There's more than one kind of sacrifice, and more than one way to destroy a man. When a string of suicides becomes something vastly more sinister, Kururugi Suzaku finds that his hands are as dirty as the rest.
"We have lingered in the chambers of the sea
By sea-girls wreathed with seaweed red and brown
Till human voices wake us, and we drown"
-"The Love Song of Alfred J. Prufrock" by T.S. Eliot
Part One: Komm, süßer Tod
He awoke in darkness, and suffocated in it.
For a moment, he thought he was six years old again, having moved in with the stranger he was supposed to call father, after they found his mother hanging from the ceiling, staring at an unfamiliar room and wondering why he couldn't go home again.
It was all mercifully just a nightmare in that one brief, glorious moment where he forgot who he was, what he was.
("Not a man, not no more")
And the coldness of reality returned to him. His father was dead, long dead, by his own hands. He remembered the stench of Kururugi Genbu's death, the way his bowels emptied unbecomingly in the last moment as the knife slide in deeper, and how oddly warm the blood felt seeping over his hands.
You're not a child, came a hateful little voice, and he choked down a sob, and it's not the night that frightens you now, is it?
He'd killed many more men since that day- some he knew, some he didn't, and some he loved. His own hands had taken many lives.
His actions and decisions had taken so many more.
("So this… is the price of justice")
I didn't know! He screamed silently. I DIDN'T KNOW!
Ignorance is the worst kind of stupidity. Did you think this would be simple? Nothing is ever simple, except dying.
He felt sick, bile rose in his throat, and he couldn't breathe.
A hastily sucked in breath,like a man gulping down drops of water in the desert, heaved his chest up and down. His hands, calloused and scarred, moved over his cheeks, briefly expecting the resistance of a mask, until he remembered that the mask was sitting on his bedside table. Shaking, his head swerved slowly to the table, with all the reluctance of a man who knew what kind of demon he would be facing. .
The empty glass seemed to stare back at him, and if he closed his eyes he could imagine the amethyst (and sometimes crimson) eyes that were supposed to stare out from behind the mask.
So he dared not close his eyes.
His name was Zero. It used to be Kururugi Suzaku, and sometimes he pretended it still was.
There was a time when he thought being Zero was a freedom from the curse of being Kururugi Suzaku. Now, he understood that he hadn't changed the burden of being a sinner for the weight of justice, but simply exchanged one inconsequential name for another.
Suzaku glanced down at his hands, which trembled ever so slightly, an undercurrent of secret terror running through the fingers.
(- squeezed the trigger-)
(-eyes thanking him in death-)
I had no choice! He pleaded to the memories that mocked him in the dark.
No, you never did, it agreed, and the agreement was more horrifying than any denial of his excuses could have been.
He wanted to sob. He wanted to curl into a ball and never return to the outside world when the dawn rose.
But what he wanted had long ago stopped being relevant to the issue.
God will never forgive us for what we have done, Suzaku thought to himself tiredly, and rolled over, closing his eyes and wishing he was dead. Or He wouldn't, if He were still here.
But therewere no gods, any more than there were devils.
There were only men, and men were monsters.
One day earlier…
The room was brightly lit, an odd contrast to the dark matters that were to be discussed within. It was a fairly large, but with a completely barren center, nothing but maroon carpet floor and mahogany wood walls, and a single dominating table positioned opposite the door, behind which sat a number of individuals. The ceiling was flat and only as high as necessary to speak of official power without extravagance or enjoyment.
It was a room that spoke of reluctant necessity.
Standing in the center stood a figure cloaked in black and gold and purple, wearing a sleek, almost reptilian mask with three points. The cloaked was wrapped tight around his slender frame, which had not an inch of skin exposed. The figure was the most famous symbol in the world today, though ironically the man beneath the mask was unknown to all but the ghosts of the dead.
"Zero, this committee has been convened in order to investigate the string of incidents that have occurred throughout the Empire, which you have been directly involved in," Xing-ke intoned gravely, hands folded, peering at him from across the stainless steel table that separated them, mouth inches from a mike. On either side sat numerous political officials of the new Brittanian government, none of whom looked very friendly.
Suzaku met their gazes stonily, and without worry. There were more terrible things than some politicians trying to tear you down.
"While we are aware of the special privileges granted to you by the Empress, this committee's task is to uncover the truth behind what has happened and your involvement in them. Any act of perjury will be severely punished. Do you understand?" Xing-ke asked sternly, and for a moment, his eyes seemed to glimmer eerily in the pale fluorescent light.
Suzaku swallowed, throat tight, and nodded.
Xing-ke nodded briskly, propping his elbows up on the table and resting his chin atop his folded hands. To each side, the committee members shuffled their papers around. Each of them had their own individual reports about what had happened over the past few months, just as Xing-ke did- the point of this committee wasn't to summarize what happened, but to reach a decision as to who was at fault for them.
And right now Suzaku happened to be looking like a mighty fine scapegoat to pin everything on.
"Then please, start by outlining the events that triggered these incidents," Xing-ke ordered softly, leaning forward, and his eyes flashed in the fluorescent lighting.
("Can't say no, eyes aglow")
Suzaku resisted the urge to vomit into his mask.
With a deep breath, Zero began, "The first of the incidents was about six months ago, about a month after the death of Lelouch vi Brittania. The man's name was Vincent Richmond…"
By the time you read this, I have no doubts that you will have heard the news already. I don't expect you to understand, or forgive me for what I do, or what I have done. If I may have one last selfish request of you, I ask that you tell my children how much I loved them, no matter what my actions over these past few months may say otherwise.
I don't blame you for leaving me. I am grateful, in fact, that you could see the terrible changes that had been wrought within me and had the sense to protect our children.
I know, after the Emperor's death, that I tried to come back into your life, that I said I had been changed, subverted by… things. I know it may seem hard to believe. I don't even believe it, not really.
But I was wrong, so wrong Helena. The thing I became, the thing that drove you away… it doesn't just go away like that.
I thought I was free.
I know now I can never be free. Not anymore. So all I can do is ensure that I will never be caged again.
Goodbye, my love.
Carefully, gently, he folded the paper and inserted it into a plain white envelope. He didn't bother sealing it, but only wrote his wife's name on the front. There was no need to sign it, as he placed it inside the front pocket of his uniform, sticking out just enough to be noticeable.
He took one last look around the study, what was once his favorite room in this empty house he had lived in, raised a family in, and that now only contained him and the ghost that wouldn't let him be. He saw the familiar oak table, the leather chair he had spent many nights reading to his children from, the bookshelves stacked high on either wall.
Outside, there were birds beginning to chirp as the dawn approached, like the beginnings of a wildfire on the horizon.
(A terrible gaze, eyes afire with unholy lights, stripping him of all his shields and defenses that he called a personality, reducing him to nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing, nothing.
Nothing at all.)
His hands were trembling as they reached out towards the near empty bottle of single malt whiskey, a present from his father, dead nine years now- and he thanked God and any other deity for that.
His hands, stained with blood. It wasn't his- it never was, because only men bleed and he's not one anymore- but rather the blue blood of the nobles who had resisted the rise of the Emperor. Rookwood's squad had taken out the father and most of the household guard, but it fell to him to kill the heirs of the house, two brothers who had hidden under their father's bed when the soldiers came calling.
The oldest was fourteen. The youngest, five. The fourteen year old was tall and freckled, the five year old was stunted, colic, and missing a front tooth that left a wide gap in his mouth- odd, how he remembered that.
He put a bullet through the forehead of the fourteen year old, but that was his last clip.
So he strangled the five year old boy, hands wrapped around that slender throat as tears struck the scratches the boy left on his arms. When it was over, he left the little boy's body for the flames that burned the mansion to the ground. It all seemed so simple, so easy…
When you're just a spectator inside your own flesh, it always is.
His stomach plummeted, bile rose in his throat, and he fell to his knees and retched out onto the carpet violently, gagging- if Helena had still lived here, she would have been furious.
He staggered back to his feet, wiping the last bit of vomit from his lips, clutching at the table to pull himself upright.
Shakily, he poured out the last of the liquor into the used shot glass on the oak table, and took a deep drink, relishing the burn as the alcohol found its way through his system as he set the now empty glass back down.
It steadied his nerves, and numbed him for what was to come.
"You will never escape him." The words of that madman lingered in his ears, and a face that haunted the nightmares of the entire world loomed.
(That great eye, crimson and violent, piercing through him, unmaking him, undoing him, leaving him as not a man, not anything, nothing, nothing, nothingnothingnothing)
Calmly, with all the deliberation of a surgeon wielding a scalpel, Vincent Richmond took his service pistol from the holster, placed it in his mouth, and pulled the trigger.
"And this was the first of the incidents?" coughed one of the members of the committee, a balding, fat old bureaucrat, who had gained position in the new government as a former member of the UFN, and who had joined this committee because of the attention it would give, the kind of attention those who desire power crave. A career politician- and this was the kind of person that so many people died to give a better world to.
("We can't be men anymore"-)
(-teeth stained with blood and bits of flesh hanging off his lips-)
("We're all just nothing at all.")
This is the price we paid for peace.
Zero nodded, swallowing his disgust.
"At first we believed it to be an isolated incident. Several other suicides took place in the following weeks, but we made no connection between them, as there was no common link in the causes of death. Another member of Vincent's Regiment, Leonard Samson, hung himself two days following Vincent's death. An ex-corporal Hudson jumped off a bridge three days after that. And then several more followed in those following months, with the frequency of these deaths increasing exponentially."
The committee listened with rapt attention. A transcript of his words was no doubt being created as they spoke, and it would be torn apart in the review sessions of this hearing.
"After three months of following these incidents, some among us began to realize these men all had something in common… They had all been part of the former Emperor Lelouch vi Brittania's army."
The silence was overwhelming, as powerful and merciless as the void following a gunshot. The committee had known this already, it was in all the reports, but just speaking that name held more power than reading words on paper could ever possess.
It hadn't even been a year since the death of Lelouch vi Brittania, and an end to the most terrifying reign of the greatest tyrant the world had ever known. The man had broken the backs of every major resistance who had faced him, prevailed in the face of countless enemies and forged an empire that spanned the entire face of the globe within a scant three months.
Alexander the Great would have been put to shame. Genghis Khan would have bowed his head in respect. Napoleon would have flushed with envy.
Never before had the world been conquered so thoroughly and utterly, subjugated to the will of one man.
Even in death, the name held power over other men.
The power to unmake men.
Xing-ke coughed, and leaned forward, into his microphone. "You're certain of this?"
Zero nodded. Another man would have bristled at the accusation that he hadn't done all the research correctly, followed up on all the leads, but Kururugi Suzaku was not a proud man, not anymore. "Double checking the records of the old Empire proves it. Every last one of them was a former member of Lelouch's army, and fought for him once he ascended to the Brittanian throne."
The balding man raised his hand again, interrupting Suzaku. "To my recollection, I don't recall much fuss being made out of these suicides… indeed, many of these deaths we only recently learned of by doing research, months after the actual death, and mostly through small obituaries in local papers."
Suzaku shrugged almost contemptuously. "No one cared to inquire as to why the soldiers of the former Emperor were dying off. In fact, I'm fairly certain most people preferred it that way. It was how these things got as far as they did."
His voice, like cold iron, rang out through the room, silencing the opposition, and he continued.
"And how did this matter fall into your hands, Zero?" asked the balding committee member, frowning. "Surely this was a matter for the police, at best."
Suzaku paused. He couldn't say that, because of his part in the Zero Requiem, the final plan of Lelouch vi Brittania, that he felt an obligation to those men who had been unwitting gears in Lelouch's machinations.
Those men who were no longer men. Who had been nameless sacrifices on the altar of tomorrow that he and Lelouch decided upon.
How many men have to die to achieve world peace?
Maybe every last one.
Finally, he settled on a half truth- as Zero, such things should be something he would have to become comfortable with.
"I did not get involved until three months ago, with the incident involving James Rookwood, former Captain serving with the Knightmare Corps 2nd Battlegroup, which was a part of Emperor Lelouch's primary army," Zero informed them simply. "There was a fire…"
Xing-ke raised his hand, interrupting Suzaku mid speech, and glanced down. Idly, he shuffled some papers and began reading from the report on his own desk.
"Captain James Rookwood, or rather ex-Captain, considering his dishonorable discharge, attempted to burn himself alive in his apartment building, a fire which would have consumed the entire complex had the landlord not noticed smoke and preemptively put it out. This is the background of the incident, correct?"
Suzaku nodded. "Yes."
"An attempted suicide and possible negligent manslaughter is hardly worth the time of a man with your… reputation," one of the committee members pointed out slowly, an oily tone in his voice.
"I'd been hearing reports about former Brittanian soldiers committing suicide for some time," Zero explained coolly. "This was the first of them that had been found alive. I wanted to speak to him myself, so I went to the hospital where they were keeping him under watch…"
Suzaku hated hospitals, ever since he was a child. Back then it was because he couldn't stand being cooped up in one place for too long- he was always moving, all the rough and tumble violence of a boy practically making him vibrate out of his skin if he stayed still. After his father, it was because it reminded him about death and the dying, and it filled him with a twisted mixture of envy and longing to join them.
After Euphie, Suzaku never went to the hospital again- even when wounded, he ordered his treatment to be in his own quarters (a luxury he could afford as a Knight of Rounds, and as Zero, he was supposed to be immortal, more symbol than man, and he had to fix all his mistakes on his own because saviors aren't supposed to be saved).
However, this was more important than his personal preference.
He had seen the reports, the obituaries he had clipped and studied, like puzzle pieces. This was the first of these suicides that had failed, and Suzaku had to know for sure what was happening.
"Ah, Zero-sama, you've arrived," greeted the Chief of Medicine of the Hospital, an aging but still somewhat attractive woman, who smiled with chemically bleached teeth and extended a perfectly manicured set of fingers towards him that hadn't touched a dying man's hand in years, the other set clutching the vanilla folder of a patient's file. "Welcome to our hospital. It is an honor to have such a reputable public figure come visit our humble house of healing."
For once, Suzaku was grateful that being Zero required him to wear gloves as he shook the hand. He ignored the pleasantries. "Where is he?"
"He is currently being held in the Intensive Care Unit, though we are making preparations to move him into the burn ward. He's relatively stable now, and he'll be ready for skin grafts in a day or so," she said, and extended a hand towards the far left hallway. "Please, right this way."
As he was led down the hall, Suzaku felt a thrill of trepidation. Was this really… and if it was, wouldn't that mean…
"What about this man's family? Have they been contacted yet?" he asked, trying to divert the hideous questioning in his mind.
The Chief of Medicine glanced down at the file in her hands, flipping through it casually. "It appears that the Captain's parents died three years ago in an accident. No other living relatives, leaving only an ex-wife to contact- they had apparently been planning to have children, but then suddenly got divorced a little over five months ago. We contacted her, but she refused contact once she learned we were asking about her ex-husband."
Five months ago… that was over a month before the Zero Requiem's finale. The shape of a dark shadow began taking form in Suzaku's mind.
"Did she say anything at all? Any indication that the Captain was suicidal?" he questioned, frowning.
"Nothing, I'm afraid," she replied helplessly, and came to a stop. "This is the room where we have him currently. I don't know if he's awake or not, but…"
"Thank you. If it's not a problem, I would like to speak to the captain alone," Suzaku said quickly, not taking his eyes off the room. It was a glass box, or maybe a cage, without blinds or shading for privacy- the man was still potentially suicidal, after all- and contained all manner of medical equipment that was keeping the charred body of Captain Rookwood alive in his hospital bed.
Without waiting for a reply, Zero strode into the room, confident that his "request" would be taken as a command.
Three quick strides led him to the foot of the bed and Suzaku stared down at the Captain whom he had come so many miles to see.
The burns were more hideous than he thought, though he only caught vague glimpses of the ruined flesh beneath the white bandages that wrapped Captain Rookwood so tightly, and his arms and legs were strapped down tight to the bed, as was befitting a man who so recently tried to self-immolate. His mask filtered out any potential smell, thankfully enough.
The man's lips were moving, but whether or not it was an involuntary twitch or actual whispers remained to be seen.
"Captain Rookwood?" he coughed, hoping he wouldn't have to speak too loudly in order to catch the man's attention.
Suzaku's ears perked up. He was conscious then- maybe not wholly sane, but capable of speaking.
He leaned forward unconsciously, trying to pick up the mumbled words. He forgot his surroundings, lost in the all consuming need to understand what was happening.
"… he… he's…"
Suddenly, without warning, the Captain's eyes flicked up, meeting his intent gaze, startling Suzaku and causing him to take an unconscious step backwards. There was a mania in those eyes, a glimmer like shattered mirrors, reflecting a light that sent a primal shiver down to his core.
"He's still in here," Rookwood whispered hoarsely, and giggled. "I tried to burn him out, but he's still in here. Won't leave me alone. The man in black said he wouldn't let me go, and he was right."
Suzaku resisted the urge to flee from the room- he hadn't come this far to leave without answers.
"Who's 'he', Captain?" he asked softly, trying not to sound too pressing. "Who was the man in black?"
Rookwood shook his head, eyes darting from side to side, suggesting terror- a deep kind of terror than ran through your bones and woke you sweating in the darkness.
"Can't say no, can't say no, eyes aglow," he sang eerily in response, voice oddly childlike in its madness.
"Captain?" Suzaku repeated, but it was no use. Whatever sanity the man had was clearly shattered, and all the remained of him now was the gibbering sham of a creature that was lying before him.
"They said he was gone, they said we were free, but no one's ever free, just like he said," Rookwood continued, maniacally cheerful. "Once you're not a man, you're nothing."
Barely aware of his own surroundings, Suzaku staggered backwards, caught by the horrific enchantment of the insane Captain's words.
"Nothing," he repeated, voice dulling, but that manic glimmer in his eyes never dimmed. His burnt lips, pitiful wrecks of flesh, split open to reveal teeth stained with ash. "We're nothing at all."
His gaze never wavered, and it carried an unspoken message to Suzaku, who cowered inwardly.
We're not men, and neither are you, it said gleefully, we're just living sacks of flesh. Our hearts keep beating and our lungs keep us breathing, but what have we got left?
"Zero?" came the voice of the Chief of Medicine, and the eldritch enchantment of Rookwood's words broke, and he returned to reality, snapping his head wildly towards the woman, who briefly stepped back at the violent movement. "I'm sorry, but the nurses need to attend to him now…"
"That's fine," Zero said roughly, barely trusting his voice as he turned away, trying to hide himself from that manic gaze, and finding no shelter, no protection, only the cold empty force of terrible truths. "I'm done here."
Without waiting for a reply, he fled down the hallway, all the while willing himself not to think about that horrible, horrible gaze.
"Can't say no, eyes aglow," Suzaku repeated to himself, and shuddered.
"… and after that I left the hospital," Suzaku finished slowly.
"Zero… sir… let me clarify," came the reedy voice of a scarecrow thin man on the far right, "You tracked down the victim of an attempted suicide on your own, leaving behind stately duties and going to question him without the consent of the Empress or the United Nations Council?"
"That is correct," Suzaku said levelly, nodding, voice betraying nothing.
"Why was that?" came the expected second question, and without a narrowing of suspicious eyes around the room, who fixated him with unblinking gazes.
"As the slayer of Lelouch vi Brittania, I felt it my prerogative to investigate," Zero confirmed crisply. It was a blatant challenge to the committee- while Zero had no official capacity or powers of state, he wielded very real influence over the world, and especially over the top heads of state. Challenging him could end disastrously.
Uncomfortable, many of them shifted and traded wary glances- not one of them seemed brave enough to risk political suicide by going head to head with Zero. Only Xing-ke remained firm, staring him down with an unblinking, undeterred gaze- he was there for a higher purpose, outside of petty self interest and political jockeying.
Softly, he spoke.
"We'll discuss your motives at a later time," he said neutrally, deftly avoiding the hot button issue for the moment. "For the moment, our timeline has been frozen well before the present, with the first major incident that brought our attention to this issue, leaving a large gap between the then and the now. After this incident, what did you do with the information you obtained?"
Suzaku tilted his head to the side. "Now that I knew some kind of mental imbalance had affected Captain Rookwood, I began research on any psychological evaluations that had been done on him and the other surviving soldiers from the former Emperor's legions."
"Those evaluations were performed by government sponsored and recognized mental health experts," someone pointed out. "Those who were deemed as having been forcibly conscripted into service for the demon Emperor were allowed a dishonorable discharge and some restrictions on travel and lifestyle."
Demon Emperor. Suzaku wondered at that. How quickly they had coined a name for Lelouch, to be remembered in the history books.
What names would they cast on Kururugi Suzaku? None, if he was lucky.
Zero would gain accolades aplenty, of course, and Suzaku took a bit of black humor in knowing the world would praise the title borne by two of the most reviled names in recent history.
Before this incident his humor would have remained relatively optimistic, but recent events had driven him down to the point where dark humor was the only refuge against… everything.
"Yes, those who had committed suicide thus far had all been given clean bills of mental health by the current government and the previous, for that matter," Suzaku agreed. "Which meant that the degradation of their mental health occurred shortly after their discharge from the military. I also started inquiring as to the whereabouts of the remaining members of Lelouch vi Brittania's special forces, and where they were."
"And what did you find out?" prompted the balding man from earlier.
Suzaku turned to look at him, and beneath the mask his expression was as stony and dark as a tomb.
"While most of them were dead, some still lived in the Brittanian homeland, living isolated lives. Several others had been given leave to be placed in overseas territories of the empire, such as the European continent, Egypt, or even so far as China. Those who took this exile were placed in strict probationary observation… and just about every single one of them too, had committed suicide within a few months following their exile. Those who still lived were reported as seeming unbalanced, and one was confined to a psychiatric ward in Switzerland."
"So… whatever was happening to these men, it was something that happened after the death of Lelouch vi Brittania?" asked one of the two female members of the committee, sounding shocked.
"That was my assumption," Suzaku asserted, though in the back of his mind he knew it had never been an assumption. Only a truth he'd been unwilling to face.
"Our logs here show your next move after this was to visit that psychiatric ward in Switzerland you mentioned previously, is that right?" one of them asked, audibly picking through the thick folder in front of him.
"That's correct," he answered firmly. "As the soldiers who had elected to stay in Brittania were under far less strict observation, I decided to track down one whose location was fixed and accessible, one Sergeant Alan Shields, the man being held in Switzerland."
Xing-ke leaned forward, pursing his lips, his gaze intent and unwavering.
"Tell us what happened."
The reception that awaited Suzaku at this facility was markedly different than the last. While the Chief of Medicine (a graying, middle aged man with a full beard and a widow's peak) still greeted him at the door, it was markedly less fawning.
"So, you are the great Zero," he observed levelly, though Suzaku couldn't help but feel the tiniest bit of sarcasm. "I thought you'd be taller."
"Sorry to disappoint. Where is he?" Suzaku asked, deciding it was better to forgo pleasantries again, this time more to keep things civil than to avoid having to deal with schemers.
"You know, I wasn't aware you made house calls," the doctor continued, as though he hadn't heard. "Or that you looked in on the soldiers of your enemy."
"My business is my own. I said as much to your secretary before I came here," Suzaku said slowly, an edge to his voice. "Are you going to take me to him now?"
The Chief of Medicine gave him an evaluating look, before finally turning away and starting a slow, measured walk towards the elevators. "I'll give you that. A man's business should be his own. Come, he's in the basement."
Suzaku followed the older man into the elevators, making casual note of his surroundings as he did so. Unlike the last hospital, which was a general hospital, this medical facility was much more private and looked a great deal more specialized, with its varnished walls, smooth ceramic tile, and elegant architecture.
After a silent elevator ride, they stepped off at an underground level, which Suzaku found somewhat unusual. They were greeted by a bored looking orderly in a glass booth, who noticeably straightened to the point of toppling over himself when he saw just who had stepped out of the elevator as he waved them on through a rather powerful looking steel door.
It was an aspect of being Zero that Suzaku found somewhat disconcerting, to be recognized for the accomplishments of the best friend he'd murdered.
"We've found that suicidal cases are best kept away from high rooftops," the Chief of Medicine said without explanation, noticing how Zero kept glancing at the walls as they walked past several holding chambers. "Plus, some of our patients here are… disquieting."
Remembering his visit to Captain Rookwood, Suzaku didn't doubt it. "How long has he been here now?"
"Three weeks," came the doctor's brusque answer, as he led Suzaku down a blindingly white corridor. "His daughter works in town, and he had been staying with her prior to being moved to our facility."
"He attempted to commit suicide via hanging himself, is that correct?" Suzaku questioned, remembering the report he'd read in a newspaper.
"The rope broke. Fortunately, or unfortunately, for him, depending on your point of view," the doctor pointed out humorlessly, and came to a stop in front of a room marked off by the number one-zero-eight. "Here it is."
"Quite," Suzaku agreed, and glanced over at the Chief of Medicine as he stepped closer to the door, peering through the glass window.
Alan Shields, former Sergeant of the Royal Marines 3rd Infantry Battalion, 2nd Division, was a decorated veteran of campaigns in Areas Four and Seven. His CSV said he was around 40, and his picture had showed a strong, broad shouldered bear of a man with chiseled features and an air of palpable strength.
This was not the same man. It was a skeleton, a dying caricature of Alan Shields. Everything he was had wasted away, rotting away to leave only the skin and bones of what was once an honored soldier, held together by the tight straps of his white straightjacket, with the edges of a scar visible above the neckline of the cloth.
"What did your people say about the nature of his madness," Suzaku asked quietly, his gaze unerringly fixated upon the girl. "What was their diagnosis?"
"Prognosis, really. We haven't come to any conclusions," the director corrected, his toneless voice without rebuke. "From what we can tell, his madness is trauma based, rooted in his actions during his service to the Demon Emperor. What exactly triggered this suicidal episode, we have not determined. We don't dare start medicating yet with his body so weak from his attempt."
"I need to talk to him," Suzaku said softly, without looking away.
"Hmph. Very well," the old man said, sliding his security pass through the door, "But don't be surprised if he doesn't talk back."
Suzaku ignored the warning and stepped through the door as it opened with a rush of compressed, stale air. The room felt uncomfortably cold, though that was likely just the apprehension in his gut.
Alan's eyes were utterly blank, but his lips kept moving, murmuring words so soft that Suzaku had to practically stand over the man to hear them.
"He's dead. He's dead. He's dead," Alan chanted inanely, his voice hoarse. "He's dead. He's dead. He's dead. He's dead. He's dead."
Suzaku sighed. He really was insane. But still… maybe there was something left of him. Enough to get answers to questions that were driving Suzaku up the wall.
"Who is he," Suzaku asked softly, crouching down to look Alan in the eye. "Someone came to you, didn't he Alan? He found the others too… what happened to you three weeks ago?"
"He's not dead," Alan whispered, and for a moment, Suzaku thought a semblance of sanity flickered in his eyes, but then it was gone, and all that was left was the broken shell. "No. No. No. He is dead. But we are his. Forever. Can't say no, eyes aglow."
"Who is 'he', Alan!" Suzaku said, his voice tinged with impatience now, the frustration of his long search wearing through his patience. "What did he say to you? Why are all of the soldiers killing themselves?"
"We needed to be free," Alan said distantly, his eyes devoid of any light. "But they call on god to return. And there is no escape from god."
"What god? Who are 'they'?" Suzaku pressed, and, without thinking, placed a hand upon his arm.
"CAN"T SAY NO, EYES AGLOW! HE'S DEAD AND ALIVE! GOD IS DEAD AND YET HE LIVES ON!" Alan screamed suddenly, his face twisted in an inhuman expression of pure madness as he lunged at Suzaku. "WE WILL NEVER ESCAPE GOD EXCEPT IN DEATH!"
"Jesus Christ!" Suzaku swore, stumbling backwards towards the door, even as a withered, veined hand closed on his shoulder, and two burly orderlies brushed past him, grabbing Alan and shoving him roughly against the wall.
"I think you're done, boy," the director murmured, pulling him gently outside. "He's gone. It's over for him."
"But not for us," Suzaku muttered darkly, his fists clenching. "Whatever drove this man off the edge… it's just the beginning."
He turned on his heel sharply and walked away, as Alan's screams followed him down the hallway like vengeful ghosts.
"GOD WILL COME FOR YOU TOO! CAN'T SAY NO, EYES AGLOW! HE COMES FOR US ALL! THE ONLY WAY OUT IS DEATH!"
Short side project to keep me amused and as a change of pace from I Heard The World. Not going to be as dedicated to this so updates will be more infrequent than that fic as well, I think. The title of Part One is German, and means "Come, Sweet Death" (thanks to Yinake for the actual German).
Corporal Hudson is a throwaway mention to the machinama series "Why we kill", to which this fic owes some themes to.