Ambiguous

BY : escapeasy
Category: +. to F > Code Geass
Dragon prints: 953
Disclaimer: I do not own anything pertaining/related to Code Geass and I’m not making any profit from this work.

"The wisest of men is a fool when love is concerned." –Lord Conrad Weller from Kyo Kara Maoh!

•-•-•-•-•-•-•-8

Ambiguous

One Foot in the Nest

Suzaku softly moans.

His back gently arches above the plush, plump snowy beddings of the hotel bed under him as Lelouch's hips ease close between his bent legs, against his cushioned backside that lifts him more comfortably as he's carefully entered. His arms are tense and straight, spread at his sides with hands fisting mounds of the blanket as his chest curves in the warm glow from a dimly lit bedside lamp. It traces his somewhat rounded stomach and stiff nipples, but doesn't quite coat the rest of the posh, pale-toned furniture sharing their room.

"Is it all right? Any discomfort?" Lelouch quietly asks as he skims his palms up then down from Suzaku's waist until he's holding a raised pair of hips.

Suzaku fondly smiles with heated cheeks. "Yeah. It's good." He reaches and holds Lelouch's jaw when the older boy lowers to link their lips.

Their kiss is slow and loose, lips sifting like sand until Lelouch shifts his hips against the boy connected to them, easing a contented moan to sail from soldier's throat. Lelouch lets the sound ooze into the air as he turns his attention to kissing the brunet's neck whose face falls to the side, baring his flesh for supple lips and a tender tongue. The former prince mouths down a warm, tan neck and into the curve of a shoulder when he's tempted by the tense nipples on Suzaku's rising chest. He presses a light kiss on Suzaku's flat pectoral and then the tight nub, making the gent under him breathily moan and weave fingers into his feather-soft raven hair. A royal tongue spills from parted lips and carefully blankets the dusky pink point, nudging the tightening bud with its wet tip before lips close and tamely begin sucking. Lelouch listens to the wet sound of his mouth on the Honorary Britannian's chest underneath a current of airy mewls and words that try to be Japanese dissolve down Suzaku's throat. He pays equal attention to Suzaku's other nipple, earning a roll of hips against him with the tight compression of brawny thighs and a deep squeeze in their connection.

And then the husky beckon of his name.

Lelouch lifts to gaze at Suzaku, at those swimming green eyes, and kisses the struggling native words trapped in his mouth. He delicately pulls his hips back and then pushes forward in testing movements that coax a coasting croon from Suzaku's nose, encouraging him to deepen his range. Suzaku's head tilts back as his body is lapped into the gentle shores of flourishing pleasure, a slow-burning passion chasing the pulse of their blood. Everything about them is measured, savoring. Pleasure rolling out in their breathing like the swaying of the ocean with Suzaku's quieted cries calmly pulling Lelouch in farther, faster. He is careful to not place pressure on the seahorse's stomach as the mild rhythm he began with fades from his hips, sinking into Suzaku's hot body like every time before. Falling into a lust that eats at his mind and body until there's nothing but their pumping, pulsing heat.

Lelouch absolutely loves the way Suzaku clings to him, the connection, the charging of their bodies.

All wet skin and air.

No complications, no lies.

Lelouch watches the movement inside Suzaku's body affect him; he's always been enamored—no, enthralled in the way he can make Suzaku's body move – but not like a puppet, rather, like he cut the puppet's strings. Lelouch watches Suzaku's cheeks tint more darkly and his slivered eyes glaze as he listens to that Japanese voice squeak against his moving hips, feeling Suzaku's entire being – not just his body, but his heart and his head – desperately, greedily grip around him. Pull him ever closer. To be inside Suzaku and have the ability to create this ecstasy is an empowered feeling that Lelouch does, admittedly, let go to his head, but it's not just pride. It's not the same as toppling pieces on the battlefield or the commanding swoop of his absolute Geass.

It is different.

It is… pure.

Suzaku's body, surely, has no rival and Lelouch honestly enjoys making his best friend cry in rapture – more so than bringing himself to that same brink.

But when they fall, it's always together.

Suzaku's wings might unfurl first but Lelouch is on his tail. A stab of Suzaku's voice cracks the isolated air around them before a hand can stuff it back down – mindful of neighbors. Lelouch doesn't allow a hand to stifle, however, and tangles their fingers together in the rumpled blankets, welcoming the flutter of Suzaku's voice into his ear; it pushes darkness from his eyes as his body rows them faster—

Deeper—

Closer towards that thrashing edge—

And it all fades with Suzaku's sinking crows of pleasure…

•-•

"How did we get here?" Suzaku thoughtfully asks, nestled at Lelouch's side under the hills of blankets with his head resting on a pale shoulder.

"What do you mean?" Lelouch holds the hand resting over his beating heart.

"It feels like so long ago, doesn't it? When you and Nunnally climbed all those stairs to the shrine—"

"You mean when you punched me in the face."

Suzaku flinches with a simper. "You're never going to let that go, are you?"

"Maybe if you were sorry."

"I'm sure that I apologized." Suzaku wryly grins up at the resentful royal.

"I think I'd remember that," Lelouch haughtily maintains.

Suzaku did apologize.

7 years ago.

But he could always stand to be more apologetic about it.

Without even a hint of rolled eyes, Suzaku cradles Lelouch's head with one hand and tenderly kisses the cheek he so wrongly hit almost ten years ago.

"I am so very sorry for punching your very perfect face."

"…Actually, it was the other cheek."

Suzaku good-naturedly laughs, his simper widening into amusement as he proceeds to kiss the "other" cheek in the same fashion.

"Can you ever forgive me?"

Lelouch's mouth quirks – and for just a brief moment, he sees the ethereal shadow of Suzaku's guilt hanging on his words.

(As well as the mask and cape hanging from his own…)

"I forgive you."

Suzaku holds his warm smile as he leans down to softly and fully kiss Lelouch's prideful lips.

They're just at three months since the seahorse first burst the rebel leader's world unlike anything else had. In more measured terms, Suzaku is nearing four months of pregnancy and his belly is finally rising. Not overmuch, but enough to soothe some stress.

Four small months.

Four big months.

Eight whole weeks.

Roughly one-hundred-twenty days…

It seems they've made it all the way to the cold month of December, Lelouch's birthday, and this hotel weekend was a gift from Suzaku. Their club gaggle did throw a rather unwanted shindig for Lelouch – he's not one for parties, especially Milly's parties, but it was surprisingly low-key despite him becoming a legal adult which is typically a big deal to many teens. (Never mind that Lelouch "grew up" the day he was kicked out of the only home he'd ever known and across the globe.) Fortunately, it wasn't all that difficult to sneak away with Suzaku who unwittingly prepared their getaway.

Where they could be alone.

Away from the world.

Away from their tactless friends.

Away from fearing about Nunnally over-hearing them in bed…

The two boys had been restricting their love-making to the bathroom – namely, showers – because that's where Suzaku is more comfortable. It's often later in the evening after Nunnally is tucked into bed and as such away from her bedroom. While in itself not unpleasant, the shower is always slippery and steamy and sweltering, but this bed is open and secure and Lelouch doesn't have to stare at the back of Suzaku's head. (Aside from that one time he got Suzaku bent of the sink in front of the mirror.) Even if he does adore the mesmerizing flexing of Suzaku's muscular back… and the way his flesh is absorbed into Suzaku's body.

Lelouch has to admit, Suzaku has given him something he—they needed. Lelouch hasn't felt this at ease since… he could smell the flowers in his mother's garden. Or see Nunnally's big lilac eyes.

It's a fleeting slice of heaven, Lelouch knows, even frivolous, but maybe an escape is just something he needed yet would never give himself. There's always something to be done. These months with Suzaku as expecting parents have been admittedly stressful—piling on top of his already crowded shoulders as he walked the tightrope of rebellion, determined to never fall.

"I've been curious about something," Suzaku says, spooning against Lelouch on his stomach, anchoring his elbow on the other side of the black-haired lad's body. "When you were a child, did you ever want to be anything when you grew up? I-I mean, when you were in Britannia… did you think about it?"

Other than being forced to decide if he'd be Nunnally's or Euphemia's groom?

"I was…" Lelouch isn't quite sure what word he's looking for here, "…naïve then, I didn't see the world that way." Truthfully, Lelouch's concerns weren't so different as they are now: Nunnally.

"Do you miss that?"

"It was a lie," Lelouch impassively says – emptier than Britannia is far. "What I have now isn't a fairy tale, but it's real."

Zero might be a shroud of lies but he's felt more honest behind Zero's mask than he ever did behind the one of "Lamperouge." As vi Britannia Lelouch wasn't allowed to forget that his blood wasn't pure, even if he did—does?—have happy memories of that time. Lelouch isn't some hot-house orchid but looking back, yes, there were things his ten-year-old brain couldn't conceive.

His father not loving him was one of them.

"…You don't think something like that—that kind of happiness could ever be a reality? Honest?"

Lelouch's hand skating over Suzaku's side is his answer, caressing a scar in a way that makes the soldier visibly shift as if in unconscious discomfort. Or trying to hide his obvious discomfort. He traces the ghost weighing Suzaku's eyes with the fingertips of his hand and lifts his head up for a kiss that efficiently silences all these unwanted questions. The younger boy yields with a pleased sound wisping through his nose as he leans fully into his friend's bedeviling mouth, but when Lelouch moves as if to flip them over—

"Wait," Suzaku gently insists, tossing his leg over to straddle Lelouch. "It's your birthday. Let me treat you for once."

Lelouch hums, intrigued. "Treat me how?"

"I don't know." Suzaku pulls on a feisty expression but it doesn't quite fit, hanging a little loosely on his body – although apparently actually accepting the subject drop. "What do you want?"

A dead Britannian Emperor.

"I wonder…" Lelouch slyly answers, sliding his fingertips up along the outline of Suzaku's waist, grinning at the reflexive way a body shifts into his touch. "You might want to be careful now, you know. Technically you are underage and we could get into a lot of trouble if we're caught together like this." It will still be a half year before Suzaku is "legal" (although the "shame" of being with an "eleven" would probably be more damaging to most others.)

"I won't tell anyone if you don't," Suzaku impishly grins back, leaning down to kiss his 18 year-old beau. "But, actually, I do have another little surprise for you," he suggestively says against Lelouch's lips.

"That so…?" Lelouch asks in a similar manner.

•-•

A sexy nurse exits the bathroom.

A small, paper pillbox hat with a red plus on the front crowns Suzaku's brown mane as he walks towards the bed in a white nurses' pencil dress slinked around his body. It's tighter around his lower half than his upper half that has a plunging v-neck that was apparently tailored for somebody more busty – or at least somebody with a bust. The skirt is also quite short, above mid-thigh, but it does fit rather nicely around Suzaku's shapely behind and doing little to conceal the bulge of his front.

"Well?" Suzaku asks as he walks up to the bed in a slow spin, sliding his hands down his sides. "What do you think?"

It's certainly not the regulation kind of uniform.

"I am… surprised."

No, really.

Lelouch is astonished.

Suzaku simpers a bit bitterly, "Did you forget?"

"I didn't." Lelouch smirks. "Halloween, costume shop." But he wasn't serious when he mentioned it then and really didn't think Suzaku would purchase such a thing – although maybe Lelouch should know better, by now. And to think he's been holding onto it this entire time…?

"Do you like it?"

"…It looks good on you," Lelouch casually says, smoothing his palms around Suzaku's waist to pull the boy closer to the edge of the bed where he sits with bundled legs.

"But?" Suzaku asks, hearing the noticeable pause on Lelouch's end.

"I appreciate your effort, but, I wasn't being serious." Actually, the fact that Suzaku would even do this for Lelouch is what makes it sexy. "This isn't some interest I have." That is to say it's not his kink and he doesn't want Suzaku to overly invest in it.

Suzaku stares a moment, thoughtful. "What about Suzie?"

"Even Suzie."

Suzaku gives him a skeptical look and Lelouch lightly laughs.

"You do look good in skirts and dresses, and their easy access is very appealing, and they are easier to strip off you," Lelouch says knowing there's honesty in his words, slowly spreading his low voice like warm butter up the inside of Suzaku's bare thigh with his palm, while his other hand smoothes around a round rump towards the hem of the rather thin dress—

And Suzaku faintly gasps in surprise when the tight fabric is yanked up to full expose the firm flesh of his bare backside, and front – so he didn't bother with underwear. If not already past the date, Suzaku definitely can't return the outfit after this. Steel hands grip Lelouch's shoulders and he smiles against the squirm of skin on Suzaku's chest as his hands massage up between thighs and over one plump cheek.

"Because I really like you best when you're wearing nothing but my name on your lips," Lelouch fiendishly murmurs hotly against skin he sucks, listening to the sharp breaths from the other boy above his head.

Even better is the honest sculpting of pleasure on Suzaku's face, when Lelouch is wearing Suzaku.

"Lelouch, you're surprisingly… sexual," Suzaku mutters as he shivers in Lelouch's attentive hands.

The older teen has to look up at that, "What's that supposed to mean?" You say that like it's a bad thing.

"Just," and the flushed brunet smirks of something wry, "you know how you are…"

Is that really an answer?

Or is that just an insult?

Regardless, Lelouch understands what he means…

"I wasn't before you, that's true." Lelouch's mouth is adorned with a soft smile while he uses both hands to massage the ample mounds of Suzaku's rear.

The pilot quivers delightedly as he leans closer to the older boy.

"I'm honored that I bring that out in you," the seahorse breathes with an unexpected, affectionate shape on Suzaku's lips, hands slinking up Lelouch's neck. "And that I'm the only one who gets to see it."

The former prince proudly quirks his lips, "You should feel honored."

Lelouch doesn't fully understand it himself, other than that Suzaku is just… special – not just for a boy, but as another human being. He doesn't think he'd feel differently if Suzaku was a female (at least then this pregnancy would make sense.) A romantic cliché, maybe, but Suzaku is the only person Lelouch feels he can really trust. And maybe that's… really all there is to it.

(Even if Lelouch still keeps secrets, because that's just in his nature.

Zero shouldn't—)

Suzaku is grinning as he's pulled flush against the boy that instantly plants kisses over his chest while squeezing hands grope his bubbly buttocks. A growing hardness rubs Lelouch's stomach as his lips speckle close to one nipple and he gently pecks on a stiff nub, softly grazing his pursing lips until Suzaku slightly wriggles.

"Any discomfort here?" Lelouch asks with a checking glance at answering greens.

Suzaku has become more sensitive here lately; his nipples as well as his breasts – which, while still very flat, have softened and are sometimes tender. Sore nipples can make even just wearing a shirt unbearable, so Lelouch doesn't want to over-stimulate…

"No," Suzaku murmurs, fingers scrunching in a nape of midnight hair. "It's good."

Lelouch kisses the rosy nipple again and leans over the brunet when he lies back in the fluff of hotel linens again, legs dangling over the side. The Britannian takes the protruding point of Suzaku's nipple between the rims of his lips and mildly slices the tip of his tongue over it from side to side. A soft moan inflates Suzaku's chest like a sail and he rises a little upward into Lelouch's mouth who traces around the peaking bud before flatly licking over the tightening pink spot. He lightly rubs his thumb over the sharpening point as he drifts over to the other nipple with a shove of loose fabric. Lelouch repeats the light tonguing he did to the other, feeling Suzaku's body ripple under him in a way that inspires him to briefly suckle the sensitive nip. He lifts to the steady shallow of Suzaku's pants as he smears his thumbs over wet nipples, circling around tips that harden even more before closing both of them between his fingers. Lelouch's concentrated violets swing between each nipple he carefully rolls in his fingers, listening to the quiet growth of moans rooting under loud breaths that pour into his blood. Suzaku's arousal is fully lifted with Lelouch's and he twists the sensitive tips in his fingers, watching a restless chest push up for more.

"Lelouch…" Just like the sound of his name.

Lelouch's eyes flick up to Suzaku's face splashed with red pleasure and can't resist slightly harder pinches to the younger boy's nipples to see his face glaze over. Then he kisses Suzaku again and nails lightly scrape his shoulder-blades as he surfs a hand down a wavy stomach to briefly stroke an erection with loose fingers. When they tiptoe farther down and press against a soft opening, Lelouch laps at a moan that breezes from Suzaku's throat before parting from their wet lips to wet his fingers. He dips them back down between Suzaku's thighs and the toned leg not under Lelouch's weight bends around him with lifting hips as fingers slide through a loosened entrance. Excitement deepens Suzaku's breath and their open lips graze as fingers swab around inside his hot body. Lelouch pets the hot coil of inner walls as he shifts his mouth lower to the moist length he grips with his other hand.

"Wait," Suzaku's voice steams from his lips and he tries to pull away but his hips are hooked on Lelouch's pumping fingers. "I want to… I want to do that for you."

Lelouch stares at the sheen of lust on Suzaku's clover eyes.

And decides to make a little joke.

"You can reach your mouth down here on yourself?"

That question pelts Suzaku's face with confusion.

And then annoyance.

"I meant I want to mouth you, you jerk," he half-heartedly grouses and rustles Lelouch's hair with a fairly rough hand – which isn't really helpful in selling his offer.

Mirthful chuckles just bubble in Lelouch's chest.

Flattering, but "No need," and he lowers with a hanging tongue—

Only to be literally cock-blocked by Suzaku's palm on his forehead.

"But…" Suzaku murmurs as his hot inner walls are groped with firm, long fingers, "you never let me and it's your birthday… I want to do it." Fingers curl over Lelouch's scalp. "Let me make you feel good."

This does make Lelouch feel good.

He likes being in the lead.

And Suzaku asking Lelouch to let him do something that Lelouch doesn't want him to do… doesn't really constitute as a "treat."

"Alright then," Lelouch says, on the other hand, with a smirk that lights Suzaku's eyes, "why don't we skip the appetizers and jump to the main course?"

They're both ready—hungry for it, anyway.

Lelouch is quite proud of himself as he shuffles up the bed to grab their supplies left on the nearby wooden night table; he's squirting out some lubricant gel on his fingers when he turns to Suzaku—

And is pounced by a sexy, pregnant nurse with an erection.

Suzaku is perched on Lelouch's lap with a strangely pleading simper, "You really don't want me to? Even if I ask you nicely?"

Why should Lelouch let him?

That's not what the birthday boy wants. Letting Suzaku do this is a treat for him, not Lelouch.

"Did I not satisfy you earlier?" Lelouch asks with feigned hurt.

Suzaku gapes, "That isn't—! O-Of course you did!"

Too easy.

"Then why meddle with a good thing?" the secret rebel leader coos as he pulls the skirt of the dress so it fully gathers in a rumple around the pilot's waist.

Suzaku's sigh sounds slightly jaded, "Can I… ride you at least?"

The dunce seems strangely adamant about this…

Well… this is weekend is kind of for both of them, isn't it?

Still.

Lelouch doesn't like it.

"You can try," Lelouch rigidly permits, realizing that… just that he should at least try to be flexible for Suzaku.

That way when he rejects it he can say at least he tried.

And maybe… he thinks that he shouldn't take Suzaku's nature for granted; that it will always be there.

That Lelouch shouldn't break it.

(Because—)

Lelouch allows himself to be pushed back and kissed by a randy seahorse and reaches between the thighs of the boy straddling him and slips in his slickened fingers. Suzaku chokes on a startled sound that turns over into a moan as he accepts the insertion with a pulling passage – just because Lelouch is lying back doesn't mean he's passive.

He's Lelouch vi Britannia inside Zero's mask, after all.

Once Lelouch is safely sheathed, Suzaku doesn't waste much time in impaling himself on the taller erection with guiding fingers courtesy of the dominating demon. Lelouch at least enjoys the taut feeling of Suzaku's skin sealing completely around him with his fingers – he's still tight and scorching and panting, and that's good.

But.

While the bobbing view of the seahorse is nice – Suzaku's eagerly frosted evergreens, unhindered, flushing face and his arcing back pushing out his hard nipples from the sagging front of the dress – Lelouch isn't content to lie here like a slab of meat with Suzaku doing all the work (having the control). So he decisively tumbles them over, much to the younger boy's discontent – though he doesn't stop the birthday boy and wholly accepts the tongue and flesh that confidently enter him—

Lelouch tried.

Totally.

That should totally count as trying.

—"Urgh…" Until his face suddenly twists in displeasure.

Lelouch pulls back with a pause of concern, "Does it hurt?"

Suzaku shakes his head, face contorting behind the back of his hand over his mouth. "It's—!"

He shoves Lelouch away by his face—

Then he's stretching over the side of the bed—

Vomiting rather violently onto the unlucky plush carpet.

At first, Lelouch is a little too stunned—

Cough!

—startled—

Cough!

—confused—

COUGH!

—a tad egotistically wounded—

HA~CK!

—before he reacts.

He pats Suzaku's shoulder, soothingly rubbing a blade, "Are you alright?"

Suzaku is (un-sexily) panting, gulping one last stomach curdle as he rises, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, "…Yeah. It just…"

"Are you ill?" Lelouch asks, feeling a forehead with his hand and carefully studying his features for signs of sickness.

"No, I think it's…" he trails off, eyes and hand landing on his stomach. "I guess with all that… bouncing…"

Lelouch hums.

Seems the (not)morning sickness has finally stricken the poor seahorse.

What perfect timing.

"I'm sorry," Suzaku mutters, rubbing at the discomfort on his face. "That really ruined the mood, didn't it?"

Don't apologize.

"Not like I'm mad at you." Lelouch shrugs before leaning in for a kiss, "Anyway, if you're finished…"

Suzaku backs away with a blink, "What?"

"…I'd like to continue," Lelouch blandly murmurs – thought he made that clear enough.

And, well, they are still connected.

A slight shock fleetingly flickers in Suzaku's eyes until amazement overrides. "Really? You're not bothered?"

"What kind of partner would I be if I was bothered by your bodily functions?"

Suzaku stares. "…I think that's the most romantic thing you've ever said to me."

Hilarious.

Lelouch deadpans at Suzaku's cheekiness, "So, the question is whether or not you want to continue." If Suzaku hadn't ruined the mood by retching, his antics surely will.

Suzaku seems to consider the notion, an impish smile reforming on his lips—

Until it falls—

And he's curled over the side of the bed again, retching like a sea-sick seahorse…

All Lelouch can do is pat Suzaku's back. "There, there…"

Let this be a lesson to Suzaku: Lelouch belongs in charge. Always.

It's just the natural order.

•-•

A few swishes of mouthwash later and Suzaku is moaning on his back again with better mounting; a sexy nurse is deflated on the floor by Lelouch's feet – although the little hat miraculously clings to Suzaku's head. Lelouch stands at the foot of the bed – away from the sick on the one side that he tried to clean, covered with a towel – as he thrusts into the boy lying on the bed, jerky legs folded over his arms. His curled fingers are secure on Suzaku's hips as he watches the seahorse surf on the fluid motions of pleasure filing his slim, athletic body. Suzaku undulates as his hands fist the disheveled beddings above his head that tosses to the side as lust froths inside him with sprouting sounds. They twine around Lelouch's covered cock, slinking around and pulling him deeper into clamping heat the older boy is only happy to feed. He withdraws his rigid length leaving only the head inside and then slides all the way back in to the base with long strides that weights Suzaku's breaths with desiring whines. Composure frays at the edges of his huffing pants as his open body writhes on the bed like a luxurious feast on a silver platter. Long ago are the days Lelouch was given anything on a silver tray but he can honestly say that this Japanese offering is superlative. For all that Lelouch curses exercise and Suzaku's insufferable military mentality it has carved him into an appetizing lean slab of meat, but tastes and looks far juicier.

Suzaku notices Lelouch's stare and calls his name.

Somehow it sounds like a haunting breeze.

Until he says it again, louder.

Needier as it curves his back off the bed.

And Lelouch knows what he's doing – he just told Suzaku he liked that, so of course… Whether or not it's better when Suzaku does it unconsciously or not… it's not as though it's insincere and it has the same effect. Yet, Suzaku should be a little more mindful that this is still a hotel room and that they're not isolated up on a mountain top, like Mount Olympus.

Even so, Lelouch swings his hips and strikes harder at that place inside Suzaku that only he can touch, watching it spring through his friend in claiming jolts. Suzaku cries out a half-eaten morsel of Lelouch's name, the end of it hissing sharply from Japanese teeth until the middle oozes into nameless moans he can't shape. Pleasured croons swell in Suzaku's throat as Lelouch pumps his swelling hardness in the inviting squeeze of a narrow passage that doesn't stop tempting him in deeper and he hears his own breath heavily shove from his chest. He leans against the bed with one hand and begins stroking Suzaku's shaft, legs falling open to the side as if requesting more of the thick bliss Lelouch thrusts into him. He drives himself deeply as he leans over the seahorse caught in their tide who pants and ruts hips into a jerking hand while Lelouch quickens his pace. Suzaku clings to the blankets, and Lelouch's thrusting erection, as if he might fall off the planet and Lelouch knows that the pilot is balancing on his peak, just waiting to be tipped over.

Ecstatic moans freely drop from Suzaku's voice like they can't at home and Lelouch has to close his eyes on the rapturous display melting under him. If he stares too intently on the intensity of pleasure he whips into Suzaku with his hips he'll rush right over his peak too soon. He clenches his amethyst eyes on the pair of emeralds that narrow on a backward-tilting head. Lelouch can't see the way an open mouth launches those bursts of moans but Lelouch can hear them and they constrict around his throbbing hardness like an ax to a tree. The Britannian's blood boils down into thickened length that his boyhood friend's body hungrily swallows and a deep groan rusts the hinges of his resolve, prying open his eyes. It's almost a cruel joke that his gemstone irises tumble right on top of the prominent points of Suzaku's nipples and he doesn't fight the urge budding in his mouth. Suzaku grips the blankets at his sides and bites a startled, delighted cry of surprise as Lelouch laps at the sensitive nub of a shriveled right nipple, sucking the erogenous spot and his slippery hardness twitches. Suzaku mangles more moans in his throat when a pumping hand thumbs his tip and Lelouch can hear them over his laboring pants puffing around the tense nib in his mouth.

They break through the finish together, Suzaku's legs bending around the body between them and his insides constricting around the boy—man filling him and Lelouch presses his forehead against Suzaku's thudding chest. His hips buck with the clinging climax of Suzaku's hot canal and he manages to peek up at the pleasure shuddering off a flustered Japanese face that also wets his chest. Lelouch deeply inhales air as they both go soft and he deflates over Suzaku's limp body, piles of snowy blankets melting around them…

"I love you," Suzaku quietly says like a feather brushing over Lelouch's ears in the fading dazzle of sex that claimed their bones.

All Lelouch can do is kiss him.

Soft lips pressing below Suzaku's eyes and spotting over a red cheek as a palm flattens on his chest when their lips join – can Suzaku feel what Lelouch's heart is telling him? The words Lelouch can't easily reciprocate? (The words that are no less true behind Zero's mask.)

I love you, too.

•-

-•

"Oh, my, a hickey?" Lelouch hears Milly prod when he enters the club room the following Monday, looking to see her eyebrows lifting at Suzaku's neck with intrigue and attempting to peel the oh so subtle bandage poking above his Ashford collar.

But Suzaku is too fast, slapping his hand over it with a reddening face.

A corner of her lips sharpen as she looks to Lelouch, "What are you, in middle school?"

"What are you, jealous?" he coolly counters.

"You said no one would notice…" Suzaku murmurs at Lelouch with a hint of annoyance.

Lelouch does his best to not shrug, "Milly is often the exception to the rule." Frightening as that might be…

"You two just never stop, do you?" Milly says more offhandedly than that glint in her eyes. "To be expected of our star couple."

Star couple?

Is Milly's life really this dull?

Student Council meetings used to be such mundane affairs – key words there being "used to be." Well, all right, maybe they've never been "mundane" under Milly's reign, but when the focus shifts to him and Suzaku as if they're an exotic exhibition he suddenly yearns for their old exaggerated escapades. Lelouch knew there would be changes, he just hoped beyond hope that a semblance of grace would usher those changes. To their credit, they have shown more sophistication since they first learned, but they should really stop staring whenever he and Suzaku are near each other in the same room.

Honestly…

"At least you're on time today," Suzaku cheekily says.

"Don't get too excited. I might take a nap," Lelouch dryly replies as he ignores their peers to sit at the table.

"Must've been an exhausting weekend," Milly wickedly grins.

"Wouldn't you like to know." Lelouch effortlessly bats back, not even bothering to look at her – or anybody else – in the eye.

When Suzaku sits next to Lelouch, Milly sighs with obvious pensiveness.

"It really is true what they say, isn't it?" she says, leaning against the head of the table.

"What do you mean?" Shirley asks, perched across from Lelouch and Suzaku, paper and pen ready for note-taking.

"That all the good men are either taken or gay." She faintly shrugs, lips weak under the saucy weight they try to lift. "In this case, it's both."

One look at Rivalz and it's almost painful. The poor lad. He remains unnoticed (namely, by Milly) at the President's side even as he chokes on her words; Lelouch can see his malnourished pride shriveling all the more.

"Y-you don't really think that, do you?" Rivalz doesn't say it in so many words, but he's begging her to notice him – it's the straining anxiety in his voice.

And then Shirley is sharing her stifled giggle with Suzaku's blush—

Hang on. Why is Suzaku blushing?

Lelouch scowls at the possibly-flattered seahorse, reminding him he's very much attached to this scowl, but Suzaku openly pretends to not see.

"Well, you'd be hard pressed to find their doubles, don't you think?" Now she's smiling like her usual self, fierce and unwavering. "But I guess even then, if their doubles are just like them they'd still be out of reach." An impish gleam as she taps her lips, "Perhaps I should give up on men. What do you say, Shirley?"

"Say to what?"

Milly saunters over to her with a pronounced sway of her hips. "You and I are sharing the same pain. Surely we could comfort each other, no?"

Now it's Shirley's turn to become a sputtering, flushing mess as Milly cups the sides of her face – but it's Rivalz who looks far more concerned than Shirley.

"I have told you that I admire the young woman you've grown into, haven't I?"

"Ma-ma-ma-ma—!" Shirley squirms as Milly leans in, puckering her lips—

And then laughs—

Laughs—

Laughs.

"Madam President!" Shirley scolds, red-faced and jittery as she removes herself from Milly's reach. "Don't do that! It isn't funny!"

The blonde is holding her stomach, barely trying to contain herself – to which Shirley stomps her foot with a huff and rounds the table to sit as far away from Milly as possible.

Lelouch isn't sure there is a place that's far enough away from Milly.

"Relax, Shirley. You're not exactly my type." Milly wipes a self-satisfied tear from her eye. "I prefer someone who isn't so soft."

By the looks of everyone's faces, they guessed right: that was a lewd pun.

Before Rivalz can utter something that won't help his case in the least, Lelouch blandly blocks his friend's opening mouth.

"As much as I'd like to let this continue…" Lelouch mutters, elbow on the table and head in his palm. "Are we actually going to do anything important, or can I just take a nap?"

"Lelouch!" Suzaku instantly chides.

To which Lelouch smirks once again, "I warned you, didn't I?"

"You're right. That makes it all better."

"I knew you'd see it my way."

"I was being sarcastic!"

"And yet you don't know it when you hear it."

"You—!" Suzaku stops himself. "You just like to be difficult, don't you?"

"You should know that well enough by now."

"This is a bit sickening…" Milly's mouth morphs into a snide grin. "You two are as good as married already, eh—? Wait!" She interrupts herself, body stiffening and eyes widening like a meerkat standing tall above its burrow. "That's it!"—

Uh oh…

—"We need a wedding!"

"W-wedding?" Nina unexpectedly speaks, sounding like a meager squeak of concern. Lelouch can't disagree…

"Yes! If these two are as good as married," she slaps her hands on the table in front of Lelouch and Suzaku with far too much emphatic passion, "then why not make it official?"

Because Milly absolutely has the power to do that.

"Th-that's…" Suzaku tries, obviously oblivious of what to say to her. "I'm not… sure I, uh…"

"…" Don't look at Lelouch. He's staying out of this one.

"It's perfect, don't you think?" Milly is beaming, brimming with this rushing high of inspiration. "We could have a little ceremony right here in the clubhouse! Just picture it: a white winter wedding! We can have decorations and music, and food. It would be just us, of course. A small and intimate gathering—Suzaku, you could even wear a wedding dress if you want to!"

Suzaku blushes at that. "Now, hold on just a min—"

"Don't worry your pretty, little head!" she beams at him, boisterous and complacent as she poses like a super hero with hands on her hips. "I promise to make this dream of yours come true in the most elegant and classiest way possible!" She spins on her heel and jabs a finger into the air, "Now, there's so much to plan. First, we'll need flowers and decorations. And cake! Mustn't forget the cake! And then, clothes. Measurements. Should we see a tailor, or maybe-well, the drama club has some interesting pieces—but first and foremost we have to decide on the bride and groom's attire, and then everything else will follow. Shirley! Are you getting all this?!"

The orange-haired girl "eeks" and then scrambles to scribble as Milly prattles on, thinking aloud of the possibility for themed weddings…

Suzaku has effectively and cleanly been removed from the conversation – about his own wedding – with the quick-moving blade that is Milly's ambition. Looking as helpless as a fish on a hook, he turns to Lelouch with a pair of dumbfounded eyes, and it's rather adorable.

"What just happened?" Suzaku is left to ask in his abandonment.

Lelouch smirks, "Didn't you hear? There's going to be a wedding and we're both invited."

…On second thought, this is business as usual for the student council.

•-•

As tempting as it was – too tempting – to sail away on the dreamy idea world nested in that hotel bed and never set foot on the shore of reality again, pretending problems don't exist doesn't make them disappear.

Lelouch has spent the past months getting far too comfortable.

Restless.

Perhaps the notion of… home, a real home (like he's never had), is more seductive than Lelouch initially would've thought. But he can't get complacent. Suzaku is still at Britannia's mercy and still very much pregnant with the child of their enemy who just happens to be their discarded un-dead prince. A reprieve from their troubles only serves to remind Lelouch that they are far from out of this mess just yet…

Lelouch made a vow that when Nunnally opened her eyes she would see a more peaceful world and he had been certain that only with the destruction of Britannia (or at the very least, the Emperor) would that become reality and those anxieties haven't vanished. The Zone might enable many things, but it doesn't simply solve everything. Even though the SAZ does, in a way, enable him to have what he wanted it still doesn't grant him his two goals:

Obliteration of Britannia and his mother's murderer.

It's quite possible that one stone could hit both targets, in this case.

Euphemia and her little utopia can only protect them for so long… No matter how strong Lelouch tries to make it.

•-•

"Shinozaki Sayoko, thirty-seventh successor to the Shinozaki School of martial arts. …You are an impressive person." Lelouch sincerely says through Zero's filtered mask, tapping away files on his terminal from the privacy of his still-hidden vehicle-quarters. The Black Knights may have moved up in the world, but this "gifted" trailer is still one of many valuable secrets outside of Britannia's sight.

"…Thank you, sir," she says with a curt bow, her modesty a nice glaze on the confidence in her eyes.

When Diethard spoke of an "undercover" agent of sorts in passing, Lelouch noted the information and saved it for later, not particularly investing any time to dwell on the matter until it was relevant. Diethard is a suspicious man, but so is Zero, and to be fair, the Britannian had proven himself to be useful if nothing else and Lelouch trusted as much as circumstances allowed – and any such secret supporter would ultimately be judged, measured and put to proper use on Lelouch's authority anyway, so he wasn't concerned.

The pregnant seahorse at home was more pressing.

With things settling somewhat between the Zone and Suzaku, Lelouch decided to call upon this person for evaluation, to determine just where they stand in his world and for what purpose.

Lelouch never expected it would be Sayoko.

It's almost harder to believe it with her standing in front of him.

Vivid, personal memories are tied to this woman, so many strings tugging on Lelouch's heart that he only grows more pleased than anything else. This woman was his caretaker, is his caretaker. She brought him a tenderness he didn't fully recognize as maternal until he was too old to really need her, and he sometimes wonders if she's aware of this fact when watching her care for Nunnally. Although seemingly docile, she isn't without her own secrets and masks, Lelouch understands, and that she wants to be a part of Zero's fight makes his chest bloat warmly with pride. He considers her to be real family, so without knowing it, she's already doing him a great service just standing by him.

(That's more than he can say about a certain someone, but he knows he shouldn't think that way, even if it hurts…)

He has the perfect job for his trusted maid.

"But as you know, with the timorous state of the Zone we are not openly acquiring new members." Not publically, at least (although whether they ever did "publically" is debatable) – while Euphemia had aided in preventing Zero and his Black Knights from completely disarming, certain compromises were to be made. Yet, it also remains true that some of his own have left entirely to join the SAZ. It's a wound that cuts more deeply than Lelouch wants to acknowledge.

Her gaze visibly deflates, and he smiles.

"Not to worry," he smugly announces, tilting his head with fingers prodding for the hidden release on his mask and making her blink at him—and then nearly peels her eyelids right off when he places Zero's face on the table in front of him. "I have a special task for you." Lelouch pulls the cloth from his face with a hooking finger as he waits for her surprise to settle – which is rather quick, to her credit.

Then again, Sayoko always did have graceful composure.

(Not that Lelouch is remembering when she saw him in his undershorts for the first time that one morning Suzaku kicked him out of his own bedroom and never said a word about it.)

"The days ahead might be more interesting than is preferable. Ashford remains untouched and I would like it to stay that way. Your standing orders for now are to remain a reserve. At Nunnally's side."

Suzaku might not be Euphemia's Knight any longer but situations are crossing rather too closely.

Sayoko appears to understand with a flick of a smile and she bows.

"I'll notify you of any changes," he says.

"Yes, my Lord."

He can't help the prideful but tender smile that smoothes right across his lips—

"You revealed yourself to her that easily?"

—Which C.C. so effortlessly rips right off his face once Sayoko has left them alone.

And just why is the witch on the surface in the first place?

That's what Lelouch wanted to know.

"I entrust Nunnally's well being to her on a regular basis," Lelouch coolly responds as if that's enough of an answer, not sparing a glance at the green-haired nuisance on his couch.

"You trust the same to Suzaku, do you not? And yet you won't tell him of your second life? Maybe you don't really trust him as much as you claim."

"You know that's different."

"Is it…?" she idly wonders – an insect digging into his ear. "You were to harden your heart. You vowed from the beginning to walk this path of destruction regardless of the consequences and the prices you'd have to pay – which I can undoubtedly say included your own life – and yet… you're too afraid to lose Suzaku."

Lelouch decided Britannia had stolen enough from him. He was to walk this path alone, but Suzaku (and the baby) is—

"Are you jealous?" Lelouch airily asks.

"Of course not." C.C. breezily counters. "Not only is our relationship unique, I'm already closer to you than even the boy supposedly carrying your child."

Lelouch silently grits his teeth at her.

"What was it that you said?" she continues. "Only those who are prepared to be shot should shoot? Have you lost your nerve? Is that why you've yielded your rebellion and—?"

"I haven't yielded anything," Lelouch sneers, eyes blazing. "The course has changed but the end goal is the same."

"Which one is that? The destruction of Britannia, the identity of your mother's murderer, the naïve dream of your sister or raising a child with Suzaku?"

"Is there a distinction between those?"

"Are you absolutely certain of what your sister wants?" C.C.'s emotionless stare is somehow cautionary.

Lelouch looks at her inquisitively. "She said so with her mouth. If she could wish for one thing—"

"Such a notion isn't original to her, Lelouch. There are others in this world who would make the impossible happen given the chance," she blandly, coldly interrupts him, and he only grows more annoyed. "That's why they're wishes. Helpless fantasies."

"Since when did you outgrow your cynicism?"

"Have you asked what she truly wants in this lifetime above all else?" she easily sidesteps his derision.

(Euphemia smiles sweetly, "She told me that if she could be with her brother, that was all she needed."

"That's why?"

"That's what made up my mind," Euphemia answers as she gives him a brighter smile. "I asked myself what is really important in this world. Lelouch, I haven't given up anything that I really, truly treasured…")

"Why are you asking me this?"

"The Power of the King is an isolating one… You might be a demon, Lelouch," she looks at him with the slightest of smiles on her lips, "but you're a beloved one."

This conversation is weird.

C.C. is being weird – even for her.

"Rather than air my dirty laundry and speaking of wishes, perhaps you would like to tell me of yours," he tiredly utters at her, not expecting much of a response. This back-and-forth could go on for an eternity, Lelouch imagines, but it does tend to shut her up.

The hard cast of her amber eyes, however, is even more unexpected.

"…Maybe you aren't ready yet."

Lelouch's left eye tenses.

Of course.

"Such evasion. I have to wonder if it's a trap," he dryly says.

Her lips pleasantly bend – and yet there's a slinking ruefulness lurking in the corners, "If it is you are already caught within it."

"That might be one way of looking at it," Lelouch mutters, donning his mask on the suddenly eager twinge of his Geass – so instead of a bug in his ear, it would be the snare of her web? "But it's obviously something you can't obtain on your own." Not yet, at least. "Until then I'll take my chances."

•-•

"Why didn't you say anything during the club meeting?" Suzaku casually asks later that evening as he idly stirs a pot of cooking rice on the stove in the clubhouse kitchen.

Lelouch shrugs, taking the cutting board of chopped vegetables and scraping them into the same pot with a knife.

Suzaku's eyebrow arcs, "Well, I find it hard to believe you're alright with all of it."

"For once her plans seem harmless enough." For now, anyway.

Suzaku purses his lips, looking down at the swirling of bright, crisp vegetables with the brown grains of rice.

"This is because you want to see me in an 'easy access' wedding dress, isn't?"

"A reasonable guess," Lelouch quietly laughs. "You can stop stirring the rice." Suzaku steps back as Lelouch takes the wooden spoon from him and covers the pot with a clear lid, steam and vapor bubbles instantly pebbling the glass.

"So… what, that's it?"

"Like I said, this seems harmless." Lelouch turns his attention to the chicken breasts sizzling in the pan beside the rice, carefully flipping the browning meat over with tongs.

Suzaku crosses his arms, "Are you feeling alright?"

Lelouch gives Suzaku a funny look over his shoulder.

"This just isn't really like you. Normally you'd be a big sour puss about something like this…"

"Sour puss?" Lelouch distastefully repeats with eyes focused on their dinner.

"So…?" Suzaku shimmies over to the Britannian's other side away from the stove to lean against the counter.

Lelouch grins at him, "You're cute when you worry." Suzaku releases an exasperated sigh, making Lelouch chuckle very warmly in his throat. "It is Milly, and that's always cause for concern, but she knows this is delicate so she'll use discretion. She can be capricious, certainly, but when it comes to truly important matters she is also trustworthy. It goes without saying that she's helped Nunnally and me all these years."

Perhaps it also goes without saying that Milly doesn't have much say in her own wedding and wants to live vicariously through her "star couple."

"Capricious," Suzaku takes his turn to echo in a murmur. "You never did like people who are impulsive."

"That's because impulsive people do not think." Lelouch briefly checks the underside of one chicken cut, not ready. "Therefore they are idiots. And you are the only idiot I don't dislike."

"Right. It's not because it makes them harder for you to predict. Like—"

Suzaku's dry, but soft and warm lips are suddenly pressing against Lelouch's with an arm hooked loosely but securely around his back. Stunned still by surprise, and cautious in front of a live stove, Lelouch's reaction is concentrated in the jump of his heart – and the heat on his cheeks, which he blames on the cooking – that lingers after they part.

"—this?" Suzaku murmurs against Lelouch's lips, his mouth bearing a sharp grin.

Suzaku is right.

But Suzaku isn't allowed to be right.

Lelouch deadpans, "Case in point: only an unthinking, impulsive idiot would lean over a hot stove and risk being burned, or some other incident, to prove an ill-conceived point."

Suzaku is still grinning as he pulls himself up on the counter backwards to sit, "Whatever you say." This strange air of smugness around him is so not cute. "You know I'm right."

"I could say the same…" Lelouch returns to checking that same lean cut of meat, this time flipping it over.

"So we're both right… And wrong."

"Yes," the cooking boy dryly agrees. "Ours is a flawless logic."

"Good thing we're getting married, then."

"Even better: we're going to be parents."

Suzaku laughs, "Seriously, though… What do you think about Milly's wedding idea?"

"I think it's pointless."

"Er—" Suzaku stumbles over Lelouch's bluntness, "Uh… Care to elaborate on that?"

"She has no authority – this is just her version of make-believe."

"Well, yeah, but… Don't you think it's a nice thought? I know it's not real or anything, but, they want to share this… happiness with us. I think that's nice."

"The sentiment isn't lacking."

"But it's still pointless. And harmless."

"I would've thought you would appreciate me trying to be positive for once."

"If this is your way of being positive, then I'm seriously worried for you."

"I thought we agreed to leave the worrying to me." Lelouch's hand somehow finds itself inspecting Suzaku's thigh rather than the chicken. "All you have to do is look cute for me."

"I don't remember ever agreeing to that," Suzaku very plainly mutters as he sternly shoves away the hand groping up his leg. "And don't tell me that just because I don't remember it doesn't mean it didn't happen. Because that's getting old."

"Sometimes it's true." The sly tone of Lelouch's voice flirts with his lips and he rubs his left eye with the back of his hand at the implication. "But it seems my tricks don't work on you anymore. I'll have to update my tactics."

"Or you could just try being more honest." He leans forward a little, an imploring presence shimmering in his searching greens. "I would appreciate that."

"I think I've always been very clear about my wants with you."

"That's not what I meant."

Lelouch can only lock eyes with Suzaku in a brief and silent glance, quickly evading whatever it is he's hiding from in those lucky clovers by looking back to the stove. Although the chicken is juicy and teasing his tongue with its seasoned sent, he only hears it cackling at him as it simmers in the pan, causing him to lost his appetite.

The chicken is laughing at him.

How ironic…

Although the thought that Suzaku could be pressing about Zero does cross Lelouch's mind, he doubts that's what Suzaku is alluding to. For one, it's the wrong place and time for something so delicate, even a dunce like him would recognize that. Second, although Suzaku is prone to random subjects, they haven't spoken of anything that would lead to Zero – which in itself is rather… pleasant. No ugly politics or lies or prodding. Maybe that's suspicious, but Lelouch is still grateful for it. (Perhaps he likes to pretend there isn't something ominous awaiting them in the shadows. And he really tries to not feel guilty about Sayoko.)

This time the seahorse is fishing for something else…

"Don't get me wrong," Lelouch says, "I appreciate the acceptance, but this…"

"Do you have something against weddings?"

"…Not especially."

"Meaning?"

"…No, nothing. Never mind."

"Lelouch, I want you to know that you can talk to me." Suzaku almost sounds like he's pleading.

A short sigh – Lelouch was going to try to be more flexible for Suzaku, right?

"Considering that I'm the son of a Darwinist-preaching polygamist who spawned a disgusting amount of offspring for his own benefit? That his harem is constructed of conceit and indulgence? That it's all a nest of superficiality, selfishness, bigotry, competition and backstabbing? Why would I possibly have any issues about marriage?"

A sobering blink claims Suzaku's eyes, "I guess… I never thought about any of that – your family, I mean. I didn't really have family, it was mostly just me and my father, but you lived with an empire. So many other women and their kids… I can't imagine what that must've been like."

Unpleasant would be putting it mildly.

And not to forget that most of them didn't like the "vi" Britannias because they weren't pure blue bloods.

"I'd rather not dwell on it." Lelouch tightly begins to close up again. "And you should know that I don't have any issues marrying you, fake or real – and there isn't a soul on this planet that I would let keep that from us." Britannia can try, but it will be a cold day in hell when they succeed.

"That's… very sweet of you to say." Suzaku's eyes are shimmering with… something warm and fuzzy. "A little aggressive, but sweet."

What's with that reaction?

All Lelouch did was state the truth.

"I should prepare our plates," Lelouch says as he takes off his apron.

"Lelouch." Suzaku hops to the floor and stops him from approaching the cupboards, waiting until both violets give him their undivided attention and gently places his hand on Lelouch's cheek, a somewhat roughened thumb gently rubbing fair skin. "I love you," he softly says, as if the world is balancing on those three words, and kisses Lelouch deeply and gently. Lelouch feels himself blinking at the tender, full press of lips against his, having enough presence of mind to at least return the kiss, but is blindsided – more so than the impulsive kiss from earlier.

This is just…

A half-eaten chuckle squirts from his lips before he can swallow it—

And Suzaku notices, much to his displeasure, "What was that?"

Lelouch shakes his head and turns away, but the laughter spills from deep within his chest.

Suzaku isn't angry so much as confused and a little offended, "Why are you laughing?"

Because Lelouch is uncomfortable.

Suzaku's tender sensitivity is strange and… awkward. He's trying to be supportive and loving, to make Lelouch feel better than he perceives Lelouch to feel, but it doesn't have that effect. It just makes Lelouch feel even more vulnerable – weak – than he wanted to and already does, but because it's Suzaku and he's just trying to be comforting, all Lelouch can do is laugh.

Laugh at the cheesiness.

Laugh at what he doesn't want to feel.

Let his body shake with this slight insanity like a purge of his systems to rid what is unwanted – memories, emotions, insecurities…

Suzaku doesn't quite huff as he walks away to presumably ready the table, mumbling something about clams to himself in Japanese; although Lelouch is grateful that Suzaku likely dismisses the chuckling fit as Lelouch being unromantic, he wishes he wasn't so immature. Emotionally speaking.

Suzaku just tried to reach out, again, and Lelouch literally laughed in his face.

So pathetic…

But Lelouch can't help it. Shutting down and shutting out is just a reaction – habits that have kept him safe, kept him feeling safe like a turtle in a shell. (And despite his strong affections for Suzaku, he doesn't understand emotional commitment. He doesn't understand why they can't just be together in the understanding they already have. He's given more to Suzaku than he has to anyone, shouldn't that be enough…? Or is Lelouch missing the point?)

Lelouch is still grinning as he portions everyone's meals, if only to maintain his mischievous façade, but he tries to soften it considerably when they all sit down for dinner. A real smile of contentment and appreciation, no matter how small or faint, that he hopes conveys something to Suzaku that his voice can't.

Considering Suzaku smiles back at Lelouch in a similar manner, his silent action must be clear enough for even this idiot to comprehend.

•-

-•

"You really don't give up, do you?" Kallen grumbles at Suzaku as they sit together alone in the club room for peer-study during their free period.

Suzaku is surprised that Kallen still attends school – it's not as though her identity as a Black Knight is exactly public, but he figured that she might simply not see the point in maintaining this charade. She still pretends to be ill, of course, and doesn't come as often as she did before the Zone. There might be a truce with Zero and his Black Knights but Suzaku isn't willing to let these opportunities go to waste so he rather swiftly opted to partner with Kallen right now, to chat. Lelouch didn't like it, but, they don't need to be attached at the hip all the time. Besides, Shirley seemed eager for his attention and after the strange fight they had Suzaku figured it's for the better.

Even if she is still acting a little unusual.

"Wouldn't you change someone's mind if you thought you could?" Suzaku asks, scratching in his notebook.

"Maybe. But I pick my battles." Kallen isn't playing at school seriously, but her history book is at least open – although from what Suzaku understands Kallen's grades don't suffer even with her frequent absence.

…Not unlike Lelouch.

"You mean ones that actually are battles," Suzaku jokes with a bit of a snide smirk.

"What can I say?" And she tosses it right back at him, plus a gleam in her eyes. "I'm a fighter, not a diplomat."

"I hadn't noticed," Suzaku mutters, earning him a shove from her fist.

Suzaku likes this.

More than just seeing her true self, it's this lightness and joviality over something that could have been disastrous – that almost was. A strange sort-of acquaintance that was given the chance to float rather than being sunk by all the conflictions and evils of a world that struggles to understand the concept of unity. Suzaku feels there's a victory here with Kallen, no matter how small or how slow-moving it is. If he can just keep this ball rolling…

(And don't ask anything about Zero's identity – unless he wants to get punched in the face.)

Suzaku is curious about her experiences as a "half-blood" but he isn't sure how to breach the topic. There might not be much point in asking, however, as she only wears her Britannian half a as a mask. To Kallen, her mind, heart and soul are Japanese, and Suzaku already knows the hardships of that life…

Kallen's gaze slides over Suzaku from the corner of her eye. "…Can I ask you a personal question?"

"Sure."

"…Why Lelouch?"

Suzaku smiles a bit tartly, "You mean why a Britannian."

Kallen shakes her head, "No. I mean why Lelouch?"

He looks to her again, nearly getting caught in her critical stare, "…He's not really as he seems."

"Oh, really?" Kallen dryly scoffs with a lift of her nose. "You mean he isn't a complacent prick?"

Suzaku grins, "No, he can be… well…"—and then almost forgets his argument—"You've seen how he is with Nunnally, haven't you?"

"…More or less," she answers with a noncommittal shrug – is she always so defiant about everything?

"So then you understand he's not one-sided. I'm not saying he's perfect, but there are sides to him you don't know."

"Oh, please!" Kallen snorts. "I can't believe you're giving me the 'you don't know him like I do' cliché. You must be more gullible than I thought you were."

So she really is defiant about everything.

"I don't care what you say or think, you really don't know him as well as you think you do. He's a good person."

"I'm sure that's what he wants you to think."

"What's with all this? What do you have against him?"

Kallen doesn't turn her head, but he can see a blue eye peek at him from a safe corner, only lifting her chin and firming her lower lip a little when her eye slides forward again.

"Just rubs me the wrong way, is all. Something about him…"

"I know what you mean."

"Weren't you just defending him?"

"Truth is, we didn't like each other when we first met. Actually, we fought."

"Lelouch? Fight? Now I really don't believe you."

"Well… we were only kids and I was the one who started it. But I felt guilty about it and later apologized to him and he looked at me like I was crazy. We got along great after that, though. I don't know why but… we just clicked."

"So, what, you knew you were meant to be together because of that?" Kallen dourly drawls.

"Maybe." A whispering laugh cushions his voice, knowing how absurd it is that Kallen's sarcasm is the truth. "When we finally saw each again these years later, it was…" Suzaku pauses to consider another word for magical, "almost like fate. I guess the same red thread is tied around our fingers."

"Red thread," she idly repeats.

"Oh, it's a myth tha—"

"I know what it is!" she snaps, very insulted. "It's just been a long time since I've heard anyone mention it."

"Sorry. I forget who I'm talking to."

"Anyway, you said you met Lelouch when you were a kid?"

"…Oh, yeah." Suzaku mentally stumbles, trying to remember the lie he once fed Rivalz. "It was summer and he was at a resort…"

"A resort? So it was before the invasion…" she accurately muses aloud. "He's been here all this time? Why didn't he go back?"

"…He didn't have family to go back to. He and Nunnally were orphaned and taken in by the Ashfords."

Surprise doesn't escape her fierce eyes.

And then he wonders if… she's thinking that's how Nunnally became… the way she is.

"What's worse is that was when the tension between Japan and Britannia was reaching its breaking point – just before the invasion." Suzaku mentally wonders if he's already saying too much (Lelouch would most likely say yes, very much so), but he feels it's important to share. As if changing Kallen's mind about Lelouch is another victory over all prejudice in the world. "You think he's just a snob, but he knows what it's like to be bullied for the colour of his skin, for the way he was born. Kids in town, uh, near the resort, were cruel and would pick on him whenever he went into town. They never let him forget he wasn't wanted."

Suzaku had blamed Lelouch at the time. He's too weak and stubborn – Suzaku had thought. He didn't understand why Lelouch insisted on doing everything on his own rather than let the Kururugi family feed them and tend to their needs. Not much has changed for Lelouch, either, and it's painfully easy to see him as that rejected, bruised little boy even nowadays when he cuts coupons for groceries, cares for Nunnally or re-stitches the worn seams in Suzaku's uniforms.

And it's easier for Suzaku to feel shame over his 10 year old selfishness, ignorance and pride all over again.

(And he remembers an irate young boy vowing destruction and the teenage boy with old grudges.

Then Suzaku wonders, not for the first or last time, if things would be different if he hadn't misguidedly killed his father.)

"I… didn't know," is all she can murmur, downcast – a conceding look souring in her eyes.

"Like I said, there's a lot you don't know about him."

Kallen sighs very heavily, "Look, I know he's not 'the enemy' I was just…"

"You don't trust people easily," Suzaku finishes for her, quietly.

Her eyes are hard on him a moment, and then she's shrugging, "Anyone who does is an idiot."

On that, Lelouch would agree – practically sounds like it's spoken from his own mouth.

Suzaku smiles a little to himself, "Just do me a favor and… don't tell him I told you all this. I don't want to get in trouble."

"Trouble? How much trouble could he possibly bring you?"

Suzaku laughs, "You really don't know him at all, do you?"

•-•

"Ireallydon'tthink—" Suzaku tries to protest under a tense blush on his cheeks.

"Now, now, Suzaku. We have to get your hubby's opinion!" And with that Milly shoves Suzaku into the council room, where every member is present—

Judging by the look on their faces, they weren't expecting this anymore than Suzaku was.

"Ta-da~!" Milly proudly exclaims, arms waving about the white, hooping gown that consumed the soilder. "What do you think, Hubby? This is the bride's dress from the drama clubs' play a couple years ago – you know, the one about the princess and the frog? This dress actually fits him quite well."

Well enough, at least.

It certainly isn't the first one she made him try on – once she snagged his pants after the first dress, there was little he could do…

Lelouch's calm violets look Suzaku down—

From the long veil attached to a golden tiara to the taut, floral lacey, faux-corset chest resting above the wide bell skirt, draped with puffy layers of but more lace pinned with fake gold rosebuds, and all the way at the golden ruffles dangling along the hem.

—then back up.

A smug smirk smears right over the ex-prince's cool lips, "It's not frilly enough."

Suzaku can only flatly sigh.

Damned snarky over-confident little

•-•

Schneizel.

Lelouch would spit if he wasn't currently masked.

In fact, if he'd do more than that if he could manage to get the precious White Prince alone.

His Geass is just itching to get acquainted with dear brother.

Sadly, Schneizel is no fool and is never without company – even if it is only that little pretty-boy shadow of his – as he floats around the building like a goddamned peacock. At any rate, having this pompous snake in close proximity is fortuitous even if tricky. After all, Schneizel is just as protected by the "truce" as Zero is and even though Lelouch is more than certain his elder brother is up to something, he has to tread carefully. At the same time, however, Lelouch isn't obligated to engage with Schneizel more than he needs to, so there's a bright side…

Of all the wonderfully horrible things that Lelouch could submit Schneizel to, he hasn't made a decision yet – Lelouch does intend to get answers about his mother, at least. Clovis fingered both Cornelia and Schneizel, but neither has been particularly accommodating to Zero. Cornelia doesn't forgive easily and whenever she's hovering around Euphemia in Lelouch's presence she's killing Zero – her brother's murderer – with her eyes. Euphemia had taken it upon herself to inquire Cornelia about her investigation of Lady Marianne's death, she claimed a frustratingly fruitless search but was sparse on the details despite Euphemia's effort; as expected of big sister – too grisly, although it seems likely that her dead-ends are real. While Lelouch is… appreciative that Euphemia tried he knows there's more still that Cornelia just isn't going to share with sweet little Euphie.

Details vulnerable to Geass.

As it is, Schneizel seems suspiciously laid-back about this whole affair – everything Schneizel does is suspicious, yes, but Lelouch doesn't like the idea that something somewhere else could be occupying his attention from the Zone, the first yielding in Britannian expansion. While it hasn't brought the giant to its knees it is at least a trip in the right direction and that's something that would bait Schneizel. He is undoubtedly hungry for that Throne. Lelouch is expecting something, anything, and he'd much rather strike before he's stricken.

Lelouch doesn't engage much with Suzaku, either. Not informally, anyway. Suzaku has asked some prodding questions here and there but overall still seems uncertain as to how he should act around his "former" enemy.

Lelouch wonders if that's good or bad.

Maybe it would be different if Zero appeared more often. But Zero was battle-born, he's a Commander, not a bureaucrat, and as such Lelouch hasn't felt it absolutely necessary to be present every day – which has enabled him to spend more time with Nunnally. He maintains an extremely close eye on the proceedings, of course, but is careful to avoid hanging by red-tape or being diluted by Britannian osmosis. As it stands, the Zone is at capacity and Lelouch doesn't want to bother being delicate or coy about expanding, no matter how much it displeases Britannia's upper-crust – yanks their leash.

Perhaps in truth, Zero is the warrior the worlds needs during crisis, not during peace.

(Needed for destruction, not creation…?)

Currently the former Knight is leaving the former princess's office, presumably heading home as the evening has gotten rather late – which is also where Lelouch will be shoving off to soon.

"Kururugi," Lelouch greets as they pass in the hall, making the Lancelot puppeteer slightly stammer.

Ok, so, Lelouch does kind of like that.

"Zero." And then Suzaku pauses with an open mouth, making Lelouch stop as well. "…I was… wondering if I could ask you something."

"Oh?" Lelouch continues on his way to Euphemia's office knowing Suzaku will follow him.

When inside he hands over his revised copy of the budget that Britannia won't be able to wiggle from as simply as he suspects they think they can. She takes it with a smiling thank you – she insisted on being involved in every facet as much as she can, and while she is coming into her own with the business side of leadership, she is still inexperienced.

"Um… It's just…" Suzaku starts.

"Something personal?" Lelouch is amused but keeps his voice even.

Euphemia clears her throat. "If you two will excuse me a moment, I have something I need to ask the projections division." Then she's very smoothly exiting the room to leave them alone.

Yes, very smooth.

Suzaku rubs his hand through his messy hair, "You probably won't answer, but, I was wondering if… you have a family?"

Not such an unusual question.

Somehow Lelouch was expecting something else.

"You assume I wouldn't?"

That hits Suzaku.

"That is—I mean I wasn't—"

"Not to worry, I'm not offended," Zero's tall voice cruises over Suzaku's sputtering, although he's sure Suzaku isn't all that worried about offending the "terrorist" leader. "It's not such an unreasonable assumption."

"Maybe, but I really shouldn't assume things on my own."

Lelouch feels himself smile.

"And if I said that I do have a family?"

Suzaku lightly bites at the inside of his lip, seemingly pondering that thought.

"I guess I would wonder if you were willing to sacrifice them to your war as you have with the families of others. But maybe you aren't, and that's why you agreed to the Zone."

Ouch.

"I rather admire your bluntness," the hidden Britannian wryly says. "I suspect your superiors are not so appreciative."

"And I'm not surprised you deflected my question," Suzaku dryly retorts but doesn't push – no, he was only poking. "Good evening to you."

Not even half a minute after Suzaku turns and leaves does Euphemia predictably enter.

"Have a nice chat?" she cheerfully asks.

"It was… interesting," Lelouch drolly responds, wondering if she put Suzaku up to it. Undoubtedly. "Anyway, I must be going."

It wouldn't do well for him to arrive home late after Suzaku.

"Wait, before you go." Euphemia locks the door behind her before approaching him with tentative eyes. "Can I…?"

Lelouch holds a pause.

Then lifts his hands and removes his mask.

"I think I can understand why you are Cornelia's weakness." He pulls the cloth down from his face, grinning at the light in her eyes.

"You should be flattered that I want to see your handsome face," she winks. "After all, there was a time when I thought I'd never see it again."

No need to go bringing up feelings.

"Did you have a nice birthday?" Euphemia asks. "I really wish you would've let me give you something…"

"It was pleasant," is all Lelouch says. It's not as though he got her anything for her birthday – she said she didn't need anything other than her beloved siblings and he expressed similar – that he doesn't need material things, at least. But more than that, he doesn't want anything linking them together, even a sentimental trinket.

"There is something else that I wanted to ask you."

"Lucky for you I have time for one more question."

"Always so clever, aren't you?" She almost giggles, yet her pastel gaze hardens rather quickly into something strangely critical. "Do you think you'll ever tell Suzaku? About you… know…?" She leaves the rest of her question to hand gestures indicating his alter ego.

Lelouch and Euphemia do not often talk in such an informal way, nor does he often remove his mask for her… mostly because he doesn't trust a Britannian building to not be bugged in every nook and cranny – although regular, subtle checks and Euphemia's insistence about that being untrue lessen his concern that does not erase it. Of course, he also cannot be seen as being too comfortable with her, either.

And he's also not entirely comfortable being comfortable with her.

"What's with that question?" So suddenly.

(Has Suzaku said… something…?)

"It's just…" Euphemia hesitates. "I know that I shouldn't meddle and I'm not trying to, but I… know about the two of you. Being together."

Lelouch heavily sighs, "What did that idiot say now?"

She seems to smile at that, "He didn't say anything, rather he didn't need to. He thinks I am unaware."

Great.

So Lelouch has picked up Suzaku's unwitting way of confirming without meaning to?

(Or did Lelouch accidentally say something before…? Seems like he might… remember something like that… On that god-forsaken island?)

"Didn't need to?" Lelouch unhappily echoes.

Something shimmers in her eyes, a reflection of the past that sparkles where it drowns Lelouch.

"I know the two of you well. Don't underestimate a woman's intuition!"

…Euphemia's intuition is above average, Lelouch will give her that.

Should it be to her credit that she realized Lelouch and Suzaku's secret affair sooner than their club friends – who spend much of their time around the couple – or not? It's not to say that that they are so unable to notice, just… Regardless, Lelouch takes comfort in the fact that the club crew were so unaware, as that means that distant others are also ignorant. Even as Suzaku sleeps nightly with Lelouch – it almost seems that at this point somebody else should've noticed, if not for Lelouch's expertise in discretion. Suzaku is quite capable, too, considering… And perhaps with all the goings on, it's not suspicious that Suzaku isn't around his dorm-room much anymore.

"When I was there for Nunnally's birthday, I could just tell." She continues. "I saw you, both of you. Your body language, your energy… the way you look at each other. Sometimes it's like nothing else existed. Most people might not see it on you, but I do. And I… saw it reflected in him."

Lelouch hasn't forgotten that she crushed on Suzaku.

Pretty hard.

So hard he became her Knight.

(And sometimes, Lelouch wonders, would it have been better if he hadn't—)

"What are you trying to say?"

"I…" she falters, as if uncertain of that herself. "Maybe he deserves to know? I mean, do you intend to just keep it secret forever? Your whole life together, raising a family, and you'd just have him be ignorant of this? Is that fair for either of you? And what if he ever did find out? He'd be hurt. Wouldn't it be better if it came from you?"

Lelouch stifles a haughty huff, "You think he'd just accept it so easily?"

"I think that he loves you. And I think that, maybe, you don't give him enough credit."

"I thought you said you weren't trying to meddle."

Seriously, is there some kind of psychic connection between the women in Lelouch's life, or something?

She sighs, a bit a herself, "I'm not. But I do worry. I love you, both of you, and I can see that you love each other very deeply. I want you to be happy, together and in love without fear. You both deserve it."

Lelouch can feel his jaw clench.

Even if… even if Lelouch wanted to tell Suzaku, he's not sure how he would.

And after all this time

(After the SAZ announcement… Suzaku cornered Lelouch with the choice to say something and Lelouch stomped it like an annoying bug.)

"And the truth is that I… like seeing the two of you together. You're so comfortable and I can tell that you bring out something special in each other. The Lelouch I know, whom I mourned, hoped and wished for, he is strengthened by Suzaku." Euphemia's soft, gentle hands delicately grasp one of his gloved, protected hands.

"That's… That's just about the cheesiest thing I've ever heard!" he laughs in her face.

It seems laughing in people's faces when they try to reach out to him is becoming a habit…

Euphemia takes a few irritated steps back, "Say whatever you want, it's the truth!" The way she crosses her arms at him with a huff is exactly the same as when they were younger. All that's missing are flowers in her hair and a doting Cornelia reprimanding him for "upsetting" her precious little sister. While the flowers are unimportant, Lelouch couldn't be gladder Cornelia is absent.

His false amusement tapers until he's mildly clearing his throat under his mask, "It is getting late. I must be going."

"Please, just think about what I said, all right?"

It's already something Lelouch thinks about…

•-•

"…I'm beat." As if for proof of his statement, Lelouch crumbles backwards on his bed in his light blue plaid pajamas.

"I imagine so." A sly bend warps Suzaku's lips. "That shower was so exhausting."

"You don't wear witticism well, Suzaku," Lelouch mutters. "So not cute."

"I'm not trying to be cute," he says plainly – missing that subtle strum of sarcasm in Lelouch's voice – and sits on the bed with his back to the older boy as he briefly fiddles with the alarm clock.

Like Suzaku even needs to try in order to be cute…

Lelouch only frowns in response, drawing the pad of his finger lightly down Suzaku's bare back.

"You shouldn't sleep like this." Suzaku has a tendency to sleep in his underwear, sometimes an under t-shirt and sometimes not, which has never bothered Lelouch, but… "In winter like this you'll catch a cold."

"Didn't you know that idiots can't get sick?" Suzaku pokes his tongue at Lelouch.

Maybe idiots can't get sick, but apparently they can get pregnant.

"Anyway, it's not cold in here, and I'm still hot from the bath." Suzaku turns to him with another funny grin, pulling the blankets over his legs as he settles into bed, "Besides, we have this extra blanket"—he pointedly tugs on the dark green covering Lelouch uses for just this purpose—"and I have you to keep me warm."

Lelouch lifts an eyebrow to the way Suzaku's shoulder wiggles at him.

He does like to feel Suzaku's skin when he sleeps…

"You mean to tell me you think an Ice Prince like me can keep you warm?"

Suzaku's expression falls completely flat, "Are you still on about that?" and he lies down on his side, turning his back on Lelouch's somewhat passive-aggressive banter.

Lelouch stares at Suzaku's naked shoulder, his showered-fresh skin glowing, as if it's entrancing him, feeling a deep desire to reach out and touch it like a cursed princess to a spindle. Unlike in such fairy tales, the soft texture under Lelouch's touch is soothing and sumptuous as he daintily slides his fingertips up and down Suzaku's bare arm, absorbing his consuming warmth. He brings his lips to Suzaku's shoulder because using his fingertips isn't enough, gently kissing soft skin as his hand smoothes down the slopes of Suzaku's stomach to his hip. Suzaku fidgets a little, leaning into the affection.

"Lelouch, I've been thinking…" he says in a careful, thoughtful tone.

Not the words Lelouch likes to hear gurgle from his little seahorse.

The older boy hums noncommittally in response, still enthralled by savoring the scent and touch of Suzaku's skin. It's almost strange at how everything about Suzaku's skin radiates comfort; that something so simple can be an intoxicating heaven just by simply existing and that it could, possibly, drive him crazy. Hell, it's a nice buffer against whatever stupidity that might tumble from the idiot's mouth.

"Well…" Suzaku holds the pause, turning onto his back, eyes bearing a strange uneasiness. "Say that… somehow with the Zone Japan does become independent, what would that really mean for us? I'm in the military, so, wouldn't I have to leave if Britannia is forced leave, too?"

What kind of question is that, exactly? Suzaku almost sounds like he doesn't want Britannia to leave.

It's also sudden. Although maybe it shouldn't be strange that Suzaku has such thoughts – his goal wasn't that different from Lelouch's. In a way. It's even a similar line of thought Lelouch has been having lately… well, since he set out to purge marauding Britannia from the Japanese islands, the entire map, but weighing more so on his mind now that it's becoming urgent Suzaku needs to be liberated. As far as Lelouch has come he still doesn't have any control over Britannia.

But, if he could change that…

"That would depend, I suppose." Lelouch flattens his palm on the light dome of Suzaku's belly. "Even if Japan is freed Britannia can't just leave the next day. It's more complicated than that."

"I know that," Suzaku quietly says. "But, eventually, I'd have to leave, right? I'm not Japanese anymore."

Is anyone even really Japanese anymore? – Lelouch bitterly wants to snarl, but knows better.

"Not necessarily." Lelouch isn't sure he wants to tread this topic. It's not as though Suzaku is ever pleased with what he hears. "If Britannia relinquished Japan I don't think they'd be especially keen on keeping any honorary Britannians – and don't get mad when I say this – because that system is essentially a form of psychological warfare and a means of oppressing the native people." As well as cannon fodder. "While you've proven it's possible to make it as a non-Britannian, that just makes their honorary system more dangerous."

Although Suzaku is wearing an unhappy frown, he doesn't speak.

"So, I could see them ejecting all 'elevens' because they're no longer needed – there wouldn't even be an 'Area Eleven.' Then again, Britannia hasn't suffered such a loss since they began spreading, so who's to say what could happen. But, I hope they reject you all the same," Lelouch says with small, sad smile against the disheartened cast of emerald eyes, "because if you're forced to leave, neither Nunnally nor I can go with you." Not that Lelouch would ever let that happen.

Suzaku quickly looks away, not able to face the mere thought. "I know…"

Suzaku had asked if there was any way that Euphemia could help with Lelouch and Nunnally's "situation" – when she was still a princess – but Lelouch strictly spurned the idea of returning "home" to roost with the royals. Suzaku didn't bring it up again. His heart was in the right place, but…

"Of course, if Britannia stays that won't be good for us, either." He pauses with a sardonic puff. "It isn't good for us now."

Things might be better, but…

"And no matter what, our baby will be half," Suzaku adds with too much despondence drooping his voice. "Our baby will be treated differently be it Britannia or Japan, won't it? What are we supposed to do?"

Lelouch suddenly feels very small.

Powerless.

Defeating a corrupt nation that breeds hate and fear is one thing.

Undoing their damage is another.

His body becomes empty, hand lifeless against Suzaku's pregnant tummy. "These things take time. As far as that goes, the Zone is becoming the free and safe place that Euphie had promised." Outside of it, though…

A "rocky" start is accurate, and honestly they're still smoothing wrinkles. A rebellion doesn't just stop dead in its tracks without feeling backlash – on both sides.

Lelouch supposes he could control everyone to be more… agreeable, but that's a bit… insane.

(Absolute power corrupts absolutely.)

It's also counterproductive to the ideal of his goal.

"I guess that's true," Suzaku says. "There are a lot of people that don't want to fight."

There are a lot of people that would rather Britannia just go away without fighting, which isn't really a good thing. Freedom isn't something people ask to have. It should be taken and never bargained like the right it is.

But all this talk is…

"I think it also goes without saying that anybody who hurts our small fry will suffer an eternity of cruel and unusual punishment."

That makes Suzaku smile, "I'm trying to be serious."

Lelouch is being serious.

"I wish things were different."

"It's not your fault," Suzaku softly says and kisses the apologetic tone from Lelouch's lips.

No.

He's sorry he can't fix this problem.

(But that was part of the goal, right? To change the world…?)

Lelouch closes his eyes on his dejected thoughts and presses another kiss to Suzaku's lips, pushing him into the pillow. He thinks of the baby. He thinks of his mother, of the ugly words his "pure" siblings and the Emperor's other wives would hurl at him and Nunnally. He thinks of Zero and just what the hell it is that he should be doing now, trapped in a Zone-bubble he didn't really want. Of the expression Suzaku might make when he sees Lelouch's face behind the mask.

(And he thinks, maybe, he never should've involved himself in any of this at all…)

All this angst must not translate through the kiss (because he has a filter that catches what shouldn't escape), because when they part Suzaku is wearing one of his common simpers.

"I thought you said you were tired." Meaning he thinks Lelouch is getting frisky.

Lelouch smiles very faintly, "I am."

"Warm showers are supposed to help you sleep better at night. Has it been working?"

Lelouch shrugs. He doesn't know if it's been helping or not. It's probably only spoiling him, in reality – any future showers without Suzaku will be boring. Their shared showers have become about more than sex – rather, that isn't necessarily always the goal. They have unexpectedly but smoothly fallen into an intimate ritual of bathing not just together but each other. (Lelouch sometimes thinks it's odd at how he's come to know Suzaku's body better than his own. At how comfortable they are with each other in their bare skin, free. It's not something he ever would've imagined to be possible, if not for Suzaku.) It's not always intended to be foreplay into bolder acts, even if that might've been how it started. It can be enough and too much all at once when Lelouch's soapy fingers and palms slide along all, over and into Suzaku's curves, and even feeling Suzaku's fingers carefully washing his hair – it's intoxicating with both lust and innocence. Lelouch has come to cherish what has evolved into an important, irreplaceable cornerstone of their relationship, and he knows Suzaku feels the same.

At any rate, Lelouch knows of one thing that always seems to help him sleep at night.

"You're taking off your shirt because…?" The confused blanket of Suzaku presumptuous question slides right off the black-haired boy's back along with his long-sleeved pajama top.

"Don't flatter yourself," Lelouch snarkily replies, knowing Suzaku is assuming a sexual context, which is reasonable, as he tosses his shirt at the couch before slinking under the blankets and leaning over to reach for the lamp at the edge of the desk. "I'm just still hot from the bath, too."

They both know it's a lie – as indicated with Suzaku's simper – but Lelouch is seeking the comfort of Suzaku's skin and, perhaps, Suzaku is as enticed to feel Lelouch's skin in this more innocent context too. He certainly makes himself cozy against Lelouch's chest once the light is off and those willowy, Britannian arms are wrapped around him. Suzaku's cheek is soft and warm against Lelouch's nose and the arm that holds him in return is strong, secure and loving.

It's… painful.

"Suzaku…" Lelouch beckons – from behind too many masks.

(Will you still love me if you know?)

"Hm?"

"…Are you going to wear a wedding dress?" But Lelouch can't speak of it – because in the darkness, he's still Lelouch. He's still the boy living in a storage shed. Not a demon. Not Zero. All of that is hidden.

Suzaku pushes him, tells him he isn't funny, and leaves it at that.

Lelouch chuckles and cuddles, because it's all he can do.

•-

-•

"Lelouch sure is picking a bad time to ditch," Rivalz says with a begrudging scritch of his pen in his notebook. "If he doesn't study he could fail his exams."

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas around town and campus, but the time has also come that every student dreads: semester final exams.

Well, most students.

While the rest of the student body takes the half-day to study as Ashford Academy so graciously gives, Lelouch left after their last lesson, saying he needed to do holiday shopping alone but that he would still make it in time for their doctor appointment in the afternoon. He did seem to vanish rather quickly – although not unusual it's something he hasn't done in a while…

"Maybe if he hadn't skipped so much of the semester he wouldn't have to worry about it in the first place," Suzaku admonishes at full strength even though said ditcher isn't present to hear it – rather, to ignore it.

Shirley is also strangely absent.

Kallen is napping on the couch, a warm, snuggly lure that thankfully keeps Arthur content with not biting Suzaku.

Nina, as usual, is tapping and clicking away at her terminal.

Rivalz chuckles a little sheepishly, "You know how he is. Smart people like him get bored at school because it's not challenging enough, don't they?"

Suzaku never thought of it like that, but it makes sense in a way.

Even so, Lelouch wouldn't shave free time from Nunnally just to toy with something trivial

"I could see how gambling would be more interesting than school." Temptation dangles from Milly's voice as she also neglects her own study work, lazily leaning back in her chair – from what Suzaku understands, her grades have suddenly dipped considerably these past few months.

"Not sure if it's that." Rivalz slants his head against his palm, twirling his pen between his fingers. "But whatever 'game' he's playing has certainly captured his interest."

Milly grins, "If I didn't know better I'd say he's having an affair with an older woman. Or man." She glances at Suzaku. "Turns out he likes them younger." Then she winks.

Suzaku humors her by shaking his head in the absence of a witty retort Lelouch would probably make, if he was here, and fishes his mobile out of pants pocket.

He's glad that their friends have accepted his and Lelouch's relationship – not that he expected they wouldn't, exactly. Discovering that their two friends – namely Lelouch – are in a secret affair would be shocking to anyone, and to be having a baby on top of that…

"Maybe he suspected it might be his turn to play dress up, and that's why he didn't show today," Milly says with longing under her proud smirk.

Suzaku grins a little laugh.

That's certainly a fair guess.

"Meanwhile he's left me to suffer alone with the chemistry review," Suzaku grumbles, pocketing his phone.

"You aren't the only one," Rivalz pityingly adds as he tiredly stands. "Don't know about the rest of you, but I'm calling an early lunch."

Milly perks right up. "You know, the Baking Club has been hard at work testing their dough recipes for the holiday cookie contest later this month…"

"Yes." Rivalz practically drools. "They've been baking all morning – it smells delicious!"

Milly shamelessly floats over to him as he walks out the door, "And as Council President I'm sure they can't deny us some taste-testing~…"

"Not like they don't owe us for 'accidentally' getting an increase in their budget this month." The gleam in Rivalz's eyes is almost as scary as Milly's.

The way their maniacal cackles echo in unison down the hall, however, is much scarier.

Suzaku just simpers to himself, tapping the bottom of his pen on the table, no more eager to join ink and paper than the two deserters. Cookies really don't sound like such a bad idea right now… minus the extortion and blackmail.

"Um…"

Suzaku looks up to the person casting a shadow over his schoolwork, startled to see Nina fidgeting at him.

"You… need help?"

Suzaku blinks, and she points at his papers, "Ah, uh, well…"

She timidly pulls out a chair beside him.

But she doesn't speak for several beats that hotly squirm under his skin.

Or could that just be small fry churning his stomach again? He's been feeling a bit unwell all day…

"Princess Euphemia." A push of her glasses as if they're a shield. "Y-you helped me… see her again."

He did.

When Nina had asked about it before Suzaku wasn't in any position to make it happen. Through the course of things, it has become easier because Euphemia has taken more authority over her own life, and has become friendlier with Suzaku. As a result, Nina has been able to spend time with Euphemia – the former princess had said – and if there's anybody who can bring out the good in people, it's Euphemia. In fact, Nina doesn't appear to be as frigid around him as she used to be.

…And then Suzaku realizes maybe she's trying to thank him.

Or, maybe, even… reach out to him.

"Happy to help," Suzaku warmly replies, hoping his smile doesn't reflect how stupefied he feels.

Nina's voice is still small and mousy, but she does prove to be a better tutor than a certain defiant ditcher Suzaku knows.

•-•

"Ohgi and Villetta Nu?" Zero dubiously questions, looking at the printed pictures in the privacy of his trusty motor-base.

The woman at the festival…?

Does that mean Kallen knows – and didn't say anything?

"That is what I found," Diethard evenly says. "She doesn't appear to have her memory intact."

Lelouch has to suppress a snort. "Amnesia?"

Informants within Britannia revealed that Villetta Nu was casted MIA, and considering all that happened with Shirley, Lelouch thought she was dead. There hadn't been any chatter about trying to find Nu, either, as her allegiance to "Orange" after Suzaku's rescue didn't endear her much to high command. Missing in action is as good as killed in action.

That's to be expected from Britannia, however.

"It is unclear how this situation began, but she doesn't appear to be acting," the blond responds.

"And they've been living together all these months? Just what have they been doing all this time?" Disappointment is hard to stem from Lelouch's voice – at Ohgi's reckless behavior, at his blatant secrecy – but Zero is more admonishing than anything else.

At that Diethard coolly clears his throat, but—

"My, you are thick-headed when it comes to these things," C.C. offhandedly insults from behind a half-eaten wheel of pepperoni and triple-cheese pizza. To think he almost had all those pizza stains removed… "They've been involved in romance."

Romance…?

Zero's right hand and an amnesiac Britannian officer?

The pure absurdity of it.

But, when the parallels align Lelouch almost wants to bitterly laugh. He's a non-Japanese freedom fighter in love with an oppressing non-Britannian officer. Lelouch and Suzaku might have their situation a little backwards, but they're in the same boat. They are enemies on any military and social standing, yet they bunk together nightly – even planning a life beyond their reality, a family. Wishing for that happily ever after they once thought as children they'd have as an adult. Despite the precarious line between reality and fantasy, they all seem to be tempting fate as they continue reaching for the unreachable – human nature, isn't it?

And is it only more weird considering that Lelouch picked Ohgi for his second because… he was similar to Suzaku?

"…I see," Lelouch says with solemn resignation. "Is there anyone else who might know about this?"

"Intel is limited to just us. To his credit, he's managed to keep it clandestine."

To his credit?

This really isn't the kind of mess Lelouch expected or would've even hoped to find sprouting right under his nose. Moreover, he doesn't like this being unearthed by Diethard – his dedication is appreciated, but he's still too eager to mend things on his own. If anything, Lelouch should have been the one to notice Ohgi's off-kilter behavior.

But just how much of his lapsing judgment can he blame on Suzaku?

As if with a sixth-sense, a message from the seahorse rumbles on his phone from his pocket.

"Understood. Await further orders," Zero commands as he thumbs a quick reply to his little boyfriend.

Diethard doesn't look happy about the lacking of immediate action in Zero's order, but he bows out gracefully enough regardless.

Lelouch agrees this situation needs to be handled post-haste, but it's an incredibly fragile matter and he'd like to come out of it without losing his Second or secret.

"Interesting predicament," C.C. says with another rather indulgent mouthful of pizza.

All right, so, maybe Lelouch didn't exactly heed satisfying her wanton pizza gluttony while she was underwater – many things, it seems, have unexpectedly fallen through cracks he didn't know existed.

Which is unacceptable.

"Don't start," Lelouch heavily sighs, returning his mobile to his pocket. "I'm not in the mood for more cryptic banter with you at my expense."

"When are you ever in the mood for that?"—Could've been a joke if not for her impassive tone.

…Or maybe it actually is because of that.

"Precisely."

"…Lelouch, what is it you miss most about your mother?"

"What?" He doesn't refrain stabbing the immortal girl with his disgruntled, disconcerted eyes.

"I'm just curious." C.C. seemingly claims innocence.

An old, un-healing hurt stitches in his brow.

"It's not any single thing," he quietly answers, turning his eyes back to his computer.

It's everything.

"How different do you think your life would be if she was still alive?"

Lelouch wordlessly scrolls through text on his screen.

"You might not have ever met Suzaku, don't you think?"

Meaning that even something good came of something bad?

"Am I speaking to the Oracle of Delphi?" the exiled prince snidely snips.

"If so, would that make you Oedipus?" the witch fluidly flings back, wiping red-blood of her pizza-prey from her mouth.

Lelouch's lips curl.

Is that with or without the "-complex"?

Regardless of his intentions with his father, Lelouch at least knows with absolute certainty that Suzaku is not his mother.

(Disregarding that he also once knew with absolute certainty that males cannot get pregnant.)

"Do you think it's possible you would have become an arm of the Britannian Empire, like your siblings?"

"You assume that without having suffered my mother's death I wouldn't see the injustices within the empire?"

"Isn't that how it is? Humans are selfish. If something doesn't affect them, why should they care?"

Is that how Lelouch seems?

"I have to disagree. I'm not an empty-headed drone. I would not serve or spread Britannian ideals as a loyal lapdog like Cornelia and Clovis as if I was bred for it."

"Would you instead vie for the throne, like Schneizel?"

Lelouch reclines against his chair, not realizing his back was so tense.

"You're certainly chatty lately, C.C." he facetiously grins.

"Maybe I just missed you."

Lelouch looks to that remark but her face is too vacuous for him to tell if she's being sincere or not.

He smirks at her all the same, "I imagine Tamaki isn't as stimulating a converser as I am."

"He's entertaining in his own right."

Lelouch chuckles, a little surprised at how it lightens his chest, and looks down at Zero staring up at him from his lap.

"If you could speak to your mother… what would you say?"

Until she plugs the drain.

She seems unusually fixated on strange things these days…

"I…" But he considers her question nonetheless. "I'm not sure."

"Really?"

Sharp violets flick at her stone face, bouncing off just as easily as blades against a rock.

"Maybe… I would ask if she knew who murdered her."

C.C. doesn't respond to that.

"Anyway," he takes advantage of the lull in her talkative curiosity to stand, "I need to get going." He told Suzaku he was doing some shopping – while he shouldn't return to his seahorse's side without proof, and while true he always finishes his holiday shopping early, it's also true that there are a few things he'd like to purchase.

She seems to wait until he's at the door before tugging his leg with her wraithlike voice again—

"What if the answers you find aren't the ones you want?"

—Lelouch pauses.

"I think they rarely are the ones we want," he replies, quieted inside Zero's face, before taking his leave.

•-•

"Shirley?" Suzaku says when he bumps into her on his way off campus, both of them bundled in winter coats against the crisp December air. "Is everything alright? You never came to the club room."

She exhales with exasperation, "Sophie needed help with a final project that was due by the end of the day. I couldn't just abandon her."

That's Shirley's roommate, isn't it?

"You're a good friend to help her out like that."

"I feel used." Her lips pout. "But she offered to pay for dinner so I'm going to get some now."

Suzaku laughs, "I'll walk with you." Somehow he didn't think Shirley could even conceive of that feeling.

"Where are you headed off to?"

"Just a doctor appointment," he answers with a shift of his school-bag – a change of clothes for Suzie, since it's better to not wear them on campus. No work today, either, and he's supposed to be meeting Lelouch in town. Suzaku was hoping to maybe get some of his own holiday shopping done too – hopefully with Lelouch. Christmas wasn't a winter holiday Suzaku's family celebrated, and after… well, everything, it isn't as though Suzaku kept up with any of his cultural traditions that Britannia was sure to heartlessly crush – he was also much too young to fully remember, and then once he became a soldier… Even if Suzaku wanted to he never had any reason to buy gifts. Now with Lelouch and Nunnally and so many special people in his life for the first time since… Suzaku is excited to experience what seems like a whimsical season in the west.

He wants to see the ones he loves smile…

"Say… Shirley, can I talk to you about Lelouch?"

She prickles at his apparently unexpected question – can't blame her, but it's been on his mind. Sometimes Suzaku feels like he got in the way. While it's true that Lelouch didn't seem to have much issue expressing his interest in Suzaku in a shorter time than he'd known Shirley, maybe something still could've bloomed if given just a bit more time…

Then again, maybe not.

"I didn't forget that you like him, and we haven't talked about it yet."

Hell, Suzaku even called Lelouch for her to ask about his feelings not long before the supposed ladies' man made his desires quite clear to his boyhood friend.

Her olive eyes dart away, "Well, that's…"

"I just want to say that I'm sorry. If I hurt you. I didn't mean for anything like that to happen. And I… don't think that he did either." Lelouch can be clumsily callous about girls' affections for him; it's possible he said something insensitive by accident. Suzaku wasn't around enough when Lelouch and Shirley were fighting and when he asked about it Lelouch was, of course, cryptic. "Is that why you were mad at him?"

Shirley doesn't immediately respond, instead stepping on Suzaku's words as they walk, making the brunet wonder if perhaps he shouldn't have brought it up at all.

"…You really love him, don't you?"

"I…" The way she anxiously hangs the question between them makes Suzaku pause. "Yes, I do."

"Would you…" An undersized smile worms onto her lips, an uneasy shadow weighing her eyes that drag up to him. "Would you do anything for him?"

"Anything?" Suzaku curiously questions, feeling that word hook into his chest as they stop at the entrance.

Shirley takes a breath as if about to speak, but then hesitates and—

"ORANGE!" Shakes the earth around them, a shatter of the air as if the sky is falling on them and their eyes are yanked to the shouting man across the street—

"G-Gottwald?" Suzaku stutters, aghast.

Jeremiah Gottwald was listed amongst the dead after Narita…

But dead men don't stand outside of schools and laugh at teenagers like a hysterical hyena.

"I see your Orange now, Zero!" he bellows up at the heavens with clawing hands, insanity bleeding out of him in shrill rivulets. "I'll get you! And your little girl too!"

What?!

"Sir Gottwald, stand down!" Suzaku tries to disarm – the former officer has been knocked too far off his rocker, it seems. "These are innocent civilians—!"

"I will cleanse you of his Curse! And I will find him!"

Curse?

"MUWAH-HA-HA!" The man loudly laughs.

…Seriously?

What is this, a cartoon?

Actually, that could explain a few things…

"Shirley," Suzaku cautions as he steps in front of her when the deranged man marches across the empty road right towards them. "Run." He casts a sharp glance over his shoulder at her when she doesn't move. "Now!"

Shirley peeps like a lost chick, but her legs somehow find life and she's dashing off back towards the school—

An unstable smirk curls on Jeremiah's face, an ironically orange mask glinting under the afternoon sun with the long blade that flicks right out of his arm—

Suzaku's jaw clenches and he swallows a sloshing feeling in his gut, feet planted firmly on the ground—

This isn't good.

And the disgraced phantom fearlessly charges at Suzaku—


"I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!" ;]



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