Alright guys, this is the end for what I have that only needed some light editing. I'm going dark again, but I already have some of the China arc written up, so it will, hopefully, be done by the end of the month. No promises.

I just realized something really dumb: these first twelve Stages are basically their own novel. They have a beginning, middle, and end, complete character arcs, the whole shebang. And it's roughly around 330 pages long. How did I not notice that?

Been a wild week. Hope you guys enjoy.

I do not own Code Geass.

…...

Office of the Governor, Governor's Palace, Zaragosa, Unincorporated Area 24, January 2018

Suzaku wore his full dress uniform for his meeting with His Highness. He was tired; he and Cecile had been up to two in the morning, alternating between exercises, never once leaving each other's side. By the end of it, both were covered head to toe in sweat, Cecile's bra becoming near translucent. Once she realized what it was he was staring at, she hurriedly threw her shirt back on, cheeks flushed red.

All that meant he hadn't actually gotten into bed until three, only to wake up ninety minutes later to get ready for the drive to the Governor's Palace. His eyes were heavy. He felt he could fall asleep at any moment.

"It's good to see you again, Lieutenant Kururugi," the Prime Minister said warmly, smiling.

"Thank you, Your Highness," Suzaku replied.

"You've done excellent work with the Camelot Project. The decision to invest in you is one I'm glad to have made."

Suzaku bowed his head. "I am glad I have not disappointed you, Your Highness," he said.

"Good. Remember, Lieutenant, I am very generous to my subordinates. Continue to perform exemplary service, and you will go far in my employ," the Prime Minister assured him.

"I shall strive to do so," Suzaku said.

The Prime Minister nodded. He opened the drawer on his mahogany desk, and pulled out a manila envelope. He opened it, revealing a stack of pictures which he spread out on the desktop.

"These are Surface-to-Air Missile platforms," he explained. "There are a dozen of them scattered throughout the Pyrenees Mountains. These platforms are, unlike other anti-air units stationed throughout Europe, not connected to the European Net. They must be destroyed if the invasion is to be successful."

"Then the invasion is coming?" Suzaku asked as he rifled through the photos.

"Yes, and very soon," His Highness confirmed. "We have the means of taking out the other AA guns throughout the continent, the details of which aren't important, but this is a problem that will need to be resolved by brute force."

Suzaku nodded, his focus on the photos. They were very detailed, pinpointing the exact locations of every SAM unit. There were on the ground pictures as well, giving him multi-angle views of every weapons platform.

"May I keep these, Your Highness?" he asked. "It will assist me immeasurably in my planning for the mission."

"Of course. Take whatever you need." The Prime Minister meshed his fingers together. "I'll also be assigning you new units to work with. You'll be commanding a full squadron for this mission."

"Considering how dangerous this mission will be, wouldn't it be better if I went in alone?" Suzaku asked. "It would go a long way toward minimizing casualties."

"I appreciate your concern for your comrades, but this mission is too important to trust to just one man," His Highness rejected. "No matter how advanced your Knightmare is."

Suzaku nodded. "Then do I have your leave so I may study and prepare for my mission?" he requested.

"You do." The Prime Minister smiled. "Perform this mission well, Lieutenant, and I will see to it that you are promoted to Captain upon completion."

Suzaku bowed. "Thank you, My Lord."

Paris, Sovereign Republic of France

Free, open air had rarely tasted as good to Ryo Sayama as it did that day. The month that he and his friends had spent under house arrest went from refreshing to boring almost overnight. Walking down the crowded streets of Paris with Ayano, his hands pillowing the back of his head, was more exhilarating than any con could possibly be. They were both wearing their civies, consisting of winter coats and pants for what had turned out to be a brisk day.

"So," Ryo said, "where are those two at?"

"Some cafe on the Champs Elysees," Ayano answered sourly, jealousy radiating off of her in waves. "When I asked if he wanted to hit up a club, he didn't even let me finish before he said no."

Ryo might have laughed if the issue weren't so important. "You need to work harder on him, Kosaka," he said. "We need him if we're going to pull it off."

"I know," she replied tartly. "But it's easier said then done. He's totally obsessed with her. If she told him the sun revolved around the Earth, he'd take it as scientific fact. And she's so obviously into him it's pathetic." She ground her teeth. "Maybe it's her boobs. That chick walks around with melons in her chest!"

Ryo nodded agreeably. "Yeah, she does have a bigger rack than you. OW!" He rubbed his rib where she'd punched him. "What the Hell was that for?"

"You don't compare a girl's looks in front of her, dumbass!"

"But you just-"

"I'm a girl, moron! It's different!"

"That doesn't make any sense!" Ryo protested.

"It makes perfect sense!" Ayano declared, turning down a side street, forcing Ryo to follow.

He was glad she did; they were starting to draw too much attention to themselves. Pointed glares stabbed into them from every side, condescending sneers on the surrounding faces.

You can all go to Hell, Ryo thought, smirking at them. When the Brits get here, you'll find out just what it's like to be an Eleven!

Ryo had spent five years in Europe, his parents having fled the homeland just before the war began. They had joined a general convoy consisting of tens of thousands of refugees who made it to mainland China. His father, a man whose face had long since disappeared from Ryo's memory, was enslaved in a Hunan factory, where an overseer split his skull open with a sword. His mother prostituted herself in a low-rent brothel, but disappeared into a limousine one day, never to be seen again.

Ryo was shuttled off from one labor camp to another, before stealing aboard a railroad through the wilderness of eastern Russia. He killed his first man at twelve, when he stole a work boss' change of clothes and left him to die in the freezing wastes of Siberia. In the EU, he gradually made his way to Amsterdam by way of various foster services, using each family that took him in to get him as far away from his past as possible.

It was in Amsterdam that he hooked up with Yukiya and Ayano in an internment camp, and formed his own gang of Eleven expatriates. There had been eleven of them in the group at its height, but one by one they died or left, leaving only Ryo, Yukiya, and Ayano behind. They saluted no flag, hailed no king. Their only loyalty was to one another.

It certainly was not to a sinking ship.

"THIS IS HIGHWAY ROBBERY!"

Both Ryo and Ayano came to a stop, looking over at a little electronics shop to their right.

"What's Yuki bitchin' about now?" Ryo wondered aloud.

He and Ayano entered the open door. Yukiya was leaning over the cashier's counter, a laptop box sitting on it, his brown light jacket and hoodie dangling off his hips. His date, and target, Anna Clement, was standing off to the side, a hand over her mouth to conceal her smile. The beautiful woman wore a purple coat and white blouse, with a purple skirt bordering her long, creamy thighs. She was Leila's best friend and, more importantly, the developer of their Alexander Knightmare Frames.

The bored cashier was flipping pages in a magazine.

"Look pal," he said, "the price is the price. This ain't some farmer's market."

"It's price gouging is what it is!" Yukiya objected. "I bought this same type of laptop three months ago at half the cost! Tell me, have there been any updates to the design?"

"None I'm aware of," the teller sighed.

"Is it made of new material?"

"It's exactly the same, sir."

"Then what the Hell is so special about this thing that it earns a one hundred percent price hike?" Yukiya demanded.

"It's thirteen hundred Euros, kid. Take it or leave it."

"Yukiya," Anna spoke up, having schooled her expression. "If you don't want it it, we can find something else."

"Are you insane? Of course I want it!" Yukiya said. "Eight gigabytes expandable RAM, five hundred gig SSD, full HD. You bet your ass I want it!"

Anna broke out into giggles. "Then I will happily purchase it for you!" she declared, pulling her card out of her purse.

"Yuki!" Ryo called out.

Yukiya turned to him. "Oh, it's you," he said before turning back to the register.

"The Hell you mean 'It's you,' jackass!"

"Are you seriously gonna let your girl pay for that?" Ayano asked Yukiya crossly.

"Yes, he is," Anna said cheerfully, her tone brooking no argument.

"Wait, we're not paying that price!" Yukiya protested.

"You're right," Anna agreed. "We're not. I, however, am."

She handed the card over to the teller, who swiped it with the expediency of a man resentful of having been interrupted in his leisure. He slid the laptop into a plastic bag, then handed it to her.

"Come again," the teller said apathetically.

After they stepped outside, Yukiya's arms crossed petulantly, Ryo asked him, "Seriously, dude, what kind of guy takes his girl to a computer store for their first date?"

Yukiya raised an eyebrow. "Me? She's the one who recommended it."

"Is he serious?" Ayano asked.

Anna nodded with a bright smile. "Yep," she confirmed. "I needed a new anti-virus for my home setup. There's some new bug going around, almost caused my entire system to shut down. Yuki needed a new computer, so here we are!"

"I really do appreciate it," Yukiya told her. She blushed prettily in response. "You wanna hit up the City of Science and Industry? They have an exhibition up for the evolution of the Net."

She grasped his arms joyfully. "I'd love to!" she said. She winked at Ryo and Ayano. "See you guys later!"

Yukiya waved lazily at them as they departed.

Ryo pinched the bridge of his nose, shaking his head. "Nerds," he said under his breath.

Ayano nodded her agreement.

Taito City, Tokyo Metropolitan Area, United States of Japan

Saturday dawned warm and shifted to temperate over the course of the day. The blue sky was painted with a few wispy white clouds. There were people in the streets everywhere, celebrating the end of the fighting. An almost festival-like atmosphere was picking up as the street filled with vendors, street performers, and spontaneous chants of "Hail Zero!"

Zero himself stood outside of the Kozuki residence in his civies, waiting on Kallen. He was dressed in casual business attire, with a dark blazer, gray slacks, and a white button-up shirt unbuttoned at the top. His left eye was covered by its perpetual black patch.

He ran a finger over it nervously. What I wouldn't give for one of those contact lenses.

C-Two had obtained it abroad in his previous life, where he didn't know. It had probably been some generic lens making company, but damned if he was going to be able to get one right now.

He glanced at the doorway. Some of the cold that wrapped itself around him uncoiled, melted away by the heat of this abode and who lay inside.

He ground his teeth. He needed the cold, that icy poison that clenched its fist around his heart; that cold hate, that old hate, that froze him in blackest dreams and vilest desires.

He shook his head, dispelling the ill feelings within himself.

He breathed deeply. "You owe her this," he reminded himself. "This is all you can do for her. Do what you must."

The door swung open, revealing Kallen's mother standing behind it.

"Lelouch!" she greeted cheerfully. "Come in."

"Thank you, Mrs. Kozuki." He passed over the threshold, looked around. "Is Kallen..."

"Upstairs," her mother confirmed. "She'll be down in just a few minutes. Would you like some tea?"

"Yes, thank you."

While Kallen's mother left to fetch the tea, Zero surveyed the field. He stood in a medium-sized foyer, a decorative table covered by flower-filled vases sitting against the wall to the side. The staircase to the second floor was just ahead of him and to the right. He glanced briefly up it, half expecting to see Kallen standing up there.

The foyer exited into three different doorways down a short hall. He didn't know where left and right went, but the far end clearly led to the kitchen and dining room. The home had belonged to an upper middle class family that fled in the aftermath of Ashford, so the blue walls were still adorned by the Victorian portraits they had left behind.

Mrs. Kozuki returned to the foyer with a steaming cup on a saucer in her hand. It was Britannian in design, rimmed with little pink flowers.

"I do hope the people who owned this house get into contact sometime," she said, handing him his drink "I'd very much like to return their belongings."

Zero took a sip of the tea. "Spoils of war, Mrs. Kozuki," he replied, glancing down at the tea. "Earl Grey?"

"It was in their pantry," she answered. "And I hold no truck with that nonsense. Stealing is stealing, be it in war or peace."

"You're a better person than I," Zero said, taking another sip. "Vindictive could be my middle name."

She gave him a polite laugh. Her eyes narrowed. "Lelouch," she asked, "what is it you're planning to do with my daughter?"

He took a sip of tea to gather his thoughts. "I was planning," he decided, "to fulfill a promise I made during the campaign and join her for seafood."

"That isn't what I meant, and you know it," Mrs. Kozuki shot back. "My daughter's affections for you still run deep, Lelouch. Perhaps even moreso in these intervening months of war." She glared at him. "I saw her hurt already. She cried for days. She tried to mask it, but I knew all the same. Heartbreak is an easy thing for a woman to recognize."

"I have no intention of hurting Kallen, Mrs. Kozuki," Zero told her.

"I doubt you had any last time either," she retorted. "I need to know. Where do you intend this to go?"

He swallowed heavily. Flashes of green and red, gold and blue, battled before his eyes.

He looked away from her. "To an end," he muttered.

Her mother crossed her arms imperiously. "What was that?"

He never got the chance to answer. A voice from above called down, "I'm ready! Sorry for making you wait!"

He looked up. His jaw dropped as his eye went wide.

Kallen stood at the top of the staircase, her red hair hanging past her jaw. She wore a dark pink corset that barely covered her ample breasts, exposing the peach white plain of her collarbone and chest. It tapered down into a frilly white skirt that only went part way down her thigh, exposing her long legs to his view.

He could feel his heart pounding in his chest. This is… He didn't know what it was.

"I thought I told you not to wear that," Mrs. Kozuki said crossly.

"But, Mom," Kallen protested, turning to her, exposing a naked back that ended just above the base of the spine. "If I don't wear it tonight, when am I going to where it?"

"Preferably never," her mother responded. "Go back upstairs and change right now!"

"Mom!"

"Um, Mrs. Kozuki," Lelouch interrupted, "far it be for me to intrude, but if we don't leave right now, we're probably going to be hard-pressed to find a seat."

Kallen jumped on the point. "That's right! You know how busy that place can get!"

"Not so busy that-"

"Can't talk, bye!"

Kallen rushed down the steps, grabbing Lelouch by the hand. He had just enough presence of mind to set the cup and saucer on the table as she hauled him out.

"Kallen!" her mother called out.

Kallen led him on a jog around the corner, a light, happy smile on her face.

Lelouch never wanted to do anything that would make it go away.

Infirmary, Presidential Palace, Tokyo

"There were only four of us when we started," Ohgi told Viletta as he sipped on ramen broth.

He had woken up the night before, after she had been taken back to her cell. Their reunion the next day was awkward, until Tamaki dropped her off with a cup of instant ramen and told them to, "Figure shit out."

"Naoto, Yoshida, Tamaki, and me," he continued. "Inoue and Sugiyama joined up later, after we pulled our first job."

"What was that?" Viletta asked, shaking some salt over her noodles.

"Medical supplies," he answered. "Mostly antibiotics, a few boxes of insulin. There were a lot of sick people without access to medicine. Kallen started getting suspicious when Naoto stopped taking trips to the ghettos with her. She tailed him one day, then forced herself into the group once she knew what was going on." Ohgi sighed. "That was about three months before Naoto bought it."

"I'm sorry," Viletta said, placing a gentle hand on his arm.

He patted her hand. "It's alright. It was long before you arrived." He looked suddenly curious. "When did you arrive in the country, anyway?"

"February 2016," she answered, stirring up her salad. "I was a First Lieutenant back then. Area Eleven-" she cut herself off, shamefaced. "Sorry, Japan, was a fast track for advancement back in those days."

"Was Japan really so bad?"

"Compared to the other Areas? Yes," Villetta said. "Japan collapsed with its military largely intact. Certainly, it was defeated in the field, but it wasn't destroyed. Once it became clear the invasion couldn't be turned back, and that the government had collapsed, the military went underground, soon reorganizing into the JLF. No other Area in the whole Empire had those unique characteristics. That's what allowed for the years of guerrilla war, and the chance to advance in the ranks very rapidly."

She placed a hand to her chest. "Take me, as an example."

"Gladly," Ohgi put in, a little smile on his face.

Villetta blushed. "Stop that," she said without any force. "Anyway, I came here as a Lieutenant. Before two months had passed, I was brevetted to Captain because the man above me was killed. The same thing happened when the Major died." She took a bite of her noodles, swallowed it. "Japan was a potent proving ground. A large number of fine officers came out of here. Most of them are plying their trade in North Africa and Europe."

"Any reason why the Empire hasn't returned yet?"

Villetta gave him a look. "You know I can't tell you that, Kaname," she admonished him. "We are still at war."

"We're not," Ohgi objected. "Not you and me. Our war is finished."

Villetta sighed. "It isn't that simple," she said. "So long as the Empire has a reason to fight Japan, this war will continue."

"The Empire didn't have a reason for war in the first place!"

Villetta set her dinner bowl aside. "Kaname, there were very good reasons for the war. You may not like them," she continued over his objections, "having been on the receiving end, but Britannia didn't just invade without cause."

"And what cause was that?" Ohgi asked petulantly. "Sakuradite to fuel the Empire's war machine?"

"It wasn't just about the Sakuradite!" Villetta objected. "Japan had a near monopoly on Sakuradite for decades after the Pacific War, and there was no major conflict. Tensions didn't start rising until Genbu Kururugi decided to use that monopoly as a cudgel against Britannia. He started cozying up to all of our rivals in the Indo-Pacific, and especially to the Chinese and Russians. The Emperor negotiated with him for years, even sent over two of his own children as hostages, but Kururugi kept acting like he was some damn god!"

Villetta sat back, taking a moment to calm herself down. "That asshole waited for us to begin expanding into North Africa, only to then cut off our access to Sakuradite through an embargo." She narrowed her eyes at Ohgi. "What did you think was going to happen?"

"It doesn't justify what came after," Ohgi said quietly.

The angry wind left Villetta's sails. "No, it doesn't," she agreed. "And I am so very sorry for that. But it doesn't change facts. So long as there is a government hostile to the Britannian Empire ruling in Japan, you can be sure that we will be coming back."

Silence descended between them, the beeping of the machine next to Ohgi's bed the only sound in the room. Villetta picked her dinner back up, but found she had no appetite. Ohgi stared pensively at the wall.

"What if..." he started, choosing his words carefully. "What if there was no hostile government?"

"What do you mean," Villetta asked.

"I mean," Ohgi said, licking his lips, "what if Zero could be convinced to sign a peace treaty with the Empire? Bring the whole conflict to a close?"

Villetta smiled sadly. "I don't think it would work, Kaname," she told him honestly. "Zero's a fanatic. You'll never convince him to give up his fight."

Ohgi shook his head stubbornly. "You don't know him like I do," he insisted. "I could get him to see reason." He stared up at the ceiling for a moment. "Jesus, it's not like we can even fight a war at the moment! We don't have anything to fight it with!"

Villetta ducked her head, not wanting him to see the regret etched into her mien.

Ohgi continued to talk about the possibilities for peace, and she didn't stop him. Villetta didn't have the heart to tell him that there could be no peace. Even if Zero was willing to negotiate a settlement, the Empire would never come to terms with the Dark Lord. He had killed two members of the Royal Family, and humiliated the might of Holy Britannia. His victory had sparked an Empire-spanning revolt that, to the best of her knowledge, was still ongoing.

No, there could never be peace. Not while Zero yet ruled in Japan.

Or, for that matter, anywhere.

Kazuki's Shrimp and Sushi, Taito City, Tokyo Metropolitan Area

"I think you may have undersold how much business this place does," Lelouch remarked dryly.

Kazuki's wasn't a particularly big establishment, maybe bigger than a medium sized coffee shop. The place was overcrowded, to the point to where Kallen was unsure they'd even make it inside.

"It doesn't usually do this kind of business," she said sheepishly. "I wasn't expecting this kind of turnout." She looked up at him. "Is there somewhere else you want to go?"

"No, this is fine," Lelouch rejected. "I don't mind waiting."

"Okay."

After a few minutes, frustration began to rise within her. She felt embarrassed wearing such a revealing corset out in public, but the whole reason she'd done it was to get his attention. She wanted to give him a distraction from his troubles.

That wasn't her only concern.

All around them, Japanese, male and female, were glaring their way. Specifically their glares were being directed toward Lelouch. She returned each glare that was sent their way murderously, silently willing them to direct their anger somewhere else. For most of them, that worked, as they found their own companions more promising than the death Kallen's eyes promised.

For some of the others, their glares only intensified.

Kallen licked her lips. She needed to prepare in case there was an incident. She grabbed Lelouch's hand and pulled herself to him, wrapping her arms around his, covering his body with her own.

If they try something, I should be able to take the first blow.

"Kallen," Lelouch said, his voice strained, "what are you doing?"

'Protecting you,' she almost said, until she realized what she had done. Her body was pressed against his, her breasts mashing against his arm. She blushed all the way to the roots of her hair. The instinct to pull away clashed with the instinct to protect him, leaving her frozen in place.

Lelouch was stiff against her, but gradually he relaxed, his hand grasping her own. Kallen's blush deepened.

Half an hour later, Lelouch and Kallen were sitting in a corner table at the back end of the restaurant. The table was small and metal, likely from an outdoor patio set. Their seats were gray folding metal chairs. They were handed a pair of disposable paper menus.

"Anything to drink?" their waiter, a scrawny young man with tanned skin and close cropped hair, asked.

"Tea for me, please," Kallen said.

Lelouch nodded. "Me as well."

After the waiter left, Kallen asked, "So, what do you think of the place?"

Lelouch looked around. The walls were largely bare of ornamentation, except for a few fishnets and a giant shrimp facsimile hanging from the ceiling.

"Quaint," he said. "Not much in the way of decorations."

"The guy who owns this place isn't exactly rich," she replied. "Honestly, I don't know how he stayed in business during the occupation."

"Probably the right bribes to the right people," Lelouch speculated. "I also wouldn't be surprised if he put up a Britannian front."

"A front?"

Lelouch nodded. "Someone to be the public face of the business, so that it doesn't get harassed. Between the appropriate cash payments and a legal fiction, I could see how this business could do so well."

That wasn't something she had heard of. Then again, she spent most of her time in the slums before the war, and had primarily eaten at Britannian run establishments. There had been shops and restaurants that catered to Japanese in a kitschy sort of way, but they had all been owned by Britannians, and she didn't want her culture on parade for some touristy bastards. At least, that was what she had thought at the time. Maybe those businesses had been like this one?

Kallen shook her head angrily. "It's bullshit that people would have to do that just to stay afloat."

Lelouch shrugged. "People suffer what they have to, until they don't. It's the way people work. We're all willing to put up with a certain level of suffering, until it reaches a limit that every society has. Especially when your military is more interested in playing politics than killing the enemy."

Kallen's tea arrived. "You're gonna love this stuff," she said as the waiter departed. She took a long sip, enjoying the heat of the drink in her mouth.

Lelouch looked after their departed waiter, his eyebrow cocked curiously.

The waiter returned a moment later, his white shirt now stained red-brown, looking harried.

"Are you ready to order?" he asked.

"Yes," Kallen said, holding up her menu. "I'll have a calamari roll."

"Sauce?"

"Soy, please."

"I'll have the salmon, if you please," Lelouch ordered, holding the menu out to him. "Soy as well."

"Yes, right away."

After he left, Kallen leaned forward. "Lelouch, can I ask you a question?"

He shrugged. "Go ahead."

"Before the war, you helped my mom out with her...problems," Kallen began.

"Yes? What about it?"

"You revealed your identity to her," she said cautiously.

He sighed. "You want to know why I told her and not you," he voiced her unspoken question.

Kallen nodded reluctantly. "Yes. Why did you trust her, and...and not me?"

He sighed again. "It wasn't a matter of trust, Kallen," he explained. "Your mother needed someone she could count on, someone who wouldn't judge her for her failures." He glared darkly at the table. "Someone who understood what she was going through." He raised his eyes to her gently. "At the time, that wasn't you."

Kallen lowered her eyes, a whirlwind of regret flowing through her. "That's fair," she admitted. She stared back at him determinedly. "But, that still doesn't explain why you didn't tell me afterward. If my mother, an addict, could be trusted with your identity, why not me?"

Lelouch swallowed heavily. "It wasn't about trust," he repeated. "I trust you implicitly."

"Then why?"

He clenched his fist. "I was...afraid," he admitted hesitantly.

"Afraid of what?"

"Afraid that you would leave."

Kallen shook her head. "Why?" she asked, mystified.

"Because everyone leaves," Lelouch said. "They all leave when they find out what I am."

Kallen's lips trembled. Christ, Lelouch. Just how screwed up are you?

She grasped his hand tenderly. "I will never leave you," she told him fiercely. "Not ever. I'll be by your side to the very end."

Lelouch's mouth fell open. He closed his eye again, composing himself. "Thank you, Kallen."

She felt herself flush again. Judging by the look on his face, he liked it.

Her calamari roll was placed down before her, causing her to jump slightly.

"One calamari roll," a handsome Japanese with dyed yellow hair said, winking at her.

"Awesome, thanks!" Kallen said.

"And my salmon?" Lelouch asked pointedly.

The youth's warmth vanished. "It'll be out shortly. The meat is still cooking."

"I see," Lelouch replied coldly. "Then is the tea still brewing, too?"

Kallen blinked. "Wait a second," she said, checking his side. "You never got yours? What the Hell?" She looked up at the waiter. "Where's his drink? And his food, for that matter?"

The server bristled. "We don't serve their kind around here."

"Excuse me?" she demanded, spinning around in her seat. "You don't what?"

"He's saying they don't serve Britannians, Kallen," Lelouch said, standing up from his seat. "Look around. Do you see any Britannians here?"

A quick scan of the restaurant, which had grown tensely silent, indicated he was right. There wasn't a single non-Japanese in the whole establishment.

"You know how long my old man had to bow and scrape before you dogs just to put food on our table?" the server asked, his face twisted with hate. "Do you?"

"Under Japan's civil rights laws," Lelouch began, "no establishment can discriminate on the basis of-"

The server spat in Lelouch's face. "Rot in Hell, you-"

Kallen kneed him in the groin, then followed it up with a haymaker to the face. He fell to the floor, clutching his crotch, a red bruise already forming on his jaw.

"Hey!"

"What's that crazy bitch doing?"

"Yo, Tomoya, you alright?"

Kallen glared at all of them, her teeth bared furiously. "If I had known this place was filled with racist assholes," she declared, "I never would have eaten here! You can all go to Hell!"

"Get out of here!" an older man in a chef's apron shouted. "Get your Brit boy outta here, race traitor!"

"Yeah, get out of here!"

"Zero made it where we don't gotta put with their shit anymore!"

"Zero's not even Japanese, you morons!" Kallen shouted back. "Or did you assholes forget that?"

"That punk ain't Zero!" the chef shrilled.

Kallen almost burst out laughing. A cool hand wrapped around her arm.

"Let's go, Kallen," Lelouch said.

"But-"

"I don't stay anywhere I'm not wanted," he interrupted. "Besides," he raised his voice, "it stinks in here something fierce."

He pulled Kallen toward the door. She followed him reluctantly, returning angry glares at the catcalls and jeering.

"Hey!" the chef shouted. "You didn't pay!"

Kallen snarled. "Blow it out your ass!"

They left in a huff.

….

Camelot Staging Area, Huesca, Unincorporated Area 24

"Do you want to visit Marseille?" Suzaku asked, twirling spaghetti onto his fork. It was store bought and packaged, needing only to be thrown into the microwave. Suzaku had insisted on it, owing to the silent fact that Cecile's cooking skill were...questionable. He was still wearing his dress uniform, though the coat was open, the tie off, the top three buttons pulled apart. His mask was on the counter, forgotten.

"I've seen pictures of it," Cecile replied, spearing a meatball. "It's absolutely beautiful, if the travel books I've read do it justice. I'd love to see it."

Suzaku nodded, smiling genially. "Then we'll hit it up after the fighting's done." Assuming it hasn't been bombed into rubble.

"We should also visit Munich," Cecile suggested. "My father took me there once on a business trip, and I've been dying to go back ever since."

"What's it like?" Suzaku asked, taking a swallow of his cream soda.

Cecile tilted her head in contemplation. "Very...austere. Yes, that's the word. Austere." She chuckled. "You won't find much in the way of whimsy in Germanic architecture."

"We'll go there, too, then," Suzaku vowed. He smirked. "I never thought I'd get to see Europe when I joined the army."

"Were you planning on remaining in Area Eleven?" Cecile asked.

Suzaku nodded. "Helping my homeland was the whole reason I joined," he explained. "Truth be told, I never expected to rise any higher than a sergeant."

"The Empire is inherently meritocratic," Cecile said, taking a sip of wine. "Saint Darwin's teachings necessitate it, especially since their enshrinement under His Majesty." She narrowed her eyes at the table. "No matter what some fools may have forgotten." She broke a piece of garlic bread, causing very interesting ripples across her chest.

She was wearing a white blouse tonight, undone at the top so as to expose the swell of her cleavage. Suzaku's gaze had been drawn there repeatedly over the course of their meal, a fact which Cecile seemed aware of given how she gave him a wink, her arms intentionally pressing her breasts together. She had been growing ever bolder these last few weeks, her intentions becoming increasingly apparent.

Suzaku made no attempt to hide his admiration. Instead, he cast his eyes up and down her figure, openly ogling her. When the slightest tinge of pink lit up her cheeks, he smirked.

Maybe...tonight's the night?

He was already considering doing something to resolve this tension between them. The hooded look she was giving him was very encouraging of such an action.

Suzaku dabbed his mouth with a napkin and threw it on the table. Cecile followed his every move.

He went to stand up-

-and both he and Cecile were startled by a sudden knocking at the door.

"Seriously?" Suzaku said incredulously as Cecile stood up to answer the door. "At this time of night?"

Cecile giggled at him. When she opened the door, all mirth fled.

She snapped to swift attention, saying in a shocked tone, "L-Lady Enneagram!"

Suzaku was on his feet in an instant, coming similarly to stiff attention.

"At ease," he heard the Knight of Nine say. The woman stepped into the trailer, her Rounds uniform conspicuously absent. She wore instead an expensive looking black coat with blue slacks and high-heeled boots, with a pair of designer gloves on her hands. "Major Croomy, Lieutenant Kururugi and I need to have a word. I assume there are files you still need to go over in your main office?"

"Yes, My Lady!" Cecile replied. She shot Suzaku a concerned look as she headed out the door.

Lady Enneagram kicked the door shut behind her. She pulled off her black gloves and tossed them on the table. She sat down in Cecile's chair, relaxing in it as she eyed Suzaku.

"I don't like you," she said.

"Well," Suzaku replied coolly, "I'm sorry to hear that."

"Shut up. This isn't a back-and-forth, Kururugi." She glared at him. "Were it up to me, I'd strip you of that rank of yours and send you back to the rank-and-file where you Elevens belong.

"But," she shrugged, "it's not up to me. His Highness Prince Schneizel sees some worth in you, and I respect his opinion greatly. You have a powerful patron, Lieutenant. Do not break that trust."

Suzaku nodded.

"Now, I understand that you've been placed in command of your own fighter squadron?" Enneagram asked. Suzaku nodded. "And that you've been given a very important mission for your part in the invasion?"

Suzaku nodded again.

Enneagram held her silence for a moment. "You acquitted yourself well at the Battle of Tokyo," she complimented. "Your choice to briefly disobey orders notwithstanding. You are a fantastic pilot, possibly on par with a Rounds Knight. Were it not for the misfortune of your birth, I might have even recommended you."

This is certainly a change of pace, Suzaku thought. What is it that you want?

"Your mission will be difficult. Do you think you can accomplish it?" When he didn't respond, she added, "You may speak, Lieutenant."

"Yes, My Lady," Suzaku answered. "I am certain I can."

Enneagram tapped her foot on the floor, mulling over her words. "If you succeed," she started hesitantly, "and if certain other factors conspire in your favor, I will Knight you upon completion of your mission."

Suzaku's eyes bulged. "You would...Knight me, My Lady?" he asked dubiously.

"Yes. If you succeed, and are, of course, alive," Enneagram added, "I will Knight you as Sir Suzaku Kururugi of Britannia."

Suzaku worked hard to calm his racing heart. "I take it, then," Suzaku hedged, "that His Highness has been made aware of your offer?"

Enneagram nodded. "He has."

Suzaku swallowed. "I have every intention of succeeding, My Lady," he said. "While I appreciate what it is you're offering me, I can't help but wonder why."

"A Knight of the Rounds is promising you greater glory than some Number like you can ever hope to attain on his own," Enneagram replied. "Do you truly intend to look this gift horse in the mouth?"

"Yes," Suzaku replied stubbornly. He continued before he could lose his nerve. "That horse might be chewing on a live grenade."

Enneagram gave him an appraising look. "You...are not what I was expecting," she admitted. "If you must know, I and several of my friends will be in the first wave over the Pyrenees after you eliminate the SAM's. Our job is to clear the skies of enemy aircraft. If those SAM's aren't taken out, it will be a bloodbath." Her tone grew soft. "I've lost enough friends in this war. If I lose more, I don't know what I'll do."

Her jaw flexed painfully.

Suzaku understood. "I promise," he said, "to take out all the SAM's. On my honor."

Ennagram nodded sharply. "Good." She reached out a hand and touched his scar. He felt an intense level of discomfort as she rubbed her thumb into it. "If they die, Kururugi," she said softly, "I'll finish the job Cornelia started."

Taito City, Tokyo Metropolitan Area, United States of Japan

Kallen wandered through the busy streets with Lelouch, a shish kabob in one hand, the other in his. The vendor who serviced them was a kindly middle-aged man who gave them nothing but a smile and well wishes. The kabobs tasted pretty good, though the meat was pretty tough.

"Unbelievable bullshit," Kallen muttered around a bob of meat.

"Actually, I think it's horse meat," Lelouch said, eating his own.

"Not this, dammit!" she retorted. She eyed the meat in her hand. "Wait, are you serious?"

"As a heart attack," he replied, taking another bite. "Horse meat's tougher than beef or fish."

"How do you even know that?"

"During the invasion, Nunnally, Suzaku, and I came upon a stable filled with dead horses," he explained. "Lacking any other option, we cut the meat off and cooked right there. Thank God we didn't get sick; there's no telling how long those horses were dead."

Kallen shivered despite the heat. She clasped Lelouch's hand more tightly. "We were lucky," she murmured. "Mom passed me and Naoto off as kids she was babysitting, and our father showed up the next day. We only had to eat a couple of MRE's." She chewed on the horse meat. "There's no telling how many people starved that year, with all the supply chains destroyed." She looked up at him. "Suzaku came to Ashford a good while after you did. How'd you guys get separated?"

"It was nothing dramatic," Lelouch answered. "We wandered the countryside for weeks, living on whatever we could. Suzaku would carry Nunnally while I scouted ahead. One day, we ran into a patrol of Japanese soldiers. We were hidden, but there was no way to escape. Suzaku was afraid they'd learn who we were, so he gave himself up to them in the hope they'd want to reunite him with Kyoto immediately." He huffed a breath. "His idea worked. Nunnally cried for days afterward."

"Do you know where he is now?"

Lelouch shook his head. "No idea. He was cut from the unit my agent was in. I can guess what he's doing, though."

"Which is?"

"Building better Knightmares," he said grimly. "Suzaku's among the best pilots in the world. The research unit he's with is devoted to advancing Knightmare Frame technology. I shudder to think what they're developing right now."

"So," Kallen said lightly, trying to distract him, "which of us is the better pilot?"

"You, obviously," Lelouch replied, the barest hint of a smirk on his face.

Kallen brushed her face against his shoulder. "Good answer," she said.

They didn't follow any particular direction. They let their feet just move, engaging in light chatter as they walked. Perhaps that was why they ended up where they did.

Kallen sucked in a breath. She felt Lelouch stiffen beside her.

The ruins of Ashford Academy loomed before them.

It was dark, skeletal. There was a massive, gaping maw where the blast had originated, an open mouth forever transfixed in a silent scream that echoed in the unnatural silence that blanketed the area. Brick and mortar rubble, steel girding, broken concession stands were strewn across the landscape. Tattered ribbons and streamers flapped silently in the light wind. It was rumored there were still corpses in the school, buried beneath the rubble, forever reaching for the light just out of their reach.

Kallen shivered. Lelouch pulled her in tighter, sliding an arm around the small of her back.

"I should never have come back here," he said quietly. "I should have stayed away. Devoted myself completely to the Black Knights. Maybe if I had..."

"Lelouch," Kallen said, attention still fixed on the ruins of her home, "it wasn't your fault."

"Mao tracked me here, I don't doubt that for a second," he retorted. "If I hadn't come back-"

"If Britannia hadn't invaded, you wouldn't be here," Kallen interrupted. "If my brother had checked for a tail, he'd still be alive. If C-Two had never given Mao his power, this would never have happened." She buried her face in his chest. "You can't be lost in What Ifs, Lulu. Things happen. Evil people do evil things. That's all there is to it."

If Lelouch disagreed with her, he didn't express it. After a few minutes passed in silence, he said, "Lulu?"

Kallen flushed. "It just came out," she said lamely. "Everyone calls you that."

"Not you."

Kallen shrugged. "I guess I'm trying it on for size," she said.

"Kallen, I..." Lelouch pulled away from her, shaking his head. "Jesus, what the Hell are we doing?"

Kallen turned away from him, crossing her arms. "I don't know," she admitted.

Lelouch rested his hands on his hips. "She and I..." he sighed. "But we're not really, are we?" He shook his head. "Goddammit."

"Her memory returned once, you said?" Kallen reminded him.

"Yes, but-" he made a disgusted sound. "Dammit all, I don't even know why she was here!"

"Huh?" Kallen said, baffled. "What are you talking about? Isn't she your advisor?"

"That's not-" He shook his head. "No, never mind, that doesn't matter. What matters is that there's no other way of restoring her that I'm aware of." He dropped his head back. "She may have been removed from the game, for all I know."

Kallen reached out for him. "She's still here, isn't she?" she asked. "That has to count for something."

Lelouch laughed harshly. "Yes," he agreed, "she's here. And she hates my guts. If I died, she'd dance on my grave." He looked back toward the city proper, from where they had come. "She's not the only one."

"Those guys were just jerks," Kallen retorted, placing a hand on his arm. "Most Japanese aren't like that. You know that."

"Yes, but enough are," he replied. He rubbed the back of his head. "With C-Two gone, I'm on my own out here."

She squeezed his arm. "I'm still here."

"For how long?" Lelouch asked her pointedly.

She leaned in close to him. "I told you, Lulu. To the end."

There was a mixture of hope and dread in her belly, a mixture of shame and desire swirling in her belly. He was staring just as intently at her as she was at him. She could see the conflict playing out in his single visible eye. She could see the decision he made, had already made, and felt relief and heartbreak when he pulled away from her.

A firm resolve had entered his eye.

He breathed heavily. "I'm sor-"

"Don't," Kallen stopped him, placing her hand against his chest. "I shouldn't have. You aren't at fault." She laughed. "I told myself it wasn't fair, that she has amnesia, that I'd wait until her memories returned and we-"

A meowing cat cut her off. They both turned around, surprised.

A scrawny cat sat atop the rubble, staring at them intently with big, golden eyes. It meowed again, jumped down from its perch, and pawed over to Kallen. When it brushed against her leg, she gasped.

"No way!" she said, laughing. "Arthur?"

The cat meowed up at her again. Kallen reached down, and the cat jumped into her arms, licking her on the cheek as she lifted it up.

"You have got to be kidding me," Lelouch said. "That cat turns up like a bad penny."

"She is not a bad penny," Kallen retorted in a childish tone, hugging the cat to her chest. "I thought you were gone, little girl. Like..."

"Like everything else," Lelouch finished for her.

Kallen stared up at Ashford. Somehow, it seemed less imposing, as if the fear was gone. It seemed, instead, impossibly lonely.

"We'll rebuild it," Kallen declared. "We'll rebuild it, just the way it was. We'll bring them all back here. Nunnally, Nina, Milly, Rivalz, Suzaku." She almost said Shirley, but the thought hurt too much. "We'll all finish school together."

A huge smile spread across her face.

Arthur jumped out of her arms.

"A-Arthur!" Kallen called out, spinning around. "You-"

She swallowed a gasp. Lelouch suddenly loomed over her, the moonlight shining behind him. One hand cupped the small of her back, while the other cradled the nape of her neck. She closed her eyes, pressed her body against his, and offered up her lips to him.

Her hands clenched the back of his shirt. His fingers tangled in her hair. Her mouth opened, inviting, and he plunged right in.

There was a flurry of hands on her chest, on her bottom, between her thighs. Hers roamed just as much, from his face, to his chest, down into the back of his pants to squeeze his backside, all while her back arched beneath his touch in a rush of gasps, lips, and tongues.

She wasn't sure how long they stayed like that. At some point, her back came into contact with a stone wall, and she was pinned, unable to escape.

When their lips finally parted, she whispered dizzily, "I love you, Lelouch. I love you, I love you, I..." She offered her lips again.

"I'm sorry, Kallen."

Her eyes fluttered open.

His left eye burned.

Apartment of Jeremiah Gottwald, Madrid, Unincorporated Area 24

Jeremiah sat across from Manfredi in the sitting room of his apartment, smoking cigars. There were three leather armchairs surrounding a circular coffee table in the center of the square room. The floor was hardwood, covered by a blue Persian rug with gold filigree. A simulated fire burned on a TV screen in the faux fireplace, providing the only light in the room.

Dinner was long since finished and cleared away, and Sayoko had retired for the night with Her Highness. Manfredi's second, Lord Shaing, stood off to the side at parade rest. Despite Jeremiah's entreaties, the Honorary Britannian had chosen to remain standing, citing decorum.

The two of them had arrived at eight the previous night. They had been speaking for somewhere in the neighborhood of five hours, discussing everything from politics, to religion, to courtly intrigues. Jeremiah ensured the conversation stayed largely within Europe. As he listened, he learned.

Manfredi was a good man, an honorable man. He held no prejudices, showed no favoritism, and saw no man beyond anything other than his own merits. He was everything the ideal Knight should be.

He was also deeply frustrated.

"We've been at war for close to a decade," he bemoaned, the smoke from his cigar curling around his face. "In that time, some one and a half million young men and women have been killed. The battlefields range from Tunisia to Tokyo. And for what?" He dragged on his cigar, the tip lighting up as he sucked on it.

"We've gained no new lands or territories." Smoke billowed from his mouth. "Thanks to that treaty the Emperor and the Euro trash signed, not one of the landed titles and storied estates have been returned to the Houses they were stolen from in the first place."

"Surely the lands beyond the mountains will be distributed to their rightful masters?" Jeremiah egged on.

Manfredi chuckled harshly. "I doubt it. Strongly." He tapped the ash from his cigar into a silver ashtray. "One hundred thousand casualties in Spain alone, and what do we have to show for it? A few changed flags? New paint, new shrubs. That's it.

"I personally lost two thousand men taking Seville. And you know something?" He stabbed an angry finger at Jeremiah. "The same bastard that was mayor of the city before we invaded is the mayor now!"

He took a furious drag off his cigar."

"Do you think the same will be done with the whole of the continent?" Jeremiah asked.

Manfredi nodded. "I do," he agreed. "I have no doubt, in fact. Managing the occupation of Europe will be much less acrimonious if the current residents are suitably appeased. And," he added, "it keeps the nobility from gaining too much power." He snorted. "The Emperor has fashioned a master stroke."

Jeremiah, his cigar in hand, steepled his fingers. "And left all of us in the wind."

Manfredi sighed deeply. "I pray I'm wrong," he said, "but I doubt I am."

"It's an insult," Jeremiah declared. "An insult to all the blood and treasure spilled reclaiming our stolen land."

"Yes," Manfredi concurred, "but there is little we can do." He barked a humorless laugh. "Save await a new Emperor."

"Or make one of our own," Jeremiah proffered.

Manfredi chuckled. "Yes, we could create one in a lab," he joked. "Program him to our liking."

"I should not think we would have to that far," Jeremiah retorted carefully. "There are already prime candidates in the offing."

"Such as?" Manfredi humored him lightly.

"His Highness, Prince Schneizel, as an example," Jeremiah replied. "He is a skilled diplomat, a capable administrator. Quite possibly the most skilled politician of this generation."

"Compared to what?" Manfredi asked. "The current crop of amateurs and has-beens?" Manfredi shook his head. "His Highness thinks he is more intelligent than he actually is. The man lost us Area Eleven, as you'll recall." He fluttered his fingers. "Cut and ran at the first sign of serious opposition." He shrugged. "He only acts when the odds are overwhelmingly in his favor."

"Princess Euphemia, then?" Jeremiah suggested.

Manfredi breathed regretfully. "A more sad girl I have not seen," he assessed. "My heart goes out to her, but Empress?" He shook his head. "She is too soft for that."

Jeremiah quirked a smile. "Prince Odysseus?"

They both laughed at the suggestion.

"Thank you, Lord Jeremiah," Manfredi said, still chuckling. "I must say, I needed that."

Jeremiah took a drag from his cigar. "Someone else, perhaps," he said through a billow of smoke. "Someone who would fulfill the promises made to our honored dead."

Manfredi waved his cigar around. "I'm all ears."

"A man who has already made a kingdom of his own."

Manfredi blinked, then refocused. "Who might you be speaking of?" he asked softly.

Jeremiah firmed his resolve. "A Dark Lord arising in the East," he said, his voice unintentionally hushed. "A man come to unite the disparate factions and bring order to this world. The Avatar of our revenge."

"Who?"

"I think you know of whom I speak."

Manfredi's ash fell to the floor unnoticed. "Yes," he confirmed, nodding. "Yes, I think I do."

"Marianne's legacy lives," Jeremiah pressed, "beneath that Black Crown."

Manfredi bounced his cigar within his fingers. "Can he win?" he asked.

Jermiah nodded. "I am convinced." He reached out his hand. "Forces are at work across the Empire to herald his coming." He gripped his fist before him. "A New World Order, just ripe for the taking."

Manfredi hesitated, for the barest moment, then took it.

The sound of footsteps announced Lord Shaing's approach.

"What say you, Lord Shaing?" Jeremiah asked. "Will you devote yourself to the Master of the Orient?"

Shaing was silent for a long moment.

Jeremiah could sense Manfredi's concern. "Shin, you must-"

"You should take a trip."

Shaing's voice, smooth as silk, was strangely deep, unnaturally so. It echoed with a sense of the otherworldly. His left eye glowed an eerie red.

Manfredi suddenly relaxed. "Yes, you're right," he said, to Jeremiah's surprise. "It is autumn, after all."

The man walked out the room, climbed onto the outer balcony, and stepped off.

Jeremiah's jaw dropped. "Wh-What the-What-What?"

Shin Hyuga Shaing sat down across from Jeremiah. He picked up Manfredi's cigar, took a long drag off it, and crossed his legs.

He gazed at Jeremiah casually.

"Don't stop on my account," he entreated. He waved around the cigar. "By all means, continue."

...

Office of the First Consul, Presidential Palace, Tokyo Settlement, United States of Japan

"Why the Hell are you leaving me in Japan?" Kallen demanded.

She leaned over the desk, hands braced on the top. She was in full Black Knight regalia, and she wore an angry expression.

"Because the Guren still hasn't completed repairs," he answered, hands clasped on his desk. "And Rakshata wants to go ahead and refit it for Flight Enabled Mode. Important, considering I'm taking the Gawain with me."

The solution to their intervention problem was a volunteer, mercenary army. Commanded by Colonel Alan Spacer, fully promoted, it would coordinate on equal footing with the Tianzi and her Inner Circle. He would be operating with full diplomatic authorization, as well. One thousand men would land in Shanghai in seven transport planes, protected by the Gawain, its power consumption issues finally resolved.

"Aside from which," he continued, "Asahina knew where I was because you were with me. If you remain here, our enemies will believe that I'm here as well. It's the only way to ensure absolute victory."

Kallen stood from the desk in a huff. "Well, I don't like it!" she declared. "How am I supposed to protect you from across the sea?"

"By making sure my enemies underestimate me," he replied. He pulled out several files. "Aside from which, we lost multiple members of the Zero Squadron. I want you to begin the work of reconstituting it. Choose the best from these files, you'd know better than I."

Kallen glanced over them. "Captain Rai Sumeragi, Third Matsudo?" she questioned. "He's that guy who was talking about boobs over the radio, wasn't he?"

"The very same," he said, with no small amount of amusement.

Kallen rolled her eyes. "Whatever." She jabbed a finger at him "But you owe me, okay! If I'm going to put up with this guy, I expect a vacation! All expenses paid!"

"Consider it done," he said with a laugh. "You're dismissed."

Kallen saluted and left.

He handled a collection of files for the upcoming campaign. He had dossiers on everyone: the Indians, the Indochinese, the Burmese, the warring factions of Heartland China. He would be reading and memorizing all of these on the plane ride over.

"You geassed her, didn't you?" C-Two asked him.

He looked up at her.

She wore a red gown that conformed perfectly to her lithe figure, her lime hair fashioned into a curled bob decorated with a diamond hair net. She sat on the sofa, gazing at him with interest.

He looked back down at his files. "Yes," he answered.

"To make her forget your identity?"

"I did that once. Turned out to be shortsighted and stupid." He made a few notes on the page.

She cupped her cheek in her palm. "Her love, then?"

He glanced up at her. "Yes."

She stood up languidly, bosom swaying within the corset of her gown. She walked over to him gracefully, her hips swaying, and sat her plump bottom down on the desk.

"Why?"

"Does it matter?" he returned, not looking at her.

She placed a contemplative finger to her lip. "Was it because Tohdoh almost killed her?" she asked. "Are you trying to protect her?"

"Kallen will return to the front when the Guren is ready," he replied, barely paying attention. "She is more than capable of protecting herself."

C-Two hummed. "You don't want a bedwarmer, then? No, you wouldn't want to follow in Tohdoh's footsteps." She leaned forward, a coquettish smile on her face. "Or do you expect that of me?"

"I expect advice and wisdom delivered with your usual sardonic wit," he said, signing off on a few documents.

C-Two huffed. "Then why? Why geass that girl so she won't love you?"

He tapped the mission file. "Because, C-Two, we are about to commit one of the greatest crimes in human history."

He passed her the details of his mission. She opened it. He watched her eyes go wide. She gave him an appraising look.

"I see," she said, her look intrigued. "You didn't want to drag her into Hell with you."

"Kallen won't be dragged anywhere she doesn't want to be," he retorted. "I did it because she would have talked me out of it."

C-Two tilted her head to the side, curious.

"The people of Japan must be reconciled to one another, that much is clear," he said. "As such, while your methods are expedient in the short term, in the long run they will be the death of this nation as a unified force. I can't win a war that way."

C-Two held up his plan, the name just visible between her fingers: Case Arnold. "Then explain this."

"They're not Japanese," he said tersely. "And the Tianzi won't negotiate."

"This will lead to decades of bad blood," C-Two pointed out. "There will be another civil war in China within a generation."

"The Chinese Federation exercised undue influence before the war, owing to its monstrous size," he reminded her. "The Tianzi is my ally, but eventually an Emperor or Empress will rise that will look to expand Chinese power, in the Pacific and beyond. I will not leave that mess to the next generation. In the short run, it will unify China and align all its power behind me. In the long run, it will greatly destabilize it, forcing it to focus on internal matters."

"You are a rotten son of a bitch," C-Two said. She was smirking. "And you're right; Kozuki would try to talk you out of it. This goes against everything she thinks Zero believes in."

"I'm not going to China as Zero," he retorted. "Nor as Alan Spacer, or Lelouch Lamperouge," he said.

He pulled his helmet from his head.

She gasped.

Both of his eyes burned with geass.

"I go as Lelouch vi Britannia, 99th Emperor of Holy Britannia."