Chapter 92: Mockingbirds

Monday morning dawned clear and cold. Lelouch pulled his jacket closer around himself to ward off the chill as he stood on the front steps of the Viceroy's Palace with Abigail and his Knights. Calares had arrived at his usual time and so was earlier than the rest of his advisers and standing a little ways away.

The courtyard in front of the Viceroy's Palaces was crawling with soldiers and reporters who kept snapping pictures of him and the others on the front steps. Diethard was among them, directing some of his subordinates to record the happenings at the front gate as the first car arrived, sleek and black.

It pulled around to the front of the steps where a valet was waiting to open the door and usher out the occupant. A nobleman in his mid-thirties stepped out, curly chestnut hair caught in a cold breeze, that he patted down quickly before smiling widely.

"Prince Lelouch, good morning to you." The man greeted, mounting the stairs. "I wanted to thank you again for giving me this opportunity."

"Good morning, Lord Mars." Lelouch greeted, shaking the man's hand. "And it should be me thanking you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to aid me in this way."

The man smiled, visibly pleased by the turnaround. "And of course a good morning to you as well, Princess Abigail. You're looking lovely as always." Lord Mars continued, bowing over Abigail's hand to place a chaste kiss on the back of it.

"Charmed." Abigail said, though Lelouch noted her smile was a touch more severe than it ought to have been. Though that wasn't surprising. Though Regis Mars was the son of a prominent Duke back in the homeland, he and his wife, Florence, were outspoken in their vehement opposition to the judgement of worth based on bloodlines and the abuse of power. Basically, they were opposed to the Emperor's view of the world, which meant that Lelouch automatically liked them both though he'd only met them three times.

"I'm sure you're acquainted with Duke Calares." Lelouch said, gesturing toward his proxy. It was Calares' job this morning to herd his advisers away from him so that he could greet the next one to arrive.

"Lord Mars, a pleasure to see you again." Calares said with a gracious smile, offering his hand to the younger noble, though he didn't move from his spot, effectively drawing Mars away.

The next car hosted a middle-aged man in a slate grey business suit. His features were serious and severe and the frown on his lips seemed to be permanently engraved there. "You're highnesses." the man said, bowing deeply. "It's a pleasure to meet with you again."

"The pleasure is all mine, Mr. Albertson." Lelouch said, offering his hand to shake.

Stephen Albertson was a businessman Lelouch had used to gamble with when he'd still been a student at Ashford. They'd run into some trouble in the past when Albertson had threatened not to pay him upon his loss and Lelouch had threatened to smash a priceless antique vase if he didn't. However, despite their past troubles, it didn't change the fact that Albertson was incredibly influential in the business world which made him valuable on his council.

The next car was already pulling up behind Albertson's, so he bustled the tycoon away into Calares and Mars' company after a perfunctory greeting to Abigail and prepared to meet his next guest. The car was just as dark and austere as the last two, but the valet actually reared back when he opened the door, obviously unprepared for the visage of the next visitor.

Not that Lelouch could blame him. Even he had to fight to keep his surprise off his face as Kaguya Sumeragi stepped out in a pale pink silk kimono with silver and white hummingbirds embroidered on it, accompanied by an amber coloured obi, decorative mother of pearl hair pins and even tabi socks and wooden geta. Lelouch would have grimaced if he'd had the luxury to do so without it being all over the news by five o'clock that evening. It was important that he didn't seem to be disdainful of the Japanese.

But this was just too much.

The JLF had chosen their representative wisely, of course. Her identity had already been exposed to him, so they hadn't given the anonymity of any of their other benefactors away. And Kaguya was possibly the only one that would be completely safe from him. She was Suzaku's cousin and that afforded her a kind of immunity she seemed to have taken to heart.

She walked up the steps to the Viceroy's Palace unhurriedly as the news crews had a field day with her arrival. When she reached him, she bowed formally at the waist in a show of respect . . . and waited for him to return the gesture.

Like hell he was going to play her game. He offered his hand for a handshake instead. She reluctantly rose from her bow and took it, hand tiny and soft in his. It was hard to believe that she was a supporter of terrorism when she looked this fragile.

"Very subtle, Kaguya." He growled under his breath, eyeing her outfit. She might as well have just stamped on her back where her loyalties lay.

She merely smiled innocently. "It's wonderful to meet with you again, Prince Lelouch. It's been a long time. Thank you for allowing me this opportunity to speak for my people."

He smiled blandly. "Of course."

"Princess Abigail, it's a pleasure to meet you." Kaguya continued, sinking into a western curtsey. "I am Kaguya Sumeragi."

"The pleasure is mine, Miss Sumeragi." Abigail said, though Lelouch could tell it was hardly a pleasure. No doubt his wife was struggling to maintain her composure in the face of such blatant rebellion.

Proper pleasantries seen to, Kaguya stepped past them with a wide smile and threw herself at her cousin instead. "Suzaku!" She greeted, pulling his Knight into a hug. "It's been forever."

Suzaku was not as adept at keeping his expressions neutral and so looked visibly surprised and uncertain as he tentatively patted her shoulder in the hope of her backing off. Short of him outright pushing her away, it was the best reaction from him that Lelouch could have hoped for. It showed obviously that Suzaku was uncomfortable with this situation. It would have been a mess if Suzaku had appeared to the media to be supporting Kaguya.

Lelouch dragged his attention away from the two, focusing instead on the vehicle pulling up in front of the steps. The valet had recovered his composure, which was good because the man within the vehicle was one of the most influential in Area Eleven. Duke Hamilton was a born and bred blueblood, an investor with his fingers in so many pies it might have put Schneizel to shame if his brother had limited his meddling to a single country instead of the entire world.

Duke Hamilton was in his fifties and greying, with sharp blue eyes that belied his fatherly smile. He was a colleague of Albertson, though there were few successful people in Area Eleven who weren't at least acquainted with the man.

"Viceroy." The man said, offering his hand to shake. "It's a pleasure to meet at last."

The man had been out of town when Lelouch had tried to contact him last week, so instead he'd had to pass his invitation through the man's wife, Elizabeth. She'd called him a few days later to confirm that the Duke had accepted.

"Likewise. I apologize that it took so long to seek you out." He said. He wasn't being subservient, but he knew quite well that if he made an enemy of this man it would cost him dearly.

"Nonsense. You've been busy with the military and taking out terrorists. That's far more important than playing politics." The Duke said with a smile.

"I'm glad you think so." Lelouch nodded before gesturing to his side. "I'm sure you know my wife, Abigail."

"Of course." Hamilton nodded. "How have you been, girl? Liz wanted me to invite you to our place for dinner tomorrow if I saw you here."

"I've been very well, thank you, James. You can tell her that I'll be there. I may even drag along Lelouch this time." Abigail replied with candid familiarity. She was close to the Hamiltons, frequently going to visit them for teas and dinners, or hosting them at the Viceroy's Palace since she was too ashamed to bring anyone to Lelouch's unorthodox house. It was likely because she was so close to the Hamiltons that she had been able to gain so much sway with the rest of the nobility.

Abigail and the Duke began conversing in earnest about yacht clubs and a recent tennis match between Abigail and the Duchess. Lelouch lingered next to them, feigning interest as he hoped against hope that one more adviser would show his face. But it was already quarter after nine and if he lingered much longer it would begin to seem suspicious.

Damn it. Had Ichigawa really decided not to come? He needed that man now more than ever since Kaguya had decided to take such an audacious stance. He needed to give the Japanese a credible voice that would command respect, not a little girl hung up on shoving Japanese culture in Britannia's face.

His attention was stolen a few minutes later by a commotion at the gate. A plain, yellow taxi was being held up by the guards, drawing more and more of the soldiers he had stationed around the palace. Lelouch almost didn't dare to hope as he excused himself from Abigail, the Duke and Kaguya, who was still trying to engage Suzaku in conversation.

He left the steps, Jeremiah gluing himself to his shadow like usual as he crossed the courtyard to resolve the problem himself. Security was demanding that the driver get out of the car, but the cabbie was having none of it. Instead of dealing with the driver, he moved around to the back door on the passenger side and peered in.

It was Ichigawa, dressed in an evidently cheap, but new, navy blue suit, watching the taxi driver argue vehemently with the soldier at the window with a look that bordered on panic. Lelouch breathed a sigh of relief and opened the door in front of him, slipping into the back seat and ignoring Jeremiah's protest before closing it in his Knight's face.

"Good morning, Mr. Ichigawa. I'm glad you decided to take me up on my offer." He said.

Ichigawa gaped at him for a moment before regaining his composure. "You're highness, I apologize profusely for this commotion." The man said and Lelouch was under the impression that if they hadn't been seated in the back of a car he might have bowed or prostrated himself before Lelouch.

By this point in time, the cab driver had been made aware that there was another fare in the back of his car and had turned around to stutter and gape in Lelouch's face. The man kept looking between Lelouch and Ichigawa like he couldn't believe it. No doubt he'd given the Japanese man a lot of trouble for making such a seemingly unreasonable request as to be taken to the Viceroy's Palace. He should have foreseen this hassle and sent a car to pick Ichigawa up instead of subjecting him to such a spectacle, but he hadn't wanted it to seem like he was pressuring the man.

Well, if nothing else, it would only compound the fact that Ichigawa was nothing like Kaguya.

"It's fine. Everyone is just trying to do their jobs." Lelouch said calmly before turning to toward the front seat. "Evan, let this one through just this once." He called to the soldier outside the driver's door. It was one of the few soldier's on duty whose name he actually knew.

"As you wish, your highness." The soldier said, snapping a salute as he stepped away from the vehicle.

Lelouch nodded before turning to the cabbie, "If you would please drop us off in front of the steps, I would greatly appreciate it."

"Ah, yes, sir." The man yelped quickly before wincing. "I mean, your highness, sir."

The car was thrown into gear and driven the couple hundred feet from the main gate to the steps, though he noticed the driver was sweating bullets the entire time. He tossed a hundred pound bill over into the front of the car when they arrived, despite Ichigawa's protest the he could pay for himself, before allowing the valet to open the door for him.

He stepped out, gaining mild surprise from the cameramen hovering around the steps, before he turned back and gestured for Ichigawa to join him. The man did so hesitantly, stepping out into the open to the cacophony of camera shutters clicking and reporters manoeuvring to get a better view of them.

With this, his board or advisers was complete.

Kaguya fought to keep the frown off her face. Lelouch had been downright cold to her and his wife had been little better. Though that was to be expected since he knew exactly who it was that she supported, but aside from using her given name he'd acted like he didn't even know her. Even Suzaku had been distant with her, rebuffing all of her attempts at conversation with stoic silence.

It wasn't until Lelouch and his other Knight descended into the courtyard that Suzaku would even look at her, though the frown remained in place. "I won't help you try to manipulate Lelouch, Kaguya."

"Who said I was here for that?" She demanded.

"Well, whatever it is that you're planning, I won't be a part of it. Even if you are my cousin, that doesn't mean anything to me now." Suzaku said firmly.

"I'm not planning anything." She said with a huff. "I'm merely here so that our people have a voice."

Suzaku was quiet for a moment before shaking his head. "Then you shouldn't have bothered. No voice tainted with terrorism can speak for our people."

"You're angry at me." She surmised. She'd been there two years ago when Suzaku had decided to run away from home. She'd been his sounding board as he'd worked himself up to making the choice to leave. She'd listened to him rage against what was happening to Japan, listened to him condemn terrorism and convince himself that peacefully working within the Britannian system was the only way to make the changes the Japanese needed.

And all that time as she listened to him, she hadn't once told him just what it was her family did for the Japanese resistance. She'd held her tongue, sworn to secrecy by her father as he'd begun teaching her everything she'd need to know to succeed him. No doubt it tasted like betrayal to him.

Suzaku glanced away. "Yeah." He admit. Silence reigned between them for a moment before he continued. "Japan doesn't need you if the only way you can think to solve a problem is through mindless murder and violence. And Lelouch especially doesn't need you." He finished as he gestured to the last car that had pulled up.

It was a taxi. She frowned, not quite understanding the implication of it until Lelouch stepped out from the backseat of it, quickly followed by a Japanese man in a business suit. She felt herself tense as the man glanced around, obviously overwhelmed by the media presence before the prince escorted him up the steps, walking side-by-side with the man as if there wasn't a class gap between them.

Damn him. Damn Lelouch to hell. She'd wanted to prove that she was proud of her heritage, but compared to the man Lelouch was introducing to some of the other advisers, she looked gaudy and petulant whereas the man looked humble and serious. It was easy to tell which of them the others would take more seriously. Even without the handicap of her youth, just by pressing her differences, she'd caused the others to look down on her.

And by sticking by Suzaku, she'd lost the chance to ingratiate herself with the other advisers. She watched keenly as the man was introduced to three of the others. Two of them were predictably hesitant in their welcome, though one of the nobles eagerly shook the man's hand and struck up a short conversation. Introductions to Lelouch's wife and the man who had been conversing with her were short and perfunctory as neither of them seemed overly pleased.

Then Lelouch was in front of her, sending her a small, triumphant smirk before introducing the man. "Kaguya, this is Mr. Kouki Ichigawa. And this is Miss Kaguya Sumeragi." Lelouch said, gesturing between the two.

Damn him. Not only was the man making her look like a fool, but Lelouch had chosen freaking Buddha to undermine her. The man was a saint. And she was a financier for terrorist organizations. What could they possibly agree on?

Ichigawa stiffened upon recognizing her name, bowing slightly in the ghost of a gesture long since out of practice in this country. "Lady Sumeragi, it's a pleasure to meet you."

"Likewise." She said as she mirrored the bow, careful not to show subservience and lower herself even a degree more than he had.

"Well then, that's enough of stranding out in the cold." Lelouch said cheerfully. "Let's all go inside and get to work."

Suzaku left her side, moving like he was magnetically attracted to Lelouch to fall into place behind his shoulder just as the other Knight mounted the stairs and joined them. She followed behind the prince with Ichigawa as servants raced to open doors for them and the rest of the advisers.

She scrutinized the interior of the Viceroy's Palace with keen eyes, never knowing when the information might come in handy as they were led up the stairs and into a board room with a long table and more seats than necessary for the number of people in their group.

"Please, seat yourselves wherever you'd like." Lelouch said as he sat himself at the head of the table. His Knights remained standing, Suzaku next to the door and Gottwald at Lelouch's shoulder. If there was ever a threat, Gottwald would be able to protect Lelouch while Suzaku disposed of the attacker. It was surprising that Lelouch felt he needed his protection here when only minutes ago he'd entered an unsecured vehicle for Ichigawa. She couldn't help but wonder if it was her presence that was putting him so on edge.

She sat two seats away from Lelouch, folding her hands demurely in her lap as she watched the others take their places. Surprisingly, Princess Abigail didn't sit right next to her husband. Instead, the princess took a seat almost as far away from him as she could while one of the older gentlemen sat down on the prince's right. Ichigawa sat three seats down from her and the nobleman who had tried to strike up a conversation with him earlier sat down on his right, in between them. Whether he intended to cut her off from him or if it was merely coincidence, the result was the same. There was no way for them to present a united Japanese front. At least not today.

"Right then." Lelouch said. "I think most of you know each other already, but just for those who don't, I'll go over it quickly. To my right is Duke Calares. He's been serving as my proxy since I became Viceroy and will serve as the chairman of this board. Essentially, he's the one who will be speaking for you collectively and leading your discussions as he's already familiar with my style of ruling.

"Next is Mr. Stephen Albertson of AC Enterprises who is here to represent the business interests of Area Eleven. Further down the table from him is the ever-prominent Duke Hamilton. Next to him is my wife, Abigail vi Britannia. They, along with Lord Mars on the other side of the table will be representing the interests of Britannians and the nobility. Then, we have Mr. Kouki Ichigawa, the former chair of the Economics Department at Tokyo University. And on the other side of Lord Mars, is Miss Kaguya Sumeragi, whose family has served as an intermediary between the Britannian government and Area Eleven's local industries since before the end of the invasion."

Kaguya let out a quiet sigh of relief when that was all he said about her. Of course he wouldn't have revealed her ties to the JLF in front of these people, but he could have made it seem like she was only there because she was related to Suzaku. This at least gave her some credibility. Though not much. And she'd still been pitched to the others as a traitor to Japan. That, coupled with her style of dress today would ensure that everyone in the room knew that she was two-faced.

Maybe . . . maybe she should have let Kirihara take her place after all. He would have been able to command the respect of these people better than she. And he would know what to do now, since Lelouch obviously wasn't going to make this easy for her.

But it wasn't like she could change her mind now even if she'd wanted to.

Kallen had been lucky again. Her nose was still not broken. She did, however, have a black eye that had swollen up so badly after the fight that she hadn't even been able to see out of it. She also had severely bruised ribs and shoulders that ached every time she breathed or moved in the wrong way.

It seemed like her training mates hadn't actually been trying to kill her this time either.

Surprisingly enough, there had been no punishment for her wrongdoings this time. It was almost like the Sergeant had just given up on disciplining them. She'd expected to get out of the infirmary to discover that she had to be up all night running obstacles again. Instead, she'd been allowed to go to bed at the regular time along with the rest of her attackers.

At first she'd been worried about them assaulting her again while she slept, but it seemed like everyone else in the barracks found the lack of punishment odd as well and a tangible tension hovered in the air. They weren't stupid. They knew they ought to be getting their asses handed to them by the Sergeant for fighting again. The very lack of what they knew they deserved had them all on edge.

Nevertheless, Kallen enjoyed the prospect of sleeping without injury for what it was and settled into bed that night with an icepack over her swollen face.

She remained at ease through drills the next morning, forcing her sluggish, sore body to its limit so that she didn't lose her place near the top of the rankings, content with rubbing it in her training mates' faces that she was still better than them even in this condition.

It wasn't until that afternoon when their Sergeant left them at attention on the parade ground for a few hours that she began to worry. Instinctively, she knew that this was it. The Sergeant was planning something and it was unlikely to be pleasant. Still, even with that suspicion, she wasn't at all prepared to see Lelouch and his Knights following their Sergeant toward the parade grounds.

Oh shit.

She was dead meat. She'd never in a million years have expected the Sergeant to take this mess to Lelouch. Hell, she hadn't even known that the Sergeant was aware of her connection to the prince. The bitch had done a damned fine job of hiding it and not playing favourites.

She reassessed her stance, making sure it was textbook perfect, though there was no hiding the state of her face and the damage she'd caused to some of the other girls. Beside her, Kasumi audibly gasped before clamping down on the reaction. All down the line of recruits there was a subtle, muted shift of girls correcting their posture and reacting to the Viceroy's presence.

Kallen swallowed back her nerves and attempted to look calm. She doubted she was actually succeeding, but there was nothing she could really do about that at the moment. It was hard to seem calm when you knew the Wolf of Britannia was coming for you.

Lelouch was in uniform, but even so it was impossible not to know that he was a prince. He exuded and aura of arrogant confidence so thick she was damned near choking on it.

"Ladies." He said, his voice low and dangerous like it went when he was threatening her. Damn, damn, damn. "I hear you all like to fight with each other."

The statement was met with silence, though if possible the tension grew even thicker.

"You, step forward."

Kallen felt her heart stop for a moment before she realized that he was pointing at one of the other girls further up the line. It was Janelle. Damn it all again.

"Sir!" Janelle said, stepping out of the ranks and saluting stiffly.

"Explain the problem here." Lelouch ordered.

"Private Wallbridge and Private Watabi have repeatedly assaulted other members of our training group, sir."

That lying piece of shit. Kasumi didn't have anything to do with it and aside from trying to stop her last time, the Honorary Britannian had never so much as lifted a finger against another one of their training members, not even to defend herself. Kallen grit her teeth.

"Wallbridge, Watabi, step forward." Lelouch snapped.

Kallen did so with reluctance, surprised with the calm Kasumi was exuding beside her. The Japanese girl had to be panicking on the inside, but none of that was visible on the surface. Or maybe she was just resigned to the worst.

"Sir." She said with markedly less enthusiasm than Janelle had. Kasumi echoed her.

"Explain yourselves."

"Private Watabi had nothing to do with this. She's never fought against anyone here, sir." She said instead of explaining.

"Noted, but that's not what I asked you. Why did you assault your team mates?" He demanded.

"They assaulted Private Watabi and myself twice without provocation so I responded to a threat, sir." She ground out.

Lelouch frowned, his violet eyes boring into her before casting back down the line of recruits. "You." Lelouch said, pointing to a girl at the opposite end of the line from Kallen. "What's your name?"

"Private Olivia Alexander, sir!" The girl shouted in response.

"You don't look like you've got a mark on you. Why is that?" Lelouch asked.

"I refused to get involved in this petty squabbling, sir." Olivia said.

"So you just sat back and watched your comrades go into a fight without doing anything?"

Kallen fought to keep herself from glaring at Lelouch. He was saying it like it was a bad thing, like she should have joined in. Asshole.

"Yes, sir." Olivia said.

"Why?" Lelouch demanded.

"I'm here to fight Britannia's enemies, not her allies, sir." She replied.

"Nicely said." Lelouch nodded approvingly. "So then, tell me which one of them is in the wrong here."

"I think they're all in the wrong, sir." Olivia answered.

"Elaborate." Lelouch said with a frown.

"It's true that Private Wallbridge and Private Watabi were assaulted by the others, but it is also true that Private Wallbridge has gone out of her way to aggravate and alienate herself from the rest of the group. I don't condone the way they group as a whole responded to it, but at the same time it's not hard to see why they did, sir."

Well, that wasn't a lie. It wasn't like she'd gone around trying to play nice with everyone even though she could have. And she had always been quick with her demeaning comments to the others when she'd bested them at any exercise.

"And Private Watabi?" Lelouch asked.

"From what I've observed, Private Watabi has tried to remain uninvolved with the altercations as much as she can, but that's difficult when she's being targeted. I've never seen her even defend herself against an attack. Most incidents I've seen result in Private Wallbridge protecting her before things can escalate too far, sir.

"Thank you, Private Alexander." Lelouch said, before turning back down the line to level Janelle with a penetrating stare. "Do you want to amend your earlier statement?"

Janelle grimaced.

"You lied to me."

"I apologize, sir." She said.

"You apologize?" Lelouch said, eyebrow rising in surprise. "You know who I am, don't you? How many people do you think get to lie to me?"

"Not many, sir." Janelle answered.

"None." Lelouch said with emphasis.

The corner of Kallen's lip twitched up in a smirk at watching Janelle squirm under Lelouch's gaze. Having been the subject of his anger before, she knew full well how uncomfortable it was. Unfortunately, the prince hadn't order his Knight to break Janelle's fingers yet.

"Go stand over there." Lelouch ordered, pointing to the space in front of Olivia's end of the line.

"Yes, sir." Janelle said with a salute before moving to where he'd indicated in a bizarre form of time out.

"Do you find this amusing, Wallbridge?" Lelouch asked, turning his head to glare at her. His gaze hit her like a pair of lances through the chest, completely knocking the breath out of her and immobilizing her.

"No, sir." She answered stiffly.

Lelouch moved down the line to stand in front of her again and a knot of tension formed in the back of her neck and between her shoulders. Yeah, she knew nothing good could come of Lelouch barging in on her training. Maybe he'd just decide she was too much trouble and get rid of her.

"Private Watabi." Lelouch said, not taking his eyes off of Kallen.

"S-sir!" Kasumi said, stumbling over the word.

"Do you need Wallbridge to protect you?" The prince asked.

"No, sir." Kasumi answered immediately and without hesitation.

Bullshit. If it weren't for her, Kasumi would have been battered half to death by now just for being in top physical shape. Like it or not, it was Kallen who had been keeping the Honorary Britannian out of the fire.

"Good. Then I want you to show her just how little protection you actually need." Lelouch said to Kasumi before glancing back to Kallen and gesturing back toward Janelle. "Why don't you join Blondie over there, Wallbridge."

"Yes, sir." She said sullenly before stepping around him and heading towards Janelle. He followed behind her instead of giving further instructions to Kasumi. She turned her head slightly and looked out of the corner of her eye, somehow unsurprised to find Kururugi speaking quietly to the Japanese girl.

"You didn't really think that I'd let you be discharged if you made enough trouble here, did you, Kallen?" Lelouch hissed next to her ear, sending a thrill of dread down her spine. Yeah, whatever he had in store for her, it was sure to be unpleasant.

Suzaku sighed. Lelouch was having far too much fun with this. The prince was enjoying watching Kallen squirm without giving consideration to how it was making the rest of the recruits feel. Not to say that they didn't deserve to be uncomfortable as they were shamed.

In any other training group, the entire lot of them would have been discharged at the very first incident and made to attempt the training again from the beginning. It was only because Lelouch was trying to rush Kallen through Basic that that hadn't happened. He was sure that if Lelouch had had more time, he would have gotten a kick out of making Kallen do the Basic training over and over again every time she stepped out of line. At the very least, it would have instilled a sense of discipline and obedience in her.

But Lelouch was pressed for time, so instead they got this. Suzaku sighed again and glanced at the girl in front of him. He didn't envy her. He had been lucky going through his Basic training. There had been a total of four Honorary Britannians in his training group, so the harassment had been fairly equally split between them. To be the only Japanese girl in this group had to be rough. Though from what had been said, Kallen was doing a fine job of taking the edge of their assault by throwing herself under the bus instead.

"He wants you to fight them." Suzaku said quietly in Japanese, sure that none of the other recruits would be able to understand what he was saying to her. "Both of them at once."

It was a tall order and once again he felt bad for her. But he'd read through her file just as Lelouch had. Usually when a recruit put down what kind of formal training they'd had previous to enlisting, they would only state the type. This girl had written down a half dozen different styles for each martial art she had mastered and the school from which she had been trained. She was obviously the child of a dojo and had probably been learning how to hit things since she could walk.

All the same, he didn't know for certain. It was just supposition. He could be way off base and about to throw her into something way over her head. Though, to be fair, neither Kallen or the other girl were exactly in pristine fighting condition, so maybe she had a chance regardless.

"Yes, sir." She said quietly in Britannian.

Suzaku frowned at her meekness even though he knew he'd been just like her before Lelouch had taken him under his wing. "Can you beat them?" He asked. If she said that she couldn't, he'd signal to Lelouch to call this entire thing off.

Watabi frowned and glanced at Kallen and the blonde out of the corner of her eye for a moment, quietly assessing them as if for the first time before nodding slightly. "Yes, sir."

Suzaku mirrored her glance, watching the two girls and picking out anything that he would want to know if he were the one about to fight them.

"The blonde one, I forget what her name is, but don't take her lightly. She's a high school women's kickboxing champion. She won a couple tournaments. She's tall, so she had a long reach." Suzaku revealed, unsure just how much the Watabi knew about the girls she was training with. He'd read it in the girl's file when Lelouch had been interviewing their sergeant.

"The other one hasn't been formally trained. She's a street fighter, a brawler and much more comfortable with a knife or a Knightmare than she is with her fists." Suzaku said, remembering the two occasions on which he'd actually tried to fight Kallen outside of a Knightmare. They were hardly good indicators of the way in which the redhead fought. The first time, he'd been trying not to cause a scene after her failed assassination attempt and the second time, she hadn't even been trying to fight him at all and he'd simply wound up pinning her to the back of a door.

Watabi nodded again. "I understand, sir. I will try not to let the Viceroy down."

Suzaku chuckled slightly. "Just don't hurt yourself over something like this. It's more important that you continue to excel in your training."

"Understood, sir." The girl said before tilting her head to either side to loosen the muscles and shaking out her hands.

"Alright, go on then." He said, nodding toward Kallen and the kickboxer.

Watabi saluted to him before stepping out of the ranks and bowing stiffly to her opponents. Suzaku snorted in amusement. She was treating this like a match rather than being used as Lelouch's tool of revenge. In a way, he figured that was probably a good thing.

"Begin." Lelouch said calmly.

"Begin what?" Kallen snapped, obviously forgetting that she was supposed to be playing strangers with Lelouch and that her usual brand of disrespect wouldn't fly here.

Not that anyone bothered to answer her question. Watabi bolted forward, dropping to her knees to slide across the pavement under the punch the kickboxer sent at her face, simultaneously kicking the feet out from underneath Kallen. The red head went down like a sack of rocks, landing with a heavy 'oomph' on her back as the breath was knocked out of her from the impact.

Suzaku had never seen a move like that in a dojo. It seemed that that Japanese girl had learned a thing or two about fighting dirty on the streets as well. The blonde didn't wait for her to recover her footing, aiming a low kick at the Japanese girl's face, which she only just barely avoided by throwing herself onto her back and rolling a few feet away. Once Watabi regained her feet, she took a more conventional stance and began circling around the kickboxer, putting more space between her and Kallen, who was still trying to remember how to breathe correctly, so that she had both opponents in her field of vision.

Kallen seemed to have given up on the fight all together. She wasn't even trying to get up, instead laying flat out on the ground and clutching at her torso as if she were in unimaginable pain. She might very well have been. Suzaku wasn't exactly sure what kind of injuries she'd sustained from brawling with her comrades, but the sergeant had told them that she'd been beaten to losing consciousness in the last altercation so she had to be hurting somewhere.

The kickboxer didn't give her much time to circle, instead closing the distance and following up with a high kick that she wasn't fast enough to avoid. Suzaku winced sympathetically, he knew from experience that combat boots hurt like hell to be kicked with. Watabi took the boot in the throat and shoulder instead of the face, but he figured it probably hurt just about as much. She jumped back and coughed, giving herself a second to recover from the hit before diving back into the fray with renewed determination.

The two were fairly evenly matched. Lelouch was lucky that Kallen had decided to forfeit or he wouldn't have achieved anything with this aside from brutalizing an Honorary Britannian. Which would have more or less defeated the point. It was a close match but the slighter and faster Japanese girl managed to get in under a kick that had been thrown her way in order to drive her elbow into the blonde's stomach so hard that it that dropped the kickboxer to her knees.

For a moment, no one spoke as Watabi stood panting over the fallen pair. Kallen looked like she could probably have gotten up now if she'd wanted to, but she didn't make a move. The other girl knelt, clutching at her stomach as she tried to regain her breath and not lose consciousness.

Lelouch let the tension hang for a moment so that all of the recruits had the opportunity to see that yes, Watabi could fight and fight well and that she was only putting up with their shit out of politeness. Then he stepped up behind the girl and clapped his hand on her shoulder.

"Well done, soldier." Lelouch said before gesturing for her to rejoin the ranks. The other two moved to get up and fall back in line as well, but Lelouch shook his head. "You two, stay down."

Then Lelouch proceeded to step over them as if they were beneath his notice to address the rest of the line. "This isn't your high school, girls. This is the Britannian Army and you will conduct yourselves like soldiers from now on. There is no room for cliques and petty bullying in the military. You will work together – all of you – and you will like it. Otherwise, I will personally make sure that the rest of your careers are more miserable than you can even fathom.' Lelouch said, shooting a significant look Kallen's way. "Am I understood?"

"Sir, yes, sir." Came the chorusing response before Lelouch turned back to the two downed girls beside him.

"And you two?"

Kallen bared her teeth as she sat up, clutching at her torso as she used the excuse of her injury to glare at Lelouch. "I understand you perfectly, sir." She ground out.

"Good. Jeremiah, Suzaku, let's go." Lelouch snapped.

Suzaku spared a backwards glance and a small thumbs up at Watabi, who blushed furiously in response, before he followed after Lelouch. Just once, he wouldn't mind if Lelouch followed conventional punishments when he was pissed at someone instead of taking the time to create new ones that were aimed at his victim's weak spots. But he should know better by now. At least his days were never boring.

AN: Not quite as long of a wait as last time. :) Hope you enjoyed it. Let me know what you think.

Thanks for reading,