Disclaimer: Code Geass – with its characters, settings, and all other borrowed elements here – is the sole property of its creators. Segment titles are titles from various songs, and I don't own those either.
Author's Notes: I've said this somewhere before, but: I'm no expert on noir. In fact, if I wanted to be more precise, I ought to be calling this 'Geass Hardboiled' but oh well. Put briefly, these crime fiction literary styles – with their bleak settings, somber characterizations, and unapologetic treatment of sex and violence – have always intrigued me. Admittedly, I'm more familiar with film noir, in all its black-and-white, jazz-filled, femme-fatale-induced glory, and that isn't saying all that much. Still, I got this idea of marrying the two – Code Geass and noir, that is – because I always imagined the combination would be amusing. You guys be the judge as to whether that's so.
(By the way, this was on my journal for some time, and it will probably be cross–posted there as I go along…unless/until I change my mind. It's hard to tell at this point. Sporadic updates will be sporadic; I have a longfic and another project going on, and this [unfortunately] takes least priority. I've found it's an effective way to de-stress though; who would have thought?)
Warnings: In general, bleakness-of-setting (part of the medium!), references to violence and sex and alcohol. Strong language. And a Suzaku-who-hates-his-job.
(1) 'The Beginning is the End is the Beginning'
It started the way the day started: cold, dreary, an unspoken promise of worse things to come. Also, Anya shaking him awake at his desk. "Case," was all she said, as though that explained everything he needed to know.
But as she walked away Suzaku realized, rubbing his eyes and fumbling for his keys, that it did.
The first thought that came to his mind when they arrived was that someone had botched the address. Or that this was someone's (Gino's?) idea of a joke. As he stepped out of the car, though, he saw the mess of tape criss-crossing in front of the main entrance, men in uniforms waving around flashlights as though that would do anything. There was a group of servants – butler, chefs, maids, his mind supplied, taking in their uniforms – huddled near the fountain, terrified to go near the damn house.
Suzaku heaved a sigh and swiped his felt hat and a pack of cigarettes from the backseat. He was about to tell Anya something, but when he realized what it was, she was already halfway to the gate.
The men guarding the perimeter let them in without a word, as though they'd been expected. Inside, the mansion was all lit–up, sickening against the shadows of dusk creeping along outside. There were more people in here, if that was possible – beat cops of every size and shape and constitution, members of the Royal Guard.
A murder takes place at the Crown Prince's residence, and everyone in Pendragon flocks to the place like it's a party.
Bismarck spotted them from across the room. He excused himself from his conversation with the constable and made his way over, and the sheer size of the file he had in his hand almost made Suzaku want to turn around and not ever involve himself with this case.
"You're late," the large man informed him gruffly.
"Yeah." There wasn't much else he could think of to say. "What do we have?" he asked, taking the file from his boss's hands.
"Your usual bread and butter." Bismarck nodded at Anya with an unreadable look as she slung her bag onto an empty couch and began unpacking her equipment. "The body was found about forty minutes ago. Call came at around the same time."
Suzaku opened the file, and he raised his eyebrows before he could help himself when he saw exactly who their victim was. "Bismarck," he said in a low voice, flipping through page after page of resident profiles, blueprints, preliminary witness statements, and all those other pleasantries of his job which promised to have him buried in paperwork for the next fortnight. "What are we doing here? This is out of our – "
"Jurisdiction, normally." The man surprised him with a grave nod. "But our client – who, by the way, is offering the department fifty thousand pounds if we can pull this off – insisted on our involvement, despite everything I told him."
He snapped the file shut. In his head he tried to count the number of people who lived here, worked here, had access to even one of the doors or windows in this sprawling estate. Then there was the matter of foreign guests and delegates, all of them for the past month, and oh God the newspapers in the morning... "I still don't think we should be here."
"That's unfortunate then, because our client specifically asked for you."
Suzaku frowned. He considered opening the file again, but he could have sworn he hadn't seen the information there the first time; it wasn't going to be there now. "Who is it?"
Bismarck merely ushered him to the next room – "It's too bad we can't deny royalty anything; that's just how it works" – and told him.
Suzaku set his jaw and refused to show any emotion when he heard the name. In hindsight, he should have seen that coming from miles away, but hindsight was often twenty-twenty. God damn it.
The current Crown Prince, Odysseus eu Britannia, was now no more than a corpse in his own grand dining room, his eyes frozen half-open on the chandelier and an eerie smile on his face. A single slash ran across his throat, and in all that time he'd managed to bleed a wide pool all over the fine Persian rug underfoot.
He didn't dabble too much in politics himself (too much vodka; too many dead people turning up in dumpsters all over Pendragon, week after goddamned week), but he knew enough. The eldest son of Emperor Charles and his first wife, Odysseus had never been much of a prominent figure, staying in the sidelines while his younger siblings made names for themselves abroad, in court, on the battlefield. He had no ground-breaking laws to his credit, no contribution to the arts and just a mediocre popularity with the people. It was a pathetic end to a pathetic life, Suzaku thought absently, noting the lack of any defensive wounds all over the man's body.
He couldn't see the murder weapon anywhere, but from the bloody gash on the victim's neck, it didn't take much to guess what it was. But that meant –
A short, maniacal laugh cut into his thoughts, and Suzaku steeled himself for what was going to be a long, long night. "Well look what the cavalry just brought in. You're late, Detective Kururugi."
"Waiting for Christmas," he bit out. It was the middle of July.
"Oh? Well it came early for me this year." Luciano grinned and swept an arm over the crime scene. "I couldn't have asked for anything better if the old man sat down and promised me anything in the world!"
"That's nice," Suzaku said bluntly. He gave his trenchcoat and hat to one of the beat cops wandering around, snapping on a pair of gloves. He hated working with this man, so much, but he couldn't deny that Luciano Bradley was the undisputed expert on knives and knife wounds in their department. Sometimes it was disturbing, how much he knew, but any questions about the man's background before he'd joined the Homicide department were always met with disturbing laughter and offers of 'demonstration,' so he never really found out. He never really wanted to, after that. "What are we dealing with?"
"Typical wedge-blade." Luciano ducked down and spread the flesh apart on both sides of the wound with his fingers, smiling gleefully as Anya snapped a picture – another one they wouldn't be able to use as evidence, and Suzaku was dangerously close to snapping at the man to put some damn gloves on. "Would have been a straight, neat cut, if it hadn't gotten caught here." He pointed to a slight dip in the wound's path, roughly where it crossed the trachea. "An amateur, I'd say."
Suzaku nodded, taking notes. He noticed a dark, reddish stain on the victim's pants leg that didn't seem to be blood. Crouching down, he took the material between his fingers – too thin, not congealed, definitely something else. "What makes you say that?"
He immediately regretted the question when he felt the man suddenly hovering behind him, and the blade of a trench knife pressed against his neck.
"An expert," Luciano spoke into his ear, "would have aimed here." He slid his hand down until he was holding the knife diagonally, blade right across the carotid. "Instant death. Or here." He maneuvered the blade to the other side, the tip barely pressing down into his skin. "That's assuming he went for a quick, painless job; would have been messy as hell though. Blood all over, we'd be scrubbing it off the walls. On the other hand, if he'd wanted to drag it out – make the victim suffer, you know – he'd have done this..."
"Okay." Suzaku reached up and wrenched the man's arm away, deciding he'd had about enough. "I get it. He'd have been a man after your own heart, but he's not." A sudden flash made him squint, and in two seconds Anya was muttering something about a 'missed shot' under her breath. Oh God, not her too. "Did you find the weapon anywhere?" he asked, rising to his feet.
"Nope!" Thankfully, Luciano backed off. His relief was short-lived though, as the man was soon bending over and nonchalantly handling the corpse again, still sans gloves. "That would have been too easy."
It would, Suzaku agreed silently.
If he didn't know better, it was almost as though the struggle (because there had to be one) took place elsewhere, and the body had just been moved here. This whole crime scene, staged, Suzaku imagined as he pulled on his coat, but that was an absurd thought.
"Where's the client?"
Bismarck dismissed yet another tearful, shaking maid and looked up. "You want to speak with him?"
Suzaku scowled. "I don't have a choice, do I?"
"No. You don't." There wasn't any sympathy whatsoever in that affirmation as Bismarck leafed through his notes; thanks, he wanted to say. "I'm sorry to say you'll have to put that prospect on hold, though. Apparently he left Pendragon right after making the call. Business meeting, or something."
"You're kidding." Who the hell in his right mind would skip town right after reporting a murder, and of his own family no less? It already didn't help that his client, despite being the one who supposedly found the body, was one who had a motive in this whole mess by default, and this was going to be painful to explain to even the most optimistic of detectives.
"I have seven witnesses outside who would argue otherwise."
"This is ridiculous." Suzaku rubbed at his eyes furiously; it was all he could do not to claw them out and fling them against the wall, screaming all the way. He should have known that, even after four years, this man (their client, his mind echoed bitterly) could still find a way to make his life more of a living hell than it already was. That was saying a lot. "Can you have someone call me the minute he gets back in town?"
"I can do that." Bismarck nodded, making a note of it. "The usual number?"
He recalled the last time Kallen slammed the phone down on a key witness when he wasn't home. "No." He put on his hat, lit a cigarette (thank God) and gave Bismarck the number to the bar.
(2) 'All Shook Up'
Arthur's Castle smelled like it always did when Suzaku pushed open the heavy oak door and finally stopped counting down the steps between him and vodka in his head. A moment, as always, was all it took for the onslaught of smoke to subside; other scents followed closely by, more subdued but no less familiar – beer and metal and perfumes from the handful of women who were regulars at this place, and also something he'd never been able to identify, a heady aroma seeped into the barstools and tables, into the walls.
"You know I've always wanted to try this place out!" Gino Weinberg, all six feet and then some of him, was actually bouncing on the balls of his feet as they entered. At no point in time, between leaving Odysseus' mansion and now, had he considered bringing the younger detective along of his own volition. But Anya had needed a ride back to the office, and Gino was asking him about his plans two seconds in, and really – he ought to stop saying 'yes' to everything, one of these days. "So who's Arthur?"
"I..." He frowned. "Don't actually know." Which was surprising, considering –
"Huh." Gino flashed him a wide smile, all bright teeth and sincerity and glittering blue eyes. "Don't you come here often?"
"Not that often." It came out sounding a little too defensive. "Come on," he said, steering the blond towards one of a row of tables set along the wall opposite the bar. "Before we lose it."
Gino parked himself rather gleefully into one of the seats, ignoring the angry glares from the couple who had been two steps away. Suzaku offered a half-hearted apology (but really, what the hell did they expect?) before sliding into the other chair. It didn't even seem that sturdy, and there was a questionable stain on the surface of the table, near his elbow.
"So is it usually this packed, or is today something special?"
He shrugged. But tonight there was indeed a thicker crowd than he was accustomed to, office workers and beat cops and some patrons he could have sworn were too young to be here knocking back glasses and keeping the staff busy. A group of eight businessmen took up three tables and an entire corner of the place, laughing amongst themselves through expensive cigars. The smoke was thick, and it rendered the air nearly opaque. Then again, he'd never been here this early before; a quick glance at the clock informed him it was barely eight in the evening, when he would usually walk in closer to eleven on a good day. "Maybe," he said, which wasn't an answer, but until he could come up with something better it was as good as Gino was going to get.
That would be a difficult endeavor, though. Gino's idle chatter had barely been enough to distract him on the way over (among other things: eyes on the road, as well, and all that) but now he found his mind drifting back to their current case, despite his best efforts. It was somewhat disconcerting to think that the usual things didn't bother him anymore – the corpse was actually one of the better ones, and as for crime scenes he'd had his share of both those that were messier and those that had been scrubbed clean of any useful evidence. The murder itself would have been less than remarkable, if not for all the damn people involved: a prince dead left in suspicion too many royals and nobles for his liking, not to mention the personal staff and contacts of every last one.
And then there was the man who dragged him into this mess in the first place –
"Okay, I get it. You're pissed off. But don't you think you ought to let the napkin ring off the hook? I can assure you it's innocent."
Suzaku blinked, realizing belatedly that he'd been glaring at the object without even really seeing it. "Sorry," he mumbled, managing a weak smile. "God, I don't even know what's wrong with me." That wasn't entirely true – 'many, many things' would have been an appropriate answer, but he wasn't in the mood to itemize.
"Mmm. It's the case, isn't it?" Gino didn't acknowledge his glance, still grinning as he waved over a waitress. "Sorry I couldn't come to the scene this afternoon. Had to finish up a report for the Haliburton file."
He remembered that case: male, fifteen years old; cause of death was officially cardiac arrest, which naturally raised suspicions of foul play due to the boy's age. Gino had been the primary, though, so he was sketchy on the details. Still, he decided not to ask how that had been resolved. "You in?"
"I think we're all in!" Gino laughed heartily. "Bismarck gave me a copy of the file a few minutes before you guys arrived. Hoo boy, that's a lot of paperwork."
"Yeah," he agreed.
"Except that's the least of your concerns right now, yes?"
Suzaku laughed at that, and it came more easily this time. For all his general immaturity and tendency to be flip about absolutely everything, Gino knew him pretty well. And he could be strangely perceptive when he wanted to be, which helped in more ways than one – Gino Weinberg, against all first impressions, was arguably the best interrogator in their department. And he did it all with a smile. "That's not saying much, you know."
"I know." Gino snuck in a wink before turning to the girl now standing expectantly beside their table. "Evening, Miss. I'll take a pint of Guinness, and my friend will have...well, whatever he's having."
She nodded, and there was a glint of amusement in her eyes; for what was not the first time today, Suzaku felt as though maybe the rest of the world really were sharing a joke, and he was hopelessly not in on it. "Coming right up," she said, before turning to him with an face that clearly spoke of recognition. "I've never seen you come in this early before," she commented. There was just enough innocent cheer in her voice to mask out the unsaid, 'Or with a friend.' Or maybe Suzaku was imagining things.
That was probably the safer bet. "Decided I should probably start sleeping more," he smiled back, which earned a chuckle from Gino. "God knows I'm paying for it already..." He took in her long, straight hair, endless legs and very expressive eyes, but wound up drawing a blank. He flushed. "Um – "
"Shirley," she supplied, trying not to laugh. "Anyway, the usual for you?" He nodded dumbly, and she took that as her cue to leave. "I'll be right back!"
"So..." Gino didn't even wait until she'd taken three steps. "You don't come here that often, huh?"
"Drop it," Suzaku sighed, hanging his head. He wondered how many of the other staff recognized him as well, aside from the bartender and Millay and now Shirley. Did he really spend so much time here? He muttered, "This is embarrassing."
"She's pretty, though." Gino swept his gaze quickly across the room. "A lot of them are. I don't think I blame you."
"Sorry to disappoint you," he said wryly, only now remembering to shrug off his coat. "But I don't come here to ogle the waitresses, thank you very much."
"Well you should." The blond mimicked his actions, but instead of folding his jacket and setting it aside, he merely let the garment fall where it did, rumpled and bunched around his waist. "Seriously though, I think you have a problem."
Not helping. "Don't," he began; it ended up sounding less like an order and more like a pathetic request. "I get enough nagging from Kallen."
"Speaking of Kallen." Gino's eyes twinkled, and Suzaku almost groaned at how easily he'd walked right into it. "Is she seeing anyone?"
"I don't know," he grumbled. He barely remembered to smile when Shirley returned with their drinks. And even when he did, it was less out of courtesy and more out of vodka, God yes finally. "Why don't you ask her yourself?"
"Because it's easier if you do!" Gino chirped, as though that made everything okay. He raised his mug in an old–fashioned toast. Somehow Suzaku found it in himself to oblige him without a sarcastic remark. "Damn. I wish I lived with a beautiful woman who tried to pull me away from my self–destructive habits."
"No you don't," Suzaku deadpanned. He held the glass to his lips, clenched his eyes shut and threw his head back. He knew by now when to swallow, when not to breathe, and when to expect the familiar, comforting burn to fade into an equally-comforting warmth. It spread from his throat to his stomach like a balm. "I promise you."
Gino merely stared at him, incredulous. His own drink sat barely touched on the table. "Wow. You do have a problem."
Suzaku decided not to answer that. Toying with the empty glass he saw, to his great disappointment, that Shirley was already out of sight. Damn it. He supposed a walk to the bar wouldn't kill him then. Scanning the area behind the counter for the usual blue-haired man, he found him – and, someone else as well, sitting on the other side of the counter, staring at his own empty glass with his hands folded in front of him. "Hey, Gino," he said, rising to his feet. "I'll be right back."
Gino waved him away as he took a sip of his beer. "Take your time," he said through a moustache of foam.
In the end, Suzaku didn't have to wait long for the woman to vacate the stool next to the pianist. He bowed his head a little as she walked past, and she spared him a smile.
"So this is why there's no music tonight," he began in jest, settling down and placing his glass on the counter. The lights were a bit brighter here at the bar, and it was either for that or for the sting of endless cigarette smoke that Suzaku found himself squinting. "Though I don't remember if you usually play at this time."
"You wouldn't," the man agreed, slipping easily into the conversation, "given that you wouldn't normally show up for another two or three hours."
Maybe he did come here that often. "I love how everyone here seems to know my schedule," Suzaku muttered.
The man laughed – a cultured, restrained sound. He wondered if it was real. "I'm sure we appreciate the repeat business. And no," he added, swivelling his stool. Suzaku thought then that his eyes were not quite like amethysts, but perhaps something a little less bright, and a little more deep – irises, maybe. Or maybe he was wrong; they really were an interesting color. "I actually have tonight off."
The pianist nodded towards the stage, which was no longer empty; there was a crew there, unwrapping some large, cumbersome things as a stocky man looked on from the wings. "Jazz band tonight. The saxophone player is Millay's friend, and she owed him a favor. They're playing three sets over the weekend."
"Huh." Suzaku watched them with mild interest. "So why are you still here?"
The man smirked. "Tiring of my company already?"
"That's not what I meant." Perhaps, if Suzaku were less tired, he could have made that sound more apologetic, more earnest. "Most people don't spend their days off in the exact same place where they work..." He trailed off, glumly realizing how many weekends he'd spent at his desk, or hunting for fingerprints. "Well..."
"Yes," the man acknowledged. "You're right. But most people don't work in the same place they turn to for relief, as well."
"Hmm." Suzaku traced the rim of the glass with his finger, glancing at the man beside him with a bit more scrutiny now. He was wearing a white dress shirt, with the collar rumpled and the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. There was a slight tightness around his eyes, and there were a few streaks of red in the whites. The downward curl of his mouth would have seemed almost like a default expression, if only Suzaku didn't know better. "Rough day?" he guessed.
The man blinked, and set his jaw. "...Something like that." He didn't look at Suzaku when he replied, and he didn't smile.
He felt something that suspiciously resembled sympathy shifting in his chest. What would Gino say, in this situation? He imagined things like 'I'm sorry to hear that' or Tomorrow will be better!' complete with a cheerful grin and a pat on the shoulder, but he was not one for such platitudes. He had never been. Still, it surprised him that what he eventually ended up saying was something that was probably out of place and completely uncalled-for: "What's your name?"
The man looked up at him. He was startled for a moment, but that soon went away, and his expression melted into something that was equal parts curious and suspicious, all of it calculating. "Why?" he asked, after almost a full minute.
Suzaku shrugged. "Well, I've learned tonight that it seems everyone who works at this bar knows me, so..." He tried to smile, but he didn't need a mirror to know it came out crooked. "May as well?"
He got a raised eyebrow, and amusement, for his trouble. "Fair enough. If I give you my name, will I get yours in return?"
Suzaku really should have seen that coming, but he realized he didn't quite like where this was going. He saw his chance, however, when he spotted the blue-haired bartender coming their way. "How about something better?" he suggested, smiling and avoiding those violet eyes.
"You're early," he heard, for the third time that night. The bartender took their empty glasses and met his eye with a tired look. "Vodka gimlet?"
"And whatever he's having," Suzaku nodded towards the pianist to his left.
The bartender turned to the raven-haired man, who seemed equally-surprised. "And that is?"
It took him awhile. "Another martini, I suppose?"
Suzaku made a face as soon as the bartender set back to work. "Gin," he commented sourly.
"You do realize traditional gimlets contain gin, right?"
"And I specifically didn't ask for one. Tastes like melted-down steel." At the man's bemused stare, Suzaku felt himself flush. "My father's description, not mine."
"Hmmm." The man didn't take his eyes off him even as their drinks arrived, even as Suzaku downed his and asked for another before the bartender could leave. "Lelouch."
"My name." The pianist sipped at his martini in a manner much more reserved, actually bothering to savor it. "I feel as though I should be sorrier than I am, that it cost you a drink."
"Don't be." Suzaku was beginning to feel light-headed, though it should have taken much more than just two drinks for him to reach this point. Perhaps it was all the smoke, or perhaps he really was that tired. Or perhaps...his brain failed to come up with a third possibility. "It's fine. Play me something the next time you're at the piano."
Lelouch smiled. "I'll accept those terms," he murmured, finally sliding his eyes away.
It was about the same time that the bartender walked back to them, another vodka gimlet in tow. There was something else, though: a phone, held in his right hand. "I have a call here for Suzaku Kururugi?" he asked, giving the detective a pointed look.
Suzaku took the glass from him and looked around, scanning the room for – "See the tall blond over there, talking to Millay?" He pointed at the stage, where Gino was regaling the singer with something ridiculous, if her boisterous laughter was anything to go by. God, he had better not have lost their coats. "That's your guy."
The bartender gave him a long, hard look. After several confused blinks, he sighed and moved away.
"That wasn't very nice," Lelouch commented, his lips quirking ever so slightly.
Suzaku smirked into his drink. The strong scent of alcohol dulled his senses. He suddenly felt very, very warm. "He's a colleague, and the call's probably from work. Plus I thought I'd do the guy a favor."
Lelouch scoffed. "Rivalz is far too transparent. Everyone knows, save perhaps Millay herself."
"Isn't that tragic." Suzaku drank only half this time, not entirely surprised to find himself wanting. "Rivalz, huh."
"Another drink says you've forgotten all our names by tomorrow," Lelouch rolled his eyes.
"Now that wasn't nice," Suzaku chuckled. He paused, and then laughed again, somehow unable to help himself. He felt...he didn't want to use the word giddy, but that was the only thing his brain could offer right now. Which was odd. He couldn't remember the last time he'd felt like this. "I'm not – "
"Hey." He felt a hand on his shoulder, and looked up. Blearily, he could make out Gino standing over him, already wearing his coat and with Suzaku's slung over his arm. "That was Bismarck."
"Client back in town?" He didn't wait for the other detective to nod. "Good. I'll talk to him in the morning."
"Ah, actually..." Gino looked at him, then at Lelouch, and back again. He looked as though he didn't know how to phrase what he was about to say. "The client's at the office right now. He's been asking for you."
"What. " That cleared up some of the haze in his head. "You're not serious. It's – what is it – " He glanced at the clock. "It's almost nine!"
"Hey, don't shoot the messenger," Gino grinned. "Again, he was asking for you. And he was...uh, rather insistent."
Suzaku groaned and buried his face in his hands. Of course he was.
"Gimme your keys." He didn't budge, and Gino eventually fished them out of his coat pocket anyway. "I'll be outside," he said, depositing the coat onto Suzaku's shoulders. "Sober up a bit and let's go."
Murmuring several obscenities under his breath, he could feel Lelouch's eyes on him again as he slipped his arms into the coat sleeves. "Demanding client who doesn't respect the typical workday?" the pianist guessed.
"I'll kill him," Suzaku mumbled darkly. He was completely aware that he was being vague, and also that the threat was a laughably empty one. He downed the rest of his drink. "I swear to God. One day."
"Try not to. That could have unfavorable consequences." Suzaku threw him an odd look, and Lelouch shrugged. "Regardless. I suppose this isn't a man you can bargain with?"
"Not this man, no." He shook his head and left a fifty, not bothering to wait for change. "Sorry to tear myself away like this."
"It's fine." Lelouch tilted his head and offered him a parting smile, and it put him at ease – just a little bit. "I'll see you next time."
Wasn't that a sure thing, Suzaku found himself thinking. Rubbing at his eyes, he left the bar. When he pushed the door open, the breeze outside was cold, clean and clear, and a part of him actually seemed to hate it for that.
Author's (end) notes: Thanks for reading. The review-link is your friend :D.