~Euphemia li Britannia~
Euphemia had clung to the belief that Lukas had only been trying to scare her away when he'd told her that they were all acting as bait for the terrorists that were after her brother's head. She'd clung to that belief with both hands until some reporter - the only reporter that Lelouch had allowed to accompany him to Osaka - had asked for an interview about what she thought of Lelouch's ridiculously lavish palace.
And then she'd let that mistaken belief go and had been forced to do her part in acting as bait. She'd smiled prettily for the camera and had gushed about the decor and the view and the wonderful time that she was having there and knew that this was what the world thought of her. They thought she was just some flighty princess with no concept of what was going on in the outside world.
She was the hapless socialite to Cornelia's elite military general, Schneizel's political prodigy and Lelouch's tactical genius. And she was tired of it. She was so so tired of being so helpless, so useless. Even when she tried to help, she only got in the way.
She briefly considered just admitting defeat. She briefly considered doing just as Lukas had told her and feigning an emergency back in the homeland. She could go back to her mother and lick her wounded ego and go back to what she knew. She could go back to charity events at Guinevere's side and knowing that she would never affect any real change in the Empire.
Just the thought of it made her sick.
She was seated in the sitting room adjoined to her bedroom. The room was meant for receiving guests, but she was alone except for Villetta, who sat quietly in the chair across from her with that perpetually alert expression on her face. She watched her knight for a moment and wondered if that had been a mistake too.
It wasn't that she disliked Villetta and it wasn't that she didn't think the woman was capable of her job, it was only that she realized that she'd rushed into this. She'd rushed into naming a knight for no other reason than to come and impose her will on Lelouch and his plans.
"Do you think that I'm selfish?" She asked quietly, her voice sounding loud in the near silent room, the crash of waves along the beach outside her window the only thing audible.
Villetta startled slightly and turned her gaze on Euphy, sharp and assessing. "Is that what Sir Zimmerman said?" Villetta asked disapprovingly.
"No." Euphy said softly. "He didn't have to say it."
"You're not selfish." Her knight answered firmly. "You are the least selfish person I know."
"I don't mean materially. I mean . . . in the way that I'm such a spoilt brat that I just blunder around trying to get my own way all the time." She elaborated.
"You mean well, Euphy. Everyone knows that." Villetta placated. But the placation in itself only proved the fact that she was right. Her knight just didn't want to hurt her feelings.
"The road to hell is paved with good intentions." She said bitterly. Cornelia had said it once, years ago after another of her hair-brained schemes had gone awry.
"You cannot expect to simply step into a public role at your age and be perfect." Villetta chastised. "You're still learning, Euphemia."
And maybe that was the real issue, if she thought about it. She was still learning, but she was muddling along on her own without anyone to guide her. No one had taken an interest in the Third Princess of Britannia. She'd been written off as a failure almost as soon as it had become apparent that she wasn't going to follow in Cornelia's footsteps. She would forever live in her sister's shadow.
But even Cornelia hadn't risen to such great heights on her own. Cornelia had been taken under wing by Empress Marianne. The same could be said of Schneizel, who had been mentored by his maternal uncle, a man who had served as a diplomat for the Empire for almost forty years. And Lelouch . . . well, Lelouch had been taken in by Schneizel almost from the day he was born and had benefited from the mentorship of his brother and mother both.
So perhaps that was the reason why she was so inept. No one had bothered to care what she would make of herself. No one had bothered to care if she had any potential beyond being just another pretty face around court. No one had bothered to wonder if she could have value beyond that of her name and proximity to the throne.
She had come to terms an age ago that she would eventually be married off for the sake of securing allies for the Empire, but beyond that even she herself hadn't considered what kind of use she could be. She had no ambitions, no aspirations. She had no goal in mind that she was striving to reach.
She was stagnating and reaching out at random to any cause that caught her fancy. Why did she think that she would be able to bully Lelouch into creating a democracy? Why had she considered bullying Lelouch an option at all? He was her beloved brother. She should have come here to help him, not to impose her own ideas on his master plans.
She frowned. She would have to beg for his forgiveness. Provided that they all survived this stupidly reckless tactic that Lelouch had initiated against the Kenshiki, she would have to go before the Viceroy and apologize for her short-sightedness.
"Euphy?" Her knight called, drawing her out of her self-loathing. "Are you alright?"
She forced a smile onto her lips. "Yes. I'm fine. I'm just tired." She finally conceded. She had hardly stopped to rest since landing in Area Eleven again. She'd rushed off from one destination to the next with nary a concern for her own fatigue, lest it interfere with her great plans of reform. It was a manic kind of craze that she had always associated with Schneizel and knew that if she didn't step back and allow herself to wind down, she would crash.
It was time to take a step back. She would rest and recuperate. She would pray for Lelouch's success in this endeavor and that they didn't all die here. Then, once they were back in Tokyo and the time was more appropriate, only then would she make amends with her brother and perhaps . . . perhaps Lelouch would see some potential in her and consider her worth mentoring.
~Lelouch vi Britannia~
Lelouch was in the command center, overseeing the arrival of his support staff. A handful of his council members had taken up residence at the conference table in the lower half of the room as well, likely taking the cue from Kaguya who had been summoned so that Lelouch could keep an eye on her and make sure she wasn't sending messages. That was fine. They could stay there so long as they didn't try to interfere.
Adrian let himself into the command center a moment later, his arms burdened with a thick stack of folders containing the latest intelligence reports. The Commander nodded his way briefly before setting the stack down on Lelouch's desk and going to oversee what was happening at the monitoring stations.
Lelouch waited at his desk, turning his chair away from his desk so that he could admire the view of the sun sinking into the ocean through the windows. He couldn't remember the last time he'd taken the time to simply admire the view. He wasn't sure if it felt foreboding or optimistic that he was doing now. Diethard's documentary was currently airing all throughout the city. He could only hope that the provocation would work.
If it didn't . . . he wasn't sure how he would draw the Kenshiki out. No. He refused to think like that. It would work. If it didn't, then he would simply think of something else. It wouldn't be a defeat, merely a miscalculation. He wasn't going to lose. There was no way that he could lose.
He masked all of his self-doubt behind his usual confident facade and ignored the way that Suzaku kept glancing at him and seeing right through it. God, he'd almost lost Suzaku and hadn't even known it. He tried to tamp down on the frisson of anger that shot through him at the thought but knew he wasn't entirely successful by the way that his knight shifted awkwardly beside his desk.
He'd reamed Suzaku out in the privacy of his office later. He knew it wasn't entirely justified, but he didn't know what else to do. Surely there had been a better option than for Suzaku to just stand there ready to let himself get shot. But then, it was all Lelouch's fault anyway. He should have known better than to send an Eleven to negotiate with the police, even if that Eleven was an Honorary Britannian. Even if that Eleven was his Knight of Honour. He should have known better.
The police had been a bane to the Japanese ever since the invasion had officially ended. They had become accustomed to looking down on the Elevens. The police felt like it was their right to interpret the law as they saw fit and rain down justice on the conquered masses. When it came down to dealing with the Elevens, the police were little more than state sponsored death squads.
And he'd sent Suzaku into the lion's den without a second thought, backed up by a squad of soldiers led by another Eleven and had simply expected his threats and orders to be enough to keep them safe. He'd feared the Kenshiki over the much older threat of the police in his single minded drive to eradicate the terrorists in the city and it had nearly cost him his oldest friend.
He sat up straight, cracked his neck and was about to turn his thoughts to something more productive when the door to the command center slammed open. He sighed, at this rate, he should have had a revolving door installed, or no door at all.
When he turned back to face the command center, it was to find Cornelia storming through it, fury radiating from every line of her body. The sheer rage in her eyes as she stormed up the step onto the dais where his desk sat almost gave him pause. He didn't miss the way that Suzaku took a step toward her, hand on his gun as if to stop her. The withering look she shot in the knight's direction didn't, contrary to her intention, make him back down.
"You son of a bitch, Lelouch!" She snarled, slamming her hands down on the desk in front of him as she practically loomed over him. "You get him to turn it off, right now!"
Lelouch leaned back in his chair slightly and forced himself to seem at ease. "What is this about, Cornelia?" He asked calmly, aware that everyone in the room, from his council members to his support staff were listening to her trying to tear a strip off of him. He wasn't about to let himself lose more credibility by cowering in front of his sister.
"Your fucking media toadie is broadcasting a goddamned travesty of feel good bullshit with my sister's face emblazoned across it like he's painting a target on her!" Cornelia all but yelled. "You get him to shut it down, or so help me Lelouch, you'll be recovering that asshole piece by piece."
Lelouch blinked and wondered if he'd ever seen Cornelia this incensed. But then again, Euphemia had just recently survived a terrorist attack by the same terrorist cell that he was targeting here. "Calm down, sister." He said, modulating his voice into something he might have used to calm a rabid animal. "Euphemia is in no danger."
"Don't give me that bullshit, Lelouch. You've already failed to protect her twice. I'm just supposed to believe you now? Shut down the broadcast or I won't leave enough of you left for the terrorists to find." Cornelia snapped.
Lelouch leaned back in his chair, stunned by the outright threat. The rest of the room, the support staff and council, also fell into a hushed silence as if they couldn't believe what they had heard. Suzaku was the only one who didn't seem paralyzed by the threat, taking a menacing step forward as he imposed himself between Lelouch and his sister.
"Step back, Princess Cornelia." Suzaku ordered as he slipped his sidearm from its holster. He didn't raise it, but the gun was in hand.
Cornelia blinked in surprise at the command, her gaze traveling from the gun in Suzaku's hand, to his face then across the desk to Lelouch before she seemed to realize what she had said. She sighed and stepped back, even going so far as to raise her hands out to her sides to show that she had no weapons in her hands. Suzaku stepped forward and deftly pulled the gun out of the princess' holster at her hip, setting the weapon down on the desk in front of Lelouch.
There was a moment of tense silence after that as no one moved. Lelouch panicked for a moment, wondering how he should proceed from here. Should he clear the room and tear a strip off of her? But if something did happen to her, he knew he'd automatically come under suspicion. But could he really air his and Cornelia's dirty laundry in front of so many people. No. No, despite his desire to, he knew that that would be detrimental to him as well. So then, he couldn't respond in anger.
He took a deep, steadying breath to smother his irritation and slowly stood up. "Cornelia." He said softly before stepping around his desk and past Suzaku, ignoring the way Suzaku's whole body tensed, focussing solely on his sister. "Euphemia is in no danger." He said with as much conviction as he could manage. "I will have her evacuated the very moment bullets start flying. But if I move her now, she will become a target. And without the chaos of a siege on this palace to cover her movements, I can't protect her."
Cornelia's face paled as she stared down at him. "What the hell are you planning, Lelouch?"
Lelouch stared at her for a long moment, wondering how far he could trust her not interfere with his plans. But they were committed now. They had very few options left now that the documentary was broadcasting. "The grand finale." He finally said softly.
There was nothing but silence for a moment as the rage in Cornelia's gaze was cut with something else: realization. After a long moment, Cornelia finally shook her head slightly. "You're going to bring them here, aren't you? You're using Euphy to bring them here." She said, and there was no mistaking the disgust and accusation in her voice. "No, not just Euphy. All of us. You're using all of us as bait in your sick games. That's why you brought your council here. That's why you brought your wife. That's why you didn't even protest when Euphemia and I joined in. We made a more appealing target, didn't we, Lelouch?"
There was some shifting in the lower half of the room, but Lelouch didn't dare take his gaze away from Cornelia. Not when she was this close. Not when she was this angry.
"You're a ruthless son of a bitch." She finally said.
"I never claimed to be anything else." Lelouch said, finally. He embraced everything it meant to be the Wolf of Britannia. There was no room for anything else, not here, not right now.
Cornelia pressed her lips together in a thin frown but then she sighed and her voice lowered. "Promise me. Promise she'll be okay."
"Nothing will happen to Euphemia. I swear it." He swore vehemently. Ruthless he might be, but not enough to risk Euphemia. She might aggravate him, but he would never wish her harm.
Cornelia nodded slightly then turned on her heel and stormed back out of the command center. She didn't apologize for threatening him and Lelouch didn't expect her to. If anything did happen to Euphemia, he knew that she would be coming for his head, regardless of position, rank or their familial connection.
Lelouch watched her go, straightening his spine when he realized he was under the scrutiny of all of the room's other occupants. He ran his gaze over them, taking in the disbelieving, outraged looks on his council's faces to something that almost looked like respect in the faces of his support staff and Higa's soldiers placed throughout the room.
That, he couldn't quite parse. Perhaps they were impressed by his willingness to take the Goddess of Victory head on, or maybe they merely praised his willingness to use everyone around him as pawns equally. That wasn't his concern at the moment.
He turned back to his desk and sank into his seat, reclining slightly with an air of ease, though he knew it wouldn't last long. Predictably, it was Duke Hamilton that shot to his feet first, storming up to take Cornelia's place and demanding if the princess had been correct in her accusation that Lelouch had used them for such a dangerous purpose.
He sighed and met Suzaku's gaze for a moment. His knight didn't need instruction, silent or otherwise. A moment later, Suzaku was ushering the duke back into the lower half of the room while assuring the man that the Osaka palace was the safest place for him to be in the city and that he, himself, along with all of the ATTF soldiers stationed around the palace wouldn't let anything happen to him.
Lelouch turned his chair around and glared back out at the sunset, waiting for the Kenshiki to attack. He couldn't wait for this to be over.
Jeremiah grit his teeth as he suffered through another hour of surveillance at Protective Zone One. They'd found nothing. They'd seen nothing. As far as anyone in Osaka seemed concerned, the Kenshiki had gone to ground the very second they had stolen the Guren and it was pissing the hell out of him. Why did he have to be stuck here at this god forsaken refugee camp while his prince was facing the terrorists head on?
Nothing had better happen to the prince or Kururugi was going to find his head on a spike. If the prince died there would be nothing to stop him from going after the Eleven. Though, in recent months he had to admit to an almost growing respect for the young man. It was obvious just from speaking with him briefly that Suzaku Kururugi was the very epitome of everything a loyal soldier should be. He might be a bit too idealistic, but when the situation called for it, he'd seen the brat shed blood without hesitation.
Jeremiah only hoped it would be enough in this instance.
"Sir," A voice called behind him, "An update from the palace."
"And?" He asked, instead of taking the document from the man.
"The palace is fully prepared to be sieged and the bait was broadcast almost an hour ago. So far, there's been no movement and things are still quiet." Captain Grier, the man in charge of the protective zone informed him quietly. He was one of the few men in Osaka who knew of the impending attack on the palace.
"And my prince?"
"There was no word, but I'm certain he's fine. We would have heard, if otherwise." Grier said confidently.
That was of little comfort. If something were to happen to Lelouch, he would have no idea until after the fact. He would have no recourse except to become the avenging arm of the prince. It seemed like this was the case far too often, despite the fact that he was supposed to be the one sacrificing his life for the prince.
Grier cleared his throat awkwardly. "Sir, I just want to thank you for being here." The captain said grimly. "I know that you would prefer to be at the palace with the Viceroy, but your presence here is appreciated."
Jeremiah merely nodded in silence, unsure how he was supposed to respond to the sentiment. He had never been a man prone to such professions of gratitude except when in the presence of royalty. That this man sought to offer him such platitudes didn't sit well with cynical part of him wondered just what the captain was after with such a ploy.
"Dismissed, Captain." He said nonchalantly as he looked out over the protective zone with its cheap prefabricated trailers sprawling out in every direction from his vantage point at the central command center.
"Sir." The captain said, no doubt saluting before he went back inside.
Jeremiah remained at his perch on a viewing deck above the command center. If he squinted, he could just make out Lelouch's palace in the distance. The task had been easier earlier in the day, but now that the sun had set, all he could see of the palace was a wash of twinkling lights on the horizon.
He dragged his gaze away from the view and instead looked out over the camp again. Though, he supposed, camp was too rough of a term for what this was. This was not a refugee camp, not in the same way as the ones he had seen in conquered areas during their invasions. These structures were temporary, yes, but they were solid. They were clean and secure and the people here were well taken care of. Food and water was provided along with electricity and some luxuries such as local television. Access to the internet and cellphone coverage had been deliberately jammed in the hours following the announcement of the quarantine to limit the communications of the terrorists and keep word of what was happening inside of Osaka quiet. All just part of the illusion of tyranny Lelouch had created.
A gunshot echoed in the distance and his eyes automatically sought out the palace in the distance. But that was wrong. The shot had come from the other direction, from deeper inside the city. He stepped inside the command center, eager to see if this was the signal for the start of hostilities.
Alas, it was not to be. One of the patrols had fired a warning shot at a couple of kids breaking curfew. They had quickly surrendered and were being taken into custody. They'd be in for a rough night of interrogation, but if things went Lelouch's way and the Kenshiki did attack, as long they could prove that they weren't a part of it, they'd probably be released.
Jeremiah sighed in frustration and ducked back outside of the office, feeling anxious. He was almost hoping for the attack to take place here so that he could purge himself of his frustration. It would be better than risking harm to the prince anyway, even if every last one of these civilians died.
In contrast to Jeremiah, Gino stood perched over the gate of Protective Zone Three with an assault rifle held against his chest and the Tristan hunkered down twenty or thirty meters behind him. His white uniform gleamed in the moonlight and he knew for a fact that the sergeant next to him was practically beside himself with questions.
He grinned broadly and turned his head halfway toward the man. "Something to say, Sergeant?"
The man stiffened and turned his attention fully back to his duty of looking for incoming hostiles toward the gate. "No, sir."
If anything, Gino's grin grew wider. He'd chosen this particular post after being driven mad by the captain in charge of the protective zone all day. He'd taken off under the guise of doing a perimeter check and had been in time to watch the shift change. Sergeant Jackson Dayley was in charge of the protective zone's perimeter defences for the next eight hours. He'd taken over command effortlessly, directing his men along the walls and coordinated with the knightmare patrol that was leaving at the same time with a level of professionalism that was generally hard to come by from two such segments of the military with such a heated rivalry between them.
Generally speaking, knights looked down on the infantry. A lot of them thought that the infantry should even be abandoned now that they had knightmare technology. For the infantry's part, Gino assumed they were just waiting for the chance to prove the knights wrong. Already, this campaign against the Kenshiki had to be doing wonders for their morale. From what he understood, most of the operations within the city since the quarantine had been called had been conducted by the infantry forces. The knightmares had only been used to run down escapees or when things had gone pear-shaped for the men on the ground.
"You could ask." He said, keeping his eyes faced forward.
A moment of silence followed the statement before the sergeant hesitantly said, "Sir?"
"Whatever question you're practically burning to ask me. You could ask it. I don't bite." Gino said. "Much."
There was another long moment of quiet before the soldier relented. "Why are you here, Sir? From my understanding, the Knights of the Round are usually only sent in once the situation has become untenable. This situation is hardly that, and furthermore, Area Eleven is a more or less stable area. This isn't a war zone."
Gino pursed his lips for a moment, wondering how he should answer, before he settled on the truth. It would have the added bonus of rattling the prince's cage a bit once it got out amongst the ranks just why he was here and it wasn't like it was a secret. Once his presence in the prince's entourage became more well known, the speculation on the prince's status would become rampant. "I've been assigned to Prince Lelouch, to aid and protect him."
Besides, it would become obvious as soon as the media realized he was here again. And with that reporter lurking in the prince's shadow, he couldn't expect for the news to remain quiet.
"Assigned to the prince?" The sergeant asked, bewildered. "B-by the Emperor?"
"Indeed." He said with a grin.
"Then, the viceroy is . . .?"
"The heir apparent." Gino confirmed. As far as he was concerned, that was true. Whatever else Prince Lelouch thought his presence meant, this was the only truth he knew. He'd heard it from the lips of the Emperor himself: Lelouch was the only heir the Emperor deemed worthy of his protection.
Dayley let out a deep breath as though trying to calm himself, though his eyes were still wide with amazement. "Shouldn't you be with him then?"
"I've been ordered here by the prince. His highness is worried about civilian casualties should the protective zones be targeted by the Kenshiki." Gino answered with a slight shrug.
"Still, we can take care of things here, sir. You should go back to his highness." The soldier practically insisted.
"And disobey a direct order from the future emperor? No." Gino chuckled. He knew all too well what it was like to be on the receiving end of Prince Lelouch's anger and he had no desire to experience it again. "He is well protected with Sir Kururugi by his side."
"That Eleven?" Dayley said with audible disdain.
"Yes. That Eleven that has sworn his life to the prince. Sir Kururugi's skills are not to be looked down on, I assessed them myself after his knighting. If he had been born Britannian, he would likely have already been recruited into the Rounds." He answered, trying hard to keep his tone from going sharp.
He liked Suzaku and he hated the thought that he was so easily discounted because of his ethnicity, but he could not afford to let that be widely known. His affection for the Numbers, as the Emperor called it, had already been known to the Emperor even before he was knighted. He'd run away from home after falling in love with an Eleven woman and that had gone on his record.
He'd been surprised at first that the Emperor had even sent him to Area Eleven to assess Kururugi because of his history, though in hindsight that was probably for the prince's sake. He doubted the prince would have responded well if Sir Waldstein or any of the other knights, except maybe Dame Kruszewski, had arrived, but Monica's duties as the head of the Emperor's Royal Guard made it difficult to deploy her from the Emperor's side. Even as it was, his and Anya's reception had been cold and, he believed, would have still been cold even if there hadn't been that unfortunate instance of shooting the prince's knightmare in the back.
Still, it was a shame that even now Suzaku was doubted by the prince's subordinates. All it would take is any one of them actually talking to Suzaku without picking apart everything he said to try to find him guilty of some crime and they'd be able to see the devotion he had to the prince. All it would take was anyone actually getting to know the Eleven for them to see what a great guy Suzaku actually was.
"He's that good?" Dayley questioned dubiously.
"As his highness is ever so fond of reminding me, Suzaku could take me out as easy as breathing if he were so inclined." Gino admitted.
"In his knightmare?" The sergeant asked.
"Or in close combat." Gino revealed. "I might be the better shot and able to take him out at range, but otherwise I wouldn't want to try it." And even that supposition he wasn't sure of. He'd never actually seen Suzaku fire his weapon. It was entirely possible that Suzaku would outclass him in combat regardless of the type.
His smile turned wry. His pride had taken a hit when he'd first met Suzaku and had been almost effortlessly outclassed by the Lancelot and its pilot. But after weeks of getting to know him, of the lack of arrogance the Eleven had in his victories, Gino had been able to let it go in favour of pursuing a friendship with the knighted Number. However, that friendship was something that he needed to temper with his duty with the crown, knowing that if he gave the Emperor cause to worry about his allegiance, he might be removed from Prince Lelouch's presence or, worse, the Knights of the Rounds itself.
Of course, all of that wasn't to say that Suzaku was all that accepting of his overtures of friendship anyway. Before the Ashford bombing, he'd been able to understand the guarded attitude of the other knight. After all, Gino and Anya had been sent to Area Eleven as an insult to assess Kururugi's aptitude as a knight, a heretofore unheard of practice. But since coming back to Area Eleven, every attempt at friendliness with the knight had been rebuffed as well. Suzaku was keeping him at arm's length, undoubtedly sharing the prince's suspicions of his motives for being in Area Eleven.
It drove him a little nuts. What on earth did they think he had been sent here to do? He was a loyal knight and would never knowingly harm any member of the royal family, even without taking into account Prince Lelouch's intended inheritance. But still the prince and his knights treated him like they thought he was going to sneak into their bedchambers at night and stab them all to death. He was not an assassin. Not really. He hated those jobs but had come to understand over the last year that they were only assigned to him as a test. He hated doing them, but he would if he had to. Usually, they were assigned to Luciano or Dorothea and he was happy to let them have them.
He pulled his mind away from that dark avenue of thought and refocused on his current mission. He would protect the civilians here and earn a little of Prince Lelouch's favor by doing so. And when the prince inevitably eventually took the throne, he would hope that his loyalty would be rewarded by letting him remain a Knight of the Round.
Suzaku was sticking close to Lelouch since Cornelia had uttered her threats against him. It didn't help the feeling of guilt squirming in his gut whenever he thought of the cop that had died because of his missteps, because he had failed to live up to Lelouch's expectations of perfection and had failed to safeguard his prince's reputation. That feeling of guilt and failure was only compounded by the way that Lelouch didn't give a shit about the man that had died because of his mistakes.
But this wasn't the time for him to be distracted. It seemed like Lelouch's enemies had multiplied overnight and were now closing in around all sides. The most obvious were the Kenshiki Faction, but now there was this situation with the Osaka Police Force as well. Princess Cornelia had always been a threat and was now manipulating Euphemia into undermining Lelouch at every turn. And, of course, they couldn't forget Sir Weinberg waiting in the wings for any hint of Lelouch's true motivations to show before he turned on them.
"Are you with me, Suzaku?" Lelouch asked quietly, careful to keep his voice low enough that the rest of the inhabitants of the room couldn't overhear them. "There's no time for regrets right now. I need you focussed. The Kenshiki could strike at any moment."
He nodded firmly at the soft reprimand. "I'm with you." He promised. He wouldn't - couldn't - let anything happen to Lelouch. "You're going to be fine."
"I'm not worried about me." Lelouch said grimly as he cast his gaze over the collection of disgruntled councillors and their assorted security details. Even Princess Euphemia had let herself into the room after a while, Dame Nu and her retinue of Glaston Knights with her. Their presence was an unwanted distraction to all those who were working in the command center, but after the purpose of their presence had been revealed, they had refused to be kept out of the loop, so they were currently taking up space around the conference table and being kept under the watchful eye of Sergeant Higa and his men.
Higa's men were supposed to be covering the entire floor of the palace, but with so many armed men on the floor, all with different loyalties, they had been recalled to take over security of the command center. Ostensibly, they were there to keep watch over the doors and windows to make sure no terrorists managed to breach the room. In reality, they were keeping a close eye on the Glaston Knights and Duke Hamilton's security team for any hint of aggressive behaviour.
Suzaku was drawn out of his thoughts by a whispered conversation between two of the information specialists manning the security consoles. Lelouch seemed to notice as well and frowned. "What's happening?" Lelouch demanded.
The two specialists shared a nervous glance. "We seem to have lost contact with Station Four, your highness."
Station Four, the watchtower located on the beach, was the furthest away from Station One, which was supposed to be the only way onto Lelouch's private island. Lelouch turned away to the windows lining the wall behind his desk. From where they were standing, Station Four was partially visible between swaying palm trees. It still looked operational. The flood light was still illuminating the area and the tower was intact.
"I'm sure it's only a technical issue, your highness. We are working to restore contact now." The specialist continued, clearly not seeing the grim look on Adrian's face from where the captain was trying to call on the radio.
A moment later, Adrian looked their way and shook his head slightly. Lelouch's lips pressed into a thin line before he reached for his phone and began sending messages. C.C. quietly slipped into the room a few moments later and made her way over to Lelouch without hesitation.
"You rang?" She asked with an unimpressed quirk of her brow.
"Euphy and the council need to be escorted to safety." Lelouch said quietly. It was clear that Lelouch expected to be obeyed, but Suzaku also noticed how careful Lelouch was with his wording.
"And?" C.C. asked.
Lelouch sighed. "Will you go with them to ensure their safety?"
"Why? They mean nothing to me." C.C. said disdainfully.
"But they mean something to me and I need them out of the way."
"Well what's in it for me, Lelouch?" C.C. countered.
"How about my trust and confidence?" Lelouch bartered with a hint of a smirk.
"Oh? You say that like I don't already have your trust and confidence." C.C. challenged as she stepped closer to Lelouch, staring him down practically nose to nose. Honestly, Lelouch and C.C. flirted in the weirdest ways.
It was about that time that Suzaku realised that the council was taking an undue amount of interest in the proceedings, so he attempted to nonchalantly shift to the side and impede their view. Adrian and the ATTF had more discipline and were decidedly looking at anything but the prince and his mistress. He could practically feel Princess Abigail's glare burning into his back when Lelouch bowed his head just far enough to press it against C.C.'s forehead.
"Don't die." She ordered firmly as she stepped back, then glared expectantly at Suzaku until he nodded firmly in agreement. "Fine." She said as she turned on her heel and strode confidently to a painting on the side wall near the monitoring station and moved it aside, revealing the biometrics panel that he'd thought only Lelouch, Lord Gottwald and himself were aware of. She pressed her hand against the panel without hesitation and it immediately opened the hidden doorway to the evacuation tunnel that would lead underground all the way back to the garrison base's airfield and the plane that was waiting to take them back to Tokyo. "This way, children."
Duke Hamilton shot to his feet immediately, his security detail forming up around him as he made his way over. Euphemia and her collection of knights followed close behind, followed thereafter by each of the councilmembers until Kaguya sat at the conference table alone. She kept her head slightly bowed, the very picture of serenity, even when some of the council members faltered when they noticed.
"Do you not intend to evacuate, Lady Sumeragi?" Ichigawa asked quietly.
"No." Kaguya stated calmly, "I will see the Kenshiki Faction fall."
"Consider your safety, Lady Sumeragi." Ichigawa pleaded.
"Miss Sumeragi's cousin is the leader of the Kenshiki Faction. She has agreed to witness their downfall as a show of loyalty." Lelouch explained coolly.
The news impacted the council in a visible wave as the realization struck. Some looked understandably sympathetic, but the majority recoiled from her as if she were a terrorist herself and might suddenly attack them. But she wasn't a terrorist, she was just a woman who used her family's fortunes to incite others to violence instead. That reminder was all that Suzaku needed to squash the inkling of sympathy he felt for her. Instead, he wondered if outing her in this way would be seen as Lelouch voiding his agreement with the JLF and the Six Houses of Kyoto.
She glared slightly at Lelouch, but didn't deny it so the rest of the council continued their evacuation without her, though Suzaku couldn't help but notice the number of suspicious glances sent his way as they made their way out. If he were the cousin they were talking about, did they really think that he would still be standing next to Lelouch?
Lord Mars pulled the secret door closed behind them and Lelouch returned to his desk, pinching the bridge of his nose. "Report, Adrian."
"Stations Four and Three have stopped responding. Nothing amiss has shown up on the security feeds, but they only monitor the areas surrounding the towers, not the towers themselves. I've dispatched teams to check on the towers and doubled the ground patrols. I've also ordered a squad of Portmans to sweep the bay. If they came by boat, we'll find it." Adrian recited.
"Any Knightmare activity reported in the city?" Lelouch demanded.
"None yet. I've got -"
"Station Five has stopped responding." One of the specialists interrupted.
"Advise all units that there are hostiles on the island. Enhanced identification procedures are mandatory. Echo code." Lelouch said grimly.
Echo code was the highest level of identification procedures. Not only were all ground troops required to run auto-recognition software in their HUDs, but they were also required to hail anyone they came across, whose voice prints would be automatically checked against everyone with clearance to be on the island. There would never be another doppelganger incident like the one that had led to the Ashford bombing.
"Station Six has gone quiet, sir." The specialist said mere moments after relaying Lelouch's order.
Lelouch took a deep breath and let it out slowly. "Are we being jammed? Try to boost our signal. I can believe us to have lost four watchtowers without hearing a single shot fired."
Suzaku scowled; he didn't like the feel of this at all. He could very well imagine a way for the Kenshiki to have taken out the towers without firearms and Lelouch would undoubtedly be able to as well if he paused to think about it. The Shinozaki clan weren't the only family to have trained assassins and the Tanakas were an old and powerful clan with many retainer clans. "We should evacuate, Lelouch. Captain Hopkins can take care of this."
Lelouch glared at him before turning back to Adrian. "Boost the signal."
"I'm on it, Lelouch." Adrian reassured the prince.
"What about the men sent to check on Station Four?" Lelouch demanded.
"They're not responding to hails but their HUDs are still active and on the move." One of the specialists responded.
"The lights have gone out at Stations Seven and Two. I'm getting no response from either of them." Another specialist called.
"What about -" Lelouch started but cut off when one of the specialists jerked away from the monitoring station and pulled off his headset.
"Station One is gone." The man said grimly.
"Gone?" Lelouch demanded, eyebrow arched in annoyance.
"An RPG fired from the mainland. The road is wide open." The man answered.
"I've regained contact with the team sent to Station Four!" A different specialist yelled before clicking the feed from a HUD onto the overhead monitor and playing the audio over the speakers. There were bodies all over the tower.
"- I repeat, Station Four is down. The island has been breached. Delta Squad have all been killed. Knife work."
Suzaku grimaced. "You two, barricade the door." He ordered as he pointed at two of Higa's men. "No one else comes in until this is over. I don't care who they are."
He turned back to Lelouch, but didn't even manage to get another plea to evacuate out before Lelouch was refusing him. "I'm not leaving."
He grit his teeth against the rising panic in his chest as he remembered how quickly Sayoko Shinozaki had been able to get the drop on both him and Lord Gottwald. There were multiple Kenshiki agents on the island with a demonstrated mastery of knife work and they were undoubtedly honing in on his prince. What was even more concerning was that they had yet to be picked up on any of the security feeds.
Suzaku prowled behind the monitoring stations, trying to pick up some kind of hint of where the enemy might be while Lelouch continued relaying orders. He wished he knew how Lelouch was managing to keep his calm facade up in the face of what was clearly a highly organized attack.
Sudden movement in his peripheral vision had him turning in time to see Sergeant Higa diving at Lelouch and tackling him out of his chair. His body was moving before he even knew it and he had a split second to make a decision with Lelouch's life hanging on the line.
He liked Higa. He'd been bunked next to the man when Sir Weinberg and Dame Alstriem had been stalking him and had enjoyed his company and his conviction. But he'd liked Kondo too, even though Lelouch never had. Could he even trust his own judgement? Could he risk Lelouch's safety if he wasn't absolutely certain?
Was he even capable of trusting anyone with Lelouch's life, let alone someone that was Japanese? What if - No. It didn't make sense for Higa to attack Lelouch now, especially not when he could have just shot Lelouch when the prince's back was turned. That meant that there was a threat that he hadn't noticed yet.
He slid to a stop between Lelouch and the unknown threat, giving them his back as he drew his sidearm and snatched up Princess Cornelia's confiscated pistol from the desk with his other hand.
He heard the whisper of cloth above him only half a second before Higa screamed "Medic!", with panic evident in his voice. He looked up and caught sight of the air conditioning vent above the desk. They were in the ducting, like fucking vermin. He felt a surge of fury wash over him and raised both guns. He fired, then continued firing until both guns clicked empty and the only sound in the ringing silence that followed was the steady plop plop plop of blood dripping from the ceiling onto Lelouch's ornate desk.
AN: So hey . . . fancy seeing you here . . . still. .; It's been a while. How have you been?
For real though, you guys are amazing. It's been years since this story was updated and I still get notifications and reviews for it every other day or so. The truth is that I've been busy with work, but also that my attention tends to wander into other fandoms and other interests. I have literal dozens of other stories sitting on my drive that I've never uploaded because, if I'm entirely honest, Dauntless has become a bit intimidating due to its huge following and it feels a bit like I should always be working on it if I'm writing at all -.- But last week I was in a mood for some Suzaku, so I reread half of the story, then found that this chapter and half of the next one had already been written, but had never been uploaded. I debated whether it was more cruel to get your hopes up or not, but figured if you wanted to read it it's already done. I will try to continue working on this when I have time, but once again I make no promises for the update schedule. Sorry to leave you on a cliffhanger . Thank you to everyone who had read and left encouraging messages for me over the last couple years. They are all appreciated.