(In all seriousness, my most sincere and grovelling apologies can be found down at the bottom~)

The Ghost in the Machine

XII – Dead Red Thread

An eternity had stretched between that kiss; an eternity and an entire world and an entity made up of their minds, however briefly, becoming one.

In the midst of that static sea and that bed and that vast chessboard Lelouch had offered him the crown he had once worn himself.

The Power of Kings.


(Which he still despised.)

["I accept. I'm your knight. Your knight, always your knight, I'll do anything you ask of me. That's why I accept."

"Mmm," Lelouch hummed musically. His fingers were cold and slender, pressed to Suzaku's cheek to hold his head still; those of his other hand were firm on the straight silver needle. His gaze was intense, concentrated on his task.

The insignia on his forehead – Suzaku seeing it through the silken strands of his hair– was stitched into his skin in crimson thread; remarkable craftsmanship, neat stitches and perfect, even shape. He must have done it himself, because he was a perfectionist like that. Backwards before the mirror with his needle and his thread, meticulous in making a monster and a mockery of himself.

And now he had turned his (witch)craft on Suzaku. In a realm like this, it did not hurt, but there was blood – although he was not sure if the thread had already been red beforehand. Lelouch knelt before him, tender but firm in holding him perfectly still, thumb tight beneath his jaw, and painstakingly sewed Geass into his left eye, the thread long and tangled, caught up around them both so that they might not separate even if they wanted to.

And even if they did, it was too late.

"I accept," Suzaku breathed as the needle slid through the skin around his eye socket again, pulling the thread through after it, blood welling from the fresh pinhole and sliding over his cheek more deliberately – hotter, thicker, of far more substance – than a tear.

Lelouch, dead red thread wrapped around his fingers, knotted firmly about the smallest (like the strings to a puppet), smiled and leaned in to kiss his newest stitches.

"Of course you do, Suzaku," he replied.]

Suzaku broke the kiss and opened his eyes. It couldn't have lasted more than a few seconds. Couldn't have.

He sat up on Lelouch, hand flying immediately, almost unconsciously, to his left eye – as though feeling for the slickness of blood, the unevenness of stitches. Nothing but the smooth stretch of his skin over his cheekbone.

Beneath him, still flat on his back on the floor, Lelouch opened his own eyes very slowly. He looked up at Suzaku in silence, his black hair flared out on the filthy floor behind his head.

"Is... is it done?" Suzaku finally forced himself to ask, fingers still tracing over his eye socket.

Lelouch seemed to hesitate.

"I... would assume so," he replied quietly. "I mean, I said you were my first, so I've never... well, I've never given anybody Geass before, but you... accepted it, finally, so... yes, I suppose... it must be done." He gave a nod, apparently trying to sound more confident than he actually was. "Yes. You have Geass, Suzaku."

Suzaku sighed and tipped his head back, looking at the ceiling. His left eye didn't feel any different. He didn't know quite what he'd been expecting, other than the fact that he had been expecting something, something evident of the rewiring, of the new system integrated into his skull behind the green-glass window of his left eye.

(Every time the Lancelot had been upgraded, he had felt it. Felt the subtle differences in the resonations, in the thrum of the great machine's heartbeat. He had listened and he had heard. Beneath his hands he had observed the ever-so-slight shifts and nuances of different machinery working in a different way – subtle, barely-there changes, like the new skin of scar tissue.

—So why not now?)

"I can't feel it," he said hollowly.

"That is perfectly normal," Lelouch replied patiently. "You can trust me on that one."

"So how do I know? How do I know how to use it? How do I even know that it's there?"

"I..." Lelouch bit at his lip frustratedly. "I can't explain... I mean, how you use it is just... it comes naturally. There's no method, it's just... there," he finished lamely.

Suzaku was almost amused. He hadn't seen Lelouch so inarticulate for a long time.

"What power did you give me?" he pressed, though he had a feeling that Lelouch wouldn't be able to answer that either.

As he'd expected, Lelouch shook his head.

"I don't know," he said. "Geass manifests itself differently within different people. It is unlikely to be the same power as I had, for example."

"I need a mirror, then," Suzaku said absently, and he finally rose, lifting his weight from Lelouch's body.

"...A mirror?" Lelouch sat up at long last, frowning. "What do you...?" He blinked, trailing off once more as Suzaku drifted away. "No... No, wait, Suzaku-!"

Suzaku heard Lelouch scrambling to his feet, heavy material of his clothing swishing and chains clinking and clattering. He paused on the threshold of the battered sliding door leading out into the main shrine, his (unaltered) gaze trained on the dirty floor.

"What?" he asked quietly.

(But he knew. He had never been like Lelouch, able to read people and predict their next five, six, seven actions, but he knew Lelouch very well. He knew exactly what he was going to say.)

"You mustn't test it on yourself," Lelouch said firmly. "You have no idea what it does—"

"Oh, so I expect you want me to test it on someone else?" Suzaku snapped, looking sharply over his shoulder at glare at him.

Lelouch didn't flinch but he did hunch his shoulders somewhat defensively, casting his gaze aside.

"That's... that's not..."

"Not what you meant?" Suzaku gave an impatient sigh. "Lelouch, it's either one or the other, and you don't want me to test it on myself—"

"Of course not!" Lelouch raised his eyes again; they were very bright and sort of... defiant. "That's... that's unbelievably stupid and reckless and... and idiotic, I mean, you have no idea what it does, think what you could do to yourself!"

"But isn't it better to test it on myself to know what it does before I start using it on other people?" Suzaku argued. "Think what I could do to someone else!"

Lelouch opened his mouth; but didn't seem to have a reply. Instead he sank his teeth into his bottom lip, worrying at it distractedly.

"Of course," Suzaku went on coldly, unable to stop himself (because it was true), "I'm not surprised that you tried it on someone else first."

"That's—!" Lelouch cut himself off with an angry sigh, appearing insulted. "I didn't have a choice! When C.C. gave me Geass, I was being held at gunpoint by the same group of soldiers that shot you! What else was I supposed to do, excuse myself to go find the nearest shiny surface so I could make sure I wouldn't hurt any of them?"

"I appreciate that," Suzaku bit out, "but that was a completely different situation to this. I'm not being held at gunpoint, Lelouch. I'd much rather know—"

"Don't be so idiotic! Geass is dangerous. Not all examples of Geass can be used on oneself without serious consequences. Mine... mine was okay to use on myself that time we were rescuing Nunnally from Mao but can you imagine if either my mother or father had used their Geass on themselves? I gave you Geass because I need your help – I can't afford to have you... maiming yourself with it before we've even begun." Lelouch paused, giving Suzaku a chance to interject if he wanted to; but Suzaku remained silent, not having an answer. "Besides, I didn't even give you the damned Geass for you to use it! I gave it to you so that you'll make up the other half of the needed data to achieve Code Geass so we can get through the Gate. It's just fine if... if you never use it, Suzaku. Really it is."

Suzaku looked at Lelouch for a long moment, meeting his eyes; the immortal boy's gaze was so intense that it was almost unsettling. He didn't like to fold so easily over something that he really felt rather strongly about but he couldn't help but admit (inwardly) that Lelouch did have a point. Who said that Suzaku ever had to use the damned thing? It was all just a means to an end... right?

"Okay," he muttered grudgingly after a long moment. "You win. Again."

Lelouch wasn't satisfied.

"Promise," he demanded.

Suzaku blinked at him, somewhat irritated by the petulant tone and overall childishness of the request.

"Excuse me?"

"I said promise," Lelouch repeated firmly. "Promise me you won't try it on yourself. I know what you're like, Suzaku, but this really isn't something to be noble and self-sacrificing over. If nothing else, I need you in one piece, shall we say?"

"And that's your only reason?" Suzaku retorted waspishly.

"You know it isn't, but it is an important one nonetheless. I wouldn't have even considered making a contract with you otherwise."

Suzaku gave a sharp nod of acknowledgement to that but his jade eyes narrowed nonetheless.

"Still, I don't see why I should have to keep my word to you when you're such a liar," he said stiffly.

"I might be a liar but you're not, Suzaku." Lelouch met and countered the "insult" with nothing but an icy smile, tilting his head. "So I expect you to keep your word." He held out his hand as though for a formal handshake. "So... Promise?"

Suzaku looked at his hand, at his slender fingers and the gentle creases in his palm, for another long, hesitant moment; he felt like taking Lelouch's hand would be something akin to making a deal with the devil (even though he'd already signed away his soul to him, years ago)—

"Alright," he sighed defeatedly, pressing his palm against Lelouch's in a resentful handshake. "I promise."

His gaze was fixated on the slow up-and-down rock of their clasped hands as they shook; but when it ceased to be an ironic handshake and instead just a clasp of hands again, he looked up at Lelouch himself. Lelouch, in his black prisoner's outfit, chains clinking and the buckle of the collar sitting loosely about his throat glinting, slivers of the crimson mark of Geass visible on his forehead through his fine fringe.

Every inch a prisoner.

Of course, the clothing was superficial. It could be taken off – Lelouch was wearing it only because either he liked the fit of it on his twig-thin frame better than he did that of Suzaku's clothes or for the sake of mere irony, much as C.C. had. Either way, those chains and collars and clasps and straps, hanging loose as a fugitive's fashion statement, were symbolic of an imprisonment that couldn't be shed with the ease of clothing, the proof of it etched onto his forehead for all to see. Lelouch might have traded in his overly-dramatic cape or fancy white and gold robes for something little more than a straightjacket only recently but he had been Geass' captive for years.

And now Suzaku had given himself over to exactly the same fate.

"Thankyou," Lelouch said (either primly or curtly, Suzaku couldn't be entirely sure which), and he took his hand back and was gone, vanishing back into the main room of the shrine like some awful oversized black moth.

Suzaku watched him, following him at a much slower pace, his own heart suddenly heavy in his chest. He knew Lelouch had only thanked him for his compliance out of sheer (somewhat-feigned) politeness; that, really, he had expected him to agree to his terms regardless.

No, not even expected. He had known that he would.

Suzaku paused just over the threshold of the main room; Lelouch was flitting about restlessly, glancing around as though properly assessing the damage to the room for the first time. He glanced at Suzaku, observing him hovering.

"We're going to need to make preparations, you understand," he said, all-business.

Suzaku nodded numbly.

"Do you know how to find Kallen?"

"Uh..." The question caught him somewhat off-guard. "Not, I mean... not off the top of my head."

"So you don't know where she is?" Lelouch's violet eyes had narrowed suspiciously.

"Ah, well, no, but..." Suzaku clenched and unclenched his fists a few times. "We can find her using the online census database for the Tokyo settlement. Her name is Kozuki now, right?"

"Online census database?" Lelouch repeated coolly; he gestured around the ruined room. "Somehow I don't think this place has internet access, Suzaku."

"Well, we'll... we'll go to an internet cafe or something then."

"As of less than twenty-four hours ago," Lelouch replied curtly, seeming as though he was trying to be patient, "we are now fugitives. We can't just waltz into an internet cafe—"

"What do you want me to suggest?" Suzaku snapped, not letting him finish.

"I don't..." Lelouch turned away frustratedly. "I assumed you'd know where to find her, to be perfectly honest."

"Well, I don't, so too bad."

"Suzaku, don't speak to me like that," Lelouch bit out over his shoulder.

"How about you don't speak to me like that?" Suzaku replied sharply, closing the gap between them in a few strides. "You can't... can't just come back here and assume—"

"Well, I did assume," Lelouch snapped, seeming to lose his patience entirely. "I assumed that after everything three years ago, after you fought Kallen that last time and therefore came to owe her your "death"... that you'd, well, perhaps monitor her. It would have been in your interest to, Suzaku."

"Look," Suzaku replied hotly, "I admit I should have known that you'd come swanning back after so many years of pretending to be dead because, hey, that wouldn't be anything new for you but I didn't so I sure as hell didn't expect you to come back and demand that I tell you where Kallen is!"

"This has nothing to do with me!" Lelouch seethed. "I know Kallen well – she isn't stupid, it wouldn't surprise me if she never really believed that you were dead. She saw Zero kill me that day perhaps clearer than anyone. In the interest of your secret identity, I had hoped you might make rather more effort to ensure that there were no loose ends that could compromise the ongoing success of the Zero Requiem."

"Well..." Suzaku trailed off lamely; he was very angry at Lelouch for turning up like a ghost and berating him for this, that and the other but he couldn't fail to admit that actually, now that he thought about it, Lelouch sort of had a point.

Not that he expected Kallen to come looking for him – and she hadn't, obviously – but, yes, she wasn't stupid. Not at all. She'd probably known all along that it had been Suzaku Kururugi underneath that mask that day and it really would have been in his interest to at least have made a note to himself of her current whereabouts.

Lelouch seemed to see that Suzaku had been subdued by his sharp words and looked aside himself.

"I don't want to argue with you, Suzaku," he said in a low voice. "I am simply disappointed."

"But there's always so much to argue about, isn't there, Lelouch?" Suzaku sighed. He turned away from Lelouch and flopped onto the bedding roll, sprawling rather ungracefully on it like broken doll. "You and I think completely differently. You're... you're so meticulous, you always catch every tiny detail like that and I just..." He gave a frustrated sigh. "...I just don't think. At all."

"You just go charging in," Lelouch agreed mildly, sinking to the bedding roll himself and kneeling next to Suzaku's carelessly-prostrate form with rather more ceremony. "Well, I suppose you've always been like that – and I think that's what makes us a good team, you know."

"Brains and brawn, you mean," Suzaku supplied tonelessly.

"Perhaps." Lelouch leaned over him; the motion made Suzaku look up and meet his gaze. "And they do say that opposites attract, after all."

Despite himself, Suzaku couldn't help smiling up at him when he said that.

"Yeah," he murmured, shifting a little on the bedding roll. He reached up for Lelouch's hand, blindly securing it in his. "There is that..." He pulled Lelouch's hand up to his face and pressed it against his cheek. "...God, I missed you. You have no idea."

"Yes, I do," Lelouch replied quietly. "I missed you too, Suzaku." He laughed a little. "Three years of only C.C. for company? Hell, I even missed Milly."

Suzaku smiled and shook his head.

"She's never been in your good books, has she?"

Lelouch gave a snort and lay down on the bedding roll next to Suzaku.

"Of course not," he said. "She went out of her way to personally make my life a living hell back at Ashford Academy."

"Yeah," Suzaku sighed in agreement. He couldn't exactly argue with it, admittedly. He paused for a long moment. "She... she knew, you know."

"Knew what?" Lelouch asked blandly, exhaling deeply and blinking up at the ceiling.

"About us."

"Oh. Yes." Lelouch smirked briefly. "I know. I always knew you'd never be able to keep it all to yourself – I thought you might tell someone. Frankly, however, I was banking on Rivalz."

"I didn't tell her!" Suzaku cried, turning his head at glare at Lelouch. "As if I'd have jeopardised... well, everything; I mean, there was your identity to consider, and Nunnally's too, and besides, Milly just—"

"Then she worked it out on her own," Lelouch cut in calmly, "and she did it via you because I know she didn't decipher it through me, you airhead."

"Oh yeah?" Suzaku asked sarcastically. "Actually, it was because of all the lovebites and scratch-marks."

Lelouch snorted.

"There were no such things and you know it," he said carefully. "I wasn't so stupid as to forget that we had gym class, idiot."

"Well, you did bite sometimes, even so," Suzaku said defensively, refusing to back down. "And scratched, too!"

Lelouch turned his head to meet his gaze, grinning.

"I still do," he said in a low voice.

Suzaku shook his head at him.

"Oh, stop it," he sighed, looking up at the ceiling himself. "That's not... not something I want to think about right now when I... well..." He shifted uncomfortably. "...Um, well, earlier..."

"It's alright." Lelouch, too, looked back up at the ceiling, probably examining the same persistent string of ivy weaving across it like the scar of a river in a desert that Suzaku was. "It was novel, if nothing else. I'm glad you've gotten a bit of imagination about you, at any rate."

"You always pick the oddest times to compliment me," Suzaku said, "and the oddest reasons, too."

"No, I mean it. The Suzaku Kururugi of four years ago could never have agreed with anything like the Zero Requiem, could never have believed in the World of C or... or even that a world full of pain is better simply because it's real. I've always felt that one needs a little bit of imagination to get anything out of life."

"Then I owe my life to you," Suzaku said truthfully. "That first summer... being with you and Nunnally, finally having friends, people to play with and laugh with and talk with – you created me that summer, Lelouch."

"Oh, I don't know." Lelouch unlocked their hands and instead sought out Suzaku's little finger, linking his own with it. "You were far from an empty shell – you were just too far inside it. I remember some of the old Japanese stories you told Nunnally and I, tales about Amaterasu, about the kappa in the rivers, about the red thread that links soul-mates."

"By the little finger," Suzaku finished quietly, hooking his and giving Lelouch's a tiny tug.

"Mm." Lelouch smiled and was silent for a long moment.

So they lay side by side on the bedding roll, pinkies intertwined; two straight lines like the number eleven. There was total quiet between them and it was gentle and content, seeping into Suzaku and silencing him with solace.

It would be alright.

"I missed you," he whispered again.

"I missed you too," Lelouch replied gently.

"I thought I would never see you again."

"You weren't supposed to. You were supposed to live and grow old and forget about me."

"How could I?"

"I don't know. Somehow."

"You're always so selfish," Suzaku sighed.

"I know." Lelouch gave a small shake of his head. "I'm sorry. I thought... that it would be for the best. I think sometimes it takes a little imagination to see that you're wrong, too."

There was another bout of silence between them. Suzaku listened to Lelouch breathe for a while and wondered if he even really still needed air. It was an interesting thought – albeit a useless one that resolved none of their problems.

"So," he began again at length, his voice a little more awkward this time, "uh, what... what about Kallen?"

Lelouch rolled onto his side, little finger still linked with Suzaku's, and smiled at him.

"Oh, Suzaku," he murmured, "use your imagination."

"This is old-fashioned."

"I'm not using my Geass, Lelouch."

"I'm not suggesting that you use your Geass," Lelouch grumbled. "I'm just saying that this is old-fashioned. This is movie old-fashioned." He huffed as they stopped at the edge of a corner in the dark, deserted public library building, Suzaku holding him back with one arm flung out across his chest. "I mean—"

"Lelouch," Suzaku hissed irritably, "shut up for a moment!"

He could practically hear Lelouch roll his eyes behind him and huffed inwardly himself. He hadn't wanted to bring him – God knew Lelouch was absolutely the last person to have with you on a middle-of-the-night break-in operation, the kind that involved running and hiding and then running again. Still, Suzaku hadn't wanted to leave Lelouch alone at the shrine, given that they were fugitives on the run and Lelouch was, as before, not all that great at running; and with his Geass (the only weapon he'd ever had) long gone, Suzaku was really his only protection against being captured again. The lesser of two evils, then, was to keep Lelouch with him.

Even though he complained. And argued. And slowed them down.

There was a sound beyond the corner and Suzaku flattened himself against the wall, pushing Lelouch backwards a pace. Lelouch obediently stilled and Suzaku waited a breath or two before daring to inch forward and peek around the corner. He gave an inward groan. Another security guard.

He dug up one of their old sign-language signals, motioning to Lelouch behind his back to wait here, before slipping around the edge of the corner and following the shape of the shadows along the corridor until he was behind the security guard, who was gazing blankly, absently, at the decorated ceiling of the library's hallway.

Suzaku silently lifted his arm and brought the edge of his hand down precisely against the curve of the guard's shoulder, striking the spot perfectly; the man gave an odd gurgling sound and crumpled, Suzaku catching him and lying him down on the corridor floor more gently. He straightened, glancing up and down the hallway to check that it was safe, before motioning to Lelouch, who was peeking around the corner at him.

Lelouch slinked out of the shadows like a cat and came drifting, shuffling, clinking, towards Suzaku as lazily as always.

"Admit it," he drawled. "Todou taught you to be a ninja."

"Don't be stupid," Suzaku said curtly, grabbing Lelouch by the wrist. "Come on, let's get to the computer suite. I'm tired of knocking out the security."

"I can imagine," Lelouch replied, carefully picking his way around the guard. "Doesn't this make eight?"

"Seven." Suzaku gave a shake of his head as he pulled Lelouch along. "Honestly, all this for a computer..."

"If you knew where Kallen was, we wouldn't need to be re-enacting a bad ninja movie," Lelouch pointed out in a low voice.

"Shut up, Lelouch."

Suzaku was good on his word, holding back as another guard passed them two hallways later to avoid having to make it eight; the computer suite lay ahead, the lines of machines glowing like sleeping ghosts beyond the glass wall. There was no door to the computer suite, just an open walkway cut into the glass, which thankfully meant no locking-picking or, worse, glass-breaking.

Suzaku checked the corridor again before pushing Lelouch on ahead of him towards the suite and through the doorway; Lelouch immediately veered off to the left and made for the computer tucked into the furthest corner, Suzaku close at his heels.

"Is there a password?" Suzaku hissed as Lelouch sat down and tapped one of the keys on the keyboard, awakening the computer.

"Yes," Lelouch muttered, leaning forward and beginning to type. "No matter, I can hack it." He paused, briefly, to turn and smirk at Suzaku. "Now aren't you glad you brought me? This is hardly your forte."

"Get on with it," Suzaku said dismissively, glancing around. "This place is still crawling with guards."

Lelouch gave a snort but resumed typing, bringing up box upon box of jumbled symbols and network codes. It was all double-Dutch to Suzaku and he supposed it was a good thing that he'd brought Lelouch with him – even though he was loathe to admit it right now. Lelouch could gloat later...

"Honestly, though," Lelouch muttered over the tapping of the keys, "I never knew this library had this much security at night."

"It's because there are some one-of-a-kind books in here," Suzaku answered absently. "That is, they're the only ones left – Japanese books, I mean. Britannia had a lot of the old Japanese literature destroyed when they took over so some of the books here are really rare now."

"So shouldn't they be in a museum?"

Suzaku shrugged.

"Well," he said, "I guess maybe this is kind of a little museum for them. They have their own section on the fifth floor and you can go up and look at them at certain times if you want to."

"And now," said a cool voice behind him, "is not one of those times, gentlemen."

Suzaku froze; he heard the click of a gun behind him and knew that now, with the weapon already cocked, he wouldn't be able to turn and knock the gun of the guard's hand without the danger of getting shot.

"Hands in the air," the security guard ordered. "Both of you, please – and do it quick."

Seething, Suzaku obeyed; damn, that one guard he hadn't slammed face-first into the ground had probably heard them or seen them or both and had followed them in here – and Suzaku had been so distracted bantering with Lelouch that he hadn't noticed.

Lelouch himself, however, was less obedient; he rose from the chair very gracefully and pushed it back in.

"Hey!" the security guard snapped. "I said get your hands in the air!"

Still Lelouch did not heed his words; instead turning towards him.

He smiled.

"Hello, Rivalz," he said quietly.

Suzaku's heart gave an unpleasant jolt. Rivalz? Could it really be...? He didn't dare turn around, knowing that the gun was still raised; but he listened to the shallow gasp behind him.

"Oh... o-oh my God..." Another intake of breath. "...Lelouch?"

"Mm." Lelouch took a step forward. "And Suzaku."

"N-no!" Rivalz's voice hardened again. "Stay where you are! Don't move, both of you! You think I'm going to fall for this?"

"It's the truth," Suzaku sighed, washed along with Lelouch's admission; there was no point in denying it when the damage was done. "There's a lot you don't understand, Rivalz, but it's the truth."

He heard the gun falter in Rivalz's hand and took the opportunity to quickly turn himself, still with his hands raised and open to show that he meant no harm.

Ah. Yes. It was Rivalz Cardemonde who stood before them. Older, taller, dressed in the dark navy-and-grey uniform of the public library's security force, his hair fanning upwards in its usual style from beneath his peaked hat – but Rivalz all the same.

Cheerful, dorky, steadfastly-loyal Rivalz – perhaps about the only person whose life Lelouch hadn't ruined in some way or another.

Naturally, Rivalz had gone very pale, his eyes wide as he took in the sight of two ghosts before him.

"H-how is this possible?" he asked hoarsely, looking from one to the other, his quivering hand yet still firm on his regulation gun. "Lelouch, I saw you die. I was in the crowd that day. I... I saw Zero... Zero kill you and..." He took a deep breath and squeezed his eyes shut for a moment. "God damn it, I saw you die!"

"I know you did," Lelouch said softly. "Along with the world."

"So you faked it?"

Lelouch tilted his head.

"I suppose that's the easiest way of putting it," he agreed.

Rivalz stiffened briefly.

"I guess I shouldn't be surprised," he muttered after a moment. "You always had a trick up your sleeve, didn't you?"

Lelouch shot him a dry grin. Rivalz looked away from him, turning his attention to Suzaku.

"And what about you?" he asked. "It was all over the news when you died – Knight of Zero blown to bits and all that. I watched it with Milly." He gave a shake of his head. "Man, you wouldn't believe how empty the Student Council Room was around then. Milly wasn't even a student any more. It was just me. Everyone else was gone."

Suzaku glanced briefly at Lelouch, who said nothing.

"More lies and trickery," Suzaku replied flatly. "That's all it was. Smoke and mirrors like all of Lelouch's miracles."

There was another tense moment between the three of them; and then Rivalz finally lowered his gun.

"I don't understand," he sighed, pushing back his hat and scratching at his hairline. "I mean, I just don't... none of makes any sense... well..." He shot them both a very watery smile. "Huh, I guess that's why you never told me any of your plans, right?"

"We didn't tell anyone," Lelouch said. "It was just between us. The burden was ours to share and no-one else's."

"And that whole thing where you turned into a huge megalomaniacal world-ruling jerk?"

"...Necessity," Lelouch said after a moment. "I... I know that sounds odd."

Rivalz shrugged, holstering his gun again.

"Eh, I've heard odder." He paused. "I think." He frowned at them both. "That doesn't explain why you're both back now, skulking around the public library at two in the morning, though."

"Kallen," Lelouch said blandly. "We need to find Kallen and we planned to look her up on the Tokyo area census database."

Suzaku studied Rivalz as this bit of news sank in; the Britannian boy's dark eyebrows noticeably lowered as he looked at Lelouch.

"Kallen," he said flatly. "You know, maybe it's not my place to say this, but I don't think she's going to want to see you, Lelouch. She was angry at you for months after... well, your "assassination". One night in our last year of school, me and her went out for pizza so we could catch up, you know, and she started crying about the whole thing."

"Believe me, I don't want to drag her into this," Lelouch said tiredly. "But nothing about this is a pleasure trip. We need a good Knightmare pilot and Kallen was the best in the Black Knights. We need her."

Rivalz frowned.

"What are you doing, Lelouch?" he asked in a low voice. "You're not starting another rebellion, are you?"

"Oh, I suppose you could call it that if you wanted," Lelouch sighed. "It would be something of an exaggeration but I admit that what we are planning to do does have somewhat-rebellious overtones."

"It's not a war," Suzaku said quickly, really thinking that Lelouch was sort of going about this the wrong way. "It's nothing like... well, what happened before, it's—"

"It's just that it's turned out that there's some unfinished business," Lelouch cut in curtly. "Business somewhat involving my late parents and you can trust me that it does need to be addressed."

"And you need Kallen," Rivalz reiterated.

"Regrettably, yes," Lelouch agreed. He pointed at the computer behind him. "So, if you don't mind, could we use that?"

Rivalz looked very conflicted for a moment, giving a furtive glance about and then between Lelouch and Suzaku. It was painful to see the expression on his face and Suzaku felt sorry for him. Sweet, kind, big-hearted Rivalz, one of the only people who had ever stood up for Suzaku back at Ashford Academy when the Japanese had been only Elevens. Suzaku had always liked Rivalz very much and hated to do this to him – to haunt him as Lelouch haunted him, to test his loyalty and jeopardise his job.

"Th...there's no need," Rivalz said quietly after a long, strained moment; he reached into his jacket pocket and pulled out his wallet, opening it up. "I can give you her address. We're still in touch." He pulled out a little piece of paper, folded it and handed it to Lelouch. "She's studying at the new university they built two years ago since, you know, she aced all the entrance exams." He gave a sheepish grin and gestured to his uniform. "As you can see, I didn't."

"Is it near here?" Lelouch asked, carefully tucking the piece of paper bearing Kallen's address securely under one of his buckles.

Rivalz shook his head.

"No, it's actually over near Ashford," he said. "It'll be on a city map—oh, hang on a sec..." A small, thin walkie-talkie device at his belt buzzed and vibrated and he pulled it free, bringing it to his ear. "Hello?"

There was some tinny, inexplicable chatter on the other end of the line and Rivalz frowned.

"You found how many of the team unconscious?" he asked; he looked up at Suzaku irritably as he spoke.

The voice at the end of the line came again.

"Uh, okay, yeah, I-I'll be right down," Rivalz replied quickly; he hit the 'Off' switch and shoved the walkie-talkie back into his belt.

"It won't cause any lasting damage, I promise," Suzaku said guiltily.

Rivalz kneaded his forehead under the peak of his hat.

"Okay, you guys have officially outstayed your welcome," he said flatly. "I'll cover for you but you need to get the hell out of here right now." He pointed towards the far end of the room. "Go down the fire stairs and leave out of the back entrance and for God's sake don't go ninja-movie on anyone else!"

"That's what I said," Lelouch muttered.

"Come on," Suzaku urged, beckoning furiously to Lelouch. "We need to go."

"Oh," Rivalz said, smiling faintly, "and if anything happens to Kallen, I'll come hunt the pair of you down."

"I believe it," Suzaku said. "Thanks for your help, Rivalz."

Rivalz sighed.

"Dead or not, you guys are still my friends," he said, sounding a little defeated; he gave them a mock-salute.

Suzaku nodded; and watched, rather stunned, as Lelouch – who had always hated public displays of affection – stepped towards Rivalz and gave him a quick hug.

"Thankyou, Rivalz," he said sincerely; before pulling away without another word and going after Suzaku.

They didn't quite clasp hands, instead only their little fingers coming together again as they drifted like ghosts out of Rivalz Cardemonde's life once again.

...So. What happened to this fanfic? idek. I didn't go off Code Geass. I don't think I even really fell out of the fandom, exactly. Admittedly I did write myself into a corner at one point and it took much pondering in order to haphazardly fix it (hence why some things in this chapter are still a little... convenient) but even that really shouldn't have taken almost an entire year.

You see, it's too easy to blame my new(est) fandom, Hetalia: Axis Powers. Oh, I'm going to blame it anyway, given that, since like exactly this time last year (around Thanksgiving), I have written around fifteen complete APH fics and begun at least three other multi-chapter ones, but, yeah... it was more like I prioritised Hetalia a little bit. XD Argh, I hate to play favourites but you all know how fun and shiny and tempting a new fandom can be...

(Interestingly, Code Geass and Hetalia share a voice-actor: Noriaki Sugiyama voices both England and Rivalz – who popped up again in GITM in this chapter because I love him so even though he's dreadfully underrated as a character...)

Ughhhhh, well, I guess this is basically just to say that I am so sorry for the year's delay on this chapter but I hope you liked it! As you can see, this fanfic is not abandoned, just sloooooow, so thankyou very much to all who have supported it throughout its year-long hibernation and sent reviews and PMs asking about its welfare! I'm pretty sure I at least replied to you to quell your fears for its life if you asked if it was discontinued, so for some of you, I guess this chapter actually hasn't come as too much of a surprise...

Well, um, thanks, guys! I am not worthy! ^^

Thanks also to my beta AutumnDynasty, who picked at this chapter probably at least in part to get me back for taking so long, hahaha. But thanks for your support too, AutumnDynasty – even if you have cursed Hetalia to high hell and back for it (even as you download doujins, read my fics and make USUK FSTs with me). XD

I might as well admit that this fic is probably going to be slow-going because of my partial fandom jump and also because I'm in my final year at university now and really ought to actually do some work but, as this chapter has proved, please rest assured that it is NOT ABANDONED! We'll get there in the end, guys!

Thanksyou for reading! Hope it was worth the wait!

(Probably not, lololololol)