Author's Note: This is it, August tenth, my last chapter. I wanted to get it up sooner, but this turned out way longer than I expected. I don't think I've ever written such a long chapter before. I got the much of the plot and dialog from the sound episode 0.543, episode 16 of R1, as well as the picture drama 23.95. However, as the latter contrasted what I wanted to do, I deviated from the canon drama. It would have been boring to read it word for word anyway, right?
Disclaimer: Code Geass, with all its horrors and wonders, does not belong to me.
Warnings: It's August tenth. Need I say more?
August 10, 2010
The day of August tenth seemed like any other day. The sun rose, bringing with it sweltering heat, Suzaku visited, uninhibited by school now that it was finally summer vacation, and events unfolded like they always did. But then Nunnally had heard a noise.
"What's that?" she had asked, drawing the boys' attention to a chorus of pained croaks and angry squawks from above.
Suzaku had aimed his new binoculars towards the sky just in time to watch a bird (perhaps a falcon, but it was kind of hard to tell) lash out at a smaller bird with its beak, forcing the animal out of the sky.
Suzaku's eyes had widened. "Oh no!"
Nearly twenty minutes of searching later, the bird was discovered in a clump of bushes. Judging from its size, it was a songbird, and most likely female. She was colored a drab shade of olive brown with a white underbelly, and her small eyes seemed to look at the children warily.
"Why would another bird do such a thing?" Nunnally had asked, cradling the creature carefully in her hands.
"There may have been a number of reasons," Lelouch had answered. "Probably either for food or territory." Because humans were the only creatures who killed each other for sport.
Suzaku had gently took the bird from Nunnally's hands. "She's an uguisu. They live up here in the mountains, but you don't usually see them much this time of year."
"Her wing is broken," Lelouch had observed, wincing sympathetically. "I doubt she'll be able to fly on it."
"Then how will she get back home?" Nunnally had asked, distraught. "She might have babies! A mother shouldn't be separated from her children!"
"Lelouch and I will get her back to her nest, Nunnally," Suzaku had assured the girl. "I promise."
The promise was far more difficult too keep than it was to deliver. After depositing Nunnally at the house to rest, the boys had paid a visit to the local library. Using the small collection of bird books there, they discovered the uguisu's preferred habitat, the typical form of its nest, and what the eggs looked like. After that, they used Suzaku's binoculars to scout out possible locations. It took far longer than either one of them had expected, but eventually Suzaku had spotted the bird's nest on the next mountain over. They had to watch it for a while to make absolutely sure it belonged to their bird, but after a few hours there was no doubt.
However, then the greater issue became apparent. How to get there? Genbu Kururugi was currently holding some sort of meeting with Japanese officials (which was where Suzaku was supposed to be right now), and the whole shrine was on lockdown. If Lelouch and Suzaku attempted to leave the boundaries of the Kururugi Shrine, they would definitely be stopped by security police.
"What are we going to do, Lelouch?" Suzaku asked miserably.
But the wheels in Lelouch's head were turning. "Suzaku…if I created a distraction, do you think we'd be able to get a hold of a car?'
Suzaku tilted his head thoughtfully. "Well…yes, I know where a lot of cars are kept…but where are you going with this, Lelouch?"
"I'm not really sure yet," Lelouch admitted. "I'm kind of figuring things out as I go. You don't know how to drive by any chance, do you?"
"Oh, sure!" Suzaku assured him. "I've got lots of driving experience."
Lelouch looked a bit dubious of that, but since it was a desperate situation, he didn't press the matter. "Okay, here's what we're going to do."
"Are you sure about this?" Suzaku whispered. "Really sure?"
True to his word, Suzaku had introduced Lelouch to small parking lot just outside of the house, accommodating rows of shiny black SUVs, sports cars, and a single jeep. And just like he said they would be, the vehicles were guarded, just in case.
"Trust me," Lelouch assured him. "This plan is perfect! Only…are you sure you can drive it?"
"I'll do my part," Suzaku promised. "Just leave that to me."
Lelouch nodded. "Okay, counting down. Five, four, three, two, one, zero!"
The security guards jumped to attention at the sudden burst of sound and smoke.
"What's that, terrorists?" one guard exclaimed.
"Protect Genbu Kururugi!"
"Wow," Suzaku said, impressed. "Explosions…and even a smoke screen! Did you set all that up, Lelouch?"
"I told you I would," Lelouch pointed out. "Now, this is our chance. Let's go, Suzaku!"
Scrambling to his feet, Suzaku nodded. "Right!"
Leading a stumbling Lelouch somewhat by the hand (the boy had kind of overdid it with the smoke bombs), and carefully tucking the bird into the glove compartment, Suzaku hopped into the jeep. Lelouch ducked under the dashboard, where he began to rapidly fiddle with the wires.
Abruptly, the jeep flared to life under Lelouch's hands.
"I hotwired it," he explained.
"Wow, you're like a thief," Suzaku remarked. Where had a prince learned something like that?
Lelouch shrugged. "That goes without saying. Now, let's take off!"
"Right! Suzaku Kururugi, moving out!" Suzaku cried dramatically, proving that he had perhaps watched one too many movies.
The car roared to life, tires squealing as the two boys lurched forward, leaving a trail of smoke and confusion in their wake.
"I wonder if they'll come after us," Suzaku said, nervously checking his rearview mirrors for possible pursuers.
"None of the cars at the Kururugi Shrine will work now," Lelouch assured him. Suzaku didn't even bother asking what his friend had done to the other vehicles, mostly because he wasn't entirely sure he wanted to know. "It will take at least ten minutes for them to call up a car from the village at the foot of the mountain. You think you can get past the post office before then?"
"No prob," Suzaku replied, pressing his foot harder on the gas. He wasn't quite tall enough to reach the pedals, so he had to sort of slouch in order to reach. It made seeing a bit more difficult than it should have been, but that was what Lelouch was for. "Seventy isn't too fast, is it?"
Lelouch didn't have time to reply before the road swerved sharply to the right. Suzaku caught the change just in time and turned the wheel hard. The tires squealed in protest, but the boy deftly managed to maneuver the vehicle through the curve without losing a second of speed.
Lelouch stared at Suzaku as his friend skillfully straightened out the wheel. It was his turn to be impressed. "Wow! Where'd you learn to drive like that?"
Suzaku cut him an incredulous look before returning his gaze to the road. "What are you talking about? You've done this too, Lelouch."
What? I never…Suddenly Lelouch recalled long afternoons in Suzaku's room, eyes glued to the TV as they raced and crashed stock cars. "You mean…video games?"
"How else?" Suzaku replied, amused. "You think someone would let a kid like me practice with a real car?"
Lelouch had gotten into a moving vehicle, a moving vehicle that was going seventy miles an hour, with someone who's only driving experience before now had been in virtual reality.
Oh God, they were going to die.
"You're crazy!" Lelouch cried. "Stop the car right now!"
"Forget it," Suzaku said flatly. "We've got ten minutes to get past the post office. I told you, leave this to me."
Another curve in the road, another hairpin turn, and Suzaku refused to put his foot on the brake.
Lelouch gripped the dash for dear life, and for a second, he was convinced he could see his life flash before his eyes. His tragically short, sad life. "Nunnally," he said, almost like a prayer. I'm sorry, Nunnally. I wish I was able to see your face one last time…
"Calm down, Lelouch!" Suzaku said, laughing. "You're going to be fine. Look, see? We're past the post office. I can slow down a bit now."
Lelouch nodded wearily. He didn't say anything back, mostly because he was afraid that if he opened his mouth, he would throw up.
Suzaku went as far as he could in the car, easing his way up the mountain road, climbing higher and higher until they had no choice but to go on foot.
Lelouch, who had never been a fan of hiking, was uncharacteristically grateful to get his feet back on solid ground.
"There it is, the little bird's nest!" Suzaku cried, pointing at the little collection of grass and twigs near the top of a large tree. Without wasting any time, he grabbed the lowest hanging branch and swung himself up like a young monkey.
"Come on, Lelouch!" he called down to his still earth bound friend. "You can see the Kururugi Shrine from here!"
With much effort, Lelouch attempted to follow his friend's lead. It took him several long moments to pull himself to the first branch, and by the time he got to the second, he was already out of breath.
Suzaku, who had already made it to the top by then, rolled his eyes. "Aw, jeez. Princes aren't very strong, are they?" he taunted down to a wheezing, sweaty Lelouch.
"You're too strong!" Lelouch protested. "You're an exercise nut!"
"Sore loser," Suzaku retorted, descending down the tree so that he was closer to Lelouch. "Come on, give me your hand."
Lelouch accepted Suzaku's warm palm gratefully, and soon (mostly due to Suzaku), they were enjoying a beautiful view on the top branch.
"We actually made it here, didn't we," Lelouch said, smiling at the little bird's grateful chirps. It must have been nice to return to her home and family.
"Yeah, we completely outsmarted the grown ups," Suzaku declared, laughing. "Thanks to your plan, Lelouch."
"The car is hidden, and we left false clues for them to follow," Lelouch said. Suzaku had been rather irritated by all the detours he had forced them to take for the sake of misdirection, but it was definitely worth it. "They probably won't track us for half a day at least."
"You're amazing," Suzaku said admiringly. "You actually thought it through that far?"
Lelouch shrugged. "Well, they assume we're just dumb little kids, so it wasn't that hard to get around them, but when you told me you had plenty of driving experience, I didn't think it was all from video games." And despite the skill Suzaku had displayed on the road, Lelouch was still a bit nervous of the thought of getting back in the car with him.
"So what?" Suzaku asked defensively. "I drove the car all right, didn't I?"
"You really are totally reckless, you know that?" Lelouch replied.
At the accusation, Suzaku started laughing. Laughing long and hard because the sun was shining, the bird was safe, and they had gotten away with something impossible. Lelouch would have wondered if he was going into hysterics, but Suzaku's laughter had a warm, contagious quality that just made one incapable of doing anything other than laugh with him.
And for a second, just sitting there, happy and laughing, Lelouch felt as if this moment could last forever.
"You know, Lelouch," Suzaku remarked as the mirth left his system, "when we work together, there's nothing in the whole world we can't do."
The words only made Lelouch chuckle harder. "That's stupid…but I'd like to think it's true."
"You know it's true," Suzaku insisted, eyes glittering.
Lelouch was far too logical to believe that anything was possible. Some barriers were just not meant to be broken, some obstacles too high to overcome.
But in that moment, with Suzaku looking at him earnestly, high on life and triumph, Lelouch absolutely believed him.
If I'm with Suzaku, we can do anything. Anything at all.
"…Suzaku, are you going to be a prime minister like your father?" Lelouch asked quietly.
No one had ever asked Suzaku that question before. It was always assumed that he would follow Genbu's footsteps, regardless of his own dreams and desires. It was what was expected of a son of the Kururugi house, and Suzaku had always scoffed at the idea. He had no intention of being like his father, in job title or otherwise, but for the first time, Lelouch's simple question made him think. He could do so many things as prime minister, help his country and his people, and maybe, just maybe build that bridge he and Lelouch had dreamed of.
"If I do, you could become emperor!" Suzaku exclaimed. Because there was no point in building a bridge if there was no one waiting on the other side.
"That's impossible. I've lost my claim to the imperial throne," Lelouch pointed out.
"I'll help you," replied Suzaku. He knew absolutely nothing about the complex political struggle that was the Britannian line of ascension, but he was confident that he could help Lelouch to the top.
"Really, you mean that?" Lelouch asked, surprised.
"I just told you, there's nothing we can't do if we work together," Suzaku pointed out with a smile.
Lelouch returned the smile as a warm feeling sprouted in his chest. Hope, maybe? "Yeah, maybe you're right."
"Great, it's settled!" Suzaku declared brightly. "You're going to be emperor with my help."
Lelouch could almost see the future before him. The future he and Suzaku would create side by side. A world of unity, a place his sister could open her eyes to, where they could all be together forever.
"Thanks," Lelouch said. He didn't think Suzaku could see that world yet, or knew the true meaning of his promise, but he would soon. Lelouch was sure of it. "Then I'll help you to become—"
The distant sound reminded Lelouch of one of his smoke bombs, except there was no way his own small scale explosions could resonate so far.
"What was—?" Lelouch asked.
"I hear something strange from that way, towards the town," Suzaku remarked, pointing down the mountain. "Let's check it out."
Lelouch nodded. Together, they scaled down the tree.
"According to this terrain map, we should get a view of the town if we cross over the north north-west slope," Lelouch said, struggling to keep up with Suzaku's urgent pace.
Suzaku nodded. "Gotcha." And for once, he probably did understand what his friend was saying. He was an idiot most of the time, but he had an excellent sense of direction.
They ran, Suzaku in the lead, with Lelouch somehow only falling slightly behind. As they got closer, the sounds grew louder. Eventually, they came across a large field of sunflowers, and as they crossed through the yellow path, Lelouch got the inexplicable feeling that they were being watched. The sensation was odd, but not malevolent, as if whoever the gaze belonged was merely a curious observer who cared nothing of the scene before them, merely interested in seeing how it all played out.
Lelouch would have liked to look back, liked to find out if the indifferent eyes boring into his back were real or imagined, but Suzaku was still moving forward, and Lelouch couldn't fall behind.
The best place to see the village was on top of a steep cliff. Suzaku climbed it without hesitation and very little trouble, but it wasn't so easy for Lelouch.
Suzaku sighed. "Again, Lelouch?" he said, once again reaching out his hand to the boy.
"Oh, shut up," Lelouch snapped, grasping Suzaku's hand.
At the top of the cliff, the boys took a moment to catch their breaths, granting them a few precious seconds, the last seconds, of their peaceful summer.
And then they looked ahead, and everything changed.
The mountain was dotted with the black silhouettes of fighter jets and helicopters, the air riddled with the sounds of bombs and gunfire. From the ground, Japanese tanks launched missiles, but it was all for naught. They didn't stand a chance against the metal monsters before them, a mechanical parody of a human being.
"Lelouch, those are—"
"Britannians," Lelouch finished, eyes wide with horror as he watched the future he had dreamed of disappear.
"They're destroying everything!" Suzaku exclaimed. "All those people! Not just soldiers, but families, children!"
Children… "Nunnally!" Lelouch exclaimed. "I have to find her! I have to make sure she's okay!"
Suzaku nodded, grateful to have something else, anything else to focus on. "Yeah, we'll go back."
They uncovered the car from their hiding place, driving back in silence, Lelouch not protesting (or even noticing) when Suzaku's speed surpassed eighty.
"She'll be okay, Lelouch," Suzaku said quietly. "Everything's going to be okay."
Lelouch nodded faintly.
He didn't believe him.
After a point, the car ran out of gas, so the boys simply left it and walked the rest of the way. They did it in silence. Neither one of them wanted to talk about what they just witnessed, nor what it meant. Voicing it aloud would make it real.
It was a relief when the storehouse came into view. The tiny little shed was something familiar, separate from the craziness that was the world, and for a moment, they could pretend nothing had changed.
"Nunnally!" Lelouch called.
"I'm here, Lelouch. What's wrong?" Nunnally asked.
She doesn't know, Lelouch realized, shocked. Of course she wouldn't know. She'd been in the storehouse all day. Nunnally had no way of finding out the horrors outside.
"We're going to have to move," Lelouch said quietly. "We can't stay here anymore."
"What? Why?" Nunnally asked.
"Things have changed, Nunnally," Lelouch said gently.
"But I don't want to go!" Nunnally protested. "I want to stay here with you and Suzaku like always! This is our home now! We can't leave again!"
Lelouch smiled sadly. "I'm sorry, little sister, but we have to go."
"No!" Nunnally whimpered. "Please, I want to stay! Do something, Suzaku! I want to stay!"
Suzaku couldn't bear seeing her like this. She had been through enough, and now everything she knew was being uprooted and relocated. Again.
He couldn't let it happen. It would destroy her. It would destroy him. So Suzaku did something stupid and irresponsible. He reached out, clasped the little girl's hand and said, "Okay."
Lelouch stared at his friend. "Okay? Okay what?"
"I'll do something. I'll talk to my father; do whatever it takes to stop this. And then things will all go back to the way they were before, I promise!" Suzaku said, face alive and determined. "Wait for me. I'll be back!"
Lelouch watched as his friend ran out the door. The words Suzaku had spoken had been filled with passion, and Lelouch knew that his friend meant them with all his heart.
He also knew that it was already too late.
The shrine was quiet, unnaturally quiet. It was as if the entire premises had gone into shock. The servants had all evacuated, and all that remained were soldiers and security police, vigilantly standing guard of an empty shell.
Still, Suzaku found it remarkably easy to slip past them. They were on watch for fully grown men with uniforms and guns, not a single boy.
He knew his father would be in his office. Genbu Kururugi was always in his office, and even though (and perhaps because) the country was falling apart outside, today would be no different.
Suzaku had never gone to his father's study by his own volition before. Anywhere else in the house he would have simply barged in, not bothering to knock or hide his presence, but the office was different. Whenever he stepped inside, it was because he had been summoned; otherwise the room was sacred ground, never to be tread.
So it could be understood why his hands were shaking as he slowly inched the door open to peek inside.
Genbu was on the phone, so Suzaku decided to wait. After all, one should wait until the other is done speaking before interrupting, right? It wasn't like Suzaku was afraid of his father or anything. Of course not. He was simply being polite.
And a good, polite boy would have waited quietly outside the door and not eavesdropped in on his father's conversation, but Suzaku had never claimed to be a good boy. Therefore, he pressed his ear to the tiny crack in the door and listened for all it was worth.
"Yes, I know. Of course I've seen it! Do you think I'm blind?" Genbu barked into the receiver.
He paused, tapping his fingers irritably on the table as he listened to the response.
"Surrender? To those Britannians? Are you insane? Have you no pride as a Japanese?" Genbu demanded, and Suzaku found it wasn't necessary to press his ear to the door anymore, because his father was shouting loud enough to be heard through the wall.
"Yes, I know our chances!" Genbu bellowed, slamming his hand down on the table. "I've had countless people droning our inevitable downfall into my ears for months! I don't care! If we fall, we fall fighting! I'm calling for do or die resistance, and if you're a true Japanese, you will back my decision!"
No, Suzaku thought, that's not right. It was so easy for his father to make that decision. He wasn't the one going into the battlefield, risking his life for his home against impossible odds. The idea of it seemed honorable, but was it really? A few months ago, hell, even a few hours ago, Suzaku would have scoffed at surrendering. He loved his homeland, and never wanted to see it die. But that was before he had seen the planes, the metal monsters, and the faint outlines of corpses, the first of many. It had been then that Suzaku truly realized that Japan would fall. It was only a matter of when.
Was it cowardly, the desire to live? Live to see your loved ones and laugh together? Death i=was the end of everything. Where there was life, there was tomorrow, there was hope, even if it seemed impossible under a Britannian rule. Some would disagree, but did his father, who knew nothing of the battlefield, really have the right to make that choice for them?
It took a moment for Suzaku to realize that his father had started talking again.
"The children? You mean the royals? I suppose it would be best to just get rid of them. They're useless as hostages now. I'm sure plenty of people have died already, not just from the battle, but from the riots that have broken out in the villages. Nobody will think twice about two more bodies. We can just say they were attacked by angry villagers," Genbu said, shrugging indifferently, as if he was merely discussing stocks, rather than playing with someone else's fate.
Suzaku's eyes widened. Lelouch and Nunnally? His father, his father was going to hurt them? But they hadn't done anything! They were good! Why was Suzaku the only one who could see that?
Genbu nodded, oblivious to his son's horror. "Yes, good. I'll leave it to you. Okay. Goodbye."
At the sound of the phone returning to its cradle, Suzaku eased the door open wider, wincing as the hinges squeaked.
Genbu's head turned at the noise. "Who's there?" he demanded sharply.
No turning back now, Suzaku thought dully as he finally took his first steps inside.
Genbu's shoulders relaxed at the sight of his son's face. "Oh it's just you," he said, audibly relieved. Because Suzaku was a child, his child, and of course that meant he was utterly harmless. "What are you doing here, boy?"
Suzaku had written an entire speech in his head on the way to the study. Lelouch would have been proud of the amount of care and planning he had put into this confrontation. But in the face of his father's cold brown eyes, the eyes of a man who could order the deaths of children without another thought, and with new knowledge weighing heavily in his mind, Suzaku forgot all of that. There was only one thing he could say.
"Please, Father," Suzaku pleaded. "Don't start a war."
Genbu stiffened. "I don't know what you're talking about."
"Yes, you do," Suzaku insisted. "I know you do. Please don't do it. I've seen the soldiers and the guns. Japan won't survive."
"What do you know?" Genbu barked. "You're merely a child! What could you know about war?"
"Nothing, father," Suzaku admitted quietly. "But if you take us down this path, I'm sure I'll become an expert soon enough. That is, if Britannia doesn't wipe us out first."
Genbu rose from his chair with a violent jerk and slapped Suzaku hard, eyes burning with rage as his son crumpled to the ground. "I don't ever want to hear that from you again! Would you really rather cling pathetically to a life that can be taken away at Britannia's whim?"
Sitting up slowly, Suzaku pressed a hand to his stinging cheek. It wasn't the first time his father had hit him. Lashing out had been Genbu's choice brand of discipline for as long as Suzaku could remember. The only difference was that Suzaku wasn't afraid of him. Not anymore.
"It's better than the alternative! How can you knowingly send so many out to die?" Suzaku demanded.
"This is war, boy! Sacrifices must be made!" Genbu yelled.
But not you, Suzaku thought bitterly. Never you.
"Is that what Lelouch and Nunnally are, father?" Suzaku asked quietly. "Sacrifices?"
Genbu stiffened. "I told you not to get attached," he said coldly, but inwardly he was at a loss. Who was this child, this defiant, glaring child? He certainly wasn't his.
"But they're children! They're no threat to you! Please don't do this, Father! Please don't start a war!" Suzaku begged, tears forming in his eyes as he gripped Genbu's sleeve. Tears of frustration because he wasn't listening. He never listened.
"Stop this foolishness, Suzaku!" Genbu shouted, throwing his son away. "I am the parent and you are the child. You will do as I say!"
For so long, Suzaku had lived by those words. Genbu was the father, and that meant that he was always right and Suzaku had to obey him.
But Suzaku wasn't that little boy that blindly went along with whatever his father said simply because he was the adult, and because disagreeing would only earn him bruises. He had changed, seen the folly and shortsightedness of adults, and the terrible path the world was taking. He could see it because he was a child.
"I can't change your mind?" Suzaku asked, voice small, eyes downcast towards the floor.
"No," Genbu said firmly, pleased at his son's show of submission. Yes, this was right. This was how it was supposed to be. He turned towards the door. It would be best to evacuate soon. No doubt the Britannians would storm this place. If Suzaku wouldn't follow, he would send someone to collect him later.
In his haste to leave, he didn't notice Suzaku slowly getting back to his feet, eyes sparkling dangerously.
"Then you can't leave here, Father."
The words were spoken so quietly, Genbu almost didn't hear them.
Confused, he turned around just in time to catch the glint of something silver.
Suzaku would never know where the knife came from. Perhaps Genbu had been keeping it on his desk for protection, or maybe Suzaku had somehow picked it up on the way.
But Suzaku would always remember his father's face before he died. That blank look of utter shock as he looked into his son's eyes and found a stranger.
"Suzaku," Genbu gasped, blood pouring out of his mouth. "Wh—?"
"You can't leave here, Father," Suzaku repeated dully.
And then that great man, the source of all Suzaku's awe and fear, the last leader of the nation he loved, crumbled to the floor, knife still sticking out of his stomach.
The man twitched, gasping his last breaths as Suzaku looked on. He was strangely reminded of a fish out of water, jerking wildly, fighting for life even as it was drained from its body. And then Genbu went still.
And that was when what Suzaku had done finally sunk in. He hadn't planned for this, any of this, to happen. Even when the knife had been in his hand (but how had it gotten there? When had he picked it up?) killing his father hadn't crossed his mind. He simply knew that if Genbu left the room, it would be too late. Things would be set into motion, the course impossible to change. Which meant that Genbu couldn't leave, that Suzaku had to stop him. No matter what.
Was he really…dead? How could that be? How could his father just…die like that? He had been alive just a second ago. But Suzaku could see the blood, so much blood. He was standing in it. How messy.
Genbu hadn't closed his eyes. They were supposed to close their eyes, weren't they? They always did in the movies, as if rather than dying, they were merely falling asleep. But Genbu's face didn't look peaceful. It was frozen in perpetual shock, and would remain like that until time eroded the expression forever.
So Suzaku crawled closer, through the pool of blood, not caring or really noticing that it was soaking through his clothes. The red was already on his hands, what did a bit more matter? He had to close Genbu's eye, because he kept staring and staring, shocked, confused, and asking why why why.
Genbu was warm to the touch. Weren't dead people supposed to be cold? Maybe Suzaku had been reading too many comic books, or maybe he wasn't dead at all. Maybe Genbu would get up soon, brush himself off; scold Suzaku for getting his clothes dirty again.
But the knife was still sticking out of him, buried all the way to the hilt, the handle gleaming mockingly. People didn't sleep with knives in their stomachs.
Some dim part of Suzaku knew there was something he still had to do. There had been a reason he came here, hadn't there? A reason for all of this, something very important, but Suzaku couldn't remember anymore.
So instead, the boy sat by his dead father as the puddle of blood grew on the floor, waiting for him to get up even while knowing that he never would again.
And even with this knowledge, Suzaku did not cry. Not a single tear.
The first time Tohdoh had ever met Suzaku, he had been three years old. It had been at Nadeshiko's funeral. Tohdoh had been close to the woman, back when she had been Sumeragi Nadeshiko, but had distanced himself from her and her family shortly after she had gotten married…for a lot of reasons.
But when he had heard that she had died, he hadn't been able to resist coming to see her one last time, even if it meant seeing her in a coffin.
He hadn't been a part of the official funeral procession, rather had stood just outside of view, barely within hearing range of her last rites. He had expected to look on and silently pay his respects without being noticed.
Suzaku had noticed him.
"Why are you all the way over here, Uncle?" Suzaku had asked, startling Tohdoh considerably. The rest of the boy's family had been heading towards the crematorium, but apparently little Suzaku had managed to get away from his nanny.
The first thing that had struck him about the child was how much he looked like his mother, especially back when she had been younger and worn her hair short. But it wasn't just his looks that resembled her. There was a certain spark in his eyes that she had always possessed. A bright warmth that spoke of energy and life, something Tohdoh hadn't seen in a long time.
So when Suzaku had asked that simple question, Tohdoh felt almost compelled to answer with the truth. "I don't feel welcome over there with everyone else."
Suzaku had nodded. "I don't either," he had admitted. "I don't think the people over there like me very much, and Father won't talk to me. I wish Mama would get out of the box. Everything's better when Mama is around."
Tohdoh had sucked in a breath, horrified because the boy hadn't understood, and Tohdoh had hardly been in a position to explain things to him. But he had to. They had been a mere hour away from cremating Nadeshiko's body. Tohdoh had feared how the child would react to watching his mother being put into the fire.
"I'm sorry," Tohdoh had said quietly. "She's gone."
It was if a shadow had passed over that sweet face. "I know," Suzaku had admitted quietly.
Tohdoh's eyes had widened. "Really?" he had asked, mentally kicking himself at the disbelief in his tone.
Suzaku had looked towards his shoes. "At first, I thought she was just sleeping. She's been sleeping a lot lately. But then she wouldn't wake up. I kept calling her, but she wouldn't wake up. Everyone was so sad, and when they put her in that box, I knew she wasn't going to wake up again. Father said I would understand when I'm older."
Considering his age, the boy's level of comprehension had been remarkable, and somehow it made Tohdoh's heart ache. No child should have had to deal with such terrible things.
And when the tears had begun to fall from those big green eyes, Tohdoh had started to panic. He had never dealt with a crying child before and had no idea what he was supposed to do. He had settled for patting the kid on the back awkwardly.
"It's okay. Just...don't cry. It'll be okay," Tohdoh had said stiffly, his attempt to be comforting.
Suzaku had glared at him. "You don't know that! How can it be okay if she's not here?"
Tohdoh had been at a loss at what to say to that. He hadn't even known the answer himself.
"You're right," Tohdoh had admitted, carefully choosing his words. "I don't know that. But I know that your mother loved you very much, and that she would want you to have a happy life, even if she couldn't be in it."
"Really?" Suzaku had asked quietly.
"Absolutely," Tohdoh had insisted.
Through his tears, the child had smiled, and his smile had been just like hers. "You're really nice, Uncle. Are you Mama's friend?"
"Well…yes, I suppose I am," Tohdoh had replied. Their relationship had actually been a bit more complicated than that, but he had refused to get into the details with a three year old.
"Do you want to be my friend, Uncle?" Suzaku had asked.
Tohdoh had nodded, unable to find fault in such an innocent request.
Suzaku had smiled. "That's good. Friends are good. My name's Suzaku, what's yours?"
"Tohdoh," the man had answered automatically. "Tohdoh Kyoshiro."
"It's nice to meet you," Suzaku had said, and much to Tohdoh's shock, he had thrown his tiny arms around Tohdoh's legs in a childish hug.
Almost unconsciously, Tohdoh had rested a hand in the little child's hair. He had let Nadeshiko down, had abandoned her without ever making amends, but in that moment, he had sworn to himself that he would watch over her child.
He had found out later that Genbu was asking around for a martial arts teacher for his son, and even though he had never taught outside of the military before, he had immediately offered his services.
The boy had turned out to be a genius of combat, picking up things in a few weeks that often took years to learn. There wasn't a single thing Tohdoh had taught him that didn't come as naturally as breathing. In all his years of service, Tohdoh had never met anyone so talented, himself included.
So when Suzaku had one day informed him that he wanted to be a soldier "just like you, sensei!" there hadn't been a doubt in his mind that Suzaku would be brilliant.
It had also filled his heart with fear. Tohdoh had seen combat, watched men fight and die on the battlefield too young. He knew there was no glory in it, despite what the songs wanted people to believe. It was not something Nadeshiko would have wanted for her son.
So Tohdoh had smiled at Suzaku's childish declarations, changed the subject quickly, and silently prayed that this sweet child would never have to see the ruins of death and war.
But when Britannia finally made her move, Tohdoh knew that was impossible.
The attack hadn't been entirely unexpected. Tensions had been high between Japan and Britannia for a long time, and most realized that war would be the inevitable outcome. A war that Japan could never win.
Some had been optimistic. Yes, Japan was outclassed in both soldiers and weaponry, but so were the Americans during the Revolution. Of course, the Americans had lost, but they had come close, hadn't they? The Japanese were far more disciplined than the Americans had been.
But the English hadn't had weapons straight out of science fiction. Japanese spies had discovered blueprints, so it was entirely possible that the Knightmare Frames could be duplicated in a couple years, but they didn't have that kind of time. The best they could hope for was a conditional surrender before Japan was decimated completely.
Many had chafed at the idea, but Kirihara had assured him it was the only way. Better to surrender while they were still strong, and then stage a counterattack later, winning their country back when Britannia least expected it. Everyone who mattered had eventually agreed, albeit begrudgingly. Everyone except for the prime minister.
Genbu had adamantly refused to back down, lashing out in rage at the mere suggestion. Without the prime minister's support, the rest of the nation wouldn't follow. Kirihara had sent Tohdoh to Genbu's office in hopes of changing his mind, and if he couldn't…more drastic actions would have to be taken.
Tohdoh had never liked Genbu, but he did not relish the idea of killing Nadeshiko's husband and Suzaku's father. However, he would do so if necessary, if only to protect Suzaku from more bloodshed. He couldn't stop what had already happened, but he could prevent the situation from going into a downward spiral.
But when Tohdoh arrived at Genbu's office, the door was already ajar, and it didn't take him long to realize someone else had already beaten him to the punch.
Genbu lie there on the floor, clothes askew and body limp. Tohdoh had seen enough corpses to recognize one, even without the knife impaling his stomach.
But the sight of Suzaku crouched beside him, eyes blank and clothes bloody, was far more horrifying. Because Tohdoh recognized that look in Suzaku's eyes, the exact same look he had seen in many young soldiers who hadn't had any idea of what they would be getting into by enlisting. Blank, dumb shock and horror of someone who before now had no idea of what he was capable of.
But even as he recognized it, Tohdoh's mind rebelled against it. It was entirely possible that he had merely found his father's body after the fact. Suzaku was a good child, young, innocent. He never would have done this, never.
Except the act of murder only took a moment's rage and a careless action, and it had no age limit.
"Suzaku," Tohdoh whispered quietly, "what happened?" He didn't already know, he didn't. His military instincts were wrong, damn it!
Suzaku looked up from his father's body, eyes focused on Tohdoh but glazed, not truly seeing him at all. "I killed him," he replied dully, voice flat and distant.
No, please God, no!
"Why?" Tohdoh asked, trying to keep his voice firm and steady.
Suzaku shrugged. "I dunno. I just…I couldn't let him leave. Bad things would have happened."
Tohdoh swallowed thickly. "So…you stabbed him?"
Suzaku nodded. "I didn't mean to…that's not why I came here."
"Then why did you come here?" Tohdoh asked gently.
"I just wanted to talk to him," Suzaku insisted. "I wanted…I thought I could stop it. But he wouldn't listen to me. I didn't know what else to do…so I…and then he fell down, like…like the villagers. But he had to! He had to, or other people, so many, so many, would have fallen down with him. Fallen down and put into boxes like...like Mama."
Tohdoh knew that shock came in many forms. Some grew quiet, sometimes going days without speaking a word; others were the exact opposite, babbling long monologues that often made little sense. Suzaku apparently was a babbler, and from his rambling, it wasn't hard to piece together what had happened.
And Tohdoh, who hardly ever showed affection aside from a pat on the head, hugged the boy tight.
"I'm sorry," Tohdoh whispered, because it was then, clutching the bloodstained child in his arms that Tohdoh realized he had utterly failed him. Stopping Genbu had been his job, his responsibility, not Suzaku's. Tohdoh should have been able to protect him. From this, from everything. "I'm so sorry."
Suzaku simply stood there, not pushing him away, but not returning the embrace either. So Tohdoh scooped the unresisting child into his arms, carrying him like he had when he was still just a little boy.
He took him to Suzaku's room, setting him down on the bed gently. Suzaku sat there in silence, only moving when Tohdoh told him to raise his arms so that he could slip a shirt over his head. Tohdoh had only just managed to get him into a fresh pair of shorts when the phone rang. He would have liked to ignore it, but he already knew who it was, and Kirihara did not like being kept waiting.
"Did you do it, Tohdoh?" Kirihara asked, speaking of murder as if it was merely taking out dry cleaning.
"Yes," Tohdoh said stiffly. Better for everyone to think it was him. No one would ever have to know the truth. He and Suzaku would keep that secret forever.
"Good, good. We'll have to cover up his death for a while. Don't want people thinking that it's too convenient, but we'll say that it was a suicide protesting do or die resistance. Under such circumstances, I'm sure the public will be willing to surrender. People love such selfless, poetic actions," Kirihara remarked.
Tohdoh's grip tightened on the phone. "What about the riots?"
Unexpectedly, Suzaku stirred. "Riots?"
Oblivious to the small interruption, Kirihara went on. "Those will blow over soon enough," he said dismissively. "And if they don't, I'm sure the Britannians will quiet them down."
Tohdoh frowned, but nevertheless answered, "Yes, sir," and hung up the phone.
Suzaku tugged at Tohdoh's sleeve, a childish gesture that seemed very out of place considering the situation. "Sensei, what about the riots? Please tell me."
Tohdoh should have told him it was nothing for him to worry about. And it shouldn't have been, because Suzaku was only ten years old, far too young to concern himself with such things if he wasn't directly in the fray.
But Suzaku was looking up at him, his eyes burning with a need to know, and Tohdoh realized that he was in the fray now. Tohdoh could wipe up the blood and pretend that there wasn't a war going on outside, but there was no going back.
"When the attack broke out, people panicked. Fear can make it hard to differentiate between friend and foe, and sometimes it seems easier to take it out on others than it is to face what's happening," Tohdoh explained gently.
"I'm sure plenty of people have died already, not just from the battle, but from the riots that have broken out in the villages. Nobody will think twice about two more bodies."
Suzaku's fingers tightened on Tohdoh's sleeve. "Sensei, what's going to happen to Lelouch and Nunnally?"
Tohdoh hesitated. In truth, with all that was going on, Tohdoh had forgotten about them, and now that Britannia had apparently abandoned the siblings, they were probably more of a hindrance than a help. Kirihara wouldn't think twice about disposing of them.
Suzaku didn't need to hear those thoughts however. Tohdoh's face told him all he needed to know.
"I have to go," he said, standing up on slightly wobbly legs.
Tohdoh reached out to steady him. "It's dangerous out there, Suzaku!"
Suzaku nodded. "I know. That's why I have to go. I have to protect them."
Tohdoh would have stopped him, wanted to stop him, but doing so would go against everything he had taught Suzaku, and even if he did, the boy would go anyway. Tohdoh could see it in his eyes.
The man sighed. "All right. Just…be careful."
Suzaku, who hadn't been waiting for Tohdoh's permission and was already halfway out the door, paused. He turned back to face his teacher and bowed low. "Thank you, Tohdoh-sensei."
And then he disappeared.
When he looked back at that moment, Tohdoh would consider letting Suzaku go to be the second greatest mistake of his life.
The first would come later, when he became so immersed in meetings, plans, and negotiations that he didn't answer his damn phone.
Lelouch had been busy all afternoon, making preparations to leave. The Ashfords had given him a cheap disposable cell phone for emergencies, and he had arranged to have someone pick Nunnally and him up from the highway later that day. So now it was simply a matter of packing.
Lelouch was aware that heavy packing was impossible. Most likely, he and Nunnally would have to walk to the highway. The road was not nearby, and Lelouch couldn't have such strain on his arms. So now he was trying to figure out what to keep.
Nunnally, after she had calmed down and faced the hard truth, had only made a single request. She wanted to keep a picture book Suzaku had given her for her birthday. Between the pages, she had placed her White Day daffodils.
Lelouch, on the other hand, was having a harder time. Nunnally had long since learned not to put value on the visual. She didn't need physical reminders because her memories were safe in her heart. But as Lelouch sorted through the keepsakes he had accumulated over the months, it was difficult for him to let things go. Everything seemed to have memories attached. Here was the pot and pan set Suzaku had given him for his birthday (most likely stolen from the kitchens), there was the messily knitted wall hanging Nunnally had made to make the house look homier. The pans were obviously too heavy, but maybe the wall hanging would be okay? But perhaps it would be better if he left it. Easier, a clean break and all that.
And then, sitting innocently on the rickety night table, Lelouch spotted the picture. It had been taken just a few weeks ago. One of Suzaku's birthday gifts had been a camera, and he had insisted on a picture together. He had balanced the camera precariously on a tree branch, set the timer, and ran to join Lelouch and Nunnally. Within the photo's frame, Suzaku was grinning into the camera, face bright and cocky, with his arm wrapped around Lelouch's shoulders. Lelouch however, was looking at Suzaku. The warm pressure of Suzaku's arm had been unexpected, and he had ended up blushing despite himself.
They had found out later that Suzaku had lousy aim with the camera, and that Nunnally's head had been completely cut off, but Lelouch had kept the photo nonetheless. It had no frame, so it was easy to pick up and carefully put into his pocket. After a moment's thought, he added the little origami figure Suzaku had given him for White Day. If Nunnally was going to keep her gift, he would do so as well.
However, as he gently picked up the little ornament, he saw something from out the window. A group of men were approaching the storehouse.
What? The Ashfords maybe? No, they wouldn't send anyone so soon, so far away from the agreed meeting place. Which only leaves one other explanation…
Lelouch's eyes widened. "Nunnally!" he cried urgently.
"Lelouch, what is it?" the girl asked.
"We need to get out of here right now!" Lelouch said. But how? There was no back door, and they were so close already. Maybe they should just hide?
But when Lelouch heard a low whistle from behind, he knew it was too late.
"Never thought royalty would crash in such a dump," the man remarked, leaning in the doorway. "But then again, you're hardly Britannia's favored son anymore, are you."
His Britannian was excellent, and his demeanor was very calm. Probably a hired gun.
However, not everyone with him was calm. The man in charge was probably the only professional; the others were merely backup he had recruited from the village. It was cheaper that way.
"You Brit shit! This is all you're fault! You and your damn country!" shouted one. The rest of the group growled their agreement, and Lelouch backed up a few steps.
"Yeah! This is your fault!"
"We'll teach you two a lesson!"
The man in the doorway, probably the person in charge, simply shrugged. "I was told to set this place on fire, and to ensure that the Britannians never make it out, but I don't see anything wrong with roughing these two up a bit beforehand."
Lelouch gulped. What did he do? They kept getting closer. He had to protect his sister!
But Lelouch was small, so small. There was nothing he could do when he was dragged outside, could only watch when they picked up a screaming Nunnally.
"Look!" one cried. "The little princess is nothing more than an invalid in a wheelchair!"
Once someone had drawn attention to it, the group swarmed the little piece of machinery, taking perverse pleasure in kicking Nunnally's wheelchair, her legs, into a twisted skeleton of wood and metal. Lelouch struggled against the ones holding him. He wouldn't be next! He wouldn't let it end like this!
The leader laughed. "Looks like you have some fight left. Hey boys, why don't we see how long it lasts!"
Lelouch braced himself as the men, berserk with rage, circled him like hungry buzzards. He was going to end up like that wheelchair, and then they were going for Nunnally. One man raised his arm, and Lelouch flinched, preparing himself for the blow…
The man howled in pain as his fist came in contact with hard wood.
Suzaku stood in front of Lelouch protectively, wooden bokuto in hand. The prince hadn't even seen him enter the fray.
"You stay away from them!" Suzaku hissed.
The leader chuckled. "Looks like the prime minister's brat has come to save his friends. How touching. Don't kill him, men. It would be more trouble than it's worth. Just knock him out."
The man who had already met the business end of Suzaku's sword was only too happy to oblige. He swung his arm out in a wild strike, but Suzaku just ducked and hit his kneecaps. Judging by the popping sound each strike made, Suzaku was a lot stronger than his size suggested.
The villagers attempted to retaliate, but they did not have Suzaku's training. It was a simple matter for him to deftly dodge their clumsy blows. Suzaku also had another advantage. He knew this ground. Every rock, twig, and dip in the landscape. Tohdoh had always told him to mind his surroundings. You never knew what could turn the tables.
Still, even though Lelouch was fully aware of his friend's skill, it was a bit shocking to witness Suzaku knock out half a dozen fully grown men with a glorified stick.
The man in charge, who had done nothing but hang back at this point, raised his eyebrows. "Impressive, kid. But then again, they were all pretty pathetic anyway. Often I find that the angrier they are, the more stupid they become. But you won't get so lucky with me."
The man took a stance and came rushing at Suzaku. Unlike the others, this man was not inexperienced, and perhaps more importantly, he didn't underestimate his opponent. He took full advantage of his long limbs, and it was all Suzaku could do to dodge.
But Suzaku was still faster. He went with the flow of the punches, staying close to his opponent, jabbing him the half seconds between his attacks.
Suddenly, the man stumbled slightly. On the ground was a small wheel from Nunnally's chair. The assassin had forgotten about it, but Suzaku hadn't. Every move made had been manipulating his opponent to that point. Taking advantage of the man's faltering, the Japanese boy went for the kill, striking at his legs, and then when the assassin lost his balance, Suzaku rapped him over the head. Hard.
There was a single moment of soft surprise before the man quietly passed out.
Breathing hard, Suzaku stood there, eyes bright and alert, as if he expected another enemy any second.
"Suzaku?" Lelouch called. He was worried. He had never seen Suzaku look so angry before, and so different. It was the first time Lelouch felt like he didn't know him.
Suzaku blinked slowly, as if seeing him for the first time, before a light of recognition finally entered his gaze. "Lelouch! Are you and Nunnally okay?"
"Yeah," Lelouch assured him, nodding slowly.
And before he could truly process what Suzaku was doing, arms were around him, hugging him tight.
"I'm glad," Suzaku whispered. "I'm so glad."
"Are you okay, Suzaku?" Lelouch asked. Because the rage had given way to something lost and frightened, and that was a look Lelouch liked even less.
"I…no. No," Suzaku said quietly. "I did a bad thing, Lelouch. A really bad thing."
Lelouch pushed Suzaku to arms length. "He was going to hurt us, Suzaku. You had to stop him."
Suzaku made a noise that sounded very much like a whimper, and buried his face in Lelouch's shoulder.
Lelouch pulled him closer, rubbing his back in soothing circles. "It's okay, Suzaku. Everything's going to be okay." Which was a ridiculous thing to say, because they both knew that nothing was okay anymore, and it seemed unlikely that anything would be again. But Suzaku needed him, even though he didn't understand why. And he wanted to understand, but somehow he knew Suzaku would never tell him. So instead, he let Suzaku use him for support, as he clearly could not stand on his own.
And it was there, in his friend's arms, that Suzaku finally began to weep.
Nunnally's wheelchair was beyond repair, so Suzaku offered to carry her on his back. However, Lelouch had refused to allow him to bear the bulk of the work this time around, so they ended up taking turns.
The walk to the highway was horrifying. Corpses, bloated and stinking in the sun, were sprinkled amongst the skeletons of temples, shops, buildings, bloated and stinking in the sun like road kill, which in a way, they were.
"Where are we going?" Nunnally asked, oblivious to the carnage around her. "Are we going to move to another place again?"
"It's one of the Kururugi's homes. This time, it's the main house, okay?" Lelouch assured her gently, straining under her weight because he had insisted on taking the first shift.
Lelouch knew he couldn't lie to her forever. Eventually, she would have to find out what was really going on. But if he could keep her in the dark, even for just a few more minutes, he would.
Suzaku had agreed to the charade, but he was having a harder time hiding his feelings. Everywhere he looked, there were more bodies. Men, women, children, even tiny babies still clinging to their mothers.
"Keep on walking, Suzaku," Lelouch said. They had to keep walking, keep going through it all, for her.
"But—" Suzaku protested. Surely there was something they could do for these people. Maybe some were still alive! It was possible, right?
"Keep walking," Lelouch repeated sternly. It's too late. If we stop, we die.
"Where are we? It smells really bad here," Nunnally remarked, her sensitive noise chafing at the scent of blood, sweat, and rotten flesh. The smell of death.
"We're going by a garbage dump," Lelouch lied gently. "Right, Suzaku?"
Suzaku had stopped moving. He knew how important it was to go forward, but he couldn't. He just couldn't. There was so much death, too much death. Too many eyes staring up at him in surprise and horror, unable to close. Just like his eyes.
Concerned, Lelouch made his way back to his friend. Because it wasn't easy when your entire life fell apart, and Lelouch wasn't going to leave him behind.
"What's wrong, Suzaku?" Nunnally asked.
"I-I," Suzaku tried to force a coherent sentence as tears streamed down his cheeks. He couldn't let her hear him cry.
And then he felt a warm hand caress his face. "Nunnally?"
Nunnally smiled sweetly. "My mother taught me that a warm touch is good for tears. Do you think it's true?"
Suzaku nodded weakly. "Y-yeah."
Nunnally slowly withdrew her hand. "We're not passing by a garbage dump, are we?"
"No, of course we are!" Lelouch insisted. "We just—"
"Please don't lie to me, Lelouch," Nunnally pleaded. "You don't have to tell me what's going on, but don't lie. You don't have to tread lightly around my feelings. I'm stronger than you think, and as long as I'm with you and Suzaku, I'm not afraid."
Lelouch nodded. "All right, I won't lie to you, anymore."
Suzaku, whose composure had greatly improved, gently poked Lelouch in the side. "Let me hold Nunnally for a while. It's my turn."
They sat on the side of the road, waiting, just waiting. They had finally made it to the rendezvous point, although the Ashfords had yet to show up. Nunnally had fallen asleep long ago, her face sweet in the dying sunlight. In dreams, there was no war, no Britannia, no bodies on the side of the road.
No blood soaking into the carpet, almost pink in the fluorescent light—
"Are you going to tell me what's wrong?" Lelouch asked quietly.
Suzaku flinched slightly, because he couldn't tell him, he couldn't. He couldn't stand the thought of Lelouch's face, eyes cold and accusing.
Or he would comfort him, tell Suzaku that it was alright, that it wasn't his fault. Which in a way would be even worse, because it was Suzaku's fault, and he didn't deserve such sweet lies.
Lelouch smiled bitterly at Suzaku's tensed shoulders. "I suppose that's my answer right there."
Gently, he placed his hands over his friend's fingers, touch light, just enough to show him that he was there, would always be there, even though he knew he couldn't promise that anymore.
"All right, I won't ask again."
Suzaku stared down at their entwined hands. How many times had he laced Lelouch's small pale fingers with his own? The act had almost become second nature, linking them together and pulling them forward, as if nothing in the world could tear them apart.
But Suzaku's hands were dirty now. They didn't belong beside Lelouch's clean white fingers.
Murderer, his mind whispered. You're a murderer.
And he kept replaying fights in his head over and over. Training in the dojo and playground squabbles, children and men. It had seemed so simple then. If they moved that way, move this way, if they did this, counter with that. Pay attention, watch for openings, make your strike. He'd never thought of how easy it would be to lose control, to cross that line. Never thought he could be capable of such a thing.
But why was he surprised? After all, hadn't he been training to kill since the day he was born?
Suzaku pulled away, because his hands were dirty with death, and he wouldn't let it spread.
"Suzaku?" Lelouch questioned, almost hurt.
The boy simply shook his head.
Sighing softly, Lelouch tilted his head towards the sky. "You know Suzaku, when I first met you I thought you were a savage, violent bully."
Suzaku flinched at that.
"I was wrong."
Startled at the admission (it wasn't often Lelouch admitted he was wrong, for any reason) Suzaku lifted his head to meet the boy's clear violet gaze.
"I was wrong," Lelouch repeated, smiling gently. "Not about everything. You are violent, and a bit of a brute, but you're not a bully. Bullies are cowards, hurting people who can't fight back to feel better about themselves. I've grown up with bullies, lived in a country full of them, so I know what one looks like. You're strong, Suzaku, the strongest person I've ever met. The difference is that you use that strength, that power, to protect, and that power will change the world."
Suzaku laughed bitterly. "You still believe that we're capable of changing the world, Lelouch?" If anything, watching his country die had only reinforced Suzaku's feeling of helpless insignificance.
Lelouch nodded. "Absolutely. After all, wasn't it you who said that we could do anything as long as we were together?"
Had he said that? It felt so long ago, and so much had changed. But the words held power, as did the look in Lelouch's eyes, and for the first time in what felt like a very long while, Suzaku felt the faintest flicker of hope.
And then he heard the scratching of tires against gravel as green military trucks appeared on the horizon.
The Ashford family had arrived.
Well, perhaps that wasn't an accurate statement. The Ashford family's subordinates had arrived. The family had already fallen too far with the death of Marianne to get tangled up in the mess that was Japan, at least officially. Lelouch had been well aware of that, but the people in dark glasses and suits still uncomfortably reminded him of the man who had tried to kill him a mere few hours ago. He couldn't help but be on his guard when they approached him.
"We have been sent by the Ashford family to retrieve you and your sister," one man (probably the leader) informed him.
Lelouch nodded. "Yes, I understand."
He instructed the newfound bodyguards to wait near the car while he collected Nunnally. The act of lifting her off the ground was a coordinated, practiced motion by now. Unfortunately, it was not one he could perform without Nunnally rousing.
"Lelouch?" Nunnally asked, sleepily. At this point, she had also gotten so used to being carried, she wasn't startled even when it woke her. "Are we there yet?"
"Not quite," Lelouch answered gently. "These men will drive us there."
Lelouch carried her carefully over to the car, with Suzaku steadying his arms when he fumbled at the weight. She fell asleep again before they even set her down.
"Such a wimp," the boy said fondly as Lelouch rubbed his sore arms.
"Yeah, yeah," Lelouch replied noncommittally.
And then he just stood there, shuffling his feet, because he knew that this was it, this was the end. Once he got into that car, he would probably never see Suzaku again.
"Your highness, we need to go," one guard said urgently.
"I know that!" Lelouch snapped. "Just give me a minute! And don't call me your highness! I'm not a prince anymore!"
Suzaku smiled. "You still act like one, though. Just as stuck up and condescending as ever."
Lelouch returned the smile, but it was faintly hollow. "Yeah."
"Are you two really going to be okay?" Suzaku asked, eying the black clad men warily.
Lelouch nodded with a confidence he didn't truly feel. "They were supporters of my mother, and are fairly influential in this country. I worked out this arrangement a long time ago. We should be fine." At least, that's what he kept telling himself.
"That's good then," Suzaku acknowledged.
More silence. Seconds ticked by.
"…You could come with us," Lelouch suggested tentatively.
Suzaku shook his head. "I can't, Lelouch. You know I can't."
Yes, Lelouch knew that. It was risky enough for the Ashfords to be harboring two Britannian royals without adding the last son of Japan.
But more than that, Suzaku couldn't leave. This was his home, his battlefield, and he wouldn't run away.
"It's not fair!" Lelouch said vehemently. They had been through so much together, fights and celebrations, tears and laughter, but now they were being forced to part. Lelouch knew he had to be strong, because he was the older brother and that was his job, but he didn't want to be strong. He wanted to stamp his foot and scream like the child he had ceased to be since he had heard his first gunshots.
It was the first time since his mother's death that Lelouch felt so small and so helpless. He couldn't do anything about his mother, and now he couldn't even save his best friend. Britannia had swallowed them both.
The face of Lelouch's father flashed across his mind. That man. It was his fault! His fault that this was happening! Him and the greedy goliath he reigned over. It had been a long time since Lelouch had thought of him, hate twisting in his gut like a cancerous tumor.
Suzaku, who had set himself down on a section of rock to rest his legs, looked up curiously. "Huh?"
"I swear, Suzaku, so help me," Lelouch repeated. "I will one day…obliterate Britannia!"
Big words and an impossible goal, but Lelouch's eyes told Suzaku that he meant every word. And if he said he could do it, he would. Suzaku had no doubt of that.
But…that's wrong, isn't it?
Wasn't that idea how they had gotten here in the first place? Britannia had started it, but what did that matter what when people were dead now, a once proud country reduced to dust? Now all that was left were the crude funeral pyres built from debris, the smell of cooking flesh making Suzaku's stomach roll when he realized that it smelled vaguely like pork. This was the product of war.
But what right did he have to lecture Lelouch on right and wrong when his father's blood was still on his hands? None at all, so Suzaku didn't say anything.
Later in life, he would look back and wonder if he should have. Wonder if everything would have been different if only he had spoken up.
But the moment had passed, and they couldn't stall any longer. It was time to go.
They would have preferred to part silently, Lelouch leaving and Suzaku simply watching him go, no goodbyes shared because neither wanted to accept that this was a goodbye. But just as Lelouch was about to climb into the car that would take him away forever, Nunnally woke up.
"Is it time to go?" she asked sweetly.
Lelouch nodded, and remembering that she couldn't see it, gently murmured, "Yes."
Perhaps Nunnally heard that shaking in his voice, or just sensed the uncertainty that was channeling through his body. Either way, she smiled and took his hand. "We're going to be okay, Lelouch. As long as I'm with you, we'll be okay."
"Yeah," Lelouch whispered. He wouldn't cry right now, he wouldn't.
"She's right," Suzaku assured him. "As long as you two stick together, you'll be fine."
Nunnally tilted her head quizzically. "What do you mean, Suzaku? Aren't you coming with us?"
The accompanying silence was an answer in itself.
"B-but we were supposed to go together!" Nunnally protested, tears forming in her closed eyelids.
"I'm sorry, Nunnally," Suzaku said gently.
Nunnally shook her head. "No! We're not leaving you here! We can't! Where will you go?"
"I'll be okay," Suzaku assured her, gently clasping her hand.
"How?" Lelouch demanded. He didn't want to make this harder, but he didn't see how anything about this could be "okay".
"I called Tohdoh-sensei. He's going to pick me up."
And yes, Suzaku had called. Called dozens of times, only to hear an automated voice informing him to please leave a short message that he knew would never get to Tohdoh. Not in time. Eventually, he had just given up.
It was the first time he had ever lied to Lelouch. It wouldn't be the last.
"No!" Nunnally sobbed. "We can't lose you too!"
With soft fingers, Suzaku wiped the tears from the little girl's cheeks. "We'll see each other again." His voice was firm with a promise he didn't truly believe he could keep. "Alright?"
Nunnally nodded, lip still quivering.
Leaning into the car seat, Suzaku gave her a hug and kissed her on the cheek.
"Take good care of her, Lelouch," Suzaku said.
Lelouch scoffed, but it had no bite to it. "Of course." And then he pulled Suzaku into an embrace of his own.
"Remember your promise," Lelouch whispered into his ear. "Don't die, Suzaku. Swear to me that you won't die."
Suzaku pulled away slightly to look into Lelouch's eyes. "Why?" It scared Suzaku how much the prospect of dying didn't frighten him. Perhaps he was always meant to die young, and in a world like this, maybe dying was better. Maybe it was what he deserved.
"Idiot," Lelouch hissed. "Because I want you to live. As long as I know you're alive, I know we'll meet again. So you have to live for me. Live and keep your promise to Nunnally."
With Nunnally, it had been easy to give her false hope to stem the tears. But Lelouch's eyes were hard and compelling, staring into his very being, and for a split second, Suzaku was convinced that he knew everything. About Tohdoh, about his father, everything.
Without knowing why, Suzaku nodded. "I will. I'll live. I don't know how, but I will."
He would forget this promise many times in the years ahead, but would still somehow end up keeping it.
Lelouch blinked, and the spell was broken. "Good," he whispered. "Then I won't say goodbye. Just good luck."
"You too," Suzaku answered.
Lelouch laughed, the sound miserable and broken. "I don't need luck. I have a plan."
Suzaku rolled his eyes. "When do you not?"
There were many other things that could have been said that day. Heartfelt sentiments and tears that could have been expressed. But the engine was running, and the men in suits were becoming increasingly impatient. That was okay, though. They weren't needed.
Suzaku watched the car drive off into the distance, Lelouch's face staring out at him through the rear window. He stood there and watched until the car was out of sight.
And then, as the last rays of sunlight sunk into the unknown and died, the boy turned around and walked in the opposite direction.
The End of the Summer of Joy
Author's Note: I can't believe this is my last chapter. The project that has occupied me for a year is over with a chapter that has to be twice, if not three times as long as any of the others. It was a good run, and I want to thank all of you that have given me your support. It wouldn't have happened without you. I would also like to extend a thanks to my beta, because she's currently reading over my shoulder and very upset that she has no dedication. You are my rock, sis!
Earlier, Suzaku referred to Tohdoh as uncle. It is very common for small children to refer to older people they don't know as uncle, as well as big brother or sister, or grandma and grandpa, depending on that person's age.
By the way, I've made two references to C.C. in this fic. Can you spot them?
Just a quick shout out to Aynessa and Aki1. Aynessa, I did manage to incorporate that picture you asked me about, and as requested, Aki1, Suzaku has beaten up a bunch of grown men with a stick. Do you even remember requesting that?