A/N: I just want to get this monster off my hands. I'm sick of seeing it on my hard drive. xD
Disclaimer: The words 'Code Geass', 'legal rights to', and 'Hailey owns the' are not allowed within the same sentence.
Warnings: Spoilers for the whole series and— well, the slash is, for the most part, only implied. But it's still there.
It's your right, and your ability, to become my perfect enemy.
--passive, a perfect circle
He gave his sword a little twist forward, to push it completely through Lelouch's form. Suzaku felt sick. His shaking hands were covered in gore, crusted in blood, and he could hear his pulse jumping underneath the sound of metal sliding through flesh. Even farther away was screaming, booing, cheers, all running together to form a collage of white noise.
Gladly, he would say, if he could. But he couldn't make his mouth move. This was too familiar, except this time it was worse. So much worse, because then it would have been for a cause, and this time nothing was guaranteed. Nothing besides the blood slicking his palms, coagulating underneath his fingernails, bubbling through the wound on Lelouch's chest just as hysteria fountained through his throat.
Suzaku started hallucinating during the first year.
He would be sitting in his chair, all alone, and then—
Lelouch was straddling his lap, one hand on his shoulder, the other slipping the mask of Zero off his head. His breath would be warm and his hand would be cool against his flushed face, hazy violet eyes staring into his green ones, full of ambiguous thoughts Suzaku couldn't read.
"For eternity," he'd repeat, like they were the only two words he knew. "For eternity."
His lips would be inches from his own. And then Lelouch would be gone, leaving Suzaku hot and hard and tired, holding his mask in his lap. It made him miss him in an entirely disgusting way. You weren't supposed to miss the dictator of the entire world. You weren't supposed to miss the person that killed the people you loved most.
Sometimes he'd even imagine that it was Lelouch— come back to haunt him from beyond the grave. Those were the worst times. He had learned not to hope that it was that, even late at night when the smell of Zero— of Lelouch— was thick all around him, sunk deep into the cloak and the lining of the mask. It was better not to. He was supposed to be an animated corpse, doing the danse macabre, breathing and talking and planning but not living. How could he be dead on the inside when he wanted things?
C.C. visited him, once or twice. She moved differently than she had before. But there was the same languid fluidity in every move she made, the blankness in her ancient eyes when she looked at him. He wrapped his hands around the Sword of Damocles until his knuckles went white underneath the gloves.
The first time, he came back from a meeting and she was lying sprawled out on his bed. Her fingers casually flipped through magazines' airbrushed pages, scattering pictures with probing forefingers, brushing the black ruffled lace of her skirt with her thumb. She looked up blankly when he came in. Unlike most people he now met, she did not hurriedly get up and bow. All she did was sit and stare, her chin propped in her hand and her head cocked to the side.
"What do you want?" he asked, voice rough and creaking with disuse, like a rusty swing set. It was hard to look at her. How could she possibly be so calm, after all that had passed? How could she sit there and look like all this wasn't her fault? If she'd never granted her Geass, Lelouch would be still alive. It left an acrid taste in his mouth to know that, if he had to accept that, he also had to accept that Lelouch would still be alive if he'd never agreed to the contract.
"Nothing." Her gaze returned to the article she was reading. "I just came to see what Zero was doing. Lelouch wouldn't like it if you were doing a messy job. I don't suppose you'd buy me pizza?"
He didn't answer. Suzaku clicked the mechanism on the back of the mask and placed it neatly on his desk, wiping sweat off his forehead with one hand. C.C. was humming something tuneless underneath her breath. She was twisting green locks around her slim palms with a distracted grace. He could imagine her doing the same thing with a knife.
Despite his previous apprehensions, when he saw the magazine covers were all of him and Lelouch (white knight, black prince— and then the roles reversed; white king, black knight), his hands convulsed against the wood of his desk. He straightened them with a grit of his teeth and furrowed his nails into it, clenching so hard he thought they might break off. This was her fault entirely. If she hadn't done what she'd done, if she'd never made the contract, he would still be here. His heart would still be beating, his body would still hold warmth, his blood would flow underneath his skin and he wouldn't haunt his dreams like a monster—
"Tell me," she asked, distant voice pulling him out of his thoughts, "do you desire him alive for the sake of him, or for your own needs?"
"I— don't you miss him?" He was breathing hard, he realized. His face was flushed when he glanced into the mirror.
C.C. shrugged. "I suppose," she sighed. "Mostly for the pizza."
"Did love him?" he asked.
"Did you?" she responded, and he laughed. The sound grated out of him. That was an answer; it said, yes, I did, though whether it was more or less than you loved him it doesn't matter.
When she left, he pulled off his gloves with his teeth. There were pale marks against his skin, and he sucked at the cuts until he was no longer angry.
The second time he was twenty-five, and the wounds were less fresh but still there. He was with the Empress, this time, standing behind her wheelchair while she discussed matters with the Chinese Federation, over tea and breakfast. She dismissed him around noon.
He'd never been allowed in the palace before. It was a complex of bright buildings, gold and red everywhere, with limpid pools and a sky the color of slate. It wasn't the architects fault the sky was like that just on that particular day. Zero— he never called himself Suzaku; didn't dare to let himself gain a personality and nuances and the other tiny basics of humanity— sat down on a bench and watched the fish dart through the pool. The kois' bellies were so white their innards showed through.
There was a faint whisper of leaves, a strange perfume like decaying flowers or too much incense, and she was standing in front of him. Her hair was done up in an ornate mess, curls and strands hanging everywhere, pink chopsticks and golden butterflies keeping them in inordinant place. She was sucking on hard candy. When she smiled, tongue pressing through the gap between her front and bottom teeth, her tongue was a rainbow.
"Hello, Zero. It's been a long time, hasn't it?" C.C. asked, sounding so cheerful he would have been shocked, if not for the glint of silver as faint light flashed over metal.
"It's about to rain," he said. At that moment, thunder rumbled, providing a deep background to the sound of Zero's voice. C.C.'s lips moved, one-two-three-four-five, and stopped as lightning cracked the sky in two.
"The storm is five miles away," she whispered, holding out one hand. The wind was starting up. "But has it ever really ended for you, Zero?"
"I don't want to talk in code, C.C." He would have rolled his eyes. "I am merely trying to live out my life as Lelouch dictated."
"You can order someone to do something," she observed, looking over his shoulder. "But you can never strip away the basics of their existence. He wanted you to live and atone, not suffer. Maybe he didn't want you to live as Suzaku, but he wanted you to live as Suzaku. After all, you and Zero always believed in justice, just through different means, and he would not have wanted you to be a machine. One day, you will pass the mask on— perhaps not soon, not for a long time, but eventually. And the next wearer will not understand that Zero is passion, and justice, and you only wear the mask because it is something you value, it is for something you love. Lelouch would not have liked that."
"I don't care!" he shouted out. His palms were up against the glass of the mask, pressing so hard he was afraid it would break. "He's dead! He's gone and he's buried and it doesn't matter!"
C.C. smirked, almost making it look sympathetic. "You still don't understand," she commented drily, before her eyes locked on something— someone— behind him. Her pupils dilated. While he whirled backwards, fingers scrabbling for the hilt of his knife, he could hear light footsteps running away.
Nunally was at the mouth of the garden, hands folded primly in her lap. She was looking at him in confusion.
"Zero-sama," she hesitantly called. "Who were you talking to?"
"No one, Empress Nunally," he said in reply. He'd had years to practice using Lelouch's voice, disguising the faint Japanese accent and molding it into something more practiced. There was a voice box to help him, since he would never be able to perfectly mime it.
"All right." She smiled at him in concern, holding out one hand. He kept both of his own at his side. A frown creasing her brow, she dropped the hand. "Our escort is waiting at the gate, Zero-sama. You have an hour or so while we finish business.... Just be ready when it's time, okay?"
He nodded. Zero— or was he Suzaku?— watched the wheelchair until it disappeared. Shuffling his feet, he walked back to the bench, only to stop just of sitting down. A piece of paper, faded and crumpled by age, was where he'd been. He reached out for and grasped it by its burnt ages. The tiny snippet had obviously gone through a lot in its long life.
In what was unquestionably Lelouch's handwriting, it read memento mori: remember you are mortal, remember you will die.
Kallen walked into his room one day. Just like Zero would, he didn't react to her presence until after he'd finished stacking the papers. Then he inclined his head at her in permission to speak, but she was already observing the room.
Since he spent most of his time in it, he'd forgotten how odd it would look to other people. The mirror frames were empty except for a fringe of cracked glass, and it was quite sparse for a 'royal guard'. There was a rusty tin tub in the back of the room and heavy velvet drapes pulled over the grimy windows. The tile floor was smeared with dirt and blood. But no clothes were piled up, and the books were arranged in alphabetical order on their shelves. It had been better when C.C. had been here, which meant that he'd still allowed the palace staff to come in and clean back then. He wasn't sure. Somewhere along the line, he'd lost count of how many days he'd been Zero, when and where which events had taken place. Everything had settled into a low drone in the back of his head, thick and fuzzy like a still summer pool, mosquitoes and dragonflies diving over it.
"What happened here?" In her hand was one piece of glass he hadn't picked up, veiled the same color as the blood on the floor.
"I don't know," he responded honestly. He remembered that night up until— well, he wasn't sure what exactly had happened, but the next morning he woke up with bloody knuckles and scabbed legs. There were interment memories, occasionally coming to the surface of his mind. Pain, and red on white, and shattering glass. Knees sliding over shards. Hands, clumsily trying to repair damage; instead, they came out with jagged cuts in all of them. That was it.
One pink eyebrow raised. She sighed and flipped the piece over, pulling a handkerchief out of her pocket. Kallen wrapped it up and placed it back, and for the first time he realized she was different. There was no longer as much fire in her gaze, as much skip in her step. She looked like she'd been eroded by time, chipping away all the rough turns of her personality. He missed it a little.
"It's like a mausoleum in here. I mean— kami, it's dirty, Zero." She looked at the floor in disgust. He opened his mouth and almost asked why she was there, but it was almost as if Kallen read his mind. "I'm here to give you a check-up. It wouldn't do for an international sign of hope to die of diabetes, would it? So, sit down while I start to work."
The clink of metal and glass came from her bag as she combed through it. He hadn't heard that much about her since Lelouch died. There was the occasional piece of information; a graduation photo of her and the rest of the class rested on Nunnally's dresser. But it seemed that she'd just faded into the background of the world, healing and helping by doing so. And she seemed happy— jaundiced, but happy. Suzaku was glad.
Her hands were clumsier with a syringe than the controls of a Knightmare, he found. The needle slipped into the skin of his elbow easily. He wondered if she'd make it more painful if she found out who he was, beneath the mask: that this was the same man who'd tried to force her into taking Refrain, without success. Would she be angry? or was she too jaded for that, too old for bitterness directed at former enemies?
"You know, Zero," she said, thumb tapping the top of it down. Her other hand brushed his own. "I... This isn't easy for me. You're him but you're not him, but your a good enough pretender that I can imagine your him, if I don't look at you or think about you too long. Right now, that's what I'm doing.
He told me to move on. I am moving on. I have a good boyfriend, and I visit my mother on the weekends, and I like being a doctor. But no one will ever measure up to him. Not even you, in the same clothes, can."
Suzaku realized she was right with a sickening lurch in his stomach. He'd known that he would never be Zero, never have the same hand gestures or way with words, but he was passable, and that had been enough. But the other part was also true; there would be no one like Lelouch. No one with the same thoughts or feelings or motives. No one who spoke the same way, or who's skin felt the same way, or who's hair had the same exact scent and who's eyes were the same color. Anything that tried would pale in stark comparison.
As his hands shook and fisted in the cloak, he wondered why it came as such a surprise. Lelouch was gone. Maybe he'd been expecting him to one day appear, mysteriously, just as he had in the Shinjuku Ghetto when they met for the second time. But his voice came out just fine, perfectly flat, when he replied, "Are you nearly finished?"
Apparently still stuck in her thoughts, she methodically took the needle out and began to swab the area around the puncture wound. Kallen continued on, as if in a daze. "But you're the best impersonator I've ever seen. It's almost like you've been absorbed into the costume, and you're becoming Zero, slowly." There was worry on her face, and... hope. He felt disgust churn in his stomach, and—
He wasn't sure what drove him to it. All he knew was that he wanted to wipe that smile away; wanted to say that he wasn't anyone, Suzaku or Zero. His heart stuttered in his chest like a failing engine, th-thu-thump. But the next thing he saw was Kallen lying on the floor, indignant and shocked, the blush on her cheeks now a hand-shaped mark. He folded his hands in his lap and almost apologized, but realized that this was better. The less people he got close to, or he allowed to think were close to him, the better.
"I'm sorry," she said, all spitfire blue eyes and ramrod spine. She collected herself, never once taking her eyes off his face, her voice devoid of anything besides angry. The heels of her shoes clicked against the marble floor. "Goodbye, Zero."
After she left, he threw off the floor and watched it clang around on the floor before rolling to a stop. His mouth was pressed into a thin line. Out of the corner of his eye, he caught a glimpse of his reflection in one of the shattered mirrors: dark shadows scooped out underneath blank green eyes, dilated pupils, pallid skin and sweaty face. He pressed his hands to his cheeks and found them clammy.
As he stared down his reflection, he wondered when he'd stopped looking older. It had been thirteen years, and he stilled looked eighteen.
Wondered when he'd stopped recognizing himself.
The note had read remember you are mortal, remember you will die.
But Suzaku lives on and on.
- - -
Nunnally died on a Saturday. It was in her sleep, gray-streaked locks fanned out around her, hands clasped across her stomach. A quiet death; a good death, for someone who was an advocate of peace. She left behind no children and around twelve contenders for the throne, and stated in her will that she wished Zero to choose her successor. But when they searched his rooms that morning, they found him gone, a single, unlit white candle on his desk with the Empress's name carved on the side.
No one would ever guess where he was. He'd gone to Kururugi Shrine, back where it all began, and something lodged in his throat as he walked through the sprawling suburbs that pressed close around its boundaries. Gone were the sunflowers, and the wood was half-rotted, the trees grown tall and pressing and thick. In the streets by it, people rode on bikes and called out to each other in Japanese. It made him smile, to see his country back where it had been before its subjugation, but—
He didn't regret it. He regretted none of it; if given the chance, he would take none of it back. Suzaku had never forgiven Lelouch, would never forgive Lelouch, would never stop missing him. But for a long time, the thought of dying had been his only comfort, when his fingers scrabbled against the glass tubes of refrain in his drawer and the sweet bliss flooded him, swamped his mind and left him crying into his pillows like a jilted lover when it left. He wants it, craves it, craves for some relief from the monotone of life. Half of the time he isn't really even there. Not to say he's always doped up on drugs; he just prefers memories.
All he wants it blessed peace. He'd even be fine without seeing Lelouch or Nunnally or Euphemia. It would be all right just to slip away and sleep eternally, with numbing darkness and no conscious thought. The thought of prolonged life, of days and days counting up to infinity and death eluding him, was like a sharp knife cutting into his thoughts. He knew of only one person who could help him.
She had fallen back into history, just as she had before. It took him a while to figure it out and pinpoint possible locations. Tokyo was out, and so were London and scattered places in the Americas. He considered Australia. They would worship her like a goddess, there, and he had no doubt she'd enjoy it. She probably never even thought about Lelouch anymore.
Why was he the only person who's mind was preoccupied with the past, rerunning clips over and over in his head? Why did his skin still itch where glove hands had touched, his hands flex whenever he put his hand on the sword he'd killed Lelouch with, his throat tighten at the very mention of his name? Death would be mercy.
Suzaku found her in Paris. She was strolling down by the Seine River, green hair grown to her knees, a brown beret on her head and a bored expression on her face. By her side was a politico Nunnally had once done some business with. He looked harassed, and Suzaku felt himself stiffen when he saw the red shape on his neck. C.C. herself hardly looked any older.
"Excuse me," he muttered to the people he elbowed aside. He heard one or two saying things in French under their breath and ignored them, running to catch up with the two. His fingers had curled over C.C.'s shoulder and jerked her around before they realized he was there, and the shock on her face was enough to make his lips curl in a smirk.
"Hello, C.C.," he said calmly, staring her straight into her widened eyes. He placed both hands on her shoulder and pulled her to him like a paramour, and he could hear her breathing and the beat of her swift heart through layers of cloth. "Make me die."
He whispered the words to her, and she melded herself to him, arms twining around his neck. Whatever her intentions had been, whether to unbalance him or just make a scene, he remained stoic.
"I'm afraid, my white knight, that I am no longer in the power to do that."
The hand on her back clenched into the fabric of her shirt. He smiled grimly into her shoulder, smelling flowery perfume and sharp cologne and that fragrant miasma, too cloying in his throat.
Was this the nature of hatred? was this a vicious cycle?
Suzaku jerked backwards and thought of white skin, purple eyes, of skin giving away beneath steel. Of love and hatred and summers, and fragile hands in his own, of hyacinths and fireflies cupped between graceless fingers sticky with lemonade. Days spent under summer skies, beneath smoky skies, hands smeared with blood instead of more innocent liquids. He chokes; looks down at the cobblestones and laughs, body shaking.
"Suzaku—" She reaches out to touch him, something almost like concern flitting across her face, and he moves away. He doesn't want her sympathy. C.C. was the cause of all his problems, the root of it, the starting point where everything went irrevocably wrong.
"Don't touch me," he spat at her, and he hates her entirely in the moment. The way she could still smile, still laugh, still— feel, feel anything but anger and want and need. She wanted death, and she got it, the selfish whore. Soon enough her flesh would wrinkle and her hands would falter in their movements, while his own remained flawless. She would sleep and he would remain awake, teeth chattering and bruises growing and evil blooming inside his mannequin form of falsity. He was past the point of crying, the point where he had shed tears because he could feel the mask take away more of him than was the left, because his voice and his insides were hollowed-out. All he had left was this.
Her hand didn't stop in its course. It grabbed his forearm and pulled him struggling after her, heels digging into the cracks between the stones, but to no avail. Not that it mattered. He shut his eyes and tried not to think.
They came to a church. It was rundown, and a small stream tricked in through a hole in the wall. The windows were broken, panes of stained glass scattered on the outside, and the rotted doors were half-open. On the steeple, he could see a bird's nest, and pigeons cooed and waddled on the railing of the roof. It would have been gorgeous, if it had been in good repair, the medieval structure completed, the overgrown vines chopped away.
C.C. walked in without a word, releasing his arm. For a second, he considered running away, just to spite her, but it would do him no good. Just because she was no longer immortal, he didn't doubt she still had a thousand tricks stashed up her sleeves. He shut the doors behind him as he followed.
"Infinitus est numerus stultorum," she whispered, kneeling before the chipped altar, head bowed and hands clasped in prayer. She looked like a part of this place. C.C. raised her head like she knew he was in there, "It means, 'infinite is the number of fools'. I thought it would be fitting, no?"
He sat down and didn't ignore her, but didn't give her his full attention. It had always frustrated her, during the month before the Zero Requiem. She and Lelouch had both been arrogant; clever and calculating, almost cold to the point of inhumanity, but undeniably proud.
"Listen, boy." She stood up in one long motion, the rustle of cloth the only sound she made. "I am offering you peace, and advice, and it matters naught to me if you take it. This church has seen many, many things in its time, and you are no anomaly among them. You are not immortal, but you are close to it, though Lelouch did not know of it when he gave you the command. 'Live', he said, with no implication of the troubles it would cause. Do not think this is easy for me to tell you of this."
Haven't you already forgotten? he wanted to ask. He kept his mouth shut, not wanting to interrupt her. This was one of the longest speeches she had ever made to him.
"My wish has been granted, and I will be seeing all those I once knew again. If I had still been immortal, I would not have told you any of this." Somewhere in her tirade she had walked towards him and stopped only inches from him, chin tilted up and arms akimbo. "Yet I will have my peace soon, because life has grown tired of my existence, and death has hungered for me. Age will take me faster. But you— Come."
She beckoned him with a quick curl of her fingers, walking towards where the stream had puddled. A large pool lay there, where the piping had malfunctioned. Or maybe it had always been there. C.C. stood feet from its edge.
"Stand here, or I won't tell you," she said, and indicated a space before her. He reluctantly did, and she placed her hands on his shoulders, lips brushing his ear. "If you want to die, you must—"
Live! the Geass placed on him screamed, Live!
The last thing he saw was C.C., a blurred reflection stretched against the surface of the water, a tiny smile on her lips. He hit the surface with a splash he didn't hear. All he knew was that his feet were scrambling for purchase on the bank, and it was deeper than he thought.
Death wasn't as blithe as he thought it would be. His body went on autopilot and tried to resist, despite him wanting this, despite having begged for this for many years. Suzaku saw his tanned hands, flecked with white scars from swordplay and sparks, reaching for air, his lungs and nostrils filled with so much water that he couldn't breathe. His legs kicked. His stomach churned and his brain screamed, his lungs joining its desperate curse.
The blackness swarmed around the edges of his vision like a swarm of locusts at first. Then it devoured everything else, leaving him with silence.
meminerunt omnia amantes
Thirty years later, a boy with mussed brown hair and too-bright green eyes is born. A summer later, a boy with black hair and purple eyes is born.
It happens at a crosswalk— the people are all pressed close together, and Suzaku hisses as someone jostles him into someone else. He apologizes, trying to smile at him, and the boy's face transforms into something loving and desperate and sharp.
"Suzaku," he says, and his breath is like lavendar and mint— "Suzaku, please— do you know me?" His voice cracks and his eyes are wild behind the fringe of black hair brushing them. One finger hooks into his jacket and keeps him close, uncomfortably so, so close Suzaku can feel the heat pressing between their bodies. "Please, please, tell me you know me!"
For a second, Suzaku almost says yes. He wonders how this strange person knows his name, and why his heart feels like it's going to beat its way out of his chest, and why he wants to stay here, with him, for the rest of the day. It wouldn't matter whether or not they did anything; he just wanted to be close to him, to make him laugh and smile, to talk.
But he didn't. The other boy stands at the other side while he walks across, cupping his hands across his mouth and yelling, "Suzaku! Please, come back!"
His mother always told him not to talk to strangers, especially ones that knew your name. Mother had also told him to follow your heart, but his head was telling him to walk away and dissolve into the crowd, and he did that. His feet felt like they were weighed down with stones and there were spots dancing across his vision, but he kept at it.
Just as he reached the other side, he felt hands grip the edge of his coat. He jerked the cloth out of their hands and was about to say that he would stay with him, if he would just stop making a scene, when the squealing of tires against asphalt and the crunch of— something reached his ears.
He turned around slowly.
This is what happened: The boy had followed him, but when he pushed him away, he'd stumbled back. A bus hadn't been able to stop quick enough. He didn't even have enough time to see it coming, and his face wasn't frozen by the sight like the reports said. It was more of fear, why he felt like everything was so suddenly wrong when the focal point of his life was standing feet away from him, and he'd rejected him.
Suzaku could only stare in horror, and wonder why he felt like this was all his fault.
A/N: Well, my problem with this fic is that I think the writing isn't too bad, but the characterization is icky and all over the place. The tense switches a lot, too, but I can't pinpoint that. My apologies. ;-;
Feedback is appreciated, and any giver of concrit will be praised for forever~!