A/N: THIS IS IT! Last fic of the year! And CLuCLu!
This is the kinda-sorta-promised sequel thing of The Second First Night. This was supposed to be up since first of December, but... well, the usual. Work and the holiday season. So I tried really hard to finish this before New Year, at least!
Mentions of stuff from 'The Second First Night' and 'I Met You Once'.
I'm sure people had guesses on what the third first night will be. Well, read on! You'll know soon enough on what point this happens. It's not as upbeat as the Second First, and also more rambly, focuses more on Lelouch's thoughts that their actual conversations, but for a reason.
Well, I won't be keeping you for too long, so here goes...
The Third First Night
Lelouch didn't put it past C.C. to pull any and every ridiculous move possible in the world. She was silly and fickle; she would do just about anything if it mean pissing him off because she thought it funny. At the same time, she was also fearless and reckless; she had done some risky things in an attempt to aide him and his goals. Lelouch was grateful for that. This far into their journey, he wouldn't put it past her to pull off another stunt without telling him, because that was how she worked - risky, unexpected moves that somehow helped him one way or another.
Yes, the little things she did were to entertain herself, but there were other things she did as her end of the bargain (these things were bigger and unexpected things, like being willing to learn how to co-pilot the Shinkirou, or taking charge of the Black Knights in his absence).
They were partners.
This latest stunt, however, left him confused. Was this another one of her pranks, or was this one of her secret agenda that she was doing for a reason?
He already had his hands full the moment they escaped to safety. There was a revolution to continue leading - what happened was just a minor stop-over - there were plans that need to be set in motion... They had to get back, and C.C. didn't recognize him.
Lelouch just stared aghast when she wrapped her arms around herself and shivered in fear and submission. She was telling him about what she could do for him, she was calling him Master, and she stammered and whimpered and...
'What is she talking about now? What is she trying to pull?' was his first thought, because this can't be happening, not when they just had that sort of closure, not when he just risked his all to get her back, to keep her alive and promise to grant her a better wish - 'Maybe she's messing with me again.'
"C.C., this is not funny. We should get going-"
"I-I'm sorry, Master! I-... I will keep quiet now... P-Please... please don't punish me again..."
He had no choice but to bear with her until they were safe in the Black Knights HQ again. True to her word, she didn't say anything. He left her in their room to attend to other business - maybe she'll get tired by then and when he comes back, she would laugh at him ("You should've seen your face, Lelouch!" - maybe she will say that. She will. This was C.C. His witch. His deceptively shallow, silly witch.). Everything will be back to normal.
Just as he was going back to her, a member of the crew told him that the pizza that C.C. asked them to make before they left was ready ('Pizza. Of course. There's nothing wrong with her - she's just bluffing.' he reassured himself.) - so Lelouch took the tray and decided to bring it with him. (She would laugh at him, and he will scowl at her and call her a shameless witch before slamming the tray on the table. She would eat it and insult him in that way of hers, and he would try to ignore her because he wouldn't spare the time and effort yelling at her silly. They were over that. She always won, anyway. He lets her. He enjoys letting her win. This time she had won, so maybe she would stop acting like a fragile amnesia-stricken girl? God knows if amnesia worked on her anyways.)
Lelouch liked to think that he wasn't letting all this get to him, but in truth all the stray thoughts were plaguing his mind - damn her and her petty tricks.
He stepped inside their private quarters then (this is it, she will laugh), but what he saw was a head of apple green scrambling to hide behind the couch. ('Goddammit, she's not done with me yet?')
"Come on, you witch. Come out. I know you're in there."
She peeked her head out, staring at him like a frightened little animal.
Lelouch saw the fear again, and inwardly he sighed, because she's not done yet. He didn't know what to do - should he act kind and gentle and coax her to come out, or should he walk over to her and grab her, shake her out from this silly trick until she slap him and tells him there was no need to do that, she was just messing with him like always?
'What if she isn't?' he thought then. 'What if this is permanent?' Lelouch hadn't wanted to consider that, not then when all hell was breaking loose and there was an all-out war to fight, not when he knew that his father just turned immortal and when Schneizel was stepping up as a formidable enemy.
She was still staring at him, perhaps afraid, because he was still in full Zero attire.
Lelouch sighed, took off his mask and tried to muster up a smile. "Hey, I brought you something."
'Maybe she will laugh now,' he thought. 'Now that I'm playing along, because I just showed her that I fell for it.'
C.C. crawled out from her hiding place, making her way towards him cautiously.
He sat in front of her, showed her the pizza and watched as her mouth watered at the sight of food. He heard her stomach growl, and she backed away.
"It's okay. It's yours."
He eventually got her to eat after showing her how. He watched her as she ate, that forced smile paralyzed in his face, because somehow he felt like he should be kind. She ate silently and still looked at him in fear, squirming uncomfortably. She thanked him for the food every other bite. At the same time, he was hoping that she will finally burst out in laughter, or chuckle her amused chuckle because he was so stupid to fall for her act. They've always joked about who was the better actor, after all. Maybe she thought to finally claim the title.
But at each passing moment, Lelouch was beginning to feel that it wasn't an act at all. It wasn't one of her tricks. It was real - she really didn't know him, she really thought that she was a slave girl, born to serve her Master, from cooking and cleaning to hiding dead bodies.
It was a tiring process, being kind to her. She was the picture of vulnerability, when he had always known her to be shrewd, hard-headed and anything but weak. Even on the rare times when she showed weakness, he still drew strength from her.
After her meal, he sat her down on the couch properly, ignoring her questions on what she should do, on whether she should clean the room or cook anything or - he couldn't help but cringe at this - whether she should take off her clothes and head to bed. He didn't ask her if her past masters had done those sort of unspeakable things to her. It was obvious enough: the way she squeaked and drew away from his touch but simply submitted, shivering and scared, when he gripped her tight enough, was more than enough indication of what she had suffered from. He simply told her to sit down, and handed her the Cheese-kun plush that he grabbed from the bed.
"That's yours too. You can hold onto him."
She looked confused, but accepted the stuffed plush, doing what she was told. A few moments later, she was sitting silently, hugging the yellow plush to herself while he told her to stay put before leaving again.
Lelouch was loving - he loved Nunnally, he cared for his friends, he showed his tender side to the people that mattered, but he wasn't kind. So he found taking care of C.C. to be difficult. It was hard to be kind to a stranger you were supposed to know, but it was even harder to be so when you know that this stranger wasn't supposed to be one in the first place.
He put up a believable act of nonchalance in the briefing with the Black Knights and was even able to accommodate several short conversations with other members who wanted to clarify some minor details. Nobody questioned C.C.'s absence. Yes, she had led them for a year and then continued to be a constant presence beside Zero upon his return, but they knew her as whimsical and lazy as well.
Lelouch heard some sniggers as he passed by the hall and gave instructions that they shall not be bothered in their quarters unless there was an absolute emergency. He let them asssume. The less questions, the better.
She was picking up papers from the floor when he arrived again. She drew back fearfully and immediately explained that it was an accident, that she didn't mean to trip by the table and send the documents sprawling down the floor. When he walked towards her, she stepped back and started crying as her apologies became more urgent, pleading him to not punish her, that it won't happen again...
...and it was too much. Lelouch didn't believe that she was this good an actress, and he finally asked himself again - what if this was permanent? He had already talked to an image of her back in the Thought Elevator, that image told him that sometimes she shut him out to protect him. Was she doing the same here again? Why - why did she leave him? If this was to protect him, then... what was she protecting him from? What about her: who would protect her? She was so helpless and obedient and...
...and he couldn't see his partner in the crying eyes of this fragile slave girl.
He stood there, gaze fixed on the stranger before him, who was still crying because she didn't know him, she didn't know that the look he was sending her was that of anguish, not of anger, she didn't know that he could never bear to hurt her anyway. She was crying because she was afraid, because she didn't know him and he knew that to her eyes he must be just another one of those monsters who used her and then threw her away after.
She stepped back again when he slumped down on the couch, cradling his head in his hands.
He managed to say, "C.C., stop crying."
"I really am very sorry, master. I can change, I will get better and never do it again-"
"I know, just... just put the papers down and come here."
"Please... P-p-please don't hurt me-"
Her voice was the same voice, but even hearing it crying, shaking like that, it just wasn't C.C. - it wasn't his C.C.
"I won't. I will never hurt you. Just come here. Please." - he looked up, trying to smile again (he didn't remember if it was a smile of pain or of bitterness, but it was a smile he mustered because he just wanted her to come to him). Then he said, again, "I will not hurt you, or punish you."
She was trembling as she walked towards him. He told her to put the papers down, but she was gripping it too tightly and in the end, as she stood in front of his sitting form, he had to gently take the stack of documents from her and lay them on the nearby table. She was wringing her hands, trying not to meet his eyes, and he suddenly missed the way she always looked into him directly and just seemed to read him.
He took both of her hands in his and she stiffened, but he gripped her soft hands tightly and then looked up at her. "Don't cry. See? Am I hurting you right now?"
"No, but... but I deserve the punishment, b-b-but... please have mercy-..."
He had to bite his lip as he nodded, then tugged at her hands lightly, urging her to kneel before him.
He never thought that he would ever wipe her tears for her, yet he did so, and she looked at him in confusion, but with less fear. For the first time, she looked at him directly, and he could not find C.C. in those very same honey-gold eyes. This, more than anything else, made him realize the whole gravity of the situation.
He had lost her.
Was this how she felt, more than a year ago, when he had lost his memories? Or was that more painful, because she had to go away to protect him? Maybe not, because now he has her firmly within his grasp but at the same time he knew that he had lost her as well. Maybe this was more painful, because he didn't know how to bring her back.
Will she ever be back?
"Master... master is kind-"
"I'm not." - Lelouch found the rueful smile to be easier to summon. "But I will not punish you or hurt you in any way. Do you understand?"
There, he saw. A faint light of hope, but a glimmer of sadness. (Has she heard those same words before, only for those very words to be proven wrong?) "Yes. Thank you, master."
"Also, I'm not your master. I'm..." he trailed off then. What is he, to this stranger who wasn't his partner?
He ran a hand across her green locks - something that had become a habit of his ever since he got back from his year-long absence. He simply said, "I'm your friend. Not your master."
She nodded timidly, looking down at the hand that gripped hers. Lelouch looked at her conflicted expression. Perhaps she had heard all sorts of things. He wouldn't put it past her to have had a master who pretended to be her friend only to abuse her like the others did, but this was the best he can do. Be a friend to his partner who didn't have any memory of him.
He glanced around the room to catch a glimpse of the time from the clock on his desk. It was late and he felt tired, drained of the energy to deal with her, but not wanting to leave her alone anyway.
"You must be tired. Do you want to sleep?"
"But I still have to clean up-"
"It can wait. I'm tired too. Let's go to bed?"
He told her to head on to bed while he cleaned up and turned on the night light. She was just timidly sitting on the bed then, hugging her Cheese-kun plushie to herself. In the dim light of the lamp, when he couldn't see her face, Lelouch could easily pretend that his partner was back. He had to tell her to take her shoes off before he tucked her to bed. He remembered how he used to do the same with Nunnally. He knew that C.C. struggled to stay awake, but she fell asleep fast enough.
When she was sleeping, it was hard to believe that she was not the same person. Lelouch lay in bed propped up on his elbow as he watched her sleep. She slept like always, huddled against her Cheese-kun plush and breathing lightly, her hair sprawled carelessly across the bed. He played with those green locks as he contemplated.
He didn't know if she was coming back. It scared him to think that he will be stuck with this... this copy...- No. (No, she's not a copy, he thought.) This... this helpless girl was a part of C.C. He should at least acknowledge that. Wasn't that the reason why he told her that he was her friend? Because she was a part of C.C., but not enough part of the C.C. he knew, the C.C. who was the witch to his warlock.
They have gotten this far, and she wasn't just "Zero's woman" now. She had long proven everyone else wrong about that. She was an essential part of the rebellion: his co-pilot, the woman who knew his plans, who trailed after him because if there was anything anyone wanted to tell Zero, then they can just as well tell C.C. No exceptions.
They've been through so much, and all that was gone and he was left with this part of her that he didn't know. But he couldn't leave her. Why would he leave her? She didn't give up on him, took up a role that was beyond her responsibility when he was gone. Why would he give up on her?
But he was scared. All hell was breaking loose in this revolution that he sparked, and he was alone because he had lost his partner. He had a whole rebellion on his side and yet he felt alone.
Lelouch raised a hand to brush her bangs away from her forehead and he traced his hand over the Geass mark there. "Come back." he whispered. "Please. You win, alright? I lose. Whatever you're trying to do, I lose."
If this was one of her tricks, it was utterly ill-timed, but so very well-executed, and would she just... just please come back out now? Hide-and-seek isn't fair when the other person can disappear so quickly and completely.
Lelouch stared at her sleeping face again, his hand trailing from her forehead to trace her cheek. "Just... just come back."
This was just like their first night together, Lelouch thought. He had let a stranger sleep in his bed.
He was scared - terrified, he had to admit - of how he would deal with her. He would have to teach her everything. Would he need to... to tell her to be his partner again? Well, after that, would he have to teach her to... to love him? Does she? She never told him so, but she was one of the few who... who cared. And ultimately, she was the only one who knew him. He wouldn't say she loved him fully, but if she did, would they have to start over? How about him? Would he have to prove himself to her all over again?
For the first time in a long time, he was utterly scared, and feeling so... so very protective. Because this part - this part is what was left of her, just when he thought that they'd always stay together.
That was the worst.
"You better have a good reason for this, C.C."
It was hard to accept the possibility that this may be a permanent thing, that the C.C. he knew will never come back. It was even harder to say that he was ready, moreover willing to take care of this... this version before him... because that meant accepting that his C.C. - his witch, his silly reckless witch - was just gone forever.
Lelouch knew that it was unlike him to be thinking of just one person and just one possibility this much, but to hell with it.
Ultimately, he was scared, but he knew that she was, too.
He would like to think that, deep down, wherever C.C. had hidden herself, she really had a good reason, because this - this was one of the best yet one of the worst stunts that she had ever pulled off in the course of their partnership.
This first night with this stranger, he didn't hold her. He wanted to let her know that she will be fine from now on, that he wouldn't hurt her or punish her or abandon her after using her, but he also knew that if he held her, it would be more for himself than for her.
He didn't know exactly just how much betrayals of trust this girl (because she was so obviously a broken little girl, nevermind that she had the physical traits of a grown woman) had suffered from, but he wanted to be an exception.
Maybe it was a little selfish wish of his to be for this girl the same man he had been for the version of her that he knew first. He wanted to be the man who would grant her wish. He had been sure of this the moment he screamed at her to not die, to come back to him because he can offer so much better (because that was what she deserved: so much better). That moment, he knew that he wasn't doing it to avenge his mother and sister or to thwart the plans of his Emperor father - those just came in the package, those were extras - he was doing it as her partner, her warlock.
After all, she had never really failed him before. She had been holding up her end of the bargain, even exceeding his expectations. It was about damn time that he return the favor.
So that night, he didn't hold her close. He wished for his witch (the one he met and knew and loved) to come back to him, but he also prepared himself to hold this part of her close to him: to protect her, because no matter what form or part or version of C.C. is handed to him, Lelouch will always accept her, just as she accepted everything there was to accept about him.
A/N: I know it's kinda mean to leave you guys a bittersweet borderline-angsty fic to celebrate the New Year with, but hey, I tried. ^^;; We didn't get that much of amnesia!C.C. and she didn't last too long as well, but we did get some really sweet moments and a very conflicted side of Lelouch with it.
With that said, I would like to thank you guys for reading. I hope I get more.. err... stuff... this incoming 2014. Happy New Year, everyone!