Chapter 3: The Meeting
He answered the phone
"Yes. Who is this?"
"It's been a long time Suzaku."
"Lelouch, you've been gone for over five years. Why are you calling me now?"
They spoke slowly, enunciating every word.
"I've decided to come back Suzaku."
"Come back? What do you mean?"
"I want to return to everything I've left behind Suzaku. I want to start over."
"I see. So you've 'decided' that you can just call me up, stroll back into everyone's lives and then everything's just going to be okay?"
"Suzaku, I know this seems extraordinary…"
"You're damn right it's extraordinary! Do you have any idea what's happened in the five years since you've been gone?!"
"…Suzaku, I know I don't deserve to be able to come back after what I've done, but right now I just want to meet with you."
"And what makes you think I'd be willing to meet with you? You up and vanish, expect me to pick up after you, and then you come back and ask me for more favors?!"
"Suzaku, I understand what you must think of me. So if you won't do it for my sake, then do it for Shirley."
"Shirley? What happened to her?"
"Don't worry, she's fine. She's here with me and she'll be joining us at the meeting."
"…What exactly happened to her, Lelouch?"
"She's been in a comatose state for five years."
"…Where are you right now?"
"I'm in Kurobe. Shirley and I are staying in a hotel."
"…Unbelievable," He muttered.
"Nothing. All right, we'll meet at 0800 tomorrow. Can you recommend a location? Preferably somewhere public, but not too crowded."
"There's a small café on Main Street at the intersection of Makino."
"All right, we'll meet there."
"Suzaku, just tell me this: is Nunnally still with you? Is she all right?"
"I'll see you tomorrow Lelouch."
The duo had made their way to Kurobe eager and hopeful to restart their lives. They saw their arrival as the first step in their journey as they were finally surrounded by civilization. Having made their way into the city and finding suitable accommodations at a nearby hotel, they decided the most practical thing to do next would be to locate and contact their friends and family. However, with almost everyone believing them to be dead, they knew the idea of just calling or walking up to them would potentially be quite problematic. And even if they were to attempt something so direct, they couldn't know for sure the location or status of their loved ones. So they decided to contact the one person who knew Lelouch's secret.
Lelouch had still kept Suzaku's phone number even after so many years, and he only hoped that it would still work. He was quite delighted, but also nervous, when he found that the number still worked and he heard the voice of his old friend. The conversation itself had been less than pleasant for the two of them, but Lelouch was still glad to have it over and done with, and now he and Shirley could hopefully get some answers. They went to bed early that night, getting a full night's rest, and woke at 6:30 AM. They prepared themselves and left promptly at 7:30 AM.
"Ready to go, Shirley?"
She replied with a nod and an "mm-hmm." She grabbed her walking cane and they were on their way. Despite being able to leave their old house and return to the outside world, Shirley's legs had still not fully healed and she required a cane to help her walk. As they stepped outside the hotel, Lelouch noticed as Shirley walked with a limp, trailing just behind him. It pained him to see her in such a state.
"Are you sure you don't want to call a cab or take a bus there?" Lelouch asked.
She looked up and smiled. "No, it's okay Lulu. I'm fine." She continued to walk. "The exercise is good for my legs, and it's only a 15 minute walk, right? I'll be fine."
Lelouch smiled and gave a few last words of reassurance. "Well, if it gets to be too much for you, just say the word and I'll carry you the rest of the way."
"Oh, like you could carry me," she cheekily replied.
He chuckled. "Well, you may have a point."
They were quiet for a few moments as they began their walk. Shirley's limp persisted, but she maintained a steady pace. Lelouch slowed himself down somewhat so as not to get ahead of her. Lelouch spoke again.
"It'll be nice to see Suzaku again, won't it?"
"Mm-hmm, it's been a long time. I hope he's doing well."
There was silence for a moment and Shirley's expression changed from cheerful to stern.
"Lelouch. Do you still consider Suzaku your friend?"
He thought for a second, and replied truthfully. "Yes, of course I do. He's done so much for me over the years and…well, the fact that he's the first person I'm going to see after all these years is proof enough."
"Then do you think you should tell him about…you know."
Lelouch glanced down in thought. He knew exactly what she meant.
"I don't think there's any need for that. I can't see how it would be beneficial for any of us."
"But he's your friend. Don't you think you should be honest with him?"
"Friendship can be broken Shirley, and it's not something I really want to lose right now."
"But if you told him the whole truth maybe he'll understand. After all, you told me the truth and I forgave you."
He gave a slight smile. "Well, unfortunately not everyone's as kind and forgiving as you, Shirley. Anyway, I don't see how it would be practical to tell him about it. And besides, that's all in the past."
He took a moment to soak in the words he was about to say. He looked up to the sky.
"I'm not Zero anymore."
They were silent the rest of the way. They walked steadily, maintaining their synchronized pace.
As expected, they arrived at the café at 7:45, 15 minutes before their arranged meeting. But when they arrived they saw that Suzaku was already there. He was waiting outside on the café's patio, sitting at a table for four. They didn't immediately recognize him, however, as he was wearing a pair of sunglasses and had donned the hood of his jacket. But once they got a good look at him and saw that he was acknowledging them, they knew it was him. They made their way to the table and the meeting began.
Lelouch spoke first, "Hi Suzaku. Hope we didn't keep you waiting too long."
"Not at all. It's been a long time Lelouch." He turned to face Shirley. "Shirley, I'm happy to see that you're doing well."
"It's so good to see you again Suzaku," she happily replied.
Suzaku nodded. "I hope you'll forgive my appearance, but it's very important that I stay hidden."
"It's all right Suzaku, we understand," Lelouch said.
Shirley glanced curiously at Lelouch in regard to his statement. Lelouch seemed confident in his understanding, but truthfully, Shirley had no idea why Suzaku would have to disguise himself. But Lelouch's next statement began to make it clear to her.
"So, am I correct to assume that the Black Knights have succeeded in liberating Japan?"
Shirley's and Suzaku's eyes went wide with shock. Shirley could hardly believe what Lelouch had just said. Could it really be true? To think that the Britannian Empire could lose its rule over Area 11, and that the Japanese had reclaimed their nation. Shirley was stupefied. Suzaku, however, was surprised for a different reason.
"What are you talking about? Of course they have."
Suzaku's confirmation of the claims only served to surprise Shirley even more. She simply sat and tried to soak it all in. Suzaku continued.
"How could you not…" Then the realization dawned on him. "Are you saying that since you've been gone you've isolated yourself to the point that you have no idea what's been going on in the world?"
Lelouch went silent making a face that signified his sorrow and regret. It was true. When Lelouch had abandoned his old life he truly had abandoned everything, including the outside world. After he geassed Shirley he wandered from place to place, looking for somewhere, anywhere, he could hide with her. After traveling far enough, he came across a small abandoned cabin in the Hida Mountain Region. Upon finding it he knew that it would be the place that he and Shirley would start their new "life" together.
It was a lonely little cottage, completely isolated and miles away from any civilization, which suited Lelouch quite well. This cozy little home was indeed the embodiment of Lelouch's own private little world. A world where he would pay no heed to the bigger outside world, nor to any of his loved ones, save Shirley of course. Even during the few times he went into town he did his best to avoid any exposure to the news or media. He averted his eyes from the newsstands and magazine racks. Naturally, there was no radio or television in the cabin either. He had no intention of following any world events. He knew the impact he had made on the world, and to what level he was involved, and he couldn't bear possibly reading a headline that stated, "Black Knights All But Obliterated; The Britannian Empire Stands Tall!" He didn't want to know
But this. This was far beyond anything he expected. He wasn't even sure if he himself could have liberated Japan, much less the Black Knights without his aid. But upon his and Shirley's return to civilization, as he glanced at the newspaper covers in the local stores, it became all the more evident to him. And now with his old friend Suzaku sitting there, confirming his suspicions, he was truly astounded. He remained silent as Suzaku remained flabbergasted.
"I see. I'm disappointed in you Lelouch."
Lelouch and Shirley stayed silent, partly so because they were still letting it all soak in, and partly because they were too ashamed to speak.
"Well, despite all that, I suppose you should know what's been going on in the world."
Lelouch and Shirley stayed silent and listened intently.
"So to start off: Yes, Japan has been liberated and I must remain hidden like this because I'm still a Britannian soldier and, thusly, an enemy of Japan. You see, after you two disappeared the Black Knights continued their battle against Britannia for quite some time, but it was during the summer of 2017 that two major events took place. The first was Princess Euphemia's declaration and formation of the Special Administration Zone. This was to be an area where Elevens would be given special rights and be treated as Japanese citizens."
Lelouch, while surprised, was more inquisitive and contemplative at the moment. True, he hadn't expected Euphemia to open a Special Administration Zone, but at this point he was prepared to hear anything as he simply wished to absorb and process the information of the events that he had missed over the past five years. As Zero, he himself had considered the possibility of an SAZ-like institution, but he believed any such endeavor would be futile in the long run. Suzaku continued.
"And the second was the disappearance of the Black Knights' leader Zero."
Now this piece of information truly intrigued him. He had often wondered how the Black Knights would react to his disappearance. He had considered the possibility that they would acknowledge and announce his disappearance to the world or perhaps they would find another "Zero" to take his place. But apparently they had gone with the former. He prodded Suzaku for more information.
"Zero had actually been missing for a few months before then, but it wasn't until the summer of '17 that the Black Knights officially announced it. Incidentally, with the completion of the SAZ, Euphemia sought the Black Knights approval of the institution as well as for peace terms to be made. It was shortly after this that the Black Knights officially announced the disappearance of Zero and, in a way, they used it to their advantage so they could abstain from making any official standpoint on the SAZ's existence, claiming they could not make one until they had reorganized and elected a new commander."
Of course Lelouch knew he would have done things differently, but he believed the Black Knights' decision to be, considering the circumstances, sound and reasonable. Indeed, it would have left the Black Knights in a no-win position in which if they had agreed to the establishment of the SAZ it would have ended their crusade against Britannia and if they rejected it they would have been viewed as mere terrorists. Lelouch most-likely would have had to sabotage the SAZ, perhaps geassing Euphie into attacking him, or something to that effect. But it was neither here nor there. The Black Knights were still active and Japan had been reclaimed somehow.
"I see. So what happened then?" Lelouch asked. "Did the SAZ last? Did the Black Knights ever establish a new leader?"
Suzaku was silent for a moment and then, oddly enough, he answered the second question first.
"The Black Knights elected Kyoshiro Tohdoh as their new leader. A former JLF commander and my old sensei."
Lelouch considered Tohdoh to be a worthy choice. As a seasoned veteran from the war between Britannia and Japan, as well as a high-ranking officer from the JLF, he certainly had enough experience to lead the Black Knights. His only complaint would be Tohdoh's archaic war and political tactics as opposed to Lelouch's revolutionary new methods. But, overall, he was still probably the best man for the job.
"As for the SAZ, things had seemed to be going well for it, and with the election of Tohdoh as the Black Knight's leader Euphemia had hoped that Britannia and Area 11 could finally reach a peaceful resolution. However, it was too little too late. Shortly after Tohdoh was elected, a group of Britannian activists led a full scale assault on the SAZ, effectively destroying it. Thousands of people lost their lives that day…"
Suzaku began to tremble.
"… including Princess Euphemia."
Lelouch flinched in shock. He knew the SAZ was most likely doomed to fail, but he would never have expected this. He couldn't believe that his beloved half-sister was dead.
"What? Euphemia's dead?" Lelouch said, with feelings of terror and grief overwhelming his voice.
Underneath his sunglasses, Suzaku wore an expression of regret and sadness.
"Yes. I'm sorry Lelouch."
Suzaku grew tense as he remembered the fateful day that Euphemia had been taken from him – taken from the world. Meanwhile, Lelouch tried to cope with this harsh new reality. He had anticipated and prepared himself for the possibility of death of one of his loved ones, but preparing for it and actually experiencing it, as he discovered, were two entirely different things. He didn't want to believe it, but it was true. Euphemia was dead. Seeing his obvious distress, Shirley reached her arm out and attempted to console him.
She laid her arm on his and shortly thereafter Lelouch recomposed himself. He could grieve later. Right now he couldn't afford to waste Suzaku's, Shirley's, or his own time.
"I'm fine." He turned his attention back to his old friend. "Go on Suzaku."
Suzaku also recomposed himself and continued.
"After the attack on the SAZ, which would become known as the SAZ Massacre, conflict between the Black Knights and Britannia grew even worse. The Black Knights and the Elevens only saw this as further proof that peace between Britannia and Area 11 could never be reached. Tensions mounted, but the Black Knights bided their time until they launched a major assault. On January 20, 2018, about half a year after the SAZ Massacre, the Black Knights attempted a coup on the Tokyo Settlement. This incident came to be known as the Black Rebellion."
This information was quite a surprise to Lelouch. Before his departure he had been in the planning stages of the Black Rebellion, but he never thought it would come to fruition after his disappearance. He wondered exactly how the Black Knights were able to enact his plan. He presumed that, after his disappearance, the Black Knights came across his plans, built upon them, and staged their own rebellion from there. Naturally, it would take longer for the operation to take place, what with their leader gone and the inherent disorganization and loss of strategic ability that came with it. He continued to think as he listened to Suzaku.
"Many people on both sides lost their lives that day, but ultimately the coup was unsuccessful. The Black Knights retreated, but still remained active and continued to fight against Britannia. For a while hostilities decreased and it seemed like the Black Knights might eventually degrade and die out. However, exactly one year to the date of the Black Rebellion, the Black Knights launched another coup against the Tokyo Settlement. This was the day the Black Knights took over Japan. It was called Operation: Blackest Night."
This was certainly the most intriguing piece of information yet. The name of the operation itself had a very distinctive ring to it. To Lelouch it seemed to signify finality and forebodement; a title very suiting for the Black Knights. He eagerly awaited further explanation.
"I myself took part in the battle and I remember it vividly. As bad as the Black Rebellion was, it was nothing compared to this. It was the bloodiest and most fearsome battle I'd ever been a part of. Living up to the nocturnal nature of its name, the operation began at 2100 hours and lasted until daybreak. Each side gave everything they had, fighting full force, effectively making Tokyo a torrid warzone strewn with carnage and death. The death toll for both Britannian and Japanese soldiers and civilians was catastrophic. In the end though, the Black Knights were victorious. The Britannian occupation was overthrown, and Japan was liberated."
It was quite hard to believe. Had the Black Knights really done it? Had they really succeeded in freeing Japan without Zero's help? It would seem so. But how? Was Tohdoh really that capable of a leader? Or perhaps Lelouch had given himself too much credit and the power to liberate Japan had not exclusively belonged to him. Or maybe his spirit had carried the will of the Black Knights even in his absence. Could it have just been a moment of weakness for Britannia that the Black Knights had the good fortune act upon? Or, further still, could there be some information that Suzaku was withholding from them?
And what of all this death that Suzaku was talking about? All the lives that were lost during the conflict. How many Black Knights and civilians were sacrificed? What about Kallen? What about Rivalz and Milly and Nina. And, of course, what about Nunnally? Were they okay?
Whatever the case, Suzaku had said his piece. There was silence for a few moments and Suzaku didn't seem to be volunteering any more information, perhaps because he was giving the two a chance to soak it all in. Lelouch prodded him.
"I see. So what now of the Black Knights and Britannia?"
"The Black Knights are effectively Japan's primary military force as well as leading political party. Thus Kyoshiro Tohdoh is the commander-in-chief of the armed forces and the prime minister."
Lelouch paused for a while and took some time to digest all the information that had been given to him. Having remained silent for some time, Shirley broke in with the next question.
"I don't understand Suzaku. If Japan is free now then why are you still fighting for Britannia?"
Lelouch himself was a bit curious, but he had a pretty good idea of the answer. Suzaku replied.
"There are three reasons."
As he spoke he lifted his hand and then raised his index finger as he began to list them off.
"One, as a Britannian soldier I fought against the Black Knights to the very end, even during Blackest Night. Thus, most of Japan, and certainly the Black Knights, consider me a traitor."
He raised a second finger.
"Two, I do not acknowledge or accept the Japan that the Black Knights have established and rule over."
He raised a third finger.
"And three, I still believe Britannia is a flawed government that must be changed. Therefore, I will continue to work at fixing its corrupt policies from the inside to try to prevent more harm from being done."
Suzaku put his fingers and arm down while Shirley gave a look of mild sadness, but also understanding. Lelouch smiled and responded cheekily.
"You're still riding that scooter, eh Suzaku?"
Suzaku replied with a stern look on his face. "Think of me what you will, but I am going to change Britannia, one way or another."
Lelouch, feeling somewhat guilty about his light mockery of his friend's goals, relinquished his snarky smile. He then asked a question that had been pressing his mind for some time.
"What about Nunnally? Is she still with you Suzaku?"
Suzaku paused, lightly exhaling, with a grim a look on his face, and answered.
"I'm sorry Lelouch, but she was kidnapped during the Black Rebellion."
Lelouch and Shirley's eyes went wide.
"What?!" Lelouch said.
Suzaku continued, "She was taken hostage by the Black Knights."
The intensity of the situation soaked in as Lelouch began to sweat and go through mental gyrations. His dear little sister, the only family he truly had left in this world, taken by the very military force he had created. Why? They must have found out she was a princess. Poor little Nunnally, kidnapped by that swarm of Brittanian-haters. They couldn't really kidnap a crippled blind girl could they? Certainly they couldn't have killed her. Yes they could. Yes they could. And it had happened under Suzaku's watch.
Despite Lelouch's frustration, he tried to maintain a degree of composure and calm in his voice.
"You were supposed to protect her Suzaku. What the hell happened? Why didn't you save her?"
"I'm sorry Lelouch. I tried to rescue her. I even told the Emperor himself that Nunnally was alive and that she had been kidnapped, but he stated that we were not to go after her. Since she was never seen after she'd been kidnapped he claimed that there was no guarantee that she was alive and that her fate was inconsequential anyway."
Lelouch didn't speak. That bastard father of his. He never gave a damn about him or Nunnally. What kind of plan was that Black Knights? Kidnap the daughter of an emperor that doesn't care about his own children? And after she yielded no results they'd just execute her and dispose of her like trash, isn't that right? After all, that's what he'd taught them. "Those with power, fear us." Britannia must be destroyed.
"Her fate has never been confirmed, but it's been over four years now, Lelouch. It doesn't look too hopeful."
Lelouch leaned on his hand, covering half his face. There were no thoughts, no words. A tear escaped from his eye. Shirley looked at him, saddened, her own thoughts turning to poor Nunnally and how horrible it must have been for her, and how horrible it must be for Lelouch right now. Suzaku continued.
"My advice to you, Lelouch, is to try to move on. Try to get over what happened to Nunnally and start a new life, preferably somewhere away from Japan. Ever since the Black Knights took over the Japanese haven't looked kindly upon Britannians."
It was true. Lelouch himself had noticed an odd change of behavior of the Japanese people over the five years, even with his limited interaction with the outside world. About two or three years after moving into the cabin he couldn't help but notice that every time he went into town he would get the occasional cold stare or mean look from the Japanese civilians. He usually just passed it off as coincidence or perhaps chalked it up to something he may have inadvertently done to offend them. Not that it mattered, what with his isolated lifestyle. But in the last few days, as Lelouch and Shirley had made their way to Kurobe, the hostility of the Japanese people became more and more apparent. As they were traveling across the country they still received the occasional cold stares, but at one point Lelouch was seemingly tripped by a Japanese man who was walking the opposite way as him. Shirley insisted that it was just an accident and Lelouch went along with her optimistic assumption, despite that he didn't really believe it. Even as they were making accommodations at the hotel the night before, Lelouch noticed that, while a Japanese couple that had come before them had been given a room after approximately two minutes at the front desk, Lelouch and Shirley had been held for 15 minutes. Lelouch suspected that had Shirley not given them the sympathy factor of her having to walk with a cane they wouldn't have gotten a room at all that night. To Lelouch, it was all too obvious that the Japanese didn't look favorably upon them.
Well, you could hardly blame them. After all, having been persecuted by the Britannian occupation for so many years; having their rights, freedoms and identity as a nation taken away, and with them most likely now at war with the Britannian Empire, it was only natural that they would despise them.
Lelouch was still silent as he mulled over the information and tried to come to grips with the fate of his sister. Shirley started with her own question.
"What about my mother Suzaku? Where is she now? And what about our friends?"
Suzaku turned his head down and went silent. He was deeply lost in thought, seemingly contemplating the question as if he really didn't want to answer it. It was his longest bout of silence yet. Finally, he unsheathed a pen and a slip of paper.
"Here, I'm going to give you Rivalz's address." He began writing. "He's working at an insurance company now or some such thing. He'll tell you everything you need to know." He finished writing and handed the paper to Shirley. She looked at the paper and then at him, eyes wide with confusion at his reluctance to tell her anything. "I'm sorry Shirley, but I've overstayed my welcome here…" (Not that he was welcome in the first place). "…and quite frankly I don't feel obligated to tell you anything more."
She was still confused by Suzaku's behavior and she was almost hurt by his words. "…Suzaku."
"It's okay Shirley," Lelouch interrupted. "We understand, Suzaku." He broke out of his contemplation and looked into the eyes of his old friend. Suzaku looked back at him.
"Is there anything else you need to know?" Suzaku asked.
"No, we're fine," Lelouch said. "We'll find the rest out from Rivalz. You said yourself that it's dangerous for you to be here, so we won't keep you any longer. Thank you Suzaku."
Lelouch smiled. Suzaku did not smile back.
"Good. Then I suppose I'll take my leave then. It was good seeing you two again." Suzaku rose from his seat and Lelouch and Shirley followed suit.
"It was good to see you too Suzaku," said Lelouch. "I'm very sorry to have inconvenienced you like this."
"Think nothing of it." Suzaku turned to face Shirley. She had a sad look in her eyes and almost began to cry.
"I was so happy to see you again Suzaku," she said. "I hope we can meet again some day."
Suzaku smiled. "I'm sure we will."
After that, they took their leave of the café. They walked out and said their last goodbyes, leaving in opposite directions; Lelouch and Shirley going back to the hotel and Suzaku going back to Britannia. As they walked back Shirley noticed that Lelouch, to say the least, seemed a bit down from the news he'd been given during their meeting. She offered him some words of consolation.
"I'm sorry about Nunnally and your sister…Princess Euphemia, right?" Almost immediately she felt a sense of embarrassment and guilt at her hesitance to remember the name of Lelouch's sister. She tried to offer a quick explanation. "I'm sorry. It's still hard for me to imagine you as a prince, Lelouch."
"It's all right," he replied. "I had prepared myself for the possibility that something like this might happen, but…it still is quite a shock." Shirley gave a look of concern, which he noticed. "I'm okay though," he said, trying to make her feel better.
There was a moment of silence between them. They steadily walked back, Shirley with her cane and Lelouch by her side. Shirley broke the silence.
"I still think you should have told Suzaku."
"What, about me being Zero?" He knew that was exactly what she meant. "Well, to be quite honest, I think he may already suspect that I'm Zero. I mean, I run off under mysterious circumstances and then Zero disappears shortly thereafter. It's not hard to make a connection."
He paused for a moment.
"Well, if he did figure it out it was very kind of him to not bring it up. I suppose he really is a true friend."
Shirley smiled and Lelouch smiled with her. They made their way back to hotel, making occasional conversation along the way. After arriving they took some time to relax and recuperate from their small trip and made their plans for the next stage in their adventure.
Suzaku pulled out his cell phone. He dialed the number. It rang. An answer.
"Yes, it went well. No problems to speak of."
"I'm actually surprised at how docile he's become. It seems that five years of inaction has dulled his mind and his initiative."
"No, I don't expect him to be a factor in the future. His wings have been clipped. He doesn't have the power he once had."
He looked to the sky.
"After all, he's not Zero anymore."
Dun Dun Duuuuuuuuunnn! Ooh, so Suzaku does know that Lelouch is Zero. Also, a lot of other info was revealed in this chapter. So what do you all think? Do you think I'm handling all the characters well? Am I being true to their characters and giving them adequate attention? Well, so far we've only dealt with three, but of course we're going to have more in the future.
Anyway, as far as updating I'm not making any promises. I'm a lazy fanfic author as it is and with school coming up I'm only going to be even busier in the weeks to come. Still, it's not my intention to abandon this fanfiction (not anytime soon anyway) and although this is probably going to be a long fanfic there will probably be long waits between chapters. Just letting you all know.
So, until the next chapter arrives stay frosty and remember to keep the Code Geass fandom alive!