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Stage 04: His Name is Zero

- Part 2 -

Last time on The Truth Hurts More:

"But… he's talking about the court, isn't he?" Nina asked, confused. "About the court and about how he will never get a fair trial. What does… what does that have to do with the Japanese's fight?"

"Everything," Kallen snarled. "He's not talking about the court, Nina, he's talking about sin in general." It was ironic, how Nina would argue with Kallen about Suzaku, when she'd always been terrified of him. "He's talking about right and wrong." Or at least that was how she heard it. And she wanted to scream at him, Stop being a goddamn hypocrite, Kururugi!

She hated that he could be such a phony. There he was, claiming to hate their lies when he was perhaps the one with the most lies to keep. Hadn't he always preached about "good" and "the right means" to Lelouch? It was repugnant. He was worse than Lelouch. He was nothing more than a murderer. He'd murdered his father and he'd murdered Lelouch.

But was it really murder if the victim consented to it?

Was it murder if the victim wanted and planned it? Or was it just obedience?

Now on The Truth Hurts More:

"Any moment. Any moment now. It's a sight to see. The throngs lining the route. All of them waiting on bated breath, waiting for the accused murderer of Prince Clovis to pass by, Honorary Britannian and former Eleven, Suzaku Kururugi," the reporter on the screen droned. All around the area, Britannians and Elevens alike watched the report with rapt attention.

"Camera 5 is a little slow," Diethard commented. "Talk to me, Charles. Your team been deployed yet?" He frowned, surveying the multiple screens in front of him, showcasing the reporter. "What, the studio? Let them wait. Nothing's been pushed back. Everything's going according to plan."

Diethard smirked. "Here we go," he muttered.

"I—I can see them!" the reporter crowed. "They have the suspect. Suzaku Kururugi's headed this way!" Indeed, Suzaku was escorted through the streets, infantrymen and Knightmares both guarding him—rather, guarding everyone else from him.

"Like clockwork," Diethard remarked. He severed the connection and heaved a sigh. "What a circus this is—and I'm just as corrupt as any of them."

"At least he knew and could admit to as much," Ohgi scowled. "That's more than the Demon can say."

Villetta rested a hand gently on his thigh, not saying anything because she didn't need to. Understanding her touch better than any words, he sighed and leaned into her warmth. Tiredly, he settled back into his seat.

"This is insane," Cecile fretted. "We know Suzaku is innocent."

"Well, the court deemed our testimony inadmissible. There's nothing we can do," Lloyd replied.

"Yes, but—"

"Is that altruism or humanitarianism?"

Cecile frowned. "This isn't the time for a game of semantics," she admonished.

"Not much else to do," Lloyd countered offhandedly. "We both know where this case is headed, don't we? We couldn't reach him at the summit. All we can do is cut our losses, really."

Milly craned her head around to glare at her ex-betrothed. "Lloyd!" she shrieked. He flinched and reared away from her, arms flying up to cover his face protectively. She harrumphed at him, her eyes narrowing dangerously. "You're repulsive."

Only when he was sure she wouldn't try to attack him physically did he lower his hands and stare back at her. "Now, now," he purred, clicking his tongue. "If I'm repulsive as you say, then what about the woman engaged to me?"

"Formerly engaged," she corrected sharply. "I can't believe you would have abandoned him just like that!"

He shrugged, not quite seeing why his flippant behavior onscreen had enraged Milly so much. "What else could I have done?" he protested. "We already tried to testify in his defense!"

Her eyes swept over him critically. "Yeah, well, considering who you are, I can see why the court dismissed your testimony," she sneered.

His jaw dropped. "Mi-lly!" he whined. "It's not my fault they were too bigoted to see the bigger picture."

"Oh, shut up, Lloyd," she snapped. "You're not helping your case at all." She crossed her arms over her chest and pointedly shifted away from him.

Rivalz, who'd watched the entire encounter, struggled to keep the wide grin off his face. He laughed silently to himself. Needless to say, he greatly enjoyed watching the eccentric scientist continue to dig a deeper hole for himself.

A few others had heard the confrontation—if it could be called that—as well. One such witness was Zero himself, perched tensely beside his charge. Though none could see it, a small frown adorned his lips. Lloyd-san, he thought, scrutinizing the engineer closely. He swallowed. Lloyd had never been entirely tolerating of him, always holding his 'precious machines' with higher regard than his pilot. Still, Suzaku would have liked to think that they'd formed something of a friendship after everything they'd been through.

You can't really blame him, he reasoned to himself. You know how odd he can be. Besides, you've barely spent any time with him at this point.

His eyes dragged sidewards to assess Cecile next. She sat on the other side of Lloyd, and her body shuddered with a rage similar to Milly's. Suzaku shook his head fondly and sighed. She had always done her best to stick up for him, even when he hadn't needed—or wanted—it.

"Voices of scorn, growing ever louder," the reporter continued. "Voices bearing testament to a people's love of their prince, raining their judgement down on a terrorist!"

Kallen snorted. "Yes, what a beloved prince," she sneered sarcastically.

Cornelia heard her insulting tone and frowned. It took all she had to restrain herself from lashing out at the half-Britannian, half-Japanese woman. She paused, as if realizing she no longer had to protect him. He may have been her brother, but he was dead now and he'd spent his last moments accusing her of being involved in her hero's murder. Still, she thought, he is dead and he can't defend himself…

She was drawn out of her musings when the empress, her sister, appeared on the screen. Cornelia's expression softened at the desperation on Nunnally's face. Nana…

In the privacy of her room, Nunnally clutched the radio tightly. "Suzaku!" she whimpered.

Cornelia sighed. She hated that both of her sisters had been so fond of the Eleven—never mind the fact that he'd been an Honorary Britannian or that the Japanese had regained their freedom. He was a fool, she scowled. A fool and a traitor. He chose the Demon over Euphie—his own charge.

Her hands curled into fists. This is taking forever, she thought balefully. All I want to see is Euphie's death—I want to see the Demon use his Geass on her, with my own eyes. Until then… She snarled to herself.

The screen went black, and then the familiar cloak of Zero filled their eyes. There was no helmet to conceal Lelouch's shoulder-length black hair from the audience.

"Margrave Jeremiah, integral in settling this case, will be presiding over the trial as Acting Consul," the reporter informed. The screen panned upwards to display Jeremiah, who stood tall and powerful at the top of his Knightmare.

Lelouch pulled on Zero's gloves as the convoy continued down the street.

Civilians weren't the only ones viewing the trial from the safety of their homes. A familiar group of five gathered in front of the television, red headbands wrapped around the heads of them all. "No way the three of them can pull this off on their own," Tamaki Shinichiro sneered, elbow resting on the table.

"Well, you couldn't have been more wrong," Kallen boasted pridefully. She looked back on the events with a mixture of nostalgia and bitterness. If only she'd known, back then, how much Zero—Lelouch—would change her life.

Tamaki grunted, recognizing the truth in her words even though he hated them. He refused to give her a verbal answer however, his eyes still trained on the screen. The realization that Ohgi and Villetta had lied to them—knowingly, he thought angrily—was difficult to wrap his mind around. He couldn't stomach the thought that Ohgi had chosen Villetta over Zero, over their cause.

At the very least, that was how he saw it.

Two hands held out Zero's mask.

"He told us… He said he'd make the impossible, possible," Ohgi muttered. "He gave us his word—to save Suzaku Kururugi!"

Lelouch flipped around Zero's mask. Right, he thought as he fitted the mask over his face. No need to turn back. The die is cast.

"Acting Consul Jeremiah!" an officer barked into the radio.

"What is it?" Jeremiah asked.

"Vehicle approaching the main highway from third," the officer reported. "We just let it through as you instructed, but…"

"Do you believe the target could be a terrorist's vehicle?" Jeremiah pressed.

The officer seemed to hesitate. "Well, sir, its Prince Clovis' car."

Jeremiah reacted instantly, face contorting with surprise. "The prince's car? Well, looks like we've got a comedian," he mused to himself. "Don't worry about it. Just let them through to us. All forces hold here!" He waved his hand in signal.

Suzaku's eyes widened.

"Hey, they stopped!" Sugiyama noted with a start. "They really did!"

Tamaki dismissed it with nothing but a scoff. "Heh, it's just a coincidence," he assured them.

"Yeah, but he said Jeremiah would try to hog all the limelight, make some sort of stand about it," another of his terrorist comrades argued.

"COINCIDENCE!" Tamaki thundered.

"Coincidence, huh?" Kallen hummed nonchalantly as she smirked up at him. Her blue eyes seemed to glow with a pride Tamaki had seen in the Demon Emperor's haughty gaze before. "You were singing a different song when we proved successful."

Tamaki smiled bitterly. "But just how successful were you?" he whispered to himself, voice resentful as his eyes fixed on Japan's new Prime Minister and his wife. He glanced back at Kallen, saw the way her brows knitted together in confusion, and gritted his teeth.

He tried to convey the shame and self-loathing that was beginning to swallow him up but couldn't find the words to. "I'm beginning to think we'd all be better off if I'd been right, and it really had been all a coincidence," he said finally. At least then, he thought, Ohgi would never have had to choose between our Japanese pride and his new woman.

At least then he wouldn't have had the chance to choose her.

He turned away angrily, missing the way Kallen bit her lip in frustrated worry. He never saw the growing anger in her eyes as she dug her nails into the crushed velvet of her seat and tried to numb her irritation.

While Tamaki careened further and further into an abyss of madness, she found herself surrounded by imposing towers of rage. You didn't use us. Why can't they see that?

"This is not a scheduled stop," the reporter announced, confused. "Could there have been some sort of accident?" he theorized.

"This is Site 5," one of his colleagues called in. "There's a vehicle approaching them."

"Here it comes," Guilford murmured to himself, impatiently drumming his fingers on his armrest.

Beside him, Cornelia frowned slightly. Jeremiah was one of Marianne's guardsmen. Even now, I find it hard to believe that he so willingly betrayed a member of the royal family... But Zero had been Lelouch. Lelouch, the son of Marianne.

She sought his familiar amber eyes and blue hair in the audience, frown deepening when she caught sight of the Japanese woman at his side. Jeremiah Gottwald... did you know who he was all along?

Jeremiah harrumphed to himself, even as his smirk widened.

"It's—it's Prince Clovis' personal transport!" the reporter stammered. "And it's heading straight for the cavalcade!"

Ohgi, too, watched the vehicle. "What the... He's heading straight at them. What's he planning?"

Dressed as a chauffeur, Kallen squirmed in the driver's seat. She wore a hat to disguise her identity. Hope they can't tell it's fake, she worried.

"Fake, huh?" Chiba mused. "I've always wondered how you pulled this off…"

But when Chiba twisted around to stare searchingly at the redheaded ace, Kallen only smiled mysteriously.

The scene blurred over, signalling a memory. Zero stood in front of Kallen and Ohgi in the middle of a junkyard. "I see. Just you two, then," he observed.

Ohgi tensed. "I'm sorry. We just need a little more time. If more people understood what we—"

"No," Lelouch cut him off, "the two of you will do just fine."

Cornelia's eyes flew open in shock. "So it really was only the two of you working with Zero to free Kururugi?" She paused for a second, realized she was showing her surprise, and concealed it with a growl.

She remembered one of the other Black Knights' words—"no way the three of them can pull this off on their own" (so he'd been telling the truth)and shook her head incredulously. She muttered sullenly underneath her breath, "This is driving me insane."

"That's right," Kallen said proudly. In a burst of impulsiveness, she leapt from her seat and smirked at the purple-haired princess. "I'd like to see you prove capable of that," she jeered.

Cornelia's eye twitched violently. "Be glad I promised my sister I'd refrain from physical aggression," she huffed.

Kallen just hummed and smirked wider. "I think it's you who should be glad," she countered boastfully. "After all, I've shown myself to be your better in Knightmare combat multiple times."

"I—you—how dare you," Cornelia managed to ground out. Guilford's eyes darted between Cornelia's reddening face and her painfully obvious sword with a worried grimace. "I'll—"

"That's enough," Empress Nunnally placated quickly, noticing the rising tension with pursed lips. "We're not here to fight with each other."

Kallen harrumphed and fell back on her seat. Unseen to either Nunnally or Cornelia, a satisfied smile slid onto Kallen's face. "We'll see about that," she murmured to herself, eliciting concerned glances from her Ashford friends.

Cornelia had chosen Schneizel over Lelouch. Kallen doubted she'd ever forgive the princess for that.

Kallen balked visibly. "Huh? Come on! That's ridiculous! There will be too many of them!"

"With your help, clearing the task at hand will be child's play." Zero's voice was even and composed, authoritative. His arm flung out to point outwards. "I'll need this by tomorrow. All that matters is the exterior."

"You doubted him back then, didn't you?" Rivalz asked Kallen, whose taut shoulders were finally beginning to loosen after her verbal confrontation with Cornelia. "You said... you told him 'that's ridiculous.'"

Kallen half-shrugged. "Yeah, but it worked, didn't it?" Lelouch always was ridiculous, she reminisced. "As long as we succeeded, who cares if it's out of the ordinary?" She grinned a little—who would have thought I'd one day defend a spoilt Brit boy?

"No, I mean,"—Rivalz paused, looking lost for a moment before he loosed a sigh and leaned back, propping his chin in his hand—"why did you still go along with it? If you didn't believe him?"

Kallen's lips pursed. Why had she gone along with it?

She wondered what would have happened if she and Ohgi had just rolled their eyes, told Zero he was crazy, and gone along with their respective lives. Maybe the Black Knights would have never existed. Or maybe they would have, just... not Q1. She flinched at the thought.

Q1. She was Q1. Lelouch's Q1.

She wouldn't trade that position for anything.

"Who could deny someone in a costume like that?" she joked after shaking off the wave of nausea, pasting on a smile even as her gut wriggled.

Rivalz smiled weakly back at her while Milly laughed uproariously, giddy that Kallen was finally 'embracing her influence'. Nina shrank further into her seat.

I went along because even though I didn't believe Zero at the time, I believed his cause. I believed in justice, in Naoto's dream. She just wished Lelouch could have lived to experience his justice come to life.

Kallen trembled as the memory faded and she drove closer towards the convoy.

"You dare desecrate His Highness's transport?" Jeremiah roared. "Come out of there!" In answer, the flag of Britannia burned down to reveal Zero. "Huh?" Jeremiah muttered in incoherent surprise, echoed by the gasps of the public.

"I am Zero!" 'Zero's' voice carried across to Jeremiah, to the clamoring crowds hemming in the street.

"Zero…" Kallen sighed to herself, as if she was truly reliving the moment. Every second of everyday, she remembered Zero's debut, remembered the feeling of exhilaration that had swept through her as she heard his proclamations. Remembered the shock and disbelief that had filled her when Jeremiah had let Kururugi go.

Without consciously realizing it, she looked up at the unresponsive form of Zero and scowled. He—this new Zero was so different from the one she'd known, served under, and loved.

This Zero was nothing compared to Lelouch's. He was a disgrace to Lelouch's legacy as Japan's greatest hope. Her greatest hope.

She looked down and her eyes squeezed shut. Lelouch…

She hated this new Zero. She hated him because he represented the cold reality of how she had failed. She hated him because he was a constant reminder of Lelouch's absence. Because he wasn't the real Zero, wasn't Lelouch.

"Zero?" Villetta wondered to herself.

"Who is this person?" the reporter demanded as the television captured Zero's costume and mask. "This man calling himself Zero, standing before a full military convoy?"

"He will do much more than stand before a full military convoy," Nunnally said sadly.

Zero, the only one who heard her, bowed his head and choked down a strangled apology. I'm sorry I'm sorry I'm sorry so sorry I'm so so sorry, he wanted to say, over and over again.

But he couldn't do anything but watch as Lelouch's lie—their lie—slowly began to unravel onscreen.

"What is all this?" Rivalz breathed.

Tamaki watched in open-mouthed shock. "What the hell does he think he's doing?" he exclaimed.

"Who is this man calling himself Zero?"

It was a question that, without a doubt, reigned in the minds of all those present, and all those watching the proceedings from their houses.

"Zero?" Diethard echoed. "What do you mean, like 'nothing'?"

"Are we gazing on a terrorist?" the reporter continued to speak. "Certainly not the wisest if such is the case."

Is he… an Eleven? Suzaku wondered to himself.

Now to return the favor, Suzaku, Lelouch thought determinedly.

"I've seen enough, Zero," Jeremiah mocked. He raised an arm, fingers wrapped around his gun. "This little show of yours is over." He fired once, into the air. On his signal, a group of four Sutherlands fell from their cargo transports in the sky and onto the road.

Kallen stared at the situation unfolding before her in unveiled terror. She gasped in fear.

"Kallen…" Milly whispered sympathetically.

Kallen just wished that if she imagined it clearly enough, she could dig a hole in the floor and disappear forever. She hated seeing herself so plainly vulnerable.

"I don't understand how you could go along with his plan when you have such little hope in it," Cornelia said from the side. "The most important thing that needs to be established between a soldier and his leader, perhaps even more than loyalty, is trust—faith. How can you expect to work together if you don't believe he'll lead you to victory and success?"

Kallen just groaned and sank deeper into her seat.

"First things first," Jeremiah's voice bellowed in the air. "Why don't you lose that mask?"

Zero raised his hand to his mask, as if he was about to obey Jeremiah and remove it. Without a word, his arm reached up in a display of flamboyance and he clicked his fingers together. The compartment behind him fell apart, allowing Jeremiah and everyone else to see a large, circular container set up behind him.

Jeremiah's eyes went wide with panic. "What in the…!?"

"You almost have me fooled," Guilford sneered in disgust. "But you were lying all along, weren't you? You've betrayed everyone you swore loyalty to."

Jeremiah refused to let Guilford antagonize him. He wouldn't take the bait; Lelouch had so often reminded him of the value of patience, and he wouldn't begin rejecting his lord's teachings now.

"First you betrayed Prince Clovis by handing Kururugi over, showing that your fealty belonged to Zero over the crown," Guilford counted off, holding up one finger.

Jeremiah almost let slip a hysterical laugh—almost. He shook his head at Guilford's ramblings. You missed one instance, he thought regretfully. Lady Marianne. She is the first I failed.

"Second came Princess Cornelia," Guilford snarled. "You failed her at Narita."

But my failure at Narita resulted in my attaining of the Geass Canceller. The same Canceller that enabled me to aid my lord in battle against his enemies. For that reason alone, he would never regret the loss of his eye—the device that had replaced it was far more useful to his emperor.

"And then, even after Prince Schneizel gave you a second chance,"—Guilford continued venomously, briefly pausing in the middle of his rant to mutter something like I still have no idea why on Earth he'd do that under his breath—"you failed him, too. Yet another betrayal; this one also for Zero's sake."

Jeremiah smiled placidly.

"The royal family has given you too many chances," Guilford said angrily. When he saw that Jeremiah remained calm even in the face of his accusations, he bristled and said impulsively, "Even—even the Demon."

Jeremiah's eyes widened. He sucked in a sharp breath and leaned forward in his seat, listening more intently to Guilford's words.

"Oh, no," Anya groaned quietly to herself, at the same time as Sayoko closed her eyes and thought with tired frustration, You'd better tread carefully, Knight of Cornelia.

"You betrayed even him, I see," Guilford said, his tone a mixture of repulsed and impressed. He wasn't sure whether to be overjoyed that one of Emperor Lelouch's most trusted soldiers had turned traitor on him, or to feel pity that even the Demon had been duped. "You really are a traitorous little rat—never satisfied, never loyal-to-the-end. When things turn out ugly… you just flee." He shook his head in disappointment; even if Lelouch had been the Demon, it was infuriating to see Gottwald's dishonorable actions spit upon everything Guilford had ever worked for.

Everything a knight stood for.

Sayoko cringed. She knew that there was nothing Jeremiah took more pride in than his loyalty to Emperor Lelouch. She knew Jeremiah would never stand to hear Lelouch's legacy and his duty dragged through the mud, not in this way—not when Jeremiah would have gladly given his life in Lelouch's service.

Jeremiah was a man of loyalty, and it was the one thing he'd never give up. She sighed and twisted to regard Jeremiah warily.

The man was frozen stiff in his seat, not moving a muscle save for the vein popping on his forehead. Everything in his eyes screamed rage—he looked more insane than ever before in the darkness of the theatre, his face coloring red and jaw clenching.

Without pausing for even a second to breathe, Jeremiah surged upward and lurched forward to grab the top of the seat in front of him with both hands. Shining knives—glinting dark like an assassin's blades in the dead of night—emerged from his hands and pierced through the air, slicing wind with an unmistakable swish.

Sayoko could only thank the lucky stars that no one had chosen to sit in that particular seat.

"You dare!?" Jeremiah snarled, practically frothing at the mouth.

Sayoko, acting out of an instinct that had been grilled into her from the first time he'd lost his temper, jumped up and grabbed his shoulder, trying to pull him back down frantically. When he refused to budge, Anya loosed an exasperated sigh and tugged Jeremiah down sharply.

"He's not worth it, Jeremiah," Sayoko urged. "Sit back down."

"Yeah, Jeremiah," Anya added hurriedly. "Come on."

Jeremiah didn't even seem to be listening to them. He shrugged both women off wordlessly, eyes still screaming with murderous intent. He could listen to Guilford disparage his betrayals against Prince Clovis, Princess Cornelia, and Prince Schneizel all day long.

But the moment the blinded knight dared accuse him of stabbing Emperor Lelouch in the back… Jeremiah wondered if Guilford had ever been stabbed (as Lelouch was on the day of his death, tumbling and tumbling with red like a fallen angel) before, and he smiled sinisterly.

Anya's eyes fluttered shut when Guilford stood up as well. "Oh, what the hell," she huffed in a voice that said I give up, you handle these children.

Sayoko glared at her, but rolled her eyes after a while. She sighed similarly. "He was asking for it," she concluded finally with a dismissive shrug. Not like I particularly care for Guilford's health. I've had enough of his foolery, too.

"Are your ears failing you?" Guilford mocked. "Because ignorance won't save you! You fooled us all—I'd mention Zero, too, but we've all seen that Emperor Lelouch and Zero are one and the same. You advocated his beliefs, and then when he died in front of the world, you chose to prioritize your own safety and you retreated. Like a coward."

"No…" Jeremiah whispered to himself. He clenched his fists and hissed, "Shut up!"

Sayoko and Anya exchanged a glance—not quite concerned, but rather wondering whether they should be.

"You only care about yourself."

Jeremiah roared into action. Lelouch's imperious eyes stared him down as he lunged at Guilford, knives outstretched.

"That's enough!" Nunnally shouted when she realized Jeremiah wasn't about to stop. It was hard to believe that they'd come to blows already. And all because of the truth… No. We need to know. I need to. "Stop it right now!" she barked sharply.

Thankfully, Cornelia was quick to back her sister's order up, pushing herself in front of her knight and glaring Jeremiah down. "You heard her," she hissed at him as he halted abruptly, mere inches from her face. "Go back to your seat."

Jeremiah sulked for a moment before reluctantly obeying, nothing but the soft voice of his master's sister easing him into compliance.

"You will protect my sister upon my death."

"Thank God," Nunnally sighed in relief from above, surprised but pleased that Jeremiah had backed down without argument.

Zero nodded in agreement, but while she was stunned by Jeremiah's cooperative behavior, Zero was instead shocked that Jeremiah had been provoked so easily—although, he remembered, Jeremiah always had taken all things concerning Lelouch a little too seriously.

"You will all protect her."

"Yes, Your Majesty."

Villetta pushed herself out of a Knightmare of her own. "Jeremiah, be careful, he's got the—" she started to warn him.

Yes, Jeremiah, Lelouch thought, lips twitching into a cunning smirk. You never saw inside this thing. An image of C.C., unfurling as the sphere that once contained her hissed open, flashed in his mind. So you assume it holds poison gas.

"You didn't know?" Gino asked in surprise, staring at Lelouch's captain.

Jeremiah's head was bowed. "No," he said, and a smile shone through his voice, "I didn't."

"O-Oh," Gino mumbled quietly.

Jeremiah shrugged. "Did you really think Prince Clovis told anyone but his Royal Guard?" He smirked and added, "Do you really see me as the kind of man to condone human experimentation?"

"I—I don't really know what I thought," Gino stammered nervously. "I just, well…"

Jeremiah laughed deliriously and tuned Gino out, gazing up at the screen with greedy eyes desperate for more. This was the only thing he had left of his emperor. The only way Emperor Lelouch could live in his eyes again, reborn by a splash of color on the screen.

Recognition crossed Suzaku's eyes. "Wait, you don't understand—!" He was stopped from relaying his knowledge of C.C. to them when the collar around his neck buzzed and sparked with electricity, shocking him into pained silence.

"Can all of you watching at home see this?" It was the reporter again, speaking frantically into the microphone. "It's some sort of device, although its purpose is unclear," he puzzled. "Stay with us, and we'll see if this so-called terrorist has anything to say."

Jeremiah shook with fury. Sweat beaded his temple. "You bastard!" he spat angrily, voice too low for anyone lining the streets to hear. "He's taken every Britannian here hostage, and he's done it without them even knowing it." His eyes were crazed as he outstretched his gun-toting arm and took aim.

"You intend to shoot?" Zero asked, smugness in his voice. "I think you know full well what will happen if you do."

Kaguya sighed longingly, a dreamy quality to her eyes. The first time she'd seen her cousin's rescue by Zero, on the news, she'd instantly known that Zero would change their world—whether for better or for worse.

And even know, even as the cruel laugh of the Demon echoed in her ears, she remembered how enamored she'd been in that moment. She remembered smiling and saying confidently to Kirihara, the old fool, "Just you wait and see—that is the man who will liberate us all."

She remembered believing even when Kirihara rolled his eyes, told her don't be a fool, Kaguya, and laughed her delusions away.

Dramatic as always… Demon Emperor. She smiled miserably.

Diethard gritted his teeth and leaned over to closer watch one of the many screens in his trailer. "Unit 6, bring up the sound and get that camera right in his face!"

"Sir, it's too hairy out here," one of the cameramen protested.

Diethard grumbled to himself. "Tch, amateurs!" He grabbed his own camera and hurried outside, too hooked on the potential news coverage to worry about his own safety.

Tamaki shook his head and grinned a little, thinking of all the times he'd shoved Diethard around and sneered at him for being a "cowardly Brit" who knew nothing of oppression. "Damn," he chuckled, "who knew you had this much courage inside you?"

Or maybe it was just foolishness.

Jeremiah acknowledged the threat grudgingly by lowering his gun. "Fine, what are your demands?"

The answer came swiftly. "An exchange," Zero declared. "This, for Kururugi."

"Like hell!" Jeremiah glanced at Kururugi out of the corner of his eyes. "He's charged with high treason for murdering a prince. I can't hand him over!"

"No. You're mistaken, Jeremiah. He's no murderer," Zero denied just as Diethard scurried outside. Diethard heaved the camera onto his shoulder and focused on Zero. "The man who killed Clovis…" Zero twisted around to look directly at the camera, "…was myself!"

Gino chuckled at Lelouch's dramatics. "I remember watching this from the homeland, with the other Knights of the Round," he said. "It was the most surprising thing we'd seen if months, if not years. Even though he was an enemy, we all thought Zero was impressive."

Anya smiled vaguely. She remembered that, too. She remembered Gino whistling and saying excitedly, "Now that's an opponent I want to meet in battle!"

Sometimes, she still found the thought I remember odd and strange in her mind, wrong. There were days when she still woke up screaming, afraid she'd forget.

The reaction was instantaneous. The gathered crowds gasped, beginning to murmur among themselves. Diethard's mouth fell open in stunned surprise, before a smile tugged at his lips.

"Unbelievable!" Cecile exclaimed in wonder.

Lloyd grinned. "The real culprit, eh?"

"What?" The reporter's shock was as obvious as anyone else's. "What does this mean? This masked man called Zero—no, we can't be sure who he is—but in any case, he claims to be the real assassin! So where does this leave the current suspect, Private Kururugi?"

"Ah, crap!" Ohgi swore. "There's no way out of this."

I wonder who's braver, when push comes to shove? Tamaki wondered to himself. Diethard, who smiled at the sight of chaos, or you, Ohgi, who never wanted to take the necessary risks?

He shook his head and sighed. Ohgi had been appointed leader after Kallen's sister, Naoto, had fallen at the hands of the Britannians. Why did you choose him, Naoto?

"We are so screwed," Kallen lamented.

"For a single Eleven, you'll save scores of precious Britannians. I find that to be a bargain."

Diethard watched Zero through the lens of his camera, his eyes dazed and grin feral. This is all one big performance to him, he realized in amazement.

"Was it?" Xingke thought aloud, eyebrows hiking up on his forehead. "Was it all just a performance?" He thought of the Zero he'd gotten to know in the Chinese Federation and nodded conclusively.

"Xingke?" Tianzi asked worriedly when she saw the bitter look of realization on Xingke's face. "Is something wrong?"

"He's right, Tianzi," Xingke said. "It was all just a performance, this is the opening act, and we were all just the actors. We all played our parts to lead to his ascenscion… and inevitably his fall as the Demon Emperor."

"Xingke…" Tianzi whimpered, terrified by the obsession on his face.

He smiled down at her. "After all, all the world's a stage, isn't it?"

"How perfectly fitting," Kaguya agreed. She looked up at Zero's mask, both the one displayed on the screen and the one that oversaw them all from the back of the auditorium. "But what is the plot this time?"

"He is mad, I tell you!" Jeremiah boomed. He leaned forward, outraged. "Disguising this truck as His Highness'! He'll pay the price for mocking the crown!" As if reaffirming Jeremiah's threat, the Sutherlands raised their rifles.

"Careful," Zero warned. "You don't wish the public to learn of Orange, do you?"

Jeremiah halted, his brows knitted and lips curled into a snarl.

Guilford smirked and turned around to leer at Guilford. "Finally," he huffed impatiently, though more quietly than he would have if the tension from their last confrontation hadn't remained. "We'll soon find out exactly what you've been hiding from us."

Gottwald just shrugged, unconcerned. "I can't wait," he said dryly, eyes narrowing. Calm down, he told himself. Sayoko was right; he's not worth it.

It was the lack of fear that confused Guilford most, but he waved it off in favor of watching the screen again.

"Orange?" one of the soldiers guarding Suzaku repeated. "What's he talking about?"

The other soldier had no clue. "I don't know."

Zero tapped on the roof of the car twice with his foot. "If I die, it'll all go public," Zero continued. "If you don't want that to happen…"

"What are you talking about?" Jeremiah demanded in genuine confusion. "What is this?"

"You're a good actor, Jeremiah," Guilford cackled. "But I'm afraid it's all going to come to light. There's nothing you can do!"

Jeremiah resisted the urge to roll his eyes. He's not worth it, he's not worth it, he repeated the words like a mantra, desperate to leash the anger inside him. He's a fool who'll get what's coming to him.

A portion of Zero's mask slid away to reveal a single, amethyst eye. A familiar red crane surged into the eye. "You'll do everything in your power to let us go," Zero commanded. "Your prisoner as well."

Understanding slammed into the members of the audience, unrelenting and merciless. "O-Oh," Guilford muttered dumbly, stumbling over his words as he tried to find his voice. He sagged in his seat as his mind attempted to process the unexpected turn.

Jeremiah's lips quirked upwards. "Oh, indeed," he snickered. That's right, Guilford. You'll see you're the one in the wrong.

The ominous red flew from Lelouch's eye to Jeremiah's as the margrave's mind was rewired by the power of Geass. "Right, understood," he said obediently, eyes rimmed with red. He turned. "You there, release the prisoner."

"B-But this means—!" Guilford spluttered, having finally worked up the courage to speak. The situation was still just beginning to settle in. Reflexively, he glanced at Jeremiah, who was smirking triumphantly at him. Guilford glowered. "So it was the work of Geass," he acknowledged reluctantly.

"Indeed," Jeremiah confirmed. "I wasn't myself when I released Kururugi. I wasn't consciously turning traitor." Not yet, at least, he finished silently.

While Guilford turned away with a stubborn scowl, eyes set into a narrow glare, Anya struggled to suppress the glee that bubbled inside her, her eyes drinking in the reactions of everyone else. "Thanks to this scene, they also can't fault Geass anymore for the way you followed the late emperor's cause," she said, her voice low so that it only reached Jeremiah and Sayoko. "Especially since they are unaware of the Geass Canceller's existence."

He hummed thoughtfully and nodded. "His Majesty never truly needed his Geass. It was useful, I'm sure, but it's not as if he'd fail without it. It was his natural charisma that aided him when all else failed. And besides, he never needed it to turn me to his cause. Not when his identity was enough to convince me."

"That'd be interesting," Anya said, blinking as she considered the scenario. "Emperor Lelouch without Geass... You're right, though. In the end, I doubt he honestly needed it as anything more than a tool."

"Probably," Sayoko said. She turned to Jeremiah and rolled her eyes, jabbing him in the ribs exasperatedly. "And you must be so proud of yourself, aren't you?" she mocked, shooting him an arched eyebrow.

"Of course I am," he returned with an equally wide grin. He raised his shoulders in a prideful shrug, eyes lidding slightly. "They're fools to not see what's right in front of them."

"Or blind," she added in suggestion.

He snorted. "Perhaps so," he allowed. "In the end, I will be the one to laugh as they are forced to face the facts. They are the ones in the wrong."

"You mean we will be the ones to come out unchallenged," she corrected with an annoyed frown. "Stop acting like you're the only one who saw the good in him. I followed him, too. I would have followed him anywhere, no matter what."

His eyes narrowed into slits. The rage he'd felt for himself ever since he'd agreed to the Zero Requiem returned, and he found himself begging for an outlet. For someone else to blame, for once. "Even to his own death, I see," he said disdainfully, almost too quietly for her to hear.

Her eyes widened in shock and indignation. "Who do you think you are?" Sayoko snarled. Her hands twitched. "I served Master Lelouch from the moment he came to me. Need I remind you that you, too, did nothing as he signed himself off to death? You knew full well what he was planning, and yet you just let it happen."

"You act like I wanted to let it happen!" he snapped, fuelled perhaps by the memory of Guilford's vicious words, striking down upon him. "There is an obvious difference between delivering him to death's door eagerly and doing it unwillingly. And I have yet to cross that line, even now after his body has been buried!"

"You betrayed even him, I see."

Shut up! Shut up shut up shut up! Jeremiah put his fists over his ears and choked down the sound of Guilford's voice.

"And you think I've crossed it?" she demanded, the starch in her voice telling him he'd insulted her. "I chose to obey him even despite the fact that I personally disagreed with his plan. I never wanted to see him dead, Jeremiah. But I swore loyalty to him, and though it meant something aside from protecting him, in that last month, I still refused to betray him."

Sometimes, when she closed her eyes, she could still see him as he'd been when he had issued his last command, his last will. Perhaps it had only been a trick of the light, an effect of the setting sun mixing with the soft glow of the embers burning in the fireplace, but his eyes had contained anguish, swimming with the weight of a thousand wishes and a million hopes as he explained his plan to her and begged for her aid in accomplishing it.

Jeremiah's gaze sobered. "I know," he said finally, his voice strained and solemn. He swallowed, unease in his eyes, and added quietly, "You've always been loyal to him. I know that. I just…"

"When things turn out ugly… you just flee."

His expression was pinched.

"You only care about yourself."

I just want to prove them wrong. Prove everyone wrong.

A few seconds after he'd trailed off, she finished searching his expression—for what, he didn't know—and nodded in agreement. "Me too," she said softly. "This disk—it's messing us all up. And it's only the first of two."

"...I didn't want it to end like this, either," he said. "But it was His Majesty's decision. He chose this. And as someone who pledged my life and service to him, I will continue to follow Zero Requiem. Now of all times, as it is unraveling around us with the revelations from these records, I can't stray from the path he laid out."

"I as well," she promised. She sighed. "We need to contact C.C., and soon—this is beyond us, Jeremiah. It's not up to us to decide what to do in a situation like this. Not without the reassurance that this was unplanned."

"We'll ask for a break after this," he suggested. He hesitated, and they both pushed their anger away as he continued with the safe, changed subject. "Even if she isn't His Majesty himself... she'll know what to do, I hope. She has to."

"I'm sure C.C. will have an idea. She seemed to know him best, after all," Anya finally spoke up, smiling mirthlessly. Her eyes flickered back up to regard the screen for a moment, before she chuckled and said, "I'd understand if people thought you'd gone crazy, Jeremiah. I mean, look at you. And just listen to yourself. That's the voice of a man defeated by insanity." If they'd bothered to pay closer attention, they would have heard and recognized the relief in her voice as she realized that, thought it had remained unspoken, they'd both forgiven each other for their rashness.

Sayoko laughed, the little tension that had remained seeped out of her completely, carried away by the usual easy camaraderie they shared as Lelouch's followers. "She's not too far off the mark, Jeremiah," she agreed with a smirk.

He chortled at them both. "You're both wrong," he said, grinning proudly. "Perhaps your eyes are deceiving you, but that's not madness. In fact, you should look closely, because that, right there, is a man possessed by loyalty. There is nothing to be ashamed of, I'm afraid, because I'd embrace the label 'crazy' and more for the sake of His Majesty."

"Hey, hey," Sayoko chided teasingly. "Is your old age catching up to you?"

Anya laughed, savoring the lighthearted banter because, for once, she was in the right mind to enjoy it. Her eyes sparkled with mischief. "I think Sayoko is right, Jeremiah. After all, at this stage, it wasn't loyalty that moved you, but instead a will enforced by Geass. Or have you forgotten that already?"

He frowned at them both. "The technicalities hardly matter," he countered. "I am His Majesty's most ardent supporter," he declared. "Nothing you say will change that."

"Now, now, Jeremiah. You know, as well as I do, that Master Lelouch has never approved of anyone who would spread rumors and lies involving him," she reprimanded. "If my guess was right, however, and your old age is finally beginning to affect even your robotic body, then I'm sure he would overlook your convenient memory loss." She hummed contentedly. "I wonder if your Canceller can reverse the impacts of mortality?"

"Oh, shut up, Sayoko," he said halfheartedly. He snorted.

"You be quiet, too, Jeremiah," Anya scolded. She grinned and pointed up at the screen. "Unlike yourselves, some people here are trying to watch."

Jeremiah huffed. "Well, I don't really see why you're so interested."

Sayoko nodded agreeably. "It's not like you'll learn anything new," she added.

Anya scoffed and turned to glare at them. "Knowing you two, I'm willing to bet that you left more than just a few things out. And besides..." She hesitated and looked away, almost in embarrassment. "I want to see things from Emperor Lelouch's perspective. And since he's dead, this is my only chance to understand what he thought about, well, everything. Or understand it as much as this lets me, anyway."

"...I see," Sayoko said in quiet understanding. She sighed and gave it a rest, relaxing in her seat and craning her neck upwards to better view the screen. "I guess you have a point."

"Excepting your little comment there," Jeremiah said, eyeing her pointedly out of the corner of his left eye. "I'd have to agree."

The edges of her lips quirked upwards into a satisfied smile. "Good," she said triumphantly. "I knew you'd both see it my way. After all, your heads can't be hiding empty space. You two have to have brains somewhere in there."

Sayoko rolled her eyes, heaving an inaudible sigh. Jeremiah's jaw dropped. "Are you—"

Anya whipped her head around so quickly he fell silent out of reflex, wincing and digging deeper into his chair. She squinted at him, her stare challenging him to speak again. When he didn't, she harrumphed and faced away from him, satisfied. "I didn't think so," she murmured to herself. This time, though he heard her, he kept his opinions to himself.

She tuned back into the show, noticing that some time had passed since they'd started talking. She sulked when she realized she'd missed most of the initial reactions to Jeremiah's complete change of attitude.

"Lord Kewell, this is an order!" Jeremiah hissed. The red in his eyes became more prominent.

How didn't I guess? Cornelia lamented with a grimace that crossed between shame and frustration. Of course it was geass. Of course it was! Lately, everything surrounding Lelouch has to do with Geass!

Truly only a Demon could have such a power. Her gaze became disturbed. The power to bend wills.

She was so overcome by her musings that she didn't even realize what this meant: Jeremiah had already been Geassed once, the allotted amount of times Lelouch could enforce his will upon another before the route was banned from him.

Others in the audience, those more accustomed to and less distracted by the horrors of Lelouch's powers, knew what the implications had to mean: Jeremiah's loyalty to his emperor had been voluntary.

"It's hard to tell what's happening from here, but it seems that Kururugi's release has been brokered!"

Suzaku walked towards Zero amidst the protests of the civilians. "So, who the hell are you?" Suzaku demanded as soon as he reached the masked man. He flinched as he was silenced by a shock of lightning.

Zero sneered as he noted Suzaku's shock collar. "As I thought, they didn't allow you to speak," he remarked with audible disdain.

Rakshata shook her head in disapproval. "Despicable," she remarked. "How did they expect him to speak in his own defense, at his own trial?"

Lloyd smiled grimly. "They didn't."

Chiba curled her hands into fists and cast her eyes to the floor. Britannia… she pondered murderously. Even with Empress Nunnally on the throne… She shook her head irritably. Even though the young queen was doing her best to right her predecessors' wrongs, Britannia's sins were too great to erase.

Sometimes, when she was reminded of all these tiny little details that revealed all too well Britannia's cruelty, she still wanted to bomb them all to hell.

Nina shifted closer to Milly and winced. She'd worked alongside Prince Schneizel originally, and she knew all too well that this was the least of Britannia's wrongs.

Milly, eyes locked onto the screen but sensing Nina's movement, latched onto Nina with shaking hands. "It's okay," she whispered, and Nina had to wonder if she was saying it for her or for herself. Lelouch… Milly thought sadly.


"The truth," Nunnally announced with a small smile, so alike to Lelouch's own barely-there smiles.

Milly wanted that more than anything. The truth. She wanted to know what drove Lelouch to forsaking his family, his friends, to forsaking her. She needed to know, no matter what the answer did to her.

Villetta gritted her teeth in frustration. "If they get away, we'll lose everything!" she shouted as she embarked her Knightmare.

Zero's redheaded chauffeur stood beside him. "It's time to go, Zero," she informed under her breath.

Zero smirked, satisfied that his objectives had been achieved. "Well then, till next time," he bid the Britannian officials goodbye. He raised a handheld trigger and pressed the red button; the container opened with a hiss, eliciting panicked screams from the masses as they fled.

"You cowardly Eleven!" Villetta spat, hands on the console of her Knightmare. She was about to attack when a familiar Knightmare slammed into hers, keeping her away from the terrorist duo. She grunted and, when she recognized the Knightmare, widened her eyes. "Lord Jeremiah, what are you…?"

"You heard me!" he shouted madly. "Stand down now!"

Villetta was tense with displeasure as she watched the events of the disaster that had led to the breakdown of the Purist Faction. At the time she'd been so confused—why would Jeremiah of all people, determined to a fault and so sure of all Elevens' wrongs, risk everything for Kururugi? But now, seeing the Geass compel Jeremiah, she shivered and her eyes darkened with hatred.

Lelouch really was a demon. He hadn't deserved Jeremiah's loyalty, and Villeta didn't (read: couldn't) understand why Jeremiah had given it to him.

Zero grabbed Suzaku, his cape swirling around them as he leaped off the side of the highway. Kallen followed suit.

"They're not alone at all," Kewell said in realization. "They jumped right off."

Ohgi was in his own Knightmare, and as soon as Zero, Suzaku and Kallen were over the highway a net shot out of his machine. "It worked!" Ohgi yelled in relief. "Now we can—"

Ohgi was cut off by a hail of bullets that slammed into his Knightmare and tore it apart. "You imbecile!" Kewell barked, his Knightmare slamming onto the ground in front of them. "There's nowhere for you to run!"

Jeremiah spotted them. "Lord Kewell!" he roared.

"Huh!?" Kewell mumbled incoherently to himself.

"Are you going to follow orders or not?" Jeremiah demanded. "And believe me, there will be repercussions. All units, do I make myself clear? Do everything in your power to help them get away!"

"Everything in your power, huh?" Tamaki repeated, mind flitting back to Lelouch's Geass-laced command. "Geass really is all-powerful… isn't it?"

"Absolute power corrupts absolutely," Kaguya quoted, the words echoing within auditorium walls and drifting towards Tamaki.

"Indeed, I can't think of a better quote to fit the power of Geass," Rakshata agreed.

"I wonder though… was Lelouch corrupted 'absolutely'?" Lloyd mused. He smirked when a number of people in the audience jolted and straightened at his words. They immediately began bickering, debating Lloyd's words and offering up evidence either for or against.

Kallen, unsurprisingly, was adamant that if Lelouch ever had been corrupt, it was only because of that dreaded power. It's all that witch's fault! she was yelling.

"Laugh, why don't you?" Cecile grumbled to him as Lloyd listened to the others argue among themselves, a sliver of amusement escaping his eyes.

The terrorists were gathered in an abandoned building. "Man, I didn't really think he could do it," one of them said.

"Yeah, who is this guy?" another asked in agreement.

"That's crap!" Tamaki dismissed with an angry snort. "How many times can a bluff like that work, anyway?"

"Once," Rakshata answered with a laugh.

Sayoko leaned closer to Jeremiah, asking under her breath so only he and Anya could hear, "Do you think they've connected the dots and realized what that means?" She smirked a little. "Or maybe they're so sure that no one could voluntarily obey 'Lelouch the Demon' that they'll ignore the implications."

Jeremiah shrugged uncaringly. "Let them be fools," he said. "Let them conveniently forget that one-time-per-person limit in regards to me and think I was Geassed into becoming his follower. They'll be corrected in time."

Sayoko frowned. "Yeah, well, not soon enough."

"You gotta give the guy some credit though," Ohgi interjected. Tamaki mumbled questioningly, and Ohgi carried on, "Gotta admit it, nobody else could've pulled that off. Not the Japanese Liberation Front, and certainly not me. We've always thought that a full-on war with Britannian wasn't a possibility at all. But maybe with him, it is."

Kallen's eyes went wide as she heard Ohgi's words. Slowly, her head turned to face an open doorway.

"It looks like they treated you rather roughly," Zero began. "Now you know what they're really like, Private Kururugi. Britannia is rotten. If you wish to bring change to this world, then join me."

Todoh watched the screen with a degree of curiosity. Though he tried not to show it, Chiba could see the questions in his eyes. He'd always wondered what had happened during Suzaku's time in Zero's care; and now he would finally get his answers.

Suzaku said nothing but "So, is it true?" After a short pause, he continued heatedly, "Are you really the one who killed Prince Clovis?"

"This is war!" Zero declared. "Why wouldn't I kill an enemy commander?"

Suzaku looked down for a silent second. When he looked up again, a fire burned in his eyes. "And the gas? Those were civilians out there!"

Cornelia blinked in surprise. The same civilians who wanted nothing more than to see you hanged for 'your' crimes, she thought derisively. She knew that she shouldn't be surprised, though. Suzaku had proven on more than one occasion that nothing mattered more to him than the lives of the innocent—even if they wanted him dead.

"A bluff," Zero excused, "to help things along. The result, not a single death."

"The result?" Suzaku repeated scornfully. "That's all that matters to you, I suppose."

"And he was a soldier," Guilford laughed hysterically. "An idealistic soldier loyal to Britannia… Truly one of a kind."

His princess glared at him, but silently, she couldn't help but agree. Euphie… is it his naivety that drew you to him? What did you see in him, Euphie?

But she knew what her sister had seen, because now, she saw it, too. She smiled bitterly. She remembered all too well how fierce Lelouch had been even as a child—she remembered the look he'd get in his eyes when one of their siblings or step-mothers would spit upon the graves of Britannia's oppressed Numbers. She remembered how he, too, had once cherished his morals, his ideals.

"Come join me," Zero implored. He extended an arm for Suzaku to take. "The Britannia you serve is a worthless dominion."

"Maybe that's true, but…" Suzaku glared up at the vigilante. "But this nation, it can be changed for the better, and from within."

"You're a goddamn idiot, Kururugi." Kallen was too far gone, so beyond the line between sanity and insanity that her school friends shivered. "A goddamn idiot…!"

His hopeful, expectant eyes disgusted her. But it was for the same reason that she respected him. He'd believed when she had not. Even then, seven years after the war, when Japan was at its weakest—at its worst—and Britannia was at its strongest—cruellest—he hadn't given up hope.

She hadn't been able to look at her downed people and think, We don't have to resort to violence, but he had.

And even if Suzaku had been a fool, even if he'd been wrong at the end…

Lelouch's eyes quivered with shock. "Changed?" he echoed breathlessly, as if he couldn't comprehend the very word.

"Lelouch understands," Cornelia commented. Kallen perked up and listened intently to the warrior princess' words. "He knows that it's impossible. So long as my father sat in that throne… he would never have given in to weakness."

"That's one thing the Demon knew that Kururugi completely failed to realize," Chiba leered.

Nunnally nodded stiffly, frustrated that they still insisted on calling her brother Demon but at the same time understanding that they still had a long way to go. And though it upset her more than anything to hear Cornelia acknowledge their late father's faults, even Nunnally knew that her words were true.

"It was never going to happen," Nunnally agreed from her seat.

Suzaku stiffened with shock—by now he'd accepted and admitted that he had been mistaken in his goals, but to hear Nunnally, the innocent girl who'd always wanted the best, who'd always thought the best of everything…

He shook his head in disbelief. Had he really been that blind, to miss something even a cheerful girl like Nunnally noticed?

"At the very least, that change wouldn't have ever happened with only Suzaku initiating it," Nunnally corrected herself after a while. "Maybe if more influential people tried… if Schneizel, or someone else that high up." She shrugged, attempting nonchalance but coming off as forced instead. She laughed it off uncomfortably.

"And any ends gained through contemptible means aren't worth anything."

How could I have known how big of a mistake I was making? Zero thought regretfully. He watched as his own figure walked down the steps, rejecting Lelouch, denying his ideals, his justice. How could I have known that walking away was the worst thing I could have done?

"Wait!" he yelled desperately when Suzaku's feet took him farther and farther from Zero. "Where are you going?"

Suzaku, in the audience, laughed silently at the sight of it—Lelouch always had been too worried about everything and everyone. Worried for even Suzaku, even after he'd betrayed Lelouch.

"My court-martial begins in an hour," Suzaku explained calmly, never deigning to turn around and afford Zero a second glance.

"Are you mad!?" Zero shouted after him, fists clenching. "The only reason they're giving you a trial is to find you guilty! The judge, the prosecution, and defense!"

"Zero is right," Princess Cornelia said quietly, never lifting her gaze from her lap. She clasped her hands together and added, "Even the suspicion placed on him was for nothing but a ploy—one to further the ends of the Purists. And still Suzaku served us?"

"He was too good for us," Cecile, from all the way across the auditorium, called out.

Cornelia was quiet for a long time, and just when Cecile was going to turn back to Lloyd and murmur and so was Lelouch in his ear, the princess nodded and said, "Perhaps he was, but even more than that, he was a bigger fool."

Lloyd snickered. "The biggest," he agreed.

Cecile reacted on instinct and jabbed him in the ribcage.

Lloyd recoiled. "What did you do that for?" he whined, clutching pitifully at his side.

Cecile just shook her head and sighed disappointedly.

"Rules are rules," Suzaku said. "And if I don't go, they'll start cracking down on Elevens and honorary Britannians."

"That's right," Rivalz mulled over Suzaku's words, "they would have done that, wouldn't they have?"

"Is that even a question?" Milly's eyes twinkled with mischief and her voice was as teasing as ever, but there was a sharp edge in her smile that made Rivalz flinch.

But it was Nina, much to the surprise of all her friends, who asked rhetorically, "This is Britannia we're talking about, isn't it?"

Kallen frowned wordlessly. She remembered Nina as a shy, quiet girl who would never dare say so much as a word against her beloved empire. Nina was as patriotic as you could get—she'd vouch for Britannia and its rulers in a second. And yet now… it seemed like even Nina had acknowledged Britannia's faults.

Princess Euphie, Nina remembered despairingly, what would you have thought?

"But you'll die!" Zero retorted.

Suzaku never even faltered. "I don't mind."

"Don't be an idiot." Zero's voice lingered on the brink of begging.

Suzaku finally paused. "An old friend of mine always used to tell me that. He'd say I was a fool," he reminisced. He didn't know the effect of his words on Zero; didn't see the way Lelouch flinched at the memory.

"It's my weakness, I guess," Suzaku continued. "I'd try to bring you in, but you'd just end up killing me. And if I'm going to die, it'll be in the service of the people. Even so, I thank you... for saving me."

He turned back around and walked away.

"In the service of the people?" Kallen asked quietly. Her friends around her smiled identical weak smiles and glanced up at the image of their deceased friend, but Kallen wasn't talking to the memory—she was asking Zero, who lived and breathed and stood among them. "Is that what it is?"

She chuckled brokenly. "And all those people you killed, as a soldier and then as a knight… everyone you enslaved and conquered in the name of Britannia—that was for the people, too?"

Zero blinked back tears.

"Give me a break," Kallen scoffed hatefully.

Nearby, Gino frowned. Everyone you enslaved and conquered in the name of Britannia, Kallen had said. And even though she hadn't been addressing him, even though she hadn't even glanced at him, it still felt like an accusation.

He bore the weight of the Knight of Three. When he'd first been knighted in the Rounds, he'd never imagined it would lead him to this. He had never imagined that he would come to regret accepting the coveted position.

Zero stood tall behind Suzaku, watching him go silently. You… fool!

"Yes, apparently, Private Kururugi has made contact with the authorities." Nunnally sat alone in her room, still gripping the radio in her hands when the news finally came. "It would seem the Zero has released him. However, now that the original charges against him have been thrown into question, it's very possible Kururugi will be found innocent and acquitted."

Nunnally smiled tearfully. "Thank goodness."

Nunnally… Suzaku didn't dare let his eyes stray from the screen to the empress, whose knuckles were white against the armrests of her wheelchair. I'm sorry. Your brother is right; I'm such a fool. I should have listened to him while there was still time, while there was still something we could do.

"For legal perspective on all of this, we now turn to our legal analyst…" the announcer droned on, but Nunnally's attention wasn't on him anymore. She paused when the door rattled behind her, and footsteps neared her.

"Miss Sayoko?" she called into the shadows.

Cornelia gripped her armrests violently as she lurched forward in her seat. Because that wasn't Nunnally's Japanese maid who stood in Nunnally's room. Staring back at them all was an ever-familiar face of wizened features, with striking golden eyes and pin-straight green hair.

"No way," Rivalz breathed. "H-How!?"

"I knew it!" Kallen shrieked, her face twisting into a disgusted glare. Greatly enlarged thanks to the big screen, C.C.'s face stared coldly back at her. "C.C…. you finally show your face."

Nunnally tilted her head curiously. She remembered, of course, this meeting—and as she recalled everything that followed, she realized why Lelouch had been so shocked.

A/N: I don't know. I rewrote and rewrote a lot of the reactions in this one. I'm still not exactly pleased with it, with some parts more than others, but I'm satisfied enough and it's about time I uploaded it, so let me know what you think.

Also, yes, I know. It's unlikely for Jeremiah and Sayoko to argue and fight when they both know full well that they each did what they had to for Lelouch's sake. But, come on. In real life, arguments happen all the time (even if both parties know neither is in the wrong). It's pretty much human nature to pawn the blame off on someone that isn't yourself. So yeah, that happened, they fought, they each wanted someone that isn't themselves to be at fault for Lelouch's death, and then they made up. Silently.

The same with Jeremiah and Guilford's fight. I don't think it's farfetched for Jeremiah to react badly to an assumption of his disloyalty to Lelouch. Jeremiah's pretty crazy when it comes to his loyalty (which is why I love him).

Either way, the next chapter will be the break Jeremiah, Sayoko and Anya keep talking about, so that should come out fairly quicker than usual. I look forward to any and all feedback.