It was three days before she had the time to stop.
Three days of a flurry of interviews and press conferences and emergency meetings, never alone, bombarded by questions, before she could retreat into a room by herself and scream. Three days until she could get away from people (the world) exulting in her brother’s death. You don’t understand, she wanted to scream. None of you, you don’t deserve-
Lelouch had built her a new world with his own blood for mortar. She wished she could throw it back in his face. This isn’t what I wanted. I just wanted you and me and Suzaku and Euphie, forever.
It was like those fairytales: be careful what you wish for. It might come true.
Lelouch three days dead and Nunnally closed the door quietly behind her and finally let herself cry until her throat hurt and she was exhausted, still shaking with the force of grief. With the memory of his eyes closing and the sticky-wet feeling of blood on her hands as she clutched his robes like maybe he would stay-
I destroy worlds…and create them anew.
She wished her eyes had still been closed then. She was glad she’d still been able to see him one more time (so few times).
This was what Lelouch had given her. She couldn’t be grateful, but she couldn’t throw it away either.
Nunnally wondered, bleakly, what they’d done with the body. She wanted to at least...
The door opened. “Empress Nunnally.” She recognized the mechanized voice and closed her eyes, squeezed her hands into fist in her dress.
“Suzaku,” she said, trying to swallow her tears, “Please tell me…”
There was a moment’s pause, and for a moment she doubted herself, but then Zero said, “The Knight of Zero is dead,” voice flat and plain, and if she could take his hand she knew she’d feel the lie. “I am only Zero.”
“Please,” she said, “I just want to know. Did he…did he do this for me? Am I the reason-”
“I hardly know the mind of the former Emperor,” Zero said, and Nunnally turned her chair to face him, knowing that she had to look a sight but anger flooding warm and unfamiliar into her limbs.
“No,” she said. “No, you don’t get to do that. I know who you are, and you can’t hide from me. You can hide from everyone else, but not from me. Don’t I at least deserve that much?” Because she was watching him so closely, she saw those caped shoulders flinch.
“Nunnally,” he said, and she heard the minute quiver of his voice. She hardened her heart.
“Take off the mask,” she said, “And look me in the eye.”
A moment’s hesitation, and then he lifted a hand to the mask. She heard it release with a quiet hiss and his face revealed itself a little at a time, brown hair green eyes, almost like she’d always pictured but older. Sadder. “Nunnally,” Suzaku said, then, “Empress,” and dropped to his knees, posture somewhere between knight and penitent. “Please…” She almost didn’t hear his next words. “I don’t deserve your forgiveness but I’m - sorry.”
She’d known. She’d known it had to be him, because if Lelouch had meant to do this all along there was only one person he would have given the sword to. It still…the feelings welling up in her were all tangled together, relief and sorrow and anger. Tears were back in her eyes. “Suzaku,” she managed. “Just…please tell me. Please tell me if it was because…”
“No,” said Suzaku, after a moment, his voice rough. “It wasn’t…it’s not your fault, Nunnally, you can’t…he wouldn’t…it was the only way.” He said the last part dully, like it was something he’d been told many times and didn’t quite believe, and Nunnally was inclined to agree, inclined to think that there had to have been another way. “We’d both done so much damage…” He turned his face away from her. “When we made the plan, he thought you were dead.”
He didn’t have anything to live for, Nunnally heard, and hiccuped trying to swallow another sob. Maybe that was arrogant of her, but she couldn’t care, not just now, not when all she could think about-
Suzaku’s head bowed further, spine curving like a bow. “He asked me to stay with you. But if you don’t want me here…I understand.”
“No,” said Nunnally, and she didn’t even have to think about it. “No. Don’t leave me, Suzaku. Not you too. I need someone here who understands…” That Lelouch wasn’t what they say he was. Not entirely.
Suzaku made a small sound, his head not lifting. “Are you…”
“I wanted it to be you and me and Lelouch and Euphie forever,” Nunnally said, more confidently, “But that…maybe Lelouch and Euphie are gone. But at least I can still have you, right? Even if around other people you have to pretend. You can…you can be just Suzaku with me. Please.”
He didn’t answer. Not for several moments, and Nunnally almost thought he wouldn’t. She wanted to reach out to him and- “Yes, your Highness,” he said, finally. “I am yours to command.” His voice was dull, the life gone from it.
It wasn’t what she wanted, but Nunnally wasn’t sure she could expect anything more.
Four days after, and amid everything else she managed to organize a funeral.
Quiet, no great affair –herself and Suzaku and Jeremiah Gottwald, that was all. The stone was small and black and plain, marked out in no way. She’d had to argue for even that much. Pretend it was for the sake of burying the past and the old way and everything Lelouch had died to change (had built into an effigy and then burned down). She hoped that being inconspicuous would mean being left alone. She knew you couldn’t bury hate with its cause.
‘Demon Emperor’ was the least of the names they gave her brother now.
It wasn’t much of a funeral. No one stood up to offer a eulogy. No one spoke of fond memories. They played a dirge (recorded) and didn’t bother with words about gods and dust. Nunnally cried and Suzaku held very still, like he thought if he moved he would shatter.
In the end, it was Suzaku who said it all, more to his knees than anything. “There will never be anyone,” he said softly, “Like Lelouch. I hope I can live up to the trust he placed in me.”
Oh brother, Nunnally thought. I hope you’re at peace. I hope you can at least have that.
“Suzaku,” she said, as they were moving away from the grave, the smell of earth still in her nostrils. “I hope you…I do forgive you.”
“Thank you,” Suzaku said, so quiet. “But you can’t absolve me of my sins. No one can.”
That night, she dreamed she held the sword, felt it desecrate flesh and scrape along bone. She met Lelouch’s eyes as he half fell against her. “Nunnally,” he said, “Nunnally, I love you. I will always…”
She woke up with her cheeks wet. Her royal chambers felt big and empty and dark, and when she reached out there was no one there.
“Empress? Sir…miss…former Black Knight Kallen Kouzuki has requested an audience with you.”
Nunnally looked up from the proclamation she was revising, noting the bewildered expression on the messenger’s face, and couldn’t help a tiny smile. She didn’t doubt that the ‘request’ had been a bit more of a ‘demand.’ Kallen. I wondered if you’d…
“Send her in,” Nunnally said, straightening up in her chair and setting aside the paper. “And if we might have some privacy?”
She caught the brief hesitation and felt a very brief twinge of frustration. Even now, she thought, it’s her surname that gives you pause, isn’t it. But they only nodded, a moment later, with a polite, “Of course, your Highness,” and withdrew. She would have to do something about that title soon, before they got too attached to it.
Kallen came in only a moment later, striding in with assured demand in every line of her body. Nunnally studied her, curiously, trying to reconcile the quiet girl who barely spoke in Student Council with this accomplished warrior. She wondered if anyone back then had really been what they pretended to be.
(That’s not fair. Lelouch was always your big brother.)
Kallen stared at Nunnally for a long moment, apparently measuring her up, until the door closed. Then her mouth drew into a flat line and she said, “I would like to serve as your knight.”
It took Nunnally a moment to understand what had been said, and then she was just confused. “I thought you were going back to school,” she said. Kallen’s mouth went tighter.
“Some things are more important than an education.”
Nunnally folded her hands on her lap. “I…thank you, Kallen, but surely you know that I have my share of protectors. We don’t know each other that well. What are you really here for?”
Kallen opened her mouth, then shut it. Finally, she dropped her eyes and said, “It was all for you, wasn’t it? We were just…”
Nunnally bit her lip, and then made herself stop. Kallen didn’t… “What are you talking about?” she said, carefully, and Kallen’s eyes narrowed another dangerous shade.
“You don’t see it?” she sounded incredulous. “Do you actually – now listen, I don’t care if you’re the Empress or what, you need to understand what your thrice-damned brother did for you-”
“You know?” Nunnally said, and then felt a little stupid. Obviously. Kallen snorted like a bull.
“I figured it out. I wish I hadn’t. Then I could just-” she cut off, and looked back at Nunnally, her expression rigidly stubborn. “So will you accept my service, or not?”
Nunnally took a deep breath through her nose, and said quietly, “No.” She saw Kallen’s fists clench and then release. The older girl looked down again.
“We…I let him down,” she said, after a moment. “I should have known. I could have…I want to…”
Nunnally felt her eyes prickle dangerously. Oh, Lelouch. Why did you do this to us? “I think my brother would want you to move on with your life,” she managed to say. “I don’t…I don’t think he would hold a grudge against you.”
“Dammit,” said Kallen, quietly, and turned away, but Nunnally still caught her swiping at her eyes.
“Lelouch didn’t just…it wasn’t just for me,” she said, and her voice wobbled a little despite all her efforts. “It was for all of you. The Black Knights and the Student Council and you and me and-” her voice cracked, and the tears she’d been trying to hold back spilled over. “And everyone.”
Kallen turned around again, looking a little stricken through the scrim of tears over Nunnally’s eyes. “I’m sorry,” she said, awkwardly. “I shouldn’t have – I’m sorry.”
You and Suzaku, Nunnally thought, with a bitterness that didn’t feel natural, you and your sorrys, what do they do? My big brother is still gone forever. She heard Kallen shift uncomfortably and managed, “Go to school, and just…come and visit me when you can?”
Kallen nodded, after a long moment. “It’s Suzaku, isn’t it?” she said, after one more moment, and before Nunnally could think of a response, she said, “Tell him I’m sorry I tried to kill him,” and then strode out of the room with one last quick bow.
She told Suzaku about Kallen’s visit. He didn’t seem surprised. “He said no one would ever know,” he said quietly, staring into the depths of the mask in his hands. “Or that if they did, they would hate him enough that it wouldn’t matter.” He made a small, harsh sound that was probably supposed to be a laugh. “Even you…”
Nunnally remembered the day before…everything. Remembered sitting in her cell and Lelouch coming to see her, slipping into her cell in all his finery and setting down a plate of food in front of her still steaming. Remembered his cool smile and the unnatural glitter of the contacts covering his Geass. Little sister, she remembered him saying. I told you I’d give you peace, once, didn’t I? I won’t have you saying I didn’t keep that promise. Tomorrow you’ll see what peace looks like. I promise.
I don’t know who you are, she’d said. You’re not my brother, you’re a monster with his face. I hate you, I-
She entertained the idea for a moment. Imagined if she had never known, never figured out what Lelouch’s plan had always been.
Nunnally squeezed her eyes closed. “I’m glad he was wrong,” she said. “I don’t think…he deserves…you both deserve for someone to know the truth.” Suzaku was quiet. Motionless. Nunnally never remembered him being this still. “Do you hate him?” Nunnally asked, reaching out to take his hand. Suzaku didn’t pull away from her, but his fingers remained limp in hers.
“No,” Suzaku said, finally, voice slightly dull. “I can’t. I don’t have the right to anymore. I don’t have any high ground left and besides – he died for everything he did. Euphie and all the rest.”
“But do you?” Nunnally asked again, and his fingers did close on hers, an involuntary squeeze.
“No.” Truth. “I…god. I miss him.” Truth.
“He shouldn’t have made you kill him,” Nunnally said, and Suzaku’s head jerked to the side.
“Who else was there?” There was something bitter and awful in his tone that made her want to cringe. “I was the only one he trusted enough. I was the only one who hated him enough. He didn’t coerce me into anything. I walked into it with my eyes open.”
Nunnally squeezed her eyes closed. “Do you hate me?”
“Nunnally…” Suzaku sounded like he was choking. Nunnally tightened her hand on his.
“Maybe sometimes,” Suzaku said, almost a whisper. “Just a little.” Truth.
“Why?” Nunnally asked, her heart aching in her chest, and Suzaku seemed to curl into himself. His hands tightened on the mask. She could see, under his fingertips, the faint smear of rust red not fully washed off.
“Lelouch loved you,” he said, voice hoarse. “He trusted me to kill him.”
Nunnally closed her eyes. Yes, she wanted to say, he loved me so much that he left me to do everything alone. He loved me so much that he lied to me right to the very end. That’s Lelouch’s love. “Kallen said she was sorry for trying to kill you,” she said, and Suzaku made another one of those strangled sounds pretending to be a laugh.
Milly was the next to come. Milly, quiet and subdued and dressed in black, but she still smiled when Nunnally greeted her. “You have lovely eyes,” she said, “I always knew you would, you know? You’re going to be such a heartbreaker.” She blushed, suddenly. Nunnally thought it was the first time she’d ever seen her do so. “Oh – sorry. It’s Empress now, isn’t it?”
“Oh, Milly,” Nunnally said, and opened her arms for a hug. When Milly embraced her, she almost melted into it, sagging with relief, because Milly was Milly and had always been there, as long as she could remember.
“It’s been like a nightmare,” Milly said, once they were holed up in a room out of earshot of anyone listening, just the two of them. “The whole…I can hardly believe it really happened.” Milly hesitated, and then reached out both her hands to hold one of Nunnally’s. “How are…how are you doing?”
Nunnally averted her eyes. “I am…I’m okay.”
“You miss Lelouch.” It wasn’t a question, from Milly. There wasn’t any reproach in it, either. Nunnally glanced at her friend and could only see sympathy.
“Yes,” she said quietly. “I do. I miss him so much.”
Milly squeezed her hand, lightly. “It’s okay,” she said. “So do I.”
They didn’t talk about the future, or the present. They talked about the past. They talked about the first days of their exile, about Lelouch and his front of haughty distance slowly wearing away, about the time he’d had to wear a dress for a day because of a bet he’d lost to Milly. “I swear he was the prettiest girl at the school,” Milly said brightly. Nunnally found herself laughing for the first time since (that day) and she never wanted it – any of it – to end.
When it was growing dark and Milly had to leave, she paused for a moment. “Nunnally,” she said quietly. “Just…remember. Whatever else…Lelouch was your big brother. Just like he was my friend. It’s okay to be sad.”
“But everyone,” Nunnally started to say, and Milly tossed her head.
“Oh, bah,” she said. “Everyone, my ass. My Lelouch wasn’t some demon or emperor or demon emperor. I don’t think yours was either. I’m going to remember Lelouch how I want to.” She grinned, suddenly. “And by that I mean in a dress.”
That night, Nunnally found a picture of Lelouch where he was smiling, surprised, not quite looking at the camera, and set it on her desk. Imagined him sitting there across the room, watching her. “I hope you’ll be proud of me,” she said to the empty room. “I want you to be proud of me, big brother.”
Lelouch had been dead for twelve days, celebrators still burning him in effigy, when she visited his grave in the early hours, unseen, and found it not as she’d left it. The plain headstone was broken, writing scrawled in red paint over what was left.
She turned away quickly, squeezing her eyes closed. A moment later she heard Suzaku’s voice. It sounded strained. “Nunnally. I’m sorry.”
“It’s not your fault,” she said. Choked. “You don’t need to…” The tears were filling up her throat. She was tired of crying. She opened her eyes to find Suzaku kneeling in front of her, mask still on. Hateful mask. “There’s nobody here,” she said. “Let me see your face.”
Suzaku held still for a moment, and then reached up and with a hiss released the clasp on the back of the mask and lifted it off his head, pulled it away from his face. His eyes were red and there were tears leaking down the sides of his nose. She reached out and touched one. “Oh, Suzaku,” she said. “Can you please just tell me why – why this way? Why not any other-”
“He said…” Suzaku shook his head. “He said the only ones who should kill are the ones who are ready to be killed. Nunnally, I can’t…I don’t know. I don’t know. Because Lelouch is – was cruel and vicious and- never understood how much people loved him.” His voice cracked, and Nunnally wanted to hug him, wanted to hold him and tell him…
Suzaku would never let her.
This is what you left us to, Nunnally thought bitterly. You made yourself an idol for them to destroy, but did you ever think of the wreckage you would leave behind? Maybe you saved the world, but what about us? What about me?
“It’s not fair,” she managed to say. “It’s not…I want to tell everyone. The whole world. And I can’t, not without…”
“I know,” Suzaku said after a moment. “When he told me…I wish I’d said something. I wish I’d-” he made a harsh, small, strangled sound. “In some ways… I don’t know if this is mercy or punishment.” His voice cracked, broke.
“Suzaku?” she said, reaching out to touch his jaw.
“This is his world,” he said. “His and yours. Not mine. And yet here I am.”
“It could be yours,” Nunnally said softly. Suzaku’s laugh was a hollow, awful sound.
“No,” he said. “I don’t think it can. But that’s my punishment. Lelouch died for his sins. I live for mine.”