Title: Fairy Tale (Part One)
Pairings: Schneizel El Britannia x Kururugi Suzaku, with a hint of SuzaEuphie
Rating: Mature (more R than NC-17 though)
Warnings: Yaoi, very non-canon pairing, OCs, and mature content. SPOILERS to the entire first season too. And this fic is long. As in LONG. Because Suzaku demanded it so and I could only obey.
Disclaimer: These fabulous characters and Code GEASS belong to Sunrise. I only own the plot of this fic.
Challange: 30_romances #08. Collection
A/N: Another Code Geass fanfic I’ve uploaded at ff.net and now at LJ. I have to split it into parts because it’s too long and LJ cannot display it in one page. Anyway, Enjoy.
It started out innocently enough.
‘Innocent’ may not be the right word, considering what they were actually starting, but Suzaku honestly cannot put a name to this little affair which has been going on for months between them.
Again, ‘affair’ doesn’t sound right either, too grand of a word, too melodramatic. This is one man fucking another man – or a seventeen-year-old boy in this case – and the rest is just a bed, a tube of lubricating gel and feverish gasps. No flowers or whispered romantic words to make it look prettier. In fact, it is ugly – too many lies and wicked, almost cruel ulterior motives and once again, lies. Suzaku has never experienced anything more false in his life.
The death of his princess was the beginning of everything.
He knew he was starting to fall in love. Perhaps it was inevitable. She was this beautiful princess with not only a kind heart, but also the courage to right what was wrong. When she chose him to be her knight, it was nothing short of a Cinderella story.
Only not as beautiful. Not as smooth. Not as perfect.
Long time ago, when all had been nice and well, Nunnally often told him about this bedtime story her mother had read to her every night. His ten-year-old self would have smiled and promised wholeheartedly that he would always be her prince no matter what – and that, usually, would have triggered a vehement declaration from Lelouch that he would never, ever give his sister away to an uncouth ruffian who had never beaten him in chess even once. Now, he could only think of how unfair it was that the greatest obstacles this Cinderella had to overcome were her stepmother and sisters, not the whole world.
Then again, it was a fairy tale. He knew his story wasn’t the moment Zero fired that shot from his gun and killed her.
Zero had taken everything from him. His princess, his dreams, his best friend, and the worst of all, his ability to trust. Because if it wasn’t Lelouch’s face staring back at him from behind that mask, he might still be able to collect the last bits of his sanity, piece them together, and make an effort to go on. But Zero was Lelouch and Lelouch was Euphie's murderer and that was the end of his world.
When he woke up, it was to a familiar beeping sound. Someone was sitting next to his bed and there was a warm hand clasping his cold fingers. With some effort, he opened his eyes, and found Cecile’s face smiling down at him.
“Hello, Suzaku-kun,” her gentle voice broke the monotonous sound coming from the machine to his left, her eyes glittering with unshed tears.
Despite the anaesthetic haze in his mind, Suzaku wanted to cry himself.
When Lloyd came into the room, it was with a scowl on his face. His right cheek exhibited a large white plaster on it, covering what Suzaku realised must be the stark proof of his insubordination.
“You’re lucky this time, Suzaku-kun,” the earl told him, a tinge of disapproval in his voice. “I won’t help you the next time you lie bleeding yourself to death somewhere after taking Lancelot away from me by force.”
Then, of course, he remembered everything. Euphie. Zero. Lelouch. Zero. Suzaku barely noticed Cecile’s hands trying to hold him down when he sat up and screamed at the older man.
“Then why did you?!”
A horrible pain exploded in his head and the wound in his shoulder burned – the wound Kallen had given him. Kallen, burying a bullet in his shoulder to save Zero – Zero who had killed Euphie. Suzaku had never felt more betrayed in his life. His eyes were hot with tears and he was holding himself tightly because every joint in his body hurt, every nerve's end screamed.
Because Euphie was dead. Because Lelouch, to him, was worse than dead. Because Zero took everything from him.
“Because you are still needed here.”
The new voice made him freeze. He knew he had heard it before, and the way Cecile immediately straightened up was all he needed to confirm his guess. Suzaku looked up slowly and found the Second Prince of Britannia looking down at him.
“I am needed?” his voice came out rough, scraped by broken splinters of a contemptuous laugh. The idea was nothing but laughable at the moment. He, who could protect nothing, let alone his princess, was needed?
“Yes.” There was barely any inflection at all in the hardness of the prince’s voice and it was so unlike the compassionate older brother whom he had once seen speaking to Euphie that Suzaku had to blink.
Schneizel's eyes, cold as if encrusted with ice, narrowed as he said, “Because I want Zero’s life.”
And, Suzaku realised, so did he.
It was the dawn after the bloodshed.
The sunlight felt warm on his face as he stood in front of a large window which decorated the east side of the vast waiting room. He had been escorted here to the Governor General’s villa and left alone to his own devices for almost an hour now. The purpose of this visit was unclear, but he could tell that it had something to do with him, an Eleven, serving in the Britannian Army.
The world, he reflected silently, hadn’t changed much. Thousands of Britannian and Japanese had died during yesterday’s conflict, but time didn’t seem to care and just ticked away – you could deal with it and go on or just lie there and die, that kind of attitude. He had spent all night thinking about Euphie, Japan, Britannia, and then Euphie again. After her death, nothing seemed to matter anymore. He had wanted to kill Zero, yes, but his red-hot anger had long since frozen after he had discovered her killer’s true identity.
However, he could not banish it from his mind – the memory of her dying and still the first thing she had asked was if everyone had been happy with her work. Euphie had not cared in the slightest that she was literally bleeding her heart out. She loved the people – his people, hers, everyone, there was never a difference for her. It wasn’t a happy memory, but it continued to bother him to the point where he couldn’t pretend that it didn’t exist anymore.
Maybe Euphie was trying to tell him something. Suzaku realised that he almost wanted to believe it. Maybe.
The moment was broken by the sound of the door opening. He watched, with no little amount of surprise as Schneizel El Britannia walked in with the grace all princes and princesses seemed to possess and an apologetic smile on his face.
“Pardon my lateness, Suzaku-kun. I had a meeting which I could not escape from.”
If the prince had said that he had just returned from visiting the bunny rabbit in the moon, Suzaku could not have been more surprised. He had expected someone from the military to meet him and go over all the details which would undoubtedly end with him signing a letter of resignation, but the Second Prince himself? He was so baffled that putting together a decent response was the last thing in his mind.
Then the initial shock wore off and he realised whose greeting he had been ignoring. Suzaku quickly bowed, but the action was stopped by a gloved hand on his upper arm, careful enough not to touch the wound on his shoulder.
“So how are you feeling today? Better, I hope?”
Looking up to a pair of smiling violet eyes, he could only manage a small ‘yes’. The prince nodded, as if satisfied, and turned his attention to the sunlit garden beyond the window, lightly commenting on the beautiful weather. The remark was followed by a short history of the villa, delivered in the same carefree fashion which made Suzaku feel like he had met a different person yesterday.
What had happened?
“It is a beautiful morning. What do you say about a little walk in the garden?” the prince suddenly asked, breaking him out of his perplexed musing.
“Oh…” Again, the question left him utterly speechless, but he recovered quickly enough this time. “Yes, of course,”
They stepped out to the porch and descended to the garden, following a winding path covered in white stone. It was a fine day and the flowers were all in full bloom, but Suzaku could already feel various kinds of ominous doubt swarming the interior of his mind. That Euphie had treated him nicely was one thing, but this was her brother, the prince who would inherit the throne of Britannia should anything happen to his elder brother. The idea that a man of such distinction would trouble himself with a mere honorary Britannian was just a little too difficult to believe. There must be something.
“This marvellous garden was designed by my brother, Clovis, himself,” the prince said, seemingly unbothered by his total silence. Suzaku raised his eyes from the stone-strewn path and discovered that they had halted near a thicket of white roses. The older man held out a hand to admire one of the flowers and added with a faint sigh, “It is unfortunate that I no longer can express my admiration to him in person.”
Suzaku stiffened at this. It sounded like a harmless remark, but he wasn’t sure – after all, he had once been the main suspect of the murder of said brother. He glanced at the prince warily and was startled to find the violet eyes focused on him.
“So what is your answer, Suzaku-kun?”
Having absolutely no idea what the question was, Suzaku’s only option was to repeat, “My answer?”
“To my offer for you to stay and continue your service in the Britannian Army. I was expecting that you would be able to give me an answer today.”
If the entire situation had not been surreal enough, he was convinced that it was now. The offer simply brought it to this whole new level that would exceed any standard of surrealism anywhere.
And for the life of him, he couldn’t figure out how ‘I want Zero’s life’ could be translated to ‘I want you to stay with us’.
“Why?” The question had left his mouth before he knew it.
“Because you are still needed here.” The prince's reply was calm, confident, almost like he wasn’t repeating an old answer which practically explained nothing.
Suzaku stared at him. “I don’t understand.”
A flicker of amusement flitted across the prince’s face as he went to elaborate. “I am certain that your superior, Earl Asplund, has mentioned that you are a vital part of his Lancelot. Your skill with the Knight Mare Frame is not to be taken lightly, but it is only one of many reasons why I ask you to stay. You are the black horse, Suzaku-kun. I will even go as far as saying that your presence is imperative to settle this dispute.”
And it had just gotten more surreal. Suzaku was, to be honest, completely baffled but his initial surprise quickly gave way to suspicion. After years being treated like a trash in the Britannian Army, it was difficult for him to believe that one of its highest lords was actually holding him in such high regards. There must be more to it, something he had yet to know
“Pardon my bluntness, Your Highness, but I don’t think it’s true,” he said, not bothering to filter the incredulity out of his voice. “I have failed in my duty to protect Euphemia-sama.”
"That my judgment is wrong is of course a conceivable possibility,” the prince replied placidly, “but such things cannot be said for sure during times like this. At the moment, nothing is certain.”
But he couldn’t protect Euphie, and for Suzaku it was final – the end of everything, the only thing that mattered. He looked down and shook his head. “I’m really thankful for the offer, Your Highness, but I don’t think it’s– I don’t think I should stay.”
“Is it Euphie whom you cannot forgive?”
Suzaku whipped his head up so fast at the question. “It wasn’t Her Highness's fault,” he said sharply. “It had never been Euphemia-sama’s fault. Zero made her do it.”
There was a curious look on the prince’s face – and Suzaku realised that he probably knew nothing of this GEASS Zero had been using – but he only nodded. “I am glad to know that you have taken such stance on the matter. I myself find it hard to believe that she could do something so horrible without any explanation."
They lapsed into a heavy silence and despite the cheerful atmosphere in the garden, Suzaku felt like he was being crushed by this tremendous weight. Or maybe it was the cheerfulness which was to blame, the stark contrast it made compared to the dark reflection of his life. He was frustrated, almost irrationally angry that everything else could still look so beautiful when everything about him was so wrong.
Or maybe it was the man in his company himself. Something about the prince made him feel wary and Suzaku knew he wasn’t just imagining things when he felt this slight nudge again and again, like an invisible hand trying to steer him through the conversation. Schneizel el Britannia wanted something and it was important enough – or dangerous enough – that he had no choice but to undertake the task himself and speak with a lowly Eleven.
Suzaku didn’t like being played, not when he wasn’t aware of it and even less when he was. The black horse indeed. He almost laughed. Talking about trying to sugarcoat a rotten fish.
He couldn’t believe anyone anymore. He just couldn’t.
“A high position in the Britannian Army holds extensive authority and an incredible amount of power,” the prince suddenly spoke again, his tone casual enough to be conversational but his eyes intently watching him. “Isn’t it what you seek, Suzaku-kun?”
All of a sudden, the gentle breeze blowing around them felt more like the biting winter chill. Suzaku found that he could only stand there, speechless, staring at this calm, somewhat amused expression on the older man’s face. But of course it was easy to guess. After all, why would an Eleven go through all the humiliation he had endured to join the military if it wasn’t for something really important – something which value far exceeded his own life? Not that his life still had much value after the death of his father, but the deed should have spoken enough for itself.
It had been Euphie who had restored some of its value back, Euphie who had said that she needed him when he had been ready to throw his life away. Suddenly there was a meaning to his existence. There was hope again for him to save his homeland and protect this person who had begun to matter to him.
But it felt far now, this great notion of him saving Japan from Britannia’s oppression without resorting to killing. He was tired. He wished for nothing more but to close his eyes and just let everything roll the way they wanted to. To hell if it was where they wanted to go and he wouldn’t even blink an eye.
“Why?” he raised his face and caught the other man's eyes. “There is nothing in it for Britannia.”
“In fact, there is,” the prince answered without missing a beat, but his promptness only unleashed more suspicion in Suzaku. He stared hard at the older man, disbelief clawing at his insides.
“I want the truth.”
“Then you shall have it.” The Second Prince turned around and motioned him to follow. They continued to walk down the path in silence. More and more flowers crowded both sides of the lane and the sweet fragrance was overwhelming. It made Suzaku feel lightheaded, especially under the fierce glare of the sun. He was relieved when they finally reached a flight of stone stairs and left the garden. The east wing of the villa loomed ahead, a grand white edifice that gleamed in the daylight.
He had never been in this part of the building before and the prince's brisk pace didn’t help to ease his tension. It only swelled when they went through a glass door with two guards standing at each side. Behind it was a brightly lit room with interior very much like that of an office, only decorated in a taste significantly more luxurious. Paintings hung on lavishly papered wall, many of them featuring Britannian landscape and buildings that blended only too well with the atmosphere in the room. A wide-screen television occupied one side of the wall, set opposite to a desk made out of dark-coloured wood. Suzaku tensed when he saw Euphie’s picture on the desk, encased in a beautiful silver frame, but if the prince noticed this, he said nothing. He turned the television on and suddenly, angry shouting crashed the silence in the room.
“In the last twenty-four hours, this has always been what you see in the news,” he said as Suzaku stared at the television in shock. “It is an absolute chaos out there after the incident. There are terrorist’s outbreaks everywhere and the tally of victims are increasing by the hour.”
Suzaku found himself at a loss for word, his eyes glued to these horrendous images continuously presented on the screen. People were screaming bloody murder, running on the street with either guns to shoot or poles to beat the first Britannian in sight, trampling those they had killed. There was nothing in the background but ruined buildings and the grey smoking sky. And then the scene switched to lifeless bodies in pools of blood and Knightmares hissing, exchanging blows with each other as they destroyed more and killed more.
He felt like he had plunged into a nightmare after the colourful world outside with those flowers and butterflies. But this was the real one. This wasn’t a dream.
“You must have realised, Suzaku-kun,” the prince continued, a hint of emotion in his usually composed voice, “that right now Japan hates Britannia, which is not surprising considering what happened in the Special Area. The hate is so strong, as you can see in the news, too strong for me to do anything without resorting to the worst possible option. But on the other hand, Zero has also disappeared and this, I believe, is causing great unrest among his followers.”
A surge of chill flooded Suzaku’s veins at this bit of news. “Zero has disappeared?” he repeated, his breath caught in his throat. That day in Kaminejima. Could it be that he had…?
“Yes. No one knows where he is right now, or whether he is still alive or not.”
Suzaku said nothing. After Kallen had fired that shot and he felt the bullet burn a hole in his shoulder, he remembered absolutely nothing. It was like that one time when he had disobeyed an order and let Zero escape, all without knowing what he had done.
It must be GEASS. Zero had used it on him.
But Zero… dead? For some reasons, the idea made him feel even worse than before. Zero was Euphie’s murderer, and yet…
“Japan is like a time bomb at the moment,” the prince spoke again, his even voice rising above the newscaster’s rapid commentary, “but I prefer not to see any of the sides spill more blood than they already have. And that is where you come in, Suzaku-kun. If you choose to stay with the Britannian Army, while some may perceive your decision as an act of treachery, there will be others who see it as a sign of trust. I intend to forge peace once more from that point.”
Instead of surprising him, the ‘truth’ only increased the intensity of his doubt. Even in theory, it sounded impossible. How could he, the knight of the princess who was seen as a liar and a killer – the traitor, like many had called him – earned enough trust to make so big of a change?
“Will it really work?” he finally asked, sounding sceptical and yet, he had to admit, hopeful at the same time.
“Of course there is no guarantee that it will succeed,” the prince answered frankly, “but I am willing to bet. And to be fair, I am obliged to tell you that this road will be far from easy. There will always be people on both sides who either mistrust your intention or think that you have betrayed your country.”
Suzaku almost scoffed. That it would be difficult for him was really the last thing he was concerned about at the moment.
“I have no loyalty to Britannia,” he said, looking straight at icy violet eyes. It was also only fair to let the prince know about it beforehand.
“I am aware of that,” the older man replied and Suzaku wondered if he had imagined a hint of approval in that placid voice,” but neither of us wants more bloodshed and this is, as far as I can see, the best course of action to take in this situation.”
You can get your kingdom out of my country, was what Suzaku wanted to say, but he held his tongue and asked instead, “And what if I say no?”
“You will be stripped off of your title and nationality as an honorary Britannian. However, since you were my sister’s knight, I will allow you to go unharmed. What will happen if we meet again, of course, is a different story.” The Second Prince paused and for the first time ever, a slit appeared on his veneer of perpetual calmness. A solemn look settled on his face and he added with a quieter voice, “The world doesn’t wait for us, Suzaku-kun. It is merciless on the indecisive ones, but if you want to save your country and your people, then you will have to earn it with your own hands. I know that this is not easy and I wish I can give you more time to consider what I have just proposed, but in view of the situation, I need to know where your allegiance lies.”
The answer was obvious, but it sat there, staring at him as he wavered and hesitated. A part of him – a big part of him – didn’t want to care anymore, but the prince’s directness actually made him feel better. It was a chance, not to redeem, never to redeem, but he still had a debt to his father he had yet to settle. And if, Suzaku shuddered, if he really had killed Zero… Lelouch, then he had one more to pay.
“I don’t care what will become of myself,” he finally said, hands tightly coiled into fists at his side, “but if I can do something for Japan…” The Japan Euphie had sacrificed her life for, the Japan he had killed his father for, the Japan Lelouch almost, almost destroyed for Nunnally’s sake…
He took a deep breath and very, very slowly nodded. “I will stay,” he whispered, a tremor in his voice that he couldn’t quite cover, and perhaps the prince noticed it too because when he smiled, it seemed almost sympathetic
“Then I accept your service with gratitude,” he stated and motioned for Suzaku to kneel in front of him. “In the name of Schneizel el Britannia, I hereby confer the rank of a full-fledged knight on you, Major Suzaku Kururugi.”
Suzaku closed his eyes, accepting, not only the rank but also his fate. He would continue this legacy Euphie had left him and he would see it to the end or die trying.
And that was his vow.
“Well, good then,” was Lloyd’s reaction when Suzaku had told him about his decision. “You are the best devicer for Lancelot I’ve found so far. It will be a pain to search for a new one.”
Suzaku had learnt not to value himself more than a piece of spare part in his superior’s presence, but it still made him feel better to accept a less Lancelot-centric response from Cecile.
“I’m so happy, Suzaku-kun,” she took his hands and squeezed them. “I was very worried when I heard that Schneizel-sama had summoned you and I really thought of the worst, like he was going to hold you responsible for what happened with…”
He could easily fill the blank, and it brought a fresh surge of pain in his chest because her dying face was still vivid in his mind. Cecile looked so guilty and miserable at her slip-up, but it was Lloyd who broke the uncomfortable silence in the end.
“He won’t do anything like that.”
No one responded to his remark, so the earl looked away from the computer screen, fixed each of them a firm look, and said adamantly, “I know him. We’re practically growing up together.”
“His Highness was very different from yesterday,” Suzaku finally admitted. “Very amiable and he treated me very nicely too. I almost decided not to accept the offer only because he was so nice that it was disturbing. But why the change?”
“Obviously there is a reason,” Lloyd answered with a shrug and returned to his computer, already losing his interest on the conversation.
Later that day, Suzaku found out that Governor General Cornelia had passed away yesterday morning.
It felt like he had sat in Lancelot for years.
They had just finished another mission. Suzaku jumped down from the white Knightmare for the third time today, tired to the bone. Cecile gave him a smile and a thumbs-up from her command post and he couldn’t help but to smile back. They had succeeded to save seventeen hostages from a terrorist group and no matter what he had been telling himself, it still felt good to be able to do something like that.
Life went on. It had been three months since the funeral – two funerals – but he could still see her in his mind. Euphie, in a glass case, sleeping on a bed of white flowers, looking very beautiful and angelic. He had repeated his vow that day as he stood next to her for the last time, a fallen knight and his dead princess.
No one understood what she had done and why, most believing that it was her true colour because after all, the Emperor’s chauvinistic views were well-known throughout the world. Suzaku only shared his knowledge about GEASS with one person. He didn’t really care if the Second Prince believed him or not, but at least as the temporary Governor General of Area 11, he needed to know what they were going up against.
What greeted his determination was the fact the Oder of the Black Knight had suddenly vanished from the face of the earth. It was as if the disappearance of their leader had disintegrated the whole group. After three months of defending innocent people from probably hundreds of terrorist attacks – and none of them of the scale of the Black Knight – Suzaku was more convinced than ever that he had really killed Zero – Lelouch.
After the realisation sunk in, it was surprisingly easy to believe. Only another bleak, harsh reality which had been following him everywhere his whole life. So what if he had killed his best friend? For someone who had committed patricide, surely it was nothing but another murder?
If it wasn’t for his vow to Euphie, Suzaku would have already killed himself long time ago.
Nunnally was another reason why he was still alive. He had looked for her everywhere after the Kaminejima incident, but like Lelouch, she had simply disappeared. He often thought about her, wondering whether she would forgive him if she found out about her brother’s murder, and laughing at his own foolishness afterward. Of course not. Forgiveness was for those who deserved it, not for someone who had let everyone he loved die around him.
And life, like the heartless bitch it was, went on. Silently, but mercilessly.
But time was a funny business. After three months, he couldn’t say that he had forgiven Lelouch and definitely not himself, but something had changed. Slow, little things. He had not forgotten about his father or Euphie or Lelouch, but thinking about them felt different now. It was no longer the acute, burning pain, or the cold, haunting grief that made him want to reach for his gun and end his life. He would remember, the memories surfacing quietly from the crevices of his mind, and all the different sensations would be there; the happy ones – Euphie’s smiles, summer and sunflowers with Lelouch and Nunnally, a small praise from his father for his hard work; and the dark ones – Euphie with a gun on her hand, his fingers stained with his father's red warm blood, Lelouch looking at him as Zero’s mask fell from his face. They were all there and they were all his.
After three months, life wasn’t quite the bitch it had been once. He had a job to do, an oath to fulfil, and those memories of the past would be his sword and armour. He had a goal in mind, a legacy that would be his future and the future of his nation, and let it be the ideal which would keep him going. And then he had Lloyd who, albeit a little strange, would go into great lengths to ensure his safety, and Cecile who was constantly fussing over him like a big sister he never had. After what seemed to be a very long time, he felt that there was a purpose to his life again, and even if it was only a matter of unpaid debt, Suzaku didn’t think he minded.
Of course reality was often a lot worse than plans and ideals. After his decision was made known to public, accusations rained down upon him along with myriads of names. Britannia’s dog was actually one of the more polite ones and Lloyd usually had a good laugh out of some of them, but the rest were just plain cruel. Suzaku had gradually learnt to pay them as little heed as possible, although sometimes it was far easier to just sink into the guilt and disgust and boundless misery.
His everyday life in the all-Britannian environment wasn’t easy either. His identity as an Eleven naturally created suspicion among the soldiers and officers. He hardly ever began a day without having either someone stopping him on his way to the bathroom only to give him some early-morning taunts, or another picking on him in said bathroom. Most of the times, he was able to fend them off by ignoring their insults and dodging their attacks, but it became much more difficult when they came in large numbers. The most dangerous was when such occasion escalated into a near-sexual assault and that was when Suzaku fought back with all he could
It was hell, but he had gone through worse during his military training in the academy, when he had hardly known how to fight back. He could bear with this for now. He had promised Euphie.
The Second Prince was at least right about a few things. There were some of his people who in the end believed him, particularly because the prince constantly put him under the spotlight. Everything he did was highlighted, every rescue operation, every little support, everything he did for the good of Japan. Most of the times, Suzaku felt like he was playing an act, but when he saved someone, then he was saving someone, and that was that. Nothing else mattered.
Suzaku climbed up to the command post where Cecile greeted him with a warm smile. “Good job, Suzaku-kun.”
“Thank you,” he nodded and took off his headset, setting it down on the table next to the panel of keyboard. “Are you still monitoring the hostages? Are they all right?”
“The medics are checking them right now, but I don’t think there is any serious injury.”
“Physically,” he mumbled and slumped down to the floor, resting his head on the railing as he closed his eyes.
“Well, yes, physically.” There was a hint of surprise in Cecile’s voice and Suzaku could almost feel her eyes on him, but he was too tired to care right now. The silence dragged on almost to an uncomfortable one until she cut it with a hesitant question. “Are you okay, Suzaku-kun?”
Suzaku opened his eyes and forced himself to give her a slight smile. “Yes, I’m just a little tired.”
The look on her face was uncertain. “I think you’re too tired. I mean, you keep doing mission after mission almost without any rest.” She frowned. “I wonder what His Highness is thinking.”
Cecile was someone who often knew more than she let on and Suzaku wondered if she actually could guess what the second prince was planning for him. Probably not. Maybe it was just her overly-concerned nature.
“I’m really okay,” he assured her. “Besides, the operation is a success and that is the important thing, right?”
She still didn’t look convinced. In fact, her frown only deepened like she was in a deep thought. “I don’t know how to put it,” she said slowly, “but I feel like you have changed, Suzaku-kun.”
He raised his eyebrows. “Really? How so?”
“That’s the problem. I don’t know,” she sighed. “You’re just different. You used to be… more open, I guess.”
“A lot has happened, Cecile-san.”
“Well, that’s true,” she agreed, but her face retained a vaguely troubled expression. Suzaku said nothing.
She was right – there was a change. He, of all people, of course felt the change. He was slowly becoming this person his role demanded him to be. Not the naïve son of a former Prime Minister, not the idealistic Kururugi Suzaku, but a man Japan would be able to depend on for her future. And that meant he could no longer cling to his romantic notions about peace. He had to face the world, and in order to do that, he had to become strong. Unbreakable.
Some of the changes must have shown on the way he acted day by day. He glanced at Cecile. She didn’t seem willing to let go of the subject yet, so it was a great relief when the door to the hangar was opened and Lloyd unceremoniously walked in.
“We’re moving out tomorrow,” he announced in his typical, cheerful fashion.
Suzaku rose to his feet at once, his whole body tensing. “Did something happen?”
“The Chinese Federation launched an invasion on Kyushu Island this morning and His Highness the Prince wants us to go with him. Well, we’re officially under him anyway,” Lloyd shrugged and sat on his usual chair. “Oh, and Suzaku-kun, he wants you in his office right now.”
“We have a surprise for you,” the older man gave him a wink, “but I’ll let him break the news to you himself, so hurry up and go.”
Suzaku left the hangar with a big question mark in his head and no little apprehension. The prince was, as far as he knew, the only Britannian who didn’t treat him like trash besides Lloyd and Cecile, but he had only spoken to him twice after their ‘deal’. Suzaku had learnt to respect him from what little that he knew, but the prospect of meeting the imperial still made him feel uneasy.
To the world, it might seem like he was being used by Britannia, but Suzaku realised that he in fact owed the imperial almost everything. One of the reasons why he could recapture the heart of some of his people was an announcement made by the prince concerning the incident in the Special Area, that the incident had been engineered by Zero. Schneizel didn’t mention GEASS and used the word ‘hypnosis’ instead, which of course was far more believable in this case.
The most prevalent reaction was to think that it was a lie, a dirty trick done in Zero’s absence. Nevertheless, the seed of doubt had been sown and the counterattack had begun. That the leader of the Black Knight had never come forward and publicly denied the accusation was also a great help to foster the doubt.
In the end, what they had was a fair trade. He had his chance to climb the military ladder and Britannia could win, slow though the process was, Japan’s trust back. Suzaku knew that the prince had met a heavy opposition over his decision to let an Eleven stay in the Britannian Army, and it was this knowledge which assured him, despite his earlier prejudices against the prince. They probably did not have the same goal, but they certainly could work together if it was evident that cooperation would help to smooth the way.
The Governor-General's office was located at the other end of the building. There were two soldiers standing on guard in front of the door when he arrived. Both gave him a look that could only be described as condescending, but one of them proceeded to open the door and announce his arrival.
The prince was sitting behind his gigantic desk, speaking to the phone and tapping a finger on the dark mahogany surface. He looked up when his guard opened the door and waved for Suzaku to come in. The conversation ended about a minute later and it was only then when he addressed the younger man.
“Has Earl Asplund told you about the invasion, Suzaku-kun?” he wasted no time with pleasantries.
“Then I shall come straight to the point. I want you to lead the vanguard when we launch a counterattack.”
Suzaku still had enough presence of mind to acknowledge that his superior had really spoken the truth. It was indeed a surprise, even if he would rather call it an ‘utterly unexpected, mind-boggling, heart-attack-inducing shock’.
“I, Sir?” he breathed out.
The prince nodded solemnly. “Yes.”
Thousands of reasons why he should not do it popped up in his mind. “But I…”
“The soldiers will obey your order, so do not let such thought trouble your mind,” the older man said calmly, as if he could read Suzaku's list of doubts. “I have seen your performance during the last few weeks and I tam fairly confident that you are the right person for the task. Do you think you can live up to my expectations?”
Suzaku couldn’t find his voice for a long time. He recognised that it was a chance. The prince was literally handing him the chance to prove himself. And it was a big feat. He would defend a part of Japan from foreign invasion – well, he was in a foreign army himself, but it was the only way he could protect Japan at the moment. The effect would be immense.
But despite the prince's assurance, he knew it wouldn’t be easy. The troop under his command would look at him and scoff. They would second-guess his judgments. Even worse, they might disobey his orders and thus kill themselves or endanger others. And even worse still, he might make the wrong decision which would kill them all and Japan would have to take the blame because one of her sons had caused the death of many Britannians. Could he bear the burdens and really do it?
Suzaku felt a wry smile that didn't quite reach his lips. Of course he could.
“Yes, Sir,” he answered firmly.
A hint of a smile appeared on the prince’s face. “Then show me that you are worthy of my trust, Major.”
“Yes, Your Highness.”
In the end, they won the first battle.
With difficulty. And blood, sweat, and tears. And lives.
Suzaku found himself trembling as he sat on the dusty ground under Lancelot’s shadow, the setting sun painting everything around him in red or gold. His surrounding was a picture of destruction, swarmed by the very core of its destructors. Knightmares were everywhere, their pilots crowding the empty field as Avalon gleamed in the distance.
Suzaku closed his eyes and buried his head in the crook of his arm, swallowing back his sobs and tears. Leading was much more difficult than he had anticipated. He had to think not only for himself but also for the whole company under his command. He had to consider every attack, every response, and basically every move they made. The worst part was probably because he knew exactly how many of his men had died and a part of him hated the fact that he did. He could still hear their last scream echoing in Lancelot’s cockpit before they were blown into pieces.
And he couldn’t save them.
The prince had advised not to let the thought weigh on his conscience too much – it was always the vanguard who suffered the hardest blows – and Suzaku wished that he could believe that and deal with it in the same casual manner expected of him. Instead, he only felt the number of his debt increasing and this old pain, like a wound long since healed being ripped open again.
Suzaku wiped his eyes and leant back to Lancelot, taking as much comfort as he could from the solid presence. He knew he would get over it eventually. He must. He still had a lot to do.
A low murmur had risen from a group of pilots who had formed a circle in the middle of the field. Suzaku glanced around and noticed the weary faces. Everyone was exhausted. This was the first base they had managed to conquer after almost twenty days of fighting. A hard-earned victory, but also a valuable one. It should be easier from now on, as long as they could defend the base.
“For you, Commander.”
Along with the gruff voice, a bottle of water suddenly appeared under his nose. Suzaku looked up in surprise and found a young woman with short flaming hair looking down at him with a pained expression. She was one of the pilots assigned under him, but the reason why she had suddenly seen it fit to speak to him outside the battlefield was still lost on Suzaku. It took him a long moment to relocate his voice or formulate any kind of response at all.
“Thank you,” he took the bottle and tried an uncertain smile. “Barton, isn’t it?”
“Claire is okay,” she told him stiffly, and then asked with an even stiffer voice, “Can I sit here?”
To say that he was astonished would be the understatement of the year, but Suzaku remembered to answer quickly, “Sure.”
The young woman sat down in front of him and he waited, trepidation starting to shadow his astonishment. Usually, this would be followed by a prank or some sort of harassment they had designed specifically for him. Or maybe it was the drink. Suzaku was actually waiting for the bottle in his hand to blow up or do something more drastic when Claire suddenly broke the silence.
“You don’t look like a Japanese, you know.”
He noticed how she took care not to use the word ‘Eleven’ and felt another smile on his lips. “I guess it’s my eyes.”
Her honey brown ones shone like gold under the evening sun as she continued to scrutinize him. “But are you really?”
She hmm-ed but said nothing and they once more fell into silence. Suzaku wasn’t sure what to make out of it. Those who had been assigned under him generally didn’t like the appointment. Outside the battlement, their attitude toward him was cold at best or downright hostile at worst. However, a battle was a battle and once the first shot had been fired, it was simply too hectic for anyone to even begin thinking to disobey him. For that, he was at least grateful.
Suzaku noticed that some of his subordinates were looking curiously at him now, not with as much hate as they usually displayed. It made him feel a little hopeful. Who knows, perhaps the prince was right. Perhaps he wasn’t too bad as a leader. Perhaps this impossible plan really worked after all.
Suddenly Claire made a hissing noise and scrambled to her feet, an action which made Suzaku look at her in surprise. Following her gaze, he saw that the Second Prince was walking toward them, followed by two of his generals, and quickly followed suit. It was only then when he realised that a different kind of silence had settled over the field. Everybody was already on their feet, watching the unfolding scene with various degrees of astonishment as their lord stopped in front of him, a little smile softening the hard lines around his face.
“Well done, Suzaku-kun,” the prince said, his smooth voice filling the odd silence like the gentle tinkling of silver bells. “You completely exceed my expectation. I must say that I’m very impressed.”
Suzaku thought about the lives he couldn’t save but swallowed his bitterness and only answered, “Thank you, milord.”
Because even though there was contempt on the other officers’s faces, the Second Prince smiled at him, commending his performance, and the rest of the company saw it.