Neither spoke at first. Suzaku closed the door and Lelouch stood from the bed.
For a long time, neither moved. Lelouch's eyes were warm and grateful, Suzaku's were hopeful and affectionate.
Suzaku took a tentative step forward and Lelouch smiled. Relieved, Suzaku crossed the room in three huge paces, kneeling before his liege lord. But, because they were alone, once he was on bended knee he looked up and smiled. "Lelouch."
"Suzaku." Lelouch's voice was tender as he reached out and touched Suzaku's face. "I was… it's strange to say I was looking forward to seeing you, but… I was."
"Me too," Suzaku admitted. "There were times when I was afraid which 'you' they'd show me, but… I should have known you'd be walking this strange maze too."
Lelouch nodded. "No matter who was my enemy and who was my ally, it's always been about you and me, Suzaku. You, me, C.C., and tomorrow."
"Zero Requiem," Suzaku agreed. "It's finally upon us and I…" He trailed off, not wanting to admit his fears and doubt and hesitation. Lelouch already knew.
And Lelouch (who certainly did know) generously changed the subject. "The maze…"
Lelouch frowned. "What were your impressions?"
Suzaku frowned back, clearly irritated, but he allowed himself a moment to gather his thoughts before answering, knowing that Lelouch would appreciate as thorough an answer as he could give. "It may be related to geass." Lelouch raised an eyebrow in clear interest and Suzaku, encouraged, continued. "C.C. led me to it, knew when and where it would appear. But she never explained anything."
"C.C. never does." Lelouch looked at Suzaku, curious. "And you trusted her?"
"Yeah." Suzaku nodded. "I did. I think… she was probably one of the few people I would have trusted at that time. How did you get dragged into this?"
Lelouch snorted. "Following a shadow I thought was you." Suzaku grinned and Lelouch swatted playfully at him. "If you weren't such a dumb jock I would have known better than to suspect you were out in the middle of the night, skulking around."
"I'd apologize, but I'm not sorry," Suzaku said, still grinning. "I might have been tricked into this, but you just walked right on in, didn't you?"
Lelouch scowled, not really upset, but searched for a change of subject. "With whom did you speak?"
Suzaku ignored the overly formal speech, a clear symptom of Lelouch's embarrassment. "Well… Kaguya. Toudou. A whole bunch of people."
Lelouch nodded. "And? What did they think?"
"About?" Suzaku asked.
"Zero Requiem," Lelouch said simply, not quite as generous a reprieve from the topic as he'd intended. But it was important to know.
Suzaku looked funnily at Lelouch. "We never told them about it."
"Yes, but… surely they had some reaction to it after the fact. Kaguya-dono practically predicted it at one point, although she couldn't bring herself to consider the thought that I'd allow myself to die to atone for my sins."
"After the…" Suzaku's strange look didn't change. "As far as Kaguya knew, you were an up-and-coming terrorist leader." He allowed a small smirk. "Sorry, freedom fighter. And Toudou never mentioned you at all."
Lelouch frowned. "Who else did you meet?"
"My father." Lelouch made a face. "And yours." The face grew even more disgusted and Suzaku grinned. "But I also saw Euphie and Shirley and Rivalz…"
"Euphie?" Lelouch looked at him, alarmed. "But she's dead. So is Shirley." He paused and thought about that. "And so are our fathers, of course. How…"
Suzaku shrugged. "The time thing… I figured it out – I met my father before he was killed, and your father just after the invasion of Japan, and Arthur as a kitten… for every year after now, I saw people that many years before now."
"…that's the opposite of me," Lelouch said thoughtfully. "So. Mirror passages as opposed to parallel. Interesting."
"I kind of hate it when you say things like that," Suzaku said with a warm smirk. Lelouch laughed. "How about you?"
"I saw Nunnally, grown up," Lelouch said wistfully. "She looked wonderful. And Kallen was married, and Schneizel…" Lelouch laughed. "Schneizel was geassed and that really confused me." He sighed. "It works, Suzaku. Zero Requiem works. What's it like?" Lelouch had heard a great many impressions of the world after his death, but he trusted Suzaku to tell him the truest one.
Suzaku frowned and shook his head slowly. "I don't know."
"I don't know. I can't remember anything that happens after today, except what happened in the maze." He sounded unhappy. "I remember being older, because that happened in here, but I can't remember anything except what I said…" He remembered telling his father and Lelouch's that the world was a better place due to him and Lelouch, but… "I think it worked, I said it worked, but I can't remember how or how well." He had vague impressions; Nunnally as a wonderful Empress, Kaguya as the heart and voice of the U.F.N., C.C. as the annoying witch who happened to be the only person who understood Suzaku and what it was like to give up someone you loved at his own wish and be unable to fulfill your own wish to follow him…
"Oh. That's too bad. I wanted to hear about it," Lelouch said, sounding genuinely disappointed, but hardly heartbroken; and the crystaline formation of vague memories shattered within Suzaku's mind. Shaken, he frowned as a thought occurred to him, one that was about the future they could possibly change.
"If we're here…"
"If we're here," Suzaku repeated slowly, as if tasting the words for their truth, "we can't go through with it. Zero Requiem, I mean."
Lelouch frowned, rather sick of rehashing this same argument time and time again. It was unfair of Suzaku to force him to advocate for his own death. "Suzaku, don't…"
"Just think about it, Lelouch!" Suzaku insisted, his eyes bright with hope rather than with the feverish desperation with which he usually argued. "We can stay here together, just the two of us and nothing will change! Time doesn't move properly here – or another Suzaku will kill another Lelouch and everything will work out fine and we can stay here. Together." He looked pleadingly at Lelouch who just shook his head.
"We can't abdicate our responsibilities like that. After everything… after Euphie…"
"You didn't kill her," Suzaku insisted. "You've been in this maze the whole time. It was another Lelouch who did that… you don't have to die, Lelouch. Please…"
Find another way… the words echoed between them, unsaid. Perhaps this was the other way.
Lelouch looked away. There were numerous flaws in Suzaku's logic. He could feel the geass working within him, could clearly remember the stomach-churning fear after accidentally using it on Euphemia, could still hear the sound of the shot that felled her. But… He didn't want to die. He was scared and a little angry that it had to happen, but he'd resigned himself to it. But if he could… in this timeless world…
"Okay Suzaku," he said softly. "We'll stay." And Suzaku smiled in relief and even reached out to embrace Lelouch his arms open and inviting and…
There was a knock at the door. "Your Majesty?"
It was Jeremiah. Suzaku froze and Lelouch frowned. "…yes?"
"It is time, Your Majesty."
Birdsong and the gentle morning light streaming through the windows, as well as the distant sound of the daily bustle of castle life, made them realize that they were back. Had been since Lelouch's agreement to stay, almost as if that had been the trigger necessary to allow or force them to leave the labyrinth and return to reality. Either way, they were back in the real world, back where time moved forward in a linear manner, and today was the day.
"…but what was the point?" Suzaku asked, brokenhearted.
Lelouch shook his head. "I don't know. I'm sorry, Suzaku, I truly am." He kissed Suzaku's cheek gently and rose, the mask of the Emperor smoothing over his face with an expression of gentle apathy and amusement as he prepared for the day. "Come, Suzaku Kururugi, and perform your final duty as my Knight." Lelouch held out his arm, hand cocked arrogantly as he beckoned to Suzaku.
Suzaku looked at him, his expressive green eyes dark with pain and grief and disappointment. "I… it's 'Zero', Your Majesty."
The look of grateful surprise Lelouch shot him through the crack in his Emperor mask as he lowered his arm was worth it. "Of course. My apologies, Lord Zero."
Suzaku didn't bow – Zero never bowed – but he inclined his head and backed out of the room to change into the last and only articles of clothing he'd ever wear in public again.
Hours and what felt like a lifetime later, Suzaku returned to the room and ripped the mask off before flinging himself to the bed, breathing in Lelouch's scent. The mask had kept him from smelling Lelouch before he died – one more thing that Suzaku already missed that he hadn't expected to. He didn't even notice C.C.'s presence before she patted his curls and sat beside him.
"Don't worry. You'll see him again."
Suzaku closed his eyes and memories, as ephemeral as moments in time, flitted away.
AN: So! Weird story, huh? It was originally a kinkmeme fill, but I like it better without the sex, honestly.
The prompt described the rules of the labyrinth as follows:
- two emotionally connected persons find themselves in two opposite "entrances" of a "labyrinth", which consists of a series of scenes/situations/memories/places/rooms;
- the two don't know the rules of the labyrinth;
- the only way out of the labyrinth is to want to stay there;
- those who want to escape remain trapped forever;
- one person ages from room to room and the other becomes younger;
- transition between the scenarios may or may not include dying or be unexpected/random;
- of course, eventually the two meet in the center and there will something...
So that's basically the background. The trials were set up because Suzaku and Lelouch failed to transition properly after Charles/Xingke. There are two ways of actually resolving the labyrinth; one is for both of them to pass all rooms perfectly (which they didn't) and the other way (the cheating way) is for Lelouch to take C.C. up on her offer and return to the real world at the age of seventeen, one year AFTER Zero Requiem. He never would, wrapped up in his plots as he is.
When the labyrinth isn't resolved, everything returns to normal the day before Zero Requiem, and they follow through with it. Nine years later, the labyrinth reappears and the cycle begins anew.
The main themes of this fic are catharsis and resolution. As long as Lelouch has uncertainty and fear regarding his future, and as long as Suzaku has overwhelming regrets regarding his past, they can't solve the maze. But they do have an infinite amount of opportunities to do so. As to what the reward might be once/if they succeed... I have my ideas regarding that, but I think I'd prefer to leave it open. XD
Thanks for reading all the way through! This one's odd, but it's one of my favourites.