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Crippled Puppet

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Gunfire ripped through the air, and Lady Marianne lay dying. Her daughter's shrieks were still ringing in her ears when the initial shock passed and she realized she was bleeding out on the main stairs of the Aries Villa. A murderous rage at her immortal brother-in-law welled up in her, giving her the momentary strength to lift her head and scan the room. She hadn't risen to Knight of Honor or imperial consort through idiocy, and luckily her training as a knightmare pilot kept her mind as focused as ever through the pain.

Lady Marianne refused to die.

The empty room offered no solutions, and the seconds were ticking away. A whimper beneath her drew her attention to a forgotten Nunnally, the young princess staring wide-eyed at the ceiling in shock. Nunnally's legs had been shot multiple times, but her survival rate looked more promising than Lady Marianne's own. A crazy idea started to materialize, and desperation backed by instinct drove the empress to initiate her Geass.

At the very least, using Nunnally would buy her some time. She had no other options, and she refused to die.

Her consciousness had barely finished melding into the back of Nunnally's mind before she was trapped in a fate worse than death. She felt the deadweight of her old body pinning this one down. For ten seconds, Lady Marianne took control and stared at the ceiling through her daughter's eyes.

Then her world went dark for nine years.

-+-

"Blindness caused by trauma" was the doctor's diagnosis.

Marianne raged in the back of her daughter's mind. She wanted to destroy things and work off the rush of anger in her Ganymede knightmare, but she was stuck because in addition to going blind from the experience, her daughter was crippled. Taking control of Nunnally's body would do her nothing.

The princess had fallen unconscious right after Marianne's takeover, possibly spurred on by the mental strain she might have felt from another person's spirit making itself at home in her body. She'd—they'd—been kept on a drug-induced sleep to maximize healing, and when the doctors had finally let her—them—wake up...

Marianne was not happy with her situation. Not happy at all. She cursed C.C. for giving her a Geass that relied on eye contact, and she cursed Nunnally for being mentally weak enough to fall prey to blindness. She cursed Cornelia for lifting her royal escort, even though the warrior-princess had done so on the empress's own orders. Most of all, she cursed V.V. for interfering and shooting her. He was going to jeopardize everything she and Charles had worked towards! The Sword of Akasha and the Ragnarok Connection plan would have to be put on hold now. Worst of all, now she was stuck in the broken body of her blind and crippled daughter.

Her options were so limited it would have been laughable had it happened to anyone else. Perhaps this was her punishment for planning to slay the Divine Consciousness?

Her musings were interrupted by the quivering voice of her son beside the bed: "Nunn…Nunnally…"

Nunnally turned their head towards the sound. Marianne only half paid attention, still trying to furiously figure a way out of her daughter. If only Charles would visit! Lelouch, though smart, was useless to her.

The prince took hold of Nunnally's-and-Marianne's hand, squeezing it in comfort.

"Hi, Lelouch," Nunnally whispered and squeezed back. "I...I can't see you..." Her voice and eyes filled with tears.

"I heard," Lelouch murmured, gently brushing away the tear streams that had fallen from behind Nunnally's perpetually closed eyelids. "The doctors told me. But they also said it might not be permanent." Marianne started to pay more attention to the conversation between her children. The prince continued, "Someday, you'll be able to see again, Nunnally. I just know it!"

Nunnally forced out a watery laugh. "You always know just what to say, big brother." With a sigh, her mood grew somber, and she made herself ask, "Lelouch, what about…what about Mother?" In the recesses of their mind, Marianne breathed a mental sigh of relief that her presence was still undetected. There was no telling what Nunnally might do with the knowledge, and there was the possibility that she might break even further. It was safer for Marianne to work unknown in the background. Upon hearing no response, Nunnally asked again, "Big brother, tell me! Is Mother all right?"

Lelouch's breath hitched audibly in his throat. "Nunnally...I can't...but I should be the one to tell you..." His hand started to shake in Nunnally's grasp, and his words came out strangled and throaty when he steeled himself to explain, "Mother...didn't make it."

Marianne felt a twinge of sympathy for her children as they grieved for her, both of them crying outright now over her supposed death.

"I want Mother," Nunnally sobbed, clutching onto Lelouch as a lifeline. "I want Mother!"

I'm closer than you know, Marianne thought silently as she resigned herself to, at least for the time being, remaining deep inside Nunnally. For now, this would have to do. She refused to die.

-+-

"Welcome to Japan, Nunnally," Lelouch said with forced optimism. He shifted her body on his back so as to get a better grip. The jolt startled Marianne, who'd been busy seething at her worsened predicament.

Charles had never visited her—well, Nunnally—since she'd woken up. Though she repeatedly took control of Nunnally and begged to see him, he never made an appearance. Her complaints about his absence had helped spur Lelouch to seek an audience with the emperor, and somehow by the end of it—Marianne hated not knowing the exact details, but it wasn't like Lelouch would tell Nunnally—Charles had decided to exile the vi Britannia royal heirs to Japan.

Now not only was Marianne stuck inside her broken daughter, trapped by darkness and the limited mobility of her stolen body, but she was out of physical range of the only people who could help her. She sensed V.V.'s interference. That snake!

Japan was unlike anything Marianne had ever known, but she wasn't too impressed by it considering her limited access to the experience. She felt helpless alongside Nunnally as they needed assistance doing the most basic of tasks, and Lelouch was the one stepping up to help now that they were out of the hospital, across the world, and completely alone.

Damn Charles for listening to V.V.

The days passed in a boring yet embarrassing routine, and Marianne mostly left Nunnally alone. She had no desire to take control when there was nothing she could do with it.

Then came the day that they were moved to another of the Kururugi's estates, and that was when the vi Britannias met Suzaku. Marianne—now more used to her situation and able to focus outward—felt a hot rush of motherly protectiveness when she heard Lelouch get beaten by that Japanese brute. She was about to take control and give the violent little brat a tongue lashing, but Nunnally's pleas sent the boy running before she could.

No matter, Marianne promised herself. When I'm free of Nunnally, I'll make sure this 'Suzaku Kururugi' gets what's coming to him. She spent much of her time still cursing those around her. It had become one of the only hobbies she could pursue.

Then, of course, both her children had to go and make friends with the brat. Lelouch started spending a bit more time away from Nunnally, going into town daily to buy food as well as sometimes playing alone with Suzaku, and for the first time Marianne was alone with her daughter for significant amounts of time.

Bored, cut off, and tired of being alone, Marianne thought about changing her mind and letting Nunnally in on her secret. She ached to talk to someone as herself, not pretend to be a frail little girl. However, she always came back to the conclusion that it was too risky. Her saving grace came in the form of C.C. and a newly discovered telepathic ability related to her Geass power.

Going crazy in there yet? came the witch's monotone question, linking with Marianne's consciousness through the World of C. Nunnally gave a tiny twitch but otherwise didn't seem to notice.

Marianne brightened at the company, but then deflated with betrayal. C.C.! she mentally yelled. Where have you been all this time? How is Charles? What is happening with the plan?

Slow down, C.C. replied. I've been busy with the Geass Order. Things are progressing. As for your husband, he is focusing completely on Japan. With the way things are headed, there's going to be a war.

Thoughts turning, Marianne mentally thanked C.C. for the information and forgave her for her distance. Lelouch was extremely careful not to say anything that might upset his fragile little sister, so Marianne wasn't getting the news. When she'd processed everything, she beseeched her immortal friend, Get word to Charles about what's happened to me. I'm sure V.V. is deliberately manipulating him away from the truth.

C.C. sighed good-naturedly on her end of their link. All right. I'll help you. We have a contract, after all.

Always, Marianne giggled, euphoric at the idea of changing her circumstances. Once Charles knew, he would work with C.C. and between the two of them, they could save her from Nunnally. Though Nunnally might be lost in the process, Marianne was okay with that. After all, the dead would rejoin the living.

Bombs rained down on the Kururugi Shrine before any help came.

-+-

"Keep walking, Suzaku."

Marianne turned her attention to the little Japanese boy who was evidently frozen behind them. She'd taken control of their body, feeling that rare surge of motherly protection again, and shielded Nunnally as much as she could from the stench of rotting corpses. The princess's consciousness was basically asleep in the back of their mind during the trek.

Suzaku sniffled, and Lelouch took pains to turn back and walk to his side.

Before he could say anything, Marianne reached out and cupped Suzaku's face. This boy, whom she'd hated at the beginning, had started to grow on her the more he cared for her children. He'd especially brought a kind of happiness to Lelouch that Marianne had never seen in her beloved son. As thanks for helping them, she would offer him comfort as if he was one of her own: "A warm touch is good for tears."

-+-

The war took its toll on everyone. Suzaku traveled with the vi Britannia family for most of it, helping them survive. Marianne could tell what a good team he and her son made when they worked together. It made her proud, and her pride seeped into Nunnally's feelings.

More than anything, though, Marianne felt helpless. Her situation had gone from bad to worse to worst. Now she was stuck in Nunnally across the world in a war-ravaged land, more out of touch with resources than ever before. V.V. must have really wanted her dead. C.C. was oddly silent, and Marianne wondered if her brother-in-law had somehow neutralized the other immortal. After all, there was still so much she was learning about Codes and Geass.

She wished so strongly for a working body. She could easily have saved herself, and even her children, if she could just get behind a knightmare frame. It wasn't really fun being on the other side. Somewhere, she was sure V.V. was laughing.

Then came the day when Lelouch announced that he'd made contact with the Ashford family. Marianne's hopes soared at the news. She felt Nunnally grow both relieved and sad, knowing Suzaku was not welcome. It was too bad. Marianne knew she could improve her own situation, and that was all that mattered. She did do the polite thing and retreat into the back of their mind during Nunnally's good-bye with the boy, but she took control and focused on the future as soon as their shared body was strapped in the car. She was anxious to meet with her old supporters, and she cursed Lelouch for making them wait longer as he went back to have his own private, personal farewell with the Kururugi boy.

It took several hours to actually make contact, but Marianne was ready. She waited for the perfect moment, listening silently while Lelouch and Ruben Ashford discussed their plans. Her boy really was bright for his age. He brought up the idea of using a school as a cover, to hide their past and royal heritage. There was no better place to hide a tree than in a forest.

"But why can't we just go back to Britannia?" Marianne asked through Nunnally during a lull in the conversation. "I want to go home."

Lelouch hesitated, and Marianne heard him shuffling on his feet. "Nunnally," he explained gently, "we can't ever go back to Britannia."

Marianne sucked in a breath. Not go home? But how was she supposed to reach Charles and get his help?

"Perhaps it's time for bed?" Ruben suggested diplomatically. "You both have had a long day, and you're bound to need time to recover and process things."

Lelouch agreed hurriedly that Nunnally should get some rest, and Marianne found herself wheeled along in a new custom wheelchair to their bedchamber. It took some convincing to get her new personal nursemaid, some Japanese woman named Sayoko, to bring her back to Ruben's study with the excuse that she needed to speak urgently with Lelouch. She halted the woman outside the door, intent on listening in. She gave the excuse of, "Big brother is still talking and it sounds important. Let's just wait a moment longer." Marianne was pleased that Sayoko's only response was, "Yes, my lady."

"Father abandoned us in Japan to die," Lelouch was stressing to Ruben, sounding mature beyond his years but still childish in his accusations.

Marianne frowned. Charles wouldn't do that. He loves our children. This is all a misunderstanding. This is V.V. trying to get at me.

"He doesn't love us," the prince assured the Ashford gentleman, sure in his own anger. It must be a family trait, Marianne thought wryly. "If he loved us, he wouldn't have dropped us here and left us for the bombs. It would be dangerous to go back to Britannia." He took another deep breath. "I need your assurance that Nunnally and I are safe here."

Ruben was silent for a moment before promising, "You have a future with us, Prince Lelouch."

"Drop the title," Lelouch ordered. "I'm to be an ordinary student. Treat me as such."

It tickled Marianne to hear Lelouch sound so royally imperious.

"You're safe here, Lelouch." Ruben sounded amused, too.

"Lamperouge," Lelouch tacked on. "We're going to be Lelouch and Nunnally Lamperouge. To honor our mother."

Marianne felt her heart constrict. For the first time in too long, she felt touched. She felt appreciated, acknowledged, and loved.

Lelouch went on, "I need to protect Nunnally. She's been through too much. She doesn't need to understand that our own family tried to have us killed. I'm also sure it was someone within the royal family that killed our mother."

Marianne raised an eyebrow. Lelouch really was putting a lot of thought into this and playing his cards carefully to stay safe.

Ruben cleared his throat. "Your sister may be young, but I'm sure she understands your situation. You can't shelter her forever."

"She asked to go home," Lelouch protested sharply. "So she doesn't understand why we're safer going into hiding here instead of returning to Britannia. I need to keep her safe from the truth for as long as possible. She's my little sister."

Ruben cleared his throat some more. "I'll be careful not to say anything that might upset her."

Lelouch breathed an audible sigh of relief. "Thank you."

Marianne was impressed with Lelouch's dedication to Nunnally, but a part of her was disappointed at the lies of omission he was planning on telling to achieve his goal. Though he was trying to look out for his younger sister, his lies would only turn into more trouble later on down the road. This was what the Ragnarok Connection would fix, and Marianne was even more determined to escape Nunnally and get back to her own life and her own dreams.

-+-

"Ruben."

Marianne heard a pen drop.

"Nunnally," the old man responded warily. "It would be more proper for you to refer to me as 'Lord Ashford.'"

Marianne grinned. "Yes, it would be fitting for Nunnally to address you with a respectful title. However, my old friend, I have long been on first-name basis with you."

There was the scruff of a chair, and Marianne heard footsteps approach. She held out her arm in greeting, but she only felt a hand on her forehead. "Nunnally," the once-higher-status-noble murmured, "Are you feeling all right?"

"It's Marianne," said Marianne, relishing in the use of her real name at last. She felt almost free.

"This isn't funny," Ruben said harshly. Then, his voice softened, "I understand you've been through a lot, Nunnally..."

Marianne laughed. "I told you, it's Marianne," she said, almost playfully. "I've been waiting ages to come in contact with someone who can help me get to Charles."

Ruben's hand shook a little from where it rested on her forehead.

"Lelouch just doesn't understand. His heart is filled with too much hatred for his father."

Ruben took a hurried step back.

Marianne pouted. "Please, won't you help me?"

That was the beginning of Nunnally's forced therapy sessions.

-+-

"She's sick in the head," Marianne heard Ruben tell Lelouch outside the therapy office. "It's that, it's some kind of game, or she's simply suffering a severe degree of stress and it's coming out this way. No matter, your sister needs professional help to move past this."

Lelouch's voice was wobbly as he agreed – anything to help his sister. "She's never pretended to be our mother before," he pointed out. "Never once, in all the months since her death."

"Perhaps she finally feels comfortable enough to cope, and this is her way of expressing it," Ruben theorized. "After all, she went from the hospital in Pendragon to a little shack in Japan and then was carried through corpses out on the streets. She hasn't had all her basic needs until now, so she couldn't focus on handling the stress." He sighed like he had the weight of the world on his shoulders. "She's pretended to be Marianne ten times in a row with me. I fear there might be something very wrong with her..."

Marianne seethed at the way her old friend was talking about her – well, about Nunnally – behind her back to her son. She didn't have mental health issues; she had Geass.

Of course, trying to explain a mystical power like that to her psychiatrist only resulted in some new medication. Between Lelouch and Ruben, she never missed a dose.

After some time of getting nowhere, Marianne just let Nunnally have control during the middle of therapy sessions. It was slightly amusing to her when Nunnally came to and had no idea what was going on.

-+-

From that point on, Ruben only dealt with Lelouch. Marianne was outraged that he avoided her – Nunnally – just because he felt uncomfortable with the situation. Lelouch told her cautiously that Lord Ashford didn't want to trigger her symptoms, so he was giving her space to heal. Marianne was forced to give up, as the man simply never let himself be in her presence. He became too busy settling into Area 11 as it were. Lelouch was more wary of her, too, but at least he stuck by her side throughout it all.

Time passed in a blur as Marianne was forced into a routine to address all of Nunnally's needs. Covert hospital visits became a pattern, taking up much of her day as the doctors worked on bringing up her health, along with the mandatory therapy sessions. There was also a lot to do in learning to read braille and keeping up with her daily stretching exercises. Nunnally welcomed the workload; Marianne despised it.

Throughout it all, Nunnally remained blissfully unaware that Marianne was lurking in her mind. She grew confused when Lelouch occasionally asked, "Are you Nunnally or mother right now?"

Marianne never answered him. It was always Nunnally.

There was no point in telling Lelouch. Thanks to her once friend, her son believed 'Nunnally' was crazy on top of being blind and crippled. Still, it was comforting that he stayed close and supported her. He never let all of her issues push him away. Marianne continued to rely on his loving hand, as it was the only link she had to her old life.

Ashford Academy was finished being built after a couple years, and the vi Britannia royals were carefully moved in. They assumed the role of students, and Marianne suffered through all the nonsensical distractions. The routine changed slightly with added classes, but her days were still filled with doctor's appointments so they could monitor her condition and just keep her alive.

By now, Marianne wanted to die herself and just reach the freedom of C's World – but how could she kill herself as a spirit residing in her daughter's consciousness? She couldn't escape with Nunnally's closed eyes acting as a locked gateway. She felt utterly trapped, living day-to-day and year-to-year in darkness.

The therapy sessions and personal watch guard increased when Sayoko found Nunnally after Marianne had tried to kill them with a kitchen knife.

-+-

"I don't know anything," Nunnally sobbed. "I don't remember. I didn't do it. I don't want to die. And I'm not mother."

Lelouch just hugged them tight.

Marianne mentally screamed.

-+-

Lelouch came home from a gambling excursion acting a little strange, but Marianne was so fed up with simply subsisting that she'd mostly faded to the background. Lelouch was happy that Nunnally's "blackouts" weren't happening quite so often anymore.

Marianne's attention did perk soon after when the news revealed that Prince Clovis had been killed, and she only grew more interested when one Suzaku Kururugi was revealed as the culprit. That was a name she hadn't heard since the war. It reminded her of the beginning of this whole mess.

Then Zero appeared.

But Marianne was far more interested that C.C. appeared.

Finally.

-+-

"Why are you here?" Marianne demanded as she drank tea with her contractor. "Where have you been for the past seven years? Why haven't you helped me like you promised?"

C.C.'s cup made a soft clang as she put it down. "I'm here because I made a new contract," the immortal teased. "I've been...indisposed for some time now. You can blame V.V. and Charles." She was quiet for a moment before adding, "And Clovis."

Marianne sighed and stirred her tea. As usual, C.C. wasn't really giving her any answers. She truly should have expected that by now.

Lelouch came home, and Marianne let Nunnally take control. Marianne had made it a point never to interact with Lelouch directly, and she wasn't going to change a seven-year-old habit. It was entertaining to listen to Nunnally's misinterpretation of C.C., and Lelouch's shocked reaction as he tried to do damage control. At least it helped Marianne connect the dots.

Her beloved son had a Geass power.

-+-

"Why haven't you spoken with Lelouch?" C.C. asked blandly as she settled herself at the breakfast table. The topic of their conversation had already gone to his first class.

Marianne sighed. "There hasn't been any reason to," she explained. "Revealing myself has only brought me trouble."

C.C. laughed almost mockingly. "Surely you knew that would happen?"

"I thought Ruben could be trusted," Marianne said bitterly. The grudge still had not faded away. "Still," she went on, "you're here now. You can help me. Better late than never."

The immortal scooted her chair back. "I can't," she said simply. "I'm not exactly on the best terms with Charles and V.V. at the moment. I just got out of being imprisoned and experimented on by a faction of the Geass Order in Area 11, and I have no desire to risk myself again so soon after escaping. I'm only here for Lelouch, so he can fulfill the contract."

Marianne frowned but went along with the flow of conversation. "What is his Geass?"

"Absolute Obedience," C.C. responded promptly. "He craves power and control. Fitting, for a son of Charles."

Marianne nodded; the assessment did indeed fit her son. "Have you told him about me?" she pressed.

C.C. laughed lightly. "Of course not," she said. "I have to find my entertainment somewhere."

Marianne could only picture the immortal's face. "I see," she said thoughtfully, then giggled. "C.C.," she trilled suggestively, "perhaps I could offer you...another form of entertainment?"

"Are you propositioning me?" the immortal asked blandly. "From inside the body of your only daughter?"

Shifting a bit in her wheelchair, Marianne solicited, "It's been years since I've felt a warm body and Nunnally's reaching puberty. She's getting to that age anyway..." She was willing to kill her daughter to satisfy her own needs; controlling their shared body for certain pleasures surely wasn't crossing a line. Marianne had already sacrificed so much. It was time to start putting herself first again.

C.C. only patted her hand and declined.

Marianne's resentment towards Nunnally grew. Her daughter always kept her from so much.

-+-

Lelouch being Zero didn't surprise Marianne. She'd witnessed the growing hatred in her son over the past seven years, and she knew what he'd aim to do when granted a Geass. C.C. had asked the empress to keep quiet about her own half-survival, however.

As it was, Marianne understood it like this:

One, Lelouch was deeply motivated to discover the truth behind Marianne's murder through his operations as Zero.

Two, Lelouch was using his Geass power frequently to this end as he sought to destroy the Britannian Empire.

Three, Lelouch was building up his Geass power through so much usage. The more he used it, the faster his power would grow to the point where he could take on a Code.

Four, Lelouch was the best candidate to be used for the Ragnarok Connection.

Telling Lelouch the truth would impede their progress, and Marianne had to remember priorities. Despite C.C. not being on good terms with Charles, Marianne knew her husband well enough to know he'd never give up on the Ragnarok Connection plan. Marianne could hold out just a little while longer.

Marianne's murder mystery was a carrot to Lelouch, but it wasn't like other goals couldn't entice him to grow his Geass. To be honest, it was simply hilariously ironic to hear him combing through lies when the truth had been under his own nose for the past seven years.

Marianne obliged C.C.'s request. She did love a good practical joke.

-+-

Lelouch spent increasing amounts of time away from home, buried in his work as Zero and catching up with his old friend Suzaku Kururugi in his limited spare time. Marianne heard all the details from C.C.

It felt fantastic to carry on a conversation as herself again. When she wasn't using Nunnally as a mouthpiece, she could utilize her telepathic connection to the immortal now that C.C. was free and open to the mental communication. Marianne made up for all the years of silence.

Nunnally was clueless to all of it.

-+-

Marianne witnessed Zero's rise to power from the sidelines. She was again proud of her son's accomplishments, but upset at the lengths he was going through to conceal the truth. She reminded herself that he was still young, only seventeen. One day, he would learn to appreciate the beauty of veracity. The Ragnarok Connection would help him realize.

It is a grand show, the empress projected mentally to C.C. I sense a lot of Schneizel in him. Not only in the intellect for strategy and manipulating others, but in the outrageous arm movements (that C.C. described for her in hilarious detail) and grandiose speeches. Lelouch always had tickled her; he was always so entertaining and so much more useful than Nunnally. If only he'd been in the same room when she'd been shot! Marianne was sure Lelouch wouldn't have gone blind on her. Just look at what he was proving himself capable of!

C.C. hummed thoughtfully. He is distraught over Narita.

Marianne giggled. But Narita was such a sensational blunder! She gathered herself before adding, This is the most interesting thing that's happened in years.

The immortal agreed. You've been due some excitement.

Marianne's excitement increased with Mao's sudden visit, pulling her into a mess directly. The empress was irked at him for kidnapping her - Nunnally - but she understood him. She'd felt abandoned by C.C., too.

"Oh, the lies!" raved Mao gleefully as he clapped his bandaged hands. "You've been using your daughter's body for all these years. So sick! So sick! I love what you've done with her," he cackled, as if mentally scarring Nunnally was akin to a sitting room that the empress had decorated. Marianne faded and let a hysterical Nunnally come out of a blackout. "I know you're still in there!" Mao called. "Oh, and Lelouch doesn't know what a naughty schemer you are! Oh, this is rich!"

Nunnally cocked her head, confused as ever.

"What a sick and twisted little bitch you are!" cooed Mao as he read deep into Nunnally's subconscious to get at Marianne. His footsteps circled the wheelchair in the underground circulation system. "You're even more of a monster than Lelouch!" His insane laughter echoed against the tunneled walls. "Using a crippled little puppet! To live so you can destroy the world! You're a visionary. Very impressive," he complimented her, applauding even more wildly. "Oh, Nunnally, you don't even know," he continued, switching his attention to the other mind in their body. "Your whole family is all sorts of messed up. It's wonderful!"

Nunnally trembled in the chair, wondering how she'd gotten from the safety of her clubhouse home to somewhere entirely different, judging by the sound of flowing water and the laughter of a madman.

His voice continued to taunt her. "Oh, you want to be blown to smithereens?"

"No!" Nunnally protested, thoughts whirling in panic.

Maybe, Marianne considered calmly. I want to escape this personal hell. She thought it over some more. But I'd also like to escape so I can eventually use Lelouch and finally bring about Ragnarok.

"Hmmmm?" Mao asked, drawing out the sound. "Maybe I should let you live so you can hurt Lelouch."

Nunnally clutched at her wheelchair. "NO! I don't want to hurt Lelouch!"

Mao continued laughing. "Ah, what fun is this family love thing." He clapped and snorted. "Even if I simply leave you alone, you'll all destroy each other! This feels great. This isfantastic!"

Of course, Lelouch and Suzaku stepped in at about this time and worked together to save the day.

Just like that, Marianne's entertainment for the day ended. At least it got interesting again when Suzaku was soon revealed as an important knightmare pilot for the Britannian military. The empress found it fascinating how the revelation shook Lelouch so thoroughly. Her son still had a lot to learn.

At least his Geass was developing.

-+-

Then came the Special Zone and, on its heels, the Black Rebellion. With Lelouch's power at the next stage, as she'd been informed telepathically by C.C., Marianne could soon move forward with her plan. It wouldn't be long before his permanently active Geass would spread to both eyes and then he'd be ready. After more than seven years of waiting, she could reunite with Charles and, as a boon, offer him their son as a pawn in their grand scheme to create a world with no more lies.

She was so, so close.

Naturally, V.V. interfered.

-+-

Marianne detested Nunnally's blindness and crippled legs yet again when the blond immortal stole her away. She couldn't see or move to fight, and she longed to kill the bastard again and again. He was suspicious of her presence within Nunnally, but Marianne kept herself hidden deep in her daughter's subconscious. He'd most likely always suspected, which was why Marianne believed he'd meddled when the vi Britannias were exiled to Japan, but now she didn't think he truly knew all the facts. If he knew, why hadn't he come after her all these years?

While she wanted to give the immortal a piece of her mind, she couldn't risk ruining her new plan. V.V. would just kill the body if he knew for sure that she was in there, and then she'd never be able to participate in the Ragnarok Connection. She didn't want to watch it happen as a spirit from C's World; after all she'd suffered, she deserved to experience it in person.

V.V. kept Nunnally hidden away for several months, observing her carefully for any signs.

C.C. was too busy to help her – busy planning to rescue Lelouch, who'd been captured during the Black Rebellion by none other than Suzaku Kururugi. Marianne would have laughed at the irony, but it wasn't funny anymore.

Not when it was affecting her.

Marianne cursed, waited, and plotted. She felt a renewed purpose. She refused to die.