Because it needed to be written.

An AU story which diverges during the meeting between Lelouch and Euphy in Stage 22. We all know that many events in Code Geass depend on seeming chance circumstances, so what if one of those chances went differently? An alternative to Bloodstained Euphy, and thus the rest of Code Geass. Because change one thing, and….

For Want of a Nail

Chapter One: The Dropped Pebble

"You're being so cautious," Euphemia said, more amused than concerned.

Zero finally removed his mask, after having dimmed the lights and checked the room for cameras. Then he was Lelouch, the brother she had lost, and she couldn't be afraid of him, no matter what her advisers said.

Which was why, even when he explained how he planned to use her, she couldn't really bring herself to doubt him. It must be some sort of elaborate test or joke. But she could play along for now. Until he used that name as he brushed off her pity and then she had to be serious. She was no longer Euphemia li Britannia, just as he was no longer Lelouch vi Britannia. If he had chosen an alias, she would have to do the same. Euphemia Kururugi, her mind whispered, but she pushed that thought aside.

Lelouch was oddly touched by her gesture of rejecting her birthright in Britannia. She supposed it was a better sign of solidarity with him (not Zero) than the Special Zone had been. She wasn't very good at planning these political maneuvers, anyway, and had frankly been surprised when their older brother Schneizel had approved her pet project. But she and Lelouch shook hands on it, and she was very pleased. Today was going so well! All of her and Suzaku's work had paid off, and now Lelouch was on their side, too. Things were going to get better for Japan; she just knew it.

But then Lelouch picked up his mask again, cradling it in his hand. "Now, Euphemia, we must discuss this not as brother and sister, but as leaders. Zero will join your Special Zone and acknowledge Japan, but he will not acknowledge Britannia. You have given up your claim to the throne, but are you willing to go further if necessary? If Britannia retaliates and crushes your dream of a Special Zone, are you willing to sever your ties completely? Are you willing to choose exile?" He gave her a sidelong glance, the corner of his right eye testing her.

She hesitated, but nodded. "Yes. There is a price that must be paid for my foolish actions, and I intend to see it through. But only if Britannia betrays me," she stipulated. She knew that was a possibility, of course, but she trusted Cornelia to prevent that from happening. Lelouch, on the other hand…well, he wasn't very trusting, was he?

"Then who will you rely on to protect Japan from its enemies?" he asked.

"Its...enemies? I thought..."

"Do not be naïve, little sister. Britannia will use this as they have used everything else. Have you forgotten that Mount Fuji is the site of the Sakuradite mines? If Zero joins you, they will make that an excuse to disarm me. I cannot allow that to happen."

"How do you plan to get around it, though?" she asked, perplexed. The goal had been peace, so she hadn't thought about keeping arms. She had wanted Zero to stop being a terrorist. After all, if he got what he wanted, he could stop fighting, right? She frowned. What Lelouch wanted…it was a lot more than just calling Japan 'Japan' again, apparently.

He was looking at the mask in his hands, not her. "If you invite the Black Knights to be your defense, to protect the people of the Special Zone, both Japanese and Britannians, then I will see to it that they do so. That is my promise to you. The path you have chosen is difficult, and may lead to a disaster, but if you are committed to it, then I will do everything in my power to help you. I only ask that you treat me as your partner, and allow me to help you shape this future you have chosen."

Euphemia nodded. She was disappointed that he'd gone back to being Zero so quickly. She much preferred Lelouch, the little boy who could be so serious and angry (but also gentle and kind), to the masked terrorist. "Though you must not have much faith in me, if you thought I would go along with that crazy plan you had earlier. Really, Lelouch, did you honestly think I'd shoot you?"

"I...I can make people do anything I say. It's a...special talent I possess," he said, walking around the console. "Believe me, if I had ordered you to, you would have had no choice but to obey. I can make anyone do whatever I want...."

"That's silly, Lelouch; stop teasing me. I'm not such a little girl that I'd fall for a story like that anymore."

"Would you like me to prove it to you?" he asked softly.

"You're...serious?" she asked, beginning to doubt. Surely now was the part where he laughed at her for being so gullible, but just that slight nod and.... He was serious.

For the first time, she was afraid to be around him, and it made her angry. She blamed it on the dimmed lights that hid his face, the fall of hair that masked his expression from her. "Stop it!"

"Stop what?" He sounded entirely too pleased with himself. He donned the mask, allowing it to slip into place in a practiced gesture. "If I want, I can order you to do anything I want. I can even make you forget who you are. Call a guard in here and I'll show you."

Her hand reached for the call button.

Three guards appeared instantly, but Suzaku was not with them, which puzzled her. She frowned. Zero was between her and the door, and they immediately trained their weapons on him. "Are you alright, Princess?" one called.

"Yes," she reassured them.

"Now watch," Zero whispered, and a faint hiss came from his mask. "I can order these men to do anything, even kill themselves, and they will have no choice but to..." His voice broke off abruptly as they turned their guns on each other. "No, wait!" he shouted angrily, but it was too late. Shots rang out and Euphemia screamed.

"What? But I didn't...." He turned to face her, panicked. "Euphy, I..."

"Lelouch...what is wrong with your eye?" she asked, taking a step back from him with a flinch. She could clearly see it glowing red in his mask in the dim room.

He put his hand up to cover it and froze. "No…. It can't be. I've...I've lost control? But how...." He remembered the pain from earlier, remembered Mao's geassed eyes, and fear ran through him. "I...I didn't mean to do that, Euphy. It was a mistake." His voice sounded awfully close to pleading, which was quite wrong, coming from Lelouch.

"Don't...don't make any more mistakes," she said sharply, her voice made harsh by anger and fear. She had to believe him now, though. He'd merely suggested that those men kill themselves, and instantly, they had done so. She had seen no hesitation or fear of death on their faces which was creepy, even from a soldier.

He clicked the mask closed, and his arm dropped. He seemed more relaxed, but the arm was a bit shaky. "I am safe behind this mask," he said. "I would not have taken it off, anyway. Suzaku must not find out Zero's identity."

"Suzaku...if he had come..." Euphemia sounded terrified, and Zero flinched this time.

"No, Suzaku would not have killed himself," Zero quickly reassured her. "Never that," he added quietly. " immune to my power."

"Make me immune, too," she demanded.

He shook his head. "No, Euphy, I don't want to use this on you. But we've been here long enough; you should go out and announce our partnership."

"Right." She took a deep breath and stepped purposely from the room, trying very hard not to look at the dead guards. Did I do that? Or did Lelouch? Or was that Zero....?

She walked quickly down the arched passageway, Zero's footsteps and her own echoing against the stone. She had wanted Lelouch to join her so badly, but now that he had, she felt as though she'd invited a murderer into her home. He killed Clovis. He might want to kill Cornelia, too. He had made an exception for her, it seemed, but.... She would not forget those dead guards, or the others who had died so far in this conflict. He may have accepted her as plain little Euphy, but she could not forget that he was more than just Lelouch. He was the terrorist Zero, and he was smarter than she was.

Now she was on the stage, and a gasp ran through the crowd as Zero stepped out to join her. She gestured towards the seat prepared for him, but he remained standing at her side.

"People of Japan. Thank you for coming here today to join in the Specially Administrated Zone. As you know, Britannia has had a presence here in this island nation for the past seven years, but today we will begin a new chapter in that history. Please consider this project a small step forward in recognizing both the country and the people of Japan. This is not an Area, and you are not Numbers. You are citizens, the same as any Britannian who wishes to become a citizen. Maybe you can consider them 'Honorary Japanese'?" This earned a laugh from the crowd, but a nervous, subdued laugh; and like scattered applause, it died out quickly. Everyone wanted to see what would happen, and Zero was still standing silently beside the princess; a step back, but there was nothing deferential about his stance.

She turned to the other people on the stage. "As you can see, I am joined here by many prominent figures who have given their support to this new venture." She went down the line naming each of them, and was a bit surprised at the hisses received by Lord Kirihara. He was supposed to be a respected Japanese leader! But maybe she'd missed something. No matter. The last person to be named, of course, was the one standing right next to her. "And this man, whom you all know as Zero, will also join me in guiding us forward towards our new future. No other Area has a Special Zone, so this will be the first!" She didn't want to say too much about Zero's role without consulting with both him and her advisers more closely. Better to let him shock the crowd himself.... She glanced behind her nervously for a moment. Where was Suzaku in all of this? He should be here so she could give him the credit, too!

Zero stepped forward towards the microphone, and she could do nothing but step aside and smile. "People of Japan!" he began, flinging an arm out to make his cape billow open. He certainly knew he was on TV. "I know you have doubts about the Specially Administrated Zone. I know you, like me, have watched Britannia deceive and mistreat the people of this nation for years. What makes you think today is any different? I will tell you. Today, we have hope. Today, Britannia has taken the step of recognizing the Japanese people, the Japanese nation. We cannot ignore such a gesture of goodwill. I personally am convinced of the sincerity of Princess Euphemia in this endeavor." Here he gripped a hand to his heart. "She has not been in Japan long, but already she has felt moved to do something to change the policy of her nation. But we cannot forget that this is not something the nation of Britannia has given us. No, we have always been Japan. Do no forget that you are Japanese, whether anyone else acknowledges that or not! We must not become complacent! We must guard this first step, so that the path of peace and justice can move forward. The Black Knights will protect the Special Zone, and guard all of its citizens, both Britannian and Japanese. This is the face of the new Japan." He raised his hands to signal the end of the speech, and unlike Euphemia, he was given rousing and consistent applause.

There were definite murmurs of surprise at the announcement of the role of the Black Knights, not least of all from Dalton. He recognized a challenge when he heard one, and realized the Princess had allowed Zero to join her without disarming. He'd told her to insist upon the disarming of the Black Knights! He clenched his fists, but did not interrupt the ceremony. There would be time to deal with Zero later, and if that conniving terrorist with a grudge thought tricking the puppet princess was enough to take control of the Special Zone, he'd have a rude awakening.

Dalton could feel the crowd's uneasiness shift towards hope and excitement, though. One thing he would give Zero; the man was wonderful with his public.

There was a reason the Areas feared Britannian rule, though, and it had a lot to do with the retaliation dealt out to uprisings like that of the Black Knights. They couldn't become respectable and stay effective anonymous terrorists. Zero would have to choose, and the longer he sat on the fence, the weaker and more disjointed his efforts would become.

Let them cheer; this was far from over.

Author's Note: Welcome to this story! I began writing it in late September, and hope to eventually make a sprawling epic out of it. I will update it infrequently, but certainly at least several more chapters should be forthcoming throughout the spring. If you wish to be my beta, please let me know!

1/1/10 - Sorry for the unoriginal title. It comes from a nursery rhyme:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
All for the want of a horseshoe nail.

The point, of course, being that even seemingly small events have a cascading effect and can influence much larger events. This lesson seems a propos for Code Geass, where Lelouch's plans are always twisted after 'all conditions are cleared' – because the universe is out to get him. But this event in particular was an outrageous chance, so I think of all the events that could have gone differently, the Euphinator incident was a prime candidate for an alternate story. But if you change that, what would the rest of the story be like? That's what this fic seeks to explore. It will become wildly AU in places, and yet…other parts will be quite familiar.

2/25/10- And of course the chapter title refers to a pebble dropped into a pond that sends out ripples. Now that I've changed my one big event, we get to see what ripples get sent out into the story.

I realize that his name is generally Anglicized "Andreas Darlton" but I can't find any reference to that as an actual European surname. Even "Clark Darlton" was a pseudonym. Dalton, on the other hand, is well known to me since I'm a chemistry teacher (and will be to anyone else who has studied the history of the atom). Given how L/R is treated in Japanese anyway, I find it a suitable substitute, personally, and more fitting given the pseudo-historic context. Hopefully it won't prove too annoying to readers.