Prologue

City of the Damned

"I made a promise to my mother after she died that I would stop the crime in this city that took her life… by any means necessary. Even if I had to become the devil himself."

The night smelled of sweat and desperation and sex and gunpowder. If there was a hell, this was probably the pungent perfume that filled the air there too.

Even behind the almost lizard-like mask he wore, Lelouch Lamperouge, masquerading under the name of Zero, could practically taste the dank stench of corruption in the air, that lingering stink that no amount of blood could wash out from this desolate city.

A girl not even fifteen stood on the street corner across from the alley peddling her wares in too small cut-off jean shorts and a tank top, her pimp keeping a steady eye on every car to make sure they had the cash to pay.

Somewhere else the distant screaming of a pair of parents drowned out the sound of a baby crying, silenced swiftly by a loud burst of gunfire. If it was the woman who shot the man, Lelouch would let it go- but if he found out that this man had just murdered the mother of his child, there would have to be repercussions.

Two addicts were taking swings at each other twenty feet away, scrabbling over the last hit of Refrain they could get- one of them was bound to pull a knife out soon. Lelouch briefly toyed with the idea of sending one of his men over to break up the fight before dismissing it as a waste of time and effort.

This was Paradise City after all; the new Babylon, Sodom and Gomorrah reborn for any modern hedonist and psychopath in the world. A junkie died every minute, a kid every hour, and nobody ever shed a tear or batted an eye, just stepped over the body and went on their way, keeping their heads down so they wouldn't be next.

"You know, Mister Zero… if the Emperor finds out that I'm doing business in this city without permission, and with another gang to boot..." Lips quirked around a menthol cigarette, and the man raised an eyebrow in a silent, tell-all expression. Behind the gray-haired man was a large moving truck, the words 'I-Haul' emblazoned on the front.

Lelouch scowled behind his mask. "We agreed on the price ahead of time, Costigan. And you asked us to meet you here."

Next to him, Kouzuki Kallen tensed, and the others subtly reached for their hidden weapons.

Costigan grinned, holding his hands up defensively, his right holding the still burning menthol. "Well, at that time the Emperor didn't whack Johnny 'Longhands' for daring to peddle his wares on 24h street to the Russians. Man's gotta be sure things are worth risking his neck out here- and who else are you gonna get to give you automatic weapons down here in the Devil's haunt?"

"We're not stupid like the Ivans," Kallen growled, fists tightening into a ball. Though her frame was slender, it was by no means slight, and Lelouch had personally seen her break a grown man's arm like a twig.

"You know our reputation- my reputation," Lelouch finished, holding his hand up to silence Kallen from speaking out of turn. "And I know yours, Costigan."

"True enough, you Black Knights have made a name for yourselves so far as smart and ruthless bastards," Costigan nodded along, tossing the cigarette down onto the ground and stomping on it with the heel of a polished loafer."Tell you what, if you add another ten thousand, I'll even throw in the truck as an extra payment, to give us both peace of mind."

Lelouch had already figured that it would come to this- and ten thousand was still under what he had envisioned being added on to the original price. The reputation of the Black Knights was already worth something.

"Deal," Lelouch said calmly, extending a hand out, which Costigan took firmly. "You can keep the truck though."

In case the truck was hot and Costigan was trying to pull some heat off of himself, Lelouch figured it was better to just pay extra and not add any other complications to the deal.

At a nod from Lelouch, Kallen, Ougi, and Minami walked past Costigan and inspected the truck, giving Lelouch a firm nod in reply when they were satisfied with its condition.

"Good doing business with you," Costigan said cheerily, and jaunted off down the street, where a nondescript white sedan pulled up and opened its doors up for him to get into the passenger seat.

"That guy is scum," Kallen muttered, moving back to his side as she always tended to do these days.

"Scum who provides us with weapons and wares we need to keep our streets safe and us flush with enough cash to keep our operation running. The Devil's Playground doesn't leave us with a whole lot of options for getting weapons, Kouzuki, and we need those guns to keep our people safe," Lelouch answered back coolly, his steely tone intended to remind her who was ultimately responsible for their group's decisions.

Before they could continue their conversation, a shout interrupted them, and a man in a plain black t-shirt and slacks ran up to them, waving frantically.

"Oi! Zero!" The short-haired man caught up to them and leaned over, hands on his knees, panting heavily. "We found him! Yoshida and Inoue have him at warehouse three!"

"Good work Tamaki," Lelouch congratulated him coolly. "Take me to him now. Ougi, you're in charge of getting this shipment to the safehouse. I'm taking Tamaki and Kouzuki."

Turning on his heel, Lelouch walked on towards a waiting car, flanked by Tamaki and Kallen, with Tamaki taking the wheel and Kallen getting in the front passenger seat, checking her pistol as she got herself seated. Lelouch himself was seated in the back content to look out the window and out into the city.

His city.

At least this part of it- he saw men and women wearing the distinctive colors and armbands of the Black Knights moving around the streets. No cops were brave or stupid enough to come to the Devil's Playground, so it was up to his crew to keep the people here safe.

"Things have gotten better since you came, Zero," Kallen said quietly, noting how his head was tilted to look out the window. "These streets are ours again. No shit cops or fucking Brittanians coming around to take our turf from us."

"We've got a lot more work ahead of us," Lelouch said simply, without looking at her. "The Brittanians are too busy fighting the cops and the Europeans to care what we do here, but when we expand… things will get bloody fast."

"As long as we've got you Zero, buddy, I ain't fuckin' worried!" Tamaki chimed in happily, grinning widely.

Lelouch said nothing at that- the reputation he had carved for himself so far as Zero was a man who was cold as ice, mercilessly resolute and utterly driven. Compliments were to be shrugged off like water, insults repaid with proof of ability, and injury with swift and brutal retribution.

And speaking of retribution…

The car pulled to a stop, and Tamaki and Kallen both exited. Tamaki went straight towards the warehouse, but Kallen made a slow, steady glance around the area before nodding back towards the car and Lelouch.

Lelouch stepped out of the car after receiving an all clear from Kallen- though the Black Knights had taken hold of this neighborhood, it never hurt to be prepared.

Tamaki held the door open as Kallen and then Lelouch walked into the dimly lit warehouse. A long-haired young man who looked more like a guitarist than a gangster was leaning against the far wall, watching the door, hands gripping an automatic pistol.

"Yoshida," Lelouch greeted first- he made a point to know everyone's name when they joined the Black Knights. Soldiers respected a leader who at least pretended to give a damn about them. He glanced around a little more and spotted the other member of the knights standing guard over a portly man bound tightly with electrical tape to a chair. "Inoue."

Inoue inclined her head just low enough to be respectful. A fairly pretty woman in her late twenties, she had avoided being sucked into the usual professions for a girl in this neighborhood by being tough as nails, ready to break someone's nose or arm over the smallest slight- even towards him she had a terse demeanor.

Lelouch turned his gaze towards the third occupant of the warehouse, the fat man in the chair.

"Bartley Asprius," he said slowly, his tone clipped and razor-edged as his heels clacked audibly against the concrete floor. "Did you really think I wouldn't find you?'

The balding, dark-skinned man began to sweat visibly, shaking in the chair as he struggled to pull himself free. His attempts at speaking were muffled by the dirty rag that had been stuffed and bound to his mouth roughly.

"You know my rules for this neighborhood," Lelouch continued icily, coming to a halt just in front of the chair, letting Bartley stare at the mirrored surface of his mask with a dramatic pause. "No dealing to children, and no killing women. I made that clear when I took over, when I killed Wong and his crew- no one is to touch them. But you thought you could get around that."

He nodded once to Kallen, who ripped the gag off roughly.

"I-I don't work for you!" Bartley spat hurriedly, frantically. "You can't do this, I work for the La Brittania branch."

"I don't care if you work for Clovis La Brittania or God himself," Lelouch uttered coldly, removing the holstered pistol from within the confines of his cloak and placing it between Bartley's eyes. "You deal in my neighborhood, you deal by my rules. You can sell heroin or Refrain or whatever else you like, as long as you don't break those rules."

He flicked a glance at Yoshida. "Did you find his supply?"

"Yes boss," Yoshida answered, straightening unconsciously. "Found a whole basement filled with crank and blow- we won't need a resupply for at least two months with this fucker's wares."

That's much more than I thought he'd have on him, Lelouch thought to himself, pleased. With the money that those drugs would bring in his plans could move forward faster.

"Y-you can't just steal from me! You think there won't be consequences for that!" Bartley shouted furiously, his dark shirt stained with more and more sweat. "That belongs to the Brittanians!"

"There won't be, because they're not going to know it was us," Lelouch responded confidently, having already arranged for everything ahead of time. "You think this pistol is registered to any of me and my men?"

Bartley's eyes widened- a man his age had played the game long enough to get what he was saying. Before he could say anything in reply, however, Lelouch had pushed the gun against the bridge of his nose again.

"Goodbye," Lelouch said simply, as if in prayer, and pulled the trigger.

As bits of brain and skull and blood splattered everywhere, Lelouch flipped the gun over and handed it to Kallen butt first. Delicately, she held up a plastic bag and enveloped the pistol, careful not to get any of her fingerprints on it.

"See that you get that planted within the next three hours. Tamaki, clean this up, prepare the body just like the Ivans do. Yoshida and Inoue, good work- you two can go home." Lelouch instructed calmly, turning on his heel and away from the man he had just murdered. "I'm done for the night."

If he hurried home he could see her before his shift started-

A black sedan with tinted windows, the picture of purposefully non-descriptive, pulled up on the street corner, just out of sight from his men at the warehouse.

Lelouch sighed, and without prompt, walked around the car and opened the passenger door, sliding inside without ceremony, not even looking at the driver.

"That's pretty childish," the driver said dryly, pulling the car down the street and out towards the main roads.

"I don't remember calling you to ask for a ride," Lelouch responded tiredly, removing his mask and pulling down the felt mouth cover. "Just take me home, C.C. My shift starts in six hours and I'd like to sleep for at least one of those."

'C.C.', as she had introduced herself to him at the start of all this, smiled wickedly, dressed in a sharp business suit and knee-length skirt, her long hair draped over her shoulders.

"Killing tiring you out?" C.C. questioned, chuckling as she pulled into a parking garage. "I thought running guns and drugs was easy for a man like you?"

"We've got a new guy assigned to my unit. I need to be alert enough to guide the newbie into helping me set up the case," Lelouch responded tartly, removing the cape from around his shoulders as well.

The car came to a stop, and she turned towards him, smile widening, her hand coming to rest on his inner thigh, squeezing just once, sending a shiver down his spine.

"Are you serious?" Lelouch said incredulously, raising his eyebrow.

C.C. pouted, though she did not remove her hand from his leg, instead using her other hand to open up the glove compartment and passing over a manila folder inside.

"Here's what you asked for- all the files the FBI has on Clovis La Brittania's operation. I assume this means you're going to move in on him soon?" C.C. asked.

Lelouch opened the folder, looking over a collage of pictures and text reports with a keen eye. "I killed Bartley Asprius tonight. We're going to pin the murder on Viktor Chekov, one of the Russian enforcers in this neighborhood, who has a known beef with Clovis. A fight with the Russians will sap Clovis' operation and let us move on him freely."

C.C.'s lips quirked upwards and she leaned in towards him, practically draping herself over his shoulder. "Lovely. Just remember that I'm not backing you to start gang wars between small-time bosses." She leaned in close to his ear, her breath hot against his skin. "You know what I want."

"I know what you want," Lelouch said quietly, turning towards her, their noses practically touching, their breath mingling.

C.C. smirked. "You always do, don't you?" she murmured silkily, and pressed her lips against his in a hungry kiss, hand splayed against his chest, her other hand running up and down his thigh.

Lelouch gave in, threading one hand through her hair, the other resting on her hip. With a hungry growl, C.C. spun until she was straddling his legs, grinding against him with low moans, removing her suit jacket, pressing her chest against Lelouch's.

"You seem busy, so I guess we'll do this fast, hmm?" C.C. said breathily, one hand snaking down and unbuckling his belt, yanking down his boxers and freeing his growing arousal, shifting herself till her skirt-clad sex was position above him.

"You aren't wearing any underwear," Lelouch guessed huskily, pressing his lips against the creamy expanse of her neck.

"Smart boy," C.C. murmured, sinking down onto his erection with a satisfied sigh, eliciting a slight moan from Lelouch as her warm, wet heat enveloped him.

Unbidden, he rested his hands on her hips, gripping her buttocks tightly as he continued to leave a trail of kisses against her neck. As C.C. began to lifted her hips up and down with aggressive strokes, she pulled his face up towards him, practically forcing her tongue down his throat as she kissed him again- the first time she pulled a move like that he nearly gagged, but by now he had grown used to C.C.'s aggressive nature when she was horny, and adapted to it.

"That's it," C.C. murmured breathlessly against his lips, her velvety walls tightening and gripping him, "Just like that… mmm that's good…"

Lelouch for his part said nothing, too busy trying to keep up, his fingers digging into her firm ass as he tried to use his grip to keep C.C.'s relentless movements from overwhelming his senses.

However, eventually baser instincts took over, and soon enough Lelouch felt the familiar tightening in his lower body that signaled an impeding release.

Thankfully C.C. wasn't too hard to please- when his endurance gave out and he gasped "C-coming," into her ear, she tightened her walls around him and bit down on his neck to muffle her own screams, hard enough nearly to draw blood- Lelouch suspected she did these things on purpose to leave her mark on him, to remind him that much of his work as Zero lived and died at her whims.

As the last vestiges of white-hot pleasure drained from his system, Lelouch found his forehead resting against the softness of C.C.'s breasts, her lips pressed faintly against the top of his head- with how their bodies were so sensually intertwined, one could mistake this for a real relationship.

"Well, glad to see you still had some energy left," C.C. said dryly, a faint note of exhaustion in her voice as she lifted herself up from his lap, moving herself back over into the driver's seat, absently wiping off a bit of fluid from her thigh and licking it off her fingers. "I love my job."

"Do they teach a class for fucking your assets at Langley?" Lelouch retorted sourly, scowling as he pulled his pants back up, buckling his belt and smoothing out his pants self-consciously.

A smile played on C.C.'s lips, her expression languid, like a satisfied cat. "Who said I was C.I.A.?"

"You're definitely not local police, you're not ATF or DEA, and the FBI don't usually let people like me get their hands on files like this," Lelouch said, raising the manila folder she had given him up with a smirk.

C.C. smiled widely, pressing a kiss against his cheek. "Now, now, it's not nice to guess a woman's secrets. Let's just say I work for people who have a vested interest in our agenda."

Lelouch sighed. "I assume you've left me a car to take my way home in this garage."

"That's why I love working with you, Lelouch- I never have to explain things," C.C. responded sweetly, brushing her lips against his neck and nuzzling it. "Among other things."

"Right, well, whatever you are- I don't like to be toyed with. And I am not your personal fuck-toy," Lelouch growled, hand absently balling into a fist.

C.C. cupped his chin and forced him to look her in the eyes. "You're whatever I need you to be, Lulu," she said, using a nickname mockingly, her grip tightening till it was just shy of painful, "I made you Zero. I keep your operation running while you lead this intricate double life of yours. I protect you from the shadows- and if my protection stops, your life is over."

"My life is mine, and no one else's," Lelouch hissed, and without waiting for any more replies, he stepped out of the car and into another cold, brutal night in Paradise City.

00000

"I made a promise to my father's grave that I would end the corruption in this city the right way. No compromises, no loopholes- I would do it by the book all the way, or not at all."

"Shit, shit, shit," he cursed, hurrying out of the car and up the steps of the police station, the sign proudly displaying 'Paradise City Metro Police'. "I am so late."

His hands worked frantically to fix the tie that was hanging crookedly off his neck. The dress shirt he wore wasn't even ironed, and the brown, knee-length coat he wore hadn't been cleaned in at least a month.

He burst through the doors, nearly stumbling over himself as his feet hit the white ceramic tiles, making his way up to the receptionist's desk breathlessly.

"Can I help you?" asked the receptionist. She was a mousy, bespectacled girl with a thin, nervous voice, her police uniform almost obsessively neat and pressed.

"Uh… Detective Suzaku Kururugi, reporting for duty," he said, trying to force himself into a more sedate pace. "I've been assigned to the Major Crimes Unit."

"Ah… MCU? That's second floor, third door on the right. You'll want to talk to Captain Xing-ke first," she said quietly.

Suzaku offered her a friendly smile. "Thank you." When she didn't respond, he shrugged and turned away, making his way up the stairs and towards the MCU.

As soon as he stepped through the door, he was greeted to the sights and sounds of around a dozen men and women bustling around several desks.

"Um…" Suzaku glanced around, hoping to see something that would tell him where to find the Captain. Finally, after a minute of awkwardly standing around, a fairly pretty redhead in a standard female officer's uniform spotted him, smiled genially, and walked up to him holding a stack of papers clutched to her modest chest.

"Are you the new guy?" she asked, and before he responded, she added, "I'm Shirley. Shirley Fenette."

"I'm Suzaku Kururugi," Suzaku said in reply, smiling back, feeling refreshed at seeing a friendly face. "And yes, I'm the new guy."

"Well, glad to meet you Kururugi. The Captain's office is all the way at the back, to the left. He's expecting you," Shirley chirped, and then bustled off without another word, leaving Suzaku to make his way towards the Captain's office alone.

The office was fairly nondescript- a bookcase stood against the left wall, a liquor stand to the right, and an exquisite ink painting framed at the back. The desk itself was a rich mahogany, heavy looking and expensive.

"You're late, Detective."

Captain Li Xing-ke, as the desk's gold-plated name plate announced, was a tall, pale man with almost girlishly long dark hair and a keen gaze. He was dressed impeccably in a black suit, silk tie, white shirt, and black slacks. He did not get up, or offer his hand.

Suzaku bowed his head in apology. "I'm sorry Captain." Sensing that any excuses would be taken as weakness, he left it at that.

Xing-ke grunted, pulling up what Suzaku assumed was his CSV file onto his desk, eyes flicking from the paper to his face.

"You graduated with top honors- a highly recommended marksman and top scores in all your classes. But your first major assignment in Paradise City and you're late on your first day," Xing-ke said coolly, fixing him with a steely look. "Quite a paradox."

Suzaku straightened, keeping himself at the ready, not trusting himself to say anything.

"And I understand you actually asked to be assigned to MCU," Xing-ke continued, raising an eyebrow. "If you're looking to advance your career Homicide is always looking for detectives with qualifications like yours. MCU is not for someone looking to get a few more notches in their political belt. "

"This is where I want to be sir," Suzaku said firmly, meeting the questioning look with a resolved expression. He had already been told what the MCU was when he first applied.

Xing-ke smirked. "Kururugi… you're Genbu's son, aren't you?"

Suzaku's composure fractured, just for an instant, before he regained himself and straightened once again. "Yes."

"Tragic, what happened," Xing-ke said softly, eyeing him up, obviously trying to gauge his reaction. "You were what? Ten?"

"That's correct sir," Suzaku answered, dipping his head ever so slightly. Even now, fifteen years later, it was still not the easiest thing to be talking about, and Suzaku was careful to keep his face schooled into marked placidity.

"Hmm. Well, far be it for me to refuse help from someone like you, Kururugi," Xing-ke finally said, nodding back. "You won't be reporting to me directly- I've broken up MCU down into multiple smaller teams. You'll be assigned to Detective-"

Before he could finish, a tanned young man burst into the room, looking frantic. "Oi! Captain! Call's come in- we found a body dumped on Thirty Seventh and Oak. Looks like one of La Brittania's men- I think it's one of the other gangs sending out a message."

"Thank you, Cardemonde," Xing-ke said quickly, rising out of his desk. "I want you to take Kururugi here with you- he's been assigned to your unit from here on in."

The young man grinned cheerily and thrust out a hand. "Rivalz Cardemonde. Glad to meet you Detective."

"Good to meet you too," Suzaku replied, returning a firm handshake. "Are you the Detective in charge of the unit?"

"Oh no, I'm not the boss," Rivalz said, laughing incredulously. "I'm just Officer Rivalz Cardemonde."

"Speaking of whom," Xing-ke intruded, drawing both of the younger men's gazes back to him, "He still hasn't checked in, has he Cardemonde?"

"Actually he just called me, sir. Said he'd just meet us there since he was on Cicero Avenue checking in on an informant," Rivalz answered quickly.

"Then get to it," Xing-ke ordered briskly, settling back down behind his desk. "I'd like a report on the whole thing by the end of the shift."

As they exited the office, Rivalz leaned over to Suzaku and whispered conspiratorially, "The Captain gets a mad-on whenever we get anything on the Brittanians. It's the white whale of MCU."

"I can see why," Suzaku said in reply. "I grew up around here, actually."

"Huh. Well, I'm surprised you came back to this shithole," Rivalz muttered, and waved out towards the redhead Suzaku had spoken to before. "Oi, Shirley! We're moving out- boss is gonna meet us at the crime scene."

"Alright!" Shirley responded, sounding slightly annoyed at being called out to in the middle of the station. As she made her way towards them, however, her smile returned as she spotted Suzaku. "Oh, hey again!"

"Long time no see," Suzaku joked, smiling back again.

"You've been assigned to our unit, huh?" Shirley's smile widened. "That's good- we could always use more help."

"I'll do whatever I can," Suzaku replied warmly.

The three of them made their way out of the MCU offices and down towards the car pool, chatting about all the basic pieces of information people tended to talk about upon first meeting each other.

Shirley, Suzaku found out, was also a local to Paradise City, though she grew up east of Waterside at one of the nicer middle-class neighborhoods- when he asked why a nice middle class girl enrolled herself at the police Academy, Shirley blushed and muttered that her father had served on the force for twenty years before retirement, leaving Suzaku to guess that Shirley was a Daddy's girl who had grown up wanting to be exactly like him.

Rivalz meanwhile had grown up in a rather bad part of Chicago, the kind of place that breeds either cops or criminals, and had been transferred here six months ago. Though he seemed way too laid back to be a cop, Suzaku had seen Rivalz's type before- guys who grew up in tough neighborhoods and survived by fast talking their way out of trouble, and who possessed an ability to deal with the criminal element by thinking and acting like them. He was probably the one who dealt with most of the informants and did any kind of short-term undercover work for the unit.

As they got down into the garage, Rivalz settled into the driver's seat- Suzaku offered the front passenger's seat to Shirley, but she turned it down, saying that Suzaku, as the actual ranking officer amongst them, should be up front.

The drive down the streets of Paradise City was a depressing flashback to the past, magnified by the ugliness of the present. Nothing had changed while he was away those fifteen years, and it made the bleakness of the cityscape just that more saddening.

"Have you heard anything about these 'Black Knights'?" Suzaku questioned, glancing back towards Rivalz and Shirley. "I've been keeping up with the local news and that name keeps coming up."

"Yeah, they're a new gang that's been taking over the Devil's Playground. Pretty fierce and driven- they say their leader wears a mask and calls himself 'Zero'," Rivalz chortled, sounding incredulous. "I dunno about all that, but I know they've driven out almost all the other gangs that were forced into that neighborhood by the Brittanians."

"I've heard they have rules- no hurting women or children," Shirley added. "Our informants say they've taken over the majority of the gun runners and drug dealers operating in that area."

"And the Brittanians have just let this new gang rise this far?" Suzaku said skeptically.

"Their war with the European gangs has been escalating lately," Shirley explained, "It seems like the majority of their focus is on that right now. The Devil's Playground was never really something they wanted to take control of anyway."

Suzaku could understand that sentiment easily. Even when he was a kid the Devil's Playground was nothing short of hell on earth- it made the rest of Paradise City seem like the safest of havens by comparison.

"We're here," Rivalz interjected, his tone suddenly business-like as he pulled to a stop around an in-progress crime scene. The patrol officers had already set up a perimeter of yellow caution tape around the area, standing around nervously as they waited for the reinforcements to arrive. A lone police cameraman meandered through the scene, the bulb of the flash going off every minute or so.

The neighborhood was the kind of place that when people saw sirens and cops and yellow tape they didn't poke their heads out from their doors in curiosity- they double locked them and peered out from barred window shades. Not a single one of them was likely to come forward to talk

"So who was the poor bastard who got shot?" Suzaku asked, hands thrust in his pockets as he stepped out of the car.

"Bartley Asprius. A low level dealer for Clovis La Brittania," Shirley replied, slamming her door shut as she approached the yellow tape, giving a friendly nod to one of the patrol officer's nearby. "He was one of the foot soldiers- not even a connected man, but still a member of the outfit. Killing him is going to have serious repercussions."

"That's one less scumbag in the world, I'd say," Rivalz muttered, more to himself obviously than anyone else as he too crossed the yellow tape.

"That's a sentiment anyone can agree with, Cardemonde," came a warm, cultured voice and a chuckle.

Suzaku turned his head to meet the bemused amethyst eyes of a young man around his own age. Dressed smartly in a dark blue trenchcoat and black suit, gray slacks, and red tie, the dark haired man seemed more like a Fed than a cop with that confident, all-knowing air about him, but the shield displayed prominently over his left breast made it clear who he was.

"I assume you're the new detective, Kururugi Suzaku," he said confidently, holding out one hand, the other holding up a steaming cup of coffee. "I'm Detective Lelouch Lamperouge. I'm in charge of our unit within MCU."

Suzaku took the hand and offered him a shake. "A pleasure, sir." Though they had the same rank, Suzaku figured that the other detective's seniority and position as leader of the team afforded him that courtesy.

"Right well, since you came here with these two I assume I don't have to introduce you to the rest of our little team. This is a small unit, but it's mine, and we're the best in the department," Lelouch continued, and Suzaku took note of the possessive way he claimed ownership of the team- in Lelouch Lamperouge's mind they all belonged to him, and addressing him respectfully was apparently the correct way to deal with him. "When you were transferred over I requested you for my unit specifically."

At that, Suzaku was startled. That simple statement had revealed a number of key facts. First and foremost, that Lelouch Lamperouge had read his file. Secondly, that he had liked what he had seen. But what was most important was the fact that he had made that kind of request for personnel and been given it- Suzaku assumed now that Lelouch Lamperouge held a great deal of sway in the MCU to be able to grab personnel like that.

"Thank you for that sir," Suzaku said gratefully. "I'll try to do whatever I can to help."

"You're a worker. You rise fast," Lelouch said in reply, turning on his heel. "I need people like you."

As Lelouch walked on towards the actual crime scene, Suzaku found himself following without being compelled to. Shirley and Rivalz also followed as if it were natural as breathing- the air of command that the Detective possessed was quite astounding, really.

"Before I say anything about this," Lelouch began slowly, without looking back, "I'd like you, Detective Kururugi, to give me your analysis of the crime scene."

Suzaku blinked, put off balance by the sudden order to investigate. He briefly flicked a glance at Rivalz and Shirley, who didn't look at all surprised that their leader had given over the reins of the initial investigation to the newcomer.

Holding back a sigh, Suzaku stepped past Lelouch, surveying the scene with a steady eye. He took it all in with a glance- the dirty walls of the alley emblazoned with endless patterns of graffiti, the black asphalt covered in a sea of rubbish and human excrement, and of course, the body.

It had already been a few hours since the body had been placed here- it had started to smell already, probably from the bowels emptying post-mortem, Suzaku guessed.

"Can I have a pair of gloves?" Suzaku requested, without looking back. There was a shuffling behind him, and Shirley handed him a pair of disposable plastic gloves, which he took with a grateful nod.

After pulling them on, Suzaku knelt over the body, shifting the head slightly so he could get a better look at the wound. Gingerly, he lifted the head up to examine the ground beneath, and frowned when his suspicions were confirmed.

"He wasn't killed here," Suzaku said softly. "No blood patterns, no bullet holes around here that match the wound."

"A fairly obvious observation," Lelouch responded dismissively, raising an eyebrow. "I heard you were good, Kururugi."

Suzaku ignored the jibe, lost in his own train of thought. "One shot between the eyes. From the burns, it was done at point blank range, which means..." He pulled back the sleeves on Bartley's body and nodded, also checking underneath the shirt as well. "That the victim was tied up. He struggled, considering the slight rope burns on his wrists and forearms… and he probably had to be beaten to be captured, judging from the bruises on his ribs."

"Getting better," Lelouch commented, though his tone was markedly reserved.

"We should get forensics down here soon to see if the ones who moved the body left any traces- hair, fingerprints, anything like that," Suzaku continued, as if he hadn't spoken. He turned over the right hand, and found the rough image of a cross carved into the palm with a knife.

After studying it for a few moments, he straightened up with a grunt. With slow, measured grace, he removed the gloves and pocketed them.

"Is that it?" Lelouch asked expectantly, crossing his arms with a slightly disappointed frown.

"No, it's not," Suzaku responded coolly, glancing at him with an impassive expression. "This kind of execution style, coupled with the image of a cross carved into the right hand, barbarized from Eastern Orthodox practices, means that this was styled in the manner of hits favored by the Russian Mafiya. Being dumped here, just within the borders of known Brittanian territory, means it's a message from the Russians to the Brittanian family."

Lelouch stared back for a few moments, before he finally dipped his head, just once, in acknowledgement. "You've got a good eye. That was my analysis as well," Lelouch replied, clapping Suzaku on the shoulder lightly, "Which means we should be looking in on any Russians with a known grudge against Mister Asprius here. Rivalz, take Shirley and shake down our Judas's in this neighborhood, maybe they saw something. I'll take Kururugi down to the Pink Parlor to see if the girls know anything-"

"Actually sir," Suzaku interrupted, feeling a bit on edge, "I said it was styled like a Russian hit, but that doesn't make any sense. Why kill a low-level dealer like Asprius with such a powerful message? Seems like overkill."

Shirley and Rivalz both blinked and looked contemplative from his words, considering his question, but Lelouch simply looked annoyed, turning towards him with narrowed eyes.

"What are you saying, Detective?" Lelouch asked, his tone oddly chilly.

"It could be a setup. Someone trying to make it look like the Russians killed Asprius," Suzaku explained quickly, feeling slightly ridiculous with Lelouch's cold gaze on him.

And indeed, Lelouch only laughed at his explanation, and scoffed, "This is the real world, Kururugi, and we don't have the kind of luxury of time to be chasing ghosts and conspiracies. The department doesn't have the resources to pursue alternate theories based on one detective's gut instinct when the evidence is pointing the opposite way."

Suzaku tried to keep his expression civil as he met Lelouch's derisive gaze. Their eyes locked, and for an instant, Suzaku felt as though Lelouch would like nothing more than to kill him right where he stood.

Then it was gone, leaving only the palpable tension of one man contradicting his superior officer. Finally, Suzaku broke the gaze reluctantly- even if his gut was telling him this didn't feel right, Detective Lamperouge was still his superior, and his vow reminded him that rules and order were set for a reason.

Something of Suzaku's irritation and disappointment must have shown on his face, because Lelouch stepped closer to him, his expression softening ever so slightly. "I'm sorry, Detective. But in Paradise City we have to go with what we can prove, not what we believe. Do you understand that?"

Suzaku held his silence for a few moments, before he finally nodded begrudgingly. "Yes sir. I understand."

Lelouch clapped him on the shoulder again and smiled. "I think you'll do just fine here at MCU, Detective."

"Thank you sir," Suzaku said quietly.

Looking back at the corpse splayed out in the street, a grim reminder of exactly how cheap life was on the streets of this damned city, however, Suzaku had the darkest suspicion that coming back to Paradise City was perhaps the worst decision of his life.

Author's Notes

Another side project from me- just wanted to get it out of my head so I could get back to work on I Heard The World. Paradise City is obviously fictional, but is set somewhere in America. Who cares where.