Disclaimer: Code Geass – with its characters, settings, and all other borrowed elements here – is the sole property of its creators. I do this purely for my own entertainment, and (hopefully) that of my readers as well.
Opening lines of this chapter are taken from Blackbird, a song by the Beatles.
Author's Note: I'll keep this short and sweet for now, and save the details for later: this fic is an AU, set to run parallel to the anime, based on the premise of Lelouch being born decades earlier and acquiring C.C.'s Code at the age of 18; after some time he meets Suzaku, and is drawn to him because he has the potential to receive Geass.
To sum up: C.C. is/was to Lelouch as L.L. is now to Suzaku.
Ready? Let's go.
Warnings for this chapter: Language and (mild) violence. The fic's overall 'M' rating is just so that I don't have to switch it in the future when the M-rated content finally comes in (more on this later).
Japan, 1977 a.t.b.
He fulfilled his promise to her in a field of sunflowers.
There were so many of them – hundreds, smiling towards the sky in the high noon – that he didn't even notice the witch's arrival until she was standing right in front of him.
"Heading to the country, I see?" he said wryly, noting her unusual attire.
"Probably. The cities have become a bit too crowded for my liking. But who knows." She shrugged, offering a wily smirk. "I'll go wherever I please. I am C.C., after all."
He smiled as she strode purposefully closer. He was a man of his word, but...a part of him would miss the power of the King. It had provided him with much entertainment these past five years, and he couldn't help but wonder how things might have changed if C.C. had offered it to him when he was older, not at thirteen and with such simple-minded goals in sight. By the time he realized just how much potential this power had, the Geass had spread to both eyes, and he had lost control of it completely.
It was a pity, he thought as he removed his contacts for the last time. Perhaps, had he bided his time and played his cards right, he could have done so much more. But all things considered, he was quite content with the way things turned out. And now...
"Is it going to hurt?" he asked.
"Don't tell me you'll go back on your word if it does, boya."
"Ah. So it will, then." He smiled again as her fingers crept hesitantly up his back. He wondered if, years or decades or centuries from now, he would still remember this moment – the flowers, the Japanese summer heat, the ribbons in her hair and her honey-hued eyes meeting his gaze with its usual blend of mischief and wondering.
"Where do you want it?" she finally asked, and he replied by returning the platonic embrace with more warmth than he could have thought possible. Fingers were lost in silken strands of green as he gently pressed her forehead against his shoulder.
He fulfilled his promise to her in a field of sunflowers.
Blackbird singing in the dead of night
Take these broken wings and learn to fly
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to arise
Blackbird fly, blackbird fly
Into the light of the dark black night
. : Pilot : .
Area 11, 2017 a.t.b.
There was too much noise, the young soldier thought as he eased himself into the seat at the center of the cockpit. All around him little things beeped and whirred, and colorful lights dotted shiny instrument panels as they slowly came to life.
'Man-machine interface established,' a familiar, mechanical voice announced coldly from the speakers. 'Confirming entry of subject 404 into RPI-13 Sutherland.'
He liked Sutherlands, he had decided long ago. Well, perhaps 'like' was going a bit too far, but he certainly didn't hate them, and all things considered the seven-tonne machines agreed with him. They were easy to maneuver, did not require any particularly complex techniques, and were more resilient to bullets and shrapnel than their predecessors. And, perhaps the most important point: they were not the Knightmares Britannia had sent in swarms during the invasion of his homeland, seven years ago.
But there was no time to dwell on that last point – there never was, really. He shook his head as he punched his ID number into a small, waiting touch-screen off to the side. The pause that followed was longer than it should have been, but he let out a breath he did not realize he had been holding when a sharp crackle was followed by the gruff voice of a lieutenant.
"Intelligence has confirmed that terrorists collaborating with the JLF have somehow obtained several Knightmares from a hijacked cargo train. Private, your orders are to destroy all enemy forces while keeping Britannian casualties and damage to your unit at the minimum. All other collateral damage is inconsequential."
It was a standard closing note and had been worded carefully, but everyone knew what that last sentence meant.
'Inconsequential.' If it's just an Eleven, fire at will.
"Are these orders clear, Private?"
The officer's voice had risen dangerously at his silence. And so today the soldier forced himself to swallow back those thoughts as he gave an unseen salute out of sheer reflex.
"Yes, my lord," he replied, and his own words tasted so bitter he could barely suppress a wince.
But none of this mattered when he finally received the green-light to launch. Racing along an abandoned highway shoulder, his hands were steady but firm on the controllers as his eyes flickered from screen to panel and back again.
He knew it was ironic, but somehow it was in moments like this – sitting in a cramped cockpit and swallowed whole by tonnes of metal – that he felt the most free.
When he was within five hundred meters of the coordinates that had been relayed to him, he saw the enemy Knightmares. Sutherlands as well, there were two, three...four of them, as reported by a small screen displaying data from his factsphere sensors in continuous streams. This was interesting, he thought, because he'd never fought this many before – at least, not all at once. He highly doubted they would come at him one at a time, a surmise proven correct when they all charged toward him in a synchronized attack.
Some time ago he had learned that even Sutherlands were capable of dodging rapid fire if you pushed them hard enough. He took full advantage of this fact as the onslaught of slash harkens and bullets began, but he was careful not to leave any of the fleeing, screaming civilians in the line of fire.
The soldier already knew what his superiors wanted him to do. He had three chaos mines at his disposal, and with the enemy Sutherlands localized here, he would only need one to finish the job. But right now he was in the heart of the Saitama ghetto, and while he knew it didn't matter to them if he played this card and killed every living thing within its blast radius – after all, no Britannian would be caught dead in slums like these – his mind raced to find an alternative.
Because he didn't become a soldier in order to murder innocent people; he was in the military because long ago, he had decided to...
He shook his head again, furiously this time, to clear it of those distracting thoughts. There were no open fields or anything even remotely resembling one nearby; he would have to do this the hard way.
He had never actually used a chaos mine before, but he did recall that – in theory – to prepare, launch, activate, and expend one would take roughly forty-five seconds. In order to have an excuse not to use a chaos mine, then, he needed to either match that time or do even better, and he let out a groan of frustration through his teeth as he realized he had probably wasted a third of that time dilly-dallying like this from the moment he could have first deployed it. So he had four enemy Sutherlands to contend with, and thirty seconds left to do it. Was that even possible?
Grinning despite himself he punched in a manual countdown on the screen below his energy monitor. There was only one way to find out.
His fingers found the lever beside the left controller and yanked it all the way forward, without mercy. Dimly he could hear the landspinners whining in protest at the abuse as his Sutherland shot forward, and within seconds he had traced a wide arc around the enemies to end up behind them. Three keystrokes on a panel later he was granted access to the controls of his machine's assault rifle; a barrage of bullets aimed at the legs quickly forced two enemy pilots to eject. (Twenty seconds.)
He didn't need the elaborate tracking program he had at his fingertips; he could see the harkens as they came from meters away. A couple of carefully aimed bursts deflected the heads and he charged forward at their source. It seemed as though his hands were moving faster than his mind – left pulled down, right pivoting completely at the wrist – and he kept his eyes on the line of the ground as his Knightmare ducked and spun with a low kick that swept an enemy machine off its feet. The cockpit disengaged and blasted off, its ruined frame collapsed in a heap of useless metal. (Twelve seconds.)
He whirled around to place the last enemy, only to have his rifle swatted out of his hands by a slash harken. Gritting his teeth he pushed the landspinners to their limit once more and closed the distance between the two Knightmares in a heartbeat.
Alarms blared the moment they collided, and the impact rocked the cockpit's interior. He overrode all the warning codes with one hand and used the other to fire both of his harkens; the heads shot forward and buried themselves into the faraway wall of a condemned building. (Eight seconds.)
For a brief moment he worried about his landspinners when he ordered full speed yet again. At the same time he pressed the buttons to retract the harkens, but the heads held fast to the concrete and this only added to the speed as his machine lurched forward, eating the cables. (Seven seconds.)
Perhaps realizing that his only other option was to be crushed between Knightmare and wall, the last enemy pilot ejected right at the four-second mark.
The soldier leaned back into the seat, smiling slightly as he slowed his Sutherland to a stop. When the countdown finally hit zero, he was watching a parachute drift lazily to the ground from hundreds of meters away.
He knew he should feel proud of himself, and if this were any other situation he might have, really. But as it was, now came the part he hated the most about exercises like these: he shut his eyes with a sigh once the backdrop of the Saitama ghetto started to blur, and the walls of the cockpit around him began to dissolve.
As he willed the rush of adrenaline away, he didn't know whether to thank or curse the programmers who designed simulators like these – everything, from the dilapidated buildings to the cracks in the roads to the clothes of running civilians seemed so real. It was alarmingly easy to get lost in that world, where he piloted a Knightmare and was somebody, as opposed to being a mere –
"404!" An impatient voice shattered into his thoughts. "Your simulation results."
Gingerly he removed the metal helmet and visor, careful not to get tangled in all the wires and other such contraptions that were attached, and placed it on the replica of an instrument panel in front of him. Every Britannian in the room was glaring daggers at his back, but he kept his own gaze nailed dutifully onto the floor as he jogged toward the sergeant at the front of the room. The latter had just taken the printout from the machine, and his eyes were narrowed as he read the contents aloud.
"Suzaku Kururugi" – his expression did not waver anymore, not even a bit whenever Britannians blatantly mispronounced his name – "Total operation time, one minute and forty-seven seconds. Damage to Knightmare, zero per cent. Britannian casualties, zero. All other casualties, zero. Efficiency rating..." If possible, the man's eyes narrowed even further, and his voice was tight as he seethed the rest: "Efficiency rating, one hundred per cent."
He was supposed to feel happy. Really, he was. But he did not know what to call the emotion he felt when he accepted the paper with a wordless nod, and he heard the vicious whispers among his colleagues, the backhanded kudos from his superiors.
"Not bad for an Eleven, Private."
"He's all that in simulations, but I'd like to see how he does with a real Knightmare."
"Well it's too bad. An Eleven can't possibly become a knight."
Suzaku bore this all with stoic acceptance as he marched to the exit. At the very least, it wasn't as hard as he remembered it to be. Because he was used to this treatment by now. Because even if his peers were cruel and resentful and needlessly vicious, all things considered they were right.
(Because the Holy Empire of Britannia had conquered Japan, dubbed its citizens Elevens. And it was a simple fact that Elevens – like himself – were just not meant to sit behind the controls of Britannia's prized war machines.)
He sighed again, slumping against the wall and rubbing his eyes as soon as he was out of that room. One hundred per cent efficiency rating in a Sutherland and nobody cared, not even himself.
Sometimes he couldn't remember why even bothered to keep coming back here. Maybe he still clung to the hope that one day it would be different, that one day he would be able to see the inside of a real cockpit and actually take a Knightmare out to battle. Or maybe a part of him had decided long ago that those borrowed moments of freedom, although artificial and fleeting, were worth all the disappointment and humiliation that invariably followed.
Or maybe, something much darker inside him seemed to suggest, this was punishment. Just like everything else, and just like he deserved.
Because seven years ago, when the crickets were noisy and the night was clear, a ten-year-old boy stepped into his father's study –
Suzaku pushed himself away from the wall with an involuntary jerk.
It didn't matter, he finally convinced himself as he made his way to the barracks. It didn't matter because for whatever reason, tomorrow he would be back here again, hoping – as he always did – that it would hurt a bit less when the illusion ended.
And while all this was happening, a truck driver blared his horn at the slow schoolboy-driven bike in front of his vehicle.
The redhead sitting in the passenger's seat warned him to just let it be, but he was on edge. And he knew she was too; anyone would be, with a fake uniform, a forged license, and a stolen canister of poison gas in the trailer.
So when the boy failed to speed up in time, he steered sharply to the side, intending to pass him. But he ended up overshooting and instead veered completely off the freeway.
It was quite the spectacular crash.
The last piece he moved was a bishop, crossing the long diagonal and sealing his opponent's defeat.
"Checkmate," he declared then, and his voice was much softer than that of the nobleman before him when the latter began sputtering.
The cycle was always the same: first came shock. Then there was denial (where did the bishop come from, and was that knight really on that square?) quickly followed by begrudging acceptance as L.L. shot down each of his protests with cool precision. Eventually realizing his was a lost cause, the nobleman's shoulders slumped in defeat. "Whose name shall I make it out to?" he finally asked, preparing his cheque book.
L.L. shook his head firmly. "We've discussed this. Cash only, please."
The man winced. "Ah, of course."
Even if they groveled and were generally sore losers, what was nice about playing nobles was that they always forked over what they owed in the end. He thumbed quickly through the wad of fifty-pound notes, satisfied at the amount, and tucked it unceremoniously into an inside pocket of his jacket.
"It has been a pleasure," L.L. announced with a practiced smile. He stood up and gracefully offered a handshake, but he was unsurprised to have it rebuffed. Sore losers, indeed.
Without further ado he stuffed his hands into his pockets and left the room. His feet sank partly into the lush carpet with every step as he walked along the hallway. There, glass windows lined one side of the corridor from floor to ceiling, and he gave the proffered scenery a passing glance: Britannian shops, Britannian restaurants, and Britannian vehicles filled his line of vision.
He felt a scowl etch itself onto his face when he remembered that he wasn't in Britannia; he was in Tokyo, and it hadn't always been like this.
Although L.L. was Britannian-born and bred, he felt no pride in this fact and held no attachment whatsoever to his homeland. As a teenager he had already seen the Empire's corruption, its zeal for power as it conquered country after country and replaced nationalities with numbers. He had seen through the shameless propaganda – Britannia was doing this for justice, Britannia was sharing her glory with the less fortunate nations, Britannia was a friend to all – and it was an insult to his intelligence, even then.
In fact, perhaps the only good thing that came out of his living in Britannia was that he met C.C. there. And for five years he enjoyed his Geass thoroughly, because if for nothing else it would usually take his mind off the gradually worsening injustices and cruelties his homeland committed in the name of glory. But at the end of the day the fact still remained: Britannia disgusted him, and he wanted nothing to do with an Empire that had the gall to believe itself the center of the world.
C.C. was well aware of his displeasure the whole time. He still recalled what she said to him one night, smirking through a mouthful of mozzarella: "You only have two options. Either do something about it, or leave."
Back then the choice was easy to make. And so the day he turned eighteen, finally old enough to leave his stepfather's household without questions, he took C.C. with him and used his Geass on the pilot of a Viscount's private jet: "I command you to take us to a country unsullied by Britannia's egotism."
That was how they ended up in Japan.
He saw the difference right away; finally he understood how citizens of a free nation celebrated its culture and traditions, but not in the aggressive way Britannia forced its own upon others. The people worked hard, made a huge deal of showing respect to one another, and embraced democracy – everyone had a voice, everyone mattered.
Gradually, as the snow gave way to cherry blossoms which in turn opened to sun-kissed meadows, he found himself growing fond of this country. Although learning the language and eventually getting settled took time, this didn't bother him; he had all the time in the world. And so L.L. had decided then that he would stay here, that he did not miss Britannia and her endless conquests.
But thirty-three years later, Britannia – and war – came to him.
And now he was trapped in a country that may as well have been a carbon copy of Britannia. Paper doors had been replaced with wood, intricate characters with Britannian script, rice and sake with potatoes and scotch. He hardly ever saw any Japanese – no, Elevens – anymore, the country's own people being displaced from the cities and pushed into the rural areas, or (worse) the ghettoes. In retrospect, he realized that the choice he had made before, the choice to escape, was a foolish one. But there was no way he could have known Britannia would succeed in subjugating Japan, no way he could have predicted the groundbreaking technology that would make it possible.
So he would continue on with the path he forged long ago. He had been setting aside money from his gambling for years now, and once he reached his target he planned to take the first flight to Australia, perhaps the only neutral country remaining on the globe.
It was just too bad, L.L. thought as he gave the Eleven vacuuming the hallway a generous tip. He was treated very well here, but that was only because he was a Britannian. He supposed he should miss this country, but with the way things were going he could barely even recognize it anymore.
The elevator doors rolled shut, and he found himself staring at his reflection tinted gold by the polish.
This was another reason he had to leave, or at least, could not stay in any one place for more than a few years: time had frozen when he took C.C.'s Code, and he would be forever eighteen. Several people – regular patrons of the gambling den, employees at the hotel he stayed in – had begun making comments, and while he laughed them off with schooled nonchalance and invoked everything from good genes to green tea, he knew this was a warning flag not to be ignored.
L.L. muted a sigh. Things had been so much easier before the Code. As he gazed at the youthful countenance that would be his for eternity, he realized he had forgotten how his irises looked like when they were tinged red instead of violet, when they once framed a sigil that was no longer quite there.
He shook his head. No, he could not remain here even if he wanted to, he mused as the doors parted once more.
He stepped into the ground-floor lobby, waving discreetly at the concierge there. The man had asked for his name exactly once, when he first came to this place looking for easy money. A hefty, well-placed tip had been his answer, and the question was never asked again.
"Leaving early today?"
"I promised this girl I'd attend a concert with her," he lied smoothly. "And I hate to say it, but my opponents have not been quite thrilling lately."
"It's called too much of a good thing. Why not try the slot machines once in a while?" the concierge suggested good-naturedly. "Or the craps tables? Just for a change of scenery."
L.L. shook his head. "I'm not fond of games wherein the outcome is influenced too heavily by luck."
He was rewarded with a chuckle. "Whatever suits you, then. Have a good one."
The very moment he stepped outside the building, he saw the commotion.
It was hard to miss; pedestrians flooded the sidewalks and traffic slowed to a crawl near the scene as curious drivers rolled down their windows to catch a glimpse. It took a while before he finally saw it for himself, but what piqued his interest the most wasn't how the truck had crashed and was now stalled on a construction site; rather, he wondered about the measured distance between it and the front line of onlookers, despite the lack of police tape or cones.
"Shouldn't we do something?" he heard a voice ask. He made his way gingerly through the crowd, and as he did so his mind was already busy rattling off possible answers to his question: the potential danger, perhaps, dissuaded them from approaching, or maybe someone had already called for help.
"Should we? They say the driver's just an Eleven..."
His thoughts darkened immediately. So that was what this was all about.
Throwing the offending bystanders a withering glance, L.L. doubled his efforts and eventually broke through the crowd of mere spectators.
And in a few seconds he was running clear across the concrete toward the truck; he ignored the protests from the throng and focused instead on the growing list of scenarios in his brain, and how he could help these people in each one.
It was not every day that the Viceroy of Area 11 had to deliver a nationwide address in the middle of a grand banquet. But Clovis la Britannia was well-versed enough in all the little quirks of politics to put on a convincing show.
He stared straight at the main camera while clutching his heart, his face contorted in agony as he mourned the eight (were there eight? He couldn't be bothered to remember) Britannian casualties in the latest wave of counter-terrorism in Osaka. His voice was loud and earnest as he entreated the Elevens in this Area for cooperation, but his mind was lost in other, vastly more important matters (that the baroness's peacock-blue gown was horrendous, and perhaps he should order more wine.)
This was shaping up to be a very atypical day, indeed, as no sooner had he accepted compliments from the ladies on his spontaneity than a high-ranking military official in full uniform had rushed to his side, quietly informing him of a top-level security breach.
"Poison gas, you say?"
"Yes, your Highness."
Clovis waved a hand. "Send aerial units to chase down the truck. Report to your superior when it's apprehended," he said, all the while scouring the ballroom for the daughter of the duke who had wanted his advice on something or – ah, there she was.
He was just finishing up his little chat with the charming young lady when he was approached by the same officer again. The man seemed understandably agitated as he informed the prince of an unexpected development in the situation.
"Then have Lord Gottwald or somebody take care of it. An old model like that shouldn't stand a chance," was his order then.
"Yes, your Highness."
It was on the third interruption that he finally lost his patience: "Send a squadron of foot soldiers to manually search those subway tunnels. Honestly, I don't quite understand why you feel the need to report every little detail in this silly little matter directly to me."
The officer was a big man, hard lines of muscle and bone etched onto his sturdy frame, and thus it was a comical sight to see him flush. "But, your Highness, the foot soldiers we have stationed here are Honorary Britannians...Elevens, your Highness, and if the matter were...if we certainly are dealing with Eleven terrorists – "
The man had a valid argument, but at this point Clovis decided that he'd had about enough of this nonsense. "Then dispatch the Royal Guard to keep them in check. Tell them the order came directly from me."
"Yes, your Highness!"
The irritation on the prince's face melted smoothly into cheerfulness as the man finally disappeared from his sight.
He would not see him again until after the party had ended.
L.L. sat on the cold metal floor of the moving trailer, ignoring the bumps and jerks beneath him as he assessed his situation.
He'd seen no convenient way to get to either the driver or the passenger, so he had climbed a ladder along the side of the trailer hoping to find another way in. He had just stepped on the very top rung when the truck began to move, and before he could react the sudden lurch had thrown him off-balance and into the trailer. That was about half an hour ago.
Within five minutes of that he learned – from a crackled order to surrender given from faraway loudspeakers, harsh against the propeller of what he thought to be military choppers – that he had managed to trap himself in a trailer containing a stolen chemical weapon of sorts. That, and the fact that the two other occupants of the truck were apparently Eleven terrorists who were now being pursued by the Britannian military.
Then, just as he managed to wrap his head around the circumstances, a young woman with short red hair entered the trailer, throwing off the uniform jacket and walking with a fierce kind of determination in her stride. He had hidden himself behind a fold of the tarp draped over some large device – at this point, he did not have to guess what that said device was – and was able to watch as the doors opened and an old red Glasgow destroyed one helicopter with a slash harken. That was around twenty minutes ago.
The woman and the Glasgow had disembarked, leaving the doors to slam shut from the momentum as the driver made an extremely sharp turn. From the vibrations on the floor and the relative darkness through the cracks lining the hinges, he deduced that the truck had most probably entered the subway system.
The only noteworthy event that followed after that was when the driver thought to radio for a rendezvous with his accomplices. " ...Subway tunnel...not injured, I'm...hide the truck...Glasgow..." was all he made out, with his rusty Japanese and through all the static garbling the transmission. That was five minutes ago.
And now, as the truck began slowing down, L.L. was grimly aware of the precarious position he had placed himself in. He was quite certain the driver would not be thrilled to learn he had a stowaway on board, no matter how good his intentions were in coming here in the first place. He would be especially displeased once he realized that his stowaway had been there the whole time he was speaking to his associates, and he highly doubted the latter would grant him any favors once they arrived.
As these facts and implications stewed in his mind, they all eventually pointed to a singular, simple conclusion: he had to get out of here.
L.L. leapt to his feet the moment he felt and heard the truck hiss to a complete stop. He braced a hand against the wall of the trailer to keep his balance, and as he made his way to the doors at the back he made sure to keep as much distance as possible between himself and the large object taking up most of the space. He had had more than enough time to lift up the tarp and inspect it during the ride through the subway, and when he did so the numerous skull-and-crossbone symbols and detailed Britannian hazard warnings were all he needed to conclude that this canister did indeed hold poison gas.
The question was why, he thought to himself as he peered through the crack between the doors. It would be difficult to smuggle this weapon outside Tokyo, especially now that the military knew of its theft. The only option left to them was to use it within the Settlement, then, but that would undoubtedly endanger the lives of the Elevens living in the surrounding area as well. Surely they wouldn't take that risk...unless they determined its radius of effect beforehand, and arranged to have the endangered Elevens evacuated before...
L.L. shook his head, pushing open one of the doors cautiously so as not to make a sound. No, that would have taken a seriously coordinated effort, which would have been downright impossible to execute right under Britannia's nose.
In that case, stealing the weapon didn't seem to be a very ambitious move, in hindsight. Did the terrorists just plan to make it up as they went along? No, that would have been just foolhardy; perhaps they weren't certain the operation would succeed at all, then, and hadn't planned too far ahead? Or maybe this was a trial of sorts, a way to discern how far they could go and how extensively they could operate before the authorities eventually noticed and took action.
He fumbled the landing a bit after jumping down from the truck, breaking the fall with his hands and biting back a curse.
There was another option, he realized as he stepped slowly away from the vehicle. The terrorists could use the canister as a potent bargaining chip, either as a token of Britannia's incompetence in the matter, or – a more sinister motive, but far more likely, he was afraid – as a way of holding the Settlement's Britannian citizens hostage. This way they didn't have to do anything at all, but rather wait for Britannia to make the first move and act from there.
He wondered how Britannia would react if the terrorists really did play that card. The military could respond any number of ways, but considering the circumstances –
L.L. felt his train of thought unravel into threads as he rounded a corner of the tunnel and, for a split second, found himself unable to move.
When the shock finally subsided, he placed a hand against the wall as his eyes darted around the darkened tunnel. The mental pulse had caught him by surprise, but by no means was it an unfamiliar feeling. There was someone nearby, then, and not just anyone.
A Geass user? Or could it be...?
All of a sudden he saw a spinning flurry of limbs and camouflage armor coming his way. He was able to cross his arms in front of his face out of pure instinct but it still hurt like hell, and the force of the kick was enough to knock him off his feet anyway. He landed clumsily on his back, the cold roughness of the ground digging into his skin as a Britannian soldier grabbed a fistful of his turtleneck and dragged him up that way.
"Stop this," came the harsh command, spoken in Britannian. "Haven't you caused enough trouble already?"
L.L. had no idea what the soldier was talking about, and told him so. Bluntly.
"The poison gas," he continued, tightening his hold on the material. "Where is it? And where are your collaborators?"
"That has nothing to do with me."
The soldier yanked him forward roughly. His mouth, the only part of him visible through the armor and uniform, was curled in a frown. "Think of all the lives you've put in danger! Britannians and Elevens! You don't have a – "
L.L. snarled. "I already told you!" He braced a foot against the front of the soldier's body armor and kicked him off with all the strength he had. It wasn't much – he merely ended up jumping a couple of feet back, immediately shifting to a fighting stance – but L.L. was too irritated with the accusation to care. "I'm not with the terrorists! I didn't steal your precious poison gas!"
He could see the soldier tense visibly as he stood up and brushed the dust off his pants. He heard the squeal of brakes, and in the corner of his eye he caught a short glimpse of the truck speeding in reverse, out of the tunnel; their recent exchange had been loud enough to alert the real terrorist, it seemed.
All this meant was that there was no reason to hold back anymore: "And what is Britannia doing, developing such a weapon in the first place? What ultimate purpose could that possibly serve, besides an eventual massacre?" He clenched his fists at his sides and bared his teeth, stepping forward and out of the darkened shadows near the walls. "Your self-righteous disapproval of these terrorists is unsurprising for a soldier of the Empire, but at the end of the day no matter who ends up using the poison gas, when the death toll comes Britannia herself has a share in the blame!"
It was then that the soldier's stance faltered a bit, and he drew back slightly in surprise. "You're..."
L.L. narrowed his eyes, stopping several feet away. "I'm what?" He suddenly remembered that this stranger's presence had triggered something in his now-dormant connection to Geass; had he tried to use one on him, only to have it fail? If so, then he must have realized exactly what L.L. was capable of by now.
"You're not...you don't match any of the descriptions given during our briefing." The soldier lowered his arms and straightened up entirely, speaking in a murmur now. "And you're not an Eleven either. Who are you?"
He opened his mouth to reply, but the voice that filled the dark tunnel twice over was not his own, and spoke in Japanese: "Hey! A Britannian soldier!"
L.L. turned, but was promptly spun the opposite way as a strong hand grabbed his wrist and the gesture was punctuated by what seemed to be a curse. "This way!"
He did not appreciate being practically dragged through the tunnels as they skirted bends and ducked low under unfinished ceiling supports. The soldier leading him ran impossibly fast, and on more than one occasion he felt himself stumbling to catch up.
But the hand on his arm was firm in its grip, and so he had no choice but to follow along.
So these were the other terrorists the truck driver wanted to meet here, he thought, unfazed by the occasional spray of bullets even as some came dangerously close. Occasionally he was able to catch glimpses of their pursuers as they rounded corners, and from those glimpses he was able to piece together a picture of what exactly they were up against: three Eleven terrorists, all male, all of medium build. One had dark-green hair, another wore glasses, and the third was insufferably loud as he hurled insult after insult throughout the chase.
"Where are we going?" he finally asked after taking one too many turns through these maddeningly identical tunnels. The question came out sounding more severe than he had intended, but he needed a way to mask the strain in his voice from all this running.
"I don't..." Surprisingly, the other man's voice was clear and held not even the slightest hint of exhaustion. "Really know."
His incredulity quickly morphed into exasperation as they rounded a corner and he saw the hopeless dead-end a hundred meters away. But surprisingly, the soldier merely tightened his grip on his arm even more and dashed forward in a sudden burst of speed. Just as L.L. felt himself hurtling toward the wall he was pulled aside, behind a large slab of fallen concrete from where parts of the ceiling had caved.
He raised an unseen eyebrow as the soldier planted himself firmly in front of him, both of them barely concealed by the rubble. So he had chosen to hide, then? L.L. resisted the urge to shake his head. This was a terribly short-sighted move, and it wouldn't be long before –
Gunfire shredded the wall beside them. Just as he had expected.
L.L. sighed. The Code had afforded him the right to be completely unconcerned in situations which would normally test his mortality, such as this one. But as for him... "It looks like this is checkmate for you," he drawled, managing to sound indifferent despite the hushed tone.
"In chess, when the king is threatened with immediate capture and has no other – "
"I know how to play chess!" The harsh whisper was riddled with the slightest hint of irritation.
L.L. smiled. "Well then don't you think it's just apt?"
The soldier's frame tensed visibly as heavy footsteps came closer, then stopped. They could see the shadows of the three men from their hiding place; they were dark, ominous against the feeble light.
"Are you sure they came this way, Tamaki?"
"Of course I'm sure! There's no way they could have gone anywhere else!" And then there was a pause, a tense draw for breath, before the loud one raised his voice in accented Britannian: "I'll give you both until count of five to come out, Brit shit. A Britannian soldier and his friend will make great prisoners!"
L.L. almost had to laugh at that; if this man thought anyone would be willing to pay ransom for a wandering, immortal gambler, he was going to be in for a rude surprise.
He glanced at the soldier once more. No, he was certainly not a Geass user; if he were, he would have played that card by now.
So that left only one other possibility...
"This doesn't have to be the end for you, you know," he drawled, straightening up and folding his arms across his chest. "I'm certain you don't want this to be all you have to show for yourself, am I right?"
The soldier was busy unfastening his helmet, but turned to face him with a curious air. "What?"
"I can give it to you," he continued smoothly. "A second chance. You must have something you aspire to, and if you just let these circumstances unfold as they will, you won't live to see it happen." ("Two!") "I can grant you the power to change this, to change your destiny. To remove all obstacles standing between you and your goals. Although..." He took a moment to fix the man with a meaningful smirk. "I suppose I would think twice about giving such a gift to a dog of Britannia."
Many times L.L. had witnessed C.C. granting Geass to individuals backed into a corner; that was how he had obtained the power of the King, after all, and he'd even tried it himself once or twice in these past decades. When fed that single line of hope, they would cling to it like a castaway on a plank and all else be damned.
So while he was expecting the soldier to do one of a number of things – beg him for it, ask him how it would work, renounce his allegience to Britannia right then and there in exchange for this power he was offering – instead, all he got was the slightest hint of a smile.
"That's fine. I don't want it."
The nonchalant refusal (his first) stunned him completely into silence.
And for the first time in a very long, long while, L.L. found he needed a few moments to compose a reply, only to end up scrambling all over it once he began: "You...we are trapped here and there are three of them and their assault rifles are identical to yours! All the existing conditions are against us, and – !"
He stopped mid-sentence, allowing the yell of "Four!" to fill the air unchallenged, when the soldier shrugged off the strap attached to his rifle and let the weapon drop to the ground.
"What... Are you out of your mind?!" he demanded angrily.
"It's heavy. This is, too," was the only reply he got, as the soldier finally removed his helmet completely.
Tousled brown hair caught what little light there was, with several stray locks framing pools of a very rich shade of green. This soldier was no more than a boy, he realized with surprise, and the latter quickly turned into shock when the helmet clattered beside the discarded rifle and he was finally able to place the boy's ethnicity. "You're an Eleven?"
The look the soldier gave him was unreadable, but there was something in it that made his eyes glitter as he threw him a grin with a final, backward glance over his shoulder.
His voice was much softer when he spoke again: "Sir, if I may request that you please stay here, keep your head down, and not do anything rash."
Still struggling to come to terms with the sheer absurdity of this whole situation, L.L. found himself grasping at straws to at least appreciate that reasonable sentiment ("Five!"), a thought which quickly flew out the window when the soldier leapt up from behind the rubble and dashed headlong into the ensuing hail of gunfire.
More Author's Notes: Hello all and welcome to Bird's-Eye View, my first attempt at an AU and, if all goes well, possibly my main project for 2010. As mentioned, the narrative of this fic will run parallel to that of the anime, based on the premise stated in the first Author's Note above.
Some points I feel worth discussing:
- One major theme that will probably encompass the fic as a whole is that of time as a 'tapestry'; that is, even if you change one element / event, you could still possibly end up on a course leading to a result that would have come true regardless of what you changed. For example, in this chapter, even with the huge difference brought about by an older/immortal L.L., the terrorists still end up stealing the poison gas canister, because up to this point 'Lelouch' hasn't entered the equation yet; it's just that it isn't C.C. in the canister at all, hence Clovis' lukewarm interest in the theft. Rivalz still can't make his bike go faster, the truck still ends up crashing, Suzaku still ends up in the subway, et cetera. But at this point several differences have begun to sprout, and while there will still be some very close parallels of the canon storyline in the near future, as the story progresses the two timelines will inexorably tend to diverge.
- It may seem, from the above point, that most of the challenge of this fic will be cerebral. But actually, this premise was a request on the kinkmeme, which immediately requires the inclusion of mature themes. I will honor that (in due time, of course), which is why this fic is rated M from the start. Whoever wrote that prompt also requested that the pairing be Lelouch x Suzaku; I will honor that as well. So I guess it's only fair to place this warning in advance: if slash offends / doesn't agree with you, then this fic probably isn't for you.
- L.L. has no blood ties to the Royal Family. Not that I can imagine how he could, in the first place, but...just to get that out there.
- Of course, now that L.L. and Suzaku are bound to become 'accomplices', the most fun part of this fic will be exploring that recurring concept in the anime: that together, those two can do anything, and I do mean anything.
All that having been said, thanks for reading and please do let me know what you think! While I know how this fic begins and ends, everything in between is still up in the air. And while this fic promises to be a very enjoyable project, it also promises to be quite a challenging one, so any and all feedback would be great and much appreciated. I hope you enjoyed the first chapter, and that I'll see you around for the next ones =).