When you were young
And your heart was an open book

You used to say, "Live and let live"
(You know you did, you know you did, you know you did)
But if this ever-changing world in which we live in
Makes you give in and cry

Say live and let die

-"Live and Let Die", Paul McCartney & the Wings

Chapter 13

Mars Rising

"Commander Kouzuki, welcome aboard the Murasaki."

"Captain Shiroyama. It's a pleasure." Naoto saluted back primly, standing at attention, offering the man a gesture of subordinate respect.

While Naoto was nominally the highest ranking officer on this mission, Captain Shiroyama Hazuki was still the commanding officer aboard this vessel, and would have to be deferred to until they arrived in France.

Shiroyama gave him a brief once-over, as one soldier to another, as he lowered the salute, obviously wondering whether or not Naoto's age was a hindrance to his ability. The captain was a large, rough looking man with a graying, unkempt beard and mustache, with what seemed like a permanently furrowed brow beneath his uniform's white and blue naval cap.

Behind Naoto stood Sancia and then the rest of his company commanders and staff, all of them dressed formally for the occasion, just as Shiroyama's own second in command and staff officers were behind him in a line.

"Your reputation precedes you, Commander," Shiroyama complimented, folding his arms behind his back. "I've heard a great deal about your exploits."

"And yourself, Captain," Naoto responded politely, bowing his head, knowing how the game was played. "The Murasaki is the pride of the Seventh Fleet. It's an honor to be onboard the ship that delivered the final blow to the Brittanian super-carrier The Emperor's Fist."

Shiroyama preened, and Naoto was grateful Sancia had taken the time to give him a profile of the man. Shiroyama was a decorated, seasoned officer, but not one of noble blood or a hero of any major battle, meaning any promotion above captain was unlikely. Yet the man was proud to a fault about his ship's history, and easily flattered.

"Yes, well, you know your history, Commander," Shiroyama coughed, "We will make port at Dunkirk at 1800 hours. Please, join me for lunch- I'm sure we have much to discuss."

"It would be my honor, Captain," Naoto replied. Before they could continue, another voice interrupted.

"Ah, Naoto-san. It's good to see you again," came a cultured voice from behind the Captain, and the row of uniformed navy officers parted to reveal a young man, maybe a year or two older than Naoto himself, dressed in archaic, Japanese fashion- geta sandals and socks, a beige hakama with a matching kimono, and a darker brown haori worn over it. Emblazoned over the back, Naoto knew, was an emblem of a Tiger Lily- the crest of the House of Kirihara, of the Six Houses of Kyoto.

Naoto stiffened and bowed formally at the waist, as did Captain Shiroyama and everyone else on deck.

"Kaname-sama," he said softly, not daring to meet the man's eyes.

"Please, Naoto-san, you're embarrassing me. All of you, up, up."

Slowly, everyone broke their formal bowing stance and raised their heads up to see the smiling, aristocratic features of Kirihara Kaname.

His features were delicate, almost girlishly so, with high cheekbones and long, silky black hair, and deep brown eyes that Naoto had personally seen more than one woman literally trip over themselves when he stared at them. Someone had once nicknamed him Hikaru no Kaname, after the old tale of Hikaru no Genji, and the nickname had stuck over the years.

But beneath all that appearance of beauty and gentleness was a heart as cold and hard as steel, Naoto knew.

Kaname was the grandson of Kirihara Taizou, and the sole heir to all the power and wealth of his grandfather's corporation and house. His parents and older brother, Ryousuke, had died over five years ago in a mysterious fire at their family estate, when Kaname had been conspicuously out of the country, skiing in Hokkaido with a few close friends who could and did vouch for his presence during the entirety of the trip.

His grandfather Taizou himself should have been at the estate that night, but for an emergency board meeting at Kirihara Industries that called him away at the last moment.

So sad, too bad, leaving Kaname without any competition for his grandfather Taizou's nearly unlimited political influence, and, if things had been different, no opposition to becoming the new chairman and CEO of Kirihara Industries.

Since then Kaname's rise in the world had been nothing short of meteoric, with enemies and obstacles simply vanishing away, all the while leaving the gentle Kaname free to acquire more and more power without a single accusation being voiced of foul play, until he had reached the position of Representative of the Diet at the tender age of thirty, liaising directly with the Imperial Council for the Diet of Japan.

There was no one scarier right now in the Empire, in Naoto's eyes. To cross him was to invite death- only the members of the Imperial Council and the Divine Emperor Himself were above the reach of Hikaru no Kaname, it was said.

"How long has it been since we've seen each other, Naoto-san?" Kaname questioned, moving until he was only a foot away from the younger man. "Must be… three years? You were still a Captain then. Congratulations on your promotion."

"Many thanks, Kaname-sama," Naoto responded mechanically, bowing again. "And to you as well, for your successful reelection to the Diet this year."

"My opponent fought an admirable race," Kaname said silkily. "It's a shame he decided to drop out halfway through after that indecent scandal with his secretary. Really, for a man like that to cheat on his wife of twenty years…"

"A shame," Naoto agreed, though there was no sincerity to his tone. He had no doubt that whoever Kaname's opponent was, that secretary had probably seduced him on Kaname's orders.

When they were children, Kaname had always cheated at every game, every test, as far as Naoto knew, without exception.

Not because he didn't have the ability to win fairly, because in reality Kaname was probably smarter than anyone else around at the time and was athletic enough to have served in the military, but simply because he could cheat and get away with it.

"And this must be your Lieutenant. She's even prettier than I heard," Kaname continued, stepping past Naoto and right up to Sancia with a smile. Slowly, he reached out and absently took one of Sancia's locks into his hand and pressed a light kiss into it. "It must be absolutely wonderful to work alongside such beauty."

Naoto refused to believe that Sancia's cheeks had reddened, and inwardly he seethed at the very thought of Kaname eyeing his Lieutenant like a piece of meat.

"I apologize for cutting the pleasantries short, but I think we've all had enough of standing out in the middle of the ocean on a cold fall day," Naoto said roughly, doing his best to hide a scowl. "And I'm sure Captain Shiroyama would like to get moving- we have a schedule to keep."

"Of course, Commander. I forgot myself," Kaname said lightly, still smiling at Sancia as he released the lock of her hair in his hands. "Please. Let us go below. The Captain has been kind enough to prepare a meal in the officer's mess."

"Lead the way," Naoto said tersely. This is going to be a long trip…

00000

Lelouch was woken up abruptly on what was supposed to be a sleepy, relaxing Sunday morning after he had spent all night drafting contingency plans and security details for Naoto by the sound of his phone ringing.

Dazed and feeling distinctly bitter about the world, Lelouch groped around bleary eyed for his phone, finally landing his hand on his nightstand after a few moments of reorienting himself.

Wallet, keys… damn, where is my- his fingers finally grasped the object he was seeking, and Lelouch flipped open his phone and said tiredly, "Yes?"

"Good morning, Lelouch-kun!"

Dear God in Heaven, no. Lelouch felt like crying.

"… Kaguya, it's Sunday," Lelouch said quietly, dropping his usual habit of calling her only by her title for once as he shut his eyes. "We agreed you would never, ever bother me about Student Council business on Sundays. It was one of my conditions for becoming Vice President."

"This isn't Student Council business silly!" Kaguya responded sweetly. "I just want you to turn on your television set in a few minutes, and set it to channel two. I promise, it'll be worth it."

Without waiting for a reply, Kaguya hung up, and Lelouch stared blankly at his phone as the dial came on.

For a few moments, Lelouch really contemplated ignoring Kaguya's words and descending back into the welcoming siren song of sleep. However, in the end, he knew in his heart that Kaguya was much smarter than she let on, and even her silliest ideas often had some kind of deeper benefit.

Sighing, Lelouch grabbed the remote of his nightstand and turned on the small television in his room, shifting so he was more comfortable in his bed.

Immediately, a loud, cheerful voice filled the room from the television.

"And now the latest toy from Aperture Enrichment- the Companion Cube, the perfect gift for boys and girls of all ages. Get yours now!"

"Commercials," Lelouch muttered, rolling his eyes.

The commercial faded, and was replaced by the cheerful chimes of the morning news.

"Welcome to Nippon News. I'm your lovely host, Kazumi Asakura," said a pretty, twenty-something woman in a sharp business suit jacket and white blouse shirt sitting at a large, wood-paneled desk. "We begin with our continuing coverage of the crisis in the northern Chinese territory of the Empire, where our sovereign territory was invaded by what has been stated to be rogue elements from the Eurasian Federation. Today a diplomatic envoy from our territory in Brittania, headed up by Representative of the Diet Kirihara Kaname and Commander Kouzuki Naoto of the 75th Armored Regiment. Connecting to us live via video conference to talk about this issue and honoring us with her presence is her highness Princess Sumeragi Kaguya."

Lelouch raised an eyebrow. Well, at least that explained why she called.

Kaguya's smiling face took up one half of the screen at that point, creating a split screen view between the reporter and the princess. She was wearing her usual formal kimono for these situations, a mostly white outfit with outlines of purple and light red.

"It's good to be back on the show, Kazumi-chan," Kaguya said cheerily.

"We're always happy to have you, highness," Kazumi responded immediately, bowing her head politely. "And the public greatly desires the word of the Imperial family in this terrible crisis."

"Well, I cannot speak for my honored uncle, the Emperor, or my cousin Prince Suzaku," Kaguya began slowly, her tone never losing its charm or cheer, "But I myself have a few words to say to the public."

"Please, go on," Kazumi insisted politely.

Kaguya stared directly forward, and Lelouch knew it was a trick of the camera angle, but it seemed as though she was looking right at him- and, Lelouch knew, it would seem that way to everyone else watching the news at this moment.

Her savant-level talent for touching the hearts of the people is as impressive as always, Lelouch acknowledged with a wry smile.

"Everyone," Kaguya began softly, her tone earnest and pure, "I know right now we are all grieving over the deaths of our brave soldiers, whose wrongful deaths will be remembered as prideful defenders of our great empire. But do not let your heart be stirred with anger, for in that lies the deaths of many more of our beloved sons and brothers and fathers. We will have justice for our dead, but I urge you to remember that temperance, like justice, is also a virtue of heaven. We who carry the justice and judgment of heaven, guided by the divine will of the gods, must never let ourselves be too willing to shed blood."

It was hard to see the silly, rambunctious school president (and perpetual headache) in this solemn, stately peacemaker. Her ability to switch between these two personas was fairly astonishing, really.

"In the weeks to come I feel we will be tested like never before, and I am confident you will rise to the challenge like true citizens of the Empire, with courage and grace that befits our status as the bringers of heaven's will."

There was a long, still pause charged with terse energy,

"Nice work, president…" Lelouch murmured, smiling faintly. In just a few minutes Kaguya had taken this crisis and made it into a test of morals, not arms.

Moments like these gave Lelouch some small hope that real peace, not this false, uneasy ceasefire amongst the nations of the world, could be achieved.

"She looks good on the television, doesn't she?" came a silky, feminine voice from the doorway.

Lelouch met C.C.'s gaze with a raised eyebrow.

"I wasn't aware you cared about the news," Lelouch commented with vague amusement.

C.C. gave a little 'humph' in reply, and sliding further into the room, dressed comfortably in a blouse and knee length skirt. "It's always nice to know someone famous."

"You've known people I'm reading about in history textbooks," Lelouch reminded her wryly. "Though I guess that's to be expected when you're-"

"It's not nice to talk about a woman's age like that," C.C. chided, bopping him on the nose in retribution- an old habit she had started when he was about eleven, whenever he got too 'uppity' with her.

"I hate when you do that," Lelouch muttered, rubbing his nose absently.

C.C. smirked and responded absently, "So, what's on the agenda for today, boya? More scheming on how to save the world from your own countrymen?"

"Actually, a chess game," Lelouch replied, smirking back, much to C.C.'s surprise. "Rivalz-san found some games in a park. He insisted I come out and see them with him today."

"Hooo? Making new friends, are we?" C.C. said, chuckling. "Well I guess it's good for you to have more friends. Might make you less neurotic."

"I am not neurotic," Lelouch refuted, scowling now. "I am a perfectly functional human being."

"Perfectly functional human beings don't dress up in masks and capes," C.C. reminded him.

"Oh shut up," Lelouch muttered.

00000

"Well now that was just a lovely little speech, hmm?"

Luciano grinned as he reclined against the couch, his feet resting heel first on top of the wooden table in front of him as he took a large bite out of the apple in his hands, watching the television screen with interest as Princess Kaguya continued speaking. He was dressed in a nondescript two piece black suit with a matching tie and white undershirt, and a large beige trenchcoat over the ensemble.

As he chewed audibly on the fruit, he listened in almost thoughtfully, considering every word, and by the time he had swallowed, he finally looked away, glancing over at the other occupants of the room.

"Oh come on, don't be silent, Takeshi- tell me what you think about miss peace princess's little speech!" Luciano said cheerily. "I'm sure you and your wife have plenty to say on the subject."

There was a muffled grunt in response, and Luciano grinned. "Oh, right, the gags."

The man, Takeshi, and his wife, were a pretty average looking Japanese couple- Takeshi was slim, with cropped black hair and a strong jaw. His wife (Luciano could not recall her name) was a long haired woman of around forty who probably was fairly beautiful once, but age and children had given her a plump, well lived look.

The two of them were handcuffed tightly against two wooden chairs taken from the table, with dirty cloth rags keeping them gagged and unable to talk. The two of them were dressed only in their sleeping clothes, hair mussed, faces bruised and bloody from an obvious beating.

"Well, I guess it's no matter. Just another thing I'll have to take care of later," Luciano muttered, shrugging as he lazily sat up from the couch, cracking his neck as he did so. "Well, I think the cleanup crew is outside waiting, so I guess it's time to finish the job."

Takeshi's grunting grew in volume, his attempts at breaking away from his bindings growing more and more violent. His wife, on the other hand, merely sobbed in silence, tears running down and across a colorful variety of bruises and cuts, staining the cloth in her mouth.

"Oh come on," Luciano said, chuckling slightly, "It's no hard feelings here, Takeshi. You had to have known that I'd find out about your little attempts at stealing my product. It's called copyright infringement. You know how I operate- your kids were just casualties of war."

Takeshi glared defiantly at him, and, on impulse, Luciano pulled the gag off. "What was that?"

In response, Takeshi spat in his face. "I said, I'm going to kill you."

"I think that's going to be hard, what with you in the chair and me with a gun," Luciano responded, smiling sweetly as he removed the slim pistol from within the pocket of his trenchcoat. A professional, military-grade silencer was affixed to the front.

"You killed my daughter you sick bastard," Takeshi snarled in reply, straining against his metal bonds. His voice was strained and every word sounded as though it was a shout reduced to a whisper (Luciano vaguely remembered breaking one or two of the man's ribs, which probably explained the shortness of breath). "You slit her throat and made me watch her die while your men beat me to the ground."

"Well, like I said, I have a business to protect. I let one eight year old girl live, I have to let them all live when I go to their father's house to murder his family," Luciano responded carelessly, his eyes unrepentantly gleeful.

"You told me you'd leave her alone if I told you the passcode to disable the factory security system!" Takeshi screamed, and if it wasn't for his men waiting outside, Luciano might have been worried about attracting attention.

"Well I was lying, duh," Luciano said, as if it were obvious, rolling his eyes. "You're in charge of the factory here in Dudley, and you're the one trying to copy my product, Reaper, and undercut me. Of course I'm going to kill you first."

He leaned back and straightened, smiling widely. "Now! Tell me, what do people value most in life, Mister Takeshi?"

"Go to Hell," Takeshi spat, his saliva mixed with blood as it landed against Luciano's cheek.

"Not the usual answer, but okay," Luciano said with a shrug, and shot him and his wife in the head, once each.

As he moved away, placing the gun back inside of his coat, he glanced one more time at the television, where Japan's princess continued talking about peace and temperance in the face of war.

The boss isn't gonna like some brat poking holes in our plan with all her talk about love and peace and all that crap, Luciano thought absently, wiping a speck of blood that had landed on his coat away.

"Might have to do something about that little girl," Luciano said thoughtfully, stepping gingerly over the bodies as he walked out of the house, whistling a jaunty tune.

Marika, who was waiting just outside the door, inkling her head respectfully as he passed. "Sir, have you finished your business?"

"Yup," Luciano answered casually, thrusting his hands inside his trenchcoat.

"Very good sir. Are we proceeding with stage two of the operation then?" Marika questioned, raising an eyebrow.

"Not just yet," Luciano replied, still humming under his breath. "According to Takeshi, the lab works nights, so, let's take in a show or whatever it is they do around here. We've got time to kill."

00000

"I can't believe you were blushing over that guy," Naoto muttered, quietly enough that only the person right next to him could hear.

Sancia flushed ever so slightly. "I have no idea what you're talking about."

The two of them, along with Captain Shiroyama and Kirihara Kaname were seated around a large, ornate wooden table with a white table cloth. Normally, someone of Sancia's blood and rank would not have been allowed to dine with the captain of a Japanese ship, but Kaname had insisted she be allowed to join, overriding all protests with a smile.

"So," Kaname began pleasantly, picking at his plate with a pair of chopsticks, "How is Kallen-san? Is she doing well?"

"She's doing fine," Naoto said politely back, though he refused to go into any specifics.
"Bringing her to Brittania really has helped keep things secure."

"Yes, that dreadful business with this Jinchuu character and that airport hostage crisis… my, my, what a troublesome region you've been given," Kaname murmured, a light smile on his lips. "I do hope my dear cousins are doing fine in such an environment."

"Prince Suzaku and Princess Kaguya are healthy, hale, and safe. They are under my protection and the protection of one of the Shichitennou," Naoto responded tonelessly, taking a slow slip of the wine.

"Yes, the Emperor's swords have a great deal of weight, don't they?" Kaname said thoughtfully, drinking his wine as well. "My grandfather had considered sending another of them with me here, though I talked him out of it."

"Sending Shichitennou to a diplomatic conference?" Naoto blinked. The Emperor's personal warriors were a potent symbol of Imperial strength, and the justice of heaven- it would have been like showing up to a treaty signing in a tank.

"Yes, my thoughts exactly!" Kaname said with a tittering laugh, shaking his head. "Honestly, my grandfather worries far too much for my safety. The Federation has promised us safe passage during these talks."

Naoto highly doubted there was any worry in Kirihara Taizou's heart when the Chief Minister sought to send one of the Swords to Eurasia- more a pressing need to keep an eye on his grandson using reliable, incorruptible sources and keep the man out of making any unsavory deals.

"If I may ask, Kirihara-sama," Sancia said quietly, speaking up for the first time. "Who will be representing the Federation at these talks?"

"An excellent question, Lieutenant," Kaname responded, smiling generously, "We've received word that Senator Thomas Dantes, Chairman of the Oversight Committee, will be hosting this convention and will be conducting negotiations. There are of course a number of other officials from the Federation who will be present at the time as well, to welcome us."

"And their military presence? Commander Kouzuki's men are of course onboard this ship as a precaution and honor guard for you, Kaname-sama, so I assume that Einherjar will present itself there as well," Captain Shiroyama rumbled thoughtfully, looking up from a now empty plate.

"Of course," Kaname answered immediately, his tone playful, "Matters of state security in the Federation are one of the directives of the contract Einherjar has with the Eurasian Senate. A detachment of their forces are awaiting us in Dunkirk as we speak. Strictly defensive, of course."

"Hmph. I doubt Einherjar does anything defensively," Naoto muttered, half to himself as he took another swig of the wine (Sancia frowned ever so slightly at his drinking habits).

"Oh? I had heard you fought a few battles with Federation forces in isolated conflicts, but you seem to know them quite well," Kaname murmured.

"I saw the Butcher's work firsthand, in Manchuria," Naoto answered quietly, his voice withdrawn into somber memories. "It was at a tiny town on the border of Russia and our own… Chen-li, I remember it being called. Seven hundred people lived there… until the Butcher came to call, and killed them all. The streets were so soaked with blood that the rats had to dance amongst the debris of the destroyed houses to survive. We never did identify all the bodies."

Sancia bowed her head in quiet reminiscence at the memory, but the others at the table were not so bothered by the deaths of the Chinese.

"Ah, so you've even had dealings with the Butcher. So in your professional opinion, Naoto-san, is Orsus Zoktavir really so mad as to attack one of our military bases without authorization?" Captain Shiroyama questioned, raising an eyebrow from his glass of dark, red wine, completely unperturbed by the description of carnage he had been made privy to.

As he measured out his reply, Naoto made a mental note of that nonchalance, pegging Shiroyama down further as a pure-blooded Japanese military man to the core because of his nonchalance towards the massacre Zoktavir had unleashed amongst the populace, likely because the inhabitants had not been pure-blooded members of the Empire.

"It's entirely possible. The man is Einherjar's rabid dog, useful as a threat against both internal and external problems, but ultimately just a volatile weapon liable to go off at any moment," Naoto admitted reluctantly. "But it would be dangerous to assume this is an isolated incident."

"Well, I think this conversation is getting a bit too maudlin, don't you?" Kaname interrupted, smiling widely as he poured himself another glass of wine. "You act as if the talks are already failing."

Naoto eyed the other man with a guarded expression, and said with as neutral a tone as possible, "My apologies, Kaname-sama. With your ability we should easily be able to resolve this crisis. It's just the military in me, I'm afraid, making me see the worst case scenario."

"No apologies necessary, of course, Naoto-san. It comforts me to have someone prepared for all outcomes on this endeavor," Kaname said in praise, raising his glass in a toast. "I am certain that with you at my side we can accomplish much."

And suddenly everything made sense to Naoto in that moment- Kaname was the one who requested his presence. The heir to Kirihara's wealth and power was always attempting to gather influence and allies, and he had made Naoto his newest project.

Naoto raised his glass with a forced smile. Politics was a game he was familiar with- he was the heir to a powerful clan with a great deal of political influence, despite his distaste for the practice. If Kaname wanted to play, Naoto would oblige him.

"With your confidence, Kaname-sama, I hope that our endeavor will be successful, and our empire remains prosperous," Naoto intoned solemnly, "To peace."

"To peace," the rest of the table rumbled.

00000

"Suzaku-sama, welcome to Dudley."

The thinning, glasses-wearing man bowed deeply at the waist, alongside over a dozen other minor officials and men in bland, dark suits that were quite obviously security.

Suzaku nodded once in acknowledgment at the man. "Thank you…"

Behind him, Milly, looking solemn and her eyes closed, the very picture of a stately servant, whispered, "Masataka Ryousuke."

"Masataka-san," Suzaku finished, smiling in relief. "It's a pleasure to be here."

Masataka Ryousuke bowed even lower, if that were physically possible, smiling sycophantically at the acknowledgment of his name being remembered (or at least the appearance of being remembered).

"Please, I'm sure you're tired from your flight. I have a car waiting to take you to your hotel. The staff has already been notified of your arrival," Masataka said quickly, gesturing towards the dark sedan waiting for them in the distance.

Suzaku inclined his head in wordless thanks, stepping off the staircase leading out from the doors of the private jet, Milly following close behind.

"So, Suzaku-sama, what are your plans for your visit to our fair city?" Masataka questioned, keeping a respectful, subservient distance between them as they walked- technically he could have moved ahead of Milly, but Milly's status as his personal servant gave her the freedom to stay a step behind him.

"I have a meeting planned with the heads of the factory here in Dudley, and I believe a dinner scheduled with you and the members of your staff afterward," Suzaku answered simply, his voice formal and brisk as they reached the car.

Masataka moved to open the doors respectfully, and asked softly, "Would you like me to accompany you to this meeting, Suzaku-sama? I can be of great use-"

"I will be fine," Suzaku interrupted curtly, with a sharp nod as he stepped inside the car, Milly following close behind, shutting the door behind her, leaving Masataka speechless outside.

Unusually, Milly waited until the car had actually started driving away before breaking out into a fit of giggles.

"Did you see his face?" Milly said, chortling with unhidden glee, and Suzaku cracked a smile as well. It was pretty funny.

They shared a moment of smiles and laughter, and then Suzaku, albeit reluctantly, returned to the more sobering matters at hand.

"Are you sure you want to do this, Milly?" Suzaku questioned hesitantly, biting his lip. "We can think of another way…"

"Nonsense. While you're busy making time with the factory bigshots, I can poke around and find us a good way to sneak our 'friends' into the facility and get the prisoners out of there," Milly asserted with a confident grin. "No problem at all. The plan is genius."

"You're only saying that because it's your plan," Suzaku said suspiciously, frowning. "I just don't like always having to rely on you for these things."

At that, Milly's face flickered, ever so briefly, into an expression that Suzaku had never really seen before- fear. But it passed quickly and suddenly Milly was all smiles again with such speed that Suzaku figured he had to have imagined it. After all, what could possibly cause Milly, of all people, to be afraid of Suzaku relying on her?

"Well, someone like you has no choice but to rely on his beautiful and brilliant maid," Milly responded sweetly.

"Euphie isn't here," Suzaku joked without thinking, grinning back.

Milly's expression changed into one of mock surprise. "Why, Suzaku-sama, I had no idea you thought such lewd thoughts about our innocent little ward. Naughty boy," she murmured, smiling wickedly. "So your white knight tendencies aren't entirely pure…"

Suzaku flushed hotly, feeling horribly mortified, and Milly's smile only widened.

"Oh shut up," Suzaku managed defensively, crossing his arms, ignoring Milly's tittering laughter.

00000

Euphemia sneezed, and hoped she wasn't catching a cold. Idly, as she wiped her nose down with a handkerchief, she glanced out the doorway of the hospital room, seeing no one.

It was the first time Euphemia felt truly alone in a long time- even taking a moment alone in the mansion had never felt this way, as she had known Milly or Suzaku would be just around the corner.

Now they were both miles away, and she was alone again.

Euphemia sighed, and glanced down at the bed before her. "I guess not entirely alone," she muttered to herself, gazing down at the girl Suzaku had said was her sister.

Nunnally always reminded her of a porcelain doll, a still life snapshot of a living girl, frozen forever. She was so beautiful, but so pale and fragile looking that it seemed like she would break at the slightest touch.

Still… there was something in their features that Euphemia did find familiar when she looked into a mirror. The height of their cheekbones and the shape of their faces were similar enough that Euphemia could see the resemblance- she didn't truly doubt Suzaku's words, but words were only so much comfort in a world where everyone was a virtual stranger.

A knock at the door distracted Euphemia from her thoughts, and a hesitant looking young nurse, short-haired and pretty, stood at the doorway, holding a spotless metal tray.

"Excuse me miss, but it's time for the patient's daily treatment," the nurse said apologetically. "If you don't mind standing away for a moment, I'll just need the patient's arm."

Euphemia nodded quickly and moved away, watching the nurse move towards Nunnally with practiced, professional grace, setting the tray down on the table and putting on a pair of rubber gloves. As the nurse removed the slim injection needle from the tray, Euphemia asked curiously, "What is it you're giving her?"

"Oh this?" the nurse asked rhetorically, glancing over at Euphemia as she filled the needle with an amber fluid from a vial, "This is a muscle rejuvenant. Very powerful stuff- it's used to keep muscles from going into atrophy after long periods of disuse, as is the case with the patient. A single dose of it every day keeps a human body relatively fit- not top physical shape or anything, but enough that it prevents the need for long and painful physical therapy."

Euphemia followed along with a nod, pursing her lips thoughtfully. After the nurse finished, Euphemia commented, "You all seem very busy today- normally there's a lot more nurses around here, aren't there?"

"It's been a busy week. Busy month, really," the nurse replied, sounding annoyed. "It's that damn Reaper drug. More and more OD cases coming every day, meaning that more of us are needed in other departments than here. I'm the only nurse working this floor for this whole shift."

As she finished speaking, the nurse removed the blanket covering everything below Nunnally's neck- and Euphemia gasped in horror.

The nurse, surprised by the noise, glanced up at her with a wry look. "Oh, have you not seen this before? Guess there's never really a need to take off the bed sheets of a comatose little girl, huh? I'm more or less used to it now- been on the rounds here for three years."

Marring Nunnally's skin, stretching up and down her bare arms and legs, were terrible burns that marred the porcelain skin Euphemia had admired earlier- they were old, and healed, but the skin was unmistakably scarred by flame.

Fire…

A white-hot light burned in her eyes suddenly, like the flash of a camera bulb magnified a thousand times over, followed by a blur of random, unknown images.

A tall, broad shouldered titan of a man with white hair and a powerful face stood in the distance.

A beautiful dark haired goddess of a woman held her hand on a bright autumn day. Nunnally gripped the woman's other hand tightly, smiling and happy and alive.

And lastly a boy with amethyst eyes and dark hair staring at her, eyes wide in horror just as the flames rose up with a triumphant, beast-like roar-

Her eyes snapped open and she realized the nurse had been talking the whole time, oblivious to the vivid hallucination Euphemia had just experienced.

"… the doctors say the skin grafts never really took. Whoever cared for her before she came here was good, but obviously their equipment or training wasn't enough to make sure those skin grafts were a success," the nurse commented, her words distant to the roar in Euphemia's ears, "And because she's anonymous, a veritable Yamada Tarou, we don't know enough to try other procedures lest we aggravate a pre-existing condition that would prove fatal."

The nurse glanced back at her and put a hand over her mouth, looking contrite. "Oh I'm sorry; I must be boring you with all these ramblings. Must be all this solo-shift work."

"No, please, it's alright," Euphemia managed shakily, trying to will away the images that were still flashing in her mind.

Was that her past? Nunnally was there, younger and more alive…

And who was the boy? Of all the faces in her vision, his was the most vivid, the most clear…

And for some reason, the most dreaded.

00000

"Oi! Lelouch-kun! Over here!" Rivalz called out, waving enthusiastically just down the park path from him. The other boy was dressed in a flamboyant t-shirt which read 'Sket Dan', jeans, and slacks, and pretty much blended in utterly with the crowd around them.

Lelouch inclined his head in greeting and smiled. "Rivalz-kun," he greeted, hands in the pockets of his dark blue jacket.

They exchanged brief pleasantries, and then proceeded on with the matter at hand.

"This is the place?" Lelouch asked speculatively, glancing around with a look of reserved judgment.

There were a dozen stone tables, clearly leftovers from before the invasion, with a standard chessboard painted onto the surface. About half of them were occupied with a pair of players, and a few even had small crowds observing the game. Lelouch's eyes spotted money changing hands, though each time it happened a man in, of all things, a top hat, muffler, ragged shirt and black jacket ensemble was involved.

"Ah there's Roger. Roger!" Rivalz called out, waving.

"'allo then," the man, Roger, greeted Rivalz, thrusting out a friendly hand. He peered over at Lelouch with dark, intelligent eyes. "So this is the guy then?"

"Yup. He's here to play," Rivalz assured him, before Lelouch could say a word.

"Well the lad's untested and young, but on the other hand no one knows jack about his abilities, so I think I can get you boys four to one odds or so," Roger said slowly, chewing his lip thoughtfully as he glanced back over his shoulder. "Maybe even eight to one or more since the only free player is 'The Gentleman'."

"Oooh," Rivalz said excitedly, grinning. "That old geezer might even be a challenge for you, Lelouch-kun."

"Hmph," Lelouch said noncommittally, keeping his expression neutral. Despite himself, he felt rather confident that there was no one here who could pose a real challenge to him- no one except Schneizel had in a long, long time.

"Well, the boy's got spunk, I'll give him that," Roger commented, grinning. "I'll set it up. You can put a few yen up yourself- of course, you can't bet against yourself."

He led them over to a table, where an older man sat with his back to them, dressed casually in an old, frayed jacket.

"Well, my friend, it seems you've got a new challenger," Roger said cheerfully, clapping the older man on the back, who turned around-

"Stadtfeld?" Lelouch blurted out in surprise.

The steely grey-blue eyes of Matthew Stadtfeld gazed back at him with a hint of amusement, though the rest of his expression remained completely impassive. After having spent more time with Kallen since their first meeting, Lelouch could appreciate how the daughter resembled the father- there was a strength beneath the weathered, pre-maturely aged features that Kallen clearly gained from this man.

"You two know each other?" Roger asked, raising an eyebrow. Next to him, Rivalz stared expectantly as well.

Lelouch's mind raced with an answer that wouldn't implicate either Stadtfeld or himself as anything more than an ordinary student and a weathered old man.

"He knew my parents before they died," Lelouch answered swiftly, "They worked together."

"Oh. Well, I hope this old acquaintance won't hinder either of your games, lads," Roger said cheerfully, clapping his hands as he accepted the lie. "I'll go around and take a few bets before you two get started then."

And with that, he sauntered off, leaving the three of them alone, and Lelouch glanced over at Rivalz and smiled slightly. "Rivalz, Mister Stadtfeld and I have a bit of catching up to do. Do you mind giving us a moment?"

Rivalz shrugged. "Nope. I should see Roger about making a bet on this one myself anyway and pitch you to the other guys."

As he walked away, Lelouch settled down across the stone table from Kallen's father, idly noting that the board was already set up and he had been assigned black already.

"So, you're 'The Gentleman'," Lelouch commented, raising an eyebrow questioningly.

"It's a nickname I've gained in these… circles," Matthew responded delicately, his face betraying nothing. "A circle of people I would not expect someone like you to fall into, Lelouch."

"Rivalz introduced me. And what sort of people are these, then?" Lelouch asked, frowning.

"Gambling isn't necessarily illegal, but this is still a more… unsavory place than someone with your bloodline should be part of," Matthew replied, idly tapping a finger against the white king, and for a moment his old aristocratic demeanor came through. "These are gamblers and desperados who need distractions. I've suspected a few of even being tied to the resistance movement, though naturally I've never asked."

Immediately Lelouch was put on guard, and he glanced around, giving every person in the crowd a more thorough look as though it would show which of them were terrorists.

"Relax, no one here is a threat," Matthew assured him softly. "Except maybe Roger- the man's got a lot of connections. This small gambling ring is just one of his fronts. I suspect he supplies the resistance with resources they need."

Lelouch glanced idly out of the corner of his eye, spotting the man in question, and making a mental note to double check the police database (which Naoto had given him access to) for any record of the man.

"So what brings a man like you here then, Stadtfeld?" Lelouch pressed, setting his mouth in a thin line as his thin fingers curled around the black king. "You don't seem the gambling type to me."

"I'll tell you what. I'll answer your question if you win," Matthew responded coolly, a hint of a smirk playing upon his lips. "If I win, you answer one of mine."

"Seems fair," Lelouch agreed, as Roger and Rivalz ambled back over with a small crowd.

"Gentlemen, the bets are on, and we are all set to go if you are," Roger said, smiling toothily. "Begin."

Matthew made the first move, the fairly standard Queen's Pawn opening, and Lelouch countered in the most typical manner possible- no sense in going all out right from the start, he supposed.

The game went on a for a few turns with Lelouch deciding to feel his opponent out, occasionally putting forth a few gambits just to see if Matthew would take them, risking a knight or a pawn in an exchange. Each time Stadtfeld remained unmoved, moving defensively, refusing to risk being drawn out into the open.

Lelouch, after another of his gambits failed, happened to glance up and see a searching, judging expression on the older man's face that somehow set Lelouch's teeth on edge, feeling as though he was being tested and not taken seriously.

"You're reckless," Matthew commented, as if sensing Lelouch's irritation at being underestimated and giving him an explanation.

"I was taught offense is the best defense," Lelouch responded tartly, moving his pawn forward aggressively. And it was true- in the house of the Imperial Family, defensive actions were a sign of weakness, and shows of strength prized above all else.

"Your brother was a fair hand at both, if I recall. I happened to see him play a game a few times at a few social meetings," Matthew murmured, and this time took the pawn. "You're a far cry from his level, though."

Lelouch quickly countered, striking back with his knight, eager to take something away from Stadtfeld after that jibe about Schneizel-

Which was taken by the white bishop, in a move that Lelouch had failed to see in his haste and anger.

Damn. I'm letting him distract me, Lelouch cursed inwardly, wincing at that failure.

"You like to play with risk- I wasn't aware your type liked living on the edge, Lelouch. It must be a trait you inherited from your mother," Matthew commented, and Lelouch nearly dropped the piece in his hands at the seemingly casual remark, his every muscle stiffening at those words.

"I'm not reckless," Lelouch all but snarled back, feeling defensive, and his movements began to follow that pattern to defy the older man's assertion about his character. His earlier gambits had left him overextended though, and he lost his second knight to the white queen.

"You're also not very confident," Matthew murmured, and his play style went up noticeably in aggressiveness, pushing Lelouch back. "Just because you were losing momentum was not a reason to cease the advance. Knight takes rook, by the way."

"I know how to play. I just haven't in a while," Lelouch shot back, trying to regain control of the board as he passed his rook over to Stadtfeld. His mind wandered back to the days in Aries palace, the ferocious duels with Schneizel and Clovis that seemed like someone else's story. He hadn't played seriously since then- occasionally Jeremiah would play a game with him, but it never pushed his limits the way playing Schneizel had…

"Check."

Lelouch blinked, staring down at the board with a mixture of shock and dismay. He had let his guard down again- it was just check, but it was a sign of how muddled his thoughts had become.

Gritting his teeth, feeling uncharacteristically pressured, Lelouch forced himself down into a calm, meditative state of mind, shutting away the memories and replacing them with the serenity of the void. This was a practice he had learned from, of all people, C.C., who alluded to having learnt it somewhere in the East.

Do not think about mother. Or father. Or Nunnally, or-

There is only here, and now, Lelouch reminded himself, cutting off his thoughts before they reached the fourth name, drawing in a breath to steady himself. And with a steady hand, he made his counter-move.

00000

Across the table, Matthew Stadtfeld gauged the former prince with a tiny amount of admiration for collecting himself in the face of what was obviously a great deal of personal turmoil- as befitting the blood of the Emperors which flowed through his veins, he supposed.

He found that sniping at the boy with those personal jabs easier than he thought, drawing upon years of court intrigue, full of double-talk and hidden slights within honeyed words that could mean the difference between a secured future and a knife in the back.

Of course there was more to his attacking the boy's ego than a desire to win- Matthew had heard dark rumors and whispers of the eldest son of Marianne the Flash in the days just after the initial surrender from his few remaining sources in the court. The first time they met Matthew had been shaken too badly by his unexpected reunion with his beloved daughter to do anything more than accept the boy's word at helping his daughter, but now he was free to concentrate on seeing the truth of the rumors- and if so, what sort of danger Lelouch Lamperouge posed for Kallen.

Lelouch's counterattack was swift and decisive, a far cry from the reckless gambits and shaky confidence of before, and Matthew, though considered a skilled player, could already see he was outmatched in intelligence. The boy had raw tactical ability, if nothing else- Matthew lost three pawns, a knight, and a bishop in a series of creative counterattacks and gambits, while Lelouch lost a single bishop and a pawn in exchange- he was still losing by a wide margin in terms of sheer board dominance and positioning, but the margin was slimming.

But even the best strategist couldn't always make a losing battle into a victory, and Lelouch's king was still vulnerable, trapped as it was behind several remaining pawns.

Within ten moves, Matthew had him dead to rights, pinning him with the white queen and a rook, and Lelouch bowed his head in acknowledgment and tipped his king.

In the background, Rivalz groaned, hands over his eyes as he handed over a small handful of bills to Roger. "Aw man and it started looking good too at the end!"

"I was distracted earlier, and made too many mistakes which cost me a victory," Lelouch said quietly, his voice neither an excuse nor an apology. "Next time I'll play better."

Rivalz patted him on the back. "Eh, its okay, Lelouch-kun- this guy's the best player here anyway. I guess it was just bad luck you went up against him first."

And with that, he wandered off with Roger, who was busy collecting the winnings. Once it was just the two of them alone again, Matthew spoke for the first time since the game concluded.

"There's a saying I've heard… I believe your father was the one who coined it, in fact," Matthew murmured, so only the two of them could hear, "It goes, 'The king must move first, or the others will not follow'. You should have led more swiftly, Lelouch."

"I've heard that before," Lelouch said softly, refusing to meet his eyes. "It's too bad I lack the qualifications to be the king."

That was a comment that left Matthew's eyebrows raised, a questioning look in his eyes. The boy certainly didn't act as though he lacked the qualifications- his bearing, his air, and even his manner of speaking betrayed his royal heritage to Matthew's eyes.

"I believe there's the matter of a personal wager to settle," Lelouch continued, raising his gaze again. "What is it you wish to ask me?"

He had almost forgotten about the wager. Pursing his lips, Matthew Stadtfeld studied the younger man before him, before he finally spoke.

"How is my daughter?"

Lelouch choked, giving him a look that plainly said 'Are you serious?' before he sighed and nodded along. "She's well, and adjusting easily to school life. Her celebrity status helps compensate for her clear lack of experience in dealing with everyday student life. She's joined the Student Council, alongside myself and several others."

He spoke at length about the activities of the Student Council thus far, finding it easy to speak about such a familiar and, though he hated to admit it, enjoyable experience.

Matthew listened attentively, his expression betraying nothing. When Lelouch finished speaking, he stood up from his chair, inclining his head towards the younger man.

"Thank you," he said tonelessly.

"There's no need to thank me for giving you your rightful winnings," Lelouch responded, a tad tartly as his lips curled upwards in a faint smirk.

"I'll say this, though," Matthew continued, ignoring the quip, as he turned away, "I don't know for certain if you are a danger to her, Lelouch 'Lamperouge', but you are dangerous. Whatever darkness you carry, do not drag my daughter down with you when those sins inevitably catch up to you."

"Speaking from experience about things catching up to you?" Lelouch shot back irritably, his amusement evaporating completely. "Like sleeping with the enemy and losing everything, ending up cast down in a den of gamblers?"

"We all pay for what we've done sooner or later," Matthew agreed, pulling his coat around himself tighter, still with his back to the younger man. "I'll be here next week, same time, if you feel so inclined… your highness."

And with that he left the ex-prince stewing in his seat. Lelouch glanced down at the chessboard which still prominently featured his defeat, the black king toppled, the white queen victorious above him.

We all pay for what we've done… Lelouch thought to himself somberly, and shivered.

00000

Shirley Fenette gripped the reassuring weight of the controls of the Amalthea tightly, bracing herself for the machine's unbelievable level of speed as she maneuvered it about the large, empty warehouse they had cordoned off specifically for her training.

This was her fourth test run with the Knightmare, and she still had to adjust both physically and mentally to the higher specs- the first time she had tried using the Amalthea she accidentally destroyed a wall and nearly killed several of General Darlton's trainees who had been on the other side.

The Amalthea was near instantaneous with its reactions- if she even began to move the control yokes left, the Amalthea would already be moving in that direction, as though her thoughts and the actions of the machine were as one, to say nothing of the sheer speed.

In her head, she remembered the smooth, near-organic motions of both the Amateratsu and Jinchuu's own Knightmare- and Shirley was willing to bet that her Amalthea was faster than either.

Of course, there were downsides to being lighter and more agile- her Knightmare's primary weapons, the bladed extensions on the underside of her arms which would swing out and extend, were lighter than Stun Tonfas and would probably break if she struck an opponent incorrectly. The rest of her armament was similarly stripped down to keep the Amalthea maneuverable- she had recessed 9mm guns in the torso, and only a single Slash Harken mounted atop the right arm.

The really interesting change was a back-mounted thruster pack that gave the machine its true speed and maneuverability- upon reading the initial instructional messages in the onboard computer, Shirley learned that the thrusters were under a 50% power limiter, obviously one of the safety measures that had been installed in the past seven years.

In short, it was built for a soldier who preferred swift, brutal close combat work, with nearly all of the defensive options restricted to how well the pilot could maneuver- perfect for the soldier known as Marianne the Flash.

Marianne the Flash… once known as Marianne Lamperouge. Lelouch's mother and one of the Empresses of old Brittania.

How could someone with that kind of heritage running through his veins be hidden so well in plain sight? Princes and princesses were part of another person's life, not Shirley Fenette's, and yet here she was, taking orders from a princess to assassinate a prince.

Damn it, I should have just let him die back in the tunnels a month ago, Shirley thought irritably to herself. Ever since that day her life had grown ever more complicated- the black and white world of us versus them mentality she had lived in was muddling into a study in grays.

Life was simpler before Lelouch Lamperouge.

With a frustrated sigh, Shirley disengaged from the controls, easing the Amalthea against the wall. Once it powered down she clambered out of the machine, shaking her head, releasing her long hair from the tight bun she had held it in for the test- in reality she should have gotten it cut short years ago, but there was a small part of her that remembered how much her mother loved her hair long, and each time the scissors were put away.

She was dressed today in a simple, no-nonsense jumpsuit, the kind used by mechanics that fit loosely around her slender frame- Shirley never understood the need for those restricting piloting suits that the actual military used.

"Fenette," Darlton called out gruffly, greeting her with a nod, standing just off to the side. He was dressed comfortably in gray military fatigues, the muted colors fitting his image of a grizzled veteran soldier.

"General," Shirley responded, saluting smartly.

Thus far General Darlton had been the one overseeing her training with the Amalthea- Shirley had not spoken with Commander Cornelia since their intense discussion and the revelation about Lelouch's heritage.

In a way, it made it easier- the Commander was obviously intent on killing Lelouch, which only made Shirley hesitate more, as her innate curiosity got the better of her, wondering what horrible crime Lelouch committed to earn the ire of a living blood relative and be blamed for the past seven years of living under occupied rule.

"You're progressing well with the machine," Darlton rumbled, giving her a faint smile of approval. "I'm honestly impressed you've managed to adapt to it so well- I had believed no one would be capable of bringing out the potential of that beast."

"It's trickier than I thought, but so far I think whatever safety precautions you had installed are making things easier," Shirley replied genially, bowing her head in faint embarrassment at the praise.

"Walk with me a bit, Fenette," Darlton said quietly, turning on his heel.

Shirley followed him down the hallway with an obedient nod, falling instinctually into a half-step behind him, a gesture of respect she found rather easy to make.

"I wanted to speak to you about the mission," Darlton continued, once they had left the hangar.

"I understand my role well enough sir," Shirley said immediately, "I'll be able to pilot the Amalthea well enough by the end of this week for Operation Tower."

Operation Tower was the code name given to the rescue mission Cornelia was planning for Prince Clovis- Shirley was one of the integral components of that mission, as the power of the Amalthea would be necessary to counter the Japanese Knightmare Frames.

"I didn't mean that mission, Fenette," Darlton corrected, his voice without rebuke, "I meant your… other assignment."

And back to Lelouch Lamperouge again, it seemed.

"What do you mean, General?" Shirley asked neutrally, keeping her voice even as she avoided meeting his eyes when he glanced back at her.

"I have been with the Commander since the very literal beginning of her military career- she is my student and protégé. She has a strong grasp of tactics and a keen mind for battle… but she is also extremely passionate, and in this, I believe she is compromised severely, and in doing so compromised you as well," Darlton explained, and held up a hand to silence Shirley as she began to protest. "No, I am not going to circumvent the Commander's authority- that is not my place. But I will caution you to take stock of Lelouch Lamperouge with your own eyes rather than through a colored lens."

"Did you know him?" Shirley questioned, frowning.

Darlton sighed, and his stern face held a melancholy expression to it. "I had been put in charge of the boy's military education before the invasion began, a standard part of the upbringing of any prince. Like the Commander, Lelouch was my student, and to be honest, the very best I've ever had."

"Better than the Commander?" Shirley blurted out, before she could stop herself. It was just so surprising to hear that about a boy her own age, who barely seemed motivated to organize the student council, let alone battles.

"Princess Cornelia's grasp of tactics is good, and she knows how to fight- nine out of ten commanders would fall to her," Darlton said slowly, "Lelouch however… Lelouch was the kind of strategist that can't be taught or trained. He was born for it. He could think like an opponent, and then turn those thoughts against you. And he was innovative- I used to give him no-win scenarios, which I had used in the past to teach humility and the lesson that not all battles can be won. But Lelouch… he beat every no-win scenario I had thought of. Sometimes by finding loopholes, sometimes through a gamble I hadn't considered, but always winning- the idea that he couldn't win a battle simply never entered his mind. He was a conqueror at age twelve, waiting to take his place on the stage."

Shirley listened attentively, and studied the grizzled old general's face as he spoke about Lelouch. There was a hint of fondness in those eyes, mixed with that same melancholy as before.

She was at a loss for words now- how could all these people have so many different opinions about Lelouch Lamperouge? Which was the real Lelouch?

"The only equal I had seen was Prince Schneizel," Darlton continued, almost as an afterthought, "Who had turned away from a life in the military to pursue politics- a vastly more dangerous arena, in my opinion."

"So are you saying I shouldn't kill him once I learn what he knows?" Shirley asked, after a long silence, her voice holding a trace of a weary sigh.

"I'm saying he deserves a fair hearing. What he deserves after that is a question I don't think I can answer- my house and my own life have been devoted to the Imperial family for as long as I can remember. My loyalties are… divided here," Darlton said in reply, obviously struggling with how he could explain his own dilemma. "Perhaps you can judge him where I and the Commander cannot, as an innocent who was wronged indirectly by his actions, pure of politics and old memories."

Darlton came to a stop as the hallway ended, and turned to her with a respectful salute. "This is where I take my leave of you then, Fenette. There are still trainees who need to finish their afternoon exercises."

Without waiting for a response, he turned sharply on his heel and started down the hallway, just as Shirley called out to him.

"What did he do?" Shirley asked loudly, eyebrows furrowed in confusion. "Just what did Lelouch do?"

"Hear it from his own lips, in his own words," Darlton replied, without turning back. "And that's when you'll know whether the answer is the kind hand of forgiveness… or the cold mercy of a bullet."

00000

The arrival at Dunkirk was, as expected of a diplomatic meeting between two of the world's superpowers, full of fanfare and news coverage- exactly the things Naoto did not care for. Thankfully, being a military man and in this case the face of the Japanese military, he only had to stand a step behind Kirihara Kaname and look stern for the cameras. Kaname waved and smiled, while Naoto discretely looked over the crowd for any sign of a threat.

There were, of course, Eurasian military standing at the ready as an honor guard to welcome them onto Federation soil. An entire platoon of Einherjar's infantry, part of the 105th Airborne, identified by their company standard flying high, was on guard, along with a full complement of Knightmare Frames.

This is a full company of Knightmares, Naoto observed, his mouth set in a thin line.

Eurasian Knightmare Frames were less streamlined and human-like than the Japanese types. These particular ones were RI-78 Panzer Blatt models, and vaguely resembled toads with their teardrop shaped heads and rotund oval bodies, and were colored a drab, dull rust color. Spec-wise they didn't match up to the capabilities of the standard Shinran Knightmare, given that they were designed to be more fuel efficient in regards to the usage of Sakuradite energy fillers rather than to max out the power of the Yggsdril Drive, but they were cheaper to manufacture almost by half, and Naoto had heard rumor that the Panzer Blatt required almost no training to pilot.

Looking at them set his teeth on edge almost instantly, his fists clenching around a gun that was still holstered.

"Relax, Naoto-kun," Kaname said softly, without turning to look at him. "We're here as guests."

Guests in a lion's den, maybe, Naoto thought cynically, but he kept his expression neutral. The delegation from their side consisted only of Kaname, himself, and a few of Kaname's advisors. Sancia, the rest of Naoto's command staff, and even Captain Shiroyama were forced to stay behind for now, as none of them had the social or political standing to be seen in this kind of high-profile event.

Waiting for them at the bottom of the ramp connecting the Murasaki to the dock was Senator Thomas Dantes along with a contingent of officials who smiled like sharks circling fresh meat.

The Senator was an elderly man, his large, round belly looking barely held in check by his expensive silk shirt and dark jacket. His cheeks were red from the cold ocean air, and he held out a large, porky hand to Kaname as he smiled.

"Kaname-san. A pleasure to meet you," Thomas said in greeting, his Japanese stilted with an awkward French accent.

"Senator. Thank you for this warm reception," Kaname replied easily, smiling, and began to make introductions that Naoto barely paid attention to, and spoke little during.

And then suddenly a voice broke through the haze, and a young man probably around Naoto's own age stood in front of him, smiling handsomely.

"Commander Kouzuki Naoto-kun, isn't it? A pleasure," the man said warmly, and Naoto noticed him standing just a little apart from Kaname and the Senator's group, indicating just the tiniest bit of difference between them.

"I'm sorry, and you are…" Naoto said awkwardly, caught- he hadn't really expected to talk much at this little meet and greet, preferring to let Kaname talk.

"Ah, forgive me, I haven't introduced myself- Arthur Camlann, Secretary of the Interior for the Eurasian Senate. I'm assisting with the negotiations," Arthur said calmly, smiling genially. His longish hair was a light shade of brown, his face dominated by a prominent nose and strong jaw line, with a short, sharp beard. He was powerfully built and tall, at least a good few inches taller than Naoto, and probably outweighed him as well by twenty pounds or more.

But the man's eyes were what caught Naoto off guard- they were purple, deep purple, exactly the same shade as one Lelouch Lamperouge, and had the same measure of glimmering intelligence lurking beneath the surface.

"Commander?"

Naoto suddenly remembered himself, and realized that Arthur had been holding out his hand in the Western style greeting. Trying to recover himself, Naoto took the hand with a firm grip and shook.

"Ah… forgive me, it's been a long trip," Naoto said apologetically. "A pleasure."

"No apologies necessary, Commander. I simply wanted to meet and greet with you personally, without those bothersome old men hanging around us," Arthur said with a conspiratorial tone of voice, smirking, acting for all the world as though they were old friends who had not seen each other in a long while.

"I'm sorry, but you seem to be familiar with me... have we met before?" Naoto questioned. He didn't remember the man at all, but there was always an off chance that some social meeting between the Federation and the Empire had made them passing acquaintances.

"No, but I've heard of your work. I like to follow the members of our generation who have made such far advances in the world- people like you, me, and of course our dear honored guest," Arthur finished, flicking an indicating glance at Kaname, who was now taking a photo opportunity with the press. "We are the future, after all."

Naoto was really not sure what to say to that. Thankfully, Kaname called out to him, wanting him to be a part of a photo for the press- and for once, Naoto wasn't too annoyed by the invitation.

"Forgive me, but I must see to the Representative," Naoto said, playing the role of the dutiful officer to a fault.

"Of course," Arthur said generously, stepping aside and gesturing towards the media circus. "Please, no apologies necessary. I hope we can talk again later, Commander."

"I'm sure we can. Good day, Secretary." Naoto bowed in response respectfully, and met Arthur's eyes again, once more being struck by how similar they were in shade and shape to Lelouch's.

As he made his way back over to Kaname, the man smiled widely. "Ah, Naoto-kun, come! I think the press is finally getting my good side!"

Sycophantic laughs erupted all around, both from the Federation representatives and the reporters buzzing around them. Kaname's magic was at work once again.

As he obediently moved in closer to the group, Kaname spoke without looking at him, in a voice so low only they could hear.

"Making friends with Camlann, are you? That one is ambitious, Naoto-kun- you should be careful not to end up as his latest pawn."

Naoto kept smiling for the cameras, but his mind whirred with possibilities. Kaname knew the man by sight alone- he had to be more than another the bureaucrat or paper pusher for that kind of recognition.

Of course, there was an implication in that statement that Naoto did not like- that Naoto was to avoid being the pawn of one politician so he could be useful to another.

"I serve the Empire," Naoto said finally, his voice carefully neutral.

"As we all do," Kaname agreed, smiling widely for the cameras. "As we all do."

00000

"Did you send Weinberg-san and the others the information?" Suzaku questioned, absently rolling his neck to work out an ache that had settled in there around the first hour of the traditional Japanese dinner he had been attending while Milly was gathering reconnaissance.

"Doing it now, Suzaku-sama," Milly said patiently, in a long-suffering tone of voice.

They were in the Knightmare transport truck which Milly had acquired and shipped, with the Caliburn inside, on a separate plane that had already been wiped from the airport's records- again, Milly's work.

Where she had learned this kind of espionage, Suzaku was not certain, and was fairly certain he didn't want to know either.

"And the plan…" Suzaku murmured. "I hope Weinberg-san can get the prisoners clear of the factory before I set off the Sakuradite…"

The plan, as Milly had conceived it, was straightforward- the Dudley factory was a Sakuradite treatment and refinement facility for the deep sea Sakuradite mining operations in Iceland, and as such had large stores of the highly combustible substance. All it would take was a few explosive charges to set it off, and in doing so destroy an important facility, cost the Empire probably a billion yen in lost equipment and Sakuradite, and send a message. The Brittanian Liberation Front's objective was to clear the prisoners beforehand to keep them from being caught in the explosion, while Suzaku and the Caliburn would be charged with clearing the resistance in the main factory and planting the explosives.

It was, Suzaku had to admit, quite good.

"How do you do these things," Suzaku muttered, half to himself, shaking his head in disbelief.

"Maybe I'm secretly a spy sent to watch over you for the plans of a mysterious supernatural order," Milly deadpanned, smiling without looking over at him. "A femme fatale you trust with your life."

"My laundry, maybe," Suzaku joked, and earned a smack on the arm for his trouble.

"Seriously though, I am good, huh?" Milly preened, settling back into her seat. "It's so simple that even you can follow along. Run in, kill some guards, save the prisoners, blow up the factory."

"It does sound simple," Suzaku agreed, feeling somewhat at ease. "Hopefully things will go smoothly and-"

"You just jinxed yourself," Milly warned, interrupting him with a slight glare. "You know that now my elegant plan is going to be ruined by some unforeseen catastrophe, like a meteor falling on your head or something."

"That's…" Suzaku considered it for a moment, and then finally sighed. "Probably right. But I still want to hope things will work out tonight."

Milly gave him a pitying look in exchange, and he scowled. "How much farther?"

"We're almost there. Our 'friends' should have landed by now, and they'll be meeting us there within the hour. It's almost showtime, boss," Milly reported cheerily.

00000

"Ugh, Rivalz, couldn't you have negotiated with Roger to arrange at least a little more roomy transportation?" Gino complained, wrinkling his nose as he tried to shift so that he wasn't getting Kewell's elbows in his ribs or Rivalz's legs tangled with his own as he stood.

The three of them, plus several members of Gino's personal resistance cell, were crammed into the front section of a cargo plane, which was also holding the group's three Knightmare Frames and assorted small arms for the mission. The plane had just touched down at a private airstrip, with the air traffic control tower having been paid off ahead of time to cover their tracks.

"Sorry," Rivalz apologized, grunting as he moved away from Gino, "I was hoping that Lelouch beating the Gentleman would throw Roger off enough for us to get a discount so we could get more than one plane. Instead he lost, so Roger kept his prices as is for us to use his plane."

"The man's a parasite," Kewell muttered irritably, heading towards the back of the compartment to check on the large, heavy plastic boxes which carried their equipment. "We fight for the country, and he makes a profit."

"Wars can't be won without merchants," Gino muttered, rolling his eyes, still trying to work out the soreness in his neck. "Weren't you the one who said that to me once?"

"It doesn't mean I have to like it," Kewell deadpanned.

Rivalz chuckled, and even Gino cracked a smile at that.

Their amusement quickly faded, however, as Gino's phone buzzed, chiming with his email alert signal.

"That's him then?" Rivalz asked, unable to keep the excited tone out of his voice as he leaned over Gino eagerly.

"Jinchuu," someone breathed in the back- probably Maxwell, Gino guessed, though he didn't turn around to look. "He really contacted us, boss?"

"Guess that means we really are meeting up with him tonight for this mission," Gino finally said, as his eyes passed over the email, selecting the attachment, which brought up a series of images and an outline of the plan as it stood.

"I saw the videos of his speech," Rivalz said, almost absently. "He seems like a good guy. I mean, not like a good person, but more like… it felt right. What he was doing. Like everything he did was for a higher cause."

"You should remember, Cardemonde, that our cause is freedom. His is justice- or what that single man decides is justice, anyway," Kewell said stoically, crossing his arms and closing his eyes. "He's dangerous."

"But he's also powerful," Gino cut in, glancing at Kewell with a warning look. "And right now he's offering us a chance to do some damage."

"You know what I don't get is boss," Rivalz muttered, glancing over at Gino with a furrowed brow. "It's that… if we know this factory is here, and all those prisoners are being held in the homeland… why hasn't anyone done anything about this?"

Gino sighed, shaking his head. "It's complicated, Rivalz. Kewell, you explain it better than I can."

Kewell nodded crisply, his face still set in a determined but otherwise placid mask, obviously still irritated at Rivalz's words about Jinchuu.

"Because the factory brings money and jobs, Cardemonde," he answered. "Maybe it doesn't help the prisoners inside, but Dudley was utterly wrecked by the Three Month War, and the establishment of this facility led to a large migration of wealthy Japanese to this town, who need paid workers for their stores, their drivers, and so on and so forth. The Brittanians here are too comfortable with their way of life now to care about the suffering of their countrymen."

Rivalz paused, listening attentively to Kewell's words. As the older man finished, Rivalz turned back towards Gino and said, "You know, that actually isn't that complicated."

Gino scowled, and Kewell's lips twitched ever so slightly in amusement.

"Let's just get moving," the blonde muttered, rolling his eyes as he and Kewell both ambled towards their Knightmares, with Rivalz electing to drive one of the large trucks they had requisitioned and had brought to the airport with the express intention of using them to transport the prisoners out of the factory.

Gino clambered inside his suit with practiced ease, double checking all the systems before he began moving, a practice ingrained in his head that was as automatic as breathing.

When he was satisfied and everyone else had finished their own preparation, they set off for the factory, traveling in relative silence- no one felt like bantering or making small talk right before a mission, and in fact they got all the way up to within a mile of the factory before anyone spoke, and even then, it was on business.

"I see the rendezvous point. A black Japanese military truck with no other markings," Kewell reported, having taken point. "I guess that's him."

"I wonder where he got his hands on military hardware from the Empire," Gino murmured thoughtfully, even as he switched over to the encrypted radio channel that had been attached to the mission information. "This is Gino Weinberg, of the Brittanian Liberation Front. Code word: albatross."

"Rain," came the reply, and Gino was thoroughly impressed withJinchuu's level of training if he had even come up with select code words with which to identify and confirm each other's identities.

They settled in formation around the truck, which opened up slowly to reveal the impressive machine that had caused so much trouble to the Japanese already.

Gino felt a thrill of trepidation as he watched the Caliburn rise out of the transport, its organic movements a strong reminder of how powerful this thing really was compared to their clunky, outdated De Dannan's.

"It's good to see you again, Weinberg," Jinchuu said over the channel, a faint note of warmth in the voice. "I'm glad to see the BLF has decided to put its faith in me."

"And we're glad that you decided to team up with us," Gino replied cheerily, grinning. "Now let's go be heroes, huh?"

Jinchuu chuckled, and turned his Knightmare towards the factory. "You know the plan, I assume. Let's get started then, if you're so eager. May I have the explosives, please?"

Gino's grin widened. "Yessir. They're in the truck to your left, help yourself."

As Jinchuu did just that, Gino turned towards the rest of his men and and ordered briskly, "Oi, Rivalz. You and your team are going to follow me and Kewell in. We gotta hit them fast and hard so they can't alert the guards while our buddy here makes his way inside."

"Gotcha boss man," Rivalz said cheerily, doing as he was bid.

Kewell followed him in, and Gino spotted the far watchtower with his Factsphere, targeting it and firing off a few rounds to destroy it. Kewell followed suit with another tower to the left, taking it out with his own rifle.

As Gino and Kewell took down the guards in the towers, Jinchuu was already blazing forward, smashing through the thick wire mesh of the fence as though it were rotted string, and then launching an energy blast from its sword at the guard barracks to the right of the gate.

As Jinchuu pressed on towards the factory itself, attacking the towers opposite the gate they entered through, Gino and Kewell, with Rivalz and the convoy of trucks behind them, stormed the gates, firing at the barracks to finish off the rush of survivors who would no doubt be scrambling to mount a counterattack-

"Wait, something's not right," Gino murmured, ceasing fire on the burning building. "Where are the guards? Even if we hit them hard and fast, there should be some kind of reaction…"

"My lord, over there," Kewell said quickly, sending over an indicator ping through the Knightmare's computer, and Gino's screen magnified the image of several corpses at one of the other gatehouses, each of them killed not with the powerful rounds of a Knightmare's rifle but by small caliber arms.

"What the… we didn't do this," Gino said in bewilderment, and hailed Jinchuu over the radio. "Hey, uh… Jinchuu. Something's come up that you might want to take a look at…"

00000

"N-no! Please!"

"Question! What do people value most?" Luciano asked, fingers resting lightly on the trigger of the sawed off shotgun he carried easily in his hand, pointing it directly at the kneeling man's face, pressing it against the sweat soaked skin of his forehead.

The scene around them was utter carnage. Stainless steel metal tables were draped with broken glass containers and an array of the corpses of the lab technicians who had been using them. The cold concrete floor was decorated with blood and bullet shell casings.

The final lab technician Luciano had kept alive after he had first walked in the door, guns glazing, sweeping through the room in gleeful, but military-precise carnage shivered beneath his manic gaze, his horn rimmed glasses nearly slipping off his nose with how badly he was shaking.

"Oh come on, it's no fun if you don't answer!" Luciano complained, moving the gun away for a moment as he rolled his eyes. "I don't ask it just for my own amusement, you know. I want to know!"

His rant was interrupted by the calm, cool voice of Marika.

"Lord Luciano… sir, I'm sorry to interrupt, but we have word from our men who took over the security cameras," the blonde informed him, passing along a handheld two-way radio.

"I'll be right there," Luciano muttered, turning back towards the man with a dispassionate expression as he pulled the trigger, looking utterly bored as droplets of blood and gore splattered against his cheek.

"That was no fun at all," he complained, as the body fell to the floor and he put the radio to his ear, not even bothering to wipe away the blood. "So, what's wrong?"

"S-sir! We have Knightmares at the front gate! One of them is that Jinchuu guy who's been on the news!" came the panicked cry. "They seem to be focused on attacking the factory and going after the prisoners, but who knows what would happen if they find us."

A light flickered in Luciano's eyes as his mouth slowly formed a demonic grin. "Alright, well, now we're talking. Looks like I can take care of two pieces of business today."

Marika frowned as she stepped closer to him, taking the radio that he silently passed over to her. "But sir, the equipment you received from the Rosenbaum Institute isn't here at the moment…"

"Marika, please, I'm a man who can make do without fancy pieces of tech," Luciano scoffed, rolling his eyes. "They're neat toys, but there are ways to capture Knightmares without relying on something the eggheads at the Institute created. I want our men setting up around the main factory floor. I'll let them know what the plan is. And get me a line to the big man. He'll want to talk to this guy."

00000

"Suzaku-sama… are you sure you should be going into the factory alone?" Milly questioned over the radio, a note of concern in her otherwise normally carefree tone. "You should have taken some backup since you actually have some with you this time."

"Even if the guards are dead, it doesn't change our plan. In fact, it helps us, I think. We have to get those prisoners clear of this place now, more than ever, really," Suzaku refuted, shaking his head. "I won't compromise on this."

Milly hummed and there was a note of unspoken disapproval in her tone, but she said nothing and the link went dead.

Suzaku sighed. She wasn't happy about it, but Milly would understand. He gunned the engine and pushed forward onto the factory floor, towards the Sakuradite holding containers. The pathways were narrow and difficult to navigate due to the sheer number of machines filling it up, several of which were bigger than a Knightmare, and the Caliburn had already run into and trampled several conveyor belts in its path.

In truth, though, things were happening faster than Suzaku thought, with the nearly complete lack of resistance they were facing. Weinberg's men found a small token resistance of guards in the holding area, but it had fallen quickly due to their superior firepower and they were starting the evacuation of the factory's prisoners, leaving Suzaku to the demolition of the facility.

"It's just all too easy," Suzaku had to admit, and, just as he spoke, the motion tracker pinged and he whirled about-

Just in time for a series of blinding, deafening snaps to go off all around him with a furious display of white light.

Flashbangs, Suzaku thought, shutting his eyes to the searing light-

And a powerful explosion rocked the front of the Caliburn, slamming it backwards, followed by a heavy weight that collapsed onto the already unsteady Knightmare Frame, sending it to the floor with an uproarious crash.

"Ouch!" came a voice from a loudspeaker, as Suzaku attempted to regain his bearings and pull the Caliburn upright. "See, like I told you, Marika, we don't have to attack the super-powered machine. Just the pilot inside. He's only human, after all."

"W-where…" Suzaku managed, shaking his head dizzily, still disoriented badly by the assault on his senses, pushing feebly on the control yokes.

"Ah, don't try to get up now, Mister Jinchuu. There are people who want a word with you," came the cheery voice once again.

"Who the hell are you?" Suzaku demanded angrily, his fury managed to suppress the feelings of unsteadiness and help him regain some of his composure.

"Ah, well, you can call me Lucaino Bradley, my good man," was the reply. "I arranged this little powwow for you and my boss."

"B-boss?" Suzaku blinked, momentarily stymied on his efforts to break free from the rubble that had pinned him to the floor. He remembered the name Luciano Bradley from the news reports- that was the man who had taken the Kojiki airport hostage and nearly killed them all with a Sakuradite bomb.

And that man was working for someone?

A completely different, deeper, more rough tone came over the speakers now, sounding vaguely artificial, as though it were being broadcast through another channel. "To the pilot of that machine. Greetings."

Suzaku frowned, ignoring the voice and pushing harder against the heavy machine, feeling it shift slightly above him. The disorientation from the flashbangs was ebbing away, and his strength of will returned.

"I apologize for the rough treatment you suffered so far, but I was not sure you would deign to talk with me if we did not take measures to restrain you," the man continued, seemingly uncaring of Suzaku's use of the silent treatment. "But I wished to speak with you in regards to that machine… where did you get it?"

"Why should I tell you?" Suzaku snarled back irritably.

"Was it V.V.? Is he the one sending you after our shipments? Are you an agent of the Order?" the man pressed, and Suzaku's anger was inflamed at how easily the man ignored his fury.

"I'm not answering your damn questions!" he snapped, renewing his efforts to break free.

"I'll remind you you're at our mercy right now, sir," came the calm, measured reply. "Answer our questions."

"I don't know who the hell you're talking about! Who are you people?" Suzaku shouted back, but his concentration slipped and the heavy machine the Caliburn was trying to push off of itself slipped back down on top of him, crushing him to the floor again.

The man over the loudspeaker was silent for a long while, and then, in an amazed voice, "You don't know anything."

Need to… find a different way to get free… Suzaku thought to himself frustratedly, gritting his teeth, trying to figure something out.

A command prompt suddenly popped up on the screen of the Caliburn's monitor, drawing Suzaku's attention.

(Redirecting power to points B5 through E6. Increase willpower input into Homunculus Drive)

"What the…"

The voice from the speakers came on again, interrupting his thoughts. "Well, while I can't really believe it myself, it appears you have no connection to the Order or its master. And if that's the case… I think perhaps we can work out a deal."

Suzaku, wanting to buy time to figure out what the hell the Caliburn was trying to tell him about willpower inputs or whatever, asked, "What kind of deal?"

"You want to destroy Japan. What I want is… similar. Agree to work with Luciano here for a time, and you will see the Japanese occupation in this country fall," the man said simply.

Suzaku frowned, distracted from his efforts to get free yet again. "You want me to work for you- and do what? Because I saw how you and your people operate at the airport last week."

"It was a necessary step," was the toneless reply.

"Nearly killing hundreds of innocent people is necessary?" Suzaku demanded, the very idea of that setting his teeth on edge.

Unnoticed by Suzaku, the edges of the Caliburn's limbs began to glow a faint blue.

"Surely you can see there will be sacrifices along the way to achieving any goal," the man said, sounding vaguely surprised at his challenge. "You won't free this country without sacrifices made in blood."

"The only people who should die are the ones who are evil!" Suzaku refuted, his fury building. "I fight for justice, but you can't call killing innocents justice!"

"And who decides what is justice? You? The people?" the man scoffed, laughing mockingly. "You'll quickly find, sir, that the meaning of justice is as fluid and vapid as the hearts of men. Dedicating yourself to such a naïve ideal will only lead you to fight countless losing battles, alone, and betrayed."

"I'm not fighting for any kind of approval, or because I want to win battles," Suzaku shouted in rebuttal, and the Caliburn's arms were shining now with that azure light. The weight of the machine pinning him down seemed far less now, and with a final shout, Suzaku pushed it off of him and returned his Knightmare Frame to its feet.

The floor felt oddly slick beneath the machine, but in his fury, Suzaku ignored it.

"Impressive," the man on the loudspeakers commented unconcernedly.

With a snarl, Suzaku drew forth the Caliburn's longsword and swung it towards the control room window above him, where Luciano stood smiling, the physical representative of the voice Suzaku had been arguing with this entire time.

"I'm fighting because someone has to stand up to them," Suzaku said slowly, his voice edged with steel. "Someone has to fight for what's right, without compromise."

"Well then, it seems we're at an impasse," the man said with a sincere sounding sigh. "Pity. And since we have nothing more to say to you, we'll be taking our leave. Goodbye, foolish knight. I'm sure we'll be seeing each other soon enough."

In the window, Luciano grinned, waved, and held up a lit match, which he tossed out the window of the control room.

'Bye bye', he mouthed gleefully, and Suzaku's eyes barely had time to widen before he realized that the slick feeling he had noticed earlier was liquid Sakuradite oozing out from the now punctured holding tanks.

In a panicked rush, Suzaku dashed forward, using the Caliburn to block the fall of the lit match before it could connect with the extremely volatile Sakuradite. He looked up, already knowing he would no longer see Luciano's face in the window- the man had used the match as a simple distraction to make his escape.

Above them, he could hear the distant thumping beats of a helicopter's blades.

They've escaped, Suzaku thought, setting his mouth in a deep frown.

"Hey! Jinchuu!" the radio crackled, and Weinberg's voice chirped through. "We've got all the prisoners- you can blow this joint at any time."

Suzaku stayed silent, still focused on the bewildering exchange he had just experienced.

"Uh… Jinchuu? You there man?"

Suzaku shook his head, trying to ignore the growing feeling of dread in the pit of his stomach, and finally responded. "Y-yes, I'm here Weinberg."

"You run into any problems?" Weinberg sounded oddly concerned. "You sound kind of shaky."

"It's nothing," Suzaku denied quietly. "I'm destroying the factory now- you'd best get clear."

Weinberg noticeably hesitated before acknowledging his instructions, but finally he said, "Alright then. We'll withdraw then. Weinberg out."

Suzaku ignored him, moving towards the Sakuradite holding tanks- even punctured and leaking, the explosives would still be able to reduce most of the factory to useless rubble.

As he set the charges, those last words came back to him again.

"Goodbye, foolish knight. I'm sure we'll be seeing each other soon enough."

Suzaku shivered. He had no doubts about that.

Author's Notes

In response to the past few reviews about this being Ohgi… Okay so I had a massive brain fart and forgot Ohgi's given name, but just for reference here, Kirihara Kaname=/ Ohgi Kaname. Different people. I promise. Sometimes I lie, but not in this circumstance. Same first name, different people. There's no One Steve Limit here.