Wait and Hope

Chapter Five: Discovered Check, Double Check

It was cold, damned cold in the library. Lelouch was sitting on the sofa, listening to the wind rage outside. He wasn't quite sure how long he had been sitting there; in fact, he wasn't quite sure what time it was.

He heard a long gust come through, rattling the panes. A moment later he heard the knob turn, and Kallen and C.C. came in. Kallen cursed the cold and walked over to stoke the fire; C.C. stared at Lelouch.

Lelouch was silent, hardly lifting his head. It felt heavy, thick; he couldn't think properly.

Maybe it was the cold.

Kallen turned from the fire and strode over to him, standing next to C.C. At a glance between them, they both knelt and looked up into his face. He said nothing. A moment passed and Lelouch felt intensely awkward; he was almost totally immobile. Another moment went by and Kallen felt for his hand. She was warm, and motioned encouragingly for C.C. to do the same.

C.C. touched Lelouch; he felt their hands on his own, heard them begin to murmur soft words of encouragement, of comfort.

Of love.

He felt something then, a terrible feeling of discomfort, of fear. Were they lying?

Why had he thought that? Lelouch had no answer, but roughly stood and watched them fall back to the floor. He felt the discomfort vanish as a familiar feeling grew in his eyes, a dull ache. He tried to yell, but only felt his expression grow more rigid.

It was geass.

Lelouch looked down at the faces of the girls at his feet. Their eyes were open, their expressions trusting. He wanted to turn, to hide his eyes, to tell them to leave, to run. But he did not. He could not.

Instead, he brushed his hand across his face, and heard himself speak. They were terrible commands, imperatives to strip personhood and will away from the women before him, the people he trusted, perhaps, above all others.

Again he tried to scream as C.C. and Kallen nodded along to his command, their personalities wiped away into absolute obedience. His body would not respond, would not do his bidding.

Horrified, he felt the storm outside raging, felt the cold seep into his bones. The warmth of the fire did not touch him. He watched as his hands drew C.C.'s long green hair around her neck. Her artery bulged for a while, then went still. Under his command, she smiled.

Out of his mind with disgust and panic, Lelouch watched his hands turn the same strands around to Kallen, watched her smile unblinking as he choked out her life with taught wrists and a rictus grin on his face.

The screams came out then, and he fell to his knees too late, far too late for either of them. C.C. was still and cold, Kallen's eyes now shut, her form slumped and unmoving. Lelouch screamed and screamed and finally heard himself over the wind, screaming and shaking, unable to change now what he had done.

He woke gasping, his sheets torn from the bed, shivering. Had he screamed aloud? If so, no one had come. The house was silent. No one had heard; no one would come. It was a dream, only a dream. There was nothing in it.

Lelouch tentatively brought his hand to his eyes, fearful of what he might find there. As he did, he noticed that his face was covered in tears.

Dear Nunnally,

I wanted to let you know that I am doing all right; better than before. I've told you already, but you were right to send Kallen. She and C.C. are getting along well together, and I am feeling much better. In reply to your query, though, I must reply in the negative. Nunnally, I'm a bit embarrassed that you asked.

But I suppose that means that you're truly grown now.

I'm sorry if I sound condescending, sister. I do not want you to take it that way. It's in my nature to be overprotective, even now, when I have given up that right. Really, you're the one taking care of me now.

I'm grateful. I do not know what will happen with regard to my current work, but once I have more information I will let you know. Know that I love you, Nunnally, and that I really am happier now. I hope I can one day convince you of this. For now

"Nunnally!" Kaguya's voice shocked the young empress out of her reading, and she quickly closed the application, smiling to cover her relief. The desk had notified her of Kaguya's arrival, but she had been a bit engrossed in reading. Her brother was always a part of her daily worries.

"Hello, Kaguya. I'm glad to see you again."

"Are you well? I know you've been flitting about all over the globe for the last few months; you must be tired." The Japanese princess remained standing, honest concern in her eyes.

Nunnally could not help but respond to that kindness, despite her irritation at the unfinished letter. "Thank you, Kaguya. I am tired, but we have some time back in the homeland before the summit in Denmark." She motioned the other girl over to the seat next to her. "Please, sit. It's always so uncomfortable when people keep standing."

Kaguya sat down in the plush office chair and looked at the current ruler of the largest nation on earth. Nunnally was only a little older than when she took her office, but a great deal more poised. She had spent her tenure as empress thus far going from strength to strength, but Kaguya knew how exhausting the work was.

She was doing it too, after all. The UFN was her life, and it occupied almost all her waking hours. She kept little for herself, instead choosing to keep diplomacy on the table, cementing alliances and putting out fires from one hemisphere to another.

This was the first time Kaguya had met with Nunnally in a few weeks, really since about the time of Kallen's graduation. Zero had sent her away, Kaguya recalled, on some sort of covert mission.

Kallen had been a bit awkward when they had toured the reconstructed sakuradite facilities at Mt. Fuji. It was even more pronounced than the awkwardness Kaguya had noticed at the graduation ceremony.

Perhaps the awkwardness was about Zero, she reflected. Kaguya had long felt a kinship with the redheaded pilot, even back during the Black Rebellion; she'd thought, then, that they might even end up with the same man. Things had not gone as she might have hoped. Sumeragi Kaguya was older now, and a little wiser.

And perhaps a little less happy.

She shook her head to clear her thoughts, internally berating herself for being depressed before Nunnally. If anyone must have been hurt by the last days of Lelouch's reign, it was her. Casting her mind past her own concerns, she asked an innocent question to banish her depressing train of thought.

"I met with Kouzuki a few weeks ago, Nunnally, but Zero seems to have spirited her away somewhere. Do you happen to know what she's up to?" She asked her question frankly, just to make conversation. She did not anticipate Nunnally's reaction.

The empress blinked in surprise, than glanced down to close the open monitor on her desktop. She looked a bit flustered, then seemed to regain control of herself as she smiled and replied, "I'm afraid not, Kaguya. Zero mentioned it was something related to internal Black Knights affairs, so I really didn't ask too many questions."

Kaguya did her best to appear nonchalant as she replied. "I understand. Zero's always up to something, and I suppose Kouzuki did just finish off one of her big obligations. I had hoped to speak with her again, since she seemed a little distracted during the tour." She eyed Nunnally, looking for a reaction. "But then again, I guess it brought back unpleasant memories. Anyway, how is the work at the Pendragon site going?"

Kaguya steered the conversation away from Kallen, her fishing expedition having turned up no additional information. Nunnally's reaction was uncharacteristic though; Kaguya knew her well. They had been fast friends since Lelouch's death, and they trusted each other. This was an aberration. Further, when had Zero deliberately left something obscure like this, especially concerning an old friend?

Either something very important was going on, something that Kaguya, leader of the UFN, was not privy to for security reasons, or Zero and Nunnally were hiding something. Whatever it was, she meant to find out. She had called off her research into Zero himself many months ago at his request, which had been difficult enough to do; this, though, was about Kallen, and she wanted to know. Too many secrets were bad for trust.

In her position at the UFN, she was at least nominally Zero's civilian commander. This was too suspicious to let lie. She continued her interview with Nunnally, never letting on about her plans. She had been a politician since before Japan fell; hiding her thoughts was nothing new.

She would definitely determine what it was that Zero was hiding. He had done nothing wrong, she suspected, but this misdirection just seemed off to her. She wanted to know. Zero would just have to learn that what Sumeragi Kaguya wanted, she got.

Georgs Podnieks was feeling better, even if he still technically had legal actions pending against him. The nightmarish visions he'd had the day before had gradually fallen off in intensity. Now, although he was seeing double, it was at least doubled normal things.

Not like yesterday. He shivered under the thin hospital blanket and tried not to remember.

Georgs was accustomed to fear: the adrenaline-rush sensation of a bullet impacting three inches from one's head, night parachute drops into unfriendly camps, the sinking feeling that maybe the recon guy had not done his job quite so well as one had hoped.

Those were normal fears, mortal mercenary fears. What he had seen yesterday had been nothing like that. He'd watched his three companions go down without a fight; all three of them were in the hospital with him now. None of them were coherent. Georgs suspected he was only barely hanging on because of whatever antipsychotic they'd given him in the last hour.

Or maybe he was just more brave. He snorted at that thought, and rolled over onto his left side, away from the door.

Beside him, where there had formerly been no one at all, sat a tall man, thin, with hard, dark eyes.

Georgs just barely contained a scream. He knew this man, or at least knew of him. He hoped that he was right not to scream.

"Mr. Podnieks, I understand that you shot a man yesterday. What happened?" Georgs felt those hard eyes bore into him, and answered with a little tremble in his tone.

"Yes, sir. He fell, and then the woman with him, she… looked at me." He thought to turn his face away, but did not.

"And?" The word was heavy in the air.

"I don't really remember, sir." He hesitated. He did remember, a little, but he was not sure he could talk about it. Not yet, anyway.

The thin man looked at him again. "What happened?" He repeated in the same tone as before.

Georgs swallowed. "I, I saw things that-" he'd wanted to say, things that weren't there, but he was not absolutely sure that was true. "Things that scared me. They weren't normal." He gave the last report in a whisper, his voice trailing off as he tried not to recall what he had seen.

The thin man received this information silently, unmoving. His eyes did not leave the man in the bed. After a moment, he pulled out a photo. "Was this the woman?"

Georgs gratefully moved his gaze over to the photograph. It was a young woman in profile, seemingly unaware of her photograph being taken. She had long, green hair and gold eyes. He looked again at the man.

"I don't think it was her. The hair was wrong, and the face was wrong, and the eyes." He paused a moment, waiting for any reaction. He received none.

The thin man silently put the photo away. Georgs noted nervously that he was wearing black leather gloves.

They stared at each other for a few moments longer before the thin man broke the silence. Georgs shuddered as he spoke.

"Do you remember anything else?"

Georgs clenched his fists, felt himself sweating beneath the sheets. He clenched his teeth and tried to breathe normally. Finally he gasped out, "Her eyes... she looked right into mine. Right into me." He shook and felt tears begin to well up.

When he regained control of himself a moment later, the thin man was gone from his sight. He wondered briefly whether the man had ever even been there at all.

It was the last thing he thought before the pick entered his occipital lobe, ending all his fears forever.

The thin man left the hospital. No one spoke to him, no one stopped him. He was quiet on the cold street, but inwardly he was seething.

Geass. Lelouch vi Britannia had forsaken geass himself, and now had granted it to a contractor. At least one.

And C.C. was gone, he supposed. The last code left was in the possession of Charles zi Britannia's son.

It was the only possibility that made any sense.

He had briefly considered leaving the four men alive and using them to draw in the code bearer, but with this unknown geass user at his side it was unwise. It infuriated him to think of the costly relic lost to him, but it was not a good idea to push for a confrontation. The boy was no fool.

Besides, there were other things to consider. Lelouch's code wasn't the only object of interest, and fighting him in a hospital against some unknows geass wasn't the best approach. Research was ongoing in terms of code, and there were other ways to deal with Lelouch if those failed to pan out.

A small smile graced the thin man's features. There were always other ways of getting things done.

Jeremiah Gottwald closed his latest communication from Lelouch with a pleased expression. The young man had thanked him for his help in sending Kallen along, and had even included an apology. Honestly, he felt that it was a bit more than he deserved, but he was happy nevertheless; his lord was once again in decent spirits. He hoped C.C. was taking it well; he imagined that his lord was having more difficulty than he let on. Lelouch had never really known what do do with women.

His musings were interrupted as Anya entered the office and immediately raised her finger to her lips. Jeremiah remained silent.

"We have a guest."

Before he could reply, he heard the guest calling.

"O~rangie? Are you in there?" Jeremiah's blood ran cold at the voice floating airily down the hallway. He stood up and was halfway to the door before someone stepped in behind Anya. He halted and attempted a bow.

"Lady Enneagram, we're honored by your visit-" he began before she cut him off.

"Now really, Jeremiah, am I expected to call you Margrave when I ask for dinner this evening? Am I supposed to call little Anya here Lady Alstreim?" Her mocking half-frown indicated her considered opinion. "It will be Nonette and Orange, or maybe Jeremy, right?" She laughed disarmingly before slinging her arm around a distinctly silent Knight of Six. "What do you call him, Anya, hmm?"

"Anya," she said in amazement while looking at the young woman, "are you blushing?"

Anya blushed a little more in response, then said, "To the kitchen, please," in as even a tone as she could manage.

Nonette let her escape; Jeremiah cleared his throat and politely gestured after her.

She cocked an eyebrow in response, a grin on her face. "I'll let it go for now, Orange. Let's sit down and chat."

Things were marginally more comfortable at the table as Nonette made a point of questioning Anya about the coffee, her kitchen, and the farm in general. Jeremiah nodded when appropriate, but inwardly worried over what exactly Nonette wanted here. He noted that she was out of uniform, but he saw her sidearm firmly in place against all local laws to the contrary.

He had no regrets about Empress Nunnally's decision to send Kallen to Lelouch; he trusted that it was the right thing to do. Nevertheless, it did weaken their security, raising questions and opening doors. It made things much more difficult.

Jeremiah knew Nonette's closest confidante was more than a little interested, at least potentially, in the secrets Jeremiah and Nunnally were keeping from her. Princess Cornelia was nothing but an ally for her own family, but that did not mean she was uninquisitive, especially when she believed that something might threaten her remaining sister.

"Anya, I think your place here is absolutely adorable. I'm sorry I haven't been by here before."

Having regained her composure, Anya characteristically snapped a photo and thanked her fellow Rounds member.

Jeremiah decided to ask what was on his mind. "Is this a social call, Nonette?"

"Well," she smiled, "I'm really always working. There's no retiring from the Knights of Round, is there, Anya?" She paused for a moment, then continued. "I wanted to see Anya, of course, but I was sent to Japan for a bit of a liaison with the UFN and the Black Knights; you know, training, security reviews, personnel nonsense." She took a sip of her coffee. "I was hoping to meet Zero's knight, Kallen Stadtfeld, while I was here."

Anya said nothing. Jeremiah hesitated before replying. "I believe that she was sent to do something on Zero's authority after her graduation, Nonette."

"Is that right?" The Knight of Nine asked rhetorically. She drank a little more of her coffee. "Too bad really. Cornelia tells me she's really something, and tragically we've never crossed swords." She rolled her eyes to glance over at Jeremiah. "I suppose I'll ask Zero when she'll be back."

"I imagine that he would be the person to ask," Jeremiah replied. Anya nodded thoughtfully.

"Yes," Nonette commented idly. "I imagine he would."

C.C. was waiting near the foyer, feeling a little bit impatient. She glanced at the clock; already it was late afternoon and Lelouch had yet to emerge from his research room. She honestly didn't want to force him to discuss the issue of Kallen's geass, but she really loathed waiting for him to bring it up.

Neither he nor Kallen had spoken about it when they returned yesterday. Lelouch's wound healed in a matter of an hour or so, and he indicated that the item they retrieved had been some portion of one of the doors of the World of C, or at least some similar relic.

After that, though, he had gone silent. Kallen had explained what happened to her alone; Lelouch went off to sleep immediately after dinner. Then this morning he had apparently bypassed breakfast and disappeared to sulk in his analysis work.

It irritated the hell out of her.

It also scared her, although she didn't want to admit it. It had been C.C.'s counsel that led to Kallen's request, even if Kallen had been ready to make the decision. Regardless, the consequence was that she was cut off from Lelouch, just as she had been before Kallen had showed up. She'd grown accustomed to his attention so quickly; its absence was unexpectedly painful. Was he intending to return to that curt dismissal, the same careful distance as before?

Kallen, too, seemed to be moping. She hadn't spoken at breakfast, and then had gone for an extended workout session. No conversation, nothing.

Back when they had been working to resurrect Zero, to restore Lelouch to himself, she and Kallen had had a fairly close relationship. She'd jumped ship to spend time with Lelouch once he remembered her, of course, but today she was missing Kallen's company as much as Lelouch's. Even as an immortal with a long history of friends and companions, those two were something special.

C.C. frowned. Maybe she was being sentimental in her old age. Or maybe... she sighed. She could almost hear Marianne's voice mocking her.

Maybe you're in love, C.C.!

She grumbled as she thought of it, and then finally heard Sayoko interrogating the pizza delivery boy through the intercom.

Some good news, at least.

Sayoko set it out for her at the breakfast table, looking none too pleased herself. C.C. avoided direct eye contact, choosing instead to focus on the pizza. She knew that the Japanese woman was hoping for Lelouch to be happy; she did not want to see what Sayoko was thinking about her at the moment.

She grabbed a slice of pizza and scowled. That boy is making all of us miserable.

At that moment, Kallen came downstairs and noticed C.C. Sayoko nodded and set out a place for her before quietly exiting the scene, leaving the two of them alone.

C.C. waited a few seconds before motioning regally toward the pizza. Kallen rolled eyes and took a piece for herself. They ate in silence.

The witch finally decided to speak, her own irritation and concern for the other girl getting the better of her. "He's being a fool, you know. You've done nothing wrong."

Kallen looked down at her plate. It was hard for her to accept that she might have driven Lelouch away after all the effort she had put forth to find him again. "I can't help feeling that I should have asked, though."

"Asked? You did ask, girl. You asked me. And I'm the one who matters here." She leaned over and put her forefinger under Kallen's chin, lifting her head. "I'm the one you made a contract with, not him."

"Still, maybe-"

"Maybe nothing!" C.C. answered hotly. "Where's that conviction of yours? Didn't you do better doing what you wanted, instead of what you thought he wanted?" The green haired girl frowned. "This is between us, Kallen. Your wish and mine."

At that, Kallen's expression turned curious. "What is your wish anyway, C.C.?"

To her surprise, C.C. blushed and drew back. "Don't worry about it. Why don't you concentrate on being a little more resolved instead?" She grinned cheekily. "That's what he likes about you, you know."

"What?" Kallen stood up from the table, blushing in reply. "What do you mean, C.C.?"

The other girl replied lazily, now feeling distinctly more comfortable in the conversation. "Just that: the boy likes your personality. Well," she glanced at Kallen's taut dress shirt, an amused expression on her face, "and other things too, I imagine."

"C.C.!" Kallen yelled, covering her chest. "Don't say things like that-"

"Shy little Japanese warrior-girl, aren't you?" C.C. smirked. "Well, you're a match for him there. I've never met a boy so terrified of women." She leaned forward, enjoying Kallen's mute astonishment. "I wonder whether he's even capable of getting over that embarrassment of his about sex! He's so damned uptight... nothing like his mother there, let me tell you! That woman-"

"C.C." The voice coming from behind her was cold. The witch expressed considerable dismay looking at Kallen, but regained her placid expression when she turned to the interloper.

"Yes, Lelouch? Are you finished sulking for the day?" Her voice held its usual sarcastic tone.

"Come to the library, both of you." His voice was brittle, and his eyes were more angry than she had seen in a long while. "We need to talk."

Kallen took stock of the situation as she glanced away from the window where she was standing. Lelouch had just dismissed Sayoko, advising her that he needed to "have words" with the two of them. The maid had nodded, but sent an encouraging smile Kallen's way before leaving.

It heartened her a little, but only a little.

Over on the sofa, C.C. was sitting with her arms wrapped around her legs, staring moodily at Lelouch who, for his part, was sitting before the chessboard, clenching his jaw. Kallen was worried; C.C. had been right, she thought, in that her decision had been a good one. She believed that her newfound ability was her choice, and it was not Lelouch's decision to make. And it meant that I could save him, she thought. In her mind, that was really all that mattered.

That didn't mean that he had to like it, though. And things had seemed to be going so well, too.

Lelouch finally stood and motioned for her to sit next to C.C. She complied and tried to keep her expression calm.

"Firstly, I am sorry to have put you in danger yesterday, Kallen," he began stiffly. "I did not anticipate that sort of resistance in so short a time frame. It will not happen again." He did not look particularly apologetic, Kallen noted. In fact, he looked a little nervous. Nevertheless, she nodded for him to continue. C.C was silent, her eyes narrowed and unblinking.

"Secondly," Lelouch coughed uncomfortably, "we do seem to have located the group that is investigating geass. The mission yesterday was, in that respect, a great success. I thank both of you for your efforts and insight." Again, Kallen noted the stiff quality of Lelouch's speech, but refrained from comment and nodded. C.C. said nothing.

"Finally, there is the issue of your new geass, Kallen." Lelouch clasped his hands behind his back and began pacing. "This is not wholly unexpected, but I am surprised to see that you sought it out without asking me, without consulting me." He paused and shut his eyes, jaw working as he tried to control his voice. "I'm not going to lie to you, I am angry about this-"

He was interrupted by a sardonic snort from C.C. After a moment of glaring, he continued. "I am angry, but not only at you. It was C.C.'s decision as well; I'm sure she didn't remind you of the eventual danger of a geass out of your control, or of your isolation from your loved ones, or even being targeted by whoever is using and researching these relics." He waited, but C.C. said nothing. Kallen was unsure what to say, and looked to C.C. for help. None was forthcoming. The girl was practically radiating cold in Lelouch's direction.

He went on, "I know you want to be helpful. I understand now that this is my fault for not laying out my concerns, my fault for not outlining my feelings on the matter, and my fault for-"

Suddenly, Kallen was thrust aside as C.C. shot up from the couch and toward Lelouch, knocking over the chess board as she did so. Lelouch was caught completely by surprise as she grabbed him by the throat and hurled him against the nearest shelf of books, breathing heavily as she did so.

"You pompous ass!" The witch practically screamed in his face. "How dare you say it's your fault! How dare you say that to me, much less to Kallen!" She held Lelouch by the shoulders and shook him. Kallen rose from her seat uncertainly, unsure what to do or even whether to stop C.C. Was she right? Was Lelouch's hurtful, cold speech to the two of them really what he felt? She noticed suddenly that C.C. was crying.

"God damn you, Lelouch! You think I haven't made enough contracts to know when someone is serious? Kallen took this burden on her own! You have no right to say it is your fault, and you have no place telling her she was wrong to do it!" She thrust Lelouch away from her, wrapping her arms around her chest and turning her back to him. She was shaking. "Why the hell do you think she did it? Why do you think I did it, Lelouch? Tell me!"

Kallen stepped forward, past the fallen and disordered chessboard. Lelouch tried to stand, a shocked and frightened expression on his face. Why had C.C. done it? Why had she done it? What was C.C.'s wish, anyway? Kallen didn't know what to say, how to answer.

There had been a time when Kallen thought C.C. was cold, even inhuman; a witch who stood by Lelouch, who took delight in framing Kallen's every desire as a joke, every dream as a laugh. C.C. had mocked her hopes, her conviction, and her love. She had undercut her feelings and shoved herself into the position of Lelouch's confidante, the place Kallen had always craved for herself. There had been a time when Kallen hated the girl.

So why was she doing this? Why was she defending Kallen, or rather both of them, to Lelouch?

Why, C.C.?

C.C. turned abruptly and cut off Lelouch's stammering reply with her hand, then smiled through her tears at Kallen. "Tell him, Kallen. You tell him why we did it, why you did it."

Why? Kallen didn't know! She began to panic, thinking that here, now, she was being given a chance to really change their relationship. The trouble was that she didn't know what to say. What did C.C. want, what did Lelouch want, and what did she want?

Kouzuki Kallen had not made her way by being half-hearted about things. She had fought and lived and nearly died for her beliefs. She had forced her will on the world, and it had been the one to bend. Why was she afraid of this? Why was she hesitating?

Someone had told her, once, that her life had meaning, that it was worth living. He had told her to live on. She held onto that memory, and in a moment everything became clear.

Kallen stepped forward again and took C.C.'s hand in her own, then took a deep breath. Did she know for sure? Was she certain what the witch-girl felt? Had she been more right than she knew, the other day over the chess board?

The red haired girl looked at Lelouch as he stood up straight, confusion on his face. Her gaze softened as she remembered all the times she had believed in him, all the times she had doubted her feelings; hadn't she come here for just this reason? Hadn't she come to make it clear what she wanted?

She knew now what that was.

"I made the contract with C.C. to protect both of you." She did not feel embarrassed now, declaring it in front of them. "I love you, Lelouch; C.C. loves you too. She made a contract with me to protect both of us." Kallen smiled, and laughed a little even as she began to cry. "You love both of us! C.C. loves both of us!" She squeezed the other girls hand tightly, and extended the other to Lelouch, who was staring in open amazement. "I love both of you. That's the contract, that's the wish. What are you waiting for?"

Lelouch stood stunned for a long moment, looking at the faces of the women before him. Kallen was smiling, C.C. was trembling; both of them were crying. He had been afraid, he realized; terrified to move forward, fearful of breaking the surface of the tension they had all felt. He had hesitated, and that hesitation had been making them all unhappy. He had turned and blamed them both for it, never thinking that perhaps it was his own inaction at fault.

He smiled and reached for her hand. When he took it, Kallen felt the awful tension of the day vanish, and a heady feeling of intoxication came over her. She couldn't stop smiling, and laughed when Lelouch's expression matched her own. C.C. drew them together and hugged them, not trusting herself to speak.

"You're right, Kallen, C.C.," Lelouch said, not trusting himself to speak further.

After a long moment of trembling, Kallen steeled herself and forcefully kissed C.C. The other girl responded in kind while Lelouch held onto both of them with a kind of astonished expectation on his face. Kallen drew back from the kiss, gasping a little, to rest her head on Lelouch's shoulder. C.C. took the moment to say something.

"You'd better kiss him next, Kallen. I'd say he needs it." She smiled, but the cocky grin was warmer than Kallen had seen it before.

So she leaned in and kissed him; Lelouch was awkward at first, holding her alone as C.C. drew back to watch. When he finally did come up for air, she darted in to kiss him as well. None of them spoke.

It was only a few minutes later that they silently agreed to leave the library together. Kallen stalked off leading a near-hyperventilating Lelouch by the hand, followed by C.C. with an amorous gleam in her eyes. "You know Lelouch," she called over his shoulder, earning a hurried glance as they went upstairs, "it's so much easier to force checkmate with two pieces."

"Witch," he replied fondly.

Upstairs, Kallen pulled the both of them into her room and shut the door, locking it behind her and hoping irrationally that Sayoko wasn't around. She was blushing terribly now, but she no longer cared. She smiled at Lelouch and C.C., and they welcomed her with open arms.

AN: Well, it's good to be back writing this story! As a reviewer recently noted, it's been almost a year since i updated it. It's never left my mind in that time, so I'm very happy to finally be actively working on it again. Thank you all for reading, favoriting, and reviewing. Your feedback is always very much appreciated. I can't wait to see what you think of this chapter.