It isn't love. Or maybe it is, but not the kind he'd thought: not the kind when you love so hard it's like you ache and your chest almost creaks beneath the pressure. Not the kind of love you'd tell you children about, with the while-tiled castles and the rainbows and the giggles and the sweet nothings whispered beneath maple trees.

It's not like that, but it is something, and it is there, and it is now.

Just is.

And that's enough.

Isn't it?

== other boy ==
chapter 2/3

"Happy?" C.C. turns around, delicate black mask sitting atop her nose that barely covers the area around her eyes.

At least she has her hair up in a bun – that green hair of hers isn't exactly the most common sight in Japan, and it might be easy summarize her identity from seeing that veil of green swinging when she moves. Right now, most of her hair is hidden beneath a white hat, with only a few curls bobbing down along her neck.

"Nunnally made that bun for you?"

"Indeed," she says, twirling on the spot, the dress billowing around her legs. "Such a sweetheart she is."

And he doesn't know if it's just a trap to get him to say some things he'll wish he hadn't, what with her tunnelling eyes trained onto his face and a loose smirk curled around her lips, but he chooses to say nothing in any case, only walking over to the table to put the mask over his face.

It's heavy and it smells wrong somehow, like a slaughterhouse with the freight of the animals still wafting over the place long after that of blood and intestines has dissipated. When he closes the visor, his world is plunged into blue, and C.C. eyes are suddenly the color of the ocean when he turns around to motion at her to start going.

C.C. doesn't say much when she gets into the car waiting outside, face a mask of almost palpable apathy, warming up only a little when Nunnally slides in next to her to comment on how pretty her dress is and how nice her hair style. She gives a snort when Nunnally asks, eyes bright and smile as gentle as summer rain, if her coming means that she's Suzaku's – Zero's – date for the evening, but otherwise remains silent for the entire car ride.

Suzaku has never much liked social gatherings.

When the three of them spill into the brightly-lit ball room and the two girls immediately fan out, with Nunnally walking over to Ohgi standing in the corner and waving to her and C.C. making a determined beeline for the buffet, Suzaku just ends up standing there, immensely awkward. He has especially never liked masquerade balls, though he guesses he can see the appeal – obscuring your identity overlays every encounter, every meeting, every conversation with the dull thrill of danger, and sometimes, somehow – people are only really themselves when they forget who they are.

Suzaku knows this better than anyone.

The glasses cradling the champagne glint beneath the light of the chandeliers when people raise them to their mouths, and the entire room is filled with a stream of disjointed conversation dulled beneath lilting orchestral music falling from the speakers lining the ball room. A waiter passing by offers him a glass of champagne with a demure look and a small bow upon noticing who he is, but Suzaku just waves him away. He has never really liked the sting of alcohol burning down his throat, and if he hasn't succumbed to drowning his sorrows in them before, he isn't going to start now.

People walk up to him, of course. There's a woman who tells him with tears in her eyes how much his actions have meant to her – she lost someone or other during the demon emperor's reign, she is saying, but Suzaku is only half-listening – and there's a few men who come up to him and address him as 'Zero-sama' with adoration simmering in their eyes.

He rattles off his usual phrases – "thank you very much," "yes, of course," "oh, it's the least I could do," – and after a while, all the face start to blend into one, a face with only the same exasperated shine in the eyes peering at him from out of masks, and Suzaku's answers start getting shorter, his tone more clipped, and he cups the glass of red juice he's holding in his hand and watches as the liquid sloshes from one side to the other.

Kallen is there, too, sending him glances across the room that somehow seem to cut deeper than anyone else's. She looks beautiful today, long dress hugging her body that he assumes to be white or cream-colored, though it's as blue as everyone else's through the visor. She is standing over there with Gino, and he distantly wonders if they're dating – she is repeatedly slapping away his hand from her waist, but she does it in the way that betrays how much she really doesn't mind, and Suzaku feels a rush of contentment at the idea of them finding happiness with each other.

He spots Lloyd and Cecile, too, and wonders the same thing about them. Cecile is wearing a petite black mask on her nose and a small blouse covering her shoulders above a dress that looks like it could come straight out of a Victorian movie. Smiling sweetly, she has her arm linked around Lloyd's while he is chattering away with someone who looks to be a fellow researcher. He probably looks the most out-of-place from the people here, Suzaku thinks while letting his eyes trail over Lloyd's ill-matched suit and the slouch of his shoulders – but when Cecile laughs into her hands and then tugs him a little closer, one of her breasts flattening against his arm, he thinks that he is nowhere near as out of place as someone else in this room.

He excuses himself with a brisk nod to the current incarnation of the same mask blathering on about his achievements and his greatness, and starts walking toward the glass doors opposite from him, feeling many eyes following him along the way, bits and pieces of conversation drilling into his ears – "Zero-sa -" "Where is he -" "Look, it's –", and then he yanks the doors open, not particularly caring if he's supposed to be out here, and spills out onto the balcony shining in white marble under the veil of the night.

The night air is crisp, and he feels a chill scuttle down his spine, but he ignores it as best as he can and walks toward the guard railing, putting both of his gloved hands on it while squinting down at the sea of lights below.

He wishes he could take off his mask so he could breathe in the air properly.

When he hears the clirring sound of the glass door being pushed aside, he turns around to see C.C. stepping out onto the balcony, her shadow splayed across the arc of light on the floor.

"Thought I'd find you here," she only says, before closing the door behind her and walking toward him, the heels of her boots slapping the ground. He almost expects her to walk up to him, but she only swerves to the side and walks toward the railing next to him, placing both of her elbows on it and looking down at the lights with an impassive expression on her face. "Bored?"

He tears his eyes off of her. "It's my duty."

The light coming in from the glass doors behind them laminates off of her back, casting her face in shadows. "It being your duty says nothing about its entertainment value."

He opens his mouth to say something, but she only sighs, leaning back a little with her hands still holding onto the railing.

"I can sympathize, you know. They don't even have pizza at the buffet."

He can't help himself. "It was you who wanted to come."

She sends him a bemused little look, her body still bent back. "Unfortunately, I do not possess the Geass of fortune-telling." She pauses. "Though that would be an interesting concept. Who do you think I should give it to to awaken that ability in them?"

Suzaku turns around, pressing his lower body against the cold marble. "I'm not having this conversation with you."

"Why?" Her voice is still playful, but there is something else lurking there – a darkness that makes him shudder in a way that has nothing to do with the chill of the night. "Don't you want to be with others like you? Others with the curse of Geass?"

"I do not wish it upon anyone."

"Even if you feel so detached you feel like everyone else is of another species entirely?"

He turns his head to look at her.

She just looks back, her face completely unmoving, and for a second, Suzaku wonders if he's heard her right. Her voice has been so casual, amused almost, that he can't believe she said something like this without even blinking, said something like this at all, but -

She's C.C. after all, isn't she?

The noises from the ball drift to them through the darkness, conversation orchestrated by the classical music wafting atop. Somewhere below them, he can hear the chirps of crickets, the sound of cars passing by below –

"I don't know what you're talking about," he says brusquely. "I didn't come out here to whine and complain about my condition, so I'd appreciate it if you didn't make assumptions."

She says nothing after that for a while, and Suzaku considers storming back into the warm embrace of the light without another word, considers just letting her stand there with her scathing remarks and her goddamn eyes that manage to be both bored and sharp and infuriating most of all -

"It's normal, you know."

Suzaku actually stops in mid-tracks – he hasn't even realized that he's turned to leave – and turns around with his eyebrows set in a frown and his body shaking with tension.

She looks back at him while leaning back a little, half of her face illuminated by the light shining in from the party and the other drenched in darkness. "To feel detached. To feel lonely. You're not a Code holder, but," with that she turns her face around to look at the yawning nothingness again, breaking the eye contact, "you may as well be one."

He doesn't know if it's just his imagination, but he thinks he can hear her laughing behind him, just a small rustle of breath bursting out of her. He turns to leave and strides back into the brightly-lit room where the light pulsates and life seethes.

It's probably well past midnight when they stumble back into Zero's lavish living quarters, the moon hanging like a fat egg in the sky beyond the window and C.C. holding onto his shoulder for support while nearly stumbling over her high heels.

"I told you not to drink," he says while holding her up by her arm and guiding her hand while she bends down to slide off her boots.

She just laughs, a chilling kind of laughter that makes him think that he likes her much better when she drawls at him with her usual boredom after all. She smells of bourbon, sweet and sour, and there's a bright flush pulsing beneath the skin of her face that makes her look more human than he ever remembers her seeing. He doesn't know when exactly she got so drunk, or why – it must have been sometime during their little talk on the balcony, but she vanished from his sight so completely after it that he was almost surprised to see her standing in front of the limo waiting outside, one arm slung around Nunnally's waist.

When he bends down to take off her boots for her, she stops him, her nails digging into his shoulders, then yanking on them as if trying to tear his clothes off of him, and he gets to his feet with a groan, wondering what on earth it is that she wants now, but when he meets her eyes, all thoughts tumble out his mind.

They're glittering in the semi-darkness, and there's a smile stretched across her face that almost makes Suzaku want to –

(kiss her)

-fuck her, but he only holds her by the shoulders, and waits for her to do something.

"You know," she says, almost tripping over her own words, "we should have done it out there on the balcony. Against the railing."

Suzaku just looks at her, hands stilling on her shoulders. "It was way too cold for that."

She shrugs, and there's some of the drunkenness chipping away to reveal the icy-smooth veneer of her boredom. "Would have heated it up, though."

He takes it for the invitation that it is, and lets his hands drop from her shoulders to her waist, lifting her up and hoisting her against the wall while fumbling with the zipper of his pants, fingers so slippery and wet, tearing and tugging at it when it refuses to just – burst open, and -

She just wraps her legs around him, letting her head fall back against the wall, making barely a sound when he finally succeeds in both wrestling open his pants and yanking her panties to the side. Only a little choked gasp falls from her lips when he jerks his hips forward and feels her welcome him, only a little mewling sound, and then she has her hands on his shoulders again, urging him to come closer in a way that Suzaku has learned to interpret as an implicit plea to fuck her harder, and then -

And then her mouth falls open and she moans, "Zero."

He stops all movement, still inside her but not moving his hips, just – frozen there in the moment, staring at the woman backed up against the wall, dress hiked up to her hips with her legs, smooth and pale and floating in the dim light, wrapped around his hips. Her back arches back and her shoulder blades press against the wall; her is mouth slack, and her eyes –

An acerbic look shines through her golden swirls, a look that pins and measures him, and suddenly Suzaku doesn't know if she's ever really been drunk.

"What?" His voice sounds hoarse even to himself.

"You're still wearing the mask," she says, fingers reaching out to skip over the material of it, to his cheeks and then up. "What?" There's a minute twitching to the side of her lips, as if she has tasted something bitter. "Would you prefer I said any other name?"

It's ridiculous how composed she looks, he thinks, composed even with pink standing high on her cheeks, composed even with a cock – Suzaku's cock – crammed up her vagina, mildly challenging look on her eyes, and Suzaku really can't decide if she's trying to tell him something or if she's merely gloating like the child who plucks off an insect's legs one by one and watches it with the gleeful face of only the woefully cruel.

Most confusing of all is the fact that the sound of her calling him that has actually sent a thrill down his spine rather than curled his stomach in a tangle of revulsion.

"Not going to continue?" Her voice sounds as if she might slide down any second and go do something else. She tilts her head to the side just slightly, some of her hair balling between it and her shoulder.

Somewhere lower, he feels her clenching around him in a way that tears a low gasp from his lips, but because he hasn't been moving, the squeezing is pushing him out, and his instincts take over when he moves his hips forward to close the distance, and –

And suddenly he no longer cares, suddenly he thinks tohell with it, she could call him Polly for all he cared, and one hand flies out to pin her shoulder against the walls while the other lifts her up higher, making her slide against the wall, her hair splaying all around her body like wings, and he thrusts into her so hard he can feel the shudder through her entire body.


He releases a breath he hasn't realized he has been holding, and suddenly his mouth is at the crook of her neck, where it smells of expensive perfume and the traces of her sweet and sour sweat, and he's licking it, biting, dragging his teeth over her heart pulsing in that spot between her collarbones.

It's so loud, much louder than it usually is, everything is, from the way their flesh slaps together when he thrusts, the way her back makes dull thumping noises when it pressed back against the wall again and again, and –


He stops biting her neck and looks up to meet her eyes.

Half-hidden behind her lashes, she is looking at him. "Zero," she repeats, voice laced with as much pleasure as it with something much darker. "Zero."

She's moaning that name, that cursed name, and he can feel it more than hear it by now, the sound making her torso vibrate and her walls around him quiver, and he suddenly wonders why, even though she is a witch, even though her skin is so pale it floats in the moon light and makes him think of a ghost, even though her glares are like missiles and her scathing remarks like gunshots – why it still feels so -

But suddenly the questions that have been strangling each other all wither and his mind quietens down except for the panting symphony of hot wet tight yes yes.

Her back slaps against the wall with each of his thrusts, her body writhing against the surface, her breasts high on her chest, her dress in complete disarray, and with each moan calling his (whose?) name that falls from her mouth, he just picks up speed and strength and fucks her harder, harder, so hard until all he can hear is the slapping of their flesh and her ragged moans – zerozerozeroZeroZero – only drive him higher and higher, the last shred of sanity being gobbled up by that monster lurking within him, and he's lost control, he knows he has, and he has never lost control during sex before, but now he can't help it, instinct layering itself over his mind and body like a dulling velvet curtain, and –

He can feel himself coming, coming harder than he ever has before, and he doesn't even know if she's come already (and he always makes sure the girl comes first, what's wrong with him, he doesn't even-), and when he does come with a last jerk of his hips and a nearly agonized moan, he does so so hard that blinding white stars dot themselves over his vision.

He shudders and jerks a few times, his face pressed against her neck, mouthing against it although he's really only brushing his lips against the mask, and his own moan sounds terrifying and loud amplified by the mask, and then he's slumped against her, their chests pressed together, his grip on her legs loosening until they slip out of his hands and fall toward the floor.

The silence stretches out between them thick and bitter.

It is sliced through only when she says, "Well. That was fast."

He shudders against her a few more times, feeling himself getting softer until it feels like he's swimming inside her. A small spark of pleasure skewers through him when his now so sensitive cock slips out of her completely.

He lets go of her like she's suddenly caught on fire, taking a step back and buckling up his pants while avoiding her eyes. Raising his hand to run it through his hair, he realizes that he's still wearing that damn mask, and wrestles it off of his head. The air feels cool when it hits his scalp and the sweaty curls of his hair, and he doesn't need to see himself to know that his face is red.

She stares at him.

Dropping his hands to hold the mask to waist-level, he asks, "What?"

She just gives him another one of her half-shrugs and slides further down the wall, her legs folding beneath her. Her hair falls down in tangled threads around her body. The heels of the boots in front of her glint beneath the light like spires.

Suzaku sighs, and kneels down in front of her, gently setting the mask on the floor. He wordlessly squeezes a hand between her thighs and nudges them apart, then proceeds to feather soft kisses against her thighs and trailing down their natural slope, lower, and lower.

He gasps against her thighs when he feels her hand in his hair, yanking his face up to look at her. "And now what are you doing?"

"You said it yourself." His voice is bland. "That I was too fast for you this time."

"Oh." She doesn't sound very surprised when she says it. "You're going to lick me like a dog then?"

It's meant to sting, and he knows it; it's one of her rare instances of true, unadulterated cruelty - when the facade of mild apathy splatters away to reveal stark spires meant to sting when you touch them.

So he doesn't. "Yes," he mumbles, trailing hot kisses down her thighs, getting closer. "I've never left a woman unsatisfied. I won't let you be the first."

"Confident." But she doesn't pull away, doesn't close her legs; instead she settles back against the wall - and that thud he just heard was probably the back of her head slumping back against it.

He reaches for her soaked panties, pushes them aside (again), and shifts his gaze upward, over the he expanse of her wallowing dress and over the flash of her neck to her face, her eyes. "No names this time." He pauses, and swallows; the saliva pulls down thick and bitter. "Please."

Her silence is as good an affirmation as he's probably going to get.

Suzaku closes his eyes in tune with his lips - closes them around her pulsing clit, and twirls his tongue gently around the nub, careful not too apply too much pressure in case she's sensitive, and listens to her body's reactions.

He's done this so many times before he knows how to read these signs: sighs, moans, trembling thighs, and little bucks of the hips: I like it, keep going. Hisses and subconscious moves away from his mouth: Not like this.

C.C. is infuriatingly uncooperative: she doesn't give him any reaction when he pushes two finger into her and curls them, searching for the spot that would make her feel good; she stays still and unmoving when he replaces those fingers with his tongue (and winces at the taste of his own release that's still leaking out of there); and she doesn't make a sound when licks and sucks harder and faster, everywhere.

She does come, however; he can tell by the single, short moan that passes her lips, followed by the tremor that passes through her thighs, and the tell-tale rhythmic contractions that shake her for just a few seconds (one, two... three), before she stills again.

Suzaku licks his lips, and coughs before getting to his feet, pointedly ignoring her face.

The silence is comforting for as long as it lasts before she slices through it with the casualty of an unconcered hit-and-run driver. "Do you think of him when we do it?"

He actually has to chuckle at that, though it's entirely without humor. "I don't think men normally think much of anything when they do it."

She just gives him another shrug, and finally stops the eye contact, letting her eyes fall onto the boots in front of her. Her legs unfold and prop up in front of her.

He considers saying something else, but then just settles on walking over to the table to set down the mask. Part of him always just wants to toss it at the table, but he never indulges in that feeling; he always settles it down with care, like it's a precious thing that may scatter if he uses too much force.

Her voice is like syrup. "Don't you want to know if I think of him? If I imagine it's him, and not you?"

"What?" he asks, turning around to glance at her over his shoulder. "Do you think my masculine pride will be hurt if you do?" And just to clarify, "You're in your perfect right to think of whoever or whatever whenever you please, C.C."

She just shrugs, then lets her eyes trail down along his body as if she's breaking him down into his essentials and then inspecting them one by one. "He couldn't have done what you just did. Against the wall, I mean. Guess that would destroy the fantasy, if I did have it."

He stops for a moment, considering his next course of action. Should he do the obvious – ask her to come to bed? Or should he just shrug and strut on ahead, C.C. be damned? Or –

"Just..." He closes his eyes for a second, then opens them again. "Please don't call me that anymore."

"You liked it." It's not a question.

Suzaku turns around fully to look at her, then walks over and hunches before her crumpled form, offering his hand. "Come on. Let's go to bed."

She raises an eyebrow at him. "Why?"

And he knows she's not refering to his request to go to bed with that. "I don't know," he says honestly. He may have liked it, but - "It doesn't feel... right."

"So are you saying you're not Zero?"

"I am," he says without bitterness or contempt. "But it just doesn't seem like what you should call me when we..." And he's slipping back into his pre-Knight of Seven habit to talk around things, but he doesn't care right now. "You know."

"Hmm." She ignored his hand by pulling herself up with the wall. "Intuitive as always."

He says nothing to that.

As vicious as their squabbles can be, the good thing about their arrangement is that neither is very interested in drawing out conflicts longer than they have to.

So while they went to bed with tentative hostility brimming in the air the night of the masquerade ball, the next morning Suzaku doesn't say anything when he gets dressed and goes to the doujo to exercise, and later to have a stage appearance. His duties as Zero start to bleed into one another, blurring the lines between 'press conferences,' 'interviews,' and 'just stand there and look cool and admirable.'

The veins of Zero's persona bleeding into one another as they are fueled by the beating heart of the mask.

Just as the lines blur there, so do the lines of Suzaku and C.C.'s relationship.

She doesn't mention it; she only greets him with a look out of bored eyes when he walks into his living quarters, folded on a chair or watching television or flipping through a magazine, and says nothing.

And so neither does he.

They only talk sometimes: mostly when he rests his head in her lap and she rifles through his hair. He's not sure why she does it - he's never really asked - but she seems to like his hair for some reason, because she will often just sit there idly, letting her fingers slide through his hair and massaging his scalp, face as bland as ever.

And he just closes his eyes and hums.

When they talk, it's usually about inconsequential things. Suzaku and C.C. have never really needed many words to communicate.

Sometimes, things go slightly deeper:

"What's it like?" Suzaku asks, and opens his eyes. He stares up at the ceiling, her green hair just at the fringe of his vision. "Living forever."

He can feel her shrug, and then the silence stretches out between them before she answers with, "Have you ever been to the theatre and seen a really long, boring movie that you wish the director had cut short while you shuffled in impatience?"

He actually has to chuckle at that, low and quiet. Her fingers in his hair feel good, in a way - occasionally she tugs and it hurts a bit, but most of the time she just combs her fingers through it, let the strands of his hair slide through her fingers. "A really long movie. Point taken."

"Occasionally," she says, looking down at him out of half-lidded eyes, "there are highlights."

"Last comedic ditch efforts by the director."

She shrugs. "Yes. And then, of course," she sighs, and sweeps a handful of his hair the other way, "it gets boring again."

"While you giggle in the aftermath of the comedic highlight, you mean." The amusement bubbles in Suzaku's stomach.

He knows she's grinning, even though he's still staring at the ceiling; it's interlaced with her voice, gives it that little hike in tone when she says, "Those giggles are what give you a stomachache, though."

He loses it at that, and the amusement spills out of him in the form of a series of deep chuckles that make his stomach quiver, and his head jerk in her lap.

The grin doesn't quite reach her eyes, but he doesn't feel any hostility when he looks up at her and their eyes interlock.

"I appreciate your creativity when you insult me," he tells her.

"You make it too easy," she says.

And he finds that that blends too: the blandness of her voice, and the warmth of her fingers, and the affection of her touch. "But they can be rewarding, too."

She says this so quietly he almost doesn't catch it.

He chuckles a few more times, then closes his eyes again, while trying to ignore a nagging at the back of his head.

"Give me your credit card," she says one evening while watching him strip for bed.

Suzaku shrugs, pulls out his wallet from the pockets of his just-discarded pants, and places one shiny gold credit card on the bed side table. "Sure."

Mild surprise broadens her features at that, and she blinks. "You're giving me your credit card just like that?"

Suzaku shakes some hair out of his face, and then slips under the covers, turning to face her, tilting his head up a bit so he can see her.

She's sitting up against the head board with her knees propped up, and hair falling down along her pale body.

Shrugging, Suzaku says, "It's not my money, and I rarely buy anything - I don't see why not. I expect you're only going to use it to order pizza anyway."

She echoed the shrug. "Who knows. I might get the desire to buy property in Ireland for all you know."

He chuckles at that, and buries his face in the pillow. "I don't think you would do that."

"Do you?" she probes.

"Yeah," he answers, with a hint of exasperation this time. "Why - do you want me to put up a fight and tell you to go to hell and pay for your own pizza or what?"

She considers this for a while. "Is that what you think?"

Suzaku frowns a bit at that. "Whatever." He's tired and he really - doesn't want to have to take apart everything she says right now. He's gotten much better over the weeks at translating C.C. speech to earth speech, but it's been a long day: work-outs and not one but two public appearances, and a short business trip to a province just outside of Pendragon, and he's just - "I'm going to sleep."

But when he hears the sheets rustle and then feels the press of her warm flesh against his when she wriggles into bed next to him and she asks, "Really?" with that airy, always somewhat mocking way of hers, he amends with, "Well, or maybe not just yet."

Suzaku is not really sure if Nunnally knows anything about what's going on.

He supposes she doesn't, going by the way she smiles at them both whenever they come over to see her in the evenings, and at Suzaku when he joins her at the dinner table. Sweet, gentle, reassuring.

"How is everything?" she asks, her fork poised at her mouth, lilac eyes wide and curious. "I don't see much of Lady C.C. – what is she doing during the day? I know that you spend most of your time going to the doujo." A smile steals across her face. "But Lady C.C. doesn't really seem like the kind of girl who would join you there."

He doesn't know, actually, but doesn't say so when he puts down the tissue he's used to clean his mouth with. "I think she eats pizza," he says neutrally, crossing his fork and knife over the empty plate. "Maybe watches TV."

Nunnally makes a thoughtful noise at the back of her throat. "Maybe you should exercise a bit less, spend a bit more time with her during the day. You know – indulge her a bit more, perhaps."

He wants to laugh at that, but keeps his voice neutral. "That's a good idea. I should try to do that."

It's a daily ritual - Suzaku joining Nunnally for dinner while C.C. lounges on the couch in his private quarters. He asks her to come join him sometimes, but she usually waves him off with a lazy motion of her hand, cradling that damned toy against her chest like it's a newborn infant.

Suzaku just rolls his eyes and makes sure to close the door with an audible click when he leaves.

There is a concerned note in Nunnally's voice. "I'd like it if Lady C.C. joined us for dinner a bit more often. It would -" She stops speaking when the door creaks open, and Suzaku doesn't even have to turn his head to know who it is when a genuine smile spills onto Nunnally's features. "Lady C.C. We were just talking about you."

"Hello, Nunnally," he hears her saying, a certain kindness in her voice she never uses when addressing him, followed by the sound of her padding along the linoleum floor on bare feet.

He sees her in his peripheral vision – her stuffed toy firmly in place, and the harsh light from the dining table light bulbs revealing a couple of pizza stains on the white summer dress swinging around her legs.

She looks as bored as usual when she comes to a halt in front of the table.

"Lady C.C." Nunnally puts down her fork. "I'm so sorry – we've just finished eating. Would you like me to have more prepared?"

"That's okay," she says, eyeing some of the fruit left in the bowel in the middle of the table. "I've already eaten anyway. Only came to say hello."

Nunnally nods. "Have you been accommodating well?" She gives an embarrassed laugh at the realization of how straight-forward the question was, and covers her mouth with her hands. "Oh, I'm sorry. I've just – been wondering. Because you don't join us for dinner so often."

C.C. just blinks, then shrugs and says with a sideways glance at Suzaku, "Oh, I think I've been accommodating quite well."

Suzaku just looks at her, frown etched into his forehead.

"Oh, really?" The smile lights up Nunnally's entire face. "That's so wonderful to hear. I was worried, you know - and I've been wondering if maybe Suzaku has been giving you a hard time."

C.C. gives an elaborate shrug while bending over the table to pluck off a single grape off the fruit tray and popping it into her mouth. "Oh yes," she says, her tone so bland she could have been talking about last year's weather report. "Quite hard."

And while Nunnally just says, "Oh," then smiles and says she will reprimand him for it, Suzaku just wants to bury his face in his hands.

Suzaku thinks that C.C. probably doesn't really dream.

He is the first to wake up in the mornings, and she's always still asleep - most often curled to her side, sometimes with her stuffed toy in her arms, sometimes not. But she always just lies there, unconscious to the world, as if she were dead already.

Sometimes, he thinks she might be. The thought will slice through his head - he can't see the rise and fall of her chest, oh gods - but then her hand or her foot will jerk just the tiniest bit with nerves before she settles back into her death-sleep and he knows that no, it's not her time yet.

He wonders if he's morbid that he likes to watch her sleep partly because she looks like she's a dead person coming back to life when she blinks her eyes open.

What's even more morbid is that he keeps recalling what she told him on the day of the masquerade ball.

Her body twitches as it readies itself for another day of life, and when her eyes open, they fall right onto his.

"Are you watching me sleep?" she asks, in a maddeningly neutral tone.

Suzaku blushes. "No." Amendingly, "Well, just for a bit, before you woke up."

Then he leaves her, and she blinks after him, and he hears the sheets rustle when she stretches like a cat, and Suzaku keeps thinking about how messed up he is.

He's watching her while she lounges on the couch of his living room, pizza slice in her hand and long legs exposed by the high hemline of her white skirt. She has an expression on her face that, upon casual observation by someone who didn't know her very well, may have been interpreted as contentment or surfeit.

Suzaku no longer belongs to that category of people, and all he can see is boredom.

She looks different during the day than she does at night; daytime tends to do that to people. Bent around the curved fang of the moon, with the shadows masking her imperfections and bleaching her hair and skin, she looks almost ethereal, the contrast of her appearance and her biting tone never more daunting. He has considered saying this at night, maybe when she rolls onto her side to go to sleep with her hair tangled into messy knots at the nape of her neck, or maybe right before they –

But he hasn't said anything, not yet. Because he has decided that like this, with the sunlight streaming in from outside and lending the much-sought corporeal quality to her ghost-like fragments, presents the better opportunity for him to broach the subject.

She seems more real this way.

And so he walks toward her, stopping just before the couch when he is sure he has caught her attention, and she raises her eyes to meet his, bread crumbs gathering in the corners of her mouth.

He clears his throat. "You're barren, aren't you?"

She chews, swallows, and then licks her lips. Her face remains impassive.

"I mean – I mean infertile. You are, aren't you?"

A humorless smile steals across her lips, and she lets herself slump back against the couch. The sunlight is dappling on her hair, making it gleam ersatz at the top of her head. "Suzaku," she says. "You've been screwing me without protection for how long and you only think of asking this now?"

Suzaku doesn't really mind being reprimanded for his relative lack of intelligence. He understands that while he could certainly be called intelligent in most average social circles, he is far from an intellectual giant when pitted against some of the other people he knows. Or knew.

But it only doesn't bother him when it's justified.

"You said you couldn't get pregnant." His eyebrow is twitching in mild irritation. "Was I supposed to take this any other way?"

"Are you scared I may have been lying to you?" She leans forward to take another slice from the opened pizza box. "Think I'm trying to dupe you into marriage or something?" She takes a bite from her slice, eyes rolling to the ceiling in thought. "Oh yes, I suppose I could see the appeal. Zero's wife, wouldn't it be?"

"This isn't funny, C.C."

She looks at him for a moment, her eyes narrowing at him, pink tongue darting out to lick the melted cheese off the slice positioned at her mouth. "You think I want to have your kids?" Her gaze slithers from head to toe. "Well, you don't look half-bad, I suppose. But I'm still going to have to pass on those suicidal genes."

"C.C." He takes another step forward, face grim, eyebrows low and mouth thinned to a tight line. He comes to a halt right before her, him standing up while she cowers on the couch with her goddamn pizza poised at her mouth, and when their eyes melt together, the tension is so thick that Suzaku thinks it has to be a visible thing.

"You are," he says, bending down until their faces are on the level, "aren't you?"

She opens her mouth, but instead of answering, she only shoves another piece of pizza inside it. It seems like she is taking all the time in the world when she chews and swallows, and finally licks her lips. "You would be correct this time, Suzaku."

Somehow, he had thought that he would feel cold at the affirmation, but upon hearing her words, he only sighs and straightens his back. "Okay."

"Disappointed?" she needles. Her tone is blasé, but her eyes zoom in on him like twin scopes.

"Of course not." He feels tired suddenly, and he walks over to the desk in the living room.

He has his back turned to her now, but he can hear her shifting on the couch – probably trying to figure out how to reach the most pizza while mustering the least effort. "Yet you don't exactly seem like you're about to cry tears of relief. You know, if I had just found out I wasn't going to knock up some immortal witch," she says those two words completely blandly, as if they mean nothing to her, "I'd probably show it more."

So, so tired. "Would you?"

"But that's not why you asked me, is it." It isn't a question, and it isn't the first time that Suzaku wonders if the woman is in possession of some kind of mind reading Geass, but he can practically hear the shrug in her voice when she goes on, "But fine. Don't tell me then."

He splays out his hands on the table, looking at them; he traces the scars crisscrossing over his tanned flesh in white stripes and the half-moons of his fingernails with his eyes.

"It's just mildly unsettling," he says, more to himself than to her. "You became barren when you accepted the Code, didn't you? It's strange. You lost your ability to give life the moment you received it. It's kind of... deriving you of the ability to have a family, which is... important to many people." He pauses. "It must be... lonely."

He hears her snorting behind him, and is he mistaken or is that just a note of anger in her voice? "You would have had a merry old time with those guys from 200 years ago, boy. You know, when they still evaluated a woman's worth by her ability to pop out babies."

He raises his head and squints against the rays of light streaming in from the windows. "It's not about that, and you know it."

"So what are you saying?" she sighs. "Get to the point."

"I just got thinking," he says.

She chews, swallows. "Not a good sign."

His eyebrow may have jerked at that, but he barrels on, "About what you really want from me. What your objective with all this really is." Quieter, "And if there isn't anything I could do to..." He bites his inner cheek. "Help."

And in the pricks and needles that follows that statement, it's perhaps the first time that C.C. has no answer (or failing that, a snarky remark or counter question) for him. Silence stretches between them like an endless plane of insubstantial white mist, and Suzaku realizes with a rush of heat that he's just hit a nerve, that he's just set off something, though he doesn't know what, and -

The silence stretches to nearly breaking point, and when Suzaku can no longer take it – it's stifling, it really is, suffocating, even, and he has to explain himself, to soften the blow, because he never intended to hurt her, so he whirls around on his heel to face her. "C.C., I -"

She is looking at him out of the most apathetic golden eyes he's ever seen. "What?" Amusement pulls across the edges of her mouth. "I'm not some lady you have to protect."

"I know," he amends. "I do. You're strong. But..." 'But there's still so much sorrow in you,' he wants to say, but he knows she doesn't want to hear it, and what can he say, what can he say, fuck, he's never been so good with words. "Look. I'm -"

"Sorry?" She perks up a little, eyes alert and intent, pizza piece poised at her mouth. "Save your apologies for someone who cares to hear them."

To Suzaku's ears, her voice is like sand paper against brittle bone.

He shakes his head to himself, not quite daring to look her in the eye. "It was out of line," he tells the floor. "I shouldn't have. I guess I can live with not knowing. I'm not supposed to exist anyway." There, now that hurt, somewhere inside him (why?) and then he turns on his heel and storms out of the room, and he's gone.

And then he isn't, becaus C.C.'s voice makes him stop, yet again.

"Have you ever wondered why?" she asks, abruptly changing the subject. She settles back against the couch, her tank top riding up a little at the back to reveal skin only a few shades darker than the white of her clothes. Once in a comfortable position, she looks at him, her pupils as penetrating as pinpricks.

Premonition is a cold shower burning down Suzaku's spine. He turns around. Takes a few steps back into the room.


"Why I chose him, not you," she goes on, and there is something seething just below the surface of her drawling voice, something –

"To give the Geass to," he surmises, the words tumbling out of his mouth in a hateful rush, the word 'Geass' like acid on his tongue.

"Hm-mh," she hums her agreement, and there's that look on her face again, the one that pins and measures. The one that makes Suzaku feel like she's studying the working of his innards. "Surely you would have been the better choice, upon first glance." She raises her head. "Wouldn't you have been?"

Suzaku curls his upper lip.

"You were stronger." Her gaze slithers from head to toe. "Are stronger. And just as determined as he was; just as stubborn as he was. And of course, in light of your suicidal tendencies, you are a highly unsuitable candidate now. A suicidal Geass holder – that's useless. But I didn't know this at the time. You were different back then; loud, vivacious. Driven. Passionate."

He crosses his arms over his chest, the lean muscles on his upper arms protruding against his tan skin.

Her voice is like liquor, as thick as it is deceptively sweet. "And while not a genius, you were not a fool." She pauses, frowns just slightly. "Well. Not in terms of raw intelligence, anyway. So, upon first glance, don't you think you would have seemed like a good candidate? Perhaps even a better one? At least with you, I wouldn't have had to worry you'd die from exhaustion after a school race one day."

Suzaku snorts at that.

She shrugs again, acting as if it's greatly exhausting to be speaking for such a long amount of time. "Can you guess why I chose him, not you?"

He isn't going to raise to the bait. "For one thing, he was Marianne's son. You're going to tell me that wasn't the whole reason why you sought him out in the first place?"

"Boy," she says, low and languid. "You think I have something like a sense of loyalty to his family? I would have ditched if I'd had the notion you were a better candidate."

He sighs and disentangles his arms in front of his chest to rub the bridge of his nose with two fingers while fatigue drips through his bones. "I think you're lying," he states, matter-of-factly. "But regardless." He drops his arm to fix her with a look. "...I'm really getting tired of this. You brought this up. Get to the point or – or, hell, don't, I don't care."

"How quickly your bad conscience has dissipated." She shrugs. "Well then, you have plenty of practice with these matters."

He walks over to her now, his feet slapping the cushioned floor of his living room, and before long, he's standing right before her, one arm stemmed against the couch to the right of her head, so close her face is an oval slice of sunlight.

"You want me to be him, don't you?"

An emotion slithers across her face and then falls off her face, faster than he can place it.

Suzaku can taste his own heart at the back of his throat.

A condescending smirk tugs at the corners of her lips. "Haven't you been listening?" Her eyes harden like glass. "There's a reason why I chose him and not you." She tilts her head back a little, raising her chin, then shrugs elaborately. "You were weak."

He says nothing.

"Weak," she repeats. "Not physically, of course. No, never physically. Not now, not then. But mentally." She reaches out her hand to touch the side of his cheek, then reaches up higher, tangling her fingers in his hair. "What is cradled inside the orb of your skull is soft." She digs her fingers into his scalp, and her eyes glow. "So easy to shatter. To punctuate. To -"

He snaps: hand flying to his head, he grabs her wrist, wincing slightly when he pushes her hand down and she rips out a few strands of hair. Looking down, he sees a few strands of his hair, the soft color of maple syrup and soft like yarn, scattered wistfully across her pale hand.

"This is not something," he says with finality, straightening his spine, "I need you to tell me."

She shrugs, and the enthusiasm leaking out of her is almost a visible thing.

Suzaku decides he no longer wants to see her.

She just keeps looking at him, for once devoid of mockery, voice almost - melancholic. "I didn't know your name for the longest time, you know. And even though I knew his, I never mentally referred to him by his name."

He hears a soft sound like nails clicking against marble - she's poking Cheese-kun's glass eyes.

"He was just 'the Boy'." Poke poke. "That's how I thought of him anyway. Kind of like his nickname." She pauses and raises her eyes. "Can you guess what yours was?"

He tries to keep his voice blasé. "I guess it was 'the other boy.'"

She tilts her head to the side. "That's right. That's what you were, you two." She rolls onto her stomach, her feet in the air, the toes of her right foot bouncing against the heel of her left one. "The Boy -"

Suzaku can practically hear the caps in her voice.

"- and the other boy."

"How fitting."

Her eyes are wide and glittering, her lips slightly parted, silver sheen of saliva gathering along the ridges.

None of this comes as a surprise anyway, he tells himself. He has always played second-tier to him anyway – even Euphy loved him more than she did him, and he is perhaps the only one he's ever know just as unworthy of her love as he is.

Her face softens then, but he doesn't really register it. Sees it, but not really sees it; and then she says, "But, none of this means that -" and he hears it, but at the same time, he doesn't, his mind a disc spinning atop a dated music player that skips as many notes as it plays, and -

He doesn't want to be loved anyway.

(no, really, I don't –)

So none of this hurts him.

Which is why, "Maybe you should take your own advice, then, C.C." he says, voice tight and clipped while he straightens his spine and severs eye contact.

She just gives him a look, and he realizes only now he's cut her off in the middle of a sentence (yes,she was saying something, but what?), but that doesn't matter, nothing matters now, nothing -

"You just gave me a very long explanation of why I'm not like him. Of why I'm less than him. Why I can't be him, no matter what mask I wear. That's what you said."

She stops eating in mid-chew. Waiting. Measuring. Pinning.

Then, "You don't understand, do you?"

"Understand what?" he says. He snickers to himself, the bitterness catching in his throat and spilling into words, "That you'd probably like to call me his given name next time and not just Zero? Should I let you do that? Should I let you call me him? I told you not to that time."

The impact of the words coalesces around them, and he knows he's gone too far as soon as he's crawled his way out of the fog of bursting emotion, knows it as soon as he meets her eyes.

Her voice is quiet. "I take back what I said earlier." Her eyes sharpen. "You really are a fool, after all."

"What?" He can't stop now, not now, he can't stop- "You already called me -"

"Not for the reason you think. Not because -"

"Then why?" he cuts her off, voice booming out of him. "Then why? Why are you here, why do you mess with me? Why? You're not even happy. I just want to -"

He trails off, snapping his mouth shut. Their eyes are only inches apart. The tension brims and wavers and tightens in the air. He's close enough to smell her, that scent that's so uniquely her, and, and, and,and he wants to kiss her and he wants to hit her and he wants to pretend none of this happened and he wants to go on and she is everything and she is nothing and he is sorry and none of this is right, none of it, none -

"I'm not," she says, at long last, every word a pinprick against his face, "going to spell it out for you. But I give you one hint." She pauses. "'For the most obvious reason.'"

"So I was right," he mutters darkly.

She looks at him for a long moment before she says, teasing gone, her voice soft and rueful, "You really are a fool. Such a fool."

She is gone the next day, with only the empty pizza boxes piling up on the floor the single remaining proof of the fact that she has ever been there at all.

Upon first noticing this, he stalks into the living room, looking for a note, a scrap of paper, anything, but only finds the curtains billowing in the breeze of the opened window and the muggy summer heat streaming in to permeate the air. When he checks the guest bedroom, he finds her doll gone, along with the small piece of luggage she brought along when she first showed up, the little bag with a few different outfits and two pair of shoes, frugal and to-the-point and unconcerned as she is.

"So you left," he says to the empty room.

The curtains answer with a billow.

"Lady C.C. is gone?" Nunnally asks, her eyebrows knitting into a concerned brown when Suzaku comes to join her at the dinner table.

He shrugs and sits down, giving her a tiny smile to reassure her - "we have to best strong for Nunnally," he had always said, one of the few things coming out of his mouth that Suzaku has never once disagreed with - and says, "I'm sure she's - gone travelling or something. She's really tough. She'll be back before we know it."

Nunnally reciprocates his smile, but it doesn't quite reach her eyes. "I'm sure she'll be fine," she says, looking down at her meal with a thoughtful tone in her voice. "But -"

Suzaku doesn't feel hungry - he hasn't felt particularly hungry for many, many months now - but to assuage her, he digs into his meal with faked enthusiasm, stuffing the noodles into his mouth until his cheeks bulge, chewing hastily, stopping only when Nunnally continues to speak.

"Suzaku." She puts down her fork, and her voice is still as soft and mellifluous as bells, but determination glints in her eyes. "Did you have a fight with Lady C.C.?"

He swallows his food and levels his eyes onto hers, trying to keep his tone light. "No matter how starved I may look, I'm not going to fight her for her pizza," he jokes lamely. He forces a smile to stretch across his face. "So don't worry. She'll be back."

The tightness in her eyebrows reveals that Nunnally doesn't quite believe him, or at least doesn't know if she should - but she lets it go with a quiet, "If you say so."

They continue to eat in silence.


He blinks, and the imaginary C.C. with her predatory golden eyes and her languid condescension shatters. "Yes, Nunnally?"

"... I guess it's just that I thought she wouldn't leave without at least saying goodbye. Dropping by my office and announcing she would leave. Something." She trails off. "Her leaving like this seems like there's something wrong. She doesn't show much emotion, but she's not the kind of person who would do this." She pauses. "I think she appreciates us too much for that."

Are you sure? is what Suzaku wants to ask.

What the says out loud, because he's run out of things to say, is, "I guess she's just a bit more eccentric than we thought. Don't worry. Everything is fine." He pauses, feels his emotions tighten into a hard ball in his stomach. "She'll be back." I hope. Maybe.

...I don't know.

Nunnally considers this for a moment, then nods. "Yes, I suppose that's all we can do for now. Wait for her to come back." She pierces her food with her fork, puts it into her mouth, and chews. Swallows. Then says, in a soft voice, eyes still trained on her plate. "I hope she comes back soon."


Nunnally looks up, meeting his eyes. "Because you seemed happy while she was here."

Under other circumstances, he might have laughed. Right now, all he can muster in response is a befuddled, "What?"

That's when Nunnally opens up her face with a smile that floods her face and warms the room. "Yes. You seemed more carefree somehow. Lighter. Like you were having fun. And you don't usually want people who make you feel that way to leave. So I was worried about you." Her smile opens up wider. "But you're right; nothing we can do now. She'll be back, right?"

"Right," he says, voice hollow, trying to digest what he just heard. "Right."

He misses C.C. that night.

Tossing and turning in his bed, he frowns at the walls in irritation whenever he feels a spike of pleasure shudder through him at the sensation of his cock sliding along the sheets, and there's a certain tension in his body that makes him wish that he could touch her and bury himself in her until his thoughts shriveled up beneath the glare of his climax and he could stumble toward a dead sleep.

It's normal, he tells himself. He's noticed time and time before that being abstinent is a much greater challenge right after long periods of indulgement, and he remembers himself having compared it once to the readjustment process that taste buds go through when going back to a diet of miso soup and rice after a period of dining at the noblest restaurants in Britannia. Yes, that makes sense, that is logical - putting it that way, having sex really is like drinking or eating.

What ones craves is nothing but a direct result of what they have allowed themselves to become used to.

It's normal. He's readjusted so many times before, he can do it now.

The next night, he's starting to notice that it's not only the fact that he isn't getting laid that's different from back when she was still here.

It's quiet, for one thing. When she was here, even if they weren't speaking, he could always hear her: the rustle of the sheets when she moved, her shallow breathing, the crunch and the chewing sounds when she had disregarded his plea to please stop eating pizza in bed again

And her quiet laughter of course, often the only commentary when he rambled – and he did it a lot, he knows it, though he doesn't remember what it was about exactly. He thinks he may have told her about him once, about how he had always been a little eccentric. He remembers her throwing in his lack of fashion sense then, bringing them both to a forbidden kind of elitist delight. He remembers crying, once or twice, talking about him and Euphy and his father and the many, many faceless and nameless people fallen in battle, because of him, and how she just listened and said nothing. And he remembers the weight of her hand on his shoulder that did say something, even if it was insubstantial and – and ghost-like (not really there) (immortal witch) (a Code holder) (just like -)

He doesn't want to think any more, so he turns on his side with a resolute jerk of his body.

And then he remembers that he has chosen this life, that this is his just life and punishment, and that when he signed up for this, it was a life in isolation they had agreed on, not a life in isolation and the green-haired witch living in his bed and staining his sheets with grease, and he feels a little better about himself, his heart rate going down a little –

( yes, it's good, it's how it should be, it's good )

- and he forcefully pushes his mind down the chapped cliff of sleep until he can no longer think and it really is all good again.

Except when it isn't, but that's how it always is.

Isn't it?

Author's Notes: Um yeah. So. Ffff, has it really been over a year since I posted this? Seriously. Wow. I never really meant for it to be abandoned, and in fact I had 80% of this chapter written the same time last year, and then I just kind of felt like I had written myself into a corner with this fic and I didn't know how to go on, and it took me so long until I could figure out where to take this.

But here it is. New chapter. Umm! So, you may have noticed that it was originally going to be about 6 chapters long, but is now going to be three. It's not really that the story itself got shorter, more that the chapters ended up so long that I had to cut down on their number. O.o I'm... so sorry everyone who has been waiting. (I wonder if anyone even remembers this story).

Many, many thanks to everyone who reviewed - if you hadn't reviewed, it might have taken even longer. Thanks to Aki1, Anonymous Girl, croquant, Feverish Girl, SavTheRipper, bluellv, rainbow-frostbite, Mr. Nox, Loly, Susu, Love, Thelonely, Hutu, Reader, -MOON-kana, Koren, locket-girl, Iheartyuuram, and PresentDayPresentTime for reviewing - you are amazing.

So, one chapter left. Let's see if I can't squeeze it out some time, right? So close to the finish liiiiiiine -

- Yina