Shirley wrung her hands, trying to quell her nervousness. She should have done this days ago, but things had been so unsettled lately she had actually forgotten about the tickets her father had sent until her roommate reminded her about them. The concert was tomorrow, and she hadn't asked Lelouch to go with her yet.

The young girl blushed as she thought about her crush. They had a student council meeting in a few minutes, and with some luck she would be able to catch Lelouch before he entered the club house. She did not want to ask him in front of the entire council. Milly was teasing her enough as it was.

She only hoped that they would be able to attend at all. The attack on the Viceroy three weeks ago by a group of unknown assassins had placed the Area in lock-down mode. Curfew had only just been lifted the previous night, allowing citizens to move about after seven in the evening.

No arrests had been made concerning the Viceroy's attackers. Rumor said that they had left for the mainland. Shirley didn't like to think about it. That one of the Princesses, a member of the Britannia house, had been attacked, nearly killed... she couldn't even fathom it. The Britannias were the ultimate power in the Empire; their word was law. She tried not to listen to rumors of more attacks. It only made everyone nervous, especially here in Area 11, since they were so close to the Chinese Federation.

You didn't have to understand politics to know that an enemy might attack if they appeared weak.

Shirley brightened as she finally spotted Lelouch walking towards the clubhouse. "Lulu!" She smiled as she waved at her friend, glad to leave her dark thoughts behind. "I was wondering. My dad sometimes sends me things because he can't always be home, and I have these tickets for a concert tomorrow, and would you like to come with me? It's classical music and-" Shirley broke off, spotting the group that had just entered the gates to Ashford campus. "...why is there a Knight of the Rounds on campus?"

"What?" Lelouch whirled so he could look, his back tensing. He looked almost... afraid.

Why would Lulu be afraid of a Rounds? Shirley wondered. Yes, they were very powerful in the Empire, but it wasn't like the would hurt him. Lelouch wasn't an enemy of the empire.

The Knight, surrounded by a group of Britannian soldiers in a uniform Shirley didn't know - it looked different from Suzaku's - came towards them. Shirley shivered a bit, looking into the pink-haired girl's eyes. She seemed very intent on something. She felt her eyes widen in surprise as the Knight went directly to Lelouch - and knelt, the soldiers doing the same around her. "Your Highness. By the final order of His Majesty, we are here to convey you the Pendragon."

"...the final order?" Lelouch asked, his voice strained.

The Knight raised her head. "Charles zi Britannia, 98th Emperor of Britannia, is dead."

Milly cheerfully opened the meeting despite Rivalz's protests that Shirley and Lelouch were missing. The Ashford knew quite well that Shirley was waiting for Lelouch to ask him out on a date. She honestly wished the other girl all the best, though she wouldn't stop needling her, of course. Shirley had crushed on Lelouch for years. It was about time she did something about it.

The door opened. Milly stopped reading the agenda. She wanted to tease her late members as they entered.

What came through the door shocked her. Not only Shirley and Lelouch, but a young woman - child, really - dressed in the distinctive uniform of a Knight of the Rounds, along with several military personnel. Next to her Suzaku immediately stood, eyes going to Lelouch's, his body tense and ready to move into action. Lelouch shook his head slightly. Milly was amazed to look at him; he had almost completely transformed. Gone was the laid-back, lazy student who complained about completing his assignments for the council. Everything from the tilt of his head to the slightest gesture of his hand screamed power. Without even realizing it, others in the room sat up a bit straighter, their attention captivated by their vice president.

Milly, well aware of Lelouch's background, had sometimes wondered what it would be like to see Lelouch in the position to which he had been born. Now she knew.

"Lelouch... what's going on?" Rivalz asked, sounding a bit frightened.

"It appears that I need to return to Pendragon," Lelouch replied. "Things are changing in the capital."

"The capital? I don't understand."

"Lulu, what... what's going on? They called you..."

Suzaku didn't speak, nor did Kallen, though the girl looked on with interested eyes. Milly wondered if she was putting the pieces together. The redhead was from a noble household. The president of the council looked at her childhood friend; he nodded. "Lelouch was born Lelouch vi Britannia. It appears his family needs him to return home."

Silence followed her statement. Lelouch let it stand for a moment before speaking. "Suzaku, please go get Nunnally. We'll need to get ready to leave right away. Milly, I am sorry to ask your family for even more, but I would like to take Sayoko with us, if she is willing. Nunnally will need a familiar face."

"Of course," Milly agreed. Sayoko was a good servant, and a friend of the family, but Nunnally would need a someone to lean on as she adjusted to the imperial court. "I'll go talk to her."

"Your Highness, I will get the princess," one of the guards offered. Despite having no visible change in expression, he still managed to give an impression that he didn't trust Suzaku, undoubtedly because of his heritage.

Lelouch noticed immediately. His voice turned cold. "The vi Britannia house owes Suzaku Kururugi two life debts for his actions during the invasion of Japan. You would be wise to treat him with respect." Lelouch turned to his friend. For a moment, his eyes softened. "Please kneel, Warrant Officer Kururugi." Suzaku hesitated for a moment, then did as the prince requested. "I, Lelouch vi Britannia, do hereby request your services as a Knight of Honor. Will you swear yourself to me and my house, to be my sword and shield?"

Suzaku swallowed hard. "Yes, your Highness."

Lelouch touched each of Suzaku's shoulders in turn. "Rise, Sir Kururugi."

Milly felt a bit of relief, even as other members of the council stared at Lelouch in shock, doubtless because a Number had never become a knight before. Milly didn't care about that, though. Lelouch was going back into a dangerous situation. At least he would have Suzaku watching his back. At his liege's nod, the new knight left to get Nunnally.

Ignored the astonished looks from those around them, the prince turned to his former president. "Thank you for all you have done for us, Milly. I know this will be difficult. Be assured that your family's kindness will not be forgotten."

The statement was a promise and a farewell at the same time. Milly wondered if she would ever see Lelouch again, feeling an ache in her chest as she thought about it. Lelouch - her best friend, the young man she had distracted with mindless games and fun, who she had teased since they had met - was leaving. Things wouldn't be the same without him. She curtsied as best as she could in the short uniform skirt. "It was our honor, your Highness."

She hoped they would meet again someday.

Euphemia li Britannia rested her head against the glass window between her and Cornelia's hospital room. Her sister's injuries were too dangerous to be treated in the governor's palace. The wound to her stomach particularly worried her doctors; Euphemia had heard too many statements about 'infection' and 'permanent damage' to justify taking Cornelia home.

She had already lost so many siblings in the last few weeks. She didn't know if she could survive losing Cornelia as well.

Chance alone had saved her. She had snuck out incognito, to try and spend some time away from her duties as Sub-Viceroy. The assassins had struck while she was gone. Now her sister lay in critical condition, her knight had lost a leg, and Darlton had sustained substantial damage to his face. The doctors weren't sure he would ever be able to see from his left eye again.

To make matters worse, the assassins had moved from Area 11 to other parts of the Empire, striking down children of the Britannia house, eluding security with a skill that was uncanny, eventually managing to kill even the Emperor. Few had survived, and those who had were in hospitals, injured as Cornelia was. As far as she knew, Euphemia was the only member of their family who had escaped untouched.

And she felt horribly guilty about it. If only she had been there to help Cornelia… Realistically she knew that wouldn't have done anything, that she would more likely be as dead as Guinevere was... but that didn't stop the guilt.

A sound made her turn. Euphemia felt her eyes widen as she spotted a young girl in a Knight of the Rounds uniform. And next to her- surely, with that hair, those eyes, that bearing, it could only be... "Lelouch?"

"Hello, Euphemia."

Fresh tears sprung into Euphemia's eyes, this time of relief rather than worry. She had been concerned that Lelouch and Nunnally might also be killed by the same assassins that had decimated her family. She had known, somehow, that Lelouch was alive; when she had first met Zero, she had known the masked figure's identity the minute he lowered his gun. To see him again, truly see him and not the figure he had created, was heartening.

She moved closer to him, hesitating a moment. Lelouch, sensing her uncertainly, moved a bit closer. Euphemia threw her arms around him, sobbing into his shoulder. Lelouch was brilliant. Look at what he had he had done as Zero! Surely he would help her with Area 11 until Cornelia was able to resume her duties. "It's good to see you. Is Nunnally all right?"

"She's still blind and crippled, but as well as can be expected. Cornelia?"

"She's... she's going to be okay." Euphemia was determined on that fact. Her sister would heal. "It'll be a while until she can return to ruling Area 11."

Suddenly a horrible thought occurred to her. She tensed in Lelouch's arms. "What is it?"

The princess leaned close to her brother's ear. "Did Zero do this?"

He jerked in surprise, his eyes meeting hers. She nodded slightly. "How?"

"Kawaguchi. What you said..."

"...I need to learn not to underestimate you." Lelouch sounded annoyed, then shook his head. "No. I couldn't get past security the way they did."

"Do you know who?"

"Not yet." There was something in his eyes that said he had suspicions. Euphemia decided to let him handle it. Lelouch was clever; he could take care of himself. "You're acting Viceroy?"

"Yes." Which mostly meant doing what Cornelia's advisers told her. She didn't have the background she needed or the support to do anything else yet. But if Lelouch was here... "Come work with me. Together we can change this Area for the better." There was that sweet boy, Suzaku, who had been so kind to her. She wanted to make Area 11 a place where they could be friends, where the Japanese and the Britannians were equal.

"I can't, Euphemia. I have to go to Pendragon." Lelouch continued at her questioning look, "The Emperor's will made me his heir."

"Where is Zero? We should be striking now. The Britannians are weak! Rumor has it half the royal family was killed."

"I'm sure he'll come, Tamaki."

"He hasn't been answering your calls, Ohgi! There has to be something. We haven't heard from him since our last Refrain run."

Kallen listened to Tamaki's complaining as Ohgi tried to calm him down. She was mostly thinking about what had happened yesterday. Lelouch Lamperouge had irritated the hell out of her. His true identity was shocking. To find out that a Britannian prince had been within her grasp all the time...

More importantly, now that Zero was missing, she was wondering about Zero's identity. She had once suspected Lelouch was Zero. Now Lelouch was in the Britannian homeland and Zero wasn't returning Ohgi's calls. If Lelouch was Zero, had he been using them to gain power? Surely a Britannia wouldn't do anything else.

Yet Lelouch had also knighted Suzaku Kururugi, in front of more than a dozen witnesses. He had claimed that Suzaku had right to two blood debts. Suzaku had taken the oath without hesitation. She had observed their friendship, of course. It as the talk of the school how Lelouch, normally aloof, had all but fallen over himself to support and help Suzaku in his own way. Suzaku was more cautious, but did seem to enjoy his friend's presence.

Did that mean that what Zero had said was true? He did want to challenge Britannia? Maybe he wanted to free Japan for Suzaku?

She honestly didn't know what to think. Lelouch was an enigma, and until she saw what he had planned next, it would be best just to wait.

Marianne walked down the hall, her host's footsteps inaudible in the deep carpet. Lelouch had refused to move into the Emperor's suite just yet, which was just as well, as his coronation wouldn't happen for at least another month. Charles's death would be announced to the public tomorrow, along with the identity of his chosen successor.

The former empress felt a lump form in her throat. Against four Geass users, renegades from the Geass Order, even Bismarck had been no match, though V.V. had eventually killed them with the aid of several members of the Order. Marianne wished she had been with Charles in his final moments, if only to hold his hand. She remembered what it felt like to die; she had hoped that Charles would never feel that. For him, there was no Geass to give him a second chance.

All the more reason that the plan must succeed.

Of all of Charles's children, only Lelouch was aware of Geass. Once they had confirmed that he had not only met C.C. but made a contract with her, it became obvious that Lelouch would be the only acceptable heir should anything happen to Charles before the plan was completed. Nunnally's condition was also in their favor; Lelouch would want to make a world where Nunnally was accepted regardless of her condition. Marianne was confident she could convince Lelouch to continue the plan. He had always been an obedient boy - at least where she was concerned.

Marianne typed a code - hers, not Anya's - into the keypad by Lelouch's door. The security system disarmed. She opened the door. Lelouch looked up immediately, his violet eyes boring into her host's. "Anya. What do you need?"

"I need to speak to you about a project the Emperor was working on when he died. It is vital that it is completed."

"I have no desire to complete that man's work."

"It relates to your mother, your Highness."

Lelouch's head snapped up in surprise. "Come and sit down."

Marianne did so, noting as she sat that Suzaku Kururugi was nowhere to be found. For anyone else, she would call it stupidity. Lelouch needed his Knight to protect him. Most of the court were not as fond of the new emperor-to-be as she was and many might try to kill him. Lelouch, however, did have a very powerful Geass. It was likely that Suzaku was in the next room, with Nunnally. Lelouch had always doted on his sister, which wasn't likely to change any time soon. He would need to find a suitable knight for her as well, unless he intended to transfer Suzaku's allegiance once he took the throne.

"What is this plan?"

"It has to do with Geass." Her son started in surprise. "Yes, Lelouch, I know you have it." Lelouch started, anger in his eyes that she used his given name. Already he was settling back into court mannerisms. "I do as well, though Anya does not."

Now he looked confused. "...who?"

"When you were a child you were afraid of the dark. I told you that this was a logical fear because humans rely on eyesight to spot danger."

The emperor-to-be stared at her. "...Mother?"

"Yes, Lelouch." She smiled brightly at him. "I used to know C.C. quite well. She gave me a Geass that allows me to live in others. That is how I was able to survive that night."

"Then why didn't you ever come for us? Why didn't the Emperor seek justice for you? If you survived, you must know who attacked you."

"First, he managed to get you to Japan before I had time to contact him." Using her Geass was tiring. In the beginning, she could only do it for a few moments, though its strength had grown with time. "As for justice... the one we who killed me is like C.C. He cannot be killed, so it was pointless." She had been quite angry, both at V.V. and Charles, especially with regards to their abuse of Nunnally. In the end, however, she had agreed that the plan must go forward, both because she selfishly wished to regain her independence and she desired to see Nunnally whole again.

Lelouch actually growled. It was adorable. "That isn't right."

"Regardless. The important thing, Lelouch, is that you help me continue our plan. Charles found a way to unite the human consciousness by using two Code Bearers. All of humankind will become one, allowing everyone to understand each other. Suffering will stop. We'll get our loved ones back, because the past will return to the future. We only need to find a few more Thought Elevators. Once you're emperor, we must go to war with the EU. We only need about three more months once we capture the final target."

Lelouch was silent for a long minute, his eyes dark with thought. "You mean to tell me that all of this - the war in Japan, Nunnally's injuries, all the people that man killed - is because of some stupid plan?" His voice rose. "We were in the middle of a war zone, Mother! We had to take Nunnally through battlefields!"

"It isn't stupid, Lelouch. It will change the world, make it a better place."

"I cannot accept that you would abandon us, Mother. Him, yes. But not you." Lelouch raised one hand to his eye. Too late she realized the danger. "Lelouch vi Britannia commands you - give your ultimate loyalty to me!"

"…Yes, your Highness. How may I serve you?"

"Tell me all about this 'plan'. And about the one who murdered you."

Schneizel awoke slowly, fighting the drug-imposed drowsiness. He shifted in his bed, once again reminded of the injuries at his waist. Parts of him ached all over. The rest of him didn't even seem to exist, thanks to damage to his spine. The news that he was paralyzed had been difficult to accept. Worse still to acknowledge was the list of deaths ending with his father.

The Second Prince wasn't sure how to proceed. The empire was falling down around him. The family had been all but destroyed. Even Cornelia, the next best choice to succeed the emperor now that he himself was no longer an option - the people would never accept a paraplegic ruler after dealing with social Darwinism for so long - was in the hospital. The reports he had read indicated that she would recover, but probably not soon enough to take the throne before the court was fractured by infighting. Her sister was whole, but Euphemia didn't have the strength of will to hold the empire together, especially not under these conditions.

At this rate, the throne would pass to another noble family, but likely only after civil war. Thousands might die. And if the EU or the Chinese Federation took advantage of the chaos...

A cough caught his attention. Schneizel turned slightly in the bed to stare at his visitor. A young lady with brown hair flowing over her shoulders, sitting in a wheelchair. Her eyes were closed. It took him longer than he liked to recognize her. "Nunnally?"

"Yes, brother." Nunnally smiled at him, shifting slightly at the sound of his voice. "I wanted to meet with you once you woke up. It's... hard, isn't it?" Her hand reached out for his own.

Abruptly Schneizel recalled that Nunnally too had lost the ability to walk. It was so amazing to see her at all that her injuries had escaped his mind. Silently he resolved to ask his doctors to lower his pain medication. It was impairing his thinking. "What are you doing here?"

"When I heard what happened-"

"I mean in Pendragon." Somehow they had survived the invasion. In that case, it was extremely likely that Lelouch would seek to hide Nunnally from any possible imperial interference. It was probably the wisest thing he had ever done. Physically incapacitated, Nunnally would be a lamb for the slaughter at court without someone to protect her. Empress Marianne would have that power - had she been alive. Lelouch, as a young prince, did not have it. Better for them both to live quietly.

The sound of the door opening interrupted his thoughts. Lelouch strode in, looking magnificent in black, sufficiently adorned for his rank - the court would be in mourning - with a figure in the white uniform of a Knight of Honor behind him. It took Schneizel a second to recognize Suzaku Kururugi. He hadn't gotten a chance to meet Lloyd's Devicer in person, but he had seen pictures. Interesting. The pair had lived together in Area 11 before the invasion, he knew,, but he hadn't realized they had grown close. "Lelouch. I fear I am not up for a game of chess at the moment."

"That's not why I'm here. When do you think you can start working again?"

"Brother!" Nunnally sounded appalled. The look on Kururugi's face expressed the same sentiment. "Our brother was attacked. He needs time to recover!"

Schneizel, on the other hand, privately approved of Lelouch's forthright question. "The empire does not have time for me to recover at the moment, Nunnally." He focused on Lelouch. "The doctors believe I will be able to start physical therapy next week." He paused. "How are things?"

"The court is already splitting into factions. The EU and the Chinese Federation are already making movements to increase their armed forces." Concern showed only in Lelouch's eyes. "Your presence would be a great help."

Something clicked in Schneizel's mind. "They found a will, didn't they." Lelouch nodded, and Schneizel studied him. As a child Lelouch had shown great potential, particularly in regards to his abilities to synthesize and apply information. Of course, Lelouch had also been impulsive and ruled by emotion. If that was still the case, things could be difficult. "It will be some time before I can reappear in court. In the meantime, however, I would be willing to offer advice. I suspect I can predict the most volatile elements in court. I can also give you suggestions regarding ambassadors." The most important thing was the empire survived. Properly guided, Lelouch would be able to do that, provided he didn't succumb to strong emotion.

"Thank you," Lelouch replied. "Are you able to begin now?"

Schneizel took stock of his mind. The drugs still numbed it, but it was better than it had been. It would not be long until pain started to return. Now would be the best time to work, before his injuries incapacitated him again. "Send for some tea. Let us start with the dukes."

Nunnally sat in her garden, listing to Sayoko move around behind her. It was teatime. Hopefully Lelouch would be coming for a visit. She missed her brother terribly. He was busy trying to settle things in court, over seeing details for the siblings' funerals, keeping in touch with Euphemia, moving Cornelia to Pendragon...

Selfishly, the young princess wished they were still at Ashford. At least then she had had Lelouch's attention.

Familiar footsteps brought a smile to her face. She angled her chair towards the door. "I'm sorry I'm late, Nunnally."

"It's all right, Oniisama," she replied, using the Japanese term she loved so much. Lelouch reached over and squeezed her hand. Through the contact she noticed he was tense. He was definitely worried about something, though Nunnally supposed that he had plenty to worry about. "And Suzaku-san. I'm glad you could join us."

Suzaku sat. "It's good to see you, Nunnally."

She smiled at him. "Oniisama has been keeping you busy."

"He's been keeping everyone busy," Suzaku replied.

"We have a lot to do." Lelouch poured the tea, passing a cup to his knight and his sister. "I promise I'll try to visit more, Nunnally."

"Please don't worry about me, Oniisama." As much as she wanted his attention, she also didn't want him to work himself to death. Already she had heard that he spent long hours in the night working on this problem or another. Perhaps once the coronation was over he would have more time. If not then, maybe as Schneizel and Cornelia recovered. He could not bear the empire on his shoulders alone.

"I don't want you to be lonely." Lelouch sipped his tea. "Would you like Milly and the others to visit?"

"Yes!" Nunnally said with enthusiasm. "Milly said things are a bit hard at school right now. I think she would like to take a break." The poor council members were getting grilled about Lelouch ever since he was announced as heir. Honestly, the princess had to admit some of the stories she had heard were pretty funny. Apparently some of Lelouch's former chess partners were boasting that they had lost to the prince. Group members from projects were auctioning off various school assignments that Lelouch had contributed to. Shirley had said even Lelouch's uniform for physical education had fetched quite a price on the net. Not that Lelouch had used it much...

"I would like to have them here for the coronation. As for after... you certainly have the right to have some handmaidens, Nunnally. Maybe Shirley, Milly or Nina would like to stay?"

Nunnally considered it. She really would enjoy any of the council members around, but she wouldn't want to impose. "I'll think about it. I'll definitely ask them if they seem comfortable here."

"Good." Lelouch touched her hand gently, then changed the subject. "I was thinking about your dress for the coronation..."

The rest of tea passed talking only about simple things. Nunnally wasn't sure if she was happy about that or not. Lelouch needed someone to lean on. She knew he trusted Suzaku, but she wished he would do the same with her.

The emperor-to-be brushed a kiss across her forehead as they finished their final pastry. "I'll see you tomorrow, Nunnally."

She nodded. "I look forward to it, Oniisama."

To her surprise he didn't leave just yet. Instead he leaned closer still. "I promise you I'll create a kinder, more gentle world."

Her eyes prickled with tears. He had remembered their vow. "I know you will." She only hoped he would be able to enjoy it with her and not work himself to death.

C.C. stood, watching her contractor with golden eyes. Lelouch had been acting oddly recently, and she wanted to know why. Of course, all of the changes running through his life would make anyone change. The father whom he hated had made him his heir despite supposedly not knowing he was alive. Upon his return he found himself embroiled in court politics, needing his once-hated older brother's advice. (C.C. was of the opinion Schneizel and Lelouch were simply too alike. Thankfully, Schneizel seemed willing to support her contractor and not attempt to replace him. Lelouch was the best chance she had in quite some time to pass on her Code.) Lelouch wasn't using his Geass as much as she had hoped, but she had time.

That was pretty much the one thing that she has an infinite supply of.

C.C. stiffened as she felt a resonance in her Code. A moment later the door opened, revealing Marianne, possessing a girl's body, and V.V. "Mother. Good. I take it you must be V.V.?"

"I am." V.V. looked at Lelouch with something between curiosity and disgust. C.C. wanted to shake her head. The boy never had learned how to set up a proper front. Then again, he was permanently stuck with the mind of a child.

"Mother spoke to me about the plan." Lelouch projecting an interested air, though C.C. knew he had no intention of finishing Charles' legacy. "How much more do we need to do?"

"There are two more Thought Elevators we need to capture." Now V.V. began to look excited. "Now that C.C. has returned, modifications to those two will complete the requirements."

"I see." Lelouch smiled. It wasn't an expression of joy, but rather dark satisfaction. He pulled out a black king chess piece. "Then I suppose it will be easy enough to stop." He pressed down on the head of the piece.

Explosions echoed through her Code, driving her to the ground. V.V. was similarly affected, falling to his knees. "What did you do?" the blond cried, partially in pain, partially in shock.

"I had explosives placed in the Thought Elevators under our control." Lelouch looked at his uncle with contempt. "It is your fault that Nunnally will never walk again. You should have thought before you took her freedom. Mother?"

Marianne unsheathed the sword at her side. Abruptly C.C. recognized the strange feeling she was getting from her: Marianne was under Lelouch's Geass as well as utilizing her own. Without the slightest hesitation, the former empress thrust forward, piercing V.V.'s heart. She twisted the blade to make sure she had properly destroyed the organ, then removed it, moving to cut the body into multiple pieces, finally cleaning it on V.V.'s long hair.

C.C. didn't understand what Lelouch was thinking. Surely he realized - or Marianne would have told him, since apparently she was now loyal to her son and not her husband - that V.V. would revive. Even dismembering him wouldn't stop him, but it would delay his resurrection.

"Excellent." Lelouch clapped his hands. Several servants emerged from the next room over. Each took a piece of V.V.'s body and moved to an adjoining door that lead to the garden.

C.C. forced herself to her feet and followed Lelouch and Marianne as they moved into the garden as well. C.C. felt her eyes widen in surprise when she saw what waited there.

The servants were placing the portions of V.V.'s body into a large metal container, already half full of cement. The thick material continued to poor in, covering the pieces of V.V.'s corpse. Only when the container was full did the servants lift a lid onto the top. Lelouch locked it in several places, and then directed the servants to pour more cement over the top. C.C. shuddered. She had died by drowning before. It wasn't a pleasant processes, dying, reviving, and dying again as you tried to escape...

V.V. would never escape. Even if he managed to recover from the dismemberment, the cement was already hardening; likely it was a quick setting version. He would die, revive, and die again, constantly. Lelouch was even more vicious than she had thought.

For a moment, she was actually afraid of him.

The emperor-to-be watched the block with dark eyes. "Mother, please assign some guardsmen to this. If the cement ever shows signs of cracking, I want to know about it."

"Of course, my lord." She bowed and left at once. C.C. followed her. She wanted to get away from the prison. It brought back memories of what Clovis had done to her, something she never wanted to think about it if she could help it. She resolved to keep an eye on Lelouch. If he ever showed any sign of doing the same to her-

-She would have to take steps. She had ignored Mao's madness. Lelouch's might prove too powerful for her to tame.

"Lelouch! You shouldn't be walking around the palace unattended. Where have you been? Your coronation is tomorrow, and no one could find you." Cornelia frowned at her younger brother. "Euphie was looking for you everywhere."

"I apologize, sister, but I had to take care of something. Sir Alstreim was with me until a moment ago." He paused. "You look much improved."

Cornelia scowled at him. She was certainly better than she had been, but she still needed to use a wheelchair to get around the palace. She didn't like it at all. "Don't joke, Lelouch. I still want to know where you were."

"Regardless, the fact still stands. I'm sure it won't be long until you're back on your feet." Meeting her eyes, he sighed, realizing that she wouldn't let the matter rest. "I discovered Mother's killer. I was taking appropriate steps."

Cornelia felt surprise sweep through her at that. "I thought- I looked for the person responsible, but I never had any luck." Silently she allowed herself - just for a moment - to sulk that she had been unable to attend his execution. It probably had something to do with plausible deniability and the rank of the person in question.

"The Emperor had some information that proved enlightening," Lelouch said.

And of course, as his heir, Lelouch now had access to a great deal that had been hidden from them. Cornelia wasn't honestly sure how to feel about Lelouch being the next emperor. The young man had been intelligent as a child, but he had been away from court for a long time. He seemed to have developed some odd notions during he time period.

The Second Princess considered the situation for a moment. They were alone for the first time since they have been reunited a few days ago, and it seemed like an apt time to speak to Lelouch about the Kururugi boy. "About your Knight-"

"Suzaku has performed above and beyond anything required of him." Lelouch's voice was cool.

"He's a Number. It's causing you problems in court."

Lelouch met her eyes, expression hard. "I understand that court is full of bigots, Cornelia. But change is coming to the empire, whether they like it or not. The 'Numbers-'" his tone dripped with disdain at the term "-are no less capable than we are."

"You'll bring down the entire system!"

"Sometimes you have to destroy something in order to recreate it," Lelouch replied. He didn't seem the least be concerned if he annihilated the empire that had stood for centuries. "If that's what is necessary, then I'll do it." He turned and left.

Cornelia stared after him; perhaps he and Euphie had more in common than she realized. Her sister had the tendency to make dramatic statements and sacrifice things for those she cared about as well. The general only hoped that Lelouch wouldn't destroy them all.

Suzaku tugged on his uniform jacket. He didn't normally fidget, but he couldn't help but be nervous. "I shouldn't be here."

"Don't be ridiculous, Suzaku. You're my Knight. Of course you should be by my side."

Normally Suzaku would agree with his friend, especially since Lelouch had a tendency to get into trouble when he left him alone. The problem was this time the whole world would see him as the Eleventh Prince officially became emperor of a third of the globe. Suzaku had never dreamed that he would be Lelouch's knight. As a child he had been repulsed by the idea, and after that it had seemed impossible. Lelouch would never return to the royal family, and Suzaku was ineligible because he was a Number.

Except Lelouch had gone and made him his knight anyway, stomping over any objection raised against the appointment.

Once they had had a moment alone, the prince has apologized about it in private. Lelouch had wanted to keep Suzaku with him, had needed Suzaku to help protect Nunnally and himself, and had known of no other way to ensure that they had remained together. Suzaku didn't feel that he was worthy to be Lelouch's knight at all, but he knew Lelouch would need his help. Already he had managed to thwart four assassination attempts since they had arrived in Pendragon. He was well aware that Lelouch needed to be protected. Secretly he was honored to be the one doing so.

Today, however, the Knights of the Rounds who had survived were on duty. Lelouch wouldn't need Suzaku. "It's going to cause problems."

"They may as well get used to it, since you're going to be Knight of One."

Suzaku felt his eyes widen in shock. "Knight of One?"

"The position is supposed to be for the best warrior. More importantly, he or she is supposed to be the one most trusted by the Emperor. You're both."

"I'm hardly the best..." Suzaku demurred, still shocked by the concept. "Lelouch, they'll have your head!"

"They'll try." Lelouch adjusted the white outfit he was wearing.

Suzaku stared at his best friend. He recognized the expression on Lelouch's face. He would not be moved on this. It was the same one that came up whenever some one brought up the restrictions he had enacted on noble rights and extending protection to the Numbers. Lelouch was going to be damn stubborned about this.

Still, the Japanese man thought, maybe he could use it to his advantage. "In that case, I want something in return."

"I suspected you would ask for Japan. Done. Just make sure to have someone else to rule it in your stead. I'll need you here for quite some time."

"Wait, what?"

"The Knight of One has the right to ask for an Area to rule. I figured you'd want Japan. There are some people over there I can suggest to help you." Lelouch looked at his friend's shocked face. "I take it you didn't know?"

"The Rounds were pretty far above me." It wasn't like common officers in the army knew about the special privileges of the elite. He had barely begun to master the art of being a Knight of Honor; now he was going to have to learn another whole set of rules about being a Rounds.

As much as he wanted to help Japan, to make it a better place to be - and he would, since he could ask for the area - that wasn't what he had wanted to ask. "Not that." He paused. "Since that's part of being Knight of One, that isn't what I want in exchange for becoming one of your Rounds."

Lelouch laughed. "You're getting better at this, Suzaku. All right. What do you want?"

"Don't destroy Britannia." Seeing the dark look on Lelouch's face, Suzaku continued, his words spilling forth in a rush. "Change it from within. Work with the system. Change the laws, don't crush them. Make the Honorary Britannian system work. Create the gentle world you promised Nunnally, but do it with kindness." Suzaku looked at his friend, trying to impress his urgency on to him. He silently continued, Don't fulfill your promise. Power gained through violence isn't worth it. Suzaku had been somewhat relieved when he had discovered that the emperor was dead. No matter what, Lelouch wouldn't have the chance to repeat his mistakes.

If only he could keep him from making different, but equally destructive, ones...

The emperor-to-be waited for a long moment. Suzaku held his breath. Finally Lelouch nodded. "I will do this, for you, Suzaku." He smiled. "After all, together we can do anything." Suzaku sighed in relief. His friend smirked at him. "Now, let's go. I don't want to be late for my own coronation. It's tacky."

Lelouch paused, taking the moment to center his thoughts. Tradition demanded that the new emperor make a speech from a balcony on the east side of the palace. The speech would set the tone for the new reign. Right now, Lelouch needed a moment to compose himself.

The last two months had seen a whirlwind of change over taken his life. No longer was he merely a student, nor was he a revolution leader. Instead he was the ruler of the strongest nation in the world. The revelation that he, among all of his siblings, was his father's chosen successor had been shocking, to say the least.

It had been disgusting to find it was only because he had a connection with C.C. His father's only desire was to complete his plan.

The transition had not come without benefits. Suzaku was happy to protect him. Euphemia was ecstatic to see him again. Schneizel seemed willing to work together to better their country. Cornelia was a problem, but he was pretty sure he could handle her. If nothing else, Euphemia would help.

His mother was alive, albeit under his Geass. Lelouch still wasn't sure how to feel about that. It had been necessary, but she had changed so much... How much was because of the Geass, and how much about her had he not know because he had only seen her through a child's eyes before she had died?

There were plenty of problems ahead of him. He needed to do something about the Black Knights. Kallen had suspected him once before, and now probably did again. Lelouch supposed that it was just as well the change had happened before they had gained more resources from Kyoto. He should be able to neutralize them relatively easily, if it came to that.

He didn't really want it to. He found himself missing Kallen. Maybe he could find a way to win her over.

The student council, except for Kallen (who had declined to attend due to 'illness'), stood outside with the crowd. They had come to spend some time with Nunnally and found themselves caught up in the business of the coronation. Milly thrived in it. Lelouch was seriously considering offering her a place as an aide. He needed to host various social events now that he was emperor, and she would be quite adept at it.

Schneizel was already investigating Nina for one of his pet science projects. Shirley didn't seem to know how to talk to him anymore, though she brought Nunnally a great deal of comfort. He hoped that she would stay as his sister's handmaiden and hopefully adapt to his change in rank. Rivalz seemed a bit overwhelmed, but if he was interested, Lelouch might be able to find something for him to do. Rivalz still treated him more or less the same as he always had; that was refreshing, and he'd hate to lose it.

"Are you ready?" Suzaku asked.

Lelouch took a minute to observe his new Knight of One with pleasure. The uniform really did suit his friend. The black cape, though not a traditional color for a Rounds, was a nice touch. "I believe so."

A pair of servants opened the door to the balcony. Lelouch stepped out onto it, with Suzaku one step behind him and to the right. Today would be the first day in a long battle to transform the Empire into the kind world Nunnally had imagined, but he wouldn't be fighting it alone.

Somehow, that made it all worth it.

The Beginning

Final line aside, this is not a multi-part story. I wanted to leave this open-ended. I always thought it would be interesting to write a story where Lelouch takes the throne for a legitimate reason, except I never had any ideas past him taking it. Finally my brain pointed out I could stop where I did. I like it this way. This allows whoever reads it to decide what happens next: who ends up with who, what political changes happen, what goes on with the Black Knights and the Chinese rebellion, how Schneizel and Nunnally end up bonding, maybe over wheelchair races down the halls of the palace-

Anyway. I would like to add that carboniting V.V. is my favorite way to 'kill' him ever. (If cement wouldn't work that way, I apply alternate-dimension-science card and say they have a super awesome expensive version Lelouch found). Please note that the vow Lelouch has Suzaku take is similar, but not identical, to the one Euphemia has him take. I suspect Lelouch might not know the official wording of the order off the top of his head, considering the age he left court.

I hope this was at least interesting to waste your time on. It was certainly interesting to write. XD;;