Stage VIII: Lamprouge
Champagne bottles were popped, and people cheered as Mr. Fenette entered the house. Everyone cheered the man in crutches, and Shirley hugged her father gingerly. He ruffled her hair and kissed her on the forehead, then hobbled in to greet his friends, family and colleagues. It was a touching scene, a welcome break for Lelouch from all the politics and fighting. As hard as it is for him to admit, he genuinely enjoyed Shirley's company. She was very bubbly and happy, never begrudging much and always happy to please. Most of the faces in the crowd were those of Shirley's extensive network of friends, relatives, and her parents' coworkers, uninteresting to Lelouch. He watched as Suzaku hung uncomfortably in the back, from where he was fished out by Shirley to introduce to her parents. They showed surprising tolerance for him. Lelouch was not surprised that she chose not to mention him. Her feelings for him probably got in the way of her hospitality, which was fine by him. It was an important day for her, after all. She's always been a daddy's girl. The Evangelion pilot wasn't here, as he hadn't been admitted to the school yet, unfortunately. On his end, Suzaku was as serious and respectable as ever and there seemed to be nothing to be gained from coming here, except perhaps some relaxation.
Someone lightly tapped him on the back, and he turned to see who it was. It was a girl, with a wide hat and sunglasses covering her face, but she had a head of curiously dressed pink hair. Hair that was very, very familiar to him. She smiled and lifted her sunglasses. Lelouch recoiled in shock and horror.
She clapped a hand to his mouth and dragged him into an empty room, where she threw off the cap and fell into his arms.
"Lelouch, you really are alive!" she cried. "We all thought you were dead!"
"Euphy, what are you doing here?" he demanded in a whisper. "What if you're seen?"
"It's okay," she whispered. "And I came to see you…Lelouch, aren't you happy to see me?"
He was not; his safety had obviously been breached. Did she know that he is Zero? She could be acting. Then again, Euphy was always the kindhearted girl, wearing her heart on her sleeve and always naïve and innocent. She couldn't act, even if she wanted to. He had some affection for her, and didn't want to push her away.
"How did you find me, Euphy?" he asked, returning the hug, mainly to hide her face from curious onlookers.
"Asuka—um, Lady Langley told me about a Lelouch Lamprouge…here at Ashford. Lelouch isn't really a commoner's name, you know. And Ashford; they were the family that you were dropped off with. I just knew, Lelouch. It had to be you."
The Knight of Two knows me?! How did that happen? Did she find out who Zero is?
Euphy let go of him, though she still leaned into his chest.
"You remember Count Nikolai, don't you?" she asked.
"That buffoon? I played chess with him once," he answered. Nikolai…the name was familiar; he'd heard it recently…oh, right, Euphy chose a part Eleven commoner over Nikolai's son for the art expressions week contest. Langley, a quarter-Eleven herself, would definitely have enjoyed the news, and then looked up the Count out of curiosity. As well networked as she was, she would also have heard the news of the Count's defeat by a student at chess, his favorite pastime. It doesn't take much to find him, he thought. His gambling habits left a clear trail for anyone to follow. Euphy, though, was the only one so far to realize that he was Lelouch vi Britannia, former Eleventh Prince of the Holy Britannian Empire, exiled to Area Eleven following the bloody assassination of his mother, the former Imperial Consort, Empress Marianne, or the fact that the girl in his arms is his half sister. Outside, several girls were peeking in, hands over their mouths in mock outrage. One of them was running off, presumably to get Shirley, as it is well known that she had a massive crush on Lelouch.
They will certainly demand to see the girl they thought was Lelouch's girlfriend, and when they do, everybody will instantly make the wrong assessment. He could not admit that she was his sister—doing so puts him at even greater risk. Now, however, he'll be known as Princess Euphemia's boyfriend…as if it wasn't hard enough for him to sneak away on Black Knights business already!
"Euphy, let's get out of here!" he hissed, forcing her hat and sunglasses over her head again and rushing her through the gaggle of people beginning to form at the door, unceremoniously shoving them aside and pushing Euphy through. Thankfully, the crowd wasn't thick enough that they were trapped, but a look over his shoulder told Lelouch that Shirley had seen him, and was running off in the opposite direction. Now he's ruined her day…it was funny how he can plan battles and send men to their deaths far more easily than he could make a girl happy.
"Where's your security?" he demanded. "Get out of here! You'll be recognized!"
"Um…I gave them the slip," she said sheepishly.
Lelouch cursed his luck. Of course, his most airheaded and thoughtless sister would find him at exactly the wrong time.
"Then how did you get here?"
"I was driven, and then I got out and snuck off," she said, with almost a hint of pride.
Well then, the security men couldn't be too far off. There was no way Euphy could slip past professional Imperial guards. As they were walking, two suited men were already approaching.
"Are those your people?" he growled.
"Yea…I recognize them," she said. He pushed her off.
"You can see me later," he promised. "Just don't show up when there are people around."
She began to protest, but the guards have already escorted her away, taking no notice of him. He waved good-naturedly and turned to go. Shirley waited for him at the door, looking despondent. He felt guilty, almost ashamed that he'd hurt her so. Even he must be human sometimes…
"Lelouch, where did you go?" she asked.
"I went to see a friend off," he answered.
"That's all? She was just a friend?"
He could say many things, none of which would really help, so instead he grabbed her and kissed her.
"Of course," he murmured. "It's not like I have room for another woman in my life, you know." It was a farce, one that may or may not have been detected by Shirley. Most likely not, as her eyes were wide open in shocked disbelief. To drive the point home, he held her for a brief moment and let go, smiling.
"I hope I didn't ruin your day?" he asked, as much for his own conscience as for anything else.
"Um, no, not at all…"she was at a loss for words, too distracted by him to think about Euphy. Good; everyone else will forget it soon, as he was a popular guy whom many girls adored. He blew a mental sigh of relief, followed by another mental groan. Now Shirley will be more intent on him than ever, expecting him to fulfill the role of a boyfriend as well. Out of the fire and into the frying pan, he supposed, although this was the better alternative. Putting his arm 'round her waist, he ushered her back in full view of the whole party, trying to look respectable for the sake of Mr. Fenette, who was looking at him with disapproval. Regular life, it seemed, is much harder than running a terrorist organization.
Meanwhile, Euphemia had yet again left the safety of her car and walked off to the school, hoping to perhaps see Nunnally there, too, though she didn't count on the blind, disabled girl to be anywhere but home. Another person was walking out of the school into the courtyard, looking up dreamily at the sky. Euphemia quickly put on her sunglasses, though it was night, making her unable to see anything, and groped through the darkness to the boy's side, driven by curiosity. Not surprisingly, she tripped, squealing as she tumbled to the ground. The boy started and caught her instantly, displaying amazing reflexes.
"Are you alright?" he cried.
"Ah, yes, I'm fine," a chagrined Euphemia said. "Thank you, mister…"
"Kururugi, miss; Suzaku Kururugi"
Euphemia started, surprised. A close examination told her that he really was Suzaku Kururugi, son of the former Japanese Prime Minister. He was good looking, with a head of tousled brown hair and a pleasantly honest face that made her like him instantly. She patted down her dress and stood up. He looked strangely at her sunglasses.
"Um, miss, it's almost midnight."
She blushed and took them off, careful to hide her face in the shadows cast by the yard's lights. He looked confused in the highest degree, which was only natural considering the oddness of the encounter. Her guards would certainly be approaching right that moment, and would instantly give away her identity. But he was the pilot of the Lancelot, who fought under her command, at least in name. She wanted to get to know him better.
"Call me Euphy," she said. "May I call you Suzaku?"
"Sure," he said, looking more confused. She gave him a reassuring smile and laid her hand on his arm.
"Would you like to give me a little tour around this school?"
Shinji was stunned, finally getting his wish after such a long time of staring at the distant Ashford Academy, where he was now suddenly enrolled. He did not quite know what to say, so Misato simply continued with giving information.
"Rei Ayanami has already been enrolled. To avoid attracting attention, you will refer to her as Rei Aldington while at school, which is her given name in public. She will be posing as a Britannian student from the Britannian Homeland, while you…there is not much to be done for you, unless you wish a complete face-lift. Otherwise, a private tutor will get you up to par in terms of schoolwork, and you will be lodged with a certain Lelouch Lamprouge through the school's student housing system. He's the only one who would accept Elevens, and we want you to make friends for your own good."
She shut the folder she was reading from and handed it to Shinji.
"I know you haven't gone to school, but I believe that you're more than capable. Make us proud," she said, patting him on the shoulder. He flinched at the familiarity of the gesture. "A Nerv car is outside waiting for you. Your belongings have been packed. Good luck, Shinji."
The ride to his new home was uneventful. The Nerv agents driving him were as gloomy as always, and he spent most of his time worrying about how he'll cope with school. At the door of the residence stood a tall, lanky Britannian boy, almost scrawny-looking with ebony hair, curiously purple eyes and a murderously sharp look. The boys shook hands.
"Mr. Ikari, my pleasure," Lelouch said silkily. "Glad to have you here."
"The pleasure is all mine, Mr. Lamprouge," Shinji replied guardedly. Misato had ground proper manners into him every second they've been together, and warned him to always be warm on the surface, no matter what he thought. The boy led him back inside the home, a lavish affair of red rugs, chandeliers and velvet seats. A maid pushed a little wheelchair into view, with a brown haired girl sitting in it.
"Hello," she said. "Are you the new guest? Shinji, isn't it? I think we've met before."
Lelouch glanced at the Eleven with suspicion. How does this random boy know his sister? Nunnally seemed to sense his unease.
"Brother, I got lost at school, and Shinji pushed me back. He was selling ice cream on the streets. Sayoko, ahead, please."
The woman pushed the girl up to the boys, and Nunnally reached out her hand, which Shinji tried to shake, before the girl put both of hers around his and clasped it.
"How are you, Shinji," she asked.
"Just fine, Miss Nunnally," he said happily. "Such a coincidence, I guess."
She leaned forwards and touched his face, trying to determine his features. He felt a twinge of pity for the blind girl, and closed his eyes for her inspection. Lelouch looked on impassively, feeling as if he understood Mr. Fennette's apprehensive glance at the party, when he glimpsed Lelouch with his arms around Shirley. Nunnally's hands fell back into her lap, somewhat sadly.
"Welcome, Shinji. Enjoy your stay," she said, and the maid wheeled her away. Lelouch elbowed Shinji out of the room, much less friendly now. He was hurriedly shown around the school, introduced to the members of the student council, and brusquely returned to his room. The room itself was almost a palace by Shinji's standards. The space it had could hold three families in the ghetto. Lelouch shut the door behind him as he left the room with an unpleasant taste in his mouth. He blamed Sayoko for letting Nunnally get loose, and worried about Ikari being so close to her. He went berserk in his Eva, didn't he? What if he were to—
Lelouch slammed his fist against the wall, cursing himself for turning into a paranoid parent. The mild-mannered Ikari was no threat unless provoked, and certainly Nunnally would never be able to anger anyone. He's probably good company for her, anyway.
C.C. appeared behind him, stuffed toy in hand.
"Nunnally will be fine," she said. "The boy is docile enough. On the other hand, the people he works for aren't. We've finished the probe into Nerv. Their security is almost airtight; there's nothing we can discover past a few basic bits of information. First, Nerv is an organization founded after Second Impact by a special UN charter to pursue some sort of bioengineering. It has strong ties to the Katsuragi Expedition to the South Pole just before Second Impact occurred, and something was brought back—a 'specimen' is all that our agent was told of. Nerv has built the Settlement with Britannia so that the city is filled with launch pads and weapons systems designed to intercept the Angels. It's all very odd, and our agent had gone missing right after he delivered the information. He is presumed dead, as his cyanide capsule shell was found on the sidewalk in a back alley."
Nerv, then, took something back from ground zero of Second Impact that aided them in developing some form of technology…presumably the Evas, as they were clearly synthetic organisms. The Evas themselves seem to have the same powers as the Angels now being fought. This means that whatever was at Antarctica had Angelic ties. Could the Angels have caused Second Impact? Lelouch could not be sure. He knew that no meteor strike produces the kind of side effects that Second Impact left. But if he was right, then Nerv not only possesses a sample of something powerful enough to destroy half a planet in one blow, but has also replicated it successfully three times. It made the hair on the back of his neck stand up to think of the pure power that might be contained in each Evangelion. If this was the case with Nerv, then it would be even more imperative to get close to Ikari.
Ayanami…no, Aldington was still wrapped in gauze. She looked as cold as ever, her red eye glinting in the afternoon sun. They were sitting outside, comfortably far away but close enough for conversation. Shinji felt drained. He had burst out in rage during history class because of the propaganda-filled curriculum. Now he felt stupid and afraid. He'd managed to earn the enmity of the Britannians, which was bound to make him miserable sometime in the future.
"Ikari," Ayanami said in her whispery tone.
"Why did you do that? Why did you resist like that? It's futile."
"But I'm Japanese…I can't let them demean me like that," he said. "It's pride, I guess. But I still can't just sit there and take it."
"And so, at great risk to yourself and your benefactors, you continue to fight?"
She leaned over the tree they were sitting against. The light played over her unnaturally white skin enticingly, the Ashford skirt showing way too much creamy leg. In her odd way, she was as beautiful as Langley, but cold as the Knight of Two was hotheaded, calm as Langley was passionate and soft as Langley was encased in a hard shell.
"But when you do, you put at risk all those people who've helped you," she said. "We all know that Britannia's curriculum is biased, so what is the point of throwing away even more to regain equality in the eyes of Britannia, which you've never had?"
"You don't understand," Shinji said. "You can pretend to be Britannian, pretend like you're one of them. I can't. I have to face my own identity, face who I am, right?"
"Yet you run away constantly…you backed down when you were challenged by that student. Even now, you look away. Why is that, Shinji Ikari? I do not understand."
"Come on, Eleven, don't you have anything to say except to yell about injustice?" the boy sneered. "Let's hear your argument, then. Why should we treat you as equals?"
"B-because it's right!" he said. "It's because all people are born equal!"
"Then why is there poverty, huh?" the boy asked. "And war, terrorism and conflict? Look at the EU; they embrace equality, and what did it get them? A pant-load of conflict, nothing more! Sit down, Eleven, and don't presume to speak up against your betters!"
The teacher intervened, ending the argument there, and moved on to another topic. Shinji stayed silent. He couldn't say anything beyond the morality of the issue.
He drew his knees to his chest, staring blankly at the ground. Ayanami walked up to him.
"I'm sorry, I really cannot understand people well," she said. Her voice was silky, exotic in its blandness.
"That's okay," he said with a forced smile. "You tried to" The same, he realized, could be said for him. It made him feel a little bit, but not much, better. She nodded.
"Come, let's return now. I'll go first," she said, with perhaps a small tinge of warmth. He got up and followed her. As they reentered the building, the teacher from the past class appeared.
"Young man," he said. "We all teach what we're told to teach. The rot comes from up high. But I'm proud you spoke out. That was brave."
He grasped Shinji's hand.
"Well done, boy."
With that, he ambled away. Shinji flushed with pleasure, knowing that someone at least approved. Holding his head higher than he would have, he himself ran to catch up with Ayanami.
Around the corner, Lelouch nodded with satisfaction. The boy was as easy to mold as he thought. The Geass-controlled teacher walked past him, whistling as he walked.
"Well, Mr. Ikari," Lelouch whispered. "Let's see what you've got in your head."
End Stage VIII