We're strange allies with warring hearts
What a wild-eyed beast you'll be
The space between the wicked lies we tell
And hope to keep safe from the pain
"The Space Between", Dave Matthews Band
What Are Friends For
Terrorist Attack On Kojiki Airport Foiled
by Kazumi Asakura
It's hard to believe that such a short time ago that the Kojiki airport in London was seized by a group of dangerous Brittanian terrorists led by former Prince Clovis La Brittania, taking hundreds of our Empire's citizens hostages in a cowardly attempt to force our leaders to meet their demands.
The group was heavily armed and well prepared- but not prepared enough, as in a daring raid, Japanese forces led by Commander Kouzuki Naoto and his sister, Seventh Sword Kouzuki Kallen, brought a swift end to the terror in a stunning display of stratagem and cunning. The Kouzuki siblings have once again proved themselves to be the shining hope for the future of the Empire, and this reporter feels all the safer knowing that the Kouzuki's may one day be tied to the Chrysanthemum Throne, securing the generations to come.
A more detailed article profiling Clovis La Brittania can be found on Page 3A…
"That idiot brother of mine," Cornelia scowled, setting down the newspaper with an irritated expression. The article had told her little more than what her own sources could gather.
She flicked a glance across the table, where Gino Weinberg sat, absently munching on a pastry from the breakfast plate that had been set for them, and his liege man Kewell Sorsei stood behind him, looking vastly more uncomfortable than his leader.
They were currently in her dining room, having convened for a meal and meeting all in one. The walls were Spartan, as befitting her tastes, and the table's rich mahogany wood was the only real décor to be found at all in the room.
"I apologize. I shouldn't have let personal matters get in the way of this meeting, especially after calling you two all the way out here," Cornelia said politely, offering them an apologetic smile. "Thank you for coming."
"No problem! Thank you for sending the private plane!" Gino said cheerfully, though Kewell still seemed awkward. "I can't believe I'm really here, at the Bastion."
Cornelia snorted lightly. "I still don't care much for the nickname, but I suppose there's no helping that now."
The Bastion, as it was known, was the de-facto headquarters of the Brittanian Liberation front, but despite its name being known throughout the organization, its location was unknown to all but the highest echelons of the BLF command structure.
It was, as Gino and Kewell had discovered on their otherwise uneventful plane ride, directly beneath Edinburgh Castle in Scotland, which sat upon an extinct volcano- the tunnels and areas beneath the fortress had apparently been hollowed out and converted into a massive, sprawling military complex.
"There's way more people here than I thought- I mean, how do you keep all of this a secret?" Gino questioned, grabbing a grape off of a bowl and popping it into his mouth thoughtfully. "You would think someone would let slip this operation you've got going, even if Scotland is one of the least controlled areas in Brittania."
"The entire complex is garrisoned by the members of my original regiment, the Third Imperial," Cornelia answered, grabbing a pastry for herself as well- strawberry, her own guilty little pleasure. "They retreated into hiding with me at the very start of the Japanese occupation, and have remained with me ever since. And this base… the Bastion… it was one of several fallback points we had established a long time ago- I simply had some agents erase knowledge of its existence from the records before the Japanese fully took over the country."
Gino whistled appreciatively. "That is impressive. Hey Kewell, sit down already, man. Have a grape, you're making me nervous."
"I ate on the plane, sir, as did you," Kewell reminded him politely, but firmly. "I'm more interested in learning about the Bastion. If I may be so forward, Commander… you and your regiment were already in Scotland at the time of the invasion, correct? Why did you not strike out? Surely the army would have rallied behind you, and using this place as a headquarters for a military uprising rather than an insurrectionist movement…"
He trailed off, looking embarrassed. "I apologize. I'm being presumptuous."
"No, don't apologize- I understand your concern, Lord Kewell." Cornelia waved her hand dismissively. "I would have, trust me- but at that time, my brothers… Schneizel and Odysseus, they wanted only peace after my father's death, and I could not resist their movement to peace openly. And after the Bloody Sunday incident, I'd have to say I'm rather glad I did not try."
Kewell coughed, and even Gino winced at the mention of that event.
"In any event, I brought you two to the Bastion to start working more closely with my staff here," Cornelia continued on briskly, returning them to the matters at hand. "With so much action in London, I feel that our presence there must increase- after you two work with the members of my command staff, I want you two to select those who you think will be able to help you train new recruits. Naturally Darlton will go with you, but I wanted you to be able to select the ones you work with."
Gino nodded along, his expression bored as he crossed his arms behind his head. "Thanks for that, I guess, though I'm pretty good right now working with Nonette, Claudio, and Dorothea."
"Naturally I don't want to undermine your current situation," Cornelia agreed. "But again, this incident with the airport, alongside this Jinchuu character… we need to present a stronger influence on London to ensure our goals are met. And to make sure of that, I will also be returning with you to London when you return, to conduct an operation."
Kewell and Gino both raised their eyebrows at that.
"Oh, don't give me that look you two," Cornelia muttered, rolling her eyes. "I've gotten enough from Guilford about how dangerous it could be. But my brother is being held by Japan- I can't leave him there. And besides… I also have something to bring for that girl of yours, Shirley. I originally wanted her to come here, but our circumstances have changed."
"For Shirley?" Gino questioned, raising an eyebrow. "It wouldn't happen to be that… that thing I saw on the way in here right? Because I am jealous already if it is."
Cornelia smiled wolfishly and said nothing else in answer.
"You've implemented none of the directives I left you with! I told you specifically that I wanted these underway when I got back!"
Lelouch opened his mouth to defend himself, but his verbal assailant left him no openings.
"What happened to the mandatory 'Casual Fridays'? Or the 'Bring Your Pet To School Day' I wanted to schedule?" Kaguya demanded, slamming her hand down on the table authoritatively. "And another thing, where's the new recreation room I designed? I wanted to jump into that plastic ball pit the minute I landed in Brittania, Mr. Vice President!"
"First of all, I don't remember anything about 'casual Fridays'," Lelouch said defensively, crossing his arms with a frown as he leaned into his chair. "And 'Bring Your Pet To School Day' was banned by the PTA after one girl got bitten by a snake that got loose last year."
"It wasn't poisonous," Kaguya said dismissively, waving her hand.
"She was terrified!" Lelouch all but shrieked, remembering how, for some reason, it had been HIM who had taken the blame for that incident and had an angry father following him around for a week making threatening gestures.
In the opposite corner of the room, C.C. chuckled, idly flipping through another one of her magazines with vague disinterest (the title, emblazoned in bold black, read, Arthur Camlann Appointed as Eurasian Secretary of the Interior).
"Well what about the recreation room?" Kaguya questioned, frowning as she placed her hands on her hips with disapproval. "That certainly wasn't banned by the PTA."
"There's no room in the school for a six story fun house!" Lelouch refuted, raising an eyebrow. "And no money in our budget for something like that! Especially the hundred meter television screen you wanted installed!"
"You just didn't look hard enough," C.C. commented idly, without looking up, and Lelouch gave her the dirtiest of looks in silent outrage.
"You know, it's times like these I wonder why I ever thought to give you the honored post of Vice-President. I'll have you know there are dozens of candidates who could take your job in an instant, Lelouch Lamperouge!" Kaguya insisted, planting one fist on her hip while wagging her other hand's index finger at him disapprovingly. "You'd better shape up mister!"
There was slight cough, and all eyes in the room turned towards Kallen, sitting next to Lelouch, who looked oddly nervous as she squirmed in one of the free Student Council chairs. "I uh… should I come back after the meeting?"
"No need, Kallen-chan," Kaguya insisted, waving her hand dismissively again. "Lelouch-kun here is just being a grump."
"Someone here has to be the sane one," Lelouch muttered under his breath.
Kaguya pretended not to hear him, nose high in an air of disdain as she sniffed.
"Well, anyways, Kallen-chan, I appointed you to the post of General Affairs Manager of the Student Council," she declared, smiling proudly at the redhead. "Welcome aboard."
Kallen, rather than looking honored, as Kaguya's expression seemed to expect, looked merely flabbergasted. "K-Kaguya, I mean… I'm flattered and all, but I don't think I have the time-"
"Oh it's exactly the opposite," Kaguya interrupted, smiling widely. "The Sumeragi Academy encourages a well rounded student life- being part of the Student Council is a requirement to your being at the Academy, Kallen-chan. I should have made that clear on the phone the first time."
"But-" Kallen began, but her eyes met that of Lelouch's, who shook his head slowly, just once.
"It's best just to agree with her," Lelouch murmured, so only she could hear. "Besides, you're not expected to do much as part of this council. Just think of it as the president's way of asking you to spend more time with her."
Kallen felt a bit of relief at his words. Being part of the council did sound kind of like fun anyways, and she'd never had a chance to be part of any kind of club before…
"Unless you think you're not up for it," he added, almost as an afterthought, a hint of a grin on his face, and she shot him a glare.
"I'm up for it," she whispered snappishly, before smiling up at Kaguya. "Well, if you insist…"
"Perfect!" Kaguya said happily, clapping her hands together delightedly. "I'll give you a copy of the Student Council rulebook to look over later- feel free to ask Lelouch-kun any questions."
Kallen blinked. Normally, aren't you supposed to say ask YOU any questions?
Lelouch didn't even seemed fazed that the responsibility had been foisted onto him, merely sighing with a long-suffering look. He really hated that rulebook.
"Well then, on to my next order of business," Kaguya said briskly. "We're going to have a Halloween Ball!"
There were a few moments of expectant silence.
"A what?" Kallen blinked.
"Why?" Lelouch asked, knowing that question was more pertinent.
"Because A, formal balls are fun, B, I just got back from a long trip and we need to have a party to celebrate, C, because I said so, and D, because formal balls are FUN!" Kaguya said cheerily, her grin so wide and maniacal that Lelouch absently shivered in terror at the sight.
"Okay… well, that shouldn't be too much of a problem," Lelouch managed, coughing slightly to cover up the fear in his voice at her expression. "I did save up a good portion of our budget expecting you to want a party of some kind, after all."
"Good. Now, there are a few rules to this. First and foremost, from what I've read about this… Halloween," Kaguya said, stumbling over the foreign and unfamiliar word, "You dress up in costumes. So all people are supposed to dress up as something… interesting. I don't know, Infopedia wasn't very clear."
"It's similar to cosplay," C.C. informed her simply, still looking through the magazine.
"Ah! Okay, that makes much more sense," Kaguya said agreeably, smiling. "Thank you, C.C.-chan!"
"Always happy to help," C.C. said simply.
"So, everyone will cosplay when they come to this event- which has a mandatory attendance policy, by the way- and also, they need to bring a date!" Kaguya finished, clapping her hands with a smile.
To those around her, the clap sounded like a death knell.
"A… a date?" Lelouch stammered.
"A DATE?" Kallen shouted, cheeks flushing.
C.C. said nothing, though she raised a single eyebrow ever so slowly.
Kaguya looked over at Kallen and beamed.
"Oh, don't worry about finding a date, Kallen-chan! My dear cousin will be taking you, have no worries. It's his duty as your arranged marriage partner! I've already begun making arrangements." She winked at Kallen, her smile only increasing the horror in Kallen's own expression. "You two will be the star couple of the evening!"
Kallen sank into the chair with a mortified expression.
As for Lelouch, he was already wondering if he could somehow convince Naoto to organize a sortie for their forces- and knowing even a life or death battle wouldn't keep Kaguya from dragging him kicking and screaming into attending the ball.
By order of the Student Council, and her magnificence Kaguya-sama, we hereby declare that there be a celebration in honor of our beneficent student body president returning to our school, on the date of October 31st, known locally as All Hallows Eve, Samhain, or, most recently, Halloween.
Come in costume, as a werewolf, a witch, a vampire, or anything else!
P.S. One night only, mandatory attendance, on pain of school punishments 36-50 in the Student Code of Conduct (punishments may vary based on gender, age, and tolerance to various flavors of yogurt)
"A Halloween party, huh?" Shirley scoffed, crumpling the flyer with a dark look upon her face.
"What's up with you?" Rivalz asked, blinking in confusion as he glanced over at her. "You don't like Halloween?"
"It's not about Halloween!" she all but snarled, growling in anger as she whirled upon him with a furious expression.
Rivalz backed away immediately raising his hands unconsciously (though futilely, he knew) to defend himself as he did so. "Okay… then what it is about?"
"It's all just one big lie," Shirley snapped, her voice laced with furious venom, "Here, in these walls, we pretend to like each other. We pretend that Japan didn't conquer us, that we can live our lives like they were before. But that's not real. It's just a fantasy."
"Maybe people like the lie?" Rivalz questioned, shaking his head. "I think it's nice to pretend things are better than they are, even only for a moment."
"No one's been allowed to celebrate something like Halloween, or Guy Fawkes, or even Christmas, since the invasion- and yet here this spoilt princess thinks she can 'give' us our cultural heritage back?" Shirley hissed, fists clenching in a quiet rage. "It's… it's not right! It mocks everything we fight for!"
Rivalz glanced around warily, grateful the hallway was deserted, but still wondering how they hadn't blown their cover yet with Shirley's constant raging at these cultural injustices.
"Look, Shirley-" he began, but she blew him off, turning away in a huff.
"Whatever. Let's just get to class," Shirley muttered, still clenching her fists so tightly the knuckles went white.
Rivalz sighed and nodded, crossing his arms behind his head. "Well, you know, it might not be so bad," he commented airily. "Who knows, maybe that Lelouch guy will ask you to go with him?"
A few moments later, as he was regaining consciousness on the hallway floor, he regretted the joke.
"This is so like Kaguya," Kallen muttered sulkily, crossing her arms with a huff as she turned towards Lelouch. They were currently sitting down at their desks in the classroom, though at the moment they were on a break. "Springing something like this on me. And a dance even! What am I supposed to do?"
"Dance?" Lelouch suggested dryly, and was rewarded with a playful punch.
"Oh shut up, it's more than that, and you know it," Kallen scowled, rolling her eyes. "It's… me and Suzaku? As a date? That's just… weird."
"It's just a dance," Lelouch muttered, shaking his head.
"Oohhh really?" Kallen said slowly, a catty smile on her face as she leaned forward. "Just a dance? Then who are you going with, pray tell, Lelouch Lamperouge?"
"I… uh…" Lelouch stammered.
Directly behind him, C.C. seemed to straighten imperceptibly, and Lelouch felt a shiver run down his spine.
Kallen smirked, raising an eyebrow. "I thought it wasn't a big deal, Lelouch-san?"
And with that, she stood. "Well, while you're doing that, I am going to grab a lunch," she said lightly, her tone one of supreme confidence, leaving Lelouch alone… with C.C.
"So…" C.C. drawled, and to Lelouch her voice was like the drawing of a noose around his neck, "Who are you taking, boya?"
"I… uh…" Lelouch broke out into a sweat. "I think Naoto is having a meeting in a few minutes and uh… I need to be there. But not in person. Just on the phone. Still. I should go. Somewhere else. To talk. Because it's a secret."
C.C. stared at him wordlessly, unblinking, and most of all, freaking unnerving.
"I'm going to go now," Lelouch said awkwardly, his tone nearly robotic, and fled the classroom.
"And in total, rebuilding the Kojiki airport, including the upgraded security measures and replacing the damaged or destroyed vehicles, is estimated to cost us upwards of two billion yen," Minami reported, shutting the folder with a barely hidden wince as he straightened inside of his chair.
Suzaku, dressed once more in the formal kimono he was forced to wear at meetings, restrained a wince himself, and flicked a hooded look at Naoto, sitting across from him in the conference room, wondering how the man he had known since he was seven could have allowed something like that to happen, let alone plan it.
"Kirihara Industries has agreed to shoulder most of the costs, given that expediency is a priority in this kind of matter, as a point of 'national pride'," Sancia commented, sitting to Naoto's right, as was her custom. "But they expect some concessions on the part of the provincial government as per their generosity."
Suzaku frowned, feeling wary. Kirihara Taizo was not a man to loan out his company's money like that without serious compensation.
"What does the Chief Minister ask of us?" Suzaku questioned, keeping his tone polite and formal.
Sancia coughed slightly, obviously aware of the kind of leverage she was conveying on behalf of the Imperial Council. "The Imperial factories in Glasgow, Dudley, Blackheath, and Sandwell are to receive an additional allotment of inmates for usage in the labor camp factories by the end of the month, with a 10% increase in overall recruitment for the camps expected in the following months. Also, the taxation of those factories is to be granted a break for a period of no less than one year."
"They want me to increase the prisoners in our labor camps?" Suzaku sputtered in outrage, fists clenching. "I spent the past three years working to shut those factories down, and now they want me to reverse everything I've been trying to build in a single day?"
"Aw, Suzaku-sama, don't be like that," Tamaki, the Secretary of Labor, chimed in, leaning back in his chair. Suzaku realized belatedly that these demands were likely why a bureaucrat like Tamaki was asked to sit in on this meeting. "These factories are important."
"As much as I hate to disagree with you, Suzaku-sama," Minami added, with an unspoken look of apology, "Tensions with the Eurasian Federation are mounting daily. The incident with the stolen Sakuradite tanker is fueling a fire that may not be put out diplomatically. Our factories must produce more Knightmare Frames soon to meet the demands of our military in the event of open war with the Federation."
Suzaku scowled, hands shifting within the expansive folds of his kimono. "At the expense of the Brittanian people? Those people in the labor camps aren't paid workers, Major- they're political prisoners! And by asking us- asking me- to increase the worker counts in those factories, they mean to force us to nearly double our arrests. Where are we going to find all these criminals?"
The unspoken accusation in his voice was known to all of them. They were going to start arresting relatively innocent people and sentencing them to years of hard labor in the camps to meet the demands placed on them by Kirihara Industries. It was distasteful at best, and absolutely reprehensible at worst.
Naoto coughed, drawing attention to himself as he gave Suzaku an expressionless stare. "Suzaku-sama, I don't like this any more than you do, but we have no real choice in this matter. This may have come as a request, but Kirihara Industries is led by the Chief Minister of the Imperial Council. The Emperor himself endorses the request. We cannot ignore it."
"Naoto…" Suzaku began, feeling almost betrayed. "You really believe that?"
"I am a soldier. I follow the orders of my country. You are our prince, Suzaku-sama, but you are not yet Emperor," Naoto said respectfully.
Feeling desperate, Suzaku began reaching for more rational arguments, knowing arguing morality was a loss now. "What about the resistance movements? Won't they react if we start increasing arrests? Or even Jinchuu?"
It felt strange, to use his alter-ego as a warning against his own people. But he was desperate- the labor camps were something he had worked tirelessly to minimize, and everything was about to be undone.
"If I may," Sancia intruded quietly, "Increasing arrests, especially on suspected members of the BLF, may in fact prove to weaken the resistance."
"Or make them angrier," Suzaku retaliated bitingly, and Sancia lowered her eyes and said a quiet apology.
Naoto met Suzaku's eyes fearlessly, his eyes clearly telling Suzaku to calm down. "Now is not the time to argue about this. We have our orders. We will carry them out, Suzaku-sama, with or without your approval."
Suzaku fell back, eyes wide in disbelief. "What are you saying, Naoto?"
"The Imperial Council has issued a statement suggesting they are considering revoking the provincial government's authority in this region for a period of time, and placing it under martial law- in effect, military rule- until they feel this crisis period is resolved," Naoto said calmly, though his tone was veiled steel. "Please, Suzaku-sama, do not give them reason to take your leadership away. Not now."
"If they want it, they can have it," Suzaku spat as he stood, the expansive folds of the kimono falling out before him like the waves of tsunami, the rush of blood pounding in his ears as his fury mounted. "Damn you Naoto. Damn you."
And with that, he stormed out of the meeting room without another word.
Naoto sighed as he watched the conference room doors swing shut, closing his eyes tiredly as he rubbed his forehead.
That could have gone over much better, he thought to himself with a wince.
"Man, the prince sure is touchy," Tamaki drawled with a chuckle. "Who cares about a few Brits going to jail anyway?"
His laughter abruptly died as Naoto fixed him with a steely look.
"I'm sorry, Secretary Tamaki-san, but I'm afraid that from here on in this meeting is strictly military personnel only. You're going to have to leave. These MPs will show you the way out," he said, his voice holding nothing but absolute, if chilly, politeness, as he inclined his head and two armed, broad-shouldered men in uniform stood at attention next to Tamaki's chair, clearly indicating he had best stand up out of it.
As the Secretary was lead out of the room, Naoto shook his head in disgust.
"Bureaucrats," he muttered irritably.
"If I may, Tamaki-san doesn't mean any harm," Minami interjected cordially, keeping his head bowed low and respectful. "He simply doesn't see Brittanians as an equal, like many other pure blooded men in the Empire. It's not out of malice he says these things, but…"
"Sheer ignorance," Naoto finished with a sigh. "I know. Believe me, Major, I know. I've spent plenty of time working with other regiments who look down on my men and women because they're not 'pure'. I know the difference between malice and ignorance."
There was a brief moment of respectful silence, like the world was holding its breath.
And then the moment was gone, and Naoto was all business once again.
"Right, so, on to more pressing matters," he said slowly, and pressed one of the buttons on the electronic console in front of him. "Rei,are you there?"
On the video screen at the far end of the conference room, a small black square, outlined in green, appeared, bearing words marked in red saying Audio Only.
"I'm here, Commander, I'm here," Rei said, his tone somewhat hurried. "And not a minute too soon- I think she was starting to look for me."
Naoto blinked. "What?"
"Uh… nothing, nothing at all," Rei replied awkwardly, "So, shall we begin?"
Naoto thought about pressing the line of inquiry, but ultimately decided against it as he nodded crisply, and tapped the console again. Several more images appeared on the screen, minimizing Rei's audio box to a small corner. The profile on Clovis La Brittania was prominent on one side.
"We currently have Clovis La Brittania in our holding facility in Greenwich, though we're preparing to ship him to a more permanent location soon," Naoto explained, pressing a few keys on the console, "So far, he has been relatively uncooperative as to regarding his whereabouts over the past seven years, or who smuggled him and his men back into the country."
"Stubborn," Rei muttered, seemingly more to himself than to the others in the room.
"Indeed," Naoto agreed, shaking his head. "We have, however, gotten a name from him, as to the man who must have planted the bomb."
With a few audible clicks on the console keyboard, Clovis' picture was replaced with that of a grinning Brittanian with reddish-brown hair.
"Luciano Bradley," Sancia commented, reading the name over as the profile on him came onto their screens. "He's not on any of the lists of known Brittanian terrorists."
"That's because he hasn't been active in years," Rei cut in, his voice cold. "I remember the name. He was one of the primary instigators behind the Bloody Sunday riots, part of the group known as the True Knights of Brittania."
Naoto flicked a glance at the viewscreen. From the sound of Lelouch's voice, Naoto gathered that he did not approve of the group.
"That was the insurrection that attempted to take back power from the Empire, correct? The True Knights attacked several key locations in an effort to stir up a massive uprising that could have pushed out the Empire's occupying forces," Sancia questioned, bringing up articles on the riots on the screen. Headlines such as Death Toll Mounts In Bloody Sunday Riots and Japanese Government Declares Martial Law appeared.
"But the people did not rise up as they thought, and those so called knights instead cost the Brittanian people over three thousand lives," Rei answered coolly, though there was the barest hint of rage in his voice.
"According to the reports, this group, the True Knights, was led by the former Knight of One, Bismarck Waldstein," Naoto murmured, glancing over the man's profile, which had a large red mark over it reading Deceased. The picture, though dated, was that of a bear-like middle aged man, still fierce in his older years. "He was assassinated during the closing hours of the Riots. Luciano seems to have been one of his protégés. Do you think he's after revenge for his old master?"
"From the descriptions of him, the man doesn't seem to be the sentimental type," Minami noted, frowning. "We even have the psychological profile of him from the old Brittanian records- he seems like a textbook sociopath."
"Well right now he's one of the most dangerous men in this country," Naoto muttered, clenching his fist. "He arranged that entire hostage taking for some unknown purpose. We need to find him before he can do any more damage."
"Easier said than done. Any evidence was utterly incinerated in the explosion," Minami countered, shaking his head in despair. "And he has no known address nor any recent pictures of him, given that all we have is his name and the word of a prisoner that he was even there. How do we know this isn't all some wild goose chase to keep us from the real culprits?"
"It's real," Rei interrupted, "Clovis is desperate. He gave up the name so he can make a deal. He knows we need his information. Lying to us would only hurt his chances of making that deal."
"Well, we don't have to go on just the man's word," Naoto cut in, a hint of a smile on his face. With a tap of the console, he brought up the image of a bullet. "Some of our men were shot, and thankfully we kept the bullets. These aren't Japanese- they're of Atlantic Arms manufacture, specifically AHP rounds, military grade. Which just so happen to be illegal in the country."
"Which means smuggling," Rei murmured, comprehension dawning in his voice.
"Exactly," Naoto agreed, smiling wider now. "We follow the shell, we bring ourselves one step closer to the truth."
"That sounds more difficult than you make it sound, Naoto-san," Rei noted. "How quickly do you think you can track the bullet?"
"Sooner than you might think," Naoto replied, a hint of smugness in his voice. He might not be the strategic prodigy Lelouch was, but Naoto had his own strengths. "I have some contacts, and the police forces must know the names of the major smugglers. We'll be able to narrow down the supplier soon enough."
"Excellent. Please update me as soon as you know any more, and I can-" Rei began, and was about to say something else when an inaudible shout interrupted him and he quickly mumbled, "I'm sorry, I must go now."
And with that, the connection cut.
"Well that was strange," Naoto muttered, blinking. "I wonder who got his attention so abruptly?"
"Hey Lelouch-san!" Rivalz waved, running up to him in the break area of the campus building where he had been hiding, hoping to avoid any interruptions.
"Er… Rivalz-san," Lelouch said awkwardly, hastily shutting his phone and jamming it into his pocket warily. "Hello there."
"Sorry, were you talking to someone?" Rivalz said apologetically, giving him a questioning glance. "Just had to say, I love the Halloween Ball idea, even if Shirley here doesn't."
Coming up behind him, Lelouch noticed Shirley, who was standing just off behind Rivalz, who refused to meet his eyes for some odd reason.
"Ah… Thank you, Rivalz-san," Lelouch managed, offering them a weak smile. "And hello, Shirley-san. You haven't stopped by for your tutoring session in a few days- Takahara-sensei is beginning to grow concerned."
Shirley blinked, glancing away and trying to put up a skittish demeanor. "Ah… yes… well… I haven't felt very well over the past few days."
In reality, she had simply wanted to avoid Lelouch for a while. She still had yet to figure out her own goals, but she knew that she hadn't wanted to see him- unfortunately, to keep up the illusion of a normal girl, eventually she'd have to give in to the teacher's requests, she acknowledged.
"Well, I'm sorry to hear that," Lelouch said apologetically, inclining his head respectfully. "I hope you are feeling better now."
Shirley blinked again, caught off guard by the sincerity in his tone.
"I am," she agreed, deciding it couldn't hurt to be cordial. Didn't Darlton sound interested in Lelouch, after all? "I can make it today, if you're available."
"I am, and it would be my honor to help you," Lelouch said, smiling, hoping this was a sign that maybe she was willing to keep talking with him, keep listening to his pleas to forgive Japan.
In the background, Rivalz watched the exchange with a sly smile, slowly backing away without a word, wishing Shirley luck silently.
"Well, I should let you go-" Lelouch began, when suddenly, out of the corner of his eye, he caught a flash of green.
Oh crap C.C. followed me, he thought in horror.
On impulse, he reached out and grabbed Shirley's wrist, forcing out a weak smile. "Actually, why don't we get some lunch? Are you hungry? I'll bet you are- the cafeteria has a special today, on account of the president's return," he said quickly, voice up an octave from panic.
Without waiting for a reply, he pulled her along. He was managing this mostly because Shirley was so bewildered she didn't fight it until they were well down the hall, and when she finally did she only knocked his arm away with a bewildered look.
"What is wrong with you?" Shirley asked, confused.
"Uh… sorry," Lelouch said awkwardly, glancing away in shame. "I just needed… needed to get away from C.C."
"C.C.?" Shirley blinked, glancing around, not seeing the other girl around. "Why would you be running from her? Don't you live together?"
And then, feeling utterly foolish, Lelouch realized, in his panic, that yes, he did live with C.C., and thus there would be no escape from that witch.
"Uh… yes, yes I do," Lelouch acknowledged, still unable to meet Shirley's eyes. "I uh… just… didn't really want to get cornered- er, talk to her right now."
Shirley tilted her head, still confused, until her wandering eyes spotted one of the Halloween Ball fliers on the wall, and understood.
"Ooh… I see," Shirley said slowly, and an unusually wicked smile appeared on her face. "Trying to avoid having to ask her to the Ball?"
"What? No, I'm not… we're not… I just know that she's going to make my being forced to ask a girl to the ball a living nightmare," Lelouch muttered, shaking his head.
"So you don't want to take her, is that it?" Shirley questioned, oddly curious. "You two seem pretty close, so I'm surprised you're so adamant about not talking about this with her."
"Er…" Lelouch suddenly felt even more foolish than before. Okay, yes, C.C. scared him- a lot- but she was also the person who had cared for him after the downfall of Brittania, who had secured him a protector and brother figure in Jeremiah, who had guided him for the past seven years, who had even granted him the power to fight. "Okay, I'm dodging her a little bit too hard, I think. But you have no idea how scarily annoying that witch can be. A matter like this… I'd honestly prefer torture."
Shirley laughed at that, and Lelouch managed a smile.
"Well, I think that's the first time I've ever gotten a laugh from you, ever," Lelouch said with a small grin.
Shirley flushed, suddenly self conscious as she broke eye contact with him, wondering how she had let her defenses down so easily. Lelouch was still an idealistic idiot, after all.
"I… I should go," Shirley muttered, and brushed past him without another word, leaving a confused Lelouch in her wake.
Two kinds of silence reigned in the car. A brooding, dark silence which loomed as a sword of Damocles overhead, so large and overwhelming that it was almost palpable, and a second, slower and near stagnant silence of unspoken worry.
Milly, Suzaku, and Euphemia were making their way back inside the mansion after having left the government building, inside the limo. The cramped quarters of the car seemed even more claustrophobic with the weight of Suzaku's anger hanging over them all.
"Um… Suzaku-sama…" Euphemia began hesitantly, but a touch from Milly's hand and a shake of the other girl's head kept her quiet.
If Suzaku had heard her quiet inquiry, he did not acknowledge it, staring fixedly forward, hands pressed together under his chin, his expression reminding Euphemia distinctly of a gathering thunderstorm.
They stayed silent after that, all the way past when the limo arrived at the house, and even as they entered the mansion. It was only when they entered Suzaku's private rooms (Milly and Euphemia not wanting to leave him alone just yet) that the silence was broken, and in the most violent of ways as Suzaku neared his desk, where all his paperwork was done.
"DAMN IT!" Suzaku roared suddenly, hurling the contents on top of his desk down onto the floor with a such an expression that even Milly backed away slightly. His hands moved like lightning, sweeping back and forth across his desk, until it was totally clear.
"I wish he considered that someone else is going to be cleaning that up," Milly muttered, obviously having recovered from her momentary shock.
For her part, Euphemia just stood there, uncomprehending. She'd never seen Suzaku in such a rage before, and it honestly frightened her- not really of him, of course, as even now she didn't really believe he'd harm her, but just seeing that expression… like Suzaku wasn't really himself at that moment.
"Damn it all to hell," Suzaku swore, slamming his fists down on the desk with a thunderous blow.
"Right, bad meeting then?" Milly commented lightly, though she continued to keep her distance.
"You could say that," Suzaku muttered darkly, seemingly regaining his composure slightly as he straightened. He glanced over at them with an apologetic look. "Look… I'm sorry you guys. I shouldn't have gotten so worked up about that."
"That was a little weird," Milly replied, arching an eyebrow. Euphemia said nothing. "You okay, Suzaku-sama?"
"It's just stress," Suzaku said dismissively with a shake of his head. "The Imperial Council is putting the labor camp factories back in high gear, and Naoto said that if I try to resist it, the Empire will take away my rule over Brittania."
Milly winced. "Ouch."
Euphemia blinked, obviously confused. "Uh… labor camps?"
Suzaku glanced over at her, a hint of mirth in his eyes at her bewilderment, though it faded quickly as he spoke.
"Prisons, really. The Empire uses prisoners to provide Kirihara Industries with free labor for its factories- all in the name of the glory of the Empire, of course, while Minister Kirihara makes a tidy profit with all this free labor." His fists clenched, and his jaw was set tight in barely checked rage. "They exchange human lives and dignity for money."
"But… aren't they still prisoners? Criminals?" Euphemia questioned, her expression still one of bewilderment. "Don't they deserve it?"
Milly patted her on the shoulder gently, shaking her head as the other girl turned to meet her gaze.
"No, Euphie. Not all of them. You have to understand… a lot of things can count as a crime in the Empire. Here, in Brittania, it's not so bad, since Suzaku-sama rules here, but elsewhere…" she trailed off, obviously not wanting to continue with that line of thought. "It's no secret that you can be sent to the labor camps as punishment for the lightest of crimes, as long as they think you'll be useful at the camps."
"Husbands taken from wives for the crime of speaking out against the Empire. Sons taken from their mothers for being too uppity with a noble," Suzaku muttered bitterly. "Families ripped apart to feed the war machine of the Empire, just so some corporate bastards can line their pockets with a little more money."
"How awful," Euphemia whispered, eyes wide and hands clasped over her mouth in shock.
"And if they take Suzaku-sama's rule away, things will start to be like that here. Naoto-sama will try to rule fairly, but military rule means others above him can override his authority. At least with Suzaku-sama, even the Imperial Council has to at least play along sometimes," Milly finished, hand on her forehead as she shook her head. "What are you going to do, Suzaku-sama?"
Suzaku said nothing, though he flicked a significant glance at Euphemia, then at Milly.
Milly frowned, though she understood the sentiment. "Hey, Euphie-chan," she called out, "Why don't you go down to the kitchen and fetch us some snacks? That ought to calm our little prince down."
Euphemia blinked, confused, but Milly gave her a confident smile, and so the amnesiac princess nodded along, bowed, and left the room.
As she left, Milly slowly walked over to the door and shut it gently, clicking the lock in place afterward.
"So, we're going after one of the Kirihara Industries factories then?" Milly questioned, without turning around to face him.
"Yeah," Suzaku admitted quietly, falling back onto his bed, hands clasped as he glanced down at the floor contemplatively. "I've avoided attacking them yet because of their distance from the London area and because of how crazy things have gotten around here, but… if I can destroy at least one or two of these factories, I can put some pressure back on the Empire."
Milly sighed, shaking her head as she turned around. "I'll make the arrangements. We can say you're taking a leave of absence due to stress or something, and need to get out of the city for a while, inspecting the areas outside of the capitol"
"Thank you," Suzaku murmured, offering her a weak smile of gratitude.
"It's a maid's job to look after her master. Especially one who's embarking on a crazy crusade to save the world," Milly replied glibly.
Whenever Shirley imagined the face of the Japanese Empire, she always pictured the faceless, uniformed soldiers who she had seen in the streets the day her father was murdered. She imagined their leaders equally faceless, towering and cruel, like a dark monster atop a dread tower.
Meeting the Princess sort of ruined that for her.
"So you're Shirley Fenette-san, huh? Please to meet you!" Sumeragi Kaguya said happily, extending her hand out in a clearly foreign gesture to her. "I hope Lelouch-kun has been taking good care of you!"
Shirley awkwardly shook her hand and said nothing, hoping to play it off as shock from meeting such a celebrity. She had known that the Princess of the Empire was their school president and the founder of the academy, but had never met her face to face until today, when she had come to the Student Council room for her tutoring session.
"President, please, you're obviously making Shirley-san uncomfortable," Lelouch intervened, moving Shirley away from the princess. "We should get to work."
"Oh fine," Kaguya said with a huff, rolling her eyes as she all but tossed herself in her chair. "Where's C.C.-chan then, if you're going to be Mr. No Fun?"
"She's on cleaning duty today, with Kallen-san," Lelouch answered, as he set down a textbook on the table.
Kaguya sighed. "Oh well." And with that, she pulled out her PFP handheld gaming console, and a happy jingle began to play.
Lelouch gave her a long suffering look as he shook his head. "I guess that means I'll be doing the budget paperwork after we're finished here," he muttered, before turning back towards Shirley. "Let's get started then- I think we should start with your Japanese literature readings, since Takahara-sensei mentioned you've been behind on that."
They were maybe studying for ten minutes when a soft coughing sound was heard. Shirley blinked, but Lelouch steadfastly ignored it.
"Ah-hem," Kaguya said, a little louder.
"Alright, now this question is a little tricky, Shirley-san," Lelouch said, intentionally raising his voice to cover up the president's. "Did you understand the passage regarding Princess Murasaki?"
"AH-HEM," Kaguya repeated.
Shirley glanced over at Kaguya, obviously confused.
Lelouch tried to keep staring straight forward, but finally he sighed and stood. "Okay, what do you want, Madam President?"
"Oh, nothing really," Kaguya said, her smile all sweetness and innocence, "But now that you mention it, Lelouch-kun, my PFP is running out of batteries and I'm terribly parched. Would you mind running to the campus store downstairs and fetching me some new batteries and a drink?"
Lelouch gave Shirley an apologetic look as he nodded, an air of resignation in his movements. "I'll be right back," he murmured, and walked out the door.
As soon as he left, Kaguya jumped to her feet, clapping her hands delightedly.
"Well, now that he's gone, let's have some girl time, huh Shirley-chan? You don't mind if I call you Shirley-chan, right?" she asked, though it was clear the question was rhetorical.
"I… uh…" Shirley, bewildered, nodded weakly. "Sure?"
"Great!" Kaguya said happily. "Now, how do you feel about Lelouch-kun?"
Shirley face-faulted onto the ground in shock. As she picked herself back up, she managed, red-faced, "W-What? What do you mean?"
"Oh, well, I just thought, handsome boy and an Ill Girl, perfect setup! Just like that one arc in Destiny/Stop Twilight! Or maybe more like one of those visual novels by Kagi studios!" Kaguya exclaimed manically, leaning forward over the table, until her face was barely an inch away from Shirley's. "So? Do you think he's cute?"
"I… he… we're just…" Shirley sputtered, trying to back away, but Kaguya's face only seemed to loom larger in her vision. "We're just friends. Sort of. I mean, he's really annoying, but he's not all that bad I guess and why are we talking about this again?"
Kaguya giggled. "Because gossip is the foundation of a girl's friendship, silly! And I think you and I would be great friends!"
Except I'm a terrorist and you're the princess of the enemy nation, Shirley thought mentally, and then pushed it aside. Gino and the Commander both wanted her to gather up some information- what could be better than being friends with one of the most important people in the Empire?
"Sure… we can be friends," Shirley said slowly, feeling slightly awkward. "But uh… we don't really have to talk about Lelouch, do we?"
Kaguya shrugged. "Sure. So he's not your type then?"
"No way," Shirley said firmly. "He's too… smug. And idealistic."
"He does have those moments," Kaguya agreed, shaking her head. "But you have to admit, it's kind of endearing, how he keeps trying to save the world without compromise."
"It's idiotic. Nobody can save the world, and thinking you can just make everyone happy without sacrifices is…" Shirley trailed off, biting her lip. If you could fight without sacrifices, that would make all the lives she'd taken as a terrorist meaningless. And that… that was something she couldn't accept.
Kaguya smiled understandingly, and patted her on the hand gently. There was a minute of precious, contemplative silence.
"Sorry to get all serious," Shirley said suddenly, shaking her head. "It's just…"
"I get it," Kaguya interrupted kindly, sounding far wiser than her youthful appearance. "But so, other than his idealism and his habit of snarking at any given opportunity, you have to admit, Lelouch-kun is handsome."
"If you like thin pretty boys," Shirley muttered, more to herself than anyone else.
"So you think he's pretty?" Kaguya cut in, moving closer, like a bloodhound catching a scent.
"I… er…" Shirley flushed, cheeks feeling red hot as she squirmed in her seat, pointedly not looking anywhere near Kaguya. "That's not… I mean…"
They were interrupted by the sound of the door opening, which caused Shirley to nearly jump right out of her seat in complete surprise.
"Sorry," Lelouch apologized, looking concerned as he stepped back inside the room, one hand clutching at plastic bag. "Did I startle you?"
Shirley met Kaguya's eyes, and, without warning, in unison, they both let out a soft giggle.
Lelouch blinked, confused, and opened his mouth to ask what was going on. After a moment, he changed his mind and decided just to accept the weirdness that was the fairer sex, and again noted he really did have to talk to Suzaku to get a better understanding of girls.
Elsewhere, Kallen was considering how weird one specific member of her sex was, as she glanced at C.C. out of the corner of her eye as she finished wiping down the whiteboard with the rag. They had done most of the cleaning thus far in relative silence, except occasionally asking the other to pass a tool of some sort, even though Kallen had a few fleeting impulses to try and spark up a conversation that ultimately fell flat.
Still, Kallen felt like she had to say something, to try and connect with the other girl. C.C. was friends with both Kaguya and Lelouch (heck, she lived with the last one), and if they were going to be working together on the Student Council, getting to know one another wouldn't be a bad idea.
"S-so… you live with Lelouch-san?" Kallen immediately bit on her lip. What a dumb question.
And true to form, C.C. turned towards her, the broom in her hands stilling, arching her eyebrow in a clear indicator of how pointless that question was.
"Yes," she answered anyway, "We live with Lelouch's legal guardian, who owns a bakery."
"A bakery?" Kallen blinked- now that was something Lelouch had never mentioned. "That sounds interesting. Do you two help out?"
"Occasionally." C.C. paused, setting the broom down as she walked on over to her desk, reaching into her bag for a small, foil wrapped package. Sedately, with the air of one presenting another with a great gift, she walked back over to Kallen and all but thrust the package at her. "Here. This is one of mine."
Kallen, bewildered, took the foil package and opened it up to find a curious looking piece of bread. She looked at it for a moment, then up at C.C., who stared at her expectantly. Finally, with a little bit of trepidation, she took a bite out of it-
"Wow, this is really good," Kallen said in wonderment, eyes widening in amazement.
C.C. smirked. "Of course it is. It's my own personal recipe. Feel free to stop by the bakery and pick up a few more, and tell your friends."
"You're a lot more enthusiastic about this than I would have guessed, C.C.-san," Kallen commented, as she munched on the pizza bread. "It's quite admirable."
C.C. merely shrugged.
"I find it an acceptable way of passing the time. And are you going to keep dancing around the topic or are you going to ask about my relationship with Lelouch?" she added, almost as an afterthought.
Kallen, who, despite having spent a bulk of her recent years as a career soldier, was still relatively used to Japanese-style discretion on such matters, blinked and flushed, caught. "Well.. I… living together when you're not related just seems… it's unique, I mean."
"You and your Prince live together, or so I've heard," C.C. replied smoothly, smiling as she peered over at the redhead with a hooded look.
"Well that… I mean… I don't even live in the same wing of the mansion as him!" she protested hotly. "And it's only because the Imperial Council ordered it!"
"Mmmhmm," C.C. murmured, smiling widely.
Kallen rolled her eyes. "I can see why Kaguya likes you so much- you two must be terrifying together."
"Kaguya is a girl wiser than her years," C.C. replied mystically, her smile only widening. "And you'll see what we're capable of, now that you're part of our Student Council."
She cackled then in an obviously fake Noblewoman's Laugh, holding one hand over her mouth.
Kallen shook her head, turning away, unsure of how to deal with the strange green haired girl, though her lips twitched into a smile as soon as her back was turned.
And it was only because she had turned and was standing close to the window that she spotted the unmistakable lanky, dark haired figure of her older brother Naoto lounging by the school gate.
"What is he doing here-" she muttered, when she realized something else.
There were half a dozen girls crowded around him, preening and giggling in a manner that creeped Kallen out because that was her older brother and not some pop star to be stared at!
Without thinking, she dashed out of the classroom, leaving a bemused C.C. in her wake.
"Well, she's interesting," C.C. murmured.
She tilted her head to the side, as though she heard a reply to her comment.
"Yes, I suppose she does remind me a little of you, though far less… is crazy still an acceptable insult?" C.C. questioned, lips twitching. "Plus she likes my pizza bread. That's always a plus… no, I am not being petty. You insisted burgers were better than pizza. That's crazy in my book."
"He's so handsome! You're Kallen-sama's older brother, right?" one of the girls questioned, peering up at him with flushed cheeks.
"You're in the military right! You must be really strong!" another girl exclaimed, reaching and clutching at the fabrics of his sleeve.
"Do you have a girlfriend?" a third asked, resulting in titters of giggling shock from the other girls around her.
"Girls, girls, please, I'm just here to see my sister." Naoto raised his hands in a placating gesture, but it was ruined somewhat by his rather pleased grin at the attention.
"Onii-chan, what are you doing!" Kallen all but shrieked as she pushed through the crowd, hands on her hips as she gave him a fierce glare. Without waiting for a reply, she whirled on the crowd of girls. "Shouldn't all of you be going somewhere else?"
Maybe it was her reputation, maybe it was just the forcefulness in her voice, but the girls scattered like dead leaves in the wind at her behest.
"Hey little sister, what have you done?" Naoto complained, watching the girls disperse with a forlorn look.
"Aren't you a little old to be hitting on schoolgirls? It's creepy," Kallen muttered, punching him in the arm. "And what are you doing here anyway?"
Naoto frowned, suddenly looking reluctant. "Let's talk somewhere else. I saw a taiyaki stand on my way over here."
"You know, I'm not a kid anymore, and we don't need to have a snack every time you want to talk," Kallen scowled, though she followed her brother out of the school obediently nonetheless.
"Hey little sister, who is the older one?" Naoto quipped with a boyish grin, jamming his hands into his pockets. He had changed out of his customary uniform and into standard street clothes- a windbreaker jacket, slacks, and a nondescript t-shirt. "Besides, I never said the taiyaki was for you."
Kallen rolled her eyes. "Sometimes I wonder which of us should have been the older one."
Naoto only smiled pleasantly and whistled until they reached the taiyaki stand.
"Two please," he requested, holding his hand up and flashing the number with his hands as well. After exchanging his money for the items, he grinned happily, passing one paper-wrapped pastry off to Kallen as he bit into the other one. "Delicious."
As they walked away from the stand, Kallen simply held the taiyaki in her hands and kept looking over at her brother, studying him. "So what's wrong?" she asked, frowning. "And don't say nothing, because the last time you bought me taiyaki like this, you were trying to avoid telling me your term of conscription in the army had come up."
"Right, well, you were cuter back then, you know that? Always following me around, copying everything I did with that same serious expression on your face," Naoto chuckled wistfully. "I remember you actually tried to hide yourself in my suitcase the day I left for basic training."
"I was a kid!" Kallen protested hotly, puffing her cheeks out in indignation. "And you're still dodging the question!"
Naoto sighed, glancing down at his feet with a conflicted look.
"I wish things were still that simple," he muttered, biting off another helping of his taiyaki.
Kallen's irritation faded at that, and, tentatively, she murmured, "Onii-chan… what happened?"
"I need you to talk with Suzaku for me," Naoto answered quietly. "We had… a disagreement. Political. Neither of us was really wrong, so I don't think either of us should apologize… but I still want to let him know it's nothing personal. Try to get him to understand that."
"I'm sure he understands, Onii-chan," Kallen said comfortingly, taking her first bite of the taiyaki and glancing upwards with a pensive look. "Suzaku's never been one to hold a grudge. He probably just got too hot-headed, that dumbass. But I'll talk to him anyways…"
She trailed off, suddenly remembering Kaguya's declaration.
"Oh, don't worry about finding a date, Kallen-chan! My dear cousin will be taking you, have no worries. It's his duty as your arranged marriage partner! I've already begun making arrangements."
Kallen's face suddenly heated up and she felt queasy. Kaguya said arrangements…oh god that could mean so many things. Dozens of nightmarish scenarios crossed her mind, each more mortifying than the last.
Naoto noticed her sudden silence and glanced over at her, chewing on the last of his taiyaki. "What's with you going silent now?"
"N-Nothing!" Kallen said quickly, still flushed. "I'll talk to him, alright! Just leave it alone, Onii-chan!"
Maybe Suzaku will have a way out of this…
"Alright, well, I think that will do for today, Shirley-san," Lelouch said, sounding satisfied as he shut the textbook with a smile. "You did very well today."
"Ah… thank you," Shirley said, not meeting Lelouch's approving gaze as she stood, packing the last of her books into her bag. "I'll see you tomorrow then."
"Ah, tomorrow," Lelouch agreed, waving.
"Bye-bye Shirley-chan! It was nice meeting you!" Kaguya exclaimed, like an overly excited child.
As Shirley shut the door, she heard Lelouch's long suffering sigh and giggled, walking out of the building with an unusually light heart. As she exited the campus, her phone began to ring.
"Shirley," she said in greeting, her tone all business again.
"Yo, Red. How's things on the home front?" Gino chirped.
"Hey boss," Shirley muttered, ducking away into a deserted alley to continue the conversation. "Are you still… you know?"
"At the Bastion? Yeah- hey listen, real quick, since this line isn't super secre," Gino said briskly, his tone sounding unusually rushed. "We're going to be coming back by the end of this week, and the Commander wants to see you. I'll let you know more later, but just be ready, alright Red?"
Without waiting for a reply, the phone clicked off, leaving Shirley bewildered and anxious. The Commander wanted to see her? Well, that was alright- Cornelia had already mentioned they would be meeting soon. But still… what could it be about?
And there was still her report on Lelouch to think about.
General Darlton had said it was something she would have to talk to the Commander in person about, and made it expressly clear she wasn't to talk about it before that. Even now, Shirley still wasn't sure what to make of Lelouch, and the Commander's implied interest in her tutor only made things more confusing- what could the Vice President of the Sumeragi Academy have to do with the Commander of the Brittanian liberation Front? Yes, he might be the mysterious terrorist Jinchuu, but Shirley's gut told her it was more than that.
Too many questions, not enough answers.
With a frustrated sigh, Shirley put her phone away, and started on her way home.
Suzaku sighed tiredly as he slumped onto his bed, one hand over his face, palm facing upwards.
He had spent the past hour going over a possible travel itinerary Milly cooked up so he could conceivably and unnoticeably travel away from London for a week and be able to strike at one of the Empire's factories, and only after what seemed to Suzaku like an exhaustive interrogation was the blonde satisfied his cover was secure.
How Milly was able to do that so quickly… well, Suzaku had long ago given up trying to figure out how Milly managed to do all these things while acting like a complete lunatic.
A knock at his door brought Suzaku's attention back to his surroundings, and he sat up.
"Door's open," he called out.
The door creaked, and Kallen poked her head inside, looking oddly skittish. "Hey… is this a good time to talk?"
Suzaku blinked. "Yeah… sure, come on in," he said quickly, waving her in. "What's up?"
Kallen waited until she had taken a seat at his desk, sitting on the edges of it rather than taking the chair. "I uh… heard about the meeting."
Suzaku's expression changed, and he looked away. "Oh."
"Yeah," Kallen agreed, also looking down at the floor, tapping her fingers against the wood. "I just wanted to see if you were doing okay- I know the camps have been your pet project for years, and the way my brother put it…"
"You heard the council was thinking of taking away my authority?" Suzaku muttered bitterly, scowling. "I know it wasn't Naoto's idea, or his fault… but I just… I just got so angry."
Kallen flicked a glance over at him, as if weighing a thought in her head. Finally, almost reluctantly, she commented, "Yeah, I have noticed that… Um… Are you okay by the way? You never used to get so worked up before."
"Just stress," Suzaku said dismissively, shaking his head. "I'm fine."
"You sure?" Kallen kept looking at him, biting her lip, but finally she nodded in acceptance and looked away. "Alright then."
The two of them fell into a companionable silence then, and Kallen's fingers continued to beat out a slow drumming against the wood the table as her other hand moved and accidentally landed on a small, formal white envelope emblazoned with a familiar insignia.
"Hey, when did you get a letter from Kaguya?" Kallen questioned, blinking in confusion, holding the letter up.
Suzaku shrugged, nonplussed. "Milly must have brought it in with the rest of my personal mail and forgot to let me know about it." He held out a hand, and took the letter as he was handed it. "I wonder what it's about…"
As Suzaku opened up the letter, Kallen suddenly remembered the other reason she had come to talk to him, and a chill went into her veins.
"I am hereby ordered to attend a formal ball on the 31st of October… what? Why… and with a date?" Suzaku sputtered, looking up at her from the paper with an expression of pure disconcertion, like he was hearing a foreign language. "We're supposed to attend a dance… together? You and me?"
Kallen refused to meet his eyes, her cheeks nearly as red as her hair. "… yeah."
Suzaku stared at her, saying nothing, as if trying to will the situation away silently.
"Look it wasn't my idea!" Kallen protested, crossing her arms with a huff. "Couldn't you talk to her? Maybe convince her to change her mind?"
"Are you crazy? It's Kaguya- I try to change her mind and I'll somehow end up modeling her dress for her again!" Suzaku ranted, much to Kallen's amusement- that had been a pretty funny day, after all.
Suzaku scowled at her laughter, tossing the letter away with an irritated expression. "But come on… why would she do this? I don't want to go to some ridiculous dance with you, Kallen… it'd just be weird," Suzaku muttered, and unthinkingly, he added, "I mean, you'd have to go in a dress… and like that would ever happen, right? Heck, it'd be like going with another guy!"
All of a sudden, Kallen's laughter faded, and she raised a single eyebrow at him archly, fixing him with a stare. "And just what does that mean?"
All of Suzaku's instincts screamed at him to flee, and he felt a sweat break out. "I uh…" Suzaku stammered, realizing he had gone too far, "I mean… I didn't mean…"
"What, so I'm not a girl?" Kallen demanded, all but leaping off the desk as she planted her hands on her hips with a narrow look. "I can't wear a dress? Or look nice? Am I that horrible that you'd rather go with a guy?"
"No, I mean… what, I thought you didn't want to go! You think it would be weird too, right? So why are you getting angry at me!" Suzaku shot back, bewildered but determined not to back down.
"Because there's a difference between agreeing and being insulted!" Kallen snarled, and whirled away with her nose high in the air in a clear expression of disdain. "You should learn how to talk to a girl!"
"What… you…" Suzaku sputtered again, trying to follow the train of logic that had led to this unexpected argument. "You don't make any sense! You're my best friend! It'd be almost creepy, like going to the ball with Lelouch or something!"
"And what does that mean?"
Oh, that was not the right thing to say, was it? Suzaku thought distantly, as though watching himself from a distance.
"Suzaku...you… you idiot!" Kallen snapped, kicking him straight in the shin and storming out of the room with a huff, leaving him howling in pain and clutching his knee.
As Kallen left, Milly, who had obviously been outside, poked her head in and gave him a sympathetic look.
"Well you screwed the pooch on that one, Suzaku-sama," she commented lightly.
"You think?" Suzaku muttered, staggering back to his feet. "What did I say?"
Milly said nothing, staring at him for a long while, before breaking out into a soft giggle. "Oh, Suzaku-sama. You're still so innocent."
And with another tittering laugh, she wandered off, the second girl in under a minute to leave Suzaku bewildered, though at least Milly hadn't hit him.
How does Lelouch talk to girls so easily, Suzaku thought wearily, and started to limp out of his room, intent on finding some ice and maybe a manual on the female mind.
Okay, I admit, I was dipping hard into my crack-fic writing style during a lot of this chapter, but hey, I wanted to show off the lighter side of things that could be done only with Kaguya around.
Paradoxically, of course, I also know (from all your feedback) that I needed to establish Japan as more of an antagonist than I had been. I had always been planning on introducing the labor camps after the initial introduction arc (there's some small mention of them in Chapter 1), which just took up far more time than I anticipated. (To be clear, I was expecting to release the Halloween Ball event that I mention only THIS chapter on Halloween itself- as in the actual dance itself. That's how badly last chapter screwed my schedule)
This chapter also had a lot more scenes than this, but unfortunately I spent too long on this one specific day and thus I had to push back the rest of the scenes to a new chapter, in the interest of not having a 20,000 word chapter and creating another long wait.