Chapter 76

Mao was humming to himself quietly when the princess awoke. He'd already slept for a couple hours while the woman was still unconscious and while it was still quiet. He hadn't even needed his headphones. It was that quiet here. That secluded. It suited him perfectly, except for the lack of human comforts. But that was okay. He wouldn't be here long.

In any case, it was the solitude of this place that let him notice the exact moment his captive returned to consciousness. She'd been half dreaming for a while now, fuzzy incoherent thoughts floating by her mind before dissipating like smoke. But it was with the first solid, conscious thoughts he'd heard in hours that he knew the woman was finally awake.

"Oh God, where am I? What happened? I can't remember anything. Shit! Someone's humming? There's someone here? Was I captured by a terrorist? I'll pretend to be asleep until I've figured out what's going on... I wonder if Lelouch knows I'm missing? Or if he even cares ..."

He grinned broadly, a wide, feral expression as he leaned closer to her. "Oh, princess," He said cheerfully in a sing-song tone as he reached out to poke her. "You can stop sleeping now any time. Or not. Actually, it doesn't really matter to me if you never wake up."

She flinched away from his touch, opening pretty blue eyes to glare balefully at him. "Don't touch me." She snapped angrily.

"Filthy Number. How dare he lay hands on me. That bastard. I'd claw out his eyes if..."

Mao tuned out her internal ranting and instead closed his fingers around her jaw. "Now now, you're not being very polite. And here I thought princesses were all supposed to be charming, graceful women." He said mockingly. "But then, you weren't born a princess, were you? Just a noble sold off by her father for the sake of a legacy she has no interest in, right?"

Her glare narrowed in suspicion and he had to say he loved the look on her face right now. She was all impotent fury and useless rage. It was definitely one of the top ten reactions he'd ever received from using his Geass. Usually it was abject shock or horror.

"I wonder what your darling husband would think of the reason you allowed yourself to be married off? Well, it would only be fair if he knew, right? After all, it does involve him." He prodded.

This girl was a veritable gold mine in terms of secrets he could exploit. Like the prince, she was constructed of mask after mask after mask. And behind each mask lay another dirty secret. She was a perfect play thing for him. It was like Christmas had come early.

"Ah, but then he'd probably send you straight back to Pendragon, right? And that wouldn't be fair since you actually do genuinely like him, right?" He continued to prod.

"What do you want?" She asked, voice calm and composed and still somehow dangerous, despite her current position. Her wrists and ankles were still bound by the tie straps from last night and her jaw was still trapped within his grasp.

"Me? There's only one thing I want." He said. "And you're going to help me get it."

"What do you want me to do?" She asked, and though she seemed calm and collected on the outside, it did nothing to mask her internal monologue of "Oh God, oh God. Bluff! Bluff like your life depends on it! Don't let this psychopath know that you're afraid."

He smiled widely. "Do? No, no, my dear. You're mistaken. You don't have to do anything. You just need to sit here like this until C.C. comes back to me."

Her eyes widened for a moment in fear as her thoughts raced. "C.C.? That bitch! She's the one behind this? She set this up? This is going too far. Just to keep Lelouch to herself she'd..."

The thought trailed off and was replaced by a mental image that made Mao's eyes widen this time. The image of that bastard prince flushed and straining over the arched, enraptured form of C.C..

Now, he knew the difference between true memories, and objects of the imagination. Like dreams, objects of the imagination lacked the clarity of conscious thoughts. So he knew this wasn't a true memory. But even still, the image had engraved itself deeply in his mind. It was only compounded by the image – a true memory this time – of C.C. standing at the top of the stairs in nothing but a man's dress shirt.

C.C. would never . . . but if she had? Surely not. He hadn't seen it when he'd looked at the prince's mind, but it had only been a cursory glance and he'd been focused on picking up weaknesses and logistics, not sexual exploits. But if that boy had laid even so much as a single finger on C.C. he'd . . . he'd . . . kill him. Yes, that's what he'd do. He'd kill the little son of a bitch with his own two hands for daring to taint his goddess. Strangle him. Yes, he'd strangle him, hands closing around that scrawny little neck of his until his eyes rolled up and he stopped struggling.

Mao didn't kill people. He didn't care about people enough to want to kill them. And the few times that he did, he preferred to make them do it themselves, or talk someone else into doing for him. That way he could watch from afar without getting his hands dirty while he got the satisfaction of watching their minds wreck themselves.

But for the prince he'd make an exception. For C.C., to protect her from that miserable letch, he'd definitely get his hands dirty. He'd revel in it if he had to. He'd become filthy. That prince had better not have touched her.

He realized belatedly that he was still holding the princess' jaw, and that he was currently holding it tightly enough to make her wince. He jerked his hand away, wiping it on the front of his coat as though she'd contaminated him and backed away to sit back where he'd been before on an old sleeping bag.

He'd probably left bruises on that pretty pale skin of hers. But it served her right for thinking of C.C. like that. His C.C. would never do something like that. She'd never let that bastard defile her. Never.

He hoped.

"This guy's a complete psycho. He just ... shit, there has to be a way out of this. Lelouch won't be coming. He said so himself, that if I got kidnapped by coming to Area Eleven that he'd just leave me to rot. Maybe I can buy him. Even if Lelouch won't cover the ransom, my father will."

"Listen," The princess began tentatively.

"Don't bother." He interrupted lazily.

She pursed her lips, eyes narrowing into a glare. "Listen," She said again, more firmly. "I don't know how much C.C. is paying you to do this, but I can double it."

"Don't belittle our love with something like your father's money." He snapped.

"Love? Turn him against her then?"

She sent him a pitying glance. "You poor fool. My husband is having an affair with her. She's leading you on. Using you. She doesn't have any real intention of being with you. Why would she leave him for you? A prince? You should stop this before you get hurt. If you let me go now, I'll make sure that you're allowed to go free."

"No, I won't. I'll see you hanged, you bastard."

"You're a venomous little bitch, aren't you?" He growled. But he'd had enough and was already rifling through the backpack he'd brought with him. He came out with the dirty shirt he'd worn yesterday and began twisting it into a tightly coiled rope, figuring the cleanliness of the garment would only add insult to injury.

She stared at the process fearfully and flinched when he moved towards her again. But when he slipped the rope over her head, he didn't pull it tight around her throat like she was dreading. Instead, it squished against her lips until he pulled it tight enough to force her to open her mouth. He tied it tightly like that, effectively gagging her.

"I like you better like this." He purred, petting her hair. When he sat back down on his sleeping bag, he was rewarded with the sight of fat, glistening tears dripping off her eyelashes to run down her cheeks.

"I'm so dead."

Lelouch had yet to sleep. No doubt it was visible in the bags under his eyes and the way his gait was somewhat shambling. His only saving grace was that both of his Knights were in about the same condition. Suzaku rubbed his neck tiredly while Jeremiah pinched the bridge of his nose to force back a headache from exhaustion as they both stood at attention, ever vigilant, by the door.

Not for the first time, he gestured to the stuffed leather couch against the wall in his office. "Sleep, you two. I'll wake you when I find something useful."

Once again he was met with their staunch refusals. They wouldn't sleep until he did. The security team he'd brought with him from the house had had no such qualms and was currently passed out in a variety of guest rooms here in the Viceroy's Palace.

He sighed in annoyance. His temper was all but shot due to his exhaustion and he didn't feel like having them lurking at the door. It was all well and good for presentation in front of others, but when they were alone, he didn't demand the same kinds of protocol. "Then go make yourselves useful. Start with the CCTVs downtown around the Viceroy's Palace. See if you can't pick her up on one and figure out where she might have gone."

At the moment, his highest priority was finding C.C. to get information out of her about who had taken Abigail. He didn't expect it to be easy. When she'd first left, he'd figured that if she wanted to disappear, she was probably resourceful enough to do a good job of it. But now that he needed her, he hoped she'd made a mistake.

It had occurred to him that he might never find her and so he was also conducting his own investigation. However, C.C. had never been particularly forthcoming about . . . well, anything. The only other people he knew were aware of her existence were the researchers from the Code-R project and the last remnants of Clovis' Royal Guard.

So far, the Royal Guard had each been sought out and found without his wife and General Bartley was still in Pendragon. None of them had made any suspicious moves recently either. All signs pointed to them being innocent. The Code-R researchers were more tricky. His brother had buried the project under more seals of confidentiality than Lelouch had ever seen. It had required the cooperation of Clovis' old assistant Lisa to actually gain access to the records. She'd been reluctant almost to the point that he'd wanted to use his Geass on her. But he'd finally convinced her by pointing out that Clovis was already dead and by appealing to her compassion by explaining Abigail's situation. In retrospect, he should have requested these documents right after C.C. had first arrived at his villa.

She'd eventually agreed to send him everything she had, and the files had just arrived at his office. Judging by how much space the files she'd sent him were taking up on his computer, he wouldn't be going anywhere anytime soon and watching his Knights fight their exhaustion was becoming painful.

"Alright." Suzaku grumbled. "Call if you need anything."

Jeremiah hesitated for another minute until Lelouch gestured to the door again. "You too, Jeremiah. And if you come across one of the maids, tell them to send some coffee up for me, please."

"Of course, Lelouch." The man said, giving him a cursory bow before following after Suzaku.

When he was finally, blissfully, alone he loosened his tie and opened the first document. It was a whole lot of blather about the founding of the Rosenberg Institute, their mission statement and their research goals – the understanding of specimen C.C.. It wasn't all that helpful, though it was somewhat interesting that the entire institute was centered around C.C..

The next document was a personnel list. It was everything he needed. There were about forty names on the list. From geneticists to soldiers, the list seemed fairly complete. It even had the custodial staff listed. He sent the list to the police task force he'd created last night to help him search for clues. They were the same officers that had confirmed the locations of Clovis' Royal Guards and were already apprised of the situation.

He clicked on the next file more out of curiosity than anything else. It was a list of research logs dating back to just after the invasion. Everything was in precise, pristine order with a new entry every two to three days. It was all perfectly scientific.

He opened the first log, finding a picture of C.C. staring back at him wearing the same bland, expressionless mask as usual. The picture was followed by full body x-rays, and vital statistics. All of that was finally followed by a journal entry from the lead scientist.

"October 13, 2010 a.t.B.

"His highness, Prince Clovis, says he watched the specimen he sent to us get fatally shot, then revive herself only a few minutes later. I was skeptical upon first seeing her. At first glance, the specimen is nothing impressive. It is female, estimated to be in her late teens or early twenties and, by all accounts, very normal looking.

"The Royal Guard has been keeping her in a constant state of unconsciousness or semi-consciousness using a variety of anesthetics and sleep aids since she was brought into their custody right before the end of the invasion. Apparently, there was an incident that broke the minds of three of their comrades. It was suggested that we refrain from touching her except when she's in a state of healing or unconscious.

"I thought they were merely being superstitious until Lucien Arbors, my primary research assistant, was thrown into some kind of waking nightmare when attempting to acquire a blood sample. It took him six hours to stop screaming once we managed to drag him from the room. At the time, one of the Royal Guard was still there and wasted no time in putting a bullet in the specimen.

"I was outraged at first, and thought that the oaf had just ruined our research. But just like Prince Clovis had said, the specimen revived somewhere around five minutes later and merely blinked, as though still being alive after being shot in the heart wasn't something uncommon.

"For the time being, we will establish her baseline before taking a more in depth look at the leading factors behind her regeneration. We must know what parts of her are normal before we can begin to examine the differences in her physiology and proceed to testing the limits of her ability.

"At the time that I'm writing this, we've once again sedated her and locked her in an isolated holding cell. There's a sliding window on the door that we'll be able to hit her with a tranquilizer dart from for tomorrow, though we'll have to make the construction of a more convenient means of subduing the specimen a priority.

Dr. Albert J. Nielsen"

Lelouch frowned, disgusted by the clinical treatment, like she was something in a petri dish in a lab instead of a person. But he couldn't stop himself from opening the next entry, and the one after that. Months and years of inhumane treatment all revealed under the order of his benevolent, art-loving brother.

He'd felt guilty for killing Clovis. He'd thought it had been like driving a frightened animal into a corner. Even a rat will fight when cornered. He'd thought it had merely been the situation that had brought out his brother's claws. Now, he saw that that wasn't so. Clovis hadn't been like a rat. He'd been like a merciless cat that occasionally takes a swipe at you just for the sake of curiosity.

Lelouch didn't feel as guilty any more.

"January 23, 2011 a.t.B.

"It's been three months and the specimen still doesn't speak. The most we've gotten out of her was a gasp when her arm was broken under the x-ray so we could watch how quickly the bone knit itself back together. I think she's mute. Today, when Reena Holten, one of our junior research assistants moved in to sedate the specimen, she wrote the letters 'C.C.' on the examination table in blood.

"It seems to be what she wants to be called. It's the first time the person selected for sedating the subject didn't report experiencing nightmarish images for a brief moment at contact. If it makes her easier to handle, I really don't care what we have to call her. I've already had two assistants quit the project due to 'unsafe working conditions'. Given the amount of secrecy the prince is treating this project with, I doubt that they're happily employed at a new job. I hope their families got the life insurance, at least.

"In any case, C.C. (as is her new official designation as of today), produces an astonishing amount of blood. It doesn't matter how much she bleeds, her body never actually runs dry. It's a physical impossibility for her to bleed out. We extracted over twelve liters of blood from her today, more than double that of a regular human, and she showed no sign of of slowing her production rate.

Even when her system was burdened by other stimuli, like bone fractures and organ damage, the rate of blood production remained the same. The only time the blood production stopped was when we stopped the heart. But, as usual, the organ restarted itself within minutes and the damages rapidly healed. The blood production rate was the same after revival as it was before.

"The results are fascinating, though we still have no idea what causes the bizarre levels of regeneration to occur. Though one observation we've made is that every time her body begins to regenerate, and every time someone reports experiencing nightmarish hallucinations, a red mark appears on her forehead.

"The symbol is in the shape of something like a squashed 'V' or, to some, like a flying bird. Lucien suggested that the mark might be indicative of abnormal brain activity in the frontal lobe, but so far our scans haven't shown anything unusual.

In any case, the mark is of a similar shape to the scar on the specimen's left breast. How she acquired the scar is beyond my comprehension. All dermal damages we've caused to the specimen have healed completely, leaving the skin unblemished.

"We'll be intensifying our testing soon and perhaps then we will see if we can leave a mark on her.

"Dr. Albert J. Nielson"

Another hour passed, accompanied by full color photo images of the results of the Rosenberg Institute's experiments. He'd witnessed a lot of horrible things in his life, but he thought this probably topped them all. This had nothing on the anti-sensitivity training he'd undergone in Area Eighteen, or the slaughter of innocent civilians he'd seen here in Japan.

This was the repeated, systematic, inescapable torture of a woman who often shared his bed done under the guise of science. This was an atrocity sanctioned by his brother that she had had to endure by herself for seven years. While he'd been bemoaning the wretchedness of his own life, fixating on the death of his mother, crippling of Nunnally and their subsequent exile, C.C. had been going through unimaginable suffering.

"March 15, 2013 a.t.B.

"For the first time in three years, the specimen screamed. Up to this point, she's shown a remarkable resistance to pain of all types. Even when she's left in a semi-lucid state for experiments, she's never given more than a gasp or groan.

"It seems taking the flesh off of her right hand overloaded her restraint. It's been suggested that, in the absence of any clues to the origin of her regenerative ability, we turn our focus towards learning more about the human body in general. Her body is normal aside from it's regenerative ability and the ability she has to cause hallucinations in those who come into contact with her.

"Vivisection has been outlawed in Britannia for centuries and is more or less condemned by the scientific community even when using Numbers as specimens. But in this case, since death of the specimen is an impossibility, we've been given the go ahead by Prince Clovis. The shift in focus can be expected to take place some time next week.

"Lucien seems uncomfortable with the direction we're taking, saying they're just hurting her for the sake of hurting her now. I fear he'll be the next to 'quit', though I'll try to talk him out of it if he does hand me his resignation. He's a good scientist, if a bit idealistic. He's been listening to the others gossip in the lunch room a bit too much.

"I'm not sure if it started as a joke or if they're being serious, but some of the junior assistants are saying that the specimen is actually an alien life form disguised as a human. It seems that many of the victims of C.C.'s hallucinations have seen the same space scape, leading them to draw baseless conclusions about the specimen's home planet.

"Either way, they're better than those who have been whispering that the specimen is actually a goddess or some other supernatural being. An immortal cast down from the heavens for some a she'd commit or some such blather. I fear this is the party that Lucien has been listening to.

"I've reminded all of my assistants that they are scientists and that all of these ridiculous suppositions are better left to the realm of fiction. Specimen C.C.'s regenerative qualities are the result of an unexplained scientific phenomenon. I would dearly like to figure out it's source just to put these ludicrous ideas to rest, but for now our focus has shifted away from this. I'll have to be patient. It's only a matter of time before we're directed to search for the origin of her abilities again. Prince Clovis has invested far too much interest in this project to be satisfied with simple medical research.

"Dr. Albert J. Nielson"

He couldn't stomach reading each entry any longer and scrolled ahead, clicking on a random entry further down the list. Maybe a part of him was hoping it got better. The page opened to a bloody picture of the inside of C.C.'s chest, accompanied with an x-ray.

"July 3, 2015 a.t.B.

"How could I have been so blind to have missed this? It was Reena who caught the slip. I'm thinking about promoting her to my second. Lucien has been growing more and more unreliable over the months.

"During our latest experiment, Reena noticed that the specimen's sternum was still cartilaginous in places. This isn't necessarily worrisome. When she first arrived we estimated she was in her late teens or early twenties. Even if she'd been, at the very youngest, sixteen or seventeen, she'd be twenty one or twenty two now. There have been cases in which the sternum remains remains cartilaginous until at least the age of twenty-five, but there should have been some progression in the intervening five years.

"We pulled out the x-rays we took as soon as the specimen arrived and sure enough they were the exact same. There's been no progression at all. It's like she hasn't aged or like she's stuck in time. If this is the case, we have to assume that she may actually be older than she appears. I've revised her assumed age as greater than or equal to 21.

"Unfortunately, this discovery has only fueled the school of thought that she's a supernatural being. A goddess, they're calling her secretly when they think I'm not listening. It makes me want to fire them, and I would have already if it wouldn't have meant their deaths. I won't have them killed just because they annoy me. I may be a scientist, but I'm not completely heartless.

"The Viceroy has been coming here more often recently and frankly I find all this talk of goddesses and the supernatural embarrassing. If the prince hears it we'll lose our credibility. Though his highness seems somewhat distracted lately and I doubt he listens to even half of the things I tell him. He keeps secluding the specimen and trying to interrogate her with his Royal Guard.

"Whether she talks during these interviews or not is beyond my knowledge as I'm not invited, even though I was chosen as the lead researcher here. But I doubt that she does judging by the frustration the prince evidently wears every time he leaves. I don't know what he's hoping she'll tell him, or what he's so recently discovered about her, but it would probably also be helpful to our research should his highness feel like sharing.

"But it's not my place to ask. If the Viceroy wants to fill us in, he will. Since he isn't, I'll take it as an indication that he can't talk about it rather than that he won't and I'll pretend it doesn't leave a bitter taste in my mouth. I'll just continue doing my job and hope it lasts long enough for me to die of old age, rather than the alternative. Judging from what's happened to those who quit, if this program goes under, we're all dead.

"I keep that knowledge to myself though. I wouldn't want to damage the morale here. We've got a good team of some of the brightest minds in Area Eleven. Doing anything to impede their thinking processes should be avoided at all -"


He jumped in surprise, sending a startled look towards his Knight before quickly closing the document on the screen and turning off the monitor. He'd been so engrossed in the research entries that he hadn't even heard Suzaku come in.

"You didn't even drink your coffee." His Knight continued, gesturing towards the now thoroughly cold liquid sitting in a cup on the end of his desk. He hadn't heard the maid come in either. "Are you alright? You look like you want to be sick. What were you reading?"

"I'm fine. It's nothing." He said quickly, then paused, unsure why he was hiding it from Suzaku. Sure, he couldn't reveal anything about her Geass to him, but he already knew that C.C. had been Clovis' captive. "Just . . . reading about the things my brother had done to C.C."

Suzaku looked surprised for a moment. "That bad?"

He sighed, slumping back in his seat. "Yeah. That bad."

"We found the Rosenberg Institute's researchers. Those names you sent to the police, they just came back. It looks like the group of the core researchers and a couple of the security guys relocated to Narita after Prince Clovis' death. The rest are all dead. Silenced, it looks like. According to the report, Princess Abigail wasn't with them, though it's always possible that they've stashed her somewhere." Suzaku explained.

"I also managed to spot C.C. on a security camera in a parkade. We used auto-recognition software to find her, but she was pretty good about avoiding the cameras downtown. We only found a handful of entries for her. But we caught her stealing a car and heading East. She could be going to Narita."

For a moment, Lelouch didn't say anything as he let the information wash over him. Processing everything he'd learned so far as he began to feel his exhaustion again.

". . . Are we going to Narita?" Suzaku eventually asked.

"No." He said.

The researchers at the Rosenberg Institute considered C.C. a precious specimen and a mute. They referred to her in scientific terms only. Or at least Dr. Nielson did. He would never have referred to her as a witch. That was personal, from someone that knew her. He supposed one of the proponents of the supernatural idea might have progressed to calling her a witch, but any Britannian scientist would know better than to kidnap a princess for the sake of their science, wouldn't they?

He thought of Lloyd for a moment and grimaced, wondering how far that man would have gone to secure Suzaku for the Lancelot? Probably not as far as actually abducting him.

Besides, if it was someone who had worked for Clovis and seen his brother's more vicious side, they would know that crossing a prince wasn't smart. If they were the ones behind it and even if he did trade C.C. to get back Abigail, they couldn't possibly entertain the notion that he wouldn't absolutely annihilate them as soon as his wife was safe.

It wasn't a smart move and he was reasonably certain that the people Clovis had had working in his lab were of an at least moderate IQ ratio. No, he was barking up the wrong tree. Wasting time while Abigail's fate was still uncertain and the kidnapper might contact him at any time to set up the transfer.

Even the fact that C.C. was heading East didn't necessarily mean that she was going to Narita. There were plenty of other places east of Tokyo. If she was fleeing her pursuer, it might only mean that she had a safe haven in the east.

"I don't suppose the car was new enough to have a built in gps transmitter on it, is it?"

Suzaku shook his head. No, of course not. That would have been too easy. An amateur mistake that she wouldn't have made. Judging from the way she criticized everything he did, she'd regard her own actions with just as much scrutiny.

"I presume you have the license place number."

"Yeah." Suzaku nodded, reaching in his pocket to pull out a slip of paper.

"Good. We'll alert all the police to be on the look out for the vehicle but stress the point that they're to observe only and not approach the vehicle for any reason. If she's running scared, I wouldn't put it past her to lash out." He explained.

"Alright, I'll go do that."

"What about the forensic information from the gas mask? The limo?" He inquired.

"They have the fingerprints. The same person was responsible for a number of petty thefts, the most notable of which was from a pharmaceutical company last week stealing the gas they used in the car. But they've got no leads on who it might be. The DNA information from the mask will take a bit longer. They're saying a day or two even though they're rushing it." His Knight answered.

"Then I can't count on that information." He sighed, grateful that Suzaku was keeping on top of things while he'd been secluded in his office. "Where's Jeremiah?"

Suzaku glanced away, shrugging.

His friend had always been a terrible liar. It was because he couldn't do it while maintaining eye contact. That and his whole face kind of tensed up for a moment before he spoke. So Lelouch knew that whatever Suzaku was going to say next wasn't exactly true.

"The truth, Suzaku."

His Knight grimaced. "He's finding you a sleeping aid."

" . . . So what, you were going to drug me?" He asked sharply.

"No! We were just going to give it to you and tell you to sleep." Suzaku said quickly. "Look, we just want what's best for you. If you don't take the opportunity to sleep now, while you can, you're going to run the risk of making a mistake later when it counts."

"My wife has been kidnapped and you want me to go take a nap?" He demanded. It wasn't that he cared, it was just that it was disrespectful. If he went and unconcernedly slept while Abigail – someone whose safety he was ultimately responsible for – was in danger it would make him feel like a dick. There had to be something he could be doing to help the situation and sleeping wasn't it.

"I want you to be responsible and trust in those under your command to do their jobs." Suzaku countered firmly.

Jeremiah entered the office a moment later, carrying a bottle of water and a pill bottle. Lelouch glared at both of them before holding out his hand. If both Jeremiah and Suzaku had agreed to work together against him, they had to have a valid point. He couldn't see them getting along for any other reason.

"Fine. Three hours. And so help me god, if you decide to let me sleep longer, I'll make you both miserable, whether we're friends or not."

He took the pills, hoping it would keep his subconscious from recreating the images he'd just spent that last few hours looking at. He didn't want to dream about C.C. being tortured.

"Shit." Suzaku cursed, racing down the hall towards the room Lelouch had disappeared into two hours ago. He'd also been asleep, dozing in one of the plush armchairs in one of the sitting rooms when he'd gotten the frantic call from Edith

He'd thought they'd have more time. Everything about Princess Abigail's kidnapping seemed to have been for the sake of aggravating Lelouch. From the simultaneous timing with the terrorist attack at Ashford Academy, to the kidnapper's blatant disregard of leaving evidence behind at the scene of the crime. He'd thought the kidnapper would have left Lelouch alone for a while longer to work him up into a bigger panic. He'd been hoping that it would at least give Lelouch a bit more time to regroup.

He didn't even want to consider the stress his friend had to be under right now. On top of all of his other duties and responsibilities, he also had to worry about his sister and friends almost being bombed, his wife being kidnapped and his girlfriend running away, probably fleeing from the same kidnapper.

"Lelouch!" He said, barging into the room carelessly enough that the door slammed against the wall.

The prince had been sleeping, but jerked awake at the sound of his entrance, blinking sleepily a few times before sitting up. "What's wrong, Suzaku? What's happened?"

"A man just showed up at your house saying he'd found something you'd misplaced. He's the kidnapper."

Lelouch grit his teeth. "Already? What about C.C.? Have they found her yet?"

"No. There's been no word." He answered.

"Why didn't my guards arrest him?"

Suzaku winced. "He told them that . . . Princess Abigail would die if they did. He also said that time was running out for her and that it would be best if you didn't drag your heels."

"Fuck." Lelouch cursed under his breath, running a hand though his hair in frustration as he thought about what to do next. "I'll have to bluff and see if I can get him to give up Abigail's location. I don't have anything to trade with him. Was there anything else?"

" . . . He . . . wants you to come alone." He hesitated. He didn't care who made such a demand, he wasn't going to let Lelouch go in there by himself. Even if it was an order from Lelouch himself. He could speak the same for Lord Gottwald. That man would never let Lelouch go into such a dangerous situation by himself either.

"Ridiculous." Lelouch scoffed and he climbed out of bed and began changing into the freshly pressed suit one of the maids had left handing on the back of the door. "Let's go. Where's Jeremiah?"

"He went to see to it that the car's ready for you." He answered easily, relieved that Lelouch wasn't going to willingly put himself in such a dangerous situation without their protection.

"Good." Lelouch nodded, heading for the door as he straightened his tie.

"Lelouch . . ." He hesitated. He'd been wanting to ask since they'd discovered Princess Abigail had been kidnapped, but hadn't known if it was appropriate. But this would probably be the last time they'd be alone before their confrontation with the kidnapper, so this was probably the last chance to ask.

The prince turned back, raising an eyebrow questioningly.

". . . If you can only save one of them . . . which one will it be? Abigail or C.C.?"

Lelouch frowned, actually giving the question some thought before turning back around. "Abigail. Right now we need to focus of saving Abigail. C.C. . . . she's not helpless. She can probably take care of herself."

Suzaku frowned. If that was the case, then why had Lelouch looked so sick after reading about the experiments that Clovis had had performed on her? If she could take care of herself, how had she been captured in the first place?

He sighed. That didn't matter. He'd gotten his answer. He would protect Princess Abigail because she was the one Lelouch was more concerned with. Even if it seemed like they didn't get along very well, or that the majority of their relationship with each other was fake, Lelouch was still genuinely concerned about her safety.

AN: A short one for you, but I did finish it before Christmas. Hope you all liked your present :)

Lol, I totally thought C.C. was an alien at first the first time I watch Code Geass because of that first scene during the contract making.

Anyway, I'm away for the next week, so the next chapter will take longer. I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas/joyous winter holiday. I will most likely see you again after New Years. :)


Edit: 12/26/2011: T.T I read this over on my phone at my parents place on Christmas and cringed at some of the errors that came up. Some how a couple halves of sentences went missing and apparently the greater than sigh (pointy bracket thing) won't show up on . Lame. Anyway, I think I've fixed them all.