Chapter 98: Baiting the Trap
"No." Diethard said, spine straightening slightly despite the way Lelouch narrowed his eyes in a glare.
"No?" Lelouch demanded coolly, arching a disapproving eyebrow.
Diethard closed his eyes and took a steadying breath before meeting Lelouch's gaze. "It would endanger you."
"That's the point, Diethard. We are all just bait now. You. Me. My sisters. My wife." He said, gesturing to where Abigail was standing by the window of his office in the Osaka palace. "So you will run this story and you will make us all look like ignorant blue bloods out here partying on the enemy's doorstep. I will throw us all to the dogs before I let them harm the civilians in the protective zones. Do you understand?" He demanded harshly.
Diethard was quiet for a moment before sighing and bowing slightly. "Yes, your highness."
Lelouch nodded. "Good."
"I'll go get started." The reporter said sullenly.
"Make sure you get ample coverage of the royals and Miss Sumeragi. Together, if possible." Lelouch said.
Diethard hesitated for a moment and opened his mouth as if to ask a question, but decided against it and instead bowed again. "As you wish, your highness." He said instead before turning and letting himself out of the office.
Lelouch sighed before levering himself out of his chair. He found himself pacing as he worried about the way things would progress from here. He'd just sent Suzaku back to the port to see if he could retrieve a supplementary accessory for the Guren that Rakshata had let slip. Apparently there was some kind of experimental flight module that had been transported separately. Adrian had said that the Kenshiki had only taken the frame. With luck, the flight module would still be there. With luck, the Guren wouldn't be airborne.
Jeremiah, Gino and Hector had each been sent to one of the protective zones in order to ensure their defences were prepared for a dedicated assault from the Kenshiki and their newest weapon. If the worst should come to pass, there would be elite troops there already to represent his will. It was the best that they could do without knowing exactly how their information kept falling into the hands of the Kenshiki.
"Lelouch." Abigail said quietly, drawing him out of his musing. He paused a moment but didn't turn to face her. He didn't want to deal with her right now, but she'd been clinging to his shadow ever since he'd returned from the garrison. She sighed. "You're still angry with me, aren't you?"
Lelouch let out a choked laugh. "You betrayed me, Abigail."
"I didn't. I thought Euphemia could bring a stabilizing effect to the council. And she does." Abigail protested.
"I don't need a stabilising effect in the council. I need her gone." Lelouch growled, turning to glare at her.
"She's your sister!" Abigail protested heatedly.
"She's a liability." He retorted.
"Why are you being like this? So many noble girls have no interest in politics or the world around them but Euphemia does. This is something that should be cultivated, not scorned. So why are you pushing her out, Lelouch?" She demanded.
"She almost died the last time the Kenshiki decided to target her. And that was the plan of a far less dangerous man than Kei." He snarled.
"So you're worried about her?" Abigail asked in surprise.
"Of course I'm worried about her." He growled. "That doesn't change the fact that she is undermining everything I'm trying to accomplish here."
"And what is that, exactly?" Abigail asked.
He sent her a withering glare, "Come on, use that cunning mind of yours to figure it out, Abigail."
"Why don't you want her on your council?" She asked point-blank instead of rising to his challenge.
"I don't need the council to get along. I need them to squabble and bicker at each other over every single issue or that viper will find a way to exploit it and she'll gain sway over the entire council." He answered.
"Viper? You mean the Sumeragi girl?" She asked in confusion before it cleared and her face was a neutral mask. "Blackmail?" She asked dangerously.
He snorted a laugh. "Something along those lines. I received much more than I gave up by allowing her to attend the council, but I'm not about to dismiss the threat she poses."
Anything else he might have said about their extant issues with the council and Kaguya were dismissed when the phone on his desk rang. He crossed back to his desk and answered it without a word.
A regular status report. Nothing was going on. None of his men had noticed any unusual movements in the locals. There had been no sightings of the Guren or any of the Kenshiki's other knightmares. None of the protective zones had noticed anything out of the ordinary either. Nothing.
He felt the tension in his shoulders tighten a little more as he slammed the phone back down into its cradle. He hated this. Hated waiting to see if he'd just condemned thousands of civilians to slaughter by all but gift wrapping the Guren for his enemies. Hated knowing that every life that was lost in this city was on his head. He was the one who had quarantined the city, refusing to allow civilians to evacuate. He was the one who had huddled them all together next to dangerous terrorists out to prove a point. He was the one who had provoked those terrorists, then armed them to make it more of a fair fight.
Whatever his reasons were, the fact remained that Osaka was a powder keg ready to burst. And he was just trying to direct the fallout in his own direction. He couldn't help but fear that he was going to be burned; couldn't help but fear that this was going to be the slaughter in Area Eighteen all over again.
He would win, he didn't really doubt that. Victory was always in the cards; it was what the victory would cost him that was plaguing his mind. How many would die today in service to him? How many innocents?
He flinched away as a hand came up to gently press against his cheek. He hadn't noticed Abigail approach him. She tilted his chin up marginally and met his gaze confidently, icy blue eyes boring into him without hesitance. "You will protect this city because you have laid claim to it. You always protect what you consider yours. And if the worst shall come to pass, then I know that you will be certain to avenge them. I don't have a single doubt, Lelouch. You're the Wolf of Britannia. Don't let these foxes rattle you."
Lelouch stared at her, momentarily stunned by the sheer faith that she of all people had in him before shaking it off and letting out an amused snort. She pushed herself up onto her tiptoes and pressed a kiss to his forehead.
"Thank you." He said quietly. "I'm still pissed at you, but thank you."
Pleasantries taken care of, he turned on his heel and strode out of the door. She was right. He would protect these people by sheer willpower if he needed to. And if it wasn't enough, he would watch the Kenshiki burn for the cost they had imposed on him.
Euphemia was at odds with the current situation. She understood that Lelouch didn't really want her here, but he could have forbidden her from getting on the plane and he hadn't. So she didn't really think that she deserved the dirty looks his Royal Guards kept giving her whenever they crossed paths in the Osaka Palace.
But when Lukas of all people averted his gaze when they passed by each other in the hallway, she had had enough.
"Lukas." She said sharply.
He froze in midstep, shoulders tensing with his back to her. When he turned to face her, his expression was guarded. "Yes, Princess Euphemia?"
She pursed her lips at his formality. He was doing this more and more frequently and it was beginning to annoy her. "Can we speak for a moment?"
Lukas' gaze shot past her to where Villetta and Sirs David and Bart of the Glaston Knights were escorting her. He met each of their gazes for a moment before returning his attention to her. She could see his reluctance openly.
"Privately." She added before he could shoot her down.
He frowned slightly but nodded. "As you wish, your highness." He said and offered her his arm.
The Glaston Knights shifted anxiously when she took his arm, but she sent them a sharp look over her shoulder. Villetta only rested her hands on her hips and raised a disapproving eyebrow. It was ridiculous to even consider that she needed protection from Lukas. "I'll be back in a few moments."
"We'll be right outside, Euphy." Her knight promised.
She guided Lukas to a vacant room and closed the door behind them, aware that their privacy was more of an illusion than anything else. Lukas seemed to be aware of that as well, since he led her as far from the door as possible.
"You're putting me in a difficult position, Euphy." Lukas said, crossing his arms over his chest. "What do you need?"
"Why am I putting you in a difficult position?" She asked. Surely they were allowed to speak with each other.
He stared at her disbelievingly for a moment before huffing out a sigh. "I'm a member of Lelouch's Royal Guard and you keep challenging him every chance you get."
She raised her chin defiantly. She wasn't wrong for wanting to bring equality to Area Eleven. Lelouch just wasn't giving her a chance to prove it. "Maybe he needs to be challenged a little."
He chuckled mirthlessly. "Lelouch is challenged every day, all day, from all directions. He doesn't need you adding to the strain. And he definitely doesn't need you here of all places."
"He could have stopped me from coming if he really didn't want me here." She retorted.
"He couldn't do anything when you made such a spectacle of it. Especially in front of the other members of the council and their retinues. He had no choice but to let you come and pretend that it was his idea or lose face. He's already criticized for not exercising enough control over his wife and the rest of the council. Now his sisters are openly defying him? You backed him into a corner." He criticized.
She frowned. She hadn't thought of it like that. But then again, she hadn't really been thinking about it at all. All she'd been concerned with was getting her own way and making Lelouch come around to her way of thinking. Even when she'd brought her troubles to Cornelia, she hadn't thought of how that might affect Lelouch.
"What should I do then?" She grumbled, crossing her arms over her chest defensively.
He blinked in surprise. "You're asking my advice?"
There was no need for him to look so shocked about it. Sure, she didn't have the greatest track record when it came to listening to him, but she didn't completely disregard him either. "So what if I am?"
"If you want my advice, then you should feign some kind of emergency and go back to Pendragon. It would be safest for you." He said.
"I can't do that." She protested.
"You have entered a warzone, Euphy. You are standing in a deliberately made soft target. It's not a question of if the Kenshiki will come here. It's merely a question of when. This is a classic Lelouch tactic. He will use himself as bait, as he always has and in doing so, he is using everyone close to him as bait as well. While it's undeniable that you would make a great target for the terrorists, everyone would feel better if you didn't risk it."
She swallowed nervously. Surely Lelouch wasn't so reckless. "You're lying just to scare me."
He opened his mouth to respond, but the door opened and he cut himself off before he could even utter a word. She turned to glare at the interruption, intending to give her bodyguards an earful, but the words died in her throat when she was met with the stony gaze of Suzaku. She swallowed back her words. He'd never looked at her that way before. He didn't look angry, rather his face was entirely neutral as if she were no more interesting that the wall behind her; as if she wasn't even a person anymore.
Lukas took a small, guilty step back from her, like speaking with her was something that was forbidden and he'd been caught in the act.
"Princess Euphemia." Suzaku said with a slight bow in greeting. "Sir Zimmerman." The knight said firmly.
"Yes, sir?" Lukas asked, straightening into a salute.
"Come with me. We have an assignment from the prince." Suzaku said, not taking his attention off of Lukas.
Lukas swallowed nervously before nodding. "If there's nothing else, princess, I have duties to attend to."
And that was it. They were back to cold formality and distance again. Not for the first time, she wished that he had accepted her proposal of knighthood. She wished things had gone differently and she didn't have to face this rift between them. She'd thought things between them had been drifting closer to friendship, but her own thoughtless actions here had forced them further apart. She wasn't sure what she could do to fix them.
She shook her head slightly, indicating that she had nothing else to say. Lukas bowed to her before turning his attention to Suzaku. "I'm ready, sir."
"Let's go, then." Suzaku said.
Lukas nodded and made to follow the knight of honour, but Euphy reached out and curled her fingers around his elbow before he could leave her. "Be careful." She said seriously before turning her attention toward Suzaku. "You too, Suzaku."
Some of the severity of Suzaku's expression melted at the sentiment and he nodded slightly. "We will be." He promised before turning on his heel and exiting the room. Lukas patted her hand twice before extricating himself and following.
She watched them go, hugging herself at the feeling of alienation. Had Lukas been telling the truth? Was she acting as bait for the Kenshiki? And if so, what could she really do about it? Running away was out of the question. Lelouch wasn't the only one who had to worry about saving face.
Suzaku strode briskly through the corridors toward the underground knightmare hangars that lurked beneath the majority of Lelouch's private island. Lukas kept step with him, but didn't speak for the longest time. It made their passage through the estate tense and uncomfortable, but Suzaku wasn't exactly sure what he was supposed to say.
He probably shouldn't have been so harsh back there. He knew that Euphemia wasn't an enemy, not in the usual sense. But he couldn't stand the thought of Lelouch having to face another betrayal. Especially not from Lukas, who he knew Lelouch had a soft spot for.
"I'm loyal to Lelouch, you know." Lukas finally said. He could feel the other soldier's glare burning into the side of his head.
"I never said you weren't." Suzaku replied evenly, keeping his gaze straight ahead.
"You didn't have to. You're easy to read, sir. I was her bodyguard for months and we were close, then you find us secluded together. I know what it looked like and I know what you're thinking, but you're wrong. I would never side with anyone against Lelouch, even Princess Euphemia." Lukas said vehemently.
Suzaku frowned. "How does that saying go? A guilty conscience needs no accuser, right? If you know what it looks like, and you know what people will think, don't do it. You don't want people to accuse you of consorting with the enemy."
"Euphemia is naive, she's not malicious. I was trying to convince her to get out of Lelouch's hair." Lukas protested.
Suzaku sighed. "I believe you." He said. He'd heard about how Euphemia had tried to knight Lukas, but that the offer had been rebuffed in favour of staying on Lelouch's Royal Guard.
They remained silent until they reached the underground hangar where the Lancelot was already loaded onto a transport truck. "We are retrieving cargo from the port. With luck, it will still be there and we won't run into trouble and need to mount up."
In all honesty, he hadn't originally intended to bring Lukas with him, but when he'd come across Lukas' voice coming from a room guarded by Villetta Nu and members of the Glaston Knights, he'd decided to intervene. He'd have to send a message to Lelouch to let him know that Lukas wouldn't be available for the next couple of hours.
"Load up Sir Lukas' Lionel as well." He ordered one of the engineers on standby in the hangar. The man nodded and took off to carry out the command without hesitation. He was still getting used to this. Even talking with Lukas was making him feel awkward with all of the 'yes, sir's he kept throwing in.
"Can't the cops just send it along?" Lukas asked in confusion.
"If they could be trusted. You were there when they picked up the inventor of that red knightmare everyone's so concerned about?" Suzaku asked, even though he knew the answer. Gottwald had taken the entire Royal Guard to storm a private estate within the city. Lukas nodded to the question. "Well, the cops were hiding it from the military for at least a month. There's nothing to say that they would just hand over the cargo we're seeking either."
"Ah. No one told us that." Lukas said.
Suzaku nodded and they waited in silence as the hangar crews finished loading the Lionel frame. Suzaku double checked his sidearm while he waited. He was going to expect the worst. It was better to be pleasantly surprised than to be taken unprepared.
"Are we expecting trouble?" Lukas asked.
"Aren't we always?" Suzaku responded. Especially in this city. It seemed like every time they came here, they were struck by some new tragedy; some new way to make Lelouch miserable. He dreaded what else was in store for them during this stay in the city, but the Kenshiki were a legendary beast and Lelouch had made it his quest to destroy them. Osaka was that beast's den and Lelouch wouldn't stop until the Kenshiki had been brought down, regardless of what it might cost him.
"My team is assembled and your knightmares are loaded and ready for transport, sir." An ATTF soldier said, approaching them respectfully. He was an Honorary Britannian, one of the few who had managed to snag a promotion above his Britannian comrades. Suzaku recognized him from their last stay in Osaka.
"Then let's be on our way, Sergeant Higa." He said and turned toward the transport.
Thankfully, their journey to the port went smoothly. Their relatively inconspicuous method of transport seemed to be working out and they were met with no resistance until they hit the police barricade around the port.
As Suzaku looked at the port, he couldn't help but be surprised by how much it had changed in just the few months since the quarantine had been called. Last time he was in Osaka, he'd been sent to the port as a means of getting Gino and Anya out of Lelouch's hair and the port had been a ghost town. Now, the port was crawling with uniformed officers anywhere he looked.
They were stopped by a pair of older officers who had clearly taken an exception to the way in which Lelouch had locked up the commissioner. All of Higa's demands to let them through were ignored until Suzaku decided to take things into his own hands and stepped out of the vehicle. Lukas followed his lead, and the sudden appearance of two members of Lelouch's entourage in full Wolf Pack regalia changed their tune. Slightly.
"We require access to the port to take the experimental flight module into secure custody. You will allow us through and put us in contact with whoever is in charge here at the moment. Is that understood?" Suzaku demanded, hoping to imitate some of Lelouch's overbearing confidence.
The officers glanced at each other before one of them rolled their eyes. "Yes, sir. By all means, just make yourself welcome in our secured crime scene."
"We'll do that." Suzaku said grimly, ignoring the officer's sarcasm.
The officers grumbled to each other as they moved aside the temporary barricade blocking their way. Suzaku gestured for the truck to move on and followed the vehicle through the barricade on foot.
"Fucking monkey think he owns the place." One of the officers grumbled under his breath as he passed. He probably didn't realize he'd said it loud enough to be overheard.
Suzaku kept walking, the insult sliding off him like water off of a duck's back. He'd certainly heard worse and Lelouch wasn't here to take an exception to it. He could let it go without causing a commotion. Lukas stopped in his tracks, fists clenched at his sides like he'd never heard such talk before.
"Come, Sir Zimmerman." He called without looking back. "The sooner we can be done with this, the sooner we can get back to the prince."
He heard Lukas start moving again and by the time they reached where the truck had parked, the other knight had caught up with him again. "Should have let me knock his teeth in, sir." Lukas hissed quietly.
"You've heard worse, I'm sure." He said mildly.
"Not right to your face. Not when you're a superior officer." Lukas argued. Sometimes it was hard to remember that Lukas was actually two years older than him.
"Let it go." He ordered. There was no point in making a big deal about it. Bigots would be bigots.
"If you insist." Lukas said discontentedly.
The transport had pulled up in front of the import office, which appeared to be the place where the police were basing their operations at the port from. A grim faced woman in her mid-forties stepped out to meet them, running her gaze over Suzaku assessingly. Whatever she had taken note of, it apparently didn't impress her because she gave him a look like he was something disgusting she'd just scraped off of her shoe.
"I'm Chief Inspector Joan Baird. What can I help you with, Sir Kururugi?" She said stiffly, though she stumbled slightly over his foreign name.
Suzaku frowned. She knew why he was here. Lelouch had called ahead, demanding that they prepare the flight module for transport. Lelouch had told them that Suzaku was coming for it, along with uttering a number of vague threats as to what would happen if they didn't cooperate.
"I'm here for the experimental flight module that you were ordered to prepare for transport." He answered.
"There is no flight module, experimental or otherwise." Chief Inspector Baird said with a slightly mocking expression on her face.
He sighed. Even if he lived for forever, he doubted he would ever understand why some people consistently chose to make things more difficult than they had to be. Why was cooperation such a difficult concept for some people?
While they had been talking, Higa and his men had disembarked from the transport and come around to stand behind him and Lukas, creating a semi-circle of combat-hardened soldiers. As if in response, a handful of police officers drifted toward the Chief Inspector. They looked like they were drawing up battle lines, though even if it came to a fight Suzaku already knew which way the battle would go. Many of the police officers were middle aged. Some were overweight and clearly more used to dealing with a desk job than taking down criminals in the streets. By comparison, Lelouch's chosen soldiers seemed like the epitome of deadly force and fitness.
Taking a deep breath and letting it out slowly, he hoped to hell that this didn't backfire in his face. "I'm taking over command of the port, as is my right as the sword of Lelouch vi Britannia. Your cooperation is mandatory. You will release the inventory of the contents of the quarantined goods to me immediately."
That, at least, managed to wipe the smug look off of the woman's face. "You can't do that." She protested.
"I can. And I just did. Do I need to send for reinforcements? I'm sure my prince would be interested in hearing of how things are progressing here." He felt like an idiot for having to say it, like a wimpy kid who threatened to tell the teacher that the other children were misbehaving, but it was abundantly apparent that they didn't give a shit about what kind of rank he had achieved. He was just another Eleven to them.
Chief Inspector Baird narrowed her eyes into a loathing glare, lips pursing into a thin line before she turned on her heel and headed back inside the import office. Suzaku gestured for Higa's men to stay outside before he followed her, Lukas keeping an even pace with him.
The inside of the import office was rundown and dirty. It was clearly a building left over from before the war, though it was also apparent that someone had gone to great lengths to Britannianize it. There was a massive portrait of the Emperor on the wall facing the door and Britannian flags and crests on various other surfaces.
He ignored them all, keeping his gaze on the back of the woman in front of him. She led him past the empty reception desk and down a corridor into a worn down office that was alarmingly overflowing with paperwork. She grabbed a thick binder off of the desk and practically threw it at him. He caught it against his chest and stumbled slightly as the Chief Inspector stormed past him.
"Enjoy." She all but snarled before slamming the door to the office shut behind her.
He set the binder back down on the desk and rubbed his hands over his face in frustration. If he'd known the police were going to be so difficult to deal with, he would have pleaded for someone else to come. They'd have probably been tripping over themselves to accommodate Gottwald's demands. Then again, he could only imagine what he'd be putting up with if he'd been sent to one of the protective zones instead, where all of the city's disgruntled Britannian civilians had been cooped up for months.
"Making friends, huh." Lukas grumbled under his breath.
Suzaku chuckled slightly. "Let's get started looking through this. You take half and I'll take half. With luck, they won't have hidden the page somewhere else." He said as he snapped open the binder and pulled a fist full of pages from it. He handed the pile to Lukas, who took it reluctantly and settled himself on an uncomfortable folding chair that had been shoved into the corner of the office. Suzaku sat down at the desk and began his own half of the work.
It was boring and tedious work and he could really have done without having to read through an inventory of an entire city's worth of imports, but the police weren't going to cooperate with him. It would probably be faster to open up every single crate and do the inventory over again himself than it would be to try to convince the police to cooperate with him. He was used to the inconvenience. He was just out of practice with it, that was all.
It took hours, but eventually Lukas found it. It was a vague entry about a piece of red machinery with an unknown purpose. So it was possible that the police didn't know what it was. It still didn't excuse their refusal to cooperate though.
They took the page with them when they left the office, handing it off to Higa to acquire with the transport vehicle. He stretched his sore neck and shoulders while he waited and smothered a yawn, because it wouldn't do to be seen as anything less than alert while he was on duty. It was a lesson Lukas still needed to master, as he looked like he was halfway to falling asleep.
It was only because of the lack of conversation between himself and Lukas, and because years of being insulted and humiliated had conditioned him to pay attention when someone let out that particular kind of disparaging snort that he heard the conversation of two nearby officers.
"Oh look, it's the sword of Prince Lelouch." One of the men chuckled meanly.
"You think? I always just assumed he was the sheath." The other replied.
"Nah. You've seen how much of a fucking girl the prince looks? Lelouch is definitely the sheath." The first said with another laugh.
Suzkau froze. He seriously needed to consider his word choices before he used them if this is what they came up with. And, fuck, why couldn't things ever go his way? He couldn't let that go. He couldn't let them insult Lelouch like that without making an issue of it because what if they realized he'd heard them and they thought that he left it alone out of embarrassment? What if they thought it was true?
He turned sharply to face the men, both horrified and gratified that Lukas had overheard the comments as well. At least he wouldn't have to repeat them so that his comrade knew why he was offended.
How should he treat this though? He couldn't run over there and demand that they apologize for their crude speech. It was childish and it wouldn't solve anything. Lelouch would have torn them apart with his sharp tongue before laying down a couple of dire threats, but words had never been Suzaku's strong suit - as was evidenced by them having to deal with this situation in the first place.
Lelouch would probably tell him to play to his strengths, but his strengths tended to lean toward the physical. Was that the answer? If inaction was inexcusable, some kind of action must be taken. And it must be effective, otherwise he was just making a fool of himself.
"Your orders?" Lukas asked grimly as he eyed the two officers.
Suzaku didn't answer right away. He still wasn't sure. All the same, he began walking toward the officers. Hopefully improvisation would work out for him. Lukas fell into step with him, looking like he'd love nothing more than to pummel the offending officers to death.
Suzaku ran his gaze over the two of them. They were young, much younger than the two officers that had insulted him at the gate had been. They were probably new to the force and offended by his high handed commandeering of their post. They clearly weren't used to seeing Elevens in positions of authority or were attempting to emulate their older, more experienced peers and didn't realize they had gone way too far over the line.
What did they really think would happen when they insulted a prince in front of his knight?
When he and Lukas were only a few metres away, the officers finally realized that they had caught the attention of the prince's knight. Both of the officers straightened up and glanced nervously between themselves.
"Uh, can we help you, Sir Kururugi?" One of them asked nervously.
"Shall I remove their tongues, sir?" Lukas asked darkly before Suzaku could reply.
He felt a vague sense of relief that Lukas was willing to play the villain in this so that it wouldn't be seen as something racially motivated. It allowed Suzaku to be the more moderate party of the two.
"I'm not sure that would satisfy the Viceroy." He replied, though the thought was equal parts disturbing and gratifying. On the one hand, he'd never have to worry about them speaking ill of Lelouch again. On the other, the logistics of removing someone's tongue left him squeamish. He much preferred to leave torture to Sir Jeremiah, though, of course, he'd prefer it even more if torture wasn't required in the first place.
The other officer straightened up, a fire of defiance lighted in his eyes. He was the one who had made the first crude remark about him and Lelouch. "We are officers of the law." He said haughtily.
"A knight stands beside his prince, above the law." He replied, though he knew that uttering such a thing in front of a bunch of racist police officers was stupid. He regret it the moment the words left his mouth.
"Don't think so highly of yourself. You're just a fucking dog that the prince feeds his table scraps to. Now get out of my face, Eleven." The man sneered.
Lukas was on the cop before Suzaku could think of something else to say, a fist driving straight into the cop's face, followed up by a swift knee to the gut.
Suzaku reacted immediately to back up his ally when the second cop made to attack Lukas' back. Two hits, one to throw off his attack on Lukas and the other to stagger him. The officer recovered more quickly than he had expected, but Suzaku quickly moved to subdue him by forcing him into a headlock. When he glanced up to check how Lukas was faring, he found the knight crouching over the unconscious officer on the pavement.
The click of a safety being disabled on a gun caused them both to freeze for a moment. He turned slowly, glancing over his shoulder before dragging his captive officer with him. It was another younger officer, probably a friend to one of the men they had just overcome. His face was flushed with anger, but his hands trembled on the gun he had pointed at them. It kept wavering between where Lukas was still crouched over the unconscious man and Suzaku, even despite the fact that Suzaku had a hostage.
"Let him go, you fucking monkey." The cop ordered.
He glanced at the gun, certain that he wouldn't be able to get out of the way on time if the man fired. Then he glanced at Lukas. Lelouch had commissioned a set of lightweight kevlar under armour to be worn beneath their uniforms, but it was the most uncomfortable part of the whole outfit and he couldn't be certain that Lukas was actually wearing it at the moment.
The knight nodded to him slightly, but Suzaku still hesitated. He didn't know Lukas very well, certainly not well enough to communicate with him in only a glance. For all he knew, Lukas had taken his look as a signal to launch an attack.
"Now!" The officer barked at him.
He sighed heavily and let the man go. His former captive scrambled out of the line of fire and backed up behind his friend. The gun didn't lower.
"Fucking shoot him, Reg." The officer he had let go growled.
Reg licked his lips before his arm steadied with resolve. Suzaku glared. "Think about what you're doing." He said.
He wasn't about to beg for his life and he wasn't about to tell these men exactly what he meant to Lelouch. He refused to give them that much leverage over his friend, but if these men did shoot him, he couldn't even imagine how Lelouch would respond.
"I know what I'm doing." The man replied. "I'm saving the Viceroy from whatever blackmail you've got on him for him to let a savage like you be his knight."
He flinched when the shot fired, his eyes squeezing shut for a moment before he realized there was no impact and no pain. His immediate concern turned to Lukas, but the other knight was also unharmed and staring in surprise at their aggressor.
He turned his head back to the man and stared for a moment. He was dead. There was a spray of blood covering the pavement and splattered across his former captive's face and clothes. The majority of the gunman's head was simply gone.
He followed the trajectory, surprised to find Higa and his squad advancing with their weapons drawn, their wary gazes shifting left and right as they approached, hovering over the cops who were attracted by the sound of gunfire. Whenever a police officer came too close or looked to be reaching for a weapon of their own, they were met with the threatening raise of an assault rifle. The transport truck was trailing along behind them.
"Are you alright, sir?" The sergeant asked as they came within speaking distance.
"What have you just done?" He said in disbelief. Fighting against the rising panic in his chest and the constant internal mantra of Oh fuck, oh fuck, oh fuck, we just killed a cop that was running in a loop through his mind.
"We were still too far out to risk negotiations, sir. I gave Kondo the order to kill him if your life was in peril. I take full responsibility." The soldier replied grimly.
Kondo. That sniper that had been so friendly with him. The one that Lelouch had seemed to dislike from the moment they met. "Why did you kill him?" He asked stupidly.
"His life was already forfeit for attacking a Knight of Honour." Higa answered. "Even if you are an Eleven, that law still applies to you, sir."
Suzaku bowed his head, then closed his eyes when the gore of the dead officer came into view. They were going to have a riot on their hands. There was no way that he could salvage this. The police had hated him to begin with and they outnumbered he and his men at least three to one. But at the same time, just fleeing the scene wouldn't solve anything, would it? It would make them seem guilty and there was no guarantee that the police would let them pass. If they didn't, it was almost a guarantee that more people would die.
"Did you get the flight module?" He finally asked quietly.
"Yes, sir." Higa responded. "It's loaded in the transport vehicle."
Suzaku nodded numbly. "Secure our position." He said grimly before disappearing into the vehicle. A crate was pushed up against the wall of the transport next to Lukas' Lionel frame. It was smaller than he'd thought it would be. He wondered if it was really worth a man's life though.
He leaned against the wall next to the crate and let out a deep breath, letting his nerves settle for a moment before he reached for his phone. He stared at it blankly for a moment and just wallowed in the feeling of being totally out of his depth. Really, he wanted to call just about anyone but Lelouch right now. His friend had enough to worry about right now with the Kenshiki and the rest of the problems with running Area Eleven. But who else could he call?
Even the thought of reaching out to Gottwald for help was laughable. Supposing that the man would even talk to him, he would likely suggest the most bloody option, such as murdering their way out of the port. Hector . . . well he wasn't sure what Hector would recommend. He might go the same path as Gottwald, now that he thought about it. The Captain of the Royal Guard was pretty easy going, until it came to the point where action was required. Then it was all business, even if it was distasteful.
He closed his eyes and bit the bullet, blindly dialing Lelouch's number. He let it ring, thought about hanging up before the prince could answer, then held the phone to his ear.
"What happened, Suzaku?" Lelouch asked, immediately knowing that something was wrong. Suzaku supposed that that was fair. There was no real other reason for him to be calling except because of shit hitting the fan.
"There was an incident." He hedged.
"I gathered that much." Lelouch said, the tension audible in his voice.
"A cop's dead."
There was a long moment of silence on the other end of the line, then Lelouch let out a strained exhale. "Get out of there, Suzaku. Carve a path if you need to."
"Lelouch. . ." He protested.
"Follow my order. Did you get the experimental flight module?" The prince demanded.
"Yes." Suzaku answered reluctantly.
"Then bring it to me. If the Osaka Police Force tries to stop you, they can be considered expendable. Am I understood, my knight?" Lelouch asked.
"Yes, my prince." He answered, though the answer churned his gut.
When he stepped out of the transport vehicle, it was into the middle of a standoff between the ATTF and the police. Chief Inspector Baird seemed to be directing her people to take up firing positions. Her face twisted in fury when she saw him emerge.
"What the hell is this, Kururugi?" Baird all but screamed across the gap between the police forces and the ATTF forces.
"We've been recalled by the Viceroy. You will let us pass unmolested." He said, voice more firm that he felt.
"You murder one of my officers and expect me to let you walk?" Baird hissed.
"Sir Zimmerman, suit up." He said grimly, wishing it wouldn't come to this.
Lukas did as he was told and slipped into the transport vehicle. Moments later, the Lionel frame was looming over them all, stepping clear of the transport with its rifle drawn and aimed at the cops below. Suzaku reached into his pocket and promptly slipped his ear piece into his ear so that he would be able to communicate with Lukas.
"Stand aside, Chief Inspector. I've been ordered to return to the prince at whatever cost. Let's not make this bloody." Suzaku tried to persuade them but he felt woefully inadequate to this task. He was not a man that was meant to be in control of others. He was a soldier. He was a damned good soldier but he wasn't meant to be the one giving the orders.
For a moment, Baird didn't move and Suzaku's gut churned with dread, then she relented and took a small step back. "Let them pass." She growled.
Suzaku didn't allow himself to slump in relief as he wanted to. Instead, he banged on the passenger door of the truck and the motor roared to life, lurching forward. "Move out." He ordered and the ATTF soldiers around him moved almost as one as they stepped forward to keep pace the the snail's pace that the truck was moving at as they exited the secured area around the port. The soldiers still had their guns drawn the entire time and Suzaku fought the urge to draw his own sidearm lest it be seen as a provocation.
They maintained their level of awareness for a couple blocks, until Suzaku was sure that the cops weren't about to follow them, then loaded up everyone into the truck, Lukas and his Lionel included, as quickly as possible. He was acutely aware of the danger they were in. They were in an unfortified location in a war zone. The Kenshiki could pounce on them at any time and the cops were about as equal of a threat.
He ordered the driver to return them to Lelouch's Osaka palace with all possible haste and didn't let himself begin to relax until they were passing Station One; the security hub controlling the road to the palace. Only then, did he let himself lean back in his seat and look at anything other than their surroundings.
His gaze met Lukas' and he swallowed down the rising feeling of inadequacy he felt. He remembered a night not too long ago when it had been Lukas experiencing this overwhelming feeling of incompetence after the Ashford Academy bombing. And he'd known then, as he knew now, that nothing was going to make that feeling go away, not even a pardon from Lelouch.
He needed to do better.
Diethard prowled the halls of the palace. He had a camera hidden in his lapel in addition to the one he had on his shoulder, recording the lavish halls and ornamented rooms of the Viceroy's newest residence. He didn't agree with this plan, he didn't agree with Prince Lelouch risking himself and his entourage, but he would do what he was told. He didn't fool himself into thinking that not following the prince's lead at this juncture wouldn't have consequences.
At the very least, he would lose the place he had made for himself at the prince's side if he didn't follow through.
He focused on the charade he was making, running a commentary about the expensive furniture and other accents of the palace that he came across. He was mocking this up as a documentary; an exclusive sneak peek at the palace in the quarantined city. He interviewed everyone he came across, asking some questions about what they thought of the palace and the magnificent views it commanded of the surrounding coastline. Honestly he'd seen some luxury resorts that couldn't even compare to what the prince had made here. And still the prince was willing to risk it all to draw the Kenshiki's ire.
He'd already managed to interview Princess Euphemia about the palace. The princess had given him a bitter smile which would have to be edited out that told him she knew what this was all about, but she'd played along for the sake of the ruse and had even managed to drag the Sumeragi girl into the conversation when the girl had passed by. It served his purposes well enough, especially as some of the other council members had been less willing to be interviewed.
He was in the process of filming some landscape shots of the coast down below when he came across the green haired woman that had accompanied the prince. He didn't know her, but he had seen her around and he'd heard someone else refer to her as C.C..
He turned to her, camera still rolling. "Ah, Miss C.C.," He called out, intending to get an interview.
He was surprised when her usually placid expression morphed into an expression of fear. "Turn that off!" She snarled, and made a grab for the camera.
"Hey, the prince gave me permission to film." He protested, dodging her attempt to disarm him.
"Not of me, he didn't." She said angrily. "Now delete this entire encounter."
"No." He said firmly, taking a step back from her. The camera was still rolling on his shoulder, pointed right at her.
Her hands flexed at her side and she looked like she wanted to reach out and strangle him, then she seemed to think better of it and drew a gun on him instead. She aimed her pistol directly at his face and ordered with an almost monotone voice. "Give me the camera, Reid."
There was no hesitation in her gaze at all. It was clear that she was fully prepared to smear his brains across the prince's wall. He gave her the camera, slipping it off his shoulder and holding it out to her. She took it one handed, glancing down at the screen that was still recording before she stuffed the gun back into the folds of her clothes and went about deleting all of his hard work.
"If you claim to be on Lelouch's side, you will keep this in mind from now on. If anyone catches sight of me, it will bring all manner of hell down on Lelouch's head." She explained.
"Why?" He asked cautiously, still cognizant of the fact that she had had no qualms with threatening him with a gun. "Does the prince know?"
"It's none of his business. Or yours." She said, then shoved the camera back into his chest. "Just keep me out of the public eye. Or else."
She stalked off down the hall. He waited until she was actually out of sight before he dared to glance down at the camera in his hands. As he'd expected, it was all gone. Lucky for him, he was a sly bastard and still had access to the footage on his hidden camera. It might not be as high of quality, but it would do in a pinch.
He returned to the suite he had been granted when he arrived at the palace and set to uploading the footage to his computer. He clipped out the encounter with C.C., loaded it onto a mobile tablet and left his room to seek out the prince. He could practically smell the story here and his journalistic instincts were urging him to follow it through. C.C. was a mystery and he was determined to crack it.
He knocked on the door to the prince's office, but it was empty. When he asked a passing servant where the prince might be, he was instead directed to the command center on the second floor. He made his way to the indicated room, knocked and was bid to enter the room by none other than the prince himself.
The command center was a large, long room with floor to ceiling windows overlooking the ocean on the far wall. Half of the room hosted a large conference table lined with comfortable looking executive chairs. The other half of the room was divided from the front by almost floor to ceiling panels of monitors and situation response consoles. Behind those, only accessible through a wide aisle in the center was a low dais in front of the windows. On top of that dais sat a huge, old fashioned desk. The room was empty for now, except for the prince, but he imagined once operations started that this room would be a hub of activity within the palace.
"Was there something you needed, Diethard?" The prince asked. He was situated near the center of the room, as if he had just come down off of the dais.
"Yes, your highness," He said, then proceeded to show the prince the footage of his encounter with C.C. and the damning confession she'd made as a danger to the prince. Prince Lelouch was silent as he watched the encounter, his face not giving anything away. When it was done, he was expecting some kind of reaction, anger or surprise or something, but the prince merely nodded.
"And yet you still somehow managed to salvage this footage, despite the way she went to such lengths to protect her anonymity." The Viceroy noted with a hint of danger in his voice. "I expect you adhere to her demand. C.C. is useless to the Kenshiki. There's no need to broadcast her presence here, or anywhere else."
Diethard swallowed back the feeling that he was about to touch a live wire, and was about to question the prince further about her presence in his entourage, but the door to the command center swung open and Sir Kururugi strode into the room and promptly lowered himself onto a knee, head bowed.
"I'm sorry, your highness. There's no excuse. I -" The knight began.
"It's fine." The prince said, cutting him off.
"It's not fine. You don't even know what happened." Sir Kururugi protested.
"I don't need to know what happened. I know you, Suzaku." Prince Lelouch declared firmly. "Now get up."
Diethard was surprised by the declaration. But not nearly so surprised as when the door to the command center opened a second time and one of the newer members of the prince's Royal Guard stormed in, his entire demeanor radiating anger.
"Whatever he's telling you is bullshit, Lelouch." The guardsman declared boldly. "Suzaku did nothing wrong and those sons of bitches deserved everything they got and more besides."
The prince sighed longsufferingly, "Lukas, really?"
"I said something that was construed crudely-" Kururugi began before the guardsman cut him off again.
"Bullshit. They were after you from the very moment he stepped onto their turf." Lukas growled. "The shit they said right to his face. If anything, he was too lax, Lelouch. I would have been dropping the assholes left and right."
"Lukas, they're cops. The police are-" Kururugi began, but cut off when, once again, the door to the command center opened. An Eleven, or Honorary Britannian he supposed, quickly stepped forward before dropping himself to his knee before the prince much as the knight had.
"I apologize, your highness. I take full responsibility for the regretful bloodshed caused today. I will accept any punishment you deem fit." The soldier said resignedly.
The prince was quiet for a moment as he stared at the Eleven, then took a slow, deep breath. "What on earth is going on with you guys? Rise and tell me what you're apologizing for, Sergeant Higa?"
Higa sent a confused glance at the other two soldiers before answering the prince. "I was the one to issue the order to kill the police officer when it became apparent that Sir Kururugi's life was endangered."
The prince stiffened, chin rising slightly as he stared down the soldier. "Endangered how?"
Again, Higa glanced at the other two soldiers in confusion. "Sir Kururugi was being held at gunpoint, your highness."
For a moment the prince didn't say anything, then he turned on his knight, his entire being radiating anger. "Jesus Christ, Suzaku! You know I would have razed them all to the ground if something had happened to you. When were you going to tell me? Who cares what the fuck you said, their actions were reprehensible. Clearly the police force is running wild and will need to be brought to heel."
The prince held up a hand to silence the knight before turning on the other Eleven. Higa initially wilted under the prince's gaze, then corrected himself and stood at attention. "Higa, you and your men are being reassigned to the palace. You will be taking over security of this floor."
"Yes, your highness." The soldier said with a crisp salute.
It seemed only then that the prince remembered his presence and turned a withering glare on him. "Diethard, you have a story to run, don't you?"
"Yes, your highness." He said. Boy did he ever. If only he'd had the presence of mind to have kept his hidden camera on for this encounter with the prince. One day, years from now, and after the prince was no longer with them, people would kill for this kind of footage of him. He already had the beginnings of a documentary in mind, providing that he outlived the young prince. But judging by the reckless way the prince led his armies, it was always a possibility.
For now though, he would work on this fluff piece meant to draw the anger of the terrorists of Osaka and hope for some thrilling footage during the attack.
AN: So yeah . . . this is happening. No guarantees how long I can keep this up for though. Hope you enjoyed. Hope you're still reading. And drop me a review ^.~