Inspired by otakukeith's Suzaku harem bunny at cg_adopt_bunny. It's... not exactly true to the original idea at all. (But thanks for letting me play anyway!) What caught my eye was a) trying to find a way to get Suzaku into a harem and b) getting Lelouch to let Nunnally go. Tackling these two ideas, I thought of the following 5 concepts to tackle.

1. If Nunnally is Suzaku's childhood friend, they still met in a canon like situation. How did they return to Britannia?
2. Based on number one, why is Lelouch alive/not trying to take over/kill his father?
3. Why is Britannia marrying people off instead of just running over Japan with their superior weapons?
4. Nunnally, in my head, would not be happy without Lelouch in her life. Suzaku similarly needs his friend in his life - his best friend who is like a brother to him. Thus how do we get Lelouch over to Japan and keep him there?
5. If Suzaku is a prince, how does he rule? It's pretty much headcanon for me that he is better at combat situations than the political sphere (Lelouch is the other way around, with the exception of command.)

Based on these four questions, a few random ideas I liked to kick around, this fic was created. Not so affectionately dubbed "The Monster" in my head, it spans 40 pages. It's also my first posted Geass fic that actually has my name on it - I don't think kink memes count. Tell me if it's any good?

The formal kimono felt terribly restricting after living so long in his training garments. Suzaku reached one hand to adjust them, and got a glare from one of his advisers. He dropped his hand, turning to his one true friend. Lelouch glared right back at the advisor and reached over, adjusting Suzaku's clothes himself. "Thanks."

Lelouch nodded. "I wish we weren't leaving."

Suzaku felt a smile cross his face at that, grief aside. He never thought he would have liked the buriki prince when he showed up three months ago but they had become very close. He valued Lelouch's insight; he only wished he could keep it. But the purple-haired woman who had come for the two vi Britannias wasn't about the let that happen. Already the older Princess — Corneria, maybe? Suzaku couldn't remember her name — was getting Nunnally prepared for the trans-Pacific journey back to the Britannian homeland. Lelouch couldn't stay much longer. "You better go."

"I'll try to write." Lelouch probably would. Whether his letters would make it to Suzaku was something else entirely. They had started the season as equals, but as the summer turned into fall, Suzaku's rank changed. Now Emperor at the age of ten, he doubted that he would be allowed to have contact with a foreign prince. Lelouch leaned forward a bit. His lips barely moved as he whispered a final promise to Suzaku. "Someday, I'll destroy China — I swear it!

"This isn't proper at all. We should be waiting inside. They should come to us," Kallen grumbled as she scanned the area.

"Patience. A first impression of welcoming is important, Kallen." Kaguya, seated in a folding chair, touched her stomach. Suzaku took a moment to look at his First Wife, who merely smiled at him. Five months pregnant, with twins, she was having a harder time moving around than she used to. "I'm all right."

"If you need to go inside, I'm sure they'll understand."

"No," Kaguya replied firmly. "I want to meet the Britannian Princess who will be your third wife."

Suzaku gave up. If there was one thing that he had learned about Kaguya, it was that she would get her way in the end. She would listen to your requests, make some comments about your views, and before you knew it you were agreeing with her. This made her a fantastic help with political situations. They were cousins, but distant enough to be married, and as a child of the Sumeragi line she was qualified to be spiritual guidance for the Emperor of Japan. Engaged as children, they had married once Kaguya was fourteen. She was quite pleased that she carried the heirs to the throne, though if either of them showed Sumeragi talent, they would likely be given to the clan for training. Onmyouji were rare enough as it was.

Kallen, his second wife, was half Britannian herself, though she liked to pretend that wasn't the case. She served as the head of Suzaku's Imperial Guard. They had married last year, after Suzaku's sixteenth birthday.

And today Suzaku was to meet his third wife-to-be. When he was ten, Japan had been attacked by the Chinese Federation. They had managed to successfully kill his father and all the other members of the Imperial family. They nearly killed him as well, but the Eleventh Britannian Prince, Lelouch vi Britannia, who had come to live with them that summer, managed to bandage his wounds and call for help. Britannia had come to the rescue, beating off the invading force with their superior military power, but it had come at a price. An engagement between Suzaku and an unnamed princess of the Empire. No one had liked it; Britannia had married their way into many countries. Sometimes it was voluntarily — other times it was by force. And most of those nations had eventually become part of the Empire that now spanned the globe. However, it wasn't as if Japan had a choice. Britannia wanted this marriage, and Britannia, like Kaguya, generally got what it wanted.

Suzaku had hoped that it might have been Nunnally — he'd grown fond of Lelouch's quiet younger sister. Then he'd remembered Nunnally's physical condition and had to abandon that hope. He might not have been a political genius, but even he understood that his people would take offense at Britannia's intentions if they sent a blind cripple to be Suzaku's bride. Never mind that Nunnally had a heart of gold. Never mind that Suzaku would be safe with her and not have to worry about a knife in the back. Never mind that he already loved her, if only like a little sister.

A limo pulled up to the house. The driver exited the vehicle and came around to the door, opening it. Suzaku blinked at the person who stepped out. This had to be a joke...

Lelouch vi Britannia walked over to Suzaku, bowing — not the full bow the Emperor should receive, but one between friends. Kallen bristled; Suzaku shot her a glance, and reminded himself to explain to her Lelouch's past. As far as Suzaku was concerned, Lelouch was his equal, even if he was 'only' a prince. They owed each other their lives, and that was what mattered. "Lelouch! It's good to see you."

"It's good to see you as well." Lelouch turned sideways, and gestured. Another figure emerged from the car, wearing a beautiful dress made of yards of satin, ribbon and lace. His eyes widened as he met the woman's eyes. "May I have the pleasure of introducing your to your fiancee. This is Euphemia li Britannia, third princess of the Empire."

Euphemia swept into a low curtsy, managing her skirts with grace as she sunk towards the ground. "I am honored to meet you, Emperor Kururugi. I hope our match will be a favorable one."

Suzaku tried to remind himself that Euphemia was likely trained in political matters, was as clever as Lelouch, and was likely well aware of her affect on men. It didn't help. His mouth was dry, and he had the hardest time taking his eyes away from hers — kind, open eyes that seemed to genuinely want to make a good impression. "The honor is mine, your Highness. If you would care to accompany me to the dining room, we have dinner waiting for you."

The young prince stormed into the room, eyes flashing in anger. Thankfully this time it was a private meeting, rather than the public forum that had resulted in his exile to Japan. He glared up at the Emperor who had summoned him, but before the ruler had a chance to speak, he called upon the gift that the golden-eyed woman had given him before he left Japan. "Lelouch vi Britannia commands you — answer my questions truthfully! Who killed my mother?"

"Your uncle."

"Why did you send us away?"

"For your own protection."

Lelouch laughed at that, a bitter sound that had nothing to do with humor. He opened his mouth to demand another answer when he was interrupted by a small, pink-haired girl. "That isn't an acceptable way to treat your father, Lelouch."

"Trying to slip away already?" Suzaku grinned at Lelouch as he came over to his friend's side.

"It was a long flight. Euphemia and Nunnally are exhausted."

Suzaku winced a bit. Lelouch mentally shook his head, though he refrained from doing it in reality. It seemed Suzaku still didn't have much of a political face. "I'm sorry I ignored her earlier," the Emperor said quietly.

"You were focused on Euphemia." That was an understatement. If it wasn't love at first sight, it certainly was attraction at first sight. Lelouch suspected it would turn into love quickly. Euphemia desperately wanted it, and Suzaku had gotten along with Nunnally well enough. The two sisters were remarkably similar, even if Euphemia was more enthusiastic. "I'm sure Nunnally willl understand. She isn't your fiancee, but she wanted to see you. Euphemia thought it would be good for her to get out of Britannia for a while as well. They're close." A good thing, too. Euphemia would watch out for Nunnally while he took care of the other business the Emperor required.

"Well, she's welcome to stay as long as she likes. I'll invite her to the gardens tomorrow. I think she'd like that." Suzaku glanced around. "Walk you to your room?"

"Your bodyguard will have your head if you leave without her. She thinks I'll corrupt your or eat you — I haven't decided which." A funny thing, distrusting all Britannians on the premise that they were Britannian, considering the redhead's obvious ancestry.

"I can take care of myself — especially against you. We both know you couldn't hurt a fly, must less stop me."

How little you know. Lelouch was armed with more than one weapon these days, not the least being his Geass. But he still wasn't about to try to hurt Suzaku. As for his Geass... he had used it once already on Suzaku. "In that case, lead the way."

"Why are you here, anyway?" Suzaku asked as the pair walked down the hall towards the quarters the Britannias had been granted.

"Someone has to look over the match and make sure it goes well. Cornelia couldn't be here because she's off in Africa—" Suzaku looked relieved "—so she asked me to do it. I'll be reporting to the Emperor, of course."

"Of course." Suzaku gave his friend a sharp look. Lelouch could interpret that without words: What had changed his hatred for that man? Lelouch used one of their old hand signs for 'dangerous conversation' before asking about Japan. Suzaku admitted that he didn't have as much to do with running the island empire as much as one might think. "My advisers have been doing it for so long I find it difficult to make much of a change. Honestly, I'm not very good at politics. I'm fine in emergency military situations, but other than that..."

Lelouch did shake his head this time. "I hope you're not just letting them walk you through their elaborate ceremonies."

"Of course not," Suzaku muttered. "But the noble clans have a lot of power. It isn't like Britannia, Lelouch."

Charles ruled with absolute power, and none stood against him. That was how it had been for a long time. Lelouch wondered if Suzaku knew how many times rebellion had surged against the Emperor, clamoring for more political might. None succeeded, of course; such was the power of Geass. "I suppose not."

"Here you are. Just call one of the servants if you need something." Suzaku and Lelouch gave each other a short bow in farewell, and Lelouch let himself inside. He glanced around before withdrawing his phone from his pocket. "It's me." He walked over and sat on a chair. Thankfully the Imperial Palace of Japan boasted both Western- and Eastern-style rooms. He had never quite gotten used to Japanese furniture when he had lived here.

"How are things proceeding?" Even over the phone, his father's voice still managed to be imposing. Lelouch fought the urge to stand straighter. The Emperor couldn't see him, after all.

"Fine. I won't have to do anything." Lelouch lightly traced the outer edge of his left eye. Had Cornelia not asked for his aid in her sister's marriage, he still might have been put on the job. His Geass had made political marriages fall in love before. The Emperor preferred the members of his breeding program to be in love. It made them easier to manipulate.

Lelouch grimaced. The breeding program was an insidious piece of work. One of his ancestors had studied Geass in depth, much as his successors had. He had come to understand the human subconscious better than most could believe. And with experiments on his children, he had come upon a simple, relatively bloodless way to unite the world.


Marriage to a Britannia was more than a political tie. Altered by the secrets of the World of C, each member of the Britannia line had a subtle affect on the people around them. Given time, they would win their loyalty and could redirect the very subconscious of a nation. His ancestor Henry XIII had seen the results of his experiments. He had encouraged his three children to marry and have children, whom he later married off to political allies who later became part of the empire. They didn't have a choice. The very subconscious mind of the people were corrupted to want to be part of the powerful nation.

Suzaku thought Euphemia might be a trick. She wasn't — she was a trap, and she didn't even know it.

Lelouch would have felt worse about it if he hadn't known the alternative. The Emperor was determined to have Japan — if not through marriage, then by the sword. And with the invention of Knightmares, Japan wouldn't have a chance. Particularly not since the development of flying ones… even if the Gawain is still a prototype. At least Euphemia would be a kind wife, and likely a loving mother. Suzaku could do far worse, and so could Euphemia. Not that Cornelia will forgive me, anyway.

Charles had sworn to Lelouch that he would exempt Nunnally from the program if he cooperated, the only reason Lelouch helped with it. …Well, his mother's influence might also have been a factor.

"I take it you haven't seen C.C."

"It's been seven years. I doubt she's still in Japan." C.C., necessary for his father's own grand plan, had given him his Geass when China had sent their assassins into the Japanese Imperial compound. It had saved his life, along with Nunnally's and Suzaku's. Armed with it, he had demanded answers from his father. His father hated the command, as it forced him to answer Lelouch's questions truthfully every time they spoke, which thankfully wasn't often.

"I see. Keep your eye out. And see if you can get to Kaminejima."

"I will." Lelouch didn't think Suzaku would have a problem with letting a team of experts look at the ruins. He was well aware of how 'brainy' his friend was. "How are things with... Anya?"

"She's the same as always."

Good. His mother was all right, then. "I'll let you know if anything changes." Lelouch hung up and readied for bed. He had a lot of planning to do.

Euphie was supposed to be asleep. She wasn't really tired, though. Her sister was supposed to be back tonight, so she had decided to wait up. She was in her sitting room, arranging her dolls when her sister's voice, angry and loud, rang through their villa. "You should be teaching her something more than this. Lives of saints, flower arranging, dancing..."

"This is what a Princess learns. She needs to know how to be a good wife. Your mother approved the curriculum." That was the voice of her governess. Euphie tried hard not to cry. She thought her governess liked her! She always complimented Euphie on her art and her dancing...

"My sister is not a horse to be trained, sold and bred!" Cornelia snapped back. "She needs to learn some combat as well. Add Knightmare training to your 'curriculum' — all royals should have it."

Euphie scrambled for her bed as she heard Cornelia starting to come down the hall. She didn't want to see her sister right now. Cornelia always insisted she would be whatever she wanted, but Euphie was pretty sure she would never be anything important, not like Cornelia or Schneizel. Climbing into her bed, she pulled her covers up and pretended to be asleep.

A few minutes later Cornelia came in and smoothed her hair. "You'll never be a marriage-bride, I promise. Sleep well, Euphie." She kissed her sister's forehead and left.

Euphemia had only been in Japan a week, but she loved it already. It was very different from the court in Pendragon, and Suzaku was sweet. Kaguya had also welcomed her warmly. The other woman fascinated Euphemia. She seemed so wise, and yet carefree. The Third Princess only wished she could be like that.

"You seem to enjoy the gardens," Suzaku observed as he walked with his fiancee down the paths.

"Lelouch, Nunnally, and I played in gardens a great deal when we were younger. Not like these, of course, but I enjoyed it." Euphemia looked at Suzaku, beaming with love. He was everything that Lelouch and Nunnally had described him to be, and more. He made her feel… wanted.

It was an addicting feeling.

"Lelouch didn't speak much of his home life when he lived with us."

"I'll have to tell you stories, then." She grinned. "There was one time that he followed me out to the stables in the middle of the night. He had just gotten his first realhorse, you see, and I was determined to show him I could ride it as well as he could. I nearly broke my leg trying, too. He finally relented and let me ride behind him, and took all the punishment when our mothers found out we were out in the garden at two in the morning! He said he had been bragging and made me come with him." Euphemia smiled at the memory. "He was always very kind."

Suzaku looked surprised. "Really?"

"Yes. Well... until Empress Marianne died, at least. Something changed then." Lelouch had been happy as long as his mother was alive; without her he had become withdrawn and angry. Euphemia often thanked God that Nunnally hadn't also been killed in the assassination; she was afraid to think of what Lelouch would have become otherwise.

"He's different from when he was here last. Less... angry, really."

"I don't know what happened. I know he talked to the Emperor when he returned, but more than that..." So much of what Lelouch did was shrouded in mystery. Raised in the imperial court, Euphemia knew better than to pry, but she did worry about him. She decided to change the subject. "Are you looking forward to being a father?"

"Honestly, I'm not sure," Suzaku admitted. "Kaguya seems excited, so I'm trying to support her. My father wasn't very involved in my life, so I'm not sure what to do."

"I'm looking forward to being a mother," Euphemia confessed. Violet eyes shone with pleasure. "I always have wanted children, since I was a little girl. Nunnally, Lelouch and I used to play house — he was the father, I was the mother, and Nunnally was our little girl."

Suzaku laughed. "I don't think he ever stopped treating her like his little girl."

"He probably hasn't. Lelouch has always been protective of her." Euphemia turned to look at him. "Suzaku, I know it's soon to say, but… I want you to know. I love you."

"I love you too, Euphie." She beamed as he used the nickname as she'd requested and leaned over to give her a chaste kiss. "Shall we set the date for our wedding?"

"Yes." Eyes bright, she took Suzaku's hand as they walked back towards the house. "I can't wait."

"The position of Empress is a very important one. In recent times, it has become necessary for the Emperor to have more than one wife. The chief wife will act not only as his spouse, but also his spiritual advisor. He will also take a warrior wife to be part of his imperial guard. He may take additional concubines. Are you listening to me, Prince Suzaku?"

Suzaku scowled. He'd been caught. "I don't want to get married."

His tutor laughed. "You say that now, but you'll change your mind in time. For now, practice being nice to women. Your Empress and concubines will be an important part of your life. You can practice with Princess Nunnally."

"I'm not going to marry Nunnally!" Suzaku made a face. There was no way. Nunnally was a weak girl who sat around in her room all day with her brother hovering over her. "I want a strong woman for my wife!

Euphemia sat with Kaguya, looking over decorations for the nursery. Euphemia seemed quite enthused with the situation, and kept making suggestions that Kaguya responded to with just as much interest. Kallen, standing behind Suzaku, made a face. While she understood that children were necessary for those who sat on the Chrysanthemum Throne, she wasn't interested in having any. Considering her position as Captain of the Imperial Guard, that was probably just as well.

Kaguya had welcomed Euphemia into their little family with great joy. Kallen was still suspicious of her, but Suzaku had the feeling the princess would win her over eventually. They might have only had a week together, but it felt like Euphemia truly belonged here.

The Princess of Britannia had surprised him with her declaration of love yesterday. Suzaku had responded in kind, partially out of habit – Kaguya had trained him well once they had been married – but it had shocked him when he realized that he meant it. Euphie was kind, loving, and generous. She was genuinely concerned with all of those around her. And far more open than I would ever expect from one of Lelouch's siblings. Even Nunnally was more secretive than Euphemia.

As if his thoughts had summoned her, Nunnally appeared at the doorway, wheeled in by the maid Sayoko, who also happened to be one of Suzaku's intelligence agents. "Nunnally!" Suzaku smiled, moving next to her and squeezing her hand. "It's good to see you up and about."

"I'm sorry I overslept." Nunnally pinked a bit. "Have you seen Oniisama?"

Smiling as always as Nunnally used Japanese — she had picked up the language quickly when she'd first come here, and had apparently kept up her skill — he took the chair from Sayoko. "Not recently." For someone who was supposed to be Euphemia's 'chaperone,' Lelouch let her go off on her own with her fiance more often than Suzaku thought was wise.

"I see…" Nunnally's expression was hard to read. "Are you happy with Euphie-neesama?"

"Yes. Very much so." Suzaku looked over at Euphemia. "She's settling in very nicely."

"I'm glad. I think she had a very hard time in court back home. She never felt like she would be anything important… she's always been overshadowed by her sister. Cornelia is very respected in the Empire." Nunnally's hand tensed under his. Suzaku tried to give it a reassuring squeeze. "You don't mind if I stay, do you, Suzaku-san?"

"Of course not! Stay as long as you like. I'd expect you to stay until the wedding, at least." Suzaku smiled at her, even if she couldn't see it. "You're like family, Nunnally. I know Kaguya thinks of you like a little sister."

Nunnally's face went still. "I… see. Thank you, Suzaku-san."

Wondering what was bothering her, Suzaku brought her over to the table. They had been using a Western-style table for tea since Nunnally had joined them; it was much simpler with the wheelchair. "Ladies, I believe it's time for a break."

Euphemia placed the book down and approached the table. She began to describe their plans to Nunnally in great depth, gesturing with her hands. Her sister tried to be engaged, though Suzaku could tell she was still upset. What's bothering you, Nunnally?

Two princesses stood, staring at each other, their hands on their hips. "Lelouch is going to marry me!" Euphemia declared. She wasn't going to accept defeat. Lelouch was the handsomest boy in court, after all. "I'm closer to him in age."

"Well, I'm the better dancer!" Nunnally replied. "And he likes me better."

"Does not."

"Does too."

"I don't want to marry either of you!" Lelouch cried. "You're my sisters!"

"Well, too bad. You have to pick. Which one will it be, Lelouch?" Euphemia gave her brother her best pleading look. "Don't you love me?"

"Nunnally? Can I talk to you?"

"Yes, Euphe-neesama?"

Euphemia went to her sister and took her hands. For a moment, they just sat like that, the two princesses taking comfort in each other's presence. "Are you happy, Nunnally? Suzaku was worried. He thinks that you're worrying about something."

"I'm all right, Euphie-neesama. I just miss Oniisama." Nunnally sighed. "He's been gone so much. I don't think Cornelia would like it if she knew."

"Probably not." Euphemia smiled at that, though. Thank goodness that Lelouch spent do much time investigating the ruins on Kaminejima island! It made it much easier to sneak kisses from Suzaku. He was amazing; she couldn't wait until they married. Some of the things Kaguya had mentioned made her blush, but that didn't mean she wasn't interested… "You're around to keep an eye on things, though."

"Please. You know I couldn't keep up with you if you really tried to get away with something."

Euphemia felt guilt twist her gut. Nunnally sounded bitter. "I'm sorry,Nunnally!"

"It isn't your fault, Euphie-neesama. I just get frustrated sometimes. Especially since I won't be able to dance at your wedding. I miss dancing."

Euphemia wasn't sure what to say to that. Nunnally had been a wonderful dancer, even as a child. Their instructor had commented on her skill in particular. Lelouch had mastered every dance taught him, but Nunnally's own skills were more than mastery — she had had artistry. And then she had lost it.

Deciding a change of subject was in order, Euphemia asked, "How long do you want to stay? In Japan, I mean."

"Oh, please don't send me home!" Nunnally cried. "I want to be here for your wedding. Maybe until after you come back from your honeymoon? I want to make sure everything goes well."

"Of course you can stay!" Euphemia reassured her. "We'll be happy to have you. But I don't want you to feel like you're forced to remain if you need to go home. I know you manage the vi Britannia estates."

Nunnally nodded. "Yes, but I do most of it by letter. Our steward handles the rest. I can easily do that from here."

"Wonderful." Euphemia squeezed Nunnally's hand. "But if anything is bothering you, please tell me?"

Nunnally fell silent for a long moment. "Euphie-neesama… how do you know that you love Suzaku? That he loves you?"

Euphemia felt a smile come over her face, the love she felt sweeping over her in a wave. "I can see it in his eyes. I look into them and I just know. Are you in love with someone, Nunnally?"

Nunnally shook her head. "Of course not, Euphie-neesama. There's no one…"

Understanding blossomed. Euphemia hugged her younger sister. "I'm sure someone will love you, Nunnally. Every piece of you. We just have to find the right person." Poor girl. Euphemia worried about her own usefulness, her own value… how much worse must it be for Nunnally? Euphemia silently vowed to find someone to love Nunnally as much as Suzaku loved her. It was the least she could do for her sister.

Lelouch's fingers shook as he dialed the number he'd memorized a long time ago. It rang far too many times for his comfort before a familiar voice answered. "Cornelia."

"Cornelia, it's Lelouch." He'd been warned, never call. Never reach out unless it's an emergency. The Emperor would see it and not be pleased. But...

"Lelouch, you know—"

"The Chinese just tried to assassinate Nunnally and Suzaku!" Lelouch interjected, fear in his voice. "Please, Cornelia — they've killed most of the Japanese Imperial family. And they used Britannian weapons!" His only hope was to convince her, and that maybe the Emperor would listen. His Geass is powerful, but could he be with Suzaku and Nunnally all the time? It wouldn't be long before China would realize their assassins had not completed their job and strike, seeking to claim Japan for themselves. Even his Geass couldn't stop an army.

"…Get Nunnally and hide. I'll be there as soon as I can."

"I thought I made my feelings quite clear. You were supposed to keep Euphemia from getting married, not encourage her!" Cornelia was livid.

Lelouch was glad they were having this conversation via teleconference and not in person — he might have feared for his life then. He and Cornelia had been close ever since she had commanded the force that expelled the Chinese from Japan — a test of her own from their father. The Second Princess trusted him with Euphemia more than anyone else. Still, some things were unacceptable. "You told me to do what was best for Euphemia."

"She shouldn't be locked up in some country with a foreign boy preying on her! She's a Princess of the blood!"

"And she's in love."

"They've known each other for barely two weeks," Cornelia argued. "There's no way she's in love."

"I'm well aware of what Euphemia looks like when she's in love, Cornelia." Lelouch looked at his sister, who winced slightly. Lelouch had only spoken to Cornelia regarding Euphemia's impassioned confession three years ago, in the dark of a garden. He had pushed her away, not letting Euphemia bring dishonor upon herself regardless of her feelings. It had broken Euphemia's heart, but Lelouch had been determined to protect her from scandal. Thankfully Cornelia had taken his advice and sent her away for school. There was only so much temptation a teenage boy could resist, even a prince. "For what it's worth, the feeling is mutual. Suzaku's careful with her. Everything I've found out about his other marriages indicates that he is loving and devoted. She could be much worse. She's sixteen. You knew this was coming."

Cornelia grumbled. "Remember this. I'll be repeating it to you next year when Nunnally comes of age."

"There won't be any offers for Nunnally's hand. None that will be accepted." He had made sure of that. "How go things in Africa?"

"Troubling, but we're managing." Cornelia looked dark. "I'm more concerned about the news out of China."


"Empress Jiang is young. Rumor has it that the Eunuchs have been running the country. The people are starving." Cornelia had a very strong opinion on the obligations a ruler had to their people.

"I see." Lelouch tried not to tap his fingers in thought. Officially he didn't have any reason to be interested to in China. He still remembered the carnage that their assassins had left in the palace. They had caught Nunnally and nearly killed her. C.C's intervention had given him Geass, and allowed him to save her, but Suzaku had still nearly died. He would bear the scar of that wound for the rest of his life — along with the Geass that had saved him. Live!

"Don't get in trouble, Lelouch."

Cornelia's words jerked Lelouch from his thoughts. So much for hiding his intentions. Lelouch scowled at his sister who only laughed. "I won't. Trouble usually finds me."

"Hm. I doubt that." Voices echoed on the other side of the screen. Cornelia looked over her shoulder, apparently seeing something that required her attention. She turned back and nodded in farewell. "Take care of Euphemia, Lelouch."

"I will. She wants to know if you're coming to her wedding—"

"Of course!"

Lelouch smirked. "And what color dress you're wearing." The prince swiftly disconnected the call before Cornelia could retort. He'd pay for that later… though knowing Euphie, she probably did want her sister to wear a dress. His eyes were drawn to the map hanging on the wall. It wouldn't hurt to put a few more agents in China, he decided. He touched the controls on the screen and opened a channel to V.V.

"But Lady Marianne, it isn't right! They're siblings!" Cornelia argued. She tried to sip her tea as calmly as her mentor, but her frustration made her hand shake. "Lelouch should be staying away from Euphie."

"It isn't Lelouch chasing Euphemia. It's the other way around." Marianne only looked amused. "Perhaps the world will someday be able to appreciate their love."

"But they're siblings!" Cornelia repeated. "There's no way that will be allowed. The Emperor will stop it."

"I doubt Lelouch will let it come to anything. He's still at the stage where girls don't interest him very much." Marianne offered her protegee a pastry. "But really, Cornelia — how are you going to take it when Euphemia does marry? It will happen sooner or later."

Cornelia never liked to think about Euphemia getting married. Even when her sister turned sixteen and was presented to court, she had been confident in her own ability to scare— that was, to protect Euphemia from suitors.

And now her little sister was cutting the wedding cake with her new husband, beaming all the time. It felt surreal.

"You look depressed," Lelouch observed as he came to stand by her side. It was distinctly odd to see her brother in Japanese clothing. The newlyweds had decided on a Japanese-style ceremony, but a Western reception. Euphemia had had difficulty with the Japanese wedding garments — apparently they weren't made for people who actually had breasts. She had changed into a dress for the party, though her husband remained in Japanese style clothing.

"This is ridiculous. My sister should not be living in another country. She should be home," Cornelia muttered, quiet enough that only Lelouch could hear. She knew better than to broadcast an unpopular opinion.

Lelouch nodded in sympathy. "If it helps at all, I've never seen her happier."

"I think that makes it worse. At least I could invite her home to escape for part of the year. But she's likely to be thinking about children." God, she wanted to castrate the man. Just the thought of him being near her little sister…

"I think you'll be an aunt before the year's out, if Euphemia can manage it," Lelouch agreed. "She's enthralled with Kaguya's twins. I think she spends more time with them than their mother does"

"Their mother is very involved in running the country." Cornelia had to admit she respected the emperor's first wife — then again, she always appreciated a strong woman. "How does she feel about Euphemia's attention?"

"She thinks it's a wonderful idea. An apt dividing of talents, though of course they have Japanese tutors and caregivers as well." Lelouch nodded at a passing Japanese noble. "I wouldn't be surprised if Euphemia's role becomes the main watcher of the children."

"Then what of Nunnally? I heard she is staying for a bit longer." Cornelia said, trying to gauge her brother's reaction. She had noticed how Nunnally seemed a bit off today. She was happy for Euphemia, but there was clearly something else going on. Cornelia wondered if Nunnally might have a love of her own — or if she was in love with Kururugi himself. She had known him and, if the Second Princess recalled correctly, she'd had very favorable opinions of him when the marriage had been announced. Perhaps Lelouch wasn't seeing that in his sister… or perhaps he was deliberately ignoring it. They both were known to do refuse to see inconvenient truths in their younger siblings.

Poor Nunnally. It was unlikely the Emperor would allow Kururugi a second Britannia bride, even if he was interested in her.

"Euphemia asked her to stay a bit longer, and I don't see any reason why she shouldn't. She can manage the estates from here just as well as she can at home." Lelouch shrugged slightly. "If nothing else, it's good for her to have company."

"That it is. She does do a good job managing things on your estates, but she must get lonely out in the country all of the time." It was safer for someone who was a living example of what the Empire considered the 'weak' to be out of sight, but Cornelia couldn't help but feel for Nunnally. She decided a change of subject was in order, and nodded towards the gardens. The two of them walked some distance from the hubbub of the party before she spoke again. "Any word on that Zero character? The one stirring things up in China?" Her brother was in charge of the Empire's intelligence agents and black ops. She thought, though she wasn't sure, that he had been to China himself to assess the situation.

"We have some agents in his 'Black Knights,' but none have pierced his identity yet." Lelouch said, frowning slightly. "Things aren't that volatile yet. I suspect another year at least before outright rebellion. The so-called 'knights' are acting more as a police force than anything else."

"Winning the trust of the public." Cornelia growled. "A dirty trick."

"One the Empire has never resorted to, I'm sure," Lelouch drawled. and Cornelia winced. Her brother was more willing to play in the political realm than she was. She knew enough to manage, but Lelouch thrived on politics as much as their elder brother did. Privately she wondered why Schneizel hadn't gotten Lelouch appointed to an area as a Viceroy, or at least taken him on a student. Schneizel was likely to win the position of Crown Prince, and that would leave them without a Prime Minister. Lelouch, though, would fill that role admirably.

It would also get him out of the risky business of spies, codes, and assassins — something he enjoyed nearly as much as his more open politics.

"We'd best head back. I don't want Euphie to notice us missing." Lelouch nodded, and they retraced their steps to rejoin the wedding party. For now, at least, they would leave China to its own devices.

"Suzaku-san? Do you like me?" Nunnally asked as she took Suzaku's hand. She liked the Japanese prince very much. He reminded her of the heroes in her bedtime stories who came and saved the princess from the dragon, or the tower, or the enchanted sleep. She hoped he would be her prince some day, and save her from the darkness she was trapped in.

"Of course I like you, Nunnally. You're much nicer than your brother!"

Nunnally laughed. "I hope someday you two get along better." Because someday they would be brothers, when she married Suzaku, and she didn't want them to fight all the time.

Nunnally wanted to cry.

Euphie-neesama had been so beautiful at her wedding. She had been able to tell that even without seeing her. She had been so happy to marry Suzaku-san, and Suzaku-san had been happy to marry her. They had come back from their honeymoon two days ago, blissfully in love with each other.

Nunnally tried to be happy for them, she really did. Suzaku-san deserved to be happy — to have someone wonderful and whole to be his wife. Not a crippled girl who was too scared to open her eyes.

Just this morning Suzaku-san had told Nunnally that they were making arrangements for her to go home. She didn't wantto go home! Britannia wasn't home. Her home was with her brother, and most of the time he wasn't there in the Aries Villa. She didn't know what he was doing, but she knew it was important, which was most of why she hadn't said anything to him.. Nunnally hadn't realized how lonely she'd been until she had come to live in Japan. Kaguya-chan was still nice to her, and even Kallen-san had her soft spots — just yesterday she'd helped Nunnally get into the onsen they'd visited. And Euphie-neesama was kind, as always, when she wasn't distracted by her new husband… but she didn't realize what was bothering Nunnally in the first place.

Suzaku-san had been her first love. She still loved him, even after all these years. Meeting him after he'd grown up had only encouraged her feelings. And yet… he thought of her as part of his family. A sister.

She didn't want to be a sister to him. She wanted to hold his hand and kiss him, and let him carry her off to his bedroom to make love…

Oniisama would have a fit. Nunnally shook her head. Her brother thought of her as such a pure individual, wholly innocent even at fifteen. She didn't have the heart to explain to him that wasn't the case.

"Nunnally? We've packed your things, and the car's here." Suzaku came over and took her hand. "Are you ready?"

Nunnally bit her lip, trying to gather her courage. "Suzaku-san… could you come closer, please?"

She felt him settle onto the ground with one knee. Her eyelids fluttered. She had to try — she needed to look him in the eyes! Euphemia had said that looking into Suzaku's eyes had shown her how much he loved her — maybe she could show him the same way.

It was hard, and she was scared. Still she tried, until finally she managed to open them fully again, blinking rapidly at the sudden light. Suzaku gasped. "Nunnally, what…?"

He had beautiful green eyes. Beautiful, kind green eyes that looked at her with wonder. "I don't want to leave — I love you, Suzaku-san. I don't want to be your sister, I want to be your wife!" she cried. "I want— I want to be everything Euphie-neesama is to you. Please don't send me away." Tears clouded her vision and began to run down her cheeks.

Suzaku wiped one away. "Oh, Nunnally." He leaned over and gently kissed her cheek. "Of course you can stay. Do you want me to call Lelouch?"

"Please. It'd be best if he found out about this from you." Nunnally smiled at him, happy despite her tears. "I love you, Suzaku-san. So very much."

"You mean a lot to me, Nunnally." Suzaku squeezed her hand. "Just… give me a little while to love you?"

"Of course." Nunnally smiled at him. Hopefully he would. He was her prince, wasn't he? Of course he would love her, despite everything. "I know it's hard because I'm not… right."

"No! No, Nunnally. I've never thought less of you for that." Suzaku swept her out of her chair and into his arms. "If anything, it's a nice excuse to carry you." She giggled a bit at that. "It's just… well, I need to get used to the idea, that's all. And I need to convince your brother not to kill me."

"I'll help," Nunnally said with a smile. She snuggled into Suzaku's arms, her heart light for the first time since she'd heard about Euphemia's engagement to Suzaku. Now only if her brother were here… it would be perfect.

Suzaku wasn't impressed by the Britannian prince. He could outrun him any day of the week, and it wasn't even worth talking about fighting him. Lelouch would probably fall over if he even lifted a sword. So what if Lelouch had mastered spoken Japanese in record time — who cared if Lelouch was well on the way to memorizing more kanji than Suzaku had learned? Just because he could learn anything didn't make him better than Suzaku. He was a wuss.

The young Japanese prince had to change his mind, however, when Lelouch stood up to him when he made Nunnally cry after ripping her favorite dress by accident. Purple eyes blazed with rage. "If you ever make Nunnally cry again I'll kill you!"

The words, spoken so passionately, made Suzaku hesitate. In fact, they even made him a bit more afraid. That was the first time he respected the Britannian prince.

Suzaku had thought of Nunnally as a sister for so long he hadn't even considered her as anything else. Her confession shocked him, and made him reevaluate his opinion of her. She was beautiful, for sure — different from all of his wives, but lovely in her own way. He had always cared for her, and, as he had discovered with Euphemia, it was easy to fall in love, particularly with someone as sweet as Nunnally. Their meetings quickly turned romantic, and Suzaku realized he'd have to tell the others about their growing feelings for each other.

Suzaku had been unsure about how his wives would take including Nunnally into their life. After all, he had just married one Britannian princess. Surely they would find it odd to court another so quickly?

He was somewhat surprised that none of them seemed adverse to it at all.

Kaguya merely smiled and said that Suzaku was so 'manly' that another wife wouldn't hurt at all to keep him satisfied. This resulted in flame-red blushes on both Euphemia and Nunnally's faces. Kallen, who had grown fond of Nunnally during her stay here, declared that she was much better off in the superior country of Japan than Britannia. Suzaku had smiled at that; apparently Nunnally had earned herself another defender. Even his greatest concerns had been unfounded; Euphemia had been overjoyed. She'd immediately started talking about weddings, dresses, and options for the ceremony.

Now there was only one person to inform before he put in his official request. If only he wasn't making it so damned difficult.

"Suzaku-san? Did Oniisama return your message?" Nunnally asked, a calligraphy brush in her hand as he entered the room. Nunnally was taking advantage of her newly regained sight to learn Japanese. Kaguya had declared that she would be the one to teach her sister-to-be, and managed to distract Nunnally at least during part of the afternoons.

"No. None of my people have figured out where he is either." Suzaku sat down next to her and took her hands, regardless of the ink. "I'm sorry, Nunnally."

Euphemia frowned, putting her embroidery circle down. "I think you should put the request in, Suzaku. It's been almost a month since you first called him."

"I can't— I can't marry Suzaku-san if Lelouch is dead!" Nunnally stared at her sister in shock. "At least... not right now."

"I don't think he's dead, Nunnally. He promised he'd come back to you, and he's never broken a promise," Euphemia reassured the younger girl. "But it's possibly he's trying to come up with some reason why the marriage can't go through." She gave a wry smile, touched with sadness. "I'm well aware what protective older siblings are like."

"You think Lelouch is trying to screw up Nunnally's life?" Kallen growled. She flexed her fingers. Suzaku had the mental image of the redhead bashing his best friend into the floor and hid a grin.

"No, I think that Nunnally is the most important thing in his life. The brightest star in his sky. I'm not sure he's able to function without her."

"You have to be kidding." Kallen looked incredulously at Euphemia. "I mean, yeah, Naoto wasn't happy when I got married either, but he had a life of his own."

"Maybe, but... I know Lelouch does dangerous things. Cornelia does too. And sometimes they need things to remind them that what they do is worth something." Euphemia shook her head. "I think you should put the request in. Maybe Lelouch will call you back then."

"I'll wait a few more days," Suzaku compromised, "and then I'll start the paperwork." He squeezed Nunnally's hand. "We'll wait until your brother knows to make the announcement." She nodded, but still looked worried. Not having any other way to reassure her, Suzaku just held her, and kissed her lightly. You better call back soon, Lelouch. You're making your sister cry.

Lelouch looked at the chessboard in front of him with disgust, his shoulders slumping in defeat. Schneizel had beaten him again. "You win."

"You've improved your game, brother." The Second Prince began to put away the marble pieces. Lelouch gathered up the black ones and placed them back into the case. "You make a very interesting opponent. I've known adults that don't play as well as you do."

Lelouch knew an attempt to placate him when he heard it. Schneizel always tried to make everyone feel better, even when they didn't get their way. He tried not to let it work; he was only partially successful. "I'm going to beat you some day!"

His older brother only smiled. "I look forward to that match. A good opponent isn't something to waste."

"...Odysseus has agreed to abdicate. Thank you for your aid in the negotiations, Lelouch. That was most timely." Schneizel sat back in his chair, placing his fingertips together. "You'll make a fine Prime Minister."

"I prefer to work in the background." Lelouch tried to relax himself, but honestly he never felt safe in the capital. He desperately wanted to get back to his estates. The last two months had left him exhausted. His father, mother, and V.V had decided to go through with their project even without having located C.C. — something about Mother's body starting to decay past restoration. Lelouch hadn't been present when they initiated it, but it had gone drastically wrong. In the end it had killed all three of them, leaving the world in a precarious place.

Of all of Charles zi Britannia's children, Lelouch was the only one with access to the Thought Elevators. He'd had to arrange an appropriate cover up for the deaths — which hadn't even bothered to leave a body for him to use — and somehow manage to convince Schneizel and Cornelia that it was real. And that he hadn't done it, of course, which was another headache. He could have just Geassed them, but he had learned long ago that his Geass only worked once. He needed to save it for something special with those two.

After that, they had to quietly take care of things behind the scenes. Charles hadn't left a will; that put the succession up for debate. Thankfully, Odysseus was relatively well grounded. He had a few demands, but most were related to being able to continue to live comfortably. The Empire could afford them. Cornelia ran interference with the military. Schneizel worked the powerful nobles and merchants. Lelouch focused on securing things with the Geass Order, now under his control, and kept the E.U. and Chinese Federation from finding out what was going on. The E.U. was trickier than China. There Lelouch had created his 'Zero' identity and begun the long process of undermining the country, which was a little too concerned with its own affairs to take advantage of Britannia's change in power. Another two years and he should have enough support to dismember it.

Not to mention that mess with the Geass user Mao. He was never going to forget that little 'oversight' of C.C.'s. Thank God for Rolo's Geass. Distract the man and he was pathetically easy to kill.

Thankfully Charles had started regularly disappearing for months at a time a few years ago, once his project had become his top priority. They had some time before the court would become restless without his guidance. Still, they were quickly reaching that point. People were whispering in corners. Rumors, both of the truth and things much farther fetched, were making the rounds. It was time for the official pronouncement.

"I'll need to get Nunnally, and Euphemia. They should both be here for the funeral." He had gotten a message from the vi Britannia steward that Nunnally had decided to stay in Japan for a bit longer before his personal phone had been destroyed, thanks to a malfunction in one of the Thought Elevators. He was grateful she'd stayed with Euphemia. She would be happier there for now, and it was safer than being in Britannia with things as they were now. If she was here during such a politically volatile time, it was more likely that someone would try to use her. I'm mostly out of the eye of court, but that doesn't mean someone wouldn't want to try and put me up as a figurehead. And if Nunnally wasn't guarded and they got their hands on her...

"A good idea. Tell her congratulations, as well. I'll have to think of an appropriate gift."

"...what?" Lelouch felt his heart drop. Euphemia should be getting congratulations, possibly on the conception of a child. Not Nunnally.

"Emperor Kururugi put in a request to marry Nunnally. I approved it. It certainly doesn't hurt to have stronger ties with the country with the most sakuradite. And you approved of him for Euphemia, if I recall correctly. Nunnally seemed very happy about it." Schneizel smiled his public smile at his younger brother. "I'm sure it'll be a relief that Nunnally has someone she loves."

You goddamn bastard. Lelouch felt his hands tighten into fists. He knew was Schneziel was doing. Trying to get him alone. Making him rely more on the Emperor-to-be. Manipulating him. Without Nunnally, he would have no reason to stay away from court. Schneizel would be able to put him to his 'proper' use. And he'd probably have a nice private agent snuck into Nunnally's household who would slip poison in her tea if Lelouch ever stepped out of line.

Over his dead body.

Schneizel thought he held all the cards. The truth was he didn't — there was something that Lelouch had the his brother had never gotten, something more powerful than anything Schneizel could threaten him with. He bowed his head and brought one hand up to his left eye, as if to rub it. Contact lens removed, Lelouch raised his head to look at Schneizel. "Lelouch vi Britannia commands you — give your absolute loyalty to me!"

Schneizel went still. "Yes, my lord."

Lelouch smirked. Checkmate. "Take care of things here. I need to get our sisters. And don't give it away that you work for me now. I will be most displeased." Lelouch stood and left without the required bow, still seething with anger. He might have beaten Schneizel, but he was enraged. How dare Suzaku go around his back with this! They were going to have words, and if he didn't like it... well. He may have used his Geass on Suzaku already, but he had plenty of subordinates who could rearrange the Japanese emperor's mind for him.

"Fighting an unskilled, unarmed opponent is not what I would expect from you, Suzaku-kun."

Suzaku fidgeted under Toudou-sensei's intense gaze. "He started it."

Toudou-sensei's disapproving frown deepened. "Regardless of who 'started it', Suzaku-kun, hitting a guest is not appropriate behavior. Need I remind you of the possible political ramifications of this?"

"No." Goddamn Brits and their stupid military. It wasn't Suzaku's fault that the Japanese empire wasn't as strong as the Britannian one!

"Good. See that you keep your hands to yourself. I believe the dojo floor needs cleaning."

Recognizing the reprimand for what it was, Suzaku just bowed and went to do his teacher's wishes. Stupid Buriki prince. Stupid political consequences. He wished for once he could just lay into Lelouch the way the brainy boy deserved.

Lelouch might have thought he had been subtle, coming in on a civilian flight, but Suzaku's information network found him on the way to the imperial palace. Suzaku allowed him to enter the dojo without incident. Kallen was watching over Nunnally and Euphemia, both of whom were in the gardens. Kaguya was handling a diplomatic dispute with the Kyoto clans — 'quietly,' without bringing it to the Emperor's attention. That meant that Suzaku would have peace and quiet to deal with Lelouch however he deemed fit.

"About time you showed up," Suzaku snapped as his childhood friend stepped into the dojo. "We've been waiting for nearly two months."

Lelouch clenched his fists as he approached. "Suzaku, I can't believe—"

"Yeah, me neither — I can't believe you haven't answered your phone, I can't believe you didn't read your mail, I can't believe you left your sister without word for so long. Do you know how much you made her cry? She thought you must have died!" Suzaku wasn't brilliant with words, but he had discussed the topic for a long time with his three wives. All of them had had a few things to contribute. Hopefully it would be enough to cut Lelouch off.

The prince's eyes flashed with anger. "I can't believe you were so impatient that you couldn't wait until I managed to get back to you. Unlike somepeople, I'm actually doing meaningful work — not being a figurehead for the government and letting all of my ministers handle the job of ruling."

"The Japanese system is different from the Britannian one!"

"Of course it is," Lelouch sneered. "What's your problem, anyway? I'd think three wives would be enough to satisfy you, even at your age."

Suzaku felt his hands tense, the irrational anger he often felt when Lelouch fought him surging. "Keep them out of this."

"Touched a nerve? How dare you go and twist my sister — who I left in your care — just to suit your game—"

Thought went out the window. Suzaku executed a perfect attack with his right hand.

Lelouch blocked it.

Suzaku stared at the prince's arm. It wasn't the strongest block in the world — he could have broken through it if he hadn't been holding back — but it was well executed. When had Lelouch learned how to do that? He hated physical activity!

"Again with violence. Your usual standby."

Suzaku pulled his arm back, took a deep breath, and tried to let his anger go. Euphemia warned him that Lelouch would try to hurt him, to make him pull away. "Nunnally and I love each other, Lelouch. You can ask her yourself. We wanted to tell you first, but you never called. And I can't imagine what was so important to keep you out of contact for so long—"

"My father is dead, Suzaku."

The words hit Suzaku like a ton of bricks. Immediately he forgave Lelouch for his anger — he could remember his own father's death all too well, seeing the body fallen over his desk, the Britannian knife in his chest, the Chinese assassin turning, another knife in his hands for Suzaku. Lelouch's shout of warning as he saw the threat coming. The man's hand flashing forward, catching him in the side; blacking out… He had woken up in the hospital. They had told him his will to live had saved him, that he alone of his family had beaten the odds, in part thanks to Lelouch, who had tightly bound his wound and managed to call for help.

Suzaku would be Emperor.

It hadn't mattered that he hadn't been close to Genbu. What had mattered was that the security, the knowledge that his father was there, was gone. The country had lost not only its emperor, but also his brothers and sisters. The family line had almost been destroyed in the attack. The Britannians, under the leadership of the Second Princess, had come to rescue the small island nation, again at Lelouch's request. Lelouch had helped Suzaku, and his country, in one of the darkest moments in his life, and now he was repaying that with rage. Even if Lelouch should have gotten in touch with Nunnally, Suzaku's actions were unacceptable.

"I'm sorry, Lelouch. I didn't know." Guilt made it hard for him to swallow. Now he noticed how pale his friend was, the dark circles under his eyes marking a lack of sleep, and the prominence of his cheekbones. Lelouch had always been skinny, but there was a gauntness in his face that spoke of many missed meals.

"We've kept it quiet. I've come to tell Nunnally and Euphemia. We'll need them at the funeral next week."

"I'll come."

Lelouch shot him a glare. "Don't be stupid. That would be asking for some 'well-meaning' citizen to shoot you. Stay here. They'll be fine. I'll have a Rounds assigned to them. Cornelia will have the Glaston Knights on guard duty as well."

Interesting. Having power to get one of the Knights of the Rounds to guard his siblings…that indicated Lelouch had more power than Suzaku had thought. He pondered for a moment, then nodded. Lelouch was right, of course, but his friend had revealed more in this conversation than he had since his return to Japan nearly a year ago. "They're in the gardens. Go ahead — they'll be happy to see you. I'll have someone make you dinner. You look like you need it."

"A few missed meals are hardly going to kill me, Suzaku." Lelouch took his invitation, however, and left the dojo.

Suzaku waited until he was out of sight before gesturing to a figure outside of the building. "Sayoko, put a dinner order in — and see what our people can find out about Lelouch vi Britannia. He seems to be much more than we've figured so far."

Shinozaki Sayoko, thirty-seventh successor to the Shinozaki School, bowed. "Of course, Tennou. I will see to it at once."

Nunnally awoke when the screaming started. There was something wet on her, something that smelled like... blood. Old nightmares rose in her mind, the feeling of the bullets slicing into her legs and her mother wrapped her in her arms. She started to whimper, curling into a ball.

"Nunnally! Nunnally, it's all right. You're safe." Her brother's hands settled on her shoulder. "Please — I need you to stay with me. I think they might be after Suzaku too."

Suzaku-san was in danger? "Oniisama, you have to save him!" She knew he could — her brother could do anything.

"I will. But first we have to hide you." Lelouch picked her up, and carefully carried her away from the smell of blood. "Stay here. I'll come back for you. I promise." Nunnally hoped he would. It was dangerous, and she was scared.

He did come back that time. And he always came back, no matter how far away he went.

Nunnally received the note that her brother was in a meeting with Suzaku-san and immediately felt nervous. She loved them both dearly, but they fought like cats and dogs sometimes. She remembered far too often having to be the mediating force between the pair, and hoped they wouldn't hurt each other too badly. As always, though she felt relief flow over her as she realized her brother was home. Even Suzaku-san couldn't make her feel as comfortable as knowing her brother was here. Oniisama was safety and comfort; Suzaku-san was love and adventure. As long as she had them, she needed nothing else.

"It'll be okay, Nunnally. I'm sure everything will work out." Euphie-neesama smiled brilliantly at her.

With her regained sight, however, Nunnally could see the worry lurking in her sister's eyes. "Kallen-san, maybe you should go watch them."

The other woman snorted. "Suzaku is more than enough to handle Lelouch. I doubt he could hurt a fly."

"Maybe, but…"


"Oniisama!" Nunnally quickly turned her chair so she could see her brother for the first time since she had lost her sight. She gasped a bit as their eyes met, the shock in his obvious. He had grown up so handsome, as she has often imagined. A bit taller than Suzaku-san, paler, with something of a majestic air about him, the power of one who ruled. It reminded her of Schneizel-niisama, but somehow more genuine… Then Nunnally reminded herself that she was mad at him. "Where have you been? You haven't answered any of my calls, or my emails. We thought you were dead!"

Lelouch went to one knee, taking her hand. He continued to stare into her eyes. "I forgot how beautiful your eyes were." His voice was barely a whisper. "You opened them for Suzaku?"

"Yes. I needed to see him."

"I see." Nunnally saw something pass over Lelouch's face. She wasn't sure what it could be — she didn't know his face well enough to interpret all of his expressions anymore.

"I really love him, Oniisama. I really do. Please don't try to stop us from getting married—"

"Schneizel has already approved your request," Lelouch interrupted.

"Schneizel?" Euphemia frowned. "A princess may only marry with the Emperor's consent. Even the Prime Minster can't sign off of a marriage proposal."

"The Emperor – Charles zi Britannia – is dead."

Nunnally's eyes widened, uncertainty washing through her. All of her life her father had been the Emperor of Britannia, and one without equal. For him now to be dead… The world dropped out from under her, suddenly an unfamiliar place. "How?"

"An accident in an experiment he was conducting." Lelouch looked from Nunnally to Euphemia. "The announcement will be tomorrow. We want to have both of you on your way back home before then."

"Of course!" Nunnally agreed.

"What about the sucesssion?" Euphemia asked. "Odysseus is First Prince…"

The law of Britannia stated that the firstborn prince would rule following his father's death, provided such a prince existed. There had been female rulers in Britannia's past, but it was a rare thing. Rarer still was it to skip a prince all together. But even Nunnally knew that Odysseus wasn't the ruler Schneizel would be. If the emperor had not left a will to override the law, it could be civil war, with Those who thought they could use the First Prince as a figurehead or supported the law on one side and those who felt the Second Prince would be a better candidate on the other. Civil war was the nightmare of any royal child; they all learned the history of the bloody conflicts in their childhood, lest any of them think that such a thing would be an easy opportunity to gain the throne.

"He didn't leave a will, but between Cornelia, Schneizel and me, I think we've convinced the necessary parties that Schneizel will take the throne." Lelouch made a tired, wry face that held too much bitterness to be called a smile. "Odysseus will renounce his claim after the funeral."

"Good." Euphemia breathed a sigh of relief, and Nunnally echoed her. "I'll have the servants start packing." She rose from her seat and hugged her brother. "It's good to see you, Lelouch. Don't scare us like that again." She quickly left the garden.

"I don't know how I'm going to do without you, Nunnally. I'm going to actually have to pay attention to all those details you handle," Lelouch teased, though his tone was heavy.

"Our steward really is very good, Oniisama. I'm sure you'll manage." Nunnally swallowed, sad as her brother's hand caressed her cheek. She loved Suzaku-san, but losing her Oniisama… she didn't know if she could bear that either. But she knew better than to ask him to stay. He would hate being trapped. "Please visit?"

"As often as I can. And I promise to check my messages." Lelouch kissed her cheek. "I'll get the arrangements for your marriage made with Suzaku before we leave."

"You should sleep, Oniisama," Nunnally chastised gently. "You look like you're about to fall over."

"I'm not quite there yet. And I want to make sure this is taken care of before Schneizel puts me back to work." He squeezed her hand. "Let's go make sure you have everything you need."

"All right, Oniisama." Nunnally followed her brother back into the palace, though she still worried. Would her brother be okay without her? She knew he would be lonely. Was there anything she could do to convince him to stay in Japan?

When Lelouch woke him by barging into his room, shouting something about assassins. He stared at his friend, covered in blood. "Lelouch?"

"Chinese assassins. They nearly got Nunnally. The guards here are dead."

"Father!" Suzaku lept from his futon. If they were targeting people... He might not care much for Genbu, but he was the Emperor. He had to be protected.

"Suzaku! Don't go!" Lelouch followed him, trying to keep up. Suzaku pulled ahead, throwing the door open to Genbu's office. The emperor lay slumped over his desk, a knife in his chest. His murderer turned, reaching for a weapon at his waist.

Suzaku saw red, and lunged. Pain exploded in his chest and the world went dark.

"I should be there." Suzaku frowned as he watched the funeral procession on TV. Nunnally and Euphemia looked particularily drawn and exhausted, though whether that was the camera, the severe black they wore, or grief, he couldn't tell.

"That's a crazy idea. I've told you that once, and it is still a crazy idea," Kallen groused. "Sit down. Pacing won't help."

Suzaku sat for a moment or two before standing again. Kallen sighed. If he wouldn't feel so guilty about it, he'd ask Kallen for a round in the dojo to relieve his tension, but he knew that he'd feel worse if he didn't watch the funeral.

"You can't help but feel for them. They've been under scrutiny since they got back." Kaguya sighed. "Everything from questions about their time here to how they feel about their father's death. The Britannian press is a monster."

"At least that Ashford girl seems to have some sympathy. She doesn't ask them stupid questions," Kallen pointed out.

"Milly actually knew Lelouch and Nunnally as children," Suzaku interjected. "Nunnally's mentioned her before. Their mother worked with her family on a scientific project of some kind."

"Anything about the Knightmares?" Kallen asked, looking interested. She might hate Britannia, but she was interested in their custom weapons. Japan had yet to get a working model, though rumor said that the Chinese Federation and the E.U. had their own designs. Of course, unlike those two nations, Japan had not been at war with Britannia, meaning they hadn't gotten a chance to dissect the remains of any frames lost in the field.

"I'm not sure; you'd have to ask them. Lelouch doesn't talk about their mother much." Suzaku frowned, his eyes scanning the screen. The First and Second Princes were the head of the procession, with the most important of the Emperor's widows behind them. Cornelia had a prominent place as well. But Lelouch, who sounded like he had been critical in arranging the transition of power, was missing from the front of the procession. He was there, the black of mourning suiting him far more than most of his siblings, but towards the end, with those who weren't the focus of most of the media's attention.

What was going on here? Sayoko's research indicated that Lelouch had spoken to his father more often than anyone other than Schneizel, who worked with him at least once a week due to his position as Prime Minister. The Second Prince often sought Lelouch's presence himself. Cornelia was known for occasionally asking Lelouch to command a military mission if she needed an additional leader. It didn't make sense, but Sayoko was still digging. Hopefully she would find something soon.

"How long before you marry Nunnally?" Kaguya asked, drawing Suzaku's attention away from the screen.

"Lelouch suggested seven months from now. In the old days a year of mourning was required, but these days it seems that half a year is considered acceptable." Nunnally's dowry had been small, but thankfully, so had Japan's concessions to Britannia. Preferential shipping rights for two years. Suzaku had been able to say yes with a sigh of relief.

"I think Nunnally would want something quiet, anyway," Kallen mused. "Something that wouldn't draw as much attention." Suzaku nodded. Nunnally preferred to be out of the limelight when possible. He hadn't realized it for a long time, until Kaguya had pointed it out. No wonder, when so much of the attention she received was pity. "When will they come back?"

"Nunnally said they'll be there for the coronation next week, and then fly home." Suzaku felt warmth bloom in his chest as he recalled Nunnally's words. Japan was hometo her now, even though they weren't married yet. It brought a smile to his face.

Kallen made a face as she watched the procession enter the elaborate cathedral in Pentdragon. "Good. The sooner we get them away from that circus, the better."

"Let's play house! I'll be the mother, Lelouch will be the father, and you can be our daughter, Nunnally," Euphemia declared with a smile.

"I don't want to play house," Lelouch interjected. His sisters ignored him. He sighed and returned to his book.

"I'm always the daughter. I want to be the mother for once!" Nunnally argued. She was too well behaved to stomp her foot in protest, but she was tempted. "Why don't you be the daughter?"

"Because I'm older," Euphemia said smugly. "And Lelouch can't be the daughter because he has to be the father."

"Why don't we have two mothers and a daughter?" Nunnally asked.

"I'd be a son, not a daughter," Lelouch corrected. Nunnally and Euphemia ignored him again.

Euphemia pondered the situation. Nunnally waited for her idea. Euphemia liked to have her way, but she was very kind. "Maybe we can have two stepmothers and Lelouch can be our daughter? Our husband can be away."

"Perfect!" Nunnally declared. "Let's get Lelouch a dress."

"I am not your daughter!" Lelouch objected. "I'm not doing this."

"Please, Lelouch?" Nunnally begged. "It's much more fun with girls than with boys. I've always wanted a daughter," she pleaded.

"...all right. But only this time!"

Nunnally jumped in excitement. "Thank you, Lelouch! Come on, Euphie — we need to dress her up!"

Nunnally smiled as she awoke in the morning, stretching in her bed. Due to her disability, Suzaku had allowed her to keep her Western-style bed rather than switching to a futon. It had been difficult to sleep on them during their honeymoon — not that they did as much sleeping as… other things. She giggled a bit, remembering how wonderful the week had been. Suzaku-san all to herself, and no responsibilities… It may have been three months ago, but it still made her glow to think of it. Her smile faded a bit as she recalled her self-appointed duty for the day. She thought Suzaku would be happy, but she was worried about Euphie-neesama… No use in borrowing trouble, Nunnally reminded herself, and rang for her servant so she could start her day.

Finally dressed, she went to the dining room. Again, they had made allowances for her here, using a Western-style table to serve the traditional Japanese food. The Britannian princesses were still adjusting to the different cuisine. Privately both admitted they missed the food they had grown up with… a fact that Lelouch had somehow anticipated, as small care baskets often accompanied him on his monthly visits with treats from home that allowed them to have a bit of Britannia with their Japanese meals. Kallen and Kaguya had also become fond of the gifts — Kallen in particular had developed a weakness for cookies.

"Good morning, Nunnally!" Euphemia cheerfully greeted her as she took her own seat.

Nervousness gripped her again, but Nunnally tried not to show it. "Good morning, Euphie-neesama. Did you sleep well?"

"Hmmm, yes." Euphemia smiled dreamily. Nunnally suspected that Suzaku had been with her last night. "You?"

"I had a bit of trouble getting to sleep," Nunnally admitted. She twisted her napkin. "I need to tell Suzaku-san something."

"Oh? I'm sure it'll be fine." Euphemia squeezed her hand.

"What will be fine?" Kaguya asked as she entered the room. Behind her came Suzaku and Kallen, both with damp hair. They had already completed their early morning workout, showered and changed. It made Nunnally feel lazy, sleeping in so late.

"Nunnally has to tell Suzaku something," Euphemia explained.

"What is it, Nunnally?" Suzaku asked, taking her hand.

"I saw the doctors yesterday." Everyone nodded — Nunnally had to have regular checkups because of her condition. She took a deep breath, hoping Euphemia wouldn't hate her for this. "I'm pregnant."

"Really?" Euphemia practically jumped out of her seat. "Congratulations! Oh Nunnally, you must be so happy!"

"You're not mad?" she asked. She knew her sister wanted children, but she still hadn't conceived yet, despite being married to their husband longer.

"Mad? Why would I be mad?" Euphemia looked confused. "You know I love children."

"Yes, but…"

"I think Nunnally is concerned because she conceived before you did," Kaguya reasoned.

"Well, that's hardly her fault!" Euphemia hugged her sister tightly. "It just isn't my turn yet. I know it will happen, and when it does, I'll be very happy — but until then, I'm going to enjoy babying all of your children." She smiled. "Have you told Lelouch yet?"

"No. I wanted to tell you first, Suzaku-san. I'll call him after breakfast." Nunnally smiled. "I think he'll be surprised."

"Oh yes. He'll be a wonderful uncle."

"Personally, I think I may have to run for the hills," Suzaku joked.

"Oh, no — Oniisama would never really hurt you, Suzaku-san," Nunnally said firmly. "You're his best friend. Besides, if he does, Euphie-neesama will never have children, and that'll make her unhappy, and then Cornelia will be angry at him!"

"I don't know. Cornelia might consider that a blessing," Suzaku replied. He gently kissed Nunnally. "Congratulations." Nunnally kissed him back, convinced she was the happiest woman in the world.

Suzaku wasn't sure what woke him, but he shifted slowly in his hospital bed. Next to him, Lelouch and Nunnally slept, the former in a chair, the latter in the room's other bed. They had stayed with Suzaku during his time in the hospital, healing from the wounds he had received during the Chinese attack. Both appeared to be sound asleep.

A woman opened the door. Suzaku pretended to be asleep as she walked in, but the nurse barely looked at him, intent on the two figures next to him, carrying a cup of some sort. Suzaku felt a flash of fear as she bent over the princess. He grabbed a dish left over from his dinner and tossed it at the woman, smacking her in the shoulder and causing her to drop the cup in surprise, spilling its contents all over the floor. "Guards!" he shouted

Imperial guards immediately appeared in his doorway from their position outside, surrounding the woman, who looked at Suzaku in shock. "Arrest that woman. Detain her for questioning."

"Yes, Tennou!" The woman was taken away.

Lelouch, awoken by Suzaku's shout, knelt, sniffing the liquid that had spilled. He looked at Suzaku, and understanding passed between them. Poison. Someone had come to try and kill the two vi Britannias. "Thank you."

Suzaku gave his friend a smile. "Just returning the favor."

Suzaku awoke when he heard sounds out in the nursery.

Leaving Nunnally sleeping in their bed, he slipped out of the bed and came over to the crib. Two figures stood besides it. "Lelouch. Did you have to show up in the middle of the night?" Little Marianne's uncle held her gently in his arms, rocking her with a steady hand. Suzaku briefly wondered where his friend had learned how to take care of a baby. "Nunnally was expecting you two days ago."

Pregnancy hadn't been easy for Nunnally. Lelouch's visits seemed to bring her more peace than anything else. Suzaku tried not to resent that, though it wasn't easy. Two months ago Lelouch had warned them that he was going to have to vanish for a while. Nunnally had worried when her brother continued not to call or write. Suzaku couldn't offer much in terms of reassurance, now that Sayoko's research had revealed Lelouch's real job: handling all of Britannia's black ops and the intelligence agency — neither safe or restful occupations.

Finally, the day for Nunnally's cesarean had arrived, but not her brother. The new mother's eyes had brightened when she held her daughter for the first time... but they went from Suzaku and Euphemia's happy faces to the door, clearly looking for Lelouch.

"We're only stopping by briefly," Lelouch said quietly. He gently touched Marianne's cheek. "She looks just like Nunnally did as a baby — only with black hair, of course."

"We?" Suzaku asked. He moved over a bit so he could see the young woman standing besides Lelouch. White hair, red eyes, pale skin... "Empress Jiang," Suzaku nodded at the ruler. Called Tianzi by her people, she had come to her throne younger than he had to his.

The ruler of the Chinese Federation bowed. "Emperor Suzaku. Thank you for your hospitality."

"The empress is accompanying me to Britannia," Lelouch said quietly.

"Why?" Suzaku asked, his mouth going dry. Last he had heard, the empress had been under house arrest. To be going to Britannia... to be out of China at all...

"I will seek help to regain my throne," Jiang said. She smiled at the baby. "Your daughter is very beautiful."

"Thank you," Suzaku replied automatically. His attention was mostly on the political nightmare that had been placed in his lap. "Will Britannia do it?"

"We will be glad to help our cousin regain her throne," Lelouch replied smoothly, using the term of address between royals common in the West. "Empress Jiang has promised an alliance between our people."

Suzaku wanted to warn her about the problem of accepting Britannian aid, but the words stuck in his throat. From his own intelligence reports, he knew that she didn't have many choices. 'Zero' had managed to rile the people against the ruling body of Eunuchs, but that didn't guarantee success. At best, Zero might lead the people in a bloody opposition that would lead to civil war. Knowing the kind of alliance that Britannia favored, Suzaku looked at Lelouch. "...Not Schneizel."

"I have quiet a few brothers. I'm sure we'll find someone to her Majesty's liking." Lelouch replied. He placed Marianne in the crib. "We need to go."

"Nunnally won't be happy if you don't see her before you go. She's missed you terribly."

Lelouch shook his head. "I can't wait until morning. Things are changing too rapidly. I'll call when I get to Britannia — and I promise I'll come back soon."

"Or you could wake me up. It wouldn't kill me." Nunnally called from within her bedroom. Lelouch looked a bit embarrassed, then glanced at Suzaku. He nodded his permission, and his friend disappeared through the doorway to visit his sister.

"Empress, you have to know how this will end." Suzaku spoke quietly, trying not to let their conversation carry back to the Britannian siblings.

"With my people in the hands of Britannia, and the end of our ability to govern ourselves," she replied, her voice just as soft. "Yes. But Emperor Schneizel has shown himself to be a fair ruler thus far. I can only hope that he will continue in such a fashion. The High Eunuchs are starving my people, abusing them. I can't stand by and let that happen." Her eyes returned to where Lelouch was. "He loves her very much, doesn't he."

"More than anything in the world. I think he would do anything for Nunnally."

"I knew someone like that once. I didn't get to see him often, but... he died to save me." Her eyes were sorrowful for a moment, before she straightened, looking him in the eye. "Take care of her, Emperor Suzaku. She is a treasure if she has earned such love."

"Best of luck, Empress." Suzaku replied as Lelouch rejoined them. He had the feeling she would need it.

Euphemia woke to the sound of her sister talking loudly with the servants. "What's going on?"

"Euphie, I have to go. Lelouch called — the Chinese are attacking Japan. The Emperor has declared I will lead our opposing force."

Fear gripped the child's heart. "Sister, don't go! You'll be in danger!"

"Don't worry, Euphie. I know what I'm doing. Lady Marianne taught me well." She kissed Euphie's forehead. "I'll be back before you know it. And I'll bring Lelouch and Nunnally home. You'll enjoy that."

Euphemia nodded, but dread made her unable to smile. Even at her age she knew that many fell in battle. She could only pray her sister came back safely — and that she'd manage to bring the vi Britannias home.

Euphemia tried not to fidget as they waited for Lelouch to visit. She was nervous. War horrified her. She had always feared that thisbattle would be the one Cornelia would not return from, and now both Lelouch and Cornelia were going into combat against the Empire's greatest foe...

At least she didn't have to worry about Suzaku or any of those she had met in Japan. The island nation would only be serving as a base and providing supplies. Still, the presence of so many Britannian soldiers was making people nervous.

At least Kallen and Suzaku got a chance to try the Knightmare simulators. Both had been ecstatic. In fact, Euphemia suspected they wished they were going along, if only so they could pilot a real KMF.

"Oniisama!" Nunnally cried joyfully as their brother finally entered the room. He cut a sharp figure in his uniform and cape, the military outfit for nobility.

"That's a good look for you," Suzaku commented. "Now, can you actually fight in it?"

"Don't be silly — I'll be in a KMF. And the cape doubles as good field bandage material." Lelouch bent to hug Nunnally. "I'm sorry to do this to you."

"You'll be back, won't you? Soon?"

"I promise I'll be back," Lelouch vowed. "I'll always come back to you, Nunnally. I don't know how long it'll be, but I promise I'll be back."

"Well, we got you something for a little extra luck." Euphemia pressed the omamori into his hand. "We'll be praying for you." She claimed her own hug.

"Just take good care of Marianne. I want to visit my niece when all of this is over," Lelouch said as he let his half-sister go. "I'll write when I can."

"We'll write too. And send pictures!" Nunnally promised firmly. "I love you, Oniisama."

"I love you too," Lelouch replied. He nodded at Suzaku in farewell before leaving; a young blond man wearing a Rounds uniform met him at the door with a stack of reports. He turned to wave to his sisters one more time before following the knight out, reading the papers in his hand.

Euphemia took Nunnally's hand once their brother vanished from view. "Let's go home. I'm sure Marianne will be happy to see you again. Kaguya said she's been fussing."

"Yes," Nunnally agreed. "I want to have lots of pictures to show Lelouch when he comes back."

Suzaku touched her shoulder. "Nunnally... you know that he might not come back, don't you?"

"No. He will." Her eyes shown with determination. "Because he promised me. Oniisama has never promised me something that didn't come true."

The woman awoke him from his sleep, gold eyes staring into his in the dark. "Wake up, boy. They're coming for you."

"Who are you?" Lelouch yelled, nearly jumping out of the uncomfortable Japanese bed.

"My name doesn't matter. Assassins come to kill both you and your sister." She looked at him. Lelouch shivered. It felt like she was able to see through him. "You will not survive without power. Power I can give you. All you need to do is grant my wish."

Lelouch licked his lips. He was wise enough to know that taking a power without knowing the consequences was dangerous, but for Nunnally… "What must I do?"

Lelouch, dressed as Zero, stalked through the hallways of the hideaway of the last of the High Eunuchs. His Black Knights, Chinese citizens, empowered by Britannian weapons 'smuggled' into the country, and trained under carefully selected Britannian military members, followed his lead. They swarmed in and out of the rooms, looking for Huang Qian. Zero, however, continued forward. The members of the Geass Order already knew where Huang was, and he wanted to waste no time in finishing this war. Cornelia was leading their forces from the west; his own Britannian forces held the eastern side of the federation, Tianzi safely amongst them. The Black Knights worked within the chaos of the war, destroying supply lines, stealing weaponry, and most importantly, undermining support of the Eunuchs.

C.C. walked side by side with Zero. Behind them trailed one particular Black Knight, Jun, a member with medical training. He would play an important role in the coming events, though he won't remember it, if all went to plan.

Zero stepped into a tiny broadcast room without fear. Huang was there, looking even older than he had a few months ago when Lelouch had first observed him. Long nights attempting to retain control of his country had worn him down. Lelouch didn't give him a chance to speak before he Geassed him. "Obey my commands!"

"Yes, your Highness."

"Stand there for now." Confident the man would obey, Lelouch removed the helmet as C.C. closed the door behind them. "Ready?"

She laughed. "I should be asking you that. You've been putting me off for so long it's almost insulting."

"I'm twenty-three now. Twenties are much easier to age up or down than someone who isn't even a teenager yet." Lelouch placed the helmet on one of the control booths. "How do we do this?"

C.C. stepped closer, taking his hand. She pressed a knife into it, placing it over her heart. "Touch. That's all that's needed. Kill me, Lelouch. Fulfill my wish."

C.C. had been his constant since he was ten, haunting his steps and watching him experiment with the Geass she had given him. He had never told his father of her presence. Whenever the Geass Order had closed in on her, she mysteriously vanished, only to reappear at a time of her own choosing. To lose her now seemed impossible, but he knew that anything less would sour the bargain between them. He had destroyed China. It was time for her wish to come true. They kissed, for the first and last time, as the blade plunged into her heart. Her expression was one of bliss as she fell — there was no pain in her face.

Lelouch stared at her. He felt no different, and he almost expected her to rise, insisting he'd done it wrong. Yet the body remained oddly still — just another corpse. With steady hands — she was by no means the first person he'd killed — he cleaned the knife and returned it to her person, moving her behind one of the booths. It wouldn't do for her to be seen just yet. A moment later he replaced the mask, turning to create Zero's final stage.

It would be a moment spoken of throughout the ages. Huang activated the broadcasting equipment within the room and confronted Zero on live TV, sending their conversation throughout the area. Zero urged him to surrender, to give the power back to the people and their Empress. Huang refused, claiming that Zero had corrupted their ruler, turning her into a vengeful, spoiled creature who would have to be killed and replaced. Zero insisted Tianzi worked for the will of the people — and Huang shot him.

Seeing their hero, the man who had given them hope, die would cause the people of the Chinese Federation to go mad. They would fight harder than ever. The Britannian armies would hardly need to do anything. Even the Eunuchs' loyal supporters, having heard Huang malign their empress, would break ranks and turn on their leaders.

Lelouch vi Britannia, Zero no more, ignored most of this. He was just trying to breathe. Dying, it seemed, was more painful than he had expected. Jun, as he had been Geassed to do, ran into the room the minute he had heard the gun shot, using his own weapon to kill Huang. Then he bent over Zero, and declared the man dead, his Geassed mind not seeing Lelouch's breathing, nor feeling his pulse. He then mounted a guard at the door, refusing to let anyone in. Some of the Black Knights wanted to lift the mask to find the true identity of their leader. Others insisted that Zero's identity wasn't important. He had given his life for them — wasn't that enough?

Taking advantage of the arguments between his former followers, Lelouch quickly shed the Zero costume and dressed C.C's body in it. It wouldn't be the first time she had stood in for him, though this was certainly the most morbid case. Lelouch slipped into her own outfit as best as he could, then slipped over behind the communications desk near Huang. With a bit of luck, he'd be ignored.

He was. Jun, having killed the last High Eunuch, quickly gained power over the mob outside. He ordered Zero's body to be carefully taken out once the fighting was finished and taken to Tianzi. She would decide what to do with the fallen hero.

As the hall cleared, Lelouch slipped out. His knowledge of the Black Knights procedures made it child's play to get past their lines of defense and back to the Britannian ones. Rolo, the member of the Geass Order working as his aide in the campaign, greeted him with a nod as he reappeared. "That was quite a show."

Lelouch shrugged. "As long as it works. Status?"

"The enemy's routed. They're turning on each other. Those loyal to the Eunuchs are having to fight their own troops. Apparently most of them didn't believe what they had planned until they heard it from Huang himself." Rolo tapped a few keys on the console before him. "Cornelia is pressing her line forward. Tianzi wishes to do the same."

"Of course we will support the Empress. Give the order to engage. The sooner this is over, the better." Two years their war had raged, and he hadn't left China in all that time. Even when he was on leave as the Britannian commander, he had to take care of the Black Knights. Leaving the Zero identity behind felt surprisingly like a burden taken from his shoulders. He had expected he would miss it — after all, he was, as Suzaku put it, a bit of a ham. Instead all he felt was relief.

"Will you be joining the Order full time?" Rolo asked as he typed in Lelouch's commands.

The prince shook his head. "I'll keep an eye on things, of course, but I'll need to watch the rest of the empire as well." Jun had followed his instructions to the letter, which meant Lelouch's Geass was still in effect even after he had gained the Code. He might not be able to use it anymore, but those already cast should hold true. He would stick around to keep Schneizel in line… "And I have a niece to visit."

"Of course." Rolo sounded bitter.

Lelouch knew why. "You should come meet Marianne. You're her uncle too, after all."

Rolo looked surprised. "I'm not—"

"It isn't your fault that you're a bastard. Nunnally won't care. You're her half-brother, and that's all that will matter to her."

"Maybe you're right. Once this is over." Rolo gave him a slight smile.

Lelouch felt a bit of tension ease out of him at that. Rolo had a bad tendency to hold grudges, and he had seemed jealous of the attention that Nunnally received. Lelouch might now be invulnerable to Rolo's Geass, but Nunnally, Suzaku, and Marianne were not. As far as assassins went, Rolo was top notch, but Geass had left him, like so many it touched, more than slightly warped.

On the other hand, if he came to love Nunnally and Marianne, it wouldn't hurt to have another guard around them. One who could eliminate threats before Nunnally and her family even knew anything was wrong. A good plan, if he did say so himself.

"Your Highness, we're encountering heavy resistance in sector seven." Rolo reported, resuming his 'public' face as he activated his headset. "They're requesting your presence on the bridge."

"Very well." Lelouch checked his appearance once — free of blood, and looking just as he did before dying, save the red mark on his forehead under his bangs — then headed for the door. It was time to finish this war.

Watching them now, it was hard to believe the two boys had been rivals at one point. They laughed and played together, entertaining the blind girl in the wheelchair with a variety of games and surprises. Nothing stood between them and their goals, not their tutors, not the dour security guards who tried to keep Suzaku inside, not even Nunnally's fits of depression.

Watching Nunnally laugh when that morning she had cried without end, Suzaku felt a swell of pride. He grinned at Lelouch. The Britannian prince offered one of his own more restrained smiles in response. "We can do anything together."

Suzaku's grin grew wider. "Yeah. We can."

The Emperor of Japan watched his best friend play with his niece, feeling absolutely content. Lelouch had returned from China last week, and it had made everyone happier. Even Kallen. Though that probably has more to do with Nunnally and Euphie being happy again than anything else. It had been difficult to get the two princesses to smile while Lelouch was away, particularly during the heavy fighting. It was good to have him back.

Of course, now Suzaku only had one more task to do to keepthem smiling.

Lelouch finally sent Marianne back to her mother. Rolo, who had arrived with Lelouch, picked the little girl up and placed her on Nunnally's lap. He said something to his half sister that Suzaku didn't catch, and the pair headed back towards the nursery. Lelouch came to Suzaku's side and sat down. "I don't know where she gets all that energy."

"She's a child. They seem to have the market on it," Suzaku replied with a smile. He passed his friend a glass of water who gratefully took it. "I'm surprised how attached to her Rolo has gotten. I don't think he likes to let them out of his sight."

"Good. Rolo's quite capable when it comes to combat. It'll be good for them to have a bit more security."

"The Royal Guard is going to think you don't trust them," Suzaku commented. "Where did you find him anyway?" He had a suspicion, but he wasn't sure.

"Oh — it's not that hard to tell if someone's a Britannia if the eyes bred true," Lelouch replied dismissively. "They're very distinctive."

"They are." Suzaku agreed. Of course, the fact the man looked like he could have been Nunnally's twin didn't hurt either. Not that Lelouch had answered Suzaku's question, really — he was too good at that. "How long will you stay?"

"Another week, I think. By then I suspect Kallen will be ready to throw me out. Though if Rolo could stay..."

"Rolo is certainly welcome to stay," Suzaku replied. "You are too. I doubt Kallen will throw you out after you let her pilot the Gawain with you. I think she's trying to figure out something to bribe you so she can do it again."

"She did like that, hmm?" Lelouch smirked. "Think I could steal her from you? We still have spots on the Rounds that need filled."

"Hardly. She may like Britannia's Knightmares, but she still doesn't like Britannia." Suzaku made a mental note to check on the progress of their own Knightmare development program. Having so many Britannians and their equipment moving through the island had been good for that, at least. Even if they hadn't gotten their hands on one, their own scientists had gotten a good look at some of them, along with the tools and replacement parts that had come through. "But seriously — why don't you stay? Nunnally would be happier."

"I can't, Suzaku. I have too much to do." Lelouch shook his head. "You wouldn't understand."

"Only because you make us all find out things the hard way," Suzaku replied. Lelouch raised an eyebrow. "You're the head of all covert operations in Britannia. You're in charge of the spy network, and likely the assassins as well. Schneizel values your opinion, and if he had his way, you'd likely be Prime Minister for him."

"...Clearly I need to have words with some people." Lelouch tsked. "You shouldn't have been able to figure all of that out."

"It wasn't easy. It took my intelligence people months to get beyond the 'disposed prince' cover you use." Sayoko had also uncovered something elseLelouch had control over, something called the Geass Order. After losing a couple of operatives trying to delve further into it, Suzaku had ordered her to stop. Some secrets were dangerous to know. He would have to trust that Lelouch wouldn't use it against them. "Lelouch... there's no reason that you can't run things from here instead of Britannia. I imagine that you'll be doing a lot of work in China right now. You'd be closer here than you would be back in Area 1."

"That's true... but I wouldn't be able to stay the entire time." Lelouch seemed interested, but was holding himself back from saying yes. Suzaku hoped that he had read his friend right — he suspected Lelouch was tired of darting from place to place at all hours. "I do have things I have to do. That you can't know about."

Plausible deniability. Suzaku knew all about that. "And I can respect that. We're not trying to cage you, Lelouch." Time to throw in the lure. "And... I could use your help as well."

"Oh?" Lelouch looked intrigued.

Suzaku felt a bit bad using his friend this way. He knew Lelouch liked to help those he cared about. "You were right. I doneed to be more hands on when it comes to ruling Japan. But my advisers aren't…" He trailed off, trying to find a diplomatic way of putting it.

"Happy to give up all the power they've had since you were a child?" Lelouch finished bluntly for him. "So you want me to help you."

"I need advice. On how to handle them, world politics, the economy… you were always better at this sort of thing than me." Suzaku gently stroked Lelouch's ego. He almost had him…

"'We can do anything together,'" Lelouch quoted. "You realize they'll hate this."

Gotcha. His advisors would hate it. They'd think that Suzaku had fallen under the Britannian's sway, or that he would be encouraging them to join the Britannian Empire properly. Let them. But Suzaku was tired of giving over into their whims all the time. "Like I care."

"Now that's the Suzaku I remember." Lelouch actually grinned, the unusual expression (for him, anyway) startling on his face. "All right. I'll stay. As much as I can, anyway."

"Good. There's just one more thing I need to ask you..." Suzaku said as the two friends rose from their seats. Sayoko waited at the edge of the garden, bearing a stack of paper that looked important. Might as well get Lelouch working right away. "What in the world possessed you to get that tattoo?" He nodded at Lelouch's forehead.

"...maybe I'll tell you someday." Lelouch's eyes went far away for a moment. "For now… let's get to work, shall we?"

Suzaku took the papers from Sayoko and led Lelouch into his office. With his best friend beside him he bent over the affairs of his empire, writing notes as Lelouch pointed out different ways to tackle the problems from the ones his advisers had suggested. Kaguya joined them shortly thereafter, welcoming Lelouch with a smile. Kallen watched on from the door, an approving smile on her face when Suzaku looked up at her. Suzaku fought a smile down as Lelouch expounded upon the importance of tariffs and managing the economy. With Lelouch finally here, like the brother he had always wanted, his family was complete.

Life was perfect.