missed noticing her young friend because she was too busy staring at a man.

"Would you care to dance?" The question surprised her.


Xingke gave her another amused glance. "The young man may not have noticed, but I can clearly see that your card is empty, save the first slot. So I assume you are not taken for this one." Kallen bit her lip. She didn't want to dance. She wanted to find Lelouch. Xingke noticed her glancing at the crowd and surprised her yet again. "He's on the dance floor with Her Highness. It might be easier to catch him after this one if you are near." Kallen went red again.

Well, I'm doing a great job of doing nothing but be embarrassed and surprised tonight, she thought darkly. Nerveless, she took Xingke's hand and let him lead her to the dance floor.

"I only know a couple of dances," she protest weakly, praying that it was not a polka, or worse a quadrille. Any dance that involved changing partners ended in a "complete and utter demonstration of her incompetence at basic footwork" as the Duchess had so lightly put it only yesterday. To her relief, when the music started Xingke led her in a basic waltz. Nether spoke for the first turn around the space, Kallen determinedly focusing on where to put her feet.

"You can relax," said Xingke finally, breaking the silence.

"Where did you learn to dance anyway," Kallen asked, not wanting to admit to being stiff.

"Did you think people in China did not dance?"

"I meant Britannian style," she amended.

"I've been taking classes with Her Highness in preparation for our visit. I did not think I'd need it, however."

"But you made an exception for me?"
"I wanted to ask you what you were really doing here without someone overhearing."

"I-I don't know what you mean."

"Kōzuki, we may not have been close in the Black Knights but I believe I know you well enough to not believe you would willing come to the heart of Britannia for any man other than Zero." His grip tighten on Kallen, as though he though she'd bolt. Which was one of the options currently flitting through her mind, unlikely as she was to act on it. "Tell me, is he plotting something here too? I have no desire to see this peace shattered by that man's unimaginable plans." The thoughts flitting through Kallen's mind came to an abrupt halt.

"What? What are you talking about?" She was genuinely confused and it must have shown for Xingke looked at her surprised for the first time that evening.

"You were not sent here by Zero?"

"No! I'm here for Le–" she stopped mid sentence, eyes darting to the man in white dancing not three pairs away. Xingke didn't say anything else for the duration of the dance. When it was over, he bowed.

"I apologize," he said as they reached the edge of the floor. "I did not mean to accuse you."

"Yes you did," Kallen said waspishly, starting to leave.

"You are right, I did. But it was not with out cause." Kallen stopped.

"What do you mean?"

"I could not believe you came here to follow a man other than Zero. I always thought he was the man you would follow to the ends of the Earth. I did not think a classmate could replace what you had in your eyes when you looked at him." Xingke left before Kallen could reply and she found herself feeling agitated and alone.

If the world had any justice, the servants would have come by with a bucket of champagne for me to dunk my head in, Kallen thought as another platter passed by with only more of the shrimp rolls. Sarah had been right, they were delicious, but sadly, not mind altering, which was exactly what Kallen wanted right now. Xingke's words had hit hard, and the most frustrating part was she couldn't even figure out why.

"I would have thought the Empress's bodyguard would have been the one scowling, what with the number of times you stepped on his feet during that dance."

Kallen sighed. "You remind me of you mother right now."

Gino winced. "Ouch, low blow. I take it you're in a dark place."

"Yah. Sorta."

"Need me to hit someone for you?"


Silence fell, and the pair stood by the pillar, watching the dancers go by. It wasn't awkward, however, and Kallen felt oddly content in the knowledge that her companion knew when she did not want to talk, but also did not want to be alone. She was even starting to feel better when she spotted trouble heading her way.

"Crap. Gino, hid me."

"Where, exactly?" Gino asked, raising an eyebrow. "I don't think I'm fat enough for you to fit behind me. Who you hiding from anyway?"

"That bastard." Kallen ducked behind Gino anyway, tugging his cape out to try and obscure the ends of her dress.

"I'll I see is Suzaku," Gino said, scanning the crowd.

"Exactly." Gino turned and gave Kallen an odd look.

"Now you're really acting childish," he said, an almost serious look on his face. "Suzaku hasn't done anything."

"He tried to kill me."

"No he didn't. I've actually had a half-hearted attempt at that, by the way, yet I don't see you hiding behind people's newly ironed cape when I'm coming."

"I hate him."

Gino rolled his eyes, and raised his hand, waving slightly. "Oyi! Suzaku! Over here!"


"Gonna have to face him sooner or later," Gino said with a slightly wicked grin. Kallen prayed for a distraction. And for the first time that night, someone was listening. Just not someone Kallen would have wanted.

A scream rang out across the ballroom as men dressed entirely in black materialized from the crowd, each armed and headed straight for Lelouch. The room dissolved into chaos and everything happened in a flash of panic and adrenaline. Kallen acted without thinking, years of bodyguarding instinct driving her. She threw herself at the nearest man, slamming both of them into the ground. She rolled off the dazed him, ready to remove another and found herself face to face with a gun.

Shit! She squeezed her eyes shut involuntarily, her mind already playing out the next few second leading to her death. I should have been on guard. But the shot did not come, only a sickening thud, and she opened her eyes to find the man now missing his head, Gino already moving to counter the next opponent.

Not to be outdown, or even worse seen as a damsel needing rescue, Kallen scrambled to her feet, eyes scanning the room. Servants, guests and nobles alike were either making beelines for the exits or standing uselessly with their mouths wide open. Xingke was fending off two men who Kallen was pretty sure would be dead in seconds, Empress Tianzi safely behind him. Three men lay dead around Lelouch, Suzaku engaging a fourth who had lost his gun and was now fighting a losing battle with a knife. Kallen started forward, fully intending to reach Lelouch before someone got through, only to have the man she'd tackled before give her the same treatment.

"Oof!" Kallen hit the ground hard, but fully aware. She twisted, her fist connecting with the man's face and he rolled off her howling. Kallen lashed out with her foot after the man, but it caught in her dress and he managed to get to his feet only moments before she did. The met in a flury of fists. She blocked a wild punch, please to see that he was losing his head faster than she and stuck his face again, this time with her elbow. He was too far-gone to really feel it, however, and Kallen found herself reeling and seeing stars. Wha – he head butted me! That son of a –

She shook her head, stumbling backward. The man charged at her, and Kallen grabbed the tray from a nearby shell-shocked servant and swung. The tray connected, denting in the middle and the man crumpled. Kallen didn't get anytime for satisfaction, however, as another man darted at her, this one with a knife aimed at her stomach. She slammed the bent tray down on his wrist, pushing it enough to the side that the blade just grazed her stomach, and shoved the end of tray into the man's exposed throat. He made a gurgle and fell. Two more appeared in his place. Where the hell are they all coming from? She thought, settling into as best a guardstance she could without the skirt of her dress impeading her movement. Damn them, if I wasn't wearing this -

Kallen felt, rather than saw Gino move. The two men fell, blood staining the floor and Gino standing in their place. Wow.

"Impressed my dear Kallen?" Gino flashed her a smile, but it didn't reach his eyes. They were cold, already looking for more threats. Not that there seemed to anymore, or if there were, they had disappeared back where they had come from. People were still pushing and staring though, and one girl sat on the floor screaming at the top of her lungs.

"Lelouch!" Kallen couldn't even hear herself over the screaming. "Lelouch!" She tried again, starting towards him. "Shut up!" she snapped at the girl. The screaming abruptly stopped and was replaced by people yelling and pointing at her.

"She's a Number! And a Black Knight!"

"I bet she did this!"

"She's here to kill us all!"

Kallen stared at them bewildered. What had brought this on? "Huh? I didn't do anything," she started. The growing crowd cut her off.


"She did this! Black Knight!"

"Stop her! She's after the Emperor!"

Kallen took a step back as some of the men started forward. I can't take them all. Bloody Britannians! Of all the times to grow a pair it's after the real threat is gone! She backed up to one of the pillars, hands tightening on her mangled tray. Shit. Suddenly, her vision went green, blocking out the sight of the crowd.

"I wouldn't try it." Gino's voice held nothing of his usual warmth and the crowd fell silent. The Knight of Three was standing ram-rod straight, sword out and Kallen could only guess what the look on his face was.

"That is enough." Lelouch's voice filled the room, resonating with that oh-so familiar tone that had made entire nations sit up and take notice. "Kallen is not the cause of this unfortunate event."

"Oh no?"

Kallen could not believe someone actually had the guts to say anything to Lelouch when he was in Emperor mode. She moved out from behind Gino to get a better look, ignoring the warning glance Gino shot her. The speaker was Princess Guinevere, somehow completely untouched by the chaos, not one hair out of place. She stood with almost as much self-confidence as Lelouch himself, looking him straight in the eye. Maybe it runs in the family…

Guinevere continued. "I find it strange that you would defend her, knowing full well she tried to burn this country to the ground."

"Hey! I neve –" Kallen started to protest, but fell silent when Gino put a hand on her shoulder, shaking his head slightly. The message was clear: Don't make yourself a target anymore than necessary. Kallen scowled, fully intending on ignoring him, but the next exchange between the royals caught her full attention.

"Dear sister, are you implying that I would let someone that meant harm to myself and the country into my very home?" Lelouch gestured to the bodies near himself and those by Kallen. "And did you not see that they went after her as purposefully as they did myself and Empress Tianzi?" They did? But it was only a few – "Miss Kōzuki is only standing thanks to the brave efforts of herself and the Knight of Three. Why would she attempt to kill herself?"

Guinevere only shrugged, somehow making the movement seemed graceful and elegant. "I do not know. Nor would I try and comprehend the mind of one such as she. Pray tell, dear Brother, what makes you trust her so?"

"Why would I not trust the future Queen?"

And with that line, even Guinevere could not hide the shock on her face. The entire room was silent for nearly ten full seconds, before erupting in chaos once more, though this time the yelling and protest were directed at the Emperor. Lelouch made a quick hand wave at Kallen, motioning for her to make her escape, before disappearing in a sea of bodies. Gino caught the meaning, and grabbed Kallen by the shoulders, steering the shocked girl towards the door. They exited and Kallen stopped.

"Well, shit," she said, still stunned.

"Yep. Cat's out of the bag now." Gino's smile still didn't reach his eyes. His knuckles were tight on his now sheathed sword and he kept glance around, not looking at Kallen's face.

"You ok?" Kallen asked.

"Am I ok? I wasn't the one who was almost torn apart by angry party goers."

"Yah." Kallen sighed and rubbed a hand through her hair. "Thanks, by the way. I know that protecting me isn't exactly what you had planned for the night." Especially since they're the ones you're supposed to be sworn to protect.

Gino laughed. "I got to play knight in shinnying armor. And a decent fight too. Much better than twirling in circles."

Kallen smiled. "I suppose that's one way of looking at it. Can't say I'm happy about having to fight in a dress though."

"You could try it in a mini skirt next time. I'd like to see that." Gino's grin was back in full force, and his eyes drifted downward. "'Course, with how much you've torn that hem, there might not be much of a difference."

"What!" Kallen glanced down in a panic and cursed at the state of the dress.

"Hey, didn't think you'd be that uptight about your legs, considering the length of the shorts on that cute Black Knight outfit you had."

Kallen groaned. "It's not that. I ripped my dress."

"Good observation. Didn't I just say that?"

"The Dutchess is going to kill me."

"It was nice knowing you."

It wasn't until later that night, after Kallen had spent a hour scrubbing her skin red and Adele had bandaged her cut side that Kallen realized Gino had never answered her question.

A/N: Wow, almost a year and a half between updates. Sorry. College has been crazy. And I've been working on original works after winning a contest to write a script for a video game (an EVN, so not exactly anything special, but the writing's been fun and a different challenge).

Thank you all who sent me messages, or reviewed anyway or fav. this story after months of inactivity. Honestly, you guys rock. Never fear that I won't ever finish this story, I will - though at the rate I am going, it might happen after you've lost interest, so I suppose you can fear that.

Anyway, longest chapter yet, hopefully making up a tad for the wait. As always, reviews are loved and everyone that picks apart/adds critisim is loved more. I want to keep improving, so feedback is a must! In particular, I had a fight scene in this chapter (as I am sure you are all aware) and would love some feedback on that. :)