The prosecution part of Suzaku's trial took a week. It was the longest week of Suzaku's life.
For seven hours (with an hour break for lunch) a day, every single action he took since (and including) joining the Britannian army was dissected. Trained lawyers questioned him again and again, about his motivations, his thoughts, his feelings. He had a 'defence' lawyer whose job, as far as Suzaku could tell, was sitting and taking notes as Suzaku was questioned.
Things from Suzaku's past, things Suzaku had forgotten (or almost forgotten) were dragged up and placed on display. Like Akira Nakagawa, one of the young Japanese boys who'd signed up with Suzaku. He'd been a year older than Suzaku, and had joined because both his parents had been killed in the fighting and he had two younger sisters and a cousin to take care of.
His body had been found three months into training. No reason or cause of death had been investigated, but Suzaku had been the one to find the body. He hadn't died peacefully.
Suzaku hadn't thought about Akira for years. Half of Suzaku's salary had gone to his sisters, but that hadn't been much and Suzaku had no idea if they were even still alive.
At least the tribunal wasn't accusing him of having killed Akira.
Instead they asked question after question about how he could have stayed after that, how he could have taken orders from the same people who allowed that to happen to his friend. Hadn't he felt any loyalty, any empathy for him? Or for the thousands of Japanese slaughtered by the army Suzaku had willingly joined?
It was a long day. Every day was.
On top of that, there were analyses with TV pundits and experts dissecting everything Suzaku said. And Suzaku said a lot – he knew that the longer this dragged out, the better. Every night, after he finished facing down accusation after accusation, he had to hear about how he was mentally disturbed, how he must have been abused in the months after the invasion and before he was found, that his father's death must have shocked him into becoming the vile beast he now was.
That last bit made him think; of all the accusations thrown at him, no one had mentioned his father's death. Everything else Suzaku had done, up to the FLEIA at least, other Honorary Britannians had done. But his father's murder… that was something that would make even the FLEIA and the SAZ massacre seem in character.
They hadn't gotten that far, just to the point of addressing the fact that Suzaku had apparently willingly agreed to the execution of his mentor and Japan's hero, Toudou Kyoshirou, when Lelouch came to visit him.
"How are you doing?"
Lelouch still looked tired. Suzaku tried but couldn't muster up any sympathy for him. "As well as could be expected. You?"
"The same." Lelouch leaned against the cell bars, ignoring the safety risk. Suzaku smirked; that was just like him.
"How are… things?"
Lelouch smiled, seeming genuinely pleased. "They're actually moving along quite smoothly. Thank you."
They hadn't gotten to the difficult part yet. "As long as it's working. Hey, did you… do they know about my dad?"
Lelouch's eyes widened at the question, but he covered it quickly, making Suzaku think that the surprise had been genuine. "No. I didn't think that would be appropriate."
"Why not? I mean, it's not like they're sparing anything else. And it's not like it'd destroy me."
"It would–" Lelouch cut himself off, moving closer and lowering his voice. "Suzaku it would be unforgivable. No one would understand the context or the situation. All they'd see is a child killing his father over an argument. Patricide is something innately more horrific than any crimes committed against strangers."
Suzaku looked searchingly at Lelouch, looking for any sign of irony. He couldn't find any.
Of course, "unforgivable" was kind of what Suzaku was aiming for. He smiled and dropped the subject. "So. The SAZ should come up tomorrow."
"I'll keep my word, Lelouch." And then some.
Lelouch smiled wryly. "I never doubted it, Suzaku. I just came to say thank you once again."
"That's all?" Suzaku asked, not bothering to wait for an answer. "How's Rolo?"
Lelouch looked surprised again, then pleased. "Much better. He's walking, but his endurance is poor. He has a stress test scheduled for tomorrow."
So the little spook was recovering. Suzaku shrugged, he was mostly just trying to change the subject.
"Suzaku," Lelouch said, suddenly solemn.
Suzaku looked up, schooling his face. "What?"
"Don't do anything foolish."
So much for changing the subject.
Suzaku slept on it, considering Lelouch's perspective. They both knew that Suzaku admitting to killing his father would have been unbearably hard a year ago, but Suzaku had practice at it now. Besides Lelouch, Suzaku had told Euphemia and even Kallen. And the world hadn't ended, and it kept getting easier to confront.
Of course, if he came perfectly clean about his father, it could go the other way as well. Genbu Kururugi was revered as a patriot, a hero. Publicly airing out the dirty laundry that his father had been willing to sacrifice Japanese soldiers in an unwinnable war for personal political gain could ruin that reputation. And the Japanese needed their heroes right now.
So. Partial disclosure it would be. And before he lied about the SAZ. After tomorrow, he would be the most hated and despised person in all of Japan, and Euphemia would be just another one of his hapless victims.
He started before the prosecution, pledging, once again to tell the truth before asking to speak. Once he was given permission, he closed his eyes and offered a silent apology to Euphemia for everything that had happened.
"I killed my father."
His announcement was met with stunned silence.
"Gen– Kururugi Genbu did not commit suicide. I stabbed him in his office before running off with the visiting Britannian royal children. Because of my actions, the war ended."
One of the lawyers, improvising off script, stepped forward. "And why would you bring this up today?"
"Because I want everyone to understand. You've asked for my motives, how I could do the things I did for the Britannian Empire, and it all boils down to that one moment. The moment I realized that Japan was weak. That my father's faith in his army was misplaced. That Britannia would win, and would always win. And the only way to minimize casualties was to allow them to win sooner rather than later."
The defence lawyer picked up his phone and started making calls. Suzaku continued.
"It's why I never joined Zero, despite being invited to do so. It's why I willingly fought against the Japanese resistance, in whatever form it took. The longer the fighting continued, the more innocent victims there would be." The small grains of truth, of how Suzaku truly had felt, made the lies come easier, more smoothly. "I wanted to save lives."
No one told him to stop, so Suzaku continued, moving towards the point they were all here to address today. "That's why I asked Euphy to form the Special Area Zone."
"How could that atrocity possibly–"
"It brought all the influential Japanese rebels together. I knew that if we could corral them together, they would be easier to take out. Euphy wasn't… she had no idea, up until that day, what I had planned." Suzaku leaned forward, hoping he wasn't coming off as overly desperate, but needing them to believe this. "She wasn't ordering anything. She was warning people. When I told her what I'd planned to do, she grabbed my gun and ran onstage to warn everyone."
"But… but she shot…"
"It was an accident. She was a princess for goodness sakes, she had no idea how to use a gun! And then she was just scared." The official recordings stopped after the first wave of deaths, so there was no footage of Euphemia gunning down Japanese civilians with a machine gun. "I couldn't… if I'd known that was how it would have ended up, with so many innocent deaths, I would never have…"
It would work. It was a lie, but a politically useful lie for everyone. Zero… Lelouch had already taken well-earned credit for her death, but that would hardly matter compared to the rest of the message. If someone were to examine it, piece-by-piece, Suzaku was certain there would be massive holes in his story. But who would? For what purpose? No one wanted Euphemia hurt or discredited, and those who needed a villain to blame for the massacre now had Suzaku. It was imperfect, and Lelouch surely would have done better, but it might be able to hold up long enough to clear Euphemia of the title of "Genocide Princess". Suzaku wouldn't mind taking it on as well. After all, as the only person to ever fire a FLEIA, "Genocide" already fit him well enough.
Suzaku's lawyer finally stood up. "Ah, would it be possible to request a short recess?"
The trial was being broadcast live. Suzaku's words had already been sent out throughout Japan, and even to several other U.F.N. nations. A recess wouldn't stop that, and there was no way this wouldn't be picked up in Britannia within hours at the latest. Soon, Nunnally would hear, from Suzaku's own lips, that Euphemia was as innocent as she'd always thought. And that Suzaku had used her for his own ends. Would she be able to see through it, or would she start to wonder if Suzaku had been using her as well?
Suzaku had an inkling of the feeling Lelouch must have felt during the negotiations with Schneizel. Losing Nunnally, due to his own actions, his own choices, hurt.
They escorted Suzaku out with his lawyer, sealing them up in a secure room. It was only when Suzaku sat down and watched him nervously talking on the phone that he realized he didn't even know the man's name. How rude of him.
"Y-yes, I… No, he did this of his own ini– Of course I would have… I wasn't aware… Yes, of course." He handed Suzaku the phone.
Suzaku gingerly brought it up to his ear, bracing himself just it case it was…
"You idiot! I told you not to say anything about your father! What, do you think they'll overlook it just because you immediately segued into the SAZ?"
"Don't you use that tone with me! You've just destroyed any potential sympathy from the tribunal, never mind the Japanese people, and drawn a giant target on your chest. Do you have any idea how hard it'll be to convince them not to issue the death penalty for you? You're eighteen, it's legal under both Japanese and Britannian law!"
"D'you think it worked?"
Suzaku smiled. "Do you think it worked? The SAZ thing?"
There was a long pause. "Probably. It was a good story."
"Thanks. I've had a week to fine-tune it."
"Suzaku, do you really want me to praise you for putting your own head on the chopping block?"
Lelouch sounded a lot calmer now, still upset but less furious. That was good. That meant he was thinking. That meant he could be reasoned with. "Isn't this what you wanted? My decisions, my emotions, my reasoning, my failures… all exposed? Having to explain and justify and apologize over and over again for the things I did wrong. And even the things you did wrong. Wasn't that the whole goal of this?"
Of all the things Suzaku was expecting, Lelouch's laughter, genuinely amused and light, was not one of them. "No, Suzaku. My goals are never that simple." There was a pause and Suzaku heard some murmuring in the background. "Give me back to Saito-san."
"Your lawyer." Oh. Obviously. "I'll do what I always seem to have to do."
Suzaku wasn't going to bite. He wasn't going to… dammit. "And what's that?"
"Work around you."
C.C. sat and watched Lelouch bustling. He tried not to resent her laziness, but the familiar feelings were creeping back. Lelouch still wasn't sure he trusted her, or liked her to the extent that he had, but he'd found a sort of understanding. She'd had to choose between Marianne and her Wish, and Lelouch. He couldn't be angry at her for not choosing him. Which was saying something, since anger was a skill he'd honed quite well over the years.
"Are you sure about this?"
Lelouch hesitated (and that hesitation would probably always be there now, a testament to their broken trust) before shooting C.C. a wry smile. "Positive. I hate to say it, but this new kinder gentler world is actually better suited for Schneizel than it is for me."
"He's a manipulator and devoted to his Empire."
"As long as peace benefits him, he'll follow through on what I started. Better than I would have. And Kaguya's a match for him across the negotiating table, and Xingke's a match for Cornelia on the battlefield. I'm leaving everything in good hands."
C.C. wrapped her arms around her legs. "And can you live without being in the middle of things?"
"We'll see." The door opened and Rolo walked in, looking as healthy as ever, as long as he maintained nothing more than a leisurely walking pace. "Rolo, are you packed?"
"I didn't really have much to pack," Rolo said. "Nii-san, are you sure about this?"
Lelouch grinned, this time much easier than at C.C. "Of course I am." He sat Rolo down on the couch, sitting beside him. "Rolo, you know what I have to do." Rolo swallowed and nodded. "You said you knew your limits, so either you lied or you pushed yourself far beyond those limits. Neither excuse is permissible."
"I understand." Rolo grabbed Lelouch's arm. "But please, nii-san, let me still use it to protect you."
Lelouch frowned. "I'm sorry, Rolo." He shook Rolo's arm off and removed his contacts. "Rolo Hali-Lamperouge. You are to refrain from using your geass." Lelouch hesitated. "Unless you or Nunnally vi Britannia are in danger and your geass is necessary for your or her protection."
"Yes. Understood," Rolo said mechanically.
While the geass was still working, C.C. sat up. "He's afraid you'll discard him if he's not of any use anymore."
Lelouch snorted. "Even with his geass he's no longer useful. I have no need for him from now on." His voice softened. "But that doesn't mean he doesn't have a place."
"What made you change your mind?"
Lelouch shrugged. "I don't know. Maybe his loyalty. But mostly it's that, no matter how much I try, I can never get rid of him." He smiled fondly at the frozen boy. "And he's right. I'm a liar. And I should surround myself with as many people who can remind me of that as possible."
C.C. laughed lightly. "I see. Interesting way to cope with your forgetfulness."
Rolo blinked. "Is it over?"
"It is." Lelouch stood up and ruffled Rolo's hair. "I'll see you in a few days, okay?" He didn't turn back, unsure how much of the conversation with C.C. Rolo had overheard.
He still had a few more things to prepare. Suzaku's trial was winding down. Kaguya was busily convincing the U.F.N. head members that Zero deserved to remain the Black Knight's CEO, despite him being a former Britannian prince. And Schneizel…
Lelouch sighed as he entered his office. He might as well start with Schneizel.
Two days later, everything was finally set up. As expected, Schneizel had been the biggest hurdle to overcome but even he could see that Lelouch genuinely had no hidden intent in his offer. Lelouch gathered up the papers he needed, grabbed his mask for the first time in over a month, called Suzaku's lawyer and set out.
By the time he reached the courthouse, the plan was in full motion. Atsushi Saito had managed to keep the trial going even without much to draw from to defend Suzaku. It sounded like the prosecution was getting sick of the delays. Lelouch waited until the clamouring objections from the prosecution became louder than the defence itself and then walked in, mask on.
The sudden arrival of Zero was as if someone had flipped a switch as the courtroom went from noisy and chaotic to frozen and silent, the only sounds echoing in the chamber those of Lelouch's clipped, military-like steps. He stood in the middle of the courtroom, his back to Suzaku, facing just offside from the camera angle. It was more dramatic than face on.
"This trial is over." Before anyone could protest, he turned directly to the cameras, tossing aside his cape in a dramatic gesture. "Suzaku Kururugi is coming with me."
"You've got to be joking…" Funny how it was Suzaku who broke the silence. "Lelouch what are you doing?"
Lelouch smirked behind his mask, grateful to Suzaku for using his name. "I'm getting you out of here. I've spent two years working for the sake of Japan, and now I'm acting for myself."
"Zero, all of Japan recognizes your efforts, however this is a legal trial! There are rules…"
Lelouch laughed. "I've never been one to follow rules. Power… now, that I appreciate. Both as Zero and as a former prince of Britannia I understand the uses and misuses of power." With another dramatic gesture, he drew his gun. "Consider this a little of both."
The two courtroom guards, who up until now had had nothing to do, hesitated before aiming at Zero. One of them even turned his gun on Suzaku, as if he'd done anything. Zero ignored them all.
"Suzaku Kururugi was a child when his nation was invaded. He was abandoned, set to fend for himself rather than protected by any of the powerful people his family had been connected to. He has been forced to walk a narrow line between betraying his country and encouraging the same violence and destruction that wrecked the world of his childhood. He swore oaths to Britannia, something that many Japanese and other conquered people have been forced to do, only he kept those oaths.
"Even so, within the limited scope of his very limited power, he tried to protect civilians, and save lives. These sensibilities have nearly led to his own death time after time, yet he never abandoned them. It is because of him that Japan is now free, as it was by his hand that the former Emperor, Charles zi Britannia, fell."
"Lelouch!" Suzaku jumped up from his seat, as expected, outraged at the sudden accusation couched as a mitigating factor. A gunshot rang out and Lelouch watched as Suzaku's geass activated, turning him into an instrument of death and destruction for anyone unfortunate enough to get in his way. Fortunately, there was no one close enough to fall prey to him.
Lelouch dropped the gun and tore off his mask, making sure that the cameras got a good shot of his face right before Saito set off the hidden smoke bombs. Suzaku had taken cover behind the defendant's box, so Lelouch grabbed his arm, hoping he was still under the effects of his geass.
As Lelouch had predicted, the geassed Suzaku didn't consider him a threat and allowed him to move him towards the window. Lelouch pressed a button and the window exploded, indicating that Saito had fulfilled every aspect of his geass. Lelouch managed to get Suzaku out through the window and into the waiting car before Suzaku's geass wore off and before the police arrived. Lelouch was rather pleased with that – the timing was the one aspect of the plan he hadn't been completely sure of.
As C.C. drove away, Suzaku's geass wore off. "Where are… Lelouch! What did you do?"
Lelouch shot him a grin. "Burned just about all of my bridges. ETA, C.C.?"
"Six minutes. I'll have to speed to get us there on time. You and your speeches…"
Considering the four… no, five, police cars after them, she would have needed to speed in any case. "As long as we arrive on schedule." He leaned back, taking out his phone to check if anyone had bothered to try to contact him.
Suzaku slapped the phone out of his hands. "Lelouch, what the hell is going on here?"
"Now I'm kidnapping you," Lelouch explained clearly. "See how this is different from a negotiated handover?" C.C. took a turn rather sharply. "For one thing it's less comfortable."
"Why? I did everything you said."
Lelouch nodded in agreement. "You certainly did. And I appreciate that, Suzaku, I really do. Immensely so. Even disclosing what happened with your father… well, that was your choice. I shouldn't have tried to dictate to you what you should share."
"But then… why…"
"Did you really think I'd leave you to hang?" Lelouch scoffed. "Come now, Suzaku. Even as strained as it is, our friendship is worth more than that."
"Call it what you will." C.C. turned off the roads and onto a military tarmac. "It's worth more to me than that."
C.C. turned the car towards a mid-sized cargo jet with the rear cargo ramp opened. She slammed on the breaks as the police vehicles surrounded them, locking the steering wheel forward so that the car screeched up the ramp just as it started rising, making it into the plane and just barely bumping into the far cargo hold wall. "We're in."
From outside the car, but inside the plane, a smooth male voice echoed. "Taking off."
"We can't!" Suzaku objected. "The trial… the… you said it would keep everyone calm!"
Lelouch and C.C. got out of the car. "Suzaku, get strapped in. We're taking off."
The jet accelerated quickly, and Suzaku got out just in time to strap himself in to one of the few net seats before the car rolled back to the rear of the hold. "This is a bad idea."
"Nonsense," Lelouch said, grinning. "It's one of mine." He flipped up a control panel in the wall and pressed a few buttons. "Toudou? How much time can you give us?"
"Fifteen minutes, possibly more. The moment word got out that you abducted Kururugi, the Black Knights suddenly became rather sluggish," Toudou said, sounding almost proud. "How is Suzaku?"
Lelouch looked over at Suzaku. "He's fine. Furious, but fine. Thank you again, Toudou. And thank Xingke as well when you see him, please."
"Of course. Give Suzaku my regards once he calms down."
"I will." Lelouch closed the panel. "Well… looks like we're home free."
The moment it was stabilized in the air, Suzaku undid his bindings and stormed into the cockpit. Lelouch and C.C. followed him, close enough that Lelouch bumped into him when he stopped suddenly.
"Suzaku." Anya looked up from her co-pilot seat, smiling tentatively as if trying out the expression. "Nice to see you again."
"What is…" He looked between her and Jeremiah in the pilot seat. "What's going on here?"
"I told you," Lelouch said. "We're kidnapping you." He closed the door to the cargo hold. "Well, either C.C. and I or Anya and Jeremiah are kidnapping you, depending on what you choose."
Lelouch sat down in one of the cushioned passenger seats. There were four. "It's fairly simple, Suzaku. I expect you haven't worked it out yet simply because you're disoriented. I never planned to leave your fate in the hands of vengeful legislators, Japanese or Britannian. You were a brilliant distraction, but that's no longer necessary now that most of the Britannians have moved to safe locations or left Japan altogether. And those who haven't at least have the protection of an active police force."
He took out the papers he'd brought to the courthouse and split them into the two categories. "As for you, you have two choices." He handed Suzaku one set. "Schneizel has authorized a full and complete pardon for you, and reinstated you as the Knight of Seven. You can discuss your promised promotion at your leisure." Suzaku leafed through the pile until he came to one particular paper. "Ah, yes. Nunnally dictated that. You may go over it at your leisure. I haven't read it."
Lelouch passed him the second set. "Or you can come with C.C. and me." Suzaku looked up, shocked at the offer. Lelouch shrugged and smiled wryly. "I don't know about you, Suzaku, but I'm done with it. In a decade, we'll be able to see the fruits of this labour, for better or for worse. If needed, I can always return. But this… this is the fresh start I promised Rolo. The least I could do is offer it to you as well."
Identity papers, money, backstory… everything set up for Suzaku to settle down as a normal eighteen-year-old. But he'd never really been a 'normal' kid, and Lelouch wasn't sure he'd want to be. His devotion to duty was likely strong enough to draw him back to Britannia and Nunnally. Lelouch wouldn't even really mind that at this point, as long as his live geass was still active. But if Lelouch had to come out of his early retirement due to abuse of power, particularly from his elder brothers, it would be reassuring to not have to fight against Suzaku again.
Either way, he wasn't letting the Japanese vultures get at him.
Suzaku looked up from the papers and abruptly stood, stalking back to the cargo hold. Lelouch watched him go and sighed, leaning back in his seat.
Twelve hours left until they landed.
He wasn't sure how long he'd been asleep before the repetitive irritation of small crumpled up pieces of paper hitting his face woke him up.
"Morning, sleeping beauty." Suzaku looked… relaxed. Almost pleased. "Mind telling me where we're going? No one else will."
Lelouch still felt a bit groggy. "The British Isles. Ireland, to be exact. C.C. insisted." His mouth tasted like stale socks. "Then Anya and Jeremiah are heading to Florida." The realization of just what exactly had woken him up made him sit up abruptly. "Please tell me that wasn't pieces of your pardon you were flicking at me."
Suzaku laughed. "Nah. Just some of Schneizel's instructions. So. Ireland huh? I hear it's pretty rainy there."
"You like the rain," Lelouch retorted. "Or at least you did when you were a child."
Suzaku shrugged. "I could learn to like it again." He met Lelouch's eyes with complete seriousness. "I think that, given enough time, I could learn to like a lot of things I used to."
"Asked me to take care of you." Suzaku grinned. "You're clever, Lelouch, but you're not nearly as clever as you think you are. Or the people around you are more clever than you give them credit for. You fooled her, you fooled all of us. But not for that long."
Lelouch shook his head. "I don't…"
"We forgive you," Suzaku said. "Or… maybe not forgive. But we're moving on, living with what you've done and what we've done. I think that maybe, one day, we'll be able to really forgive and move past this. But until then…" He held out his hand. "Friends?"
Lelouch took it tentatively, not entirely sure if he trusted Suzaku not to hurt him. It looked like Suzaku and Nunnally weren't the only two who needed to learn forgiveness. Lelouch's gaze wandered to C.C., then snapped back to Suzaku. "Yes. Friends."
His grip was firm and warm, and full of unspoken promises.