A/N: Mao-centric pre-series fic. Written for cg_flashfic, posted early because I'm leaving today for a trip. ^^

His first memories are of her.

No, that's not quite true. He has other memories, from Before. Cold and darkness, and hunger, the life he led scavenging a living on the streets of Beijing. There must have been some other time before even that, he thinks, because surely someone had to have given birth to him. Surely someone must have raised him until he could fend for himself, but he doesn't remember…

Cold, and hungry, and when he stole some hot buns once the shopkeeper found him and beat him and left him bruised and shivering in the alleyway. He stayed there, quite still, as the snow came down and settled on his rag clothing and his filthy skin and his cheeks, wondering why I just wanted some food, I'm just hungry —

He thought he should get up to go look for food elsewhere, but for some reason he found he couldn't move. His side ached from the many blows the shopkeeper had given him, and he could feel a stinging pain just beneath his eye, soothed a little by the gentle coolness of the snowflakes.

And then there were footsteps, and a presence near him, watching. There had been others in the alleyway, but no one had paid much attention to him --- it was an everyday occurrence, here, to see a street urchin beaten for stealing food. But there was someone standing close by, now. He wanted to turn his head and see, but he couldn't quite manage it

A hand on his arm. "Boy. Do you want to die?"

He swallowed weakly. "… no," he whispered, because he didn't. His life was harsh, but dying would be worse, surely. Dying would be…

"Then, let us make a contract." Her voice was low and soft, and caring, he thought. Her hand went to clutch lightly at his wrist, and there were — images. Blue tunnels and imprints of her, and the curious sensation of being more than just one person.

"I will give you power, and in return you must grant one wish of mine," she intoned. "Do you accept this contract?"

He was weak and scared. What was happening? He could see the gears and machinery of the world...

"Yes," he managed, a small, quiet croak, and it was done.

It was still snowing and still cold, but he did not feel it anymore. Because he was being carried, held snug against her neck, and her body was so warm.

That was the Beginning.

There were no four walls to keep him safe and warm, no soft feather beds and or richly textured carpet. Often he went hungry, because they couldn't always get food.

And yet it was better, better. She was here. She was all he needed. They slept side by side in heaps of straw and old newspaper, her arms circling him, and that was all the warmth and shelter he needed. She scavenged with him in the dumpsters for food, and showed him how to pickpocket, and they managed.

"What's your name?" he asked her once. He'd overheard someone, a man, thinking about her. Who is she? he'd wondered. Where did she come from?

It had never occurred to him to even wonder about it before. You do not question the origins of God.

She gave him a sideways look. "What's your name?"

He blinked, thought hard. "... I don't know," he said eventually. "I don't think I ever had one."

She tilted her head on one side. "Is that so? Then perhaps it's not important."

"It is!" he insisted — which he rarely did. He hardly ever contradicted her. "Names are important," he said when she gave him a questioning look. He didn't know how he knew that, but he was sure it was true.

"Alright then," she ceded, turning away. She sounded tired. "Then let's give you a name, shall we?"

His name would be Mao, she decided a few days later. He didn't argue — it was a nice enough name, and he was glad to accept it.

"But what is your name?" he persisted.

"You can call me CC," she told him, and he accepted it without question.

That was back when he could still control it — the Geass, she called it. Back when his mind was silent unless he willed others' thoughts into it.

"Stop it, stop it, shut up!" he screamed, crouching against the wall, and she held him to her.

"Mao," she said. "Mao, it's alright. It'll be okay. Just listen to my voice."

And he tried, he really did, but they — the noises, the voices — they came through —

"That damn bitch cheated me..."

"... party tomorrow..."

"Don't hurt me, please!"

"He can't fire me now!"

"I'm so bored..."

"Fucking hell it's cold out!"

"... she totally wants me..."

"Time for supper!"

He sobbed helplessly into her chest. It was too much, too loud. He couldn't stand it.

"Mao. It's alright, we'll go away..."

She stroked his hair, and her voice was comforting and warm in his ear. "It'll be alright, don't cry, it'll be fine, I promise..."

He believed her.

So they went, out into the country. Out where even peasants working in the rice fields would not find them.

And it was silent, so wonderfully silent. There was nothing but the trees and the grass and the lake, and the fish and birds, of course. But that was alright. Animals had no thoughts that he could hear.

She would leave, sometimes, to bring him things that could only be found in civilization. She stole paintbrushes, colours, paper, easels, loaves of bread and pats of butter, cutlery and cups. They caught and cooked fish over fires that she taught him to build. They rarely went hungry now. He had never been so happy in his life.

And still they slept together under the stars, his face against the base of her neck. Sometimes they'd stay awake together, and she'd tell him things; how to make things, what the stars were, the meanings of words.

He asked her what 'love' was, once.

She didn't even glance at him as she answered, "A much desired thing. People sometimes give it to one another, it seems."

"Oh." He looked down. "CC? Can I give you love?"

She went still at that, and then relaxed just as quickly. "That's not the right way to say it. You say "I love you," and that's how you give it."

"Sorry. Then — CC, I love you. Can you give me some, too?"

She was smiling softly. "Certainly. I love you, Mao."

Sometimes she'll speak to someone other than him, when she thinks he isn't paying attention. He pretends to sleep and listens, eyes half shut, as she speaks to someone named Marianne.

"You're a cruel woman," she says, and "Figure something out for yourself," and "I can't do anything if they're nowhere near me."

He wonders how she's talking to her, and he wonders why, but it doesn't matter. This absent Marianne cannot take her away from him.

"I'll go, I'll go," she says, quietly, almost whispers it, but he is still not alarmed. He turns on his side, pretending to stir in his sleep, and she pats his head absently.

He's not concerned. CC will never leave him. She loves him.

He drifts back to sleep in her arms, smiling.