Mt. Tsurugi

2010

Two young boys sat on a hillside in the beautiful, rolling foothills of Mount Tsurugi, observing the night sky. Though normally a treacherous hike - not for the weak-stomached or the faint-of-heart - it seemed to be an absolute breeze to the two boys, whose lives had been thrown into turmoil so abruptly; casually, even. Autumn had come and gone too quickly; it left death and destruction in its wake, two cultures fighting against each other for the pettiest of reasons.

The war was in its fifth month, cerca 2010, and the Japanese were losing.

The older of the two boys gazed at the stars. His shaky hand was pointed upwards; he was trying to see if he could identify any constellations tonight. It irked him slightly that he couldn't recall all the constellations on the star chart his mother gave him; it saddened him knowing that she wasn't there helping him. The distant gunfire was very distracting. The absolute silence of the younger boy beside him didn't help matters either.

There was a dull roar to the East; the eldest boy didn't even have to look to know it was a Britannian plane.

"Quiet night tonight, Suzaku," the older boy spoke, cutting through the silence like a blade.

Suzaku rubbed his hands together, his green eyes obscured by his thick, curly hair. Some distance off, a thick lump of snow fell off a tree branch; the wind kicked up, making the old, weak tree shudder slightly.

The eldest boy looked to the distance. The brightest lights were the warm, alien flashes of explosions and airborne weapons, bathing the black horizon with small orange dots, silent mountains of kinetic energy. There was beauty in the violence, but only a little.

"Like shooting stars," the eldest mused. "Tokyo has beautiful lights, but these are some of the brightest I've ever seen, maybe ever will." He looked over to Suzaku. "Britannia's wrong, you know. Maybe the Japanese they know will run away and hide like a bunch of girls, but not the real Japanese. They'll fight and win."

Suzaku gave an uncomfortable nod. The older boy knew that look; it was the look of knowing far too much yet understanding far too little.

"I wonder if we're being watched. Probably by Miyanaga. He's always hovering over us."

"He's just helping, Lelouch," Suzaku spoke, his voice a ghostly whisper. "It's his job, like my… father said. I mean, he said we're just kids…"

"Very important kids. We're young men, Suzaku." Lelouch shifted a bit, feeling cold. "We're… we're important."

The sky leapt and the ground shook. The boys were shocked into stillness, before realizing the barrage was too far away to be serious. Lelouch released a breath he hadn't realized he'd been holding in.

"…I wanna go home, Lelouch."

"Me too, Suzaku. Home sounds really good."

"I, just…" Suzaku's breath hitched. "Dad, Dad, I want Dad back. He was… I just-I didn't think…"

"I'm sorry, too. He's just… dead…"

"L-Lelouch, oh, oh gosh, I… how ca—I, I never wanted this…!"

Silence again, save for the low whimper or murmur by Suzaku. Lelouch's eyes felt heavy. He would never understand exactly why Suzaku's father, Genbu Kururugi, had decided to take his own life; Suzaku, however, seemed to know exactly why, and it was well and truly eating at him.

I miss you, Mom. I miss you, miss Euphy, miss Clovis, Cornelia, miss Anya… I just want to go back home.

When Suzaku had started lightly crying, Lelouch just couldn't take it anymore and began to sing. Anything to make him shut up and stop. It was a tune somewhat unfamiliar to Lelouch; a Japanese folk song just didn't sound right to a Britannian youth. But he tried his best to get it right, to not flub the notes.

"Sakura sakura

Yayoi no sora wa

Mi-watasu kagiri

Kasumi ka kumo ka…"

He trailed off, seeing if Suzaku was singing along, whispering, anything. He was sort of humming it, which was good enough for Lelouch.

"Nioi zo izuru

Izaya, izaya.

Mini yukan…"

Suzaku ran his hands through his hair, drying his eyes.

"What's kasumi mean again?"

"Fog. Like a, like, a mist."

The few hours passed; it was mostly Lelouch talking and Suzaku listening, occasionally saying something brief and then trailing off. Dawn rose, illuminating the horizon in a pink-gray glow.

Lelouch rubbed his eyes. "C'mon, Suzaku… let's go back to the parking lot."

They returned to the Banbajima parking lot, Lelouch trying to stay awake, Suzaku counting to a hundred over and over again in his head. Sure enough, Miyanaga and his men were nearby. Miyanaga visibly relaxed and slackened upon seeing the two boys return without much hassle; the other appointed guards were either resting or looking at the skies, listening to the sounds of war. One soldier saluted to a burning building.

"Thanks for giving us some space, Miyanaga…" Lelouch mumbled, slumping onto the sidewalk.

"You boys need your privacy," Miyanaga said. "The car we asked for should be arriving any minute now, okay?"

"Sure."

Suzaku sat down beside Lelouch, holding his hands in his lap as if they were dangerous. Lelouch thought of his father, his imposing presence, cruel face, harsh words. He thought about how he would always recognize the sounds of bombs, how desperately he wanted to sleep yet couldn't bring himself to do so, how pretty that girl Anya was (not that he'd ever admit it), how pretty the sagebrush was in the Aries Villa, how he'd never see it again, how he'd never get used to Andromeda, how he'd never forget his father's cruel face, his harsh words and imposing presence, how smug he probably looked when he declared war on Japan—

"Suzaku. So help me… one day, I'm gonna destroy Britannia."

[*****]

SEVEN YEARS LATER

AREA 11 (Formerly known as Japan)

"—no matter what you do, you can't win this!"

Startled, Lelouch snapped back to reality. Oh. Where am I… right, of course. Lelouch took a glance down at the chessboard, then glanced up at the portly nobleman sitting across from him. The old man who had played before Lelouch had done a poor job, though not too terrible – his opponent had made a serious mistake by leaving his Queen out on H5 and Bishop out on C4. What a rookie mistake. Noblemen have no clue how to play chess the right way.

Lelouch turned to his blue-haired ride. "Sorry, repeat that, Rivalz?"

"You can't win this! Look at the way he has his pieces set up. Don't toss in any more cash—"

"Rivalz, how long do you think it'll take us to get back to class in time?"

"If we really haul ass, twenty minutes at best!" Rivalz looked so worried, it was almost adorable. Almost.

Lelouch sat down; his nobleman opponent was tapping his fancy nail-file on the table impatiently, wanting to take the money he wanted and leave. There was a television somewhere in the background mentioning something about another terrorist incident, which was honestly old news.

"Old news – what of it, boy?"

Shut up! Shut up!

"What's the timer status?" Lelouch asked.

"One move every twenty seconds. In a hurry to lose?" Fat-and-Fancy responded.

If only you knew. It'll only take… five, six moves for you to block your own Knight's progress because of how you have your Queen and Pawns arranged. Child's play.

"It's enough time." Knight to F6. Lelouch clicked the timer off once his move was finished, which gave a pleasant-sounding beep. "You look like you're from the Homeland. What do you think of Japan?"

In his peripheral vision, he saw Rivalz nervously adjusting the collar of his school uniform. The nobleman started, but the guards he brought with him to the match paid no heed. The old Japanese man seemed to like this. "Excuse me?"

"Japan. Er, rather, Area 11. My mistake."

The nobleman brought one of his bishops to C4 and slapped the timer switch with more force than necessary. "Full of Elevens. So many of them think they have the nerve and the right to insult us and rebel against us. We gave them everything, didn't we? Riches, technology, all kinds of things."

"Indeed we did. We also distanced them from their culture, no?" Lelouch captured the pawn his opponent had set up at E5. Timer off.

"Culture?" The nobleman scanned the board, vaguely annoyed.

"Culture. After all, we did strip Japan of its autonomy."

"You shouldn't talk about things you don't know about, boy."

"I could say the same for you. Seven seconds."

Cursing, the nobleman moved a Rook and Lelouch immediately knew he'd win. He'd moved his King to E2. This is almost too simple. This backwards, narrow-minded Nobleman makes a backwards, narrow-minded move. Typical, typical, typical.

Lelouch moved a pawn to G6, trying to fool his opponent, not that it'd be of any difficulty. He was, apparently, moving too fast for the nobleman, who was fidgeting with his nail file. He glanced over the board as the timer ticked away; nervously, he moved his pawn to A3.

"You look tired."

"Just make a move, schoolboy."

Lelouch planted a Bishop on C4. He could make out, in his peripheral vision, a big, goofy smile on Rivalz' face, and some of the guards around the Nobleman seemed to realize this as well. The Nobleman blinked and sweated. There were no pawns left to counter the Bishop, nor could any of his Rooks move without being obstructed by the pawns.

"I pass."

"You can't pass. That's not allowed."

"What?"

"Maybe if you'd actually looked up the rules of chess gambling, you'd know that. You either have to forfeit the money or try again. Eleven seconds."

Elevens. What a pitiful name for the Japanese. I wonder how Mother would think about all of this racism. Assuming the dead can have thoughts.

The Nobleman slammed his hand on the table. "Fine," he barked, shifting through the pot of money. Lelouch stretched his fingers, and Rivalz let out a sigh of relief.

"I like your way of thinking, however. With the King."

"Excuse me?" He handed Lelouch some Britannian notes, a little over six hundred in cash. Lelouch opened one of the folds of his Ashford Academy uniform and put the money in a vest pocket.

"If the King doesn't move, how can he expect his subordinates to follow him?"

The Nobleman cleared his throat, unsure if he was being complimented or insulted. "Where exactly did you hear that, schoolboy?"

"Read it in a book somewhere. Rivalz, how much time was that?"

"Eight minutes, thirty-two seconds! A new record!" Rivalz proclaimed, staring at his watch in awe.

Lelouch grabbed his schoolbag and bowed as he left the room. The old man from before followed suit, wiping some sweat off his brow. He was an artificer, and had occasionally helped Lelouch out with some school projects. He'd also been a great legal asset and confidant, with all the illegal gambling and what not.

"That was incredible, my boy! I thought for sure I was in trouble!"

As promised, Lelouch handed him thirty percent of his earnings. "The Noblemen are tepid opponents, Mr. Ishihara, but they get overconfident when playing against Japanese like yourself. Especially someone as privileged and uptight as that guy."

Ishihara chuckled, adjusting his vest. "How's school?"

"Boring," Lelouch drawled.

"Yeah, yeah, says the guy with an IQ of, like, 300," Rivalz put in.

162, Rivalz, but that's neither here nor there.

"Boring, eh? Is that why you do this?" Ishihara glanced at him as they exited the casino and into the busy streets of Shibuya.

I do it because I want power. Without it, I have nothing. "There's nothing more satisfying than showing a stuck-up man what you're made of."

"I understand. Do you boys want a ride back to school?"

"Your Mitsubishi is lovely, Mr. Ishihara, but a motorbike is much more practical."

"Of course." Ishihara pulled out his car keys and waved to the boys. "Don't lose track of what's important. Take it from an old man like myself."

Believe me, I haven't.

"Yo, Lelouch, check this out!" Rivalz exclaimed.

Lelouch scanned the streets to see what Rivalz was talking about. Shibuya District was a bustling place, full of all kinds of people and all walks of life. To a writer, it would have been excellent writing material. To an artist, it was Inspiration Central. But as Lelouch looked up, he saw someone far more interesting than any of those commoners. His big brother, Clovis la Britannia, on a huge TV screen.

"To all my Imperial Subjects – and, of course, the Elevens who cooperate with us – I have tragic news. This recent news of all the terrorism occurring in the Shinjuku Ghetto pains me! It breaks my half in half!"

Clearly he rehearsed this. Clovis grasped at his purple vest melodramatically. "As the Viceroy of Area 11, I will not allow any terrorism of any kind! The battle that we fight against the Oppression is a righteous one! We do this to protect the happiness of all, be it the Britannians or the Elevens who live in peace amongst us. Now, everyone, please join me in mourning for the eight who died in the line of duty for justice? A moment of silence, please."

Lelouch had already long-since tuned out Clovis and was paying the parking ticket for Rivalz' motorcycle. Clovis, you haven't changed a bit. You've always had a flair for the dramatic. He smiled slightly. I always liked that about you. But you just had to become the Viceroy. I remember all the dreams you had of becoming a musician, or an artist, or a designer, and instead you decide to join all – well, almost all – of my brothers and sisters in fighting for the Emperor's throne.

"I'm sick of all the fighting over who will succeed you!"

"Aren't you going to take a moment?" Rivalz asked. He was adjusting his helmet and goggles.

"Aren't you?" Lelouch smiled and got into the sidecar with some difficulty.

Rivalz sat on the leather chair of the bike and revved up the engine, backing out of the parking lot and onto the streets needed to reach the Metropolitan Expressway. It was a crisp, autumnal day; Lelouch could feel the cold wind on his face, a sure sign that the summer was over and winter was on its way. And with the winter brought the near-meltdown of the Japanese revolution. Lelouch could see it in the buildings, the architecture, the technology; there were signs of a revolution which had collapsed before they'd even begun. The police directing traffic were in Britannian uniforms, yet it wasn't uncommon to find a low-ranking Japanese officer. Lelouch vaguely remembered how the non-Britannian areas of Japan, remnants of independence and autonomy, had set their clocks one hour before "Area 11 time" in an attempt to differentiate themselves, yet most people hadn't even bothered to try it, beyond hardcore independence supporters.

No matter how hard you try, you can't change the world. Not without a miracle, and miracles are sparse nowadays.

Lelouch got a glimpse of an abandoned building with an enormous banner proclaiming "Freedom – for Japan!" plastered over the windows. To his right, he saw several buildings under construction, more than likely new office complexes, Britannian colleges, restaurants. The nobleman was right – with Britannian rule came a new era of technology and construction. But the cost was too high. I bet Father is so pleased with himself.

"That was a cool comment you made about the Noble's move," Rivalz half-shouted over the din of the motorcycle.

"Which one? The one about the King?"

"Yuh-huh. About that… that kind of suits you. Do you want to run a corporation or something one day? Like, be a CEO?"

Lelouch laughed knowingly. "Dreams like that will ruin your life—"

Lelouch had something witty planned after that, but he was rudely interrupted by a series of loud honks. Lelouch twisted his back a little to see what the commotion was about, and he saw a humongous transport vehicle, decked in green and speeding down the road. It looked like it was capable of crushing pick-up trucks. Rivalz, terrified, tried to swerve out of the way of the vehicle, which was easily going 80, 90 miles an hour.

"Whoa! What the hell?!" Rivalz barked, gripping the ape hangars and hooking right. Lelouch felt his head swim with vertigo when the demon truck, who apparently wanted to also turn right, immediately took a sharp turn to the left onto a blocked-off road to avoid hitting Rivalz. Lelouch stood up and wobbled out of his sidecar and watched as the speeding vehicle headed right for an industrial complex, crashing into a series of steel bars, causing dust to fly everywhere.

Lelouch, panting, could only wipe the sweat off his brow. What the hell?!

"…Was that our fault?" Rivalz said, as shaken as Lelouch. He toyed with the straps on his helmet nervously.

Lelouch shook his head. "If the driver hadn't been speeding, then none of this would have happened."

Lelouch caught a good luck at the cargo area of the truck, and thought he saw something… glowing. It was probably a trick of the eye, some leftover dust, but he would have sworn to some deity that he saw some kind of substance glowing. Maybe a Will'o Wisp. God, I haven't read that story in years.

Rivalz was going on about something involving the energy line of the bike, how it needed to be kick-started again, but Lelouch's attention was on the mass of people gathering around the site of the car crash. Rather than lending a helping hand to the passengers of the cars, who were possibly hurt, all stood around and took pictures, gossiped amongst themselves, or just whiled away the time. It looked like there were some people who definitely wanted to help but were either too lazy or too afraid to take action.

"Whoa, was there some type of crash?"

"Jesus! You think they're alive?"

"Should I call the police?"

"Should have watched where he was going!"

Idiots. Lelouch tore the helmet off his head and threw it into the sidecar. No way in hell was he just standing around like that. Rivalz, reasonably, shouted at Lelouch to come back, telling him they'd be late for class. As if we're not already late. I just have to see what's going on. For curiosity, at least.

Lelouch ran down a stairway, already feeling slightly out of breath; he approached the site of destruction, and coughed as leftover dust and sand filled his mouth and his eyes. He shut them closed and walked hesitantly towards the truck, which didn't show any signs of permanent damage apart from some scratching. The truck was an old mutt, too tired to bark let alone function properly, but it looked like a piece of junk that would keep running until it simply couldn't anymore.

Nobody would be caught dead driving this… unless they were carrying something very, very important. Probably discreet. It's the type of vehicle I'd use to go under the radar.

"Hey! Are you alright?" No answer. Lelouch could hear the vague pop of an air bag, but he couldn't find the driver or passenger doors. There was a ladder mounted on the side of the truck, which would make do for the time being.

"Can you hear me in there?!" he kept going.

"I've found you!"

Lelouch sucked in a breath. That voice, a young woman's voice, came from inside his head. It wasn't just a passing thought, or the distant, unclear sound of thoughts in the back of your mind. It was incredibly, unshakably real; it was too bright, too realistic to be just a product of the mind. It was sheer telepathy, and Lelouch was stunned speechless, for one of the first times in a long, long while.

What the hell?! Lelouch looked all around, tried to see if there was an intercom on top of the vehicle, or if there was a woman near him, anything to prove that what happened did not just happen, that he was (relatively) sane. There was an open compartment in the storage of the truck.

"Hey! Did you speak to me from in there?"

The only thing that answered Lelouch was the truck. It suddenly roared back to life, and it began reversing incredibly quickly. Lelouch, almost screaming in shock, lost track of the sky and the ground as he tumbled into the storage, landing on his upper back. He shot up almost immediately in sheer terror, a film of cold sweat building on his neck.

"Wait, stop! I'm in here!"

Nobody seemed to hear Lelouch; the truck just kept going. Lelouch could feel the platform beneath him shake as they drove back onto what felt like the Expressway. Panicking, he tried to calm himself down and get his bearings. It was a cramped space, but that was due solely to the presence of a humongous canister in the middle of the truck. Lelouch hesitantly reached out to touch it; cold steel met his fingertips. It was a dark shape in the shadows, big and imposing; Lelouch swore he could feel it staring down at him, as if something or someone was inside it.

What the hell is this? Is it a biological weapon? I didn't trigger it by touching it, did I?

His thoughts were interrupted by the sound of bullets smacking the road outside. It was muffled and distant, but Lelouch could never forget or mistake the sound of a gun when he heard one.

That's a lot of bullets! God damn… was it a machine gun? Is someone on top of the truck? There's definitely trouble out there… if only I could see!

A door to the side of Lelouch opened. He went slack, hid in the shadows, trying desperately not to breathe and saying a prayer that whomever came through that door didn't think he was a threat. The person who came through was… strangely familiar. She was short, at least a head shorter than him, with spiky red hair, a slim build from presumed years of exercise and good health; a little thin, but that was all. Bright, bright blue eyes, almost turquoise. Who is she? I swear I've seen her somewhere… think…

"Can you enter the subway using the Azabu route? If not, try using the Akira route, or Chance!" She was speaking into a portable communicator. A very young, bright voice; she was definitely a teenager.

"Kallen, let's use it here!" The voice on the other end responded, distorted by some static.

"No! That'd mean a slaughter! It's a last resort, and last resort only!" She started climbing up the stairs, leaving Lelouch in the clear.

It's a last resort. Lelouch turned to look at the massive canister. This must be that last resort. This is mostly definitely a weapon. Lelouch felt his stomach tighten in fear, found himself thinking about his mother, Suzaku, Rivalz, Euphemia, even Clovis and Schneizel, of all people. Strategies and counter-strategies soon raced through his mind, trying desperately to figure out how to stay alive in the best possible scenario.

Suddenly, he felt a bright blue light enter his vision; it was coming from the second compartment of the truck. This thing is bigger on the inside! Did it just open up to outside?

Lelouch peeked around the corner to find out and was shocked to find a sleek, red Knightmare frame, operated by the redheaded girl from before. It fired what Lelouch recognized as a Slash Harken – "It's simple, Lelouch, let me show you the controls…" – and Lelouch could hear a distant explosion as the Harken hit its target. The Knightmare frame moved out of the truck and onto the street.

Terrorists! My suspicions were right.

Lelouch felt his back go against the wall; he slumped onto the floor. His hand felt weird; he realized he was clutching his fist, hard enough to cease blood pressure. He relaxed his fingers one by one, licked his lips, brushed his hair back, and wondered how the hell he was going to get out of this one. The truck suddenly grew darker, and the formerly slick concrete became bumpy, uneven.

Lelouch grabbed his cell-phone, shielded his eyes briefly from the bright light, and tried to call the military police number. The line didn't even connect, and Lelouch checked the bar at the top of the screen. I'm outside of my phone's range. God damn… and if the roads we're on right now are this rickety… this truck must be in the subway.

He pursed his lips, realizing what this meant. The only closed-down subway in Shibuya is the one toward the Shinjuku Ghetto. Which means exiting this place will be dangerous… it'll be a war zone.

Lelouch looked around for something – anything - that would give him an edge. A gun, a disguise, anything would work right now. Some water would be nice. He wound up not finding any one of those, but he caught something in the corner of his eye; when he shined his cellphone light on it, he realized it was a communicator similar to the one Kallen was using. A walkie-talkie, huh… I've got it! He grabbed it, put it in his vest pocket alongside the money he earned today. Money I may never get a chance to use…

He tried to relax, take deep breaths, reciting old Japanese folk tunes and lines from books he liked, and revised his strategy. I'm not a fan of the Britannian army, but if I give them a terrorist communicator, they might think I'm an innocent. Might be able to request for protection… I do look like a Britannian, after all, so I should be in the clear, but God only knows if that's the case.

The drive grew quiet, and Lelouch could only sit back and be alone with his thoughts.

[*****]

Some minutes later, Lelouch could feel the vehicle lurch forward; he was pitched forward along with it, which stunned him out of his shocked stupor. Was that an accident?! Did we hit something?

The truck was stuck in what felt like a large crater. Just what I need! They might come back and check on something! Think… if you encounter them, assure them you're innocent, tell them you were just looking at the wreck from earlier… maybe I could ask to join them. Lelouch almost laughed at that one. How about that, Mother? How does terrorism sound?

Sure enough, a door opened. Lelouch quickly took to the shadows, trying to keep his breath slight and movements slighter, ignoring his quivering legs and vague sense of fatigue. Lelouch's eyes widened when a single soldier walked through the opening; he didn't seem to notice Lelouch just yet. Based on the armor, he must be just a grunt! Maybe he'll take sympathy on me…

The guard, however, finally noticed Lelouch and stepped back in shock; he drew his pistol and Lelouch started backward, trying to stand up. "You! Put your hands on the ground! Right now!"

"Wait! I'm not a terrorist! I'm an innocent-!"

With shocking speed, the soldier was onto him, pressing him against the floor, which knocked the wind out of Lelouch, silencing whatever he had to say next.

"I can't believe you people would use poison gas!" the soldier barked. Something was off about his accent. He didn't sound very Britannian, at least not one hundred percent. Lelouch's mind vaguely registered that his suspicions were again correct, that the huge canister was a biological weapon, but all of that was small fry right now. He had to survive at all costs.

"Get off me!" Lelouch tried to shove him off; the soldier jumped back and squared his shoulders, ready for a fight, apparently forgetting that he had a gun on him. "I didn't know anything! And if you want to know why terrorists would use this, then explain to me how your superiors are justified in conquering an entire country!"

The soldier's arms relaxed; Lelouch could see that his jaw was dropped.

"…Lelouch?"

That shut Lelouch up. What the hell…

"…Who are y—wait… your accent…" No way. Could it be? The soldier took off his helmet, and Lelouch felt himself shocked once more. The thick mass of curly brown hair, the sad yet innocent green eyes, the unmistakable Japanese tan…

Suzaku?!

Images of Lelouch's childhood flashed before him. Suzaku, who was always the strongest and most emotional of the two, who found solace in exercising and combat training, who was much more of a small, lumbering kid than a warrior like his father wanted him to be, who Lelouch hadn't seen in over seven years.

"Remember me, Lelouch?" Suzaku could only give a bemused smile.

[*****]

"…You became a Britannian soldier? Lelouch asked, after what felt like forever.

"You became a terrorist?" Suzaku asked, with a tone that implied he desperately wanted the truth to be otherwise.

"No! I got caught up in this by accident, and don't change the subject! Why did you become a soldier, Suzaku? Why, why? You, you joined the military of the country who ruined your life!"

Suzaku, looking guilty, was about to respond, but a bright light blinded the both of them. It was the canister of poison gas opening.

No!

Suzaku quickly threw his helmet back on, putting it on Gas Mask mode, and threw his hand over Lelouch's mouth and nose, shouting at him to get down and not to breathe in anything. Lelouch's eyes were darting all over the place, and when they finally settled on the canister, Lelouch was surprised to find no poison gas, no nuclear weapons, nothing even remotely dangerous—

-instead, a green-haired woman in a Britannian prisoner uniform. As if waking up from a deep sleep, she slowly drew her legs to her chest, being the only limbs she could freely move, closed her somber, golden eyes and opened them again to look at the two of them. She had a look in her eyes that Lelouch couldn't accurately describe.

Like the gaze of an old woman…

"…"

"…"

"Let's get her o-out of there…" Suzaku muttered, picking himself up and moving to C.C., hoisting her into his arms. Lelouch almost wanted to pinch himself. He got up, a million questions flying through his head with no logical answers coming out of any of them.

Based on the layout, we're in a warehouse… Lelouch shivered at the coldness of the warehouse and kneeled down to take off the gag in the woman's mouth. This has got to be, easily, the strangest day of my life…

"Poison gas, Suzaku? Honestly…? How does that add up?"

"That's what I was told in the briefing for this mission," Suzaku defended himself as he took the restraints off her arms. "That the terrorists had captured it and that if we pursued this vehicle, we could retrieve it and also find their hideout at the same time."

So that's why it was so drawn-out...

"I've found you!" Lelouch gasped as he recalled that.

I've found… wait… is this the girl that spoke to me?!

Lelouch tried to wake her up, to see if that was the case. "Hey, are you awake?" He shook her, and barely noticed the sound of approaching footsteps.

"How dare you!"

A deep, spiteful voice thundered through the room. Lelouch and Suzaku looked up, and Lelouch felt sick all over again when he caught the glare of about ten Britannian soldiers, all corporals and sergeants and lieutenants, all equipped with their just-as-threatening pistols by their sides. The one who spoke was a tall, psychotic-looking man who appeared to be the commander of this small unit.

"Even an honorary Britannian like you doesn't have the authority to do what you've done!" the commander spat to Suzaku, clearly infuriated.

Suzaku stood up, putting his body in front of Lelouch's. "I'm sorry, sir! But I was told this was poison gas, sir! I hadn't expected it to be… this!"

"You have no right to protest," the commander quipped, and for a terrifying instant, Lelouch thought Suzaku would be shot.

"…However," the commander continued, visibly relaxing. "In lieu of your achievements so far, and outstanding service, I'll be grateful. Consider yourself lucky."

"T-thank you, sir—"

"Only if you execute the terrorist behind you," the commander added, handing Suzaku a pistol. "Good work finding him."

Suzaku blankly stared at the pistol, and Lelouch tried to shake the image of Suzaku executing him away, returning his gaze to the ceiling, praying once again that he would make it out alive.

No chance in hell… it's over for me… I'm just a schoolboy! And this girl is dead too…

"He's not a terrorist!" Suzaku shouted, breaking out of his stupor. "He's just a civilian that caught up in all of this!

"Come again, Eleven?" the commander growled.

"L-look at him, sir! He's Britannian! And his uniform! Isn't that a school uniform? Sir?"

"I gave you an order! You swore your loyalty to Britannia the minute you began training. Don't act like you have a say in this!"

"I… I'm sorry, sir, but I can't! I cannot shoot an innocent… not him," Suzaku turned back at Lelouch, and the look in his eyes was the look of a man who was about to die.

NO! Don't!

A bullet into Suzaku's back answered Lelouch's prayer.

"Suzaku!" Lelouch vainly shouted. He felt time slow down as Suzaku fell to the ground, bleeding; if he wasn't dead, he surely would be soon.

Suzaku… even you…

"You look like a Britannian student, I will give you that," the commander continued, with a smug grin on his face Lelouch wanted to wipe off. "But it's just not your day. You know too much. Men! After you've taken the girl, kill the student!"

Mother!

Lelouch noticed the eyes of the girl beside him opening. He barely had time to suck in his breath before the forgotten truck - which was some distance off by this point - exploded, deafening him and shocking the soldiers in front of him into stillness. Dust flew through the tight space and Lelouch tried to use the distraction to run. As an afterthought, he grabbed the girl and tried to carry her, already feeling exhausted; he ran around, trying desperately to find an exit, but not seeing any that wasn't directly in front of or nearby the soldiers.

No! No no NO! NO!

Lelouch dropped the girl, his arms shaking from exhaustion and fear. "FUCK! This is all your fault, isn't it?!" he began his diatribe, forgetting where he was. "All this chaos! Suzaku is dead, and we're both going to be killed soon as well!" Silence met him. Lelouch gazed right back into her eyes, which seemed to be pooling up with tears. "Answer me! Don't stare at me like that! Don't give me that look!"

Lelouch immediately shut up when he felt the harsh butt of a gun slam against his chest; he flew back against the wall, and saw stars as he stood back up. The girl was accosted by two soldiers, who were holding guns against her; she looked terrified, but her intense stare was on Lelouch the whole time. Lelouch closed his eyes, fighting backing tears.

I'm sorry… I couldn't save you. I couldn't save Suzaku. I can't save myself!

"You did well, for a student," the commander began again, raising his pistol. "As I should have expected from a Britannian! But you got involved with the wrong folks, kid. It's nothing personal." Click.

"Don't hurt him!" The girl freed herself from the soldiers, pushing her way through, and hopped in front of Lelouch. The gun went off, and Lelouch could only stare as the bullet entered right into her forehead, spattering blood on the wall.

Lelouch, mortified, looked down at the girl, realizing it was far too late. Her voice… I knew it, that was her… but it's over… oh, mercy, it's over…

"Hmph. Our orders were to bring her back alive if possible. But our superiors will understand," the commander spoke up again, seemingly talking more to himself than Lelouch. With a smirk, he reloaded his pistol. The other soldiers seemed to be either uncomfortable or impatient with their commander for taking so long to kill Lelouch.

Suzaku… and now this girl… Is this the end for me? Without having done a single meaningful thing…? Without living… I'm sorry, Mother… I failed… I love—

"You don't want it to end here, do you?"

It was the girl.

Abruptly, Lelouch felt himself simply… leave his body. It was an impossible feeling to describe, but Lelouch felt like he was disappearing, that he was leaving his physical body and entering some far-away, incomprehensible place. He was too stunned to speak. Am I a departed spirit? Is… is this death?

"You have a reason for living. If you had power… you could live, couldn't you?" the girl continued.

Multiple images flashed before Lelouch's head. The earth in space; brief, black-and-white pictures of himself; a massive, bird-shaped sigil; a sunset; snow falling onto grass. And then other things, beyond description, beyond explanation, what looked like simultaneous death and rebirth.

What is this… I feel… I feel so light…

"I'll make a deal with you."

Lelouch found himself floating in an endless, white space.

"In exchange for power, you have to make my wish come true. If you accept, you will have power beyond the capabilities of normal humans. You will live unlike any other person. You will have the power of the king, called… Geass."

There was no other logical answer. It wasn't how Lelouch wanted things to end.

"Yes!" Lelouch said, confident in his choice. "I accept!"

It was over in an instant. Lelouch woke up.

When he blinked, he found himself back in the cold warehouse, confronted by the soldiers. The commander was just finishing reloading his pistol. The whole transaction could not have taken more than a second, but it had felt like five minutes at the time.

Suddenly, Lelouch felt it. He wasn't sure what it was, but he felt it, buzzing in the back of his head; an absolute surge of power, filling him like adrenaline, like caffeine. It was absolutely intoxicating.

"Yes!" he spat, startling the soldiers in front of him. Slowly, he stood up, and immediately he understood how to use this Geass.

"One more thing before you kill me… how should a Britannian who hates Britannia live his life?"

His old friend, silence, answered him.

"What's wrong? Why not shoot? Your opponent is just a measly student. Or maybe you finally realized that the only ones worthy of firing are those prepared to be fired upon!"

The commander's hand on his pistol shook, and the soldiers to the sides of him started.

Now!

"Lelouch vi Britannia orders you all to die!"