A/N: Thanks to all my readers, especially those who've added this to alerts, favourites, or reviewed. Reviews are love, and without you guys I would probably have gotten bored of this story by now.
To my few readers in Italy, hello~! \(^q^ \)
When Lelouch hung up, Rivalz never returned to the classroom. He headed for the nearest corner, running down hallways that all looked the same. Were it not for the view of trees giving way to courtyards beyond the windows, the corridors could have gone on forever. He only realized he abandoned his belongings when he was halfway across the building but ignored the urge to return. They didn't matter; he always kept his most precious things on his person, and his textbooks could always be collected later.
He found the room he was looking for, and skidded to a halt at the door. Fingers curled into a fist, he knocked twice. The sound was unexpectedly calm for a person whose chest was smothered in emotion.
Rivalz opened the door and poked his head in, his usual carefree smile plastered on the surface. "Could I borrow Milly Ashford? It's really, really urgent and, um..."
He drifted off stupidly. Before any queries could be made, the telltale blonde blur in the corner of his eye shifted. Workbooks and stationary were relocated without fuss, as Milly packed her bag with uncharacteristic efficiency.
"Sorry, sir," she said. "It looks like the president's influence is needed in organising the pizza this year."
"Yeah," echoed Rivalz, jumping on the excuse while he still had the chance. "Er, that's right."
The professor sighed through rectangular-rimmed glasses. "Very well. I still expect your report by the end of this week, Miss Ashford."
"I wouldn't dream of using this as an excuse to skip," Milly replied, and pulled a surprised Rivalz into the hall.
When the door clicked shut behind them, the two of them were left alone in the hallway. Rivalz, who hadn't registered that such a development would occur when he set about with his plan, simply blinked as she faced him and everything in his brain blanked away.
He mentally smacked himself. Not the time!
"Please don't tell me you dragged me out here just to say that," she said.
"Hey, I didn't exactly drag you..."
Eyeroll. "Wait until you've been in one of his lectures first. Enough of that; what's the emergency?"
"Uh, right. Lelouch says I should tell you 'our biggest fears are realized' or something like that, and he—"
Rivalz had been prepared for dumb surprise, or even exasperated tolerance. Not for Milly Ashford's eyes to lose some of their spark and for the corners of her mouth to twitch into something briefly resembling a frown.
She cut him off. "Where is he now?"
"I don't know," said Rivalz, with a shake of his head. "He said he was going to disappear, though."
"Did he... say anything else?"
"Something about moving Nunally to a secure location, but I don't get why—Milly...? Milly!"
The strides once heading for the Student Council Clubhouse paused, and Milly turned around. "Yes?"
"Why is Nunally so important? What's going on?"
"Sorry, I... I can't tell you."
"Of course you can."
"I can't. Just... forget this happened, and go back to class."
"No," said Rivalz. "Lelouch is my friend. If he didn't want me to know, he would've called you. He even told me his plans, and you know he doesn't like telling anyone. I'm worried; I want to know what's going on."
A silence stretched between them as Milly puckered her lips, and manicured fingers ran against the edge of her nails. Finally she stared him in the eyes, closing the distance with that gait better suited to the catwalk whilst modelling the latest couture.
"...Alright," she said. "I'll tell you on the way."
N. Silvutra Mayhem
Ashford Academy was built soon after Japan's surrender and the subsequent renaming to Area Eleven. Land was cheap, all to lure in Britannian investors to form what would later be known as the Settlement, and to recreate Britannian order without delay.
The level of destruction in the Academy area meant more feasibility in tearing everything apart compared to repairing what already existed. This, in part, along with low pay to a workforce of local Elevens in desperate need of money, was what enabled the creation of a ridiculously spacious floorplan beneath the ground level. It contained the extensive sewer network as well as several storage rooms and the building's main data centre, each sector protected by individual elevators on every side of the school with different passwords that changed at different, various intervals.
Reuben Ashford was a man who took no chances. Not anymore.
Situated in one of the storage rooms on a creaking wooden chair that had seen better days, Rivalz whistled.
"So now you know," said Milly, from her seat atop the table.
"Yeah," said Rivalz. He rested his arms behind his head. "Who would've thought... 'Nunally vi Britannia'?"
The young girl in the wheelchair furrowed closed eyes.
"I'm sorry we couldn't tell you, Rivalz," said Nunally. "But I wish I could say it wasn't because we had no choice."
"Hey, it's cool," said Rivalz. "Don't sweat it, your safety's more important. That said... we got you and both your belongings down here pretty quickly."
A soft smile ghosted Nunally's lips. "Brother planned a possible evacuation about a year after we arrived. He's always prepared."
"I'll say. What if people notice?"
"It's covered," said Milly. "Lelouch and Nunally Lamperouge have returned to the homeland after an emergency summons from their father."
"Wouldn't it be better to erase their records?" said Rivalz.
Milly shook her head. "That's more suspicious. They're not exactly discreet when they're on campus, especially Lelouch, and people will remember. It's all a part of his plan."
"Huh," murmured Rivalz, thinking out loud. "We're probably a part of his plan too."
A gentle hand reached toward him, fingers flitting blindly in the direction of his voice.
"Don't worry, Rivalz," said Nunally. "Lelouch won't do anything to hurt anyone. He always says that regret is the worst thing in a person's life, and I trust him."
He trailed off, his sigh unintentionally disturbing a layer of dust over some cardboard boxes aside him. Milly slid off the table without warning, then she proceeded to jab an outstretched finger into his face.
"Right!" she said. "Just because our stupid Lulu has left doesn't mean we should be moping around. Every minute you spend in misery is another minute less of your life, and Milly Ashford will not accept anyone acting that way!"
"No buts! We're going to finish arrangements in five minutes, then we're going to resolve this issue the Student Council way. That means festivals and parties for everyone on campus—and because someone isn't here, Rivalz, you're picking up his slack."
Rivalz groaned melodramatically, running his hands down his face as if cleansing himself of his duties. Between the gaps of his fingers, he saw Nunally hide a small smile behind a curtain of hair.
He missed that smile, he wouldn't help but think, once Nunally was gone.
They had stopped in an area Lelouch didn't recognize, one filled with cheap accommodation in the form of dingy establishments ripped out of an old mobster movie. The Burai Kai was deposited underneath a tarp in rented space, after paying off a man wearing a fluorescent pink shirt. Suzaku and Lelouch separated from the handful of other Japanese recruited to Kusakabe's cause, taking the subway to Shinjuku station.
Other than a quick stop for dinner, the return back to the base passed in uneventful silence—silence filled with the sound of a news report on the incident at Lake Kawaguchi. Breaking news became the news story for the day, and then an extensive series of interviews with friends and family by networks in their fight for ratings.
Neither had to reach the warehouse's doors before asking for access; purple-haired Minami was on guard duty and lowered his arms when seeing them. A grudging nod permitted entry, and the two entered through the side.
Lelouch stopped paying attention to Suzaku's presence upon seeing a blue head of hair.
When he sat down, Inoue glanced up at him. The pen between her fingers stopped spinning, the incomplete sudoku on her lap ignored. She blinked a few times in surprise, then she shrugged. Her pen was capped with the lid beside a half-eaten box of pizza, then the sudoku folded twice, and both items were placed into her breast pocket.
"Don't thank me," she said. "You were the person who saved them."
"I couldn't have done it alone."
"Maybe not. But it's impressive and everyone here knows it."
"Luck played a large part."
"Luck alone still wouldn't have succeeded. For a man who can influence the Britannian military, you undersell yourself quite a bit."
"That's not true. I just know my limitations."
"And I know mine," she replied. "I couldn't have done what I did without you there. I should be thanking you for the escape route, if anything."
"Harm to people who help me is something I'll never allow."
She stared at him oddly out of the corner of her eye. "I thought so—you're different."
"Different from the Britannians?" Lelouch asked.
"No. Just different. I don't prejudice between nations."
"You don't prefer the Japanese?"
"We're not saints, L."
Lelouch raised his eyebrows. "Oh?"
"Everyone's human. Britannians are perfectly capable of being altruistic. The Japanese are equally as capable of selling out their comrades to benefit themselves."
"That's common sense."
"There's a difference between knowing something and experiencing first-hand."
Inoue turned around at the voice to see Yoshida heading toward her. He stopped as he caught sight of Lelouch, and his eyes flickered in his direction, but they quickly looked away.
"Your turn," said Yoshida, by way of explanation.
She accepted the shotgun passed across and hefted it in her hands to check its weight. "Okay. Front door?"
"No, Tamaki's got it covered. You'll be running perimeter."
"Got it." Inoue stood up, and gave Lelouch a nod. "See you."
Lelouch nodded back. Then she was gone, weaving across the floor and leaving the building. A sudden movement in his peripheral vision had him see Yoshida taking a slice of pizza. Lelouch shifted courteously when the man sat on the seat Inoue vacated moments before.
The other man caught his gaze, and then steel-grey eyes were glaring even while he chewed on cold mozzarella.
"Stay away from her," said Yoshida abruptly, after Lelouch had looked away. There was no doubt upon whom he referred to.
"She can look after herself," Lelouch replied.
"Not as well as she thinks."
Lelouch, who had been scanning the room, found himself paying less attention to Yoshida's words and more attention to the person near one of the pillars supporting the second storey overhang. Vague memories surfaced in his mind, memories which were blank and full of discrepancies for someone whose pride lay within their intellect, memories that were unacceptable for someone of Lelouch's caliber.
The lack of response didn't faze Yoshida, as the silence was misinterpreted for concentration and the man continued. "I don't care what you want, L, but stay the hell away from her if you know what's good for you—Hey!" he exclaimed when Lelouch stood up, "are you listening to me?"
"Yeah," said Lelouch absently, without thinking on his words. "I'll think about it. Have a good evening."
Suzaku noticed Lelouch's approach almost immediately, as he was often left alone despite his position—or maybe because of it. He cut his train of thought short despite it having cycled through his head countless different ways, knowing that the time he'd spent avoiding the problem no longer accounted for anything at all.
"Lelouch," he greeted, in turn. "Or, should I call you L?"
"I don't mind, just beware of eavesdroppers," came the reply.
"We can always move outside where it's more private, if you want."
"No, this is fine. Suzaku—"
Suzaku's insides began to squirm at the tone. This was it; the moment of truth. He would be forced to reveal how he forced Lelouch to action with his Geass, and Lelouch would—
"—is your eye alright?"
"Your left eye. You had your hand over it even when you were boarding the Knightmare."
"Oh, um. It's fine."
"That's good. Could I ask you a question?"
"Did I kill Kusakabe?"
The ease in which the query was posed took Suzaku off-guard for a moment, having expected accusations or other things of the sort. Lelouch must have taken the reaction as confusion, as he elaborated. "I know it sounds crazy, but I have a gap in my memory."
"You don't remember?" blurted Suzaku.
"Nothing after the Lt. Col. accused you until he fell to the ground. Do you know what happened?"
"...yeah, I do. It—" his breath hitched. God, he'd prepared this in his head how many times already? "It was my fault."
To his surprise, Lelouch's expression turned vaguely understanding. "Don't blame yourself for his allegations. They were unfounded. Unless you knew I possessed a firearm, and somehow kept Kusakabe occupied long enough to fire it, place it in my hands and return back to where you were standing in an instant, you have nothing to worry about."
"No—that's not what I'm talking about. I... I made you shoot him."
"My left eye has a power... a power that activates when I'm about to die. I think it makes people want to protect me; the first time it happened, the girl who gave it to me sacrificed her life, and when it affected you, you—you shot him."
It looked as if Lelouch were about to proclaim that such a supernatural thing was impossible. Suzaku knew that he wouldn't have believed it if so much of his presence hadn't affected his life. But finally, after a silence stretching nigh on eternity, Lelouch just lifted a hand to his head and ran it through his hair, hair trimmed oddly short in a style so absolutely un-Lelouchlike that it would've been impossible to imagine.
"What a scary power," he said, more to himself than to anyone else. He lifted both hands before him and examined them. "To throw away lives, and to grant the ability to kill without a hint of having done so appearing on a person's conscience."
Suzaku stared at him, at how easily his Geass was accepted. "How can you just believe it exists?"
The question was ignored. "Have you tested its capabilities?"
"Then you should. If my suspicions are correct, you were the pilot of the Purist Sutherland at Shinjuku."
"How did you...?"
"All the Knightmares rebelled, just as they did at Lake Kawaguchi, and you were the pilot of the Kai." Lelouch shrugged. "I don't really believe it, yet there are no other explanations that work. I wouldn't have blown the lights at that point, consciously."
"When would you have done it?"
"Whenever I needed to use the biggest distraction I could prepare."
Suzaku quieted. Distraction.
"Did... did you kill my father?"
Another silence fell again. Lelouch wasn't looking at him, staring at the pillar to his side. Suzaku hoped the look in those eyes was only confusion, or reflection back to the time when they were together seven years ago.
"Yes," came the reply, carrying a note of something undecipherable. "I killed Kururugi Genbu."
The world collapsed.
Not confirmation. Never confirmation.
"Suzaku," that voice said again, "do you hate me? For killing your father in cold blood?"
"I hate you."
Lelouch bowed his head, eyes closed. He opened his mouth a few times to say something, but it was always closed without a word. Finally, he settled for a twitch and an ironic half-smile and took a step to walk away.
"...but," said Suzaku. Lelouch halted, and faced him again. "I'm not as naïve as I was before. With my father's death, Japan was freed."
"You call this freedom?" said Lelouch, voice thankfully low despite the acidity in his tone. "This Darwinist ideology that the strong prevail over the weak, that there is a difference in social class between Britannians and Elevens?"
"No. That is the fault of Britannia. There are no ways to avoid sacrifices on the journey to destroy Britannia. So long as nothing of that country remains on the Earth—"
"Will you destroy me, Suzaku?"
A sequence of deft flicks, and then the semi-automatic was out of Lelouch's pocket, safety disengaged and barrel pointed directly toward his heart. He held it across the shaft, no move made toward the trigger, and eyes that should have been royal purple locked with Suzaku's green.
"I am Lelouch vi Britannia," he said. "If you truly wish to destroy Britannia, then kill me."
Somehow Suzaku knew that Lelouch's words were pitched as not to carry, even as he tried not to look at the grip positioned within arm's reach. But much like a traffic cone in the midst of a driving test – or during his case, the shrubs in the way of his motorcycling sessions down the Narita mountain range – he couldn't help being drawn toward it the more he tried to avoid it.
He tore his eyes away.
"No, I can't."
"Didn't I kill your father? Don't you want revenge?"
"I gave up trying to find my father's killer when I was ten."
"Even if he's standing before you now?"
"No!" The exclamation drew a few heads spinning toward them, but fortunately enough they turned away again. "Lelouch, I can't. You're my—"
"Pathetic," said Lelouch. "Like this, you will never destroy Britannia."
Suzaku scowled. Lelouch's habit of never making sense and his ability to twist words hadn't been lost from their childhood.
"What are you trying to pull?" Lelouch stayed quiet, and Suzaku spoke again. "Are you trying to change how I think?"
"...No. Not how you think."
"Then stop playing mind games with me!"
"Mind games? I'm not playing anything but the words needed for you to find your goal. Destroying Britannia is an objective. A reason. But it will never become a goal.
"Ask yourself why you hate Britannia, Suzaku. Then you will find your goal."
The hum of jets and a whirr of wheels resonated about the landing strip, as the modest carrier touched down on reinforced concrete runways. A platoon of officers moved even before it rolled to a stop, each surrounding the aircraft in predetermined position. Dozens of media crews were held back by fences and barricades manned by more uniforms, as they strived to obtain the best footage of the new Viceroy's arrival.
Schneizel el Britannia, flanked by his temporary guard, strode out of the terminal just as the staircase dropped to the tarmac. Two people descended – the first, a man swathed in layers of fine silk and cotton garments, many of which were gilded with a golden sheen; the second, a young woman dressed in a navy military tunic. She would have been inconspicuous, were it not for the eight foot polearm in her hands and shadowed eyes glittering darkly toward all who approached their way.
Camera shutters began to close once the two royals were within reach, penetrated by the occasional flash. Only one from the hundreds of frames would make it into print.
"It's good to see you, brother Atticus," said Schneizel, extending his hand.
Atticus si Britannia accepted it almost with disdain, smile not faltering in the slightest. "And I you, Prime Minister Schneizel. It's... unfortunate you needed to leave your talks with the Euro Universe to act as Viceroy in my place, but I thank you for doing so."
"No need to worry. I had business to attend in the area."
"Ah. When do you depart?"
"Almost immediately." Schneizel blinked and his eyes flickered away instinctively when a too-bright flash appeared without warning. "Is it really necessary to call so much of the media?"
A hand was waved airily in return. "There's nothing wrong with a little publicity."
"Then you haven't heard about the events at Lake Kawaguchi?"
"What do you take me for? Don't fret, no HI-TV crews have been allowed access within five hundred metres of the area."
Schneizel nodded. "Be that as it may, security—"
"Security is fine, brother. I plan to check all the guards at the Palace personally, and I have a Knight of Honour no where near as lenient as I."
At this, he gestured imperceptibly toward the woman's direction. Schneizel inclined his head with earnest.
"It's a pleasure to meet you," he said. "You would be miss...?"
An arched brow was all the reaction from the absence of both a surname and title. "Miss Joseine. Atticus has chosen well."
Joseine pursed thin lips, as if suppressing the urge to speak, and nodded in return.
Schneizel turned to face the seventh prince again. "Correct me if I'm wrong, but I was under the impression you would be bringing more people with you."
"No, that's correct," said Atticus. "My advisors are departing via the craft's rear exit."
"I've learnt that a single person's ideas can never substitute for many. My advisors are some of the greatest nobles in Britannia. They're successful, and they share common interests with my own."
"I see," said Schneizel. A member of his guard leant in to whisper something, and the second prince straightened. "Then it sounds like you have everything under control, so it seems I must be leaving."
Atticus smiled, one that had difficulty correlating with the rest of his expression. "Then don't let me keep you off-schedule."
"There's no trouble. The EU can wait when family's involved."
"I'm flattered. Best of wishes to your talks, brother."
"Best of wishes to you."
A/N: Slow chapter, but we just had action and more is coming next time. I hope I haven't lost any of you with the chapter's main revelation... but as said, the circumstances around Genbu's death were different. What do you think?
Please review. :)