Title: The Price of Living
Summary: Ten years after.
Most stuff I write that isn't outright smut has at least slash undertones in it. This one is no exception. Subtextual Lelouch/Suzaku.
Spoilers for the whole damn series, natch.
And no one calls him Suzaku, not again, not for his whole life long. Eventually Suzaku himself ceases to use that name even in his own head. Zero he is, and Zero he will remain.
Zero does not rule, but he is the favorite of all Britannia, indeed, of all the world. Through his careful channels of anonymity he is consulted in all matters military--for there will always be military concerns, no matter how promising the world-- and of security and of enforcement, and when he speaks, he is heeded. Not because his word is law, but because what he speaks is wise, stemming from experience and from his deep perception of ethical and beneficient justice. No one who has spoken with him doubts there is a human--a caring, flesh-and-blood human--behind the mask.
Ten years into the reign of Nunnally the Glorious, Hundredth Emperor of Britannia, one of his video channels sends him a familiar face.
Pudding, he thinks automatically, but does not even mouth the word behind his mask.
"Greetings, sir! I'm not quite sure if you remember me," Lloyd lilts.
It has been five years since the last contact between Zero and the scientist, but introductions had been made at the time and so Zero can safely answer, "Yes. Earl Asplund."
Lloyd's usual look of pleasure deepens. Zero is expected to have remarkable abilities, including rapid and blisteringly accurate recall, but he supposes Lloyd finds it a compliment to be memorable. "Yes! Thank you for choosing to take my call."
It takes only a little effort to be curt with him; Zero has had plenty of experience suppressing the natural warmth he would have liked to extend to his former aquaintances. Gino. Kallen. Nunnally. "How can I help you?"
"There is--" Lloyd adjusts his glasses in his usual habit and Zero ignores the pang in his chest it creates--"a fascinating piece of documentation that has come under my attention. Top secret, of course. Well. I suppose you might not call it documentation. Artifact might be a better word."
If he knew Lloyd less well, he might think the man was trying to be coy. He does not answer, knowing Lloyd will continue without prompting.
He does. "I should not assume, but--you are Zero, after all..." That laugh of his. How often had he brushed aside Lloyd's foolish laughter as an irritant? He never would have believed he would have missed it. "You are familiar, perhaps, with the concept of the Geass Canceler?"
Again, because he is Zero the all-knowing, he thinks it will present no difficulty to admit, "Yes."
Lloyd's eyes almost disappear in the crinkles his smile produces. "I wasn't wrong! I thought you might be. Well." Another adjustment of his glasses. "The only one to possess a working model was Jeremiah Gottwald; his is no longer functional, of course. And the technology to produce them has been lost. Blueprints deliberately destroyed; a deplorable waste."
"But in my research--I dabble in all sorts of fields, you understand; historical technology is not really my focus, as I'm somewhat of a zealot regarding moving forward with the newest measures; well, who of my ilk isn't, really..."
A young man who went by the name of Suzaku would have growled Lloyd, would you get on with it, please.
"...but I have come across something overlooked."
Lloyd slips something from under his coat, and Zero sees enamelled metal and serobond, sees the streamlined compactness of the device, sees how the heaviness of it weighs in Lloyd's hand.
"You understand, I can't say this is a working model, not precisely. Not only would it have to be installed in a host and tested, but it's my understanding that there was more to the Geass Canceler than mere technology and Sakuradite, you see. Spark of life, to use a simple metaphor. Something that may have come from the host itself; I can't be sure without further study."
Under his cloak, where the video will not pick it up, there is a tremor in Zero's hands.
"But see--" And here Lloyd lifts the device closer to the video transmitter, turns it in such a way that Zero thinks he sees something. A flash. A gleam. A momentary blue pulse of light that seems to come from the heart of the device itself, not a mere outside reflection.
Zero closes his throat on an inhalation.
And then the pulse of light is gone. Lloyd turns it towards himself with the smug expression of a man whose pet has performed a clever trick. "There, that." He lifts it to his eye, squints through it as if he held nothing more novel than a kaleidoscope. "And, of course, there is the issue that we do not know upon whom we could test it. Everyone we know that was a victim of Lelouch the Tyrant--well, all his Geass orders of which we know , that is, were either to obey him or to kill oneself, you understand?" He lowers the device. "So the known victims are either dead, or they haven't anyone to obey in the first place, the Tyrant being dead himself. Not a very good experiment, by anyone's rights."
Zero tells himself he has no reason to be reacting like this. The Geass Canceler can't work; Lelouch told him enough for him to know that that spark of life Lloyd imagines is more accurate than he knows. Without an immortal to enable it, the Geass Canceler is meager scrap.
And yet, that pulse.
"What do you propose?" he says when he knows his voice will be steady. And if it's uncharacteristic of Zero to rise to the silence and speak first, he should be forgiven under the circumstances. Though he won't forgive it.
"I feel..." Lloyd's face sobers fractionally. "I feel I should not propose, sir. Geass was a weapon used by Lelouch, which would make one think Zero would oppose it. Which would make one think you would like me to put all effort into making this a functional unit." His fingers close about it, obscuring it. "Or...not. Perhaps it is in Zero's best interests that this be destroyed or suppressed. If that is the case then there might be questions about Zero's motives, which is why, sir, I came to you first." Is this the prologue to blackmail? No. Lloyd lowers the unit, folds both hands about it. "Zero has been quite the friend to Britannia, and for that, I think, you do not deserve questions if you decide this technology should be lost completely." He extends his hands, and the device. "Perhaps, in that case, you would feel better having it in your keeping."
It could be a trap. Wait for Zero to answer in the affirmative, send him the unit, then immediately set about creating a dozen more, for this would raise the hypothesis that Zero himself does, after all, possess the power of Geass. But Zero does not think it is a trap. He looks at Lloyd and does not believe that.
And he wonders who Lloyd believes is behind Zero's mask.
The device winks blue at him again.
If it does work. If it could be made to function.
Zero gestures, raising one hand with a flourish just as his predecessor would have and turning his palm outward. "Thank you for the offer," he says, and, yes, his voice is steady. "But no. What you choose to do with it is your concern. Use your own judgment; I have no opinion on it. And--" He breathes a moment, knowing he must add this and that it must sound natural. "If you do decide to reactivate or recreate the Geass Canceler, do not tell me." There. He has said it.
Lloyd blinks at him, adjusts his glasses again. "Certainly," he says after a pause. "I think I understand."
You don't, thinks Zero, or you wouldn't have said that. "I will remember your gesture, Earl Asplund. And your trustworthiness."
That irrepressible smile of his. "Why, thank you, sir. Yes, please, if I can be of any assistance. It's the least I can do."
Zero bites off any further good-byes and hits the disconnect button.
He leaves the console, shedding the mask but keeping the black half-mask in place: his usual caution, even when alone. He sets his palms upon the wall, tilts his head until his forehead rests upon the wall as well and lets the tremors take him.
To be free of it. To lay all of this down, ten years after he would gladly have been the one on the reverse end of that sword, if it would have served Japan and Britannia and all the world.
But that was Lelouch's role to play, not his. Instead he is cursed with his own existence, with the role of Zero, unable to shed his own mortal flesh until the day he dies, which will never, ever be at his own hand or at his own choice.
A lifetime, before he will be allowed to join Lelouch.
He straightens. Pushes himself away from the wall and turns to face the mask, meeting its accusatory silence with an unflinching answer of his own. He will not seek to escape the Geass. All is as it should be.
Earned, endured, and embraced, by the man who has killed his first and last friend.