Chapter 1: Lelouch
"Where were you last night?"
So Nunnally had noticed after all. Damn.
"Oh, just hanging out. You know…" I waved my hand airily and used the newly-lit pedestrian walk signal as an excuse to trail off.
Normally, I would have preferred to stand still. I'm not overly fond of Tokyo in the summertime. The hot, thick air forces itself into nostrils and causes jackets to constrict around their owners' shoulders. As a bonus, it carries the acrid smell of gasoline fumes. My leather loafers weren't ideal for hiking the thirty block distance to the pet store, either. Unlike my little sister, I don't spend an hour every day jogging. And she just had to pick this afternoon to buy a housecat.
I said as much to Nunnally, and received a cheerful rebuke in return. Walking was good for me. After all, I couldn't rely on my good metabolism forever.
"Besides," she added with a conspiratorial wink, "the Ashford girls prefer athletic boys."
Not when their armpits are soaked with sweat, I thought.
I rubbed my sunburned face and retorted that there was a difference between getting exercise and getting cooked. Nunnally ignored me and focused instead on a homeless woman in a tight pink shirt huddled under an umbrella. Now that the Royal Eugenics Department was getting to work in Japan in earnest, the twenty block radius under my sister's protection may have been the only safe place left for people like her.
"Maybe you should ask that lady for her umbrella, Your Pastiness," she said.
I gave her a sharp look, and she recoiled in feigned horror before bursting into a fit of giggles. I didn't mind—my griping had served its purpose. For now, the subject of last night had been safely sidestepped.
She pointed out a group of palm trees in the courtyard up ahead. Shade at last. We spent the next couple minutes walking through a sea of noisy Elevens and honking horns, only to find that the palms offered little protection. I cast a longing glance at the air-conditioned silver-and-gray interior of a pizza parlor and suggested a short lunch break.
My slavedriver/personal trainer/little sister wouldn't hear of it. We spent the next twenty minutes walking through a neverending treadmill of hot white cement, with Nunnally chirping encouragement the whole time. I tried to con one of our bodyguards into carrying me, but Nunners' disapproving glance vetoed that idea.
"If you keep avoiding exercise like this, you'll end up like Father."
She had a point. If I hadn't been suffering from the heat, I might even have complimented her on the cleverness of using my least favorite family member to goad me into exercise.
"You still haven't told me where you were last night," she said
As usual, her timing was impeccable. She'd waited until the victim was addled with sunstroke.
Nothing much, Nunnally, I thought. Just commanding terrorists and threatening Brother Clovis at gunpoint. Oh, and getting supernatural powers from a green-haired woman while we ran from a naked teenager with telekinetic abilities. You know, the usual.
"I was just hanging out late, Nunnally."
Her eyes narrowed. Nunnally has an uncanny knack for spotting lies—a fact I've learned from hard experience. The curse of the vi Britannia family. Usually, it's easier to distract her than to bluff her, so I did.
"I'm sorry I didn't get back in time, OK? Besides, it isn't as if you're an invalid or anything. I know you can take care of yourself."
"You're trying to appeal to my vanity, Brother, and it won't work."
"Am I that transparent?"
"Crystal," she said.
Observant though she was, I had an advantage: My guilty tells could come from any number of things. I hinted at one.
"I was just playing chess, Nunnally."
She gave an exasperated sigh and I realized that I'd dodged the bullet. It suddenly occurred to me that concealing my activities on a 24/7 basis was going to be difficult. Case in point:
"You're hiding something else from me, aren't you Lelouch?"
A flurry of images: My brother's panicked face when he thought he was about to die. Britannian soldiers being torn limb from limb by invisible arms. A female terrorist piloting an old Glasgow.
I shrugged. Nunnally let it pass for the time being. We continued walking.
"Clovis wants to meet you this afternoon."
Fortunately, Nunnally was looking the other way when I gave a guilty start—or at least what passes for a guilty start among the Britannian royal family. Most people probably wouldn't have noticed, but Nunnally is not 'most people'. I took a slow breath to make sure my voice was level.
"What does he want?"
She sighed again.
"He wants your help in the anti-terrorist campaign, silly." Despite the lighthearted words, she sounded uncomfortable. You'd think that spending years in the Britannian court would have inured her to violence. Not so.
"Didn't you hear what happened yesterday?" she said.
Just don't put two and two together, sister. That would be…inconvenient.
"Yes, I did. Brother Clovis must have soiled himself. Did they catch the man who did it?"
She gave me a reproving look after my crack about Clovis. Then she told me that the man who'd forced Clovis to call off the attack hadn't been identified. He'd been wearing a helmet, and his voice was disguised with an obviously fake Britannian accent.
We walked and baked for a couple more minutes.
"We're here!" Nunnally said at last.
A little golden bell rang as Nunnally pushed the door open. The place smelled of woodchip bedding and aquarium water, but I was too busy basking in the air conditioning to care. My sister announced that she was going to look for a kitten and scurried off to the back of the store while I flattened myself on the floor and tried to cool down. It went pretty well until an employee nearly tripped over me.
"Sir, are you all right?"
"That depends. Do you have any water?"
She smiled apologetically.
"Just dirty aquarium water. Sorry."
I thought for a moment and considered my options.
The employee gave a nervous little laugh and went to feed the gerbils.
"Should've had the guy carry me," I muttered.
I used the hiatus to consider my situation. Clovis wanted me to help him with his anti-terrorism efforts. Well and good. It would give me a window into his operation.
On the other hand…
I'd stayed out of the political limelight after Mom's assassination. As any of my family could tell you, withdrawing from public life for even a short time is a serious risk. You get rusty quickly, and the opportunities for employment—governorships, military commands, Parliamentary seats—dry up just as fast.
Clovis was giving me a ladder back into politics, and this time, I had the Geass power. If the terrorists proved incompetent, I could always make a name for myself in the Britannian court by crushing them. I would accept Clovis's offer.
Unbidden, my thoughts turned to my family.
I've read enough to know that we're pretty rotten as families go. On the other hand, we're not quite the horde of voracious backstabbers that Dad tried to make us into. Family is a funny thing—your relatives may only help you a couple times in your life, but most people overlook the secondary benefits: the peace of mind in knowing (or 'suspecting', in our case) that you have help at hand when you need it.
I mentally rifled through my relatives. Cornelia might be helpful, if kept in the dark. Euphie wasn't very powerful, but she'd always liked us, and could act as a backdoor emissary to Cornelia if necessary. Clovis was the main target, but he was oblivious so far. If he caught on, I could always look him in the eye and politely ask him to stop breathing. Odysseus was a gullible idiot. Guinevere was a non-threat. Carine was nuts. Then again, people like her have their uses. Schniezel, on the other hand, was probably too dangerous to court at this point in the game. All I had right now was a theoretical knowledge of power politics and the memories of small-scale politicking during my childhood. Schniezel was a brilliant practitioner who'd spent the last eight years as Prime Minister. Unless he made the colossal mistake of pissing Dad off, Schniezel had a lock on the succession, Odysseus or no Odysseus.
A couple minutes had passed, and there was still no sign of Nunnally. I started walking to the corner of the store where I'd seen her last. As I did so, I nearly tripped over a teenaged Eleven girl. In my haste, I hadn't seen her crouching on the floor next to the puppy cages.
"Still as clumsy as ever, I see." she said. Most girls would have punctuated that statement with a laugh. She managed only a depressed half-smile.
I looked more closely at her. The girl's hair had been inexpertly dyed: it looked black from a distance, but there was a smattering of pinkish-red that must have been her previous color. The last puzzle piece fell into place when she looked up at me through eerily red eyes.
Not 'bloodshot'. Red.
I felt the vague stir of a painful memory, and with it, the urge to scream and lash out at the girl. Then the scene vanished again. That in itself is an odd event, since like most of the Royal Family, I have an eidetic memory.
"Don't you recognize me, Lelouch?"
There was a pained note in her voice, as if my failing to remember her was the worst thing imaginable. And in a moment, I realized that I did. This was the horned, naked girl from Clovis's research facility. The one that had chased the terrorists' truck after I'd become stuck in it. The one who'd killed C.C.
"You're the girl from the Shinjuku ghetto," I said.
C.C.—if that was her real name—had given me the Geass power to stop this girl. It hadn't worked, but the girl had let me go. She was either toying with me, or…
"I meant from before that," she said. Her faint smile started to shift into a frown.
I rapidly considered my options, thusly:
Whoever she was, she clearly expected me to know her. Yet surely I would have remembered a horned girl with telekinetic powers, which meant that we must have met sometime around the gap in my memory—near my tenth birthday, and my mother's assassination by an Eleven agent.
It would be unwise to admit that I didn't remember her. She didn't seem like the most emotionally stable individual. And then there was Nunnally to worry about. How would I get her out of here without triggering another mass slaughter?
"Of course," I lied. "It would be very difficult to forget you." The second part was true enough, I suppose.
She kept staring expectantly.
"I see you still have your horns," I said. It was a safe guess, and I calculated that my feigned reminiscing would encourage her to say something about our past--or hers--that would give me more clues.
She gave me a sad little smile.
"You always said they were cool," she said.
"My opinion hasn't changed."
"I didn't expect it to. Are you still seventeenth in line for the throne?"
"Fifteenth. Eric and Lily are dead."
"No worries. I didn't like them much anyway."
Lily had kicked the bucket from heart complications less than a year ago, so that wasn't much help. Eric, on the other hand, had been blown to smithereens by a terrorist bomb barely a year after the conquest of Japan. Since Reynald li Brittania had been seventeenth in line until a year before the invasion, I must have been about ten years old when I met this girl. The timeline fit perfectly with the memory gap.
"It's been seven years since I saw you," I said. "How do I know that you're who you claim to be?"
She narrowed her eyes
"How many pink haired girls with horns do you know?"
"The Britannian royal family has a dozen geneticists who could have duplicated you."
…Whatever you are, I added silently.
"My name's Lucy."
Her fists clenched. Careful, Lelouch…
"We met on Britannian mainland when I was ten years old. We played together."
I stroked my chin and pretended to consider her statement.
"You could have guessed that from clues in the conversation," I said. "As for the name…"
"We went to the royal zoo together! We met your parents!"
"You know the rest."
So…she'd done something she was ashamed of. But what?
"Lelouch, I've waited for this moment for a long time. I wondered if I could...I mean..."
"You want to apologize," I guessed, making it sound like a statement. I put just enough sarcasm into my voice that she'd interpret it as a joke if I was wrong. Either way, it gave the impression that I knew what she was talking about.
"I don't know if I can deal with this right now. In light of the seriousness of the offense..."--of which I had no idea, but it sounded good--"...I think we should talk about this when we have more time."
And after I've run through Britannia's intel system and figured out what you are, I thought.
For a second, I worried that she'd either explode into rage or start asking awkward questions. Instead, she simply nodded and said "okay" in that cold voice of hers. Time to change the subject.
"Did they keep you at the facility?" I asked.
"You mean you didn't come to rescue me?"
Well, damn. That would have been a useful little lie, but I doubted I could make it fly now.
"No, I was dragged into that mess. I didn't know you were in there."
"It must have been terrible for you," I added. Not that it was much of a stretch, since whoever ran the place let her run around naked and kept C.C. in a chemical vat.
She didn't look up from the puppy cage and she hugged her knees a bit more tightly.
"Oh yes. It was."
Time for a friendly gesture, methinks...
I kneeled down and put my hand on her shoulder. She seemed confused, and stared up at me as if I'd just stood on my head and sung "Happy Birthday" in Danish.
"I know it's an awkward time to ask, but you seem to be eyeing that puppy. Would you like me to buy it for you?"
If she'd been confused before, she was absolutely baffled now. Then a tear appeared in her eye. So my guess was right--she wasn't accustomed to normal affection. That would make things much easier. For a moment, I forgot that I was dealing with a mass murderer and allowed myself to feel a little pity for her.
The moment passed quickly.
"No…I…" she stammered. "I mean…it's very nice of you, Lelouch, but I have money. I killed an elderly couple last night. They were loaded."
She grinned through the tears.
"Hello again, Brother."
We both jumped as Nunnally spoke. She was standing behind us cradling a black cat in her arms. I prayed that she hadn't overheard anything. Lucy's eyes widened and she paled when she saw my sister.
"I thought you were getting a kitten," I said conversationally.
"I thought so too until I saw this cute little guy. The pet shop owner said that he's a stray. They were going to give him to a Humane Society unless somebody takes him."
"Does he have a name?" I struggled to keep my voice simultaneously level and just loud enough to draw Nunnally's attention away from Lucy's nervous twitching.
"I think I'll call him Arthur."
"Good name. He's lucky you found him."
Nunnally flashed a sly smile.
"I see you've found somebody as well."
And just like that, I realized there was a way to get Nunnally out of there without getting her killed.
"Err…yes. Nunnally, why don't you take the guards back to our apartment and wait for me there? I'll have a car come around and pick me up in a few minutes."
I winked slightly at Lucy, as if I didn't want Nunnally to notice. She did, as I'd intended her to. Nunnally been trying to hook me up with a girl for a long time—she's a meddlesome little busybody when she wants to be—and there was no way she'd pass up the chance to leave me alone with a rather attractive Eleven girl. As for Lucy, she'd assume that I wanted to talk to her privately. She'd also probably welcome the chance to get away from Nunnally, who seemed to be making her uncomfortable.
Long story short: it worked.
After Nunnally left, I lead Lucy out the door. She recommended a few back alleys, but I ultimately decided that the advantages of a public venue outweighed the threat of someone overhearing us. She wouldn't be stupid enough to risk detection by going on a rampage.
We sat down in an ice cream parlor—heavily air conditioned, by the way—and looked at the laminated menus.
"Anything you'd prefer?" I asked.
"You remember what I like."
Before I could reply, the waiter arrived at our table and asked me what we wanted. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Lucy watching me intently.
"I'll have a mint chocolate chip, please," I said. "And for the young lady…er…"
I looked for the weirdest flavor I could find and flashed an impish smile at Lucy.
"Bubblegum chocolate chip with a peanut butter swirl."
The man smiled, gibbered his unctuous congratulations to Lucy at landing a Britannian boy, and waddled off.
"What was that—"
I held up a hand. By now, I had my answer down pat.
"I just thought you'd want to try something a little different to mark our new relationship…"
I injected a little bit more seriousness into my voice and looked her in the eyes.
"…a fresh beginning," I said.
Her reaction was more or less what I'd expected. She hung her head and smiled at the same time, caught between shame at whatever she'd done and happiness that I was forgiving her for it. Her defenses were temporarily down. Time to blindside her with another piece of generosity.
"Would you like a place to stay?" I asked. It was a big chance, but the payoff was enormous.
"For now," I said, as nonchalantly as I could. "Nunnally and I have a cabin outside of Tokyo that we don't use much. We'd have to pick up some contact lenses and hair dye. Fortunately, hair ribbons are back in fashion these days, so we could probably hide the horns…"
"Lelouch, how can you be so kind to me when I--?"
"I said we'll talk about that later," I said. "In the meantime..."--I mentally crossed my fingers--"...can I interest you in a job?"
The happy smile widened and became something altogether more unpleasant.
"Who do you want me to kill?"
I found a smile of my own starting to play across the corners of my mouth.