The Knight's Last Night

Lelouch plans Nunnally's Happily Ever After.

Set on the evening after the battle on the Damocles, so immediately before Chapter 4. Unlike the others, this is *not* from Suzaku's POV. In fact, he's not even conscious....

"Suzaku?" Lelouch asked into the dim room. No response. Suzaku had been quiet for a suspiciously long time. Lelouch propped himself up from his half-inclined position to look over at the couch where Suzaku had sprawled out earlier. The boy was asleep. He'd been exhausted after the battle, but insisted on celebrating their victory. Lelouch was exhausted, too. Running all over the Damocles trying to outsmart Schneizel and corner Nunnally at the end of the battle had been no mean feat for him. But this victory was not numbly intoxicating; it had made his mind sharper, more keenly alert. The tantalizing prospect of endgame was no time to get bored.

Unlike his knight, who was dead to the world.

He did not smirk, though. Suzaku was. Dead. To the world. One more piece slipped into place. The other was his sister, locked away in a cell, eyes filled with despair for failing to stop him. He'd rubbed Schneizel's failure in her face hoping to assuage her bruised ego, but it hadn't seemed to help. She was still devastated and shell-shocked. This was a new form of mind game, where he put a sneer on his face to hide his kind intentions from Nunnally. It felt...weird. He was so used to putting on the brave face, the kind voice, to disguise the harsh world. Shielding his sister now that she was not blind was...different. But he only had a short time left to prepare her for her role in the new world, and he couldn't tell her what that was.

He'd always planned to do this for Nunnally. But, well...she was dead. So Zero Requiem was about something else. A memorial to her, in a way. Now that she needed to live in that future.... He looked back at Suzaku, sleeping with one arm tucked across his stomach and the other hand hanging limply off the edge of the couch, face slack. He couldn't blame him for succumbing to the painkillers, after all, but he did look rather trusting laid out like that. "Do you have any idea what I'm going to do with you?" he murmured. The original plan had called for his own death, of course, as a way of expunging himself from this world. But it was also designed to torture Suzaku, as payment for his betrayal, for killing Nunnally, for being always in the way and infuriatingly Suzaku.

Now, that would no longer do.

Just as when they were children, he altered everything to suit Suzaku. The secret code they used then was as complex as Suzaku could remember, not as complicated as Lelouch could devise. When he had arrived in Japan, vowing that no one else would be allowed to so much as touch Nunnally, that vow had been quickly altered to 'no one else, other than Suzaku.' When Suzaku had insisted that the Zero Requiem move forward, despite Nunnally's obvious survival, something had shifted. A much older plan had been revived.

When he could no longer stay by Nunnally's side, Suzaku would be there.

Not just as her protector, to keep her alive and out of harm's way. Jeremiah could have done that. No, she would need someone to fill the void. Lelouch could see how much it was hurting her to see him this way, how much she missed the brother she had lost. He needed to give her someone to take his place. And the only one Nunnally had loved like that was Suzaku.

So, she would have him.

Lelouch had always intended to gift-wrap his friend for her. Well, someday. She had been too young, of course. Lelouch's natural inclination was to not let any male near her. Before Euphy returned to their lives, anyway. He frowned. He could never shake the feeling that what had happened to her had been intentional. He'd...hated Euphy, and not just for the Special Zone and what that one artless act would cost him. Nunnally hadn't been jealous. Of course not; she loved Euphy, and knew that no boy would find a blind girl in a wheelchair as attractive as someone who could look back with sparkling eyes, who could twirl about and dance. Especially not when she was only fourteen and Euphy was all grown up. But Lelouch was more than prepared to be offended (and insanely jealous) on Nunnally's behalf. How dare she? How dare she waltz in and steal Suzaku after just meeting him? There wasn't anything Lelouch wouldn't do for his sister...including that massacre. So even as his rational mind capitulated and he shook hands with Euphy, one part of him was still out for blood. He just hadn't known...but his true colors were those of a demon, after all.

He could never bring himself to talk to Suzaku about this, because he was afraid of what would come out. So Euphemia's name came up in reverence only, and Lelouch avoided any questions about the massacre. It was necessary, anyway, for Suzaku to maintain the requisite righteous indignation to carry through with his role as noble assassin. But he knew that some part of him was ruthless, willing to conjure up the evils that his plan called for. The mask of the demon emperor - this, too, was Lelouch. Maybe he really did deserve the death he'd planned for himself. Or maybe it had been an accident after all. He honestly didn't know anymore. It had certainly shocked the hell out of him, so if some deep, dark part of his psyche planned it, he was none the wiser.

Unlike this time, when his eyes were fully open.

He knew Suzaku very well. True, they'd both changed a lot in their years apart. When they'd been reunited, they'd both been a bit surprised, wary even, wondering what if anything was left of the boys they remembered from before the war. They'd grown up, and he hadn't understood at first what the military had done to his old friend. Some changes, such as Suzaku's ridiculous willingness to wear anything if you called it a 'uniform,' were obvious. Others, such as his more guarded smile and softer words, took longer for Lelouch to decipher. But in the end...he knew Suzaku Kururugi very, very well. This past month of working closely together as collaborators had been...illuminating. Once, he may have been anxious about Suzaku learning too much about him in turn, but his time was limited now, and such concerns were no longer important.

Suzaku could not resist a damsel in distress. He enjoyed saving people. So, unfortunately for Nunnally, she would have to be in need of rescuing. He'd have to keep them away from each other until the end, and make sure Nunnally wasn't dressed in one of her demure princess dresses. An outfit that screamed "Save me!"...and reminded Suzaku that she wasn't a little girl any more. He had some ideas for that, and it would fit his public image well. He wondered what sort of older brother he was, to come up with such things. But it was all for her sake.

He'd wanted to destroy Suzaku, crush him for what he'd done, but now he had to plan his future as well. Besides, destroying him felt petty now. There was no one else he could trust to look after Nunnally. Sayoko would, if he asked, of course, but Nunnally was outgrowing a nursemaid. Certainly not Schneizel. Even tamed, he was still ruthless. And Nunnally seemed rather cool towards their older brother, despite the fawning she'd doubtless received from him. Lelouch was pleased she saw through that. Jeremiah...would certainly be loyal to Marianne's daughter. But he'd learned his lesson with Rolo - assassins make bad protectors. He was not going to leave Nunnally in the hands of an overeager half-crazed cyborg, no matter how devoted. Jeremiah had earned a more peaceful future, anyway. He need not play a role in the new world. Lelouch wasn't going to drop him; he would task Jeremiah with all the things he wanted to do, but wouldn't be around to carry out himself. A benign retirement, disguised as a backup plan.

But he had no intention of playing fair.

He knew that once Suzaku got past mourning for Euphy, he'd notice other girls. There was no guarantee that Nunnally would be able to snare his heart. She was still in a wheelchair, after all, and his affection for Lelouch's little sister may never blossom into anything else. So, the best solution was to isolate Suzaku, not allow him the opportunity to form new friendships, so that he would be forced to consider Nunnally as the center of his world. That would leave the choice up to her. He'd killed off Suzaku Kururugi today. The only identity left to him now was the one Lelouch would give him. True, Zero seemed to attract a good deal of attention. Neither Kaguya nor Kallen would have fallen for Lelouch (either Lamperouge or vi Britannia). But Suzaku took things so damned seriously. He'd hide behind the mask; he wouldn't allow anyone to get close.

Which was the problem.

How could he arrange for Suzaku to include Nunnally, to take off his mask for her (but no one else) without him suspecting that he was walking into an arranged marriage? It had been perfect, when the plan was to isolate Suzaku, to leave him alone with his grief and self-recrimination. It was the perfect punishment, really. But now, with Nunnally alive, it would be foolish to avenge her. He had the rest of it worked out. Suzaku's natural loyalty towards Nunnally would be reinforced by Zero's official stance. But that subservient "Yes, Your Majesty!" crap would be mitigated by the fact that Zero had no place in the official power structure. (He might get a kick out of that, but he knew Nunnally would hate it.) He could operate independently, and thus as an equal. But Lelouch had to keep Nunnally in the dark; she would not be part of the Zero Requiem, no matter what. So how...?

Restless, he sat up, knocking some of the throw pillows to the floor. Arms suddenly draped themselves around his shoulders. "Having second thoughts?" C.C. asked.

He shook his head, trying to shrug out of her casual embrace. "It's too late for that," he informed her. "Much too late. I will keep my word to you, and my promise to Suzaku...and give Nunnally a place in that world. All in one fell swoop." He turned to face her with a smirk. The boy-emperor certainly was cocky, but in light of today's victory, perhaps she could concede that he'd earned the right to be. Things were going much better than hoped.

"I have little choice but to trust you," she said noncommittally. "You've been motivated by hatred for so long. Do you even know how to..."

"I have no intention of avenging you, do I?"

"Mmm. You can't kill the people who hurt me; they're already dead."

"You're a witch, not an empress. We'll save that role for Nunnally," he said.

He stood up, and her arms fell away. He looked down at Suzaku, who hadn't moved, and then at the table with remnants of their 'feast' scattered across it. It looked more like a Student Council party than a warriors' victory celebration; Suzaku had refused any alcohol. "I'm on pain meds, remember? Are you trying to kill me?"

"I already have, Suzaku," Lelouch murmured. Tomorrow, they'd have to start planning his funeral. He was not worried that Nunnally would hate Suzaku for killing him. He had long since learned that it was difficult to hate Suzaku when he was around, particularly when he was being cooperative. Nunnally might not experience that synergy of working together that he did, but she would love Suzaku regardless. He was sure of that. He knew Nunnally better than he knew anyone in the world. She may have changed in the time they'd been apart, but even so, less than two years was hardly long enough to crush the kindness out of her. She'd find it in her heart to forgive him. Besides, they had time to work that out. He wanted Suzaku to be there for her, not to marry her next week.

He turned off the only light in the room. "I'm going to bed," Lelouch informed C.C., and was not surprised when she followed him into the next room. She had become a rather constant presence in his life, no matter how much he seemed to ignore her.

"Should I be worried?" she asked him.

"About what?" he asked, not looking at her, his hand reaching for a clasp on his shoulder.

"You're abandoning them so easily. What's to say you won't do the same to me?"

He turned to look at her with a full smirk. "You think this is easy? Besides, I'm not leaving them alone. They'll have each other. Is that answer enough for you?"

"Yes. Anyone you leave with me will eventually die, leaving me alone again."

"True. It looks as though I'll always have to come back for you." He took off his emperor's robes. Underneath, he was wearing the world's most conservative undergarments - essentially, a pair of white long johns. He made many concessions for C.C., but that didn't mean he was comfortable being half naked around her. Especially knowing that she would not allow him to sleep alone. He climbed into bed and turned his back to her. The lights went out. A moment later, he felt bare arms wrap around him again. "I want to sleep," he said, not opening his eyes.

"You're too bony," she complained. "You should eat more."

"I do eat more," he said, exasperated. He knew she would complain about his cold feet in the morning, too. "If you don't like my shoulder blades, then curl up with a pillow instead."

She didn't move.

Before succumbing to sleep, he promised himself that he would solve this. Neither Suzaku nor Nunnally would be alone. It was the only way he could justify deceiving and abandoning them. For the sake of the Zero Requiem.... That, and he missed Nunnally's smile.

Author's Note: And with THAT, this fic draws to a close. Lelouch insisted on having the last word, and I eventually gave in to his manipulation. I insisted and insisted that this was all supposed to be from Suzaku's POV, but he said there were things he wasn't going to tell Suzaku and I should just accept that and let him have his say; that, and he pointed out that it would bookmark the series with highly introspective pieces. So, obviously, this is a "Lelouch was the cart driver" story, even though Suzaku thinks it was a "Lelouch is well and truly dead" story. I think Suzaku's version is more meaningful, but Lelouch wasn't quite fool enough to stay dead. So....yeah. C.C. was highly amused to watch Lelouch deviously plot...romance.

Thank you very much for reading. Hope you enjoyed! :)