Yes, this delay was gargantuan. The only excuse I can offer is 'things happened', but in any event, we're back and we're finally ready to finish off Part 1. And as I've said before we're going to end it with a bang.
Honestly, the delay is actually somewhat suitable to this chapter, given the time skip that will become apparent as you start reading (if your eyes haven't caught it already). But in any case here we have it – Suzaku's final chapter. For a quick refresher, after this we have Lelouch's final chapter, followed by the conclusion and one final segment involving our historian from the future.
So yeah, get ready, it's gonna get really blood from here on in. I feel like I should've said that three or so chapters ago, but I'm saying it now so whatever.
Chapter 13 – Diamond Dogs
One Year and Four Months Later
Suzaku Kururugi, The Cold Steel
1967, March 11th, 4:50 P.M.
Suzaku and Cecile's Apartment
It's been quite some time – quite some time since all those traumatizing things happened all at once. Since Japan became an Area and Xenolith's narcotics division became Tokyo's one and only Ad Vice Department as a direct result. Since I got a promotion, since Rai went off across the ocean so that one day he could return and live like a normal person again, but most importantly of all since Cecile and I started to entertain the thought of having kids and getting married.
Part one of that last bit is underway as we speak. It took awhile, but Cecile's been pregnant for about three months and it's only a matter of time before I'm going to have to repress my lunacy and propose to her the right way. I'm not really looking forward to any of it as much as I really should – especially when I'm off beating up some helpless Japanese drug dealers I try to put the whole idea of being a father out of my head. I know that I'm sure as hell not ready for something like that. But Cecile made it very clear that she believed I could do the job, far better than my father ever could, and that even if things weren't perfect she would never force me to handle things alone. She claimed that I had the sort of hear that was perfect for this kind of thing – I doubted her severely, but after enough nights of her telling me so I gave up. If I were doing this with anyone else – anyone but her – I would've abandoned the thought a very long time ago. Even with someone like Euphemia.
On that subject, I'm actually dreading day Cecile has to stop working to nurse the kid – taking Cecile away from her job is not something anyone in their right mind would ever want to even consider having to manage. Except for Lloyd, of course, who was actually ecstatic when we told him since this was the very first thing that came to his mind.
…Yes, Lloyd is basically going to end up being a family friend. Cecile made him swear he wouldn't be a bad influence. Lloyd did not reply, but one of these days he's going to have to.
But all this aside, maybe having a child of my own is going to be exactly what I need – maybe I won't achieve my ultimate goal, maybe I won't be able to atone for the things I've done, but if I can put someone on this earth and help them become someone unlike me – someone that can stand on their own two feet and be proud of their heritage – then maybe that will be enough. Maybe then I can say
In that case, I have to put everything I have into it. Maybe – maybe I should just abandon this all now. Because ultimately my family is what's going to be the most important factor in my life from here on out. Maybe living for this broken dream of mine – maybe I don't have to anymore. And maybe becoming a mother is Cecile's way of showing me just that.
In any event, I'm able to live each day being a nervous father-to-be, instead of being a mad dog slowly succumbing to clinical depression. I can't ask for anything more than that.
Today was a particularly special day, since we were actually having company over for dinner. Today happened to be a holiday that was celebrated in Romania, and even though we couldn't be there to celebrate it with him we decided to keep Rai in our thoughts by having a special dinner night where we invited as many people as we could fit in our fairly small kitchen. We ended up inviting Kallen and Nunnally – although only Nunnally was going to come over since these were Kallen's peak hours and Alice was going to come along in her place – along with Lelouch, his girlfriend, and her two kids. Cecile did not want anything to do with anyone she knew anymore so she was fine with just that. Lloyd was not invited for fairly obvious reasons.
Cecile was in the kitchen finishing off what percentage of dinner she was going to be cooking – the rest was on Lelouch – while I was being a lazy bastard and doing nothing but sitting around. I'd normally be cleaning right about now but Cecile had this thing where I couldn't go anywhere near the kitchen when she was cooking. The time we all agreed on was six, so the way these things usually worked out Nunnally and Alice would be here first, probably by five-thirty, and Lelouch would show up closer to six-thirty.
Sure as the sun in the sky, Nunnally and Alice arrive as expected. They were carrying quite a bit with them – I wasn't exactly pleased that she'd once again gone and put effort into something I specifically told her she didn't need to worry about, but turning away Nunnally's good will was not only stupid, but dangerous, especially considering how her brother was going to be here in person within the hour.
Nunnally and Alice were good guests like usual. Alice's violent tendencies were kept to a minimum whenever Nunnally made her, to the point where she actually helped prepare the food. These days those two seem more inseparable than ever before, but that probably has something to do with how they're now living together.
Nunnally actually did end up preparing food even though we'd never agreed on it, having brought along mostly leafy stuff with her. Fortunately enough Cecile hadn't made any kind of salad yet, and Nunnally's was exotic enough that there wasn't going to be a need. While we had no dining room, Nunnally managed to arrange chairs in the kitchen and set up some huge restaurant platters she apparently pilfered from Kallen's store room in such a way that we'd have more than enough space for everything. Cecile was notably bad at this sort of thing, so Nunnally being helpful as usual made things a lot easier.
As usual the first thing Nunnally did was ask Cecile about the baby. It was always a little embarrassing for her when someone brought it out into the open like that, but Nunnally was like an inquisitive child about it – she always made a point of putting her ear to her stomach and marveling at the sounds she heard – she was a little old for that sort of thing, but Cecile's face always lit up when she did. Alice, meanwhile, was notably more nervous, but she was just as awe inspired.
After Nunnally had given out all her greetings, she and Alice sat on the couch in our living room, shortly before she fell asleep on Alice's shoulder. It seemed like Alice would've been the sort of person to flare up at that kind of physical contact, but instead she smiled softly and closed her eyes herself. She wasn't even particularly wary of me at that point. I'm guessing the two were busy preparing all day since they'd both fallen asleep on top of each other in a matter of minutes.
As expected, Lelouch and the others showed up a little late. As usual Lelouch walked in with a huge bag slung over his shoulder and provided no greeting while Shirley had Akito and Leila give a polite, Japanese greeting in unison. Instead of the usual assortment of stolen goods, Lelouch's bag was filled with neatly packaged food, which the group immediately started to sort on the table.
After everything was spread out, we woke up the two girls sleeping on the couch and dinner promptly began. Everyone ended up sitting in an incomplete circle, very much segregated into their own groups. I sat next to Cecile, who had Alice to her right – Alice was clinging to Nunnally, who was sort of blowing her off to talk to her brother next to her. Akito and Leila sat between Lelouch and Shirley, with Shirley seated a good ways away from me. We set all the dishes on the table and everyone just ended up taking what they wanted.
Everything was stupidly well made. Whoever had made the food on Lelouch's end put too much work into it. The majority of it was fried with just the right flavor to the oil, and on top of that the Japanese styled dishes were far better than I was anticipating. I suppose that having a growing boy like Akito in the house contributed to that to some extent, since Lelouch ate almost nothing but Italian food and Shirley didn't seem to like anything terribly oriental herself.
Eventually I decide that it's worth it to try to start up a conversation. "So how's work been treating the two of you?" I actually find it easier to talk to Lelouch and Shirley than most other people now, surprisingly enough. It helped that over the last year I managed to put most of the crap between us behind me, and at the same time came to trust Shirley significantly. Out of everyone in the room I was probably the only one that knew that both of them were thieves, despite how Shirley was still actively going to school and Lelouch was still doing work at Kallen's bar, although I couldn't help but suspect that the two kids knew as well.
"Not as easy as it used to be." Lelouch remarks. "I can't imagine how abysmal your job has gotten, though."
"Well as far as I'm concerned," Cecile cuts in, "he's not coming home covered in wounds anymore, so that more than makes up for everything."
"Is that so? Did they finally sit you with a desk job?"
"I wish. Just over the last two months the department got so much larger I haven't been able to sit still at all. There's always someone that has to go out on their first call."
"Well at some point the Ad Vice Department had to start doing Ad Vice things. You should've seen it coming." Shirely points out as she chews her food. A small chunk of breading escapes from her mouth and lands on Leila's plate.
"Mom..." She groans. "Don't talk with your mouth full. Geez..."
"Heehee… You don't have to freak out, you know. It's not like I'm some stranger who puts trash in their mouth."
"It's still gross." Leila groans again, pouting. Evidently her puffed cheeks were too cute for Shirley to resist and so she started pinching them. "O-ow! Stop it!"
"Ooh, I can't help it – you're just too cute!" Shirley starts pressing their cheeks together tightly while Leila's face fires up with embarrassment.
"Mom, don't do this here…"
"Oh, like anyone here cares about how cute I think my little girl is –"
"You're going to strangle her at this rate. Being over affectionate isn't healthy." Lelouch suddenly cuts in, absentmindedly reaching out for food to put on his plate while he does so, like he's had to step in like this a thousand times.
"Oh, be quiet. Like you know anything about being over affectionate." She sticks her tongue out at him before completely lifting Leila out of her seat and rubbing her nose against hers.
"Lulu, make her stop…" Leila gives up and starts calling for help.
"Alright, alright – Akito, we're switching seats."
The boy next to him, who all the while was trying his hardest to focus on his food sighs with frustration and pushes his plate across the table while Lelouch lifts his up and over.
"Hi, Akito-kun. It's nice to see you again." Nunnally smiles at Akito sweetly as he sits next to her.
"…Yeah, what of it?"
"Come on, didn't I teach you the right way to greet someone last time?"
"Yeah, but I don't have to be all polite here, do I?"
"Of course you do!" Nunnally beams at him.
"N-No, forget it!" He flares up again as his cheeks turn red – it looked like Akito was at least old enough to realize how poisonous Nunnally's smile was.
"Hey Akito…" Shirley starts up. "If you keep pouting like that I'm going to have to pinch your cheeks, too." She tries to reach around Lelouch to get at him, but he leans away.
"L-Like hell you are! Can we get through just one meal without having to talk about this?"
"No cursing at the table." Lelouch says, a little automatically, as he starts eating away at his noodles.
All the while Cecile just laughs. Shirley was like this all the time – she didn't really care where she was when she went off like this. She made it very apparent all the time that she loved her kids – and it was pretty clear Lelouch was included in there as well. Back when they first started living together, Lelouch had mentioned that it wasn't really as 'plain' a relationship as the one he said I had with Cecile.
At moments like these when I'm watching the four of them together like this, I can't help but be a bit curious about that – Lelouch was in the middle of going through what I guess is best described as a dry run of a typical family life, but despite that it really didn't seem like it was anything short of the real thing. He was even worse for wear, like a parent with two kids would be – these days whenever I saw him that amused glint that always used to be in his eyes had dulled. Even though he was more or less still doing the same stuff he'd always done, the changes he ended up making had definitely taken his toll. From what Nunnally usually has to say about him it would seem that he was actually sleeping at night far more consistently than he used to – I'd recalled catching Lelouch robbing a convenience store in the early hours of the morning with insomnia being his excuse more than once, so that could've only been a good development for everyone.
"I just want to know how when they're going to start making the schools public again. Akito hasn't been to school in over a year." Shirley continues the original conversation, her mood settling. "Your department has nothing to do with that, but doesn't GHQ manage all that stuff too?"
"Right now we're still at the point where some citizens still have their jobs illegally. Once law enforcement can safely say that the majority of jobs are managed, then they're going to open basic education to everyone again." Cecile doesn't give me a chance to respond, mainly because she knows I know absolutely nothing about that sort of thing. All I was really conscious of, as far as how Area 11 was being handled, was that Euphemia's influence wasn't getting much of anything done, since Clovis' established control wasn't exactly the most Japanese friendly thing in the world.
"Yeah, except lord knows when that's going to be." Shirley frowns.
"There's no sense in dwelling over it." Akito speaks up. "Besides, I'm learning just fine from Lulu." Hearing someone actually use that name was a little awkward, but it went without saying that Shirley's kids would call him by it – as I recall she came up with it herself.
"But it's not the same as being schooled formally. You're not getting enough like this."
"I'm glad you're so confident in my teaching abilities." Lelouch sighs. "You're the one who put me up to it in the first place, you know."
"I can vouch for onii-sama's skill. Akito-kun knows about as much about world history as I do." Nunnally suddenly chimes in.
"Hey, that's not what I meant, and you both know it." Shirley starts talking more animatedly. "You look at any other area and the standards for kids are much higher. Nunnally knows what I'm talking about, right?"
"I do agree that the situation doesn't seem to have improved at all, despite the human rights policy the crown has for underage citizens. Even if the parents are being exploited and there's nothing that can be done about that, the amount of children forced to live underground should've fallen at least a little."
"At least the rioting in the streets is minimal now." Alice joins in. Strangely enough she was very perceptive of things like this, even though all my past evaluations of her suggested she wasn't really good at using her brain like this. "And people have guaranteed housing. Even though nothing is in the best of shape, anyone living above ground doesn't have to risk being forced to go under." That was true – at least around here. In places like Ueno, however, the Japanese citizens were sleeping in drainage ditches, since even Euphemia's influence couldn't get out that far.
I should probably explain this point a little further – in its current state, Area 11 wasn't as much split between two factions as much as it was very lazily controlled by one and carefully tended to by the other. Prince Clovis, upon moving in, had managed his area very, very violently. His primary goal was to drive Japanese people from their merchant stands, their factories, and in some cases from their homes, were they privately owned and the owners unwilling to pay the enormous area tax to maintain their property. But to make matters worse, it was Xenolith who had been headed with the task of going from door to door and stripping peoples' lives away.
But aside from that he did very little else – Japanese people were unable to have any job but those in government operated facilities, and were unable to own land or participate in government, but aside from that Clovis didn't really enforce much of anything. When it came to the basic human rights laws that Britannia maintained for all of its areas, he put no effort into enforcing them, despite how dirt simple and clearly unfair they already were. Instead, it was Euphemia's faction, consisting entirely of people already under her command and politicians that were notably anti-Clovis, that maintained any kind of social order whatsoever through various programs that Clovis did not object to, but never really signed off on either.
Euphemia argued that Clovis' lack of management was going to drive Area 11 into the abyss and ruin the Emperor's drilling project, but Clovis did not pay her any heed, nor did Charles actively protest his son's actions. In the current state of things, in a Japan where Xenolith is one of the most influential members in government and Clovis was only concerned with putting people down, the only way Euphemia could ever actually seize control from her brother was to expose the legal citizen related corruption in the Ad Vice Department.
"It's been a whole year, though." Cecile says. "…We're really at the point where more progress should've been made than just that. I mean…" She glances at me nervously, not wanting to say something the kids shouldn't hear. But I got the idea – she was implying that it was only a matter of time before things went bad again.
"…Can we talk about something happier?" Leila suddenly squeaks.
"Adults talk about depressing things all the time. You should get used to it." Lelouch says with a smile.
"Hey, don't put weird thoughts like that in my Leila's head." Shirely pouts. "Why don't you tell everyone what you've been doing at school, honey?"
"Do I really have to…?" Leila groans.
"Nunnally can talk about what she's been up to, then." Lelouch cuts in.
"No, it's fine, we don't have to talk about me." Nunnally says, as her face lit up a little bit – whenever her face got a little red like that it meant she wasn't telling the truth.
"Don't give me that. You've been itching to talk about something since this morning." Lelouch seemingly doesn't miss a beat.
"No, it's not a big deal. We should talk about Cecile-san and Suzaku-kun instead."
"It's not wise to lie to your brother, Nunnally." Alice points out something fairly obvious.
Nunnally sighs with defeat. And our dinner continues, as the conversation shifts over to some more light hearted things.
It wasn't until after everything was said and done that I got to speak to Lelouch in private, however. At that point, everyone was more or less on their way out – and Cecile had managed to locate herself somewhere else, probably because she had figured out I wanted the chance to speak to Lelouch alone.
He didn't seem terribly up to the task, but I decided that I didn't really care and approached him anyway.
"It seems like things are going pretty well." I point out as I catch him gazing out the window at the evening sky.
"With Shirley, and those two."
"I'm not sure what you'd define as 'well', but in any case I'd imagine it couldn't be going any better than your own attempt at blending in with normal people."
"The hell does that mean?"
"I thought we established a long time ago neither one of us could ever call ourselves normal."
"I don't remember it like that."
"Remember it however you want. The truth is –"
"I don't want you of all people telling me about the truth… But more importantly, how has everything been going at the bar?"
"Things are much easier now that Alice is staying there full time. Nunnally's doing just fine in school, and I'm still doing work for Kallen, so there's no risk to the bar or anything like that."
"I see… But how is she holding up, especially after her brother?"
"Ah, well, it's still a touchy subject. But she's seemingly gotten past it. Sometimes though I feel as though she's trying to hide something from everyone else, as best as she can. Nunnally doesn't seem to think so, though, so I can't really know for sure."
"Well, yeah, of course she wouldn't think so." I turn away, gazing at Nunnally, who was out in the hallway. "…Well, if it matters coming from me, it shouldn't be too long now. You'll be able to give her what she deserves. Your sister, too."
"That's awfully optimistic of you." He laughs. "…No, if anything the way things are now are perhaps even worse than they've ever been."
"What makes you say that?"
"At the drop of a hat – at the drop of a hat everything can just… fall apart."
"What does that mean?"
"…I'd rather not bore you with the details."
"You shouldn't have this kind of outlook anymore. You're supposed to be a father now, you know –"
"I'm most certainly not a father." He cuts me off a little too quickly. "No… I don't have the right to be anyone's father."
I don't really have the words to reply to that with, but I try to come up with something anyway. "I'm sure those three would disagree."
"It's not quite that simple…" He adjusts his hat. "I can't help but wonder what horrors you'll unleash as a father. I'd almost advise against it."
"Hey, I'm trying to reassure you here."
"Don't. It puts me on edge."
I sigh. "You could try to change a little, you know."
"Yes… Yes, that kind of change would be a good thing." With that he steps away from me.
"…You do know by now why I keep letting you loose every time I end up catching you, right?" I speak up again before he's able to get away.
"Because of that promise, right?"
"You should think about keeping it, one of these days."
He chuckles. "We'll see."
Suzaku Kururugi, The Cold Steel
1967, March 20th, 11:50 A.M.
Britannia GHQ, Upper Shinjuku
A few days later on my way to work, Cecile told me that she wanted me to come home early for whatever reason. She seemed a little nervous when she asked me, but I decided that it was best not to dwell on it since Cecile loses her cool over the strangest things, especially these days as she rapidly approaches motherhood. I went into the office as usual, and sifted through some paperwork I'd been asked to fill out. While I certainly didn't have a desk job I still had to deal with things like this on occasion – mostly it was just reports on seized goods that a higher ranked member in the department had to sign off on, and I had no real issue with doing so.
The Ad Vice Department isn't all base corruption like it used to be – the more people that were recruited the more actual drug busts were made. But that didn't mean that the killings had stopped or even slowed down – Ad Vice was still very much a cover for Xenolith's hit squad, although it was hardly much of a squad anymore since I was essentially the only member, being forced to deceive everyone around me. Everyone I was sent after had that same tattoo – the same bird like shape that Lloyd had once told me was some sort of a sign of manmade disaster.
Today was not unlike any other day. I spent what spare time I had sitting around in the now awfully lonely office I'd been assigned to ever since I became Rai's partner, filling out paperwork until I got a call to either hunt someone down or bring someone out on their first call. In truth, the main reason why I'd started pulling off these jobs without taking too much visible damage was because I'd gotten disturbingly good at taking down generally defenseless people. I was long past the point when I consciously though about who I was killing and why. Because by now the only point to any of it was to wait for the day I could put an end to it all. Whenever I got a call, I always forwarded the details to Euphemia - for the last year that has not changed
Eventually I got my call as expected, but the content was a little different from the usual. The person on the other end of the line told me to report straight to Xenolith's office. Usually I either picked up a new recruit or got my job details from our front desk – but I was actually reporting straight to Xenolith today.
Upon reaching his office I really, really wished I hadn't. Inside Xenolith was seated at his revolving chair – but standing nearby, gazing out the window and tapping his foot impatiently was Prince Clovis, a man I've always been dreading to meet.
"Ah, Suzaku-kun. Right on time. How fortunate you weren't late today." Xenolith greets me.
Clovis turns to face me, and without thinking I offer my bow – I was getting far too used to kissing up to people I hated, evidently. Clovis stares at me for a few awkward seconds before sighing. "Hm... An eleven, huh? I thought I demanded that serious effort be put into this."
"Oh, don't mind him, come – sit down. We're going to be awhile." I do as Xenolith asks and take a seat in front of his desk while Clovis starts pacing back and forth – he was fidgeting quite a bit, and he was notably sweating. It seemed that he was awfully nervous about something.
"You can't be serious." Clovis continues. "I have no intention of leaving this task with someone that can turn on me at the drop of a hat."
"You need to relax, lord. Maybe have a few drinks, play around with one of those bunny girls we saw the other night at the casino."
Clovis starts glaring at him. "You'll silence your tongue if you have any value for -"
"Yes, yes, I'm well aware. But Suzaku-kun is the real deal – for a good while he's been the only member of this department that's been carrying out our assassinations, with no questions asked, too."
"I'm sorry, but... What is this about?" I decide to cut in.
"...Apparently Xenolith sees you fit for a special assignment." Clovis somewhat reluctantly begins. "I see no reason to provide you with any further information until -"
"We want you to infiltrate the ranks of, and ultimately betray and murder Princess Euphemia."
Clovis' reaction is about as unbelieving as my own. "You fool, what are you -"
"With all due respect, lord, you wouldn't have any indication of whether or not Suzaku-kun was up for the task unless we came out and told him." Xenolith shifts his attention back to me. "For six weeks you will feed us information, and at the start of the seventh week, which coincides with the prince's planned State Address, you will kill her. We will then hijack the grief of all those that cared for her by branding you as the man that killed her -"
"Are you an idiot?! How can you possibly convince this man to kill a member of the royal family if you go and say something like that?!"
"When we do, we will stage your execution, and provide you with a new identity and sufficient resources for you and that girlfriend of yours to live the rest of your lives out in peace. You'll get Britannian citizenship and will have the option of moving overseas and leaving this rotten country behind you forever. Meanwhile, the prince gains control of all of Euphemia's areas and furthermore, as Euphemia was the first born, inherit the right to the crown."
I'm about to raise the obvious objections, but Xenolith cuts me off before I can. "Knowing how loyal a solider you are, I'm sure you'll have no objections." I couldn't see his expression, but I got the hint. He was essentially telling me 'I'm giving you this chance, take it or you're dead.' Clovis, meanwhile, couldn't seem to read the mood at all.
"...No. I'll do it." I say with finality. Clovis is visibly shocked.
"There's no way an eleven would just turn on my sister so easily -"
"Suzaku-kun's nationality has never hindered him before. The way he's been built, Japan might as well never have existed. He's been our best operative for the last year and there hasn't been any unwanted attention since he joined."
"You would have an eleven do a Britannian's job?"
"Think about it – who better to investigate that woman's affairs than an eleven? But more importantly, an eleven she already knows personally?"
"What's this now?"
"Suzaku-kun was her dancing partner the night of the Shibuya Park Memorial. If we want anyone to get close to her, it would be him."
Clovis has no counter, but the expression on his face suggests that he's still not sold.
"...Look, lord, it's like this. Either you defer to my good judgment, or we lose a lot of money trying to find another assassin to kill the crows for us. And I can tell you that whoever we find next won't have as easy a time getting as close to your sister as Suzaku-kun could."
"If you believe my loyalty is a concern, worry no further." I speak firmly. "I abandoned this country when it claimed my father's life. I have no love for Britannia, but I have no love for Japan, either."
"A man without a country...? Surely you jest."
"See, see? This is the only kind of person we can have pulling something like this off."
"...Does he know about Mao?"
"Only what he's been told."
"...Alright, I'll agree to it."
"See? That wasn't so hard, was it?"
"...If you fail, I'm sure you understand what will happen. You, and everyone you care about – dead, without question."
"...Yes, my lord." I stand and bow again, signing off with firmness.
"Hm... That's not terrible English." Clovis says with an impressed snort as he strides out of the room. "...Xenolith, meet me downstairs in fifteen minutes."
When Clovis leaves, and only the two of us are left in the room, Xenolith revolves around in his chair, facing away from me.
"It's a shame that you can't be that devoted to an actual cause." He starts.
"...Might I ask why?"
"Why you gave me this task? Why you selected me, of all people?"
"It's quite simple, Suzaku-kun. I'm well aware that you've wanted to get your hands under the princess' clothes since the night you met. Furthermore, I'm well aware that the two of you have the same, fierce loyalty to just action. I am merely testing your loyalty – to see if you're capable of abandoning all of that for the sake of the establishment."
"But is the establishment really that valuable?"
"When the time comes and the prison walls are breached and the borders are rife with live fire and the city streets are strewn about with mountains and mountains of corpses, the establishment will be all that the people have. Even if the establishment becomes broken or corrupt, it will never be worthless."
I decide not to press the matter any further. "I see... Shall I take my leave?"
"Yes, yes, get going. I have waitresses to abuse down the road, you can take the day off if you want." He tosses a file over his shoulder and onto the desk. "Take that with you. It's got Clovis' signed approval for this op. This way if he tries to screw you over later you'll have some insurance."
I stand up, and with a curt bow I turn to leave.
"But don't misunderstand me, Suzaku. I will cleanse the streets of drugs and violence. I will break the chains, and I will let Japan fly free from this god forsaken system. The old order will burn, and I will see to it myself - that much has always been true."
The second I clear Xenolith's office I get out of the building as casually as possible and immediately make my way to the nearest payphone.
But on the way I stop myself. Maybe this was too soon. Maybe going straight to Euphemia like this was a bad idea. I should lay low for at least an hour –
I end up walking around the area, popping into the usual stores I'd normally go to with Cecile. I even went as far as to make a dinner reservation for next week at the restaurant Cecile liked, and feeding a stray cat on the side of the road. In a panic I went off, doing anything I could to seem as normal as possible, but perhaps too much to ever seem so. I had to do something with the file, though – I ended up buying some groceries and stuffing the file in there.
At about midday I ended up finding some place in the shade to sit around for awhile. Over the last year a small park was installed in the center of Upper Shinjuku, so I took advantage of it and hung around there for awhile. Externally I appeared to be taking a nap on a bench, but inside I was slowly going insane with panic. Do I take the risk and tell Euphemia right now? What if I was being watched right this moment? Any sudden movement would doom Cecile and our child without debate – I had to be extremely careful, extremely calculating. I had to pretend I was Lelouch for a few minutes and try to work this out. Do I just not do the job or put it off as long as Clovis would allow, and spend all my time until then coming up with some way to get the word out to Euphemia then?
But if I didn't take the risk, then I'd give anyone Clovis has tailing me more than enough time to map out my usual routine – and in that event, not only would Cecile be screwed, but so would Euphemia.
While I was sitting there, debating things, something rather odd happened –
Walking just in front of me, concealed by the shade of the trees, was Shirley, who was briskly walking straight ahead without so much as noticing me sitting there. If only to calm myself down I call out to her – but I don't get any kind of a response. She just keeps walking. I stand up and, leaving my bag with the files in it at the bench without really thinking, I approach her and tap her on the shoulder –
When I do she turns around and, grabbing me by the throat, pushes me back against the nearest tree, drawing a knife from her skirt and pointing it straight between my eyes. In that moment I'm completely bewildered – putting aside how I'd just been randomly attacked by someone I knew at least decently well she'd completely overpowered me in an instant. And more importantly she'd moved so fast I hadn't even had enough time to react.
She's staring at me, her eyes wide and murderous – but no, there was more there – that red glow. The symbol of the bird. It was there, present in both her eyes, staring back at me like it always did. It takes her a few moments to realize who she'd just attacked, but when she does she releases my throat and lets out a short, bated breath and the haze slips from her eyes.
"…You shouldn't sneak up on someone like that without any warning." She eventually speaks, still refusing to lower the knife.
"I called out to you… But…" I gasp, just as I'm allowed to breathe again. "…Who the hell are you, really?"
"…Tell me what you know about Mao."
"Mao? That's the second time I've heard that name today – tell me, are you from the mainland? Are you trying to bring in Lelouch? Are you in league with Prince Clovis?" I instantly regret saying that – it's clear that the Shirley right now is notably different from the one I'd just seen the other day – the one that loved Lelouch. Her skin was deathly pale, her hair was even a little disheveled – something had clearly happened to her.
"And what if I was? Would you kill me right now?"
"…If I could."
"Aren't you supposed to be some kind of a monster?" Her words are sharp and cold – there's some kind of emotion dancing across her face that I can't quite place. Was it alarm? Concern? There was some kind of distress – but I couldn't figure out what. "If you couldn't kill me, what then? What can you do, if you can't kill someone… someone insignificant like me?!"
"...What happened? Something's clearly wrong –"
"Everything's wrong – I can't think of one, single fucking thing that's gone right.
"You need to calm down. Tell me what happened and maybe I can –"
"You need to take care of your own promises with people before you deal with anyone else's."
"But that's –"
"That being said – you have to save him."
She finally lowers the knife. "You have to stop me… If it gets too out of hand." She speaks with a whisper. "You have to protect your bond with Lelouch… otherwise… Otherwise I might hurt him."
"…What's your purpose for being with Lelouch?"
"Why am I with him? Because he's the only one –" She becomes a little unsteady, her eyes sort of gaze past me, fixated on seemingly nothing at all. "That's right, the only one I don't need to wear that god forsaken mask for. The only one I don't need to act like I'm normal for. Because if I wasn't, I'd probably be dead right about now. That's why."
"Then what –"
"It's been too long, god dammit…!" She drops the knife and clenches the side of her head and starts talking to herself. "It's getting too loud – but why now, of all times? Is this… Is this some kind of punishment?"
"Look, do you need me to call a doctor or something?"
"You really like Cecile, right?" She looks up at me as her face tightens up in response to whatever pain she was feeling. "If you do, you'll stay the hell away from me from now on."
"But didn't you just say –"
"If any of you come anywhere near me, or anyone I care about, ever again, you're probably going to end up dead." As she says that she lets out a gasp, and immediately runs off into the trees. I'm unable to do anything to stop her but stare in bewilderment.
I pick up the knife and return to my bench, securing my bag and heading off to the nearest payphone. I couldn't process all of what had just happened right now – I but at least I had the grounds to make a call in the event that someone was following me.
I have to account for the worst case scenario. Like this, I'd only have the time to make one call before suspicion would set in. For the moment I would have to choose which problem I was going to resolve. I think for a moment – if I dealt with Lelouch right now and it turned out I'd need some kind of an in-person visit to the bar I'd be unable to do anything if I was being followed. And on top of that, if it turned out this was just one huge misunderstanding and there wasn't any problem to begin with, I would've wasted my opportunity to take action.
I make my decision. If Lelouch were aware of what was going on right now, he'd get pissed off if I tried to resolve his issues before dealing with those of his elder sister. I take the opportunity that's been given to me and I call Euphemia's office.
I dial a rather familiar number and wait impatiently for someone to pick up.
"It's Watarai. I need you to connect me to Euphemia-sama right now."
"Watarai... You're not scheduled to make a report for another two weeks -"
"It's an emergency situation."
"Can you wait twenty-four hours?"
"I'm sorry, I need you to connect me right now."
"...Putting you through now." I sigh with relief. Euphemia had to discard the straight line to her office some time ago due to complications, and the way things worked now I had to get a hold of her through more typical channels with a fake name and profession. Very often if something important came up I wouldn't be able to get through because typically urgent, national-security type calls for the princess went through this line.
A few moments later I hear her voice and let out a sigh of relief. "This is Euphemia… You're there, right?"
"Yeah, it's me – you're not going to believe what just got handed to me."
"Did something happen?"
"Xenolith just gave me another assassination order. You'll never guess who I'm supposed to go after."
"…On Clovis' orders, I presume?"
"It took some convincing, but he approved. I've got his signature, his order code, his approval code – on paper this is a royal black-op, and everything that indicates that is in here. All you need to do is forward all this to your father and all of this will be over."
She lets out a sigh of relief. "Ah, yes, that's wonderful news… But you're absolutely sure that all of this is accurate?"
"Even if Xenolith gave me papers with fake codes we can file an investigation based off of just that, can't we? Clovis' royal stamp is in here, and so is Xenolith's – those can't be so easily falsified."
"I see… Yes, that's certainly true. It might not end as tidily, but having falsified documents with upper management approval would be a huge advantage for us in any case."
"So what do you want me to do?"
"It's too dangerous to have you come straight here, especially if you were given a royal black-op – honestly I feel contacting me this soon was a bit too risky. But in any event, you'll have to drop off the papers with one of my men… I'm just not sure where I can set up a meeting in this city."
"Are you sure that would be safe? If I don't get this to you directly –"
"I can't leave this building without Clovis' men knowing where I am. Especially if he's in the middle of plotting my assassination. The only way this gets done is if you meet with one of my most trusted informants… At ten o'clock this evening, I can set you up with one over by the east edge – they'll be in one of the back alleys that they'll mark with yellow paint."
"Understood. I'll be there."
"Be safe." With that she hangs up.
I was going to have to come up with some excuse for why I wasn't going to get home early tonight, but at the moment none of that mattered. This was my golden opportunity – the chance I had to finally do what I'd always wanted to. With this information I had the power necessary to topple Clovis' order from the inside. Without bloodshed, without death – with just a few sheets of paper I could change the fate of this dying land.
Suzaku Kururugi, The Cold Steel
1967, March 20th, 9:50 P.M.
East Edge, Upper Shinjuku
The time between the call and the meeting was spent doing nothing but preparing. I had to continue my casual act, even up until the point where I made my way over to the meeting place. I'd stopped at home for a short while, mainly to call Cecile at work and tell her that I wasn't going to be home at the hour she specified. As usual she played it off as absolutely nothing – she told me that she was used to this happening at this point, and whatever she had to say, she could do it whenever I got home. Thankful that Cecile was the most understanding person in the world, I head out to the meeting place at nine.
Upper Shinjuku, having been built up and along the wall of massive crater, was not entirely level. At the furthest point northeast and northwest, construction was forced to a halt due to an inability to set up construction at such a height. These areas were largely roped off, but complexes were built extremely close to the edge of the platforms and were actively housing war refugees and displaced Britannians that had been living in Japan prior to the bombings. It was cheap and worthless housing, but housing nonetheless. These areas, dubbed the edges, were essentially where the 'poor' lived – these people were the closest thing to a middle class Britannia had, and to some extent these people were necessary to maintain social order in the areas, especially an area as unstable as Area 11.
The East Edge was not necessarily a lawless area, as much as it was a thoroughly abandoned one. Very few people still lived on this edge, mainly due to Xenolith's exploits in driving people from these buildings, under the pretense of harboring Japanese citizens. Indeed, Clovis' rule cared nothing for the Japanese people, but it did not spare any Britannians, either. It was probably because of that fact that Area 11 legislation had crawled to a halt – and why Euphemia still had any power here at all, since she was willing to fight on the behalf of everyone.
I comb the alleyways, searching for this yellow paint sign I'm supposed to find. I'd gotten here a little early, so I had time to search carefully. At this point it didn't matter if I was being followed or not – under the veil of night I could probably get away with taking out anyone that might try to stop me.
Before too long, I found exactly what I was looking for –
And when I saw it I felt like laughing a little – painted on the side of one of the buildings, in bright, yellow paint, was the sign I was looking for. Unsurprisingly, it was the symbol of the bird. Although I suppose something like this might've been a little surprising for someone who didn't live each and every day with that sign hanging over them like a looming shadow.
I walk slowly into the alleyway – as I do a light built into the side of one of the buildings lit up. Within the darkness I could see someone standing there – a man, dressed in black clothes, with a bucket of paint at their side.
"Are you Suzaku-kun?" They call out.
"Who's that? My name is Watarai."
"That's good enough, I guess." From saying that, I decide it's safe to trust this person.
I'm about to hand him the documents without much of an exchange. They step into the light as I get closer – and then I see their face.
It wasn't as though I was all that good with faces and names of people I'd never really associated with before. But this man –
I knew this man all too well. Mainly because a certain case involving this man had inadvertently ended the life of our former chief of detectives.
Euphemia's informant was Kaname Ougi. A man that should have died over a year ago.
I can't really help myself anymore – just what the fuck is going on here?
"Just what the hell is this?"
After a few seconds of confusion, Ougi smiles sadly. "Hm… I was afraid of this. So you know who I am, huh? There's no need for alarm, however – I serve Princess Euphemia, just as you do."
I stuff the folder away and pull my gun out. "Explain yourself. Explain everything right now –"
"Slow down. What do you mean by 'everything'?"
"Why that mark you gave all your men was on the Chief of Detectives' neck. How you enlisted him and several of our other detectives. But more importantly how you're still here and why you're working for Euphemia."
He shakes his head. "You seem to have misunderstood everything from the beginning."
"What does that mean?"
He turns around and shows me the back of his neck. Sure enough, that strange, black mark is there. "This mark isn't mine," he begins. "But I hesitate to tell you whose mark it is. After all, it seems like you're completely oblivious to everything going on here."
"I still don't get what you're saying."
"I hate to have to be the one to tell you this, but from the very beginning you've been set up."
"Set up? By who?"
"What the hell does that mean?"
"Maybe if I say it like this it'll help – on the fifth page of that document is the royal seal. However, it was not stamped down hard enough, and both the upper left corner and the lower right corner are not pronounced. Furthermore, the initials 'C.v.B' are each written in a different color of ink, the 'B' being in red. Furthermore, the entirety of that page is misaligned slightly to the right."
I'd been through the document several times already – I knew that what he'd just told me was completely true. But that could only mean –
"Do you understand now? We're both tools in a political game of betrayal. We always were. In a matter of minutes Clovis' men will be upon us, and the chances of both of us leaving alive are slim to none."
"So you're saying –"
"You've been sent here, as have I, as lambs to the slaughter. Because the two of us are loose ends that neither side of this war wants running around freely."
"Wait, what 'war' are you talking about?"
"It should be obvious by now. Especially if you've gotten this far. For as long as anyone can remember Britannia's been taking over more and more of the world. Slowly but steadily reaching the point where there won't be any more nations to control. But world conquest is just a front for the truth."
"And what truth is that?"
"For as long as it's existed, Britannia has always been at war with itself. A war between the nobility and the church. A war between the emperor and Mao."
"Again with this Mao person –"
"Our country was devoured to satisfy the balance between the two. But even then it's not enough – no, our people are going to be beaten and flayed until their fighting either destroys everything or one side wins."
"I still don't understand what you're saying but – you're saying we're bait?"
"Offerings from Euphemia to end the feud between her and her elder brother."
"But that's…" There was just so much wrong with what I was being told. This wasn't something Euphemia would do – not willingly. This isn't something someone with her point of view would agree to. She would never allow Clovis to continue as he has.
"You have to choose a side, Suzaku. Even knowing that neither side will ever see you as anything more than worthless. Even knowing that all you're choosing is one evil over another."
"What are you telling me to do?"
"Those documents are useless, and always have been. At this point, all you get to choose is which way you want to die. Would you rather die tonight, as an ally of a woman you don't understand, or would you rather die tomorrow, when Euphemia sends her men out to kill you for your betrayal?"
I don't reply right away, so he continues. "I for one have had enough. I will not serve an order that will never restore Japan to its former glory. As someone that loved this country I can't stand by such cheap falsehoods."
"…It doesn't matter what you tell me." I reply, after a few moments of silence. "There's simply no way Euphemia's feelings are empty and hollow. Even if they aren't completely sincere, even if I'm supposed to be a tool to support those feelings, and even if those feelings aren't really meant for me, there's no way I can betray them."
"And why is that?"
"You're Japanese as well, so you should be able to understand. I have no love for Britannia, but I couldn't bring myself to care for Japan either. That's why I could let myself ally with Britannia in the first place. No matter how much I could've cared about Japan, I didn't, because Japan itself was never what it should have been, even before all of this began."
"Euphemia is the only person – the only person in this world with power that can understand the meaning behind that choice. She's the only one who can understand what real peace means while having the power to make real peace a reality. Euphemia is the only good we will ever have. And without her nothing either of us could ever do will ever be worth anything."
"…You still don't get it, do you?" He shakes his head. "I suppose that there's no helping it if you're willing to go this far for your delusions."
"Why I choose to believe in someone else is quite frankly none of your damn business. You're the one that was curious." I retort.
"Then if you manage to survive this evening, you will be all the more justified. But if you die for something as trivial as this – well, I hope you realize she won't miss you."
As he says that I hear the sound of an approaching vehicle – followed by at least two others. Light suddenly spills to the alleyway and I immediately turn to face what was doubtlessly the oncoming threat. I hear doors being slammed and rifles being loaded. I look back at Ougi – but he's gone, just like that. Without a trace he's vanished, and I'm left here to face death head on alone.
Before I even have time to think the first two charge into the alleyway without a second thought, guns blazing. They're too slow for me, though – almost instinctively at this point I take a running jump just before I'm in their range and I break out into a full sprint along the wall, kicking off just above them and with my strongest kick I manage to bash one's face in right away – the other doesn't have enough time to counteract before I break his arm, shove his rifle in his mouth, and fire a bunch of rounds into the back of his head.
Pulling along both rifles with one on each arm I roll out into the street, heading left despite that direction leading to a dead end. It went without saying that they were all coming from the right – almost immediately I'm under very heavy fire, but I manage to get behind a car parked on the side of the road. I moved at just the right speed, managing to pick off at least two more and effectively immobilize one of their cars. I almost botch my recovery, but fortunately I had my arms close enough to my sides that I manage to complete the roll without the guns getting in the way. Based on the hail of fire they all must have submachine guns – the two that went in after me gave me nothing but standard AK crap to work with and didn't even have full magazines. But as long as I could move around like this I shouldn't have to worry about running out of guns to shoot with –
Of course I don't have time to stop and mull things over. I have to keep on moving.
I roll out from behind the car and spray as much as I can with what ammo I had left. It might've seemed like a waste, but I needed the opportunity to get a grasp of the layout of the area. In the three seconds I spend moving from one parked car to another on the opposite end of the street I manage to see everything –
Four cars, thirteen men. Two parked in parallel closest to me facing each other, one parked diagonally just to their left, and another further back. Three men behind the two closest and one in each, two by the diagonal car and two inside, and four by the car furthest in the back. The men inside the cars have rifles that need to reload after five shots. The dead bodies are the near the entrance to the alley, and I was on the opposite side of the road.
The next few seconds go by at almost one tenth the speed – at least that's what it felt like. I peek out and take shots at the ones in the cars, but they duck just in time and all I manage to do is break some glass. I'm then shot at, but they manage to do about the same to me – they shatter the windows, leaving me some huge shards of glass to make use of. I grab one, clench it between my teeth and immediately spring from my hiding spot.
Now, typically when western men that were properly trained shot and missed, it would usually be the result of them aiming too high. You're always supposed to aim with your eyes from the proper distance at the proper eye level, but when it comes to firing quickly in response to spontaneous behavior and you don't have time to aim, you shoot reflexively. Western gunmen, at least as far as I was taught, always aim high because when they are typically taught to shoot they're shooting things that are right at their eye level. By the time the gun in their hands feels comfortable, they'll have gotten used to holding it at that very specific height. When a western man first opens fire on a twitch reaction he will always aim just a little higher than he should before he adjusts, as long as he does not have the time to properly measure out the appropriate angle in his head – in other words, if he hasn't completely memorized the trajectory or does not know where his target is.
I'd only been back here for five seconds at the most. Maybe in another ten I'd be in trouble, but if I close in and take advantage of the first few seconds of that reaction right now, I can at least take out the drivers in front –
And I do so – I roll again shooting this time towards the diagonally parked car and the two right in front at the same time so that as I close in I don't get bombarded with fire from my side. I manage to get close enough to the front two cars with a well timed roll that all the shots aimed toward me end up soaring straight overhead – the two drivers need to reload, and in the time that they do I drive the huge glass shard through the first man's forehead. The second one managed to roll up his window in time, but I punch through it without slowing down for even a moment and press the barrel of my AK against his forehead and shoot. I keep shooting long after he's fallen over – one of the men behind the car wasn't crouching low enough and I manage to get him in the back of the head straight through the passenger window before he can even realize it. I manage to duck back down just as one of the remaining two starts shooting at me through the gap in the window, and as I do I manage to tug on the AK of the one driver that had managed to reload. I decide to empty what was left of one of the AKs by shooting over the roof, not really caring if I hit anything.
I notice that the car on the left still has the keys in the ignition. I start the car and then lift the emptied rifle with both hands, throwing it in the direction of the diagonal car. As I do so I hoist up the new rifle and hop over the roof of the car I'm hiding behind. I aim towards the car furthest in back and towards the two men just below me – I take a shot to my left shoulder and one to my right leg, but I manage to not only take out the two just in front of me but two of the men furthest back with submachine guns drop as well.
I roll out to the side again, this time taking aim at the car furthest in back – the men stationed at the diagonal car seemed like they were about to start moving, so I head back towards the entrance to the alleyway, dragging along one of the submachine guns belonging to one of the first two I'd killed as I do so. As expected they start moving from their car to close in on me, but as they do I manage to take an absurdly precise shot and kill the driver inside their car, which creates just enough confusion to force the two approaching me into a defensive stance behind the car I'd just started.
Just as they do I pump that car full of shots until it explodes, killing the two nearby. The explosion causes the surviving gunman in the passenger seat of the diagonal car to spring from his cover and head straight for me, but I manage to take him down no problem from where I was crouched. All that remained were the men by that one car furthest in the back –
Of course at that very moment two more cars appear on the scene, one pulling up by the vacated diagonal car and the other by the surviving pack of gunmen. I move back and forth between cover and shoot with everything I've got, switching weapons as was necessary. But there was a point where I was going to run out of ammo and I was going to get cornered. At some point I was going to have to flee towards the residential dead end behind me – and there was a point where that was going to fail to work out as well since we were high up enough in this section of Midtown that I was going to reach the edge of a cliff at some point.
I manage to clear out one of the two cars, but I end up getting shot up a few more times as well. Nothing fatal was hit, but it was getting to the point where my left arm was going to stop being of any use if I let it take any more abuse. There were a few tricks I still had left, and if I could –
Of course right when I was putting together a counterattack a third car makes a very sharp turn onto the street, plowing straight ahead and running over one of the surviving gunmen that was standing just a little too far away from his car, sending him flying in my direction and crashing into the wall of the alley. The car then starts spinning out of control and doing donuts before finally screeching to a halt about a foot away from another vehicle.
From the driver's seat emerges Xenolith, his white mask stained with someone's blood, but curiously enough without any kind of weapon in his hands. Without really thinking I start shooting right at him, but as I do some black haze suddenly shoots in front of him, blocking the shot.
In a few seconds I realize that the black haze was Solomon, who'd moved so quickly that the black haze was just the refresh rate of my fucking eyes trying to catch up.
Without warning he charges at me. I start shooting at him to no avail and once he gets close enough and brandishes that saw cleaver I just drop everything but the lightest gun I had – my own handgun – and take off. He was coming straight at me with nothing but a cleaver and what definitely was a blunderbuss – the fact he was using such an archaic weapon meant jack shit, though. If there was anyone who could kill someone with a weapon that's been out of date for almost four hundred years it would be Solomon.
Solomon's coat obscures my vision of the rest of the pack as he jumps towards me, but I don't really think I have to worry about them at all – they seem to know that so much as grazing Solomon with anything will be the easiest way for them to die, so they aren't even shooting anymore.
Solomon only needs to swat at me, and even then only barely – whatever combat experience I'd ever had was useless. Even though I was the sort of person that was more skilled at hand-to-hand combat than most veteran soldiers I still stood no chance. This man was more than a Frog could ever hope to be – he was a monster. A demon pulled straight out of hell, fighting for no real reason other than to just fight. Why he was here didn't matter. Why he was fighting didn't matter. Only the fact that he could, and with such intensity that no one could possibly match.
His cleaver flies around like he's swinging a dagger. He's jumping around like he's made of aluminum. He has no mortal limits and I simply can't keep up. I end up trying to back up and bash him over the head with my handgun just to see if I could daze him, but instead he slashes right at me. I only barely get away – my handgun is cleaved in two as I back away, and I don't even notice until I get a good foot or so away and try to shoot at him.
I end up swinging my fists at him in vain for a few more seconds before I jump towards the wall on my right, aiming to kick off and spin straight into him, but he follows me every step of the way and manages to grab hold of my leg right when I kick off –
He drives his cleaver right into my side and twists it, cutting up any vital organs he might've missed – he had stabbed me low enough that he manages to nick my lung and really fuck up the upper part of my small intestine – a place I'd actually been stabbed twice quite some time ago, although far more cleanly than right now – before trying to yank the blade out and getting it caught on some body fat. To tear it out he ends up sliding the blade all the way up, splitting open everything up to but just narrowly missing my heart.
He raises the cleaver again, my blood and guts smeared across it glistening in the light of the moon, but then –
"That's enough." A voice. A voice I recognized.
Out of the back of that car came Prince Clovis with a very satisfied smile on his face, a gun in one hand and his cane in the other. "That's enough abuse. We've gotten our point across."
"Prince Clovis…? So you were in on this, the whole time…?" I gasp for air, my body very quickly starting to fail me as Solomon lets go of me and steps away as I crumple to the ground.
"I must say, I am very disappointed in you, Kururugi." He shakes his head. "To think that you were the mole my sister had placed on the inside, despite how strong your devotion to justice was – what did she offer you? Nothing short of her body, I presume?"
"You think too lowly of your siblings." I retort. "The only one that's really that black hearted is you."
"You don't really believe something like that, do you? Or has Euphemia really poisoned your soul that deeply? In any event, I suppose I'm more disappointed in your inability to detect deception in other people – if you really thought I'd ever give an eleven the task of murdering a member of my own family even with Xenolith's persuasion, you simply know nothing about how vengeance works."
"I suggest getting to the point, lord." Xenolith interrupts. "We don't have all the time in the world –"
"Of course we do, you stupid boy. I own this country. This land is mine to do with as I please."
"…If you insist." Xenolith gives a very curt bow and steps back, signaling for Solomon to retreat back to the car.
Clovis strides over to me, stepping very carelessly over the corpses that littered the street. He stops just in front of me and presses his handgun to my temple. "Well then – I will make this simple. You will tell me what information you leaked to my sister. And then you will die. If you refuse, I will not only kill you, but everyone you hold dear. And I will make you watch, and I will kill you last."
Of course this was going to be like this. I'd gotten caught, and this was the inescapable consequence of that. The only way – the only way I get to walk away from this is if I were to somehow kill everyone around me in this state. The obvious choice here is to tell him everything – after all, it's not like he's bluffing. One way or another I'm still dead – my life was not worth bargaining with, not even to me, and he knew I knew that.
"Answer my question first. It won't hurt since I'm going to be dead in a few seconds anyway, right?"
"…Fine then. Ask your question. I suppose I should reward you with at least that, for taking down most of my best men. Only the finest heartless bastards are capable of such a feat."
"Tell me who Mao is. Tell me who's running your church."
"Oh? Is that information really worth taking to the other side with you?"
"You do know, don't you?"
"Of course I know. There's not a thing about that accursed woman I don't know."
"Then tell me – unless you want to tell me you don't even respect your own fascist values."
"You watch your tongue, eleven." He digs the barrel into my head. "You're going to die no matter what, but I can decide in all of a moment to be an unmerciful executioner."
"Lord, leave Suzaku-kun to me." Xenolith suddenly speaks. "You're clearly still a little lightheaded from dinner."
"I am not drunk, child." Clovis looks over his shoulder and vents at Xenolith again. "There is no man in this entire nation with more clarity than I. Know your place before I have you sent back to that soviet trash dump you came from."
"I understand, lord, but you must calm down –"
"What, do you have an issue with the truth?" He laughs. "All scum must rot – if at any time I deem you to be scum, you will be treated as such. Am I clear?"
"…As you say, lord." Xenolith curtly bows again.
Clovis' attention is focused back on me. "I will grant you a small fraction of the truth – but first I must ask you a question myself. Are you familiar with the old legends – about Gilgamesh the Hero?"
Gilgamesh the Hero – the Babylonian myth. A half god who collected all of the world's treasures, said to be the origin of all myths and legends. I read such stories growing up – but what did they have to do with anything? I nod my head in confusion.
"Gilgamesh the Hero – yes, that is who Mao is. The abomination to end all abominations. And now –"
"…Lord, I must ask that you refrain from killing Suzaku-kun."
Clovis sighs angrily and looks over his shoulder again. Xenolith is still defiant – for what reason I of course had no idea, but he was not receptive to the idea of finishing me off. "I will kill all those that seek to oppose me. If you insist on being such a cur, I won't hesitate to cut you down as well!"
"He's more valuable that you're giving him credit –"
But Clovis doesn't want to listen any longer. He pulls the trigger.
Only then he realizes that the gun is not loaded. His embarrassment peaking, he glances around and demands a magazine or another gun, but despite the order none of the men move. It's like they're testing his leadership – like they're waiting to see if he can get the job done on his own. After presumably realizing this, he mutters something along the lines of 'screw you all, I'll do this myself' under his breath and grabs my neck with his arms. He starts to tighten – it's barely enough, but he manages to start choking me.
I guess that this was the end –
But strangely enough it didn't feel like the end. It didn't seem like this was an ending that I felt was worth being my end. But I guess that's what the end actually was – always untimely, never on your own terms. If I were to die, I guess I would've liked to die like that.
Of course then I hear a gun shot.
Blood sprays – from Clovis' chest, and onto my face.
"…Stupid lord, never doing what he's told. It's a wonder you weren't thrown off a cliff the day you were born."
Clovis arcs back – he'd been shot through the chest, but not straight through the heart. He'd certainly die, but it was going to be slow and agonizing. He falls over, staring down the man that had shot him. "Xenolith… You…!"
"I'm afraid the only cur present here is you, stupid lord." Xenolith laughs.
I manage to get a full view of the scene in front of me – Xenolith had indeed shot Clovis down. None of the men around him so much as moved to defend him, nor did they show any kind of hostility toward him whatsoever. They were just watching and waiting, not surprised in the slightest.
And then I realize it – it was a setup. But I wasn't the one being set up. No – this whole plot was not a plot to expose Euphemia's enemies. No, she knew full well who was on her side and who wasn't. And she offered me up like a lamb to destroy that enemy. This was a plot to kill Prince Clovis – and the only ones that were in the dark were him and me.
"You bastard… From the beginning, was… Was this what you always wanted?" Clovis groans, blood finally managing to find its way up his throat and down the corner of his mouth.
"Poor Prince Clovis… No mother, no kind, doting father, no siblings that cared about him, not a single friend in the world, no loyal subjects, no kind, quiet girl watching you lovingly from afar waiting for the day you finally notice her – what a terrible life you've had. What an empty life you've had." Xenolith strides over and looks down on him. "You crave violence because you know no other way to convey yourself, yet you're barely stronger than a squirrel. You're helplessly self centered – but no, that's not a flaw. You're a fascist. A strong, defiant fascist, right? That's just part of your ideology, right? Do you even know what a fascist is? Or were you determined to join a group that wouldn't reject you no matter what?"
"W…Why…? I gave you… everything we agreed on…!" He coughs blood.
"It's quite simple, really. Honor and commitment mean nothing to me. You gave me what I wanted, but I have no obligation to give you anything back. If you were really fascist, you'd be able to understand at least this."
"You still don't get it? Japan was never yours. Your leadership and your guidance have never gotten anyone anywhere. No – Japan is mine. And I will take Japan and I will mount it as I will one day mount the world."
"But… I…" Clovis struggles to move, but he tries to reach out to Xenolith, perhaps in some vain attempt to beg for mercy. "…Xenoli…Rolo…Please, you… you were like… you were my only… my only friend…!"
"…Yes, that's right. Rolo. My name is Rolo… Yes, my name…" Suddenly Xenolith starts to shake, repressing his hands' natural instinct to cling to his head. "…Is Rolo, a xenolith by birth, as I will be a xenolith in death. And your name is simply piss and shit by comparison… Clovis vi Britannia – what a disgusting name. A name befitting a useless tool such as you." He points his gun right between Clovis' eyes. "Die with your atrocious name, you impudent cretin."
With that he pulls the trigger, and Prince Clovis lies still.
"It's funny though." Xenolith continues. "We were friends. We were awfully good friends. I looked past all your flaws, and you gave me what I wanted in return. We got drunk at bars together, we even watched the same shows on television. And even earlier than that… I wonder, was there anything I truly did for myself that you were not at my side for? Yet here you are, a worthless pile of fat, and here I am, the one that shot you dead… Hahah, how terrible… Yes, how delightfully terrible. Surely, surely there's no one on this earth that would call me human now."
He stomps on his dead body several times, laughing all the way. "Ah, that just felt great. Now, then –" But then, before I can even tell what's going on, Xenolith has kicks me right in the stomach, before ramming his foot into my bleeding face several times. He lifts me off the ground by my neck and drives his hand into the gaping hole in my side and forcefully tugs on my intestines. The pain is so intense I nearly pass out just from that –
"You, Suzaku-kun, have been a vast disappointment. But unlike that pile of piss and shit, I see you for what you're worth. I may have known all along that you were leaking information and that you were a no good traitorous pig, but I still see the point in keeping your heart beating for awhile longer… That's why I agreed to that pretty princess' demands, after all. 'Bring me Clovis, give me some dirt to bury him with, and I will give you Suzaku-kun.' You're lucky she reached out to me instead of someone else."
"…Yeah, I really am glad a fuck-up like you is looking after me." In response to that he punches me in the face.
"Tell me. How long have you been working for the enemy?"
"…Wouldn't you like to know." I might be about to bleed out here, but I couldn't help it – I've wanted to tell this beast straight to his face what I've always felt about him.
"You're awfully brave today. I'm a little impressed. Maybe you have lost that much blood."
"Could be… But no matter how bad I end up I won't be as fucked up as you."
"You're fucking insane. You're a monster that has no place living in this world. You're so fucked up I actually feel a little sorry for you –"
And with a sharp thrust he reaches up into my body and wraps his fist around my heart – yes, that's surely where he was grabbing. I'd never felt such a sensation before, but –
I can no longer see straight. My eyes roll into the back of my head and I start to lose consciousness as my whole body spasms.
"Let me make this perfectly clear for you. You are not being spared death. You are being forced to live. Don't get me wrong – you are a worthless traitor, you are a visionary that has done nothing but speak out of their ass since the day they were born, your eyes see nothing but what's right in front of them, and I will see to it that one day you will die a particularly heinous death for the time I have wasted on you."
"…Doesn't change the fact that you're still fucked."
"…I'm glad we're finally on the same page, Suzaku-kun. Yes, I'm totally fucked. But if I'm not, then who's going to be?" He then releases my heart and pulls his arm out of me, dropping me to the ground. I'd lost so much blood that my whole body was numb from the pain. "If only Lelouch could see things the same way as I did. Maybe then he'd still have his hand."
"What do you want…" I start gasping for air. "…with Lelouch? Leave him alone, or I'll…"
"My business with him very fortunately does not concern you… Although to some extent it does, I suppose. After all… After tomorrow, when he becomes mine, all of my enemies, including you, will no longer have the power to stop me – yes, after tomorrow, my war to end all justice and injustice will finally begin. Not you, not your cunt mistress, not the Emperor, not his knights or his generals or his abominations will be able to stop me…!" He starts looking up at the sky. He's in his own world now. "A power strong enough to force even God into submission – yes, that is what I will claim for myself! And then it'll finally be time to fuck over everyone! Time to fuck over the whole fucking world! And then I'll have created the establishment that will guide us all into a new century!"
"Whatever you're planning… It's not going to work."
"Your desire to stop me is in vain, Suzaku-kun… As a matter of fact, most of your desires in general are in vain. You are a fragile glass figure, just begging to break, but too afraid to actually be broken. You can't hide away in your cupboard forever. Especially not once your cupboard is blown away and all you're left standing on is thin air."
"What does that mean…?"
"Your worth is not in the Suzaku Kururugi you're trying to create – no, your real value is in the Suzaku Kururugi you're trying to bury. The Suzaku Kururugi that had no purpose or reason – the Suzaku Kururugi that died eleven years ago… But that Suzaku –kun can't come back until this Suzaku-kun disappears, huh?" He sighs. "And even then, if even taking that away doesn't work, there's really no problem. At the very least keeping you alive, even if only to see your faces as the world burns around you, has its own merits."
With that he turns and walks away. Before I know it, everyone is gone – only I remain, slowly dying on the ground.
I can't let things end like this. I'm just too mad – too mad at everyone to just die like this.
I'd been betrayed, beaten, and broken by everyone around me. I was fodder for these corrupt cows – a noble sacrifice, little more than a mindless pawn, and here I was dying like one.
There's only one person in the world that I can turn to right now. Only one person that will take me in this shape.
I stand up and slowly walk off, crushing Clovis' bloody face beneath my heel as I stalk off into the night, using what little strength I had left to make it back home.
I tumble into the door to my apartment just a little past three in the morning. I'd managed to sew the bulk of my wounds shut but I was still hemorrhaging and I needed treatment that I was going to have to do in my own bathroom. My vision is still all over the place – I wasn't sure how I'd even managed to get home without passing out, especially after how thoroughly my insides had been violated just a short while ago – I was covered in sweat and shivering.
I end up fumbling my way into my bathroom and sewing up all the minor holes I could find. I wasn't going to be able to recover just from the damages I've done, but for now this would let me keep on going for a few more hours. I pulled out whatever first aid equipment I could find and just started applying it everywhere – by the time I was done I was completely covered in bandages, and so exhausted from the sudden wave of physical relief that I almost passed out on the spot.
I pull myself out of the bathroom and start stumbling through the apartment. With what strength I had left I tried to call out for Cecile – she was probably in bed by now, and I had no business trying to wake her, but at the moment I needed her. I probably needed her more at this very moment than I'd ever needed her before, in fact. On this night so many things were called into question. I couldn't help but question every belief I've ever had in Euphemia, in her cause – in just about everything around me.
And at a moment like this – the only person I could always believe in, the only person I could always trust, even more than Lelouch, was Cecile. Someone who'd decided that they'd stand by me no matter what, even at great personal risk. I had to see her. I needed her help. I needed to be with her, and right now, before all this doubt within me took over.
And then –
And then I step into the kitchen.
Dinner was prepared and apparently served, just as it always was – one plateful for her, one plateful for me. She'd made her favorite, consisting of grilled pork, green beans and fried rice, which she always used to have when she was a little girl. She knew I didn't really have the taste buds for green beans, so she had topped my plate with soy sauce to help provide some taste and, knowing how stupidly picky I could be about this sort of thing, made me a salmon cutlet just in case.
And there she was, seated the table, having already started her portion since it'd gotten really late –
And the reassuring smile she always gave me whenever I returned home at such a late hour, her familiar face that always made me feel at ease –
Swallowed into the void of the
of the bloodied
her head should have been
And her stomach that I'd once gently touched, to feel our child kicking from within –
Slash open and hollowed out and –
Everything within, spilled out onto the floor –
And strung around her neck –
A colorful balloon one would see at a baby shower, decorated with the words – It's a girl!
At that moment –
Surely I have to be dead now.
Because there's –
There's nothing –
Nothing left –
I fall to the floor. I have no desire to move.
No, I have no desire to do anything anymore.
No, perhaps –
Perhaps there's one feeling –
One feeling welling up inside of me.
Stronger than any feeling I've ever felt before –
…No. Maybe I have felt this before.
Yes, this feeling –
It wasn't grief. It wasn't despair.
It was fury.
A quiet, depressing fury, long since repressed.
Something I'd abandoned in Russia –
Something dark, something carnal, that was slowly creeping back.
And eventually I stood up –
And the only thought powering me was a rather simple one.
Xenolith must –
…No, he said his name was Rolo, wasn't it?
Rolo must die.
And I'm going to kill him.
I'm going to fucking murder him.
And after that - I don't care what happens.