"How about a game of chess? If I win, I want you to hand over Sir Kururugi. I plan to give him to the Lady Kaguya."
"Uwah! That would be the most wonderful present!"
"Then, if I win, I'll have you take off that mask. Is that fair?"
"Very well. This should be fairly entertaining."
It wasn't ideal. The game was in a separate room from the Chinese dignitaries and Odysseus, filled with Britannians and knights and the only person Lelouch had on his side was Kallen. He had to trust in Schneizel's sense of honour.
It was nothing close to ideal, but at least the game was interesting.
"He led with the king?" Gasps met Lelouch's move. Lelouch mentally scoffed at their shock. He was used to that reaction by now.
"If the king doesn't lead, how can he expect his subordinates to follow?"
Schneizel just smiled. "How deep. Well, then…" And Schneizel moved his own king, a psychological rather than tactical manoeuvre, and in only a few more moves, Lelouch had him trapped.
"The game can't advance any further."
Schneizel nodded in agreement. "At this point, it will turn into a threefold repetition."
Lelouch scowled behind his mask. "This wasn't my goal, but shall we leave it at a draw, then?"
Schneizel smiled. "No. Don't underestimate the white king." He moved his own king into check by both Lelouch's king and pawn, placing Lelouch's king into what was technically also check.
"What are you doing?" Lelouch asked. "Handing over victory?"
Schneizel didn't answer, watching the board with a mildly curious expression. Lelouch wavered – taking Schneizel's invitation would be playing into his hands, but retreating…
Suzaku, standing a few feet behind Schneizel, shifted and Lelouch made his decision.
He took the king with his black pawn.
"Hoh?" Schneizel said, looking only slightly interested. "I would have expected you to use the king."
"It's a paltry, honourless victory," Lelouch pointed out. "But we weren't simply playing a game, Your Highness. We were playing for the life of one of your subordinates. I'm a little disappointed that you'd throw him away so easily. I'd rather sacrifice a small amount of pride than any of my soldiers."
"Zero…" Kallen breathed. It was nice to hear.
"Kallen, please escort Sir Kururugi to the ship. Take the Lady Kaguya with you, as well, if you will. I'm sure they have a lot to catch up on."
Suzaku went without a fight, which was a pleasant surprise. The blond knight at his side made a movement towards his sword, but refrained from drawing it, his eyes flashing from Suzaku to Schneizel to Zero.
Lelouch sat back, watching as Kallen gathered Kaguya who bounded cheerfully by Suzaku's side, doubtless chattering the whole way to the transport.
"I believe you were here as Lady Kaguya's guest," Schneizel said. "Now that she's gone, you're here uninvited." A gesture and three of the soldiers on the periphery drew their weapons and pointed them at Lelouch. "It's perhaps unsporting of me to do this, but I'll take my prize despite my loss, if you don't mind."
Lelouch stood with a flourish, careful to face away from any cameras. "I would be more than happy to comply, Your Highness." He removed his mask and Schneizel's secretary gasped. Schneizel's eyes widened slightly, but he didn't react in any other way. Lelouch smiled.
"And now I have a request, for everyone present." Lelouch smiled wickedly, assuring himself that he had everyone's attention before activating his geass.
"He's going to geass everyone!" Suzaku shouted suddenly a few minutes after the transport pulled away from the festival hall.
"Of course he is. What did you think the plan was?" Kallen snapped at him.
Kaguya looked at them both, her chatter momentarily silenced by Suzaku's outburst. "What?"
Kallen shrugged. "When it comes to Zero, Suzaku's a little insane. I just plan to agree with whatever he says and shoot him if he's too much trouble."
"Kaguya, you don't know…" Suzaku leaned forward and Kallen placed her hand on her pistol. "He's not human! He has this power that makes people do whatever he says, whether they want to or not. He's evil."
"Insa~ane." Kallen sing-songed, smirking at Suzaku's glare.
Kaguya laughed. "You were never this much fun as a kid, Suzaku."
Suzaku turned his attention back to his cousin. "Think about it, Kaguya. He just sent you and Kallen away and left himself alone, surrounded by enemies. What kind of tactical decision is that? Isn't he supposed to be some sort of genius?"
"He is a genius," Kallen pointed out. "You know that as well as anyone."
"He's a strategic genius," Kaguya clarified. "And sometimes a good strategy looks like bad tactics. I trust he'll be safe."
"That's not the problem," Suzaku muttered. "It's everyone else I'm worried about."
Kallen unholstered her weapon. "Well, stop worrying. Schneizel gave you up and you're our prisoner now. It's not up to you to stop Zero."
"It's always up to me," Suzaku said, his eyes lighting up with the mania of the obsessed. "No one else knows what he is."
"I do," Kallen promised him, pointing her gun at Suzaku's forehead. "And I'll do anything to protect him." She gave a small smile. "No matter who he is."
Suzaku waited for his hated geass to activate. Kallen kept the gun level and well-aimed, but didn't make a move towards firing it as long as Suzaku didn't try to escape or attack. His geass was useless.
"Tell us a little about yourself," Kaguya invited him. "What happened after the last time I saw you?"
"I killed my father, enlisted with the Britannian army, watched my princess get shot, betrayed my friend for a spot on the Rounds, and got kidnapped by you." Suzaku's voice was a monotonous drone as he listed off every 'accomplishment'.
Kaguya leaned forward. "Yes, that's all very well and good, but do you have a girlfriend?"
When Zero finally returned, he was flanked by Schneizel's secretary and the blond Knight of Rounds. He waved down the guns his Black Knights reflexively aimed at the perceived enemies and immediately asked after Suzaku.
"The Lady Kaguya ordered him to one of the guest rooms," One of the Knights explained. "He's under heavy guard, Zero, but…"
"I understand." Zero waved the blond knight forward. "Weinberg, watch over your former colleague, please."
"Yes, Zero." The knight bowed and marched off. The secretary took his place by Zero's side and handed him a clipboard.
Zero looked it over. "It looks reasonable, Kanon. Once we get the Rounds's Knightmares here, we'll implement it. For now, I'll introduce you to Ougi Kaname. You'll be liaising closely with him."
They marched off, leaving confused comrades behind them.
Suzaku paced the room, trying not to look at the deep brown kimono Kaguya had asked him to change into. He'd refused, first politely, then vehemently, then angrily. It didn't seem to matter to Kaguya, she just looked at him with big bright eyes and asked again. It had taken him threatening to tear it apart to get her to leave it alone, chirping that she'd be back later with more flattering clothes.
At least he wasn't tied up. There were four guards flanking the door and at least seven at either end of the corridor, but Suzaku was pretty sure he could get though them if he could get out of this room. The only limitation was doing all that without being noticed.
The door opened and Gino walked in. Suzaku had never been so glad to see him in his life. "Gino! How did you…"
"Suzaku!" Gino looked equally happy, throwing his arm over Suzaku's shoulder. "You are such a pain! Honestly…"
Suzaku squirmed out of Gino's hold. "I know. Sorry, I'll make it up to you later. For now, we have to get out of here."
"Ooh… that's not gonna happen so much." Gino pursed his lips in disagreement.
Suzaku stared. "What?"
"Orders are for you to stay here," Gino explained pleasantly. "If you need something, just ask. Hey, is this one of those kee-mono things?"
"Don't touch that," Suzaku snapped. "…he got to you, didn't he?"
"My orders are from Prince Schneizel," Gino said, and Suzaku felt a flare of hope that perhaps he was still untainted. "…and Zero, of course." And that hope died as Suzaku noticed the light red rims around Gino's irises.
"Then you're my enemy." Suzaku sighed heavily.
Gino smiled and clasped Suzaku's shoulder. "Don't have to be. I have a message for you, from Zero." He cleared his throat and lowered his voice to a reasonable approximation of Lelouch's deeper tones. "'It's over, Suzaku. You've lost. Even if you escape, there's nowhere for you to run to. Japan will be liberated within the week and Britannia will fall within the month.'" Gino grinned brilliantly as he pronounced this. "So you can stop being all fighty and growly all the time. Loosen up!"
Suzaku looked into Gino's bright, cheerful face, and felt nearly nauseous with guilt. If he hadn't left, Lelouch would never have been able to use his geass. He should have fought, or something…
…but was it even his place to do so? A smarmy internal voice asked rhetorically. After all, he'd been given away by a prince; who was he to countermand such an order?
Suzaku ignored that voice. Schneizel couldn't be held at fault – he didn't know what Zero was. Well, Suzaku clarified, he probably did now that he was probably a victim of Lelouch's geass. What had he ordered the prince to do? Was it as vague as his order to Suzaku (live), or as specific as his order to Euphemia? Was it, perhaps, even dormant, waiting for a trigger to set it off…
…was Schneizel a sleeper assassin now? Was the Emperor in danger? And why didn't Suzaku care, at all?
Why was his guilt almost completely focused on the bright boy in front of him, following the order of a terrorist and fallen prince? Why did it take Gino, cheerfully doing the opposite of what he normally would, to make Suzaku realize that, not only was this situation nearly hopeless, it was all his fault?
"I'm sorry, Gino."
"It's okay!" Gino assured him. "It'll take some getting used to, but it'll be okay. You'll see. It's already getting better; Anya's escorting Prince Odysseus back to Britannia instead of having him marry that little girl. That was creepy, if you don't mind me saying… Oh, and that redhead's still here somewhere! Zero promised to introduce me to her." He beamed at Suzaku. "How's my hair?"
"Blond," Suzaku said, smiling wryly. Even geassed, Gino would always be Gino. "Hey Gino, can you give Zero a message from me?"
Gino looked up from his hair. "Sure. It might take some time, he's a busy guy, but I'll see it gets to him."
"Thanks." Suzaku smiled. "Tell him that it doesn't matter what he does, what good comes of his actions, it doesn't change the past and I'll always remember."
Gino nodded, looking briefly sad. "So you're not gonna loosen up, huh?"
"I'm sorry." Suzaku resorted to apologies, for lack of anything else to say. Gino was a pilot, not a hand-to-hand fighter, and Suzaku had him knocked out in twenty seconds and near silence.
Gino even had a key card. Suzaku briefly reflected that Lelouch was slipping as he unlocked the door and knocked out two of the guards before even leaving the room, finishing off the other two within seconds and dragging them back into the room to change into one of their clothes.
"Kururugi has escaped from his room."
"Took him long enough." Zero sighed. "Let him get to the hanger and point B before apprehending him. Snatching defeat from the jaws of victory is one of his specialities, and I'd hate to see him break pattern."
Suzaku was armed and dressed in a proper military outfit rather than the pompous Knight of Seven costume, but he still felt uncomfortable in the loose black clothing, like it was leeching something from him to even be wearing the uniform of his enemy.
Still, it had managed to get him this far without needing to resort to killing anyone. He'd gotten lost a few times, but two helpful soldiers pointed out the way to the hanger cheerfully when he asked. Suzaku snorted; were there so many new Black Knights that they didn't recognize each other? Just another one of Lelouch's screw-ups, as far as Suzaku was concerned.
Gino's key activated the lift without the need for a code. Suzaku pocketed the card in one of the outfit's many pockets and put the helmet on. He was too close to take any chances now, and having to fight in a crowded, populated area was too big a chance to take.
He stepped off and walked casually past numerous excited Japanese. Apparently something was about to happen. Suzaku figured he could escape under the confusion of the preparation, or during the event itself.
He looked longingly at the Knightmares, wishing he had a key and code number. But those weren't just left lying around…
"Hey, you a pilot?"
Suzaku could recognize a tech when he saw one. The white coat gave it away, although the ample cleavage revealed under it made it look like a stripper's costume. "I… yeah. You need something?" He asked.
The tech tossed him a key. "We need the Burais moved together. The code for the one on the left is 3C6B3F7D." She waved a second key in the air. "Once you're done, come back for this one."
Suzaku blinked one at her. "You… wha… yes, ma'am." He clutched the key and fought back a grin. Luck had never been on his side to this degree since the first time he'd been handed a Knightmare key.
The tech grinned and winked at him before sauntering off. "Zero's orders, of course."
…of course. Not that it mattered. It might not be the Lancelot, but any Knightmare was better than none.
Getting into the Burai was as awkward as wearing the Black Knight's uniform. Everything felt and fit wrong. There was even an ejection seat, for heaven's sake!
The key fit perfectly and the code activated the Knightmare, rousing it from its dormant state. Another thing out of place; the Japanese instructions. Not that Suzaku had a problem understanding them, just that it seemed wrong…
…his instincts were screaming at him now. They'd been agitated since he strolled into the hanger, but they couldn't be ignored any longer. He was in enemy territory, in a small, enclosed space, surrounded by people who wanted him captured or dead, and his instincts were screaming that this whole situation was wrong.
Too late now. He powered up the Burai and decided to at least act at first like he was going to follow instructions. He moved towards the other Knightmares, double checking to make sure he wasn't in the way of anyone.
There was no one there. No movement in the entire hanger.
"Q1, at your leisure."
"This is sick."
Lelouch laughed, and Kallen shuddered at the cruel edge to it. "Can you think of another scenario that would convince Kaguya that Suzaku needs to be locked away behind bars?"
Honestly, Kallen could. She could think of a few, which meant that Lelouch could probably think up dozens. And that just proved how completely unnecessary this was.
Nevertheless, orders were orders.
"Guren Kashoushiki launching."
The lumbering Burai was almost pitiful-looking. Kallen made a face at it before activating her speakers. "Kururugi, we know you're in there. Surrender."
The pause that followed her announcement could have been for several reasons. Perhaps Suzaku had been surprised and was gathering his wits. Perhaps he was plotting, the way Lelouch tended to. Perhaps he was simply panicking that they'd figured him out so quickly.
In reality, he was trying to find the speakers. He'd really only been trained on the Lancelot. Foreign Knightmares were a learning experience.
"Kallen, I don't want to fight. But I won't passively remain Zero's prisoner."
Kallen bit back a curse. She dearly wanted to snap back that he was playing into Lelouch's hands, that there wasn't a move he'd made that Lelouch hadn't anticipated and accounted for. But orders were orders. "Power down that Burai and get out." She hesitated, then went off-script. "Suzaku, you're not going to succeed. Not in that machine."
"I've heard that before," Suzaku said grimly. "And I've beaten those odds."
Kallen felt like an idiot for showing even a moment of compassion to such a moron. The Burai squared off and Kallen rolled her eyes. Suzaku was a decent opponent in the Lancelot, but he'd be nothing in that mass-produced Knightmare. Not that it was going to come to that anyway…
Before he could move, the Burai straightened up and held its hands passively at its sides. Kallen moved the Guren closer. "Zero, do you have full control?"
"Unless he can hack my passwords," Lelouch said easily. The Burai's left arm suddenly shot up and Lelouch laughed. "Oops! I bet that one hurt his pride."
"…you are having far too much fun." The words were out before Kallen could stop them.
"You know, that's what C.C. just said," Lelouch mentioned. "You two should maybe stop hanging around each other so much."
Kallen shuddered. "That's one order I won't mind following. Can I approach?"
"You may. Watch the right arm; that password is something Suzaku might be able to work out as well if he's willing to admit his faults." Lelouch sounded almost viciously amused.
Kallen swallowed any further comments on Lelouch's enjoyment of this sadistic game. Her orders were simple; to isolate and guard the Burai and prevent Suzaku from escaping. The Black Knights didn't have parts and Knightmares lying around to the extent that Lelouch would have risked even a Burai being damaged for no good reason, but he'd wanted Suzaku to get as close to freedom as he could before pulling him back. Like a cat playing with a mouse, but Kallen had seen Suzaku at his coldest… he wasn't a mouse and Lelouch's taunts could easily awaken Suzaku's own cruelty.
From what Kallen had seen, it was a toss up which could be scarier. Overall, they seemed to bring the worst out in each other.
The Burai's right arm groped around for a non-existent sword for a good ten seconds before Lelouch regained control of that limb. Kallen would bet that he was laughing. Against her better judgement, she tried again.
"Suzaku, it would be easier on everyone if you just came out."
"I don't have any incentive to make it easy on you." Suzaku tried desperately to regain some kind of control.
"Also, he's trapped in there until I release him," Lelouch mentioned over Kallen's private line. "Not that he's tried to escape."
"How are you going to force him out?" Kallen asked curiously.
"Feminine wiles." Lelouch's voice sounded intolerably smug.
"You certainly like to use people," C.C. said placidly. "But I'm not the type to be used."
"It's payback," Lelouch said, trailing his fingers over Zero's mask in his lap. "For making me dress like an exotic dancer and tolerate that Chinese pig's lusty stare."
C.C. laughed. "'Lusty stare'… I like that." She shot Lelouch a look. "You had your vengeance for that, I thought, making him and his cronies squeal like that. Literally."
"I'm not looking for vengeance," Lelouch reminded her. "Just payback. And you owe me."
"Oh? Are we tallying that up now?" Lelouch's gaze was firm and bland and unwavering. She sighed. "Why do you really want me to do this?"
Lelouch finally looked away, considering and calculating. Eventually he turned back to C.C. "I want him to be afraid of you. Or at least wary."
"Because, not so long ago, you were in Britannia's clutches, in the tender care of my now deceased elder brother, Clovis. I want Suzaku to hesitate when he sees you, preferably out of animal fear, so that that doesn't happen again."
C.C. leaned forward. "Why do you care?"
"Because." Lelouch stood and walked over to her. "If Rolo's information is correct, my father was using me as a trap, looking for you. And you're my witch. He can't have you." He cupped C.C.'s chin, lightly drawing his thumb over her cheek.
C.C.'s eyes fell closed under Lelouch's caress. "Just what I always wanted to be… a rope in a daddy-son tug-of-war."
Lelouch chuckled. "If you never fall into his grasp, it's not much of a war." He removed his hand. "Well?"
"Will you please go remind Suzaku why I'm not the only person he should be having nightmares about?"
C.C. stood. "And now you're thinking about that boy's dreams. Honestly…"
"Thank you, C.C." Lelouch turned back to his screen, smirking as he heard her slip out of the room, towards the hanger.
Kallen was getting antsy. It had been a good ten minutes and the Burai hadn't moved. Suzaku hadn't said or done anything, but Kallen wasn't sure that he could even if he wanted to. Still, breaking the silence just to ask Suzaku to talk to her was too much like defeat.
So she waited. And got antsy.
The sight of C.C. crossing the hanger, strolling nonchalantly between the two Knightmares, made Kallen snap back to attention. What was she doing here?
The Burai's speakers crackled to life. "You." Kallen wouldn't have expected that degree of vitriol from Suzaku directed towards anyone but Lelouch. "Did he send you?"
Kallen watched C.C.'s graceful, lazy shrug as she pressed her hand against the Burai. Her eyes closed and her bangs flared up from an impossible gust of wind.
The Burai stepped back, moving without any grace to its original position. It was only then that Kallen noticed Zero, standing with that blond knight (who was looking a little worse for wear). Zero had the Burai's remote control in his hand and the knight was saying something. She zoomed in, creeped out by the cheerful look on his face as he chatted with the man who'd been his sworn enemy a few hours ago.
"Q1, you may return the Guren and resume your regular duties." Zero's voice came in over the radio. Kallen could hear the hiss of the Burai's pilot seat opening in the background. She focused on that, watching the knight lift an unconscious Suzaku from the seat and carry him off under Zero's orders.
"Roger that." Kallen snapped, withdrawing. This round was clearly over.