“Heads down! Heads down! No talking! Against the wall!” The terrorist waved his gun around, a twisted smirk the only thing visible from under his mask, and in a cheery voice he told them: “Zero sends his regards to Ashford Academy.”
No the fuck I didn’t, Lelouch mentally screamed as he was herded with the rest of his classmates to the back of the classroom, arms raised and head down. Lelouch vi Britannia is used to looking languidly down the barrel of a gun, but Lelouch Lamprouge was allowed to be terrified. Him and all his classmates, some openly sobbing while others tried to hide their sniffling.
One of the terrorists jabbed a student in the back with their machine gun, sending her tripping and falling into the person in front of her. The gunmen released a chorus of laughter, and Lelouch secretly marveled at the cruelty of humanity, something not exclusive to Britannia.
For these terrorists were Japanese.
And they were there to kill them all.
“If you can’t come to school today, why did you show up for the before school meeting?” Shirely asked from where she was perched on the student council table. There was a budgeting mishap, so they all had to come in before school started to fix it, including their friendly neighborhood soldier, Kururugi Suzaku who was fiddling with his pen sheepishly instead of answering Shirley’ question.
“The princess has an important meeting today, and she really wants me to be there for some reason.” Suzaku said with a tiny smile.
“Woah, with royalty?” Rivalz had been leaning back in his chair, feet on the table and book over his face, but this was enough to grab his attention. Not Kallen’s though, her head was pillowed in her arms, fast asleep. “How’d you catch the eye of Princess Euphemia?”
Milly laughed heartily while Nina looked on attentively next to her. “Our boy is working his way up the social ladder but still has time to help his fellow students! Ah, we’re so blessed.”
“Hey!” Shirley explained, catching the president’s sarcasm, “It’s admirable that Suzaku works hard to keep up with all his obligations!”
That concluded Milly’s attention span, for then she let loose her teasing on Shirley, which fired the red head up which caused Rivalz to try and mediate. Suzaku was watching them, amused, when he heard Nunnally’s quiet voice reach him.
“How is Euphemia doing?” she asked, tucked into the table next to him, face, as always, open and kind, even though she didn’t have to be awake so early with them.
“Princess Euphemia.” Nina surprisingly corrected.
Nunnally tilted her head in mild confusion, but pushed on. “Princess Euphemia,” she amended.
Suzaku smiled even though he knew she couldn't see it. “She’s good. Happy as always.”
“What’s the meeting about?”
Suzaku lifted his gaze above Nunnally’s head to look at her brother. Of course the political subject of the conversation would be the thing that cause Lelouch’s interest.
He shrugged. “I don’t know. She doesn’t exactly share with me her schedule.”
Lelouch’s purple eyes danced with a quiet amusement. “Not that you’d be permitted to tell us even if you did know, huh?”
“Naturally,” Suzaku smirked which caused his childhood friend to laugh.
“Worth a shot,” was the only response.
“Okay, ladies and gentlemen!” Milly suddenly spoke up, standing and clapping her hands, starling Kallen out of her nap. “I believe we are done for today! Give me the papers.”
Relieved, everyone returned their budgeting spreadsheets, then slowly moved up and away from the table.
“It’s too late to even try and take a quick nap before school!” Rivalz complained. “I’m already tired of math, and I haven’t even gone to math class today!”
Lelouch got behind Nunnally’s wheelchair and pulled her away from the table. His tone heavily jocular as he responds. “That just means you're getting double the education today.”
Rivals just throws a glare at him, but then is visibly struck by an idea. “Hey, why don’t we skip today like Suzaku is doing and go gambling?”
Lelouch laughed and started saying, “I don’t think working for royalty is skipping -”
But gets interrupted but Shirley. “No! No way! You guys are a part of the student council, how can you just skip school all the time? These few years shape your whole future -”
Rivalz ran out the door to avoid the lecture, but Shirley chased after him, her voice carrying through the hallway.
Nunnally giggled. “They’re so lively.”
“How do they have that much energy so early in the morning?” Lelouch wondered, shaking his head as if mystified.
“I have no idea,” Kallen trudged by them grumbling, dark bags under her eyes. “I even slept through this meeting, and I’m still exhausted.”
“Will you be okay for the rest of the day?” Suzaku asked, worried about her health.
She shot back one of her usual, frail smiles. “Don’t worry about me. If I feel too bad I’ll just have to go home.”
They waved her off and left Nina and Milly doing a quick glance over their papers. Walking down the hallway, just the three of them, they were able to lapse into a comfortable silence (not to mention Lelouch was not a morning person, and his coffee hadn’t kicked in all the way).
“I think it’s funny that Euphie grew attached to you.” Nunnally mused. “It’s like the whole royal family can’t help but like Suzaku.”
Suzaku laughed. “Well she’s a lot easier to put up with than the first royal I ever met.”
This was said with a pointed look that Lelouch totally caught. Lelouch laughed and gave a mock glare back. “I pity any prince or princess that has to put up with you.”
The banter was lighthearted and yet so guarded. Suzaku couldn’t help but feel that the constant measuring of his words, lest he reveal something he shouldn't, made the normal conversation of asking about family tense. Looking at the siblings, Suzaku sometimes wondered if it was easier for them to be orphans instead of having family that they could never reach.
Without meaning to, Suzaku ended up asking his question out loud. “Do you miss them?”
The smiles fell from their faces, and Suzaku instantly wished he could take it back. Lelouch looked down at the crown of Nunnally’s head, and Nunnally’s small hands fisted into her dress. If the blind girl ever had the habit of facing whoever she was talking to, Suzaku didn’t doubt that the two siblings would have shared a look between them before answering.
“Sorry,” Suzaku spoke, hand reaching up to brush through his hair in his chagrin. “I shouldn’t have -”
“Some of them.” Nunnally answered first, sitting as still as a statue.
They walked on in silence again, this one more contemplative than anything else. Questions and memories better put to rest than to mull over and analyze. The brother and sister walked him to the front door, the lively mood of the morning seeming to wither and die with each step. They bid each other farewell, but Suzaku, never knowing how not to give into his gut instinct, asked them one more thing before he left.
“Would you go back if you could?”
This time Lelouch answered, and with a tone as final as a last nail in a coffin.
Working in the palace, one gets used to the jeers.
Suzaku barely flinches at each glare, barely stiffens at each slide remark, turns deaf to each slur. He would end up walking around in a daze all day if he didn’t, which wasn’t good for piloting.
He was walking down the hallway to the conference room where he’d been summoned. It was almost perfectly timed with his arrival, a messenger already waiting for Private Kururugi to follow him under the princess’ orders. Slowly growing used to Euphie’s energetic and impulsive personality, Suzaku was able to confidently open the door and walk inside.
He felt his heart lurch in his chest as he took in who was actually in the room. The instinctual response he had to the word ‘princess’ usually meant it was a certain princess particular.
Not her sister.
Princess Cornelia didn’t comment on his delayed bow or the look of surprise on his face. She just stared at him for a good long while, eyes seeming to search his face for something. How could the purple eyes of Britannia’s royal family mean so many different things?
Euphemia’s were playful and alight with life.
Lelouch’s were contemplative and dagger-sharp.
(He had never seen Nunnally’s eyes.)
And Cornelia’s were as if fire was person and just so happened to be angry with you.
“At ease, Private Kururugi.” She ordered in a clipped tone. “I have questions for you.”
Suzaku straightened and fell into parade rest, clasping his sweaty hands tight behind his back.
There were papers in front of the princess and a loyal knight behind her, and Suzaku felt a pit of unease open in his stomach.
Cornelia’s fingers danced over the top of the papers before her, the digital screen under them off. She lounged in her chair the same way a lioness would rest on a rock. With all the control a predator needs.
“You were, of course, here whenever Area 11 and Britannia were at war.” She stated, eyes trained on him.
“Yes, Your Highness.”
“How old were you?”
“I was ten years old when the invasion started, Your Highness.” Suzaku answered in confusion.
She hummed in response and return her gaze to the papers before her. “You lived with your father at your family’s estate, I assume.”
“I did, Your Highness.” Barely any of these are questions, Suzaku thought.
Fiery purple eyes snapped up to meet his. “Which means you met my siblings, Lelouch and Nunnally vi Britannia.”
Suzaku’s mouth fell open and he would’ve been shaking if not for his military training. Of all the things he expected to be asked here, that wasn’t it. She wanted information, and Suzaku had never been good at lying.
He could hear Lelouch’s voice from earlier that morning and heard that defininate “No.” in his head.
He straightened. He would not betray them. He would come up with . . . something. “Yes, Your majesty, they stayed with my family for a year.”
The conference room door suddenly swung open, and the cries of protest were fanfare for Princess Euphemia’s entrance. She looked as if she was coming with a divine purpose, and Suzaku heard Princess Cornelia rise from her seat.
“Euphie, what are you doing here? I told the guards -” Cornelia began, and Suzaku realized a fight was about to start between sisters, so he should just keep his head down. Literally. He just moved into a bow and stayed there.
“Yes, I know what you told the guards, trust me, they repeated it many times,” Euphemia put her hands on her hips. “But Suzaku is my responsibility, and if there is an interrogation going on with him involved, I will join too.”
Suzaku was glad he was facing the floor so he didn’t have to worry about hiding the blush he was sporting.
He heard Cornelia groan. “This isn’t an interrogation, Euphie -”
“Oh, it isn't?”
Could’ve fooled me, Suzaku thought.
“It isn't!” Cornelia said adamantly. “He hasn’t done anything wrong, he just knows something I need clarification on.”
“What?” Euphemia didn’t sound so upset anymore, more astounded than anything. “About what?”
Cornelia’s voice softened as well. “About Lelouch and Nunnally.”
That got Euphie’s attention, and Suzaku was pretty sure she was looking at him now. He could still hear her quiet “What?” though.
It was silent for a split second, before Euphemia walked over to the table and took a seat by where her sister was standing. She folded her arms locked eyes with Cornelia. “I’m staying to hear this.”
For a second Suzaku thought her sister would deny her, but Cornelia just sat back down and sighed.
“I was going to tell you if anything came out of it, I promise.” Cornelia actually sounded remouseful.
“I know, but this is family. This has everything to do with me.” Euphie reached out and squeezed her sister’s hand. “Why are we bringing this up now.”
“I’ll tell you in a second. Private Kururugi!” Cornelia’s tone went from cotton to straight edge steel when speaking to him, and Suzaku straightened up instantly. “You said you knew the vi Britannias?”
“Yes, Your Highness. We played together that whole year they stayed with us.”
“Describe it.” Euphie commanded, slipping into a more princess-like persona now that she wanted something very badly.
Suzaku half expected Cornelia to try and keep them from being sidetracked, but she too was just watching Suzaku, waiting for an answer.
Describe it? Your brother was emotionally hurt and furious and your sister was physically hurt and depressed.
Luckily Suzaku was not as stupid as Lelouch tells him he is, and kept his mouth shut on that one. “Prince Lelouch taught me to play chess even though I never won while I taught him Shogi and still never won. He never wanted to play outside if he could help it, mostly because he wanted to stay with Nun - Princess Nunnally. We came up with a game where he and I would find wild flowers and give them to her, and she would guess what kind it was by just touching it. Nunnally always won that game too.”
Suzaku couldn’t stop the smile that came on his face when talking about those memories. It was an important year in his life, for both good and bad things. Although there were some things best not spoken here. He wouldn’t tell the enraptured princesses that their siblings would spend most of the night with nightmares of gunshots and blood. He didn’t tell them of how Nunnally was terrified of the dark, and no light in the house could save her from it. He didn’t tell them that their brother would suffer from panic attacks and had once cried while Suzaku held him that he hated how powerless he was in his own life. How there was nothing he could do to save himself of his sister.
He didn’t tell them that at that moment, Suzaku had promised Lelouch that he would always be there to protect them.
Euphie and Cornelia didn’t interrupt him once, both listening attentively and with remorseful expressions on their faces, and Suzaku half wondered why they wanted to know things that just hurt them and the other half understood.
It was quiet in the room before Euphemia finally said. “Yeah, that sounds like them.”
Cornelia cleared he thought. “Were you with them when the invasion began?”
Suzaku nodded. “We watched the planes fly in from a hill by my old house.”
“Did you see how they died?” Cornelia asked even though Euphie flinched at the question.
“No, Your Highness, but I saw the place.”
“I was with my father while he was talking to his commanders. The Prince and Princess were with my father’s guards at the main house. By the time we got back home the whole place was a crater from one of the bombs. There were no survivors.”
Euphie was close to crying, you could see it on her face, but Cornelia looked more determined than ever. “But you didn’t see a body?”
Suzaku felt like he had walked into a trap somehow. “There were bodies, Your Highness, but my father thought ten was too young to go rummaging through the wreckage to see them up close. He had his men look, but we couldn’t stay long.”
Cornelia nodded, purple eyes ablaze. “But you never saw them ?”
“I didn’t myself, but we searched for them.” Suzaku wilted a bit. “Father thought we could’ve used them to slow down the siege. But the bombs came anyway.”
There wasn’t one person in that room who didn’t hear the accusation in his response. The silent statement that said: there wouldn’t be bodies if you hadn’t dropped bombs.
Cornelia looked like she wanted to argue with him, but Suzaku guessed it wasn’t worth her time because she started booting up the screen on the table.
“If what you say is true, then you are the last person that we know of who saw the Prince and Princess alive.” She typed in her password and started sliding through files to get to the one she needed.
“Which means,” Cornealia went on, Euphemia and Suzaku watching her with rapt attention. “You knew what they looked like in their last year. If their hair changed, or how tall they grew.”
She suddenly stood up and turned to face him. “Their family was not allowed any communication at all, so if something physical about them changed, we wouldn’t know it. But you would. So tell me, Price Kururugi, who is this in this picture?”
She touched an icon in one of the folders and the whole screen was taken up with a picture. Euphemia saw it first and cried out, standing up and leaning on the table. Cornelia didn’t take her eyes off Suzaku as he stepped forward to see it.
So she caught the surprise and recognition on his face when he registered what he was looking at.
It was taken with a cellphone, the date inscribed on the bottom left starting this was taken two days ago. It showed the public park in East Tokyo, and a two teenagers by a flowerbed. One was in a wheelchair with eyes closed, long hair cascading around her shoulders. The other was a tall, skinny boy, and the camera was able to get a full face of. They caught the purple eyes and the dark hair and the small, tender smile he wore as he handed the girl a daisy, freshly plucked.
The coloring was different, but the facial features were enough to tell that they were siblings. Suzaku’s blood ran cold.
“They didn’t die.” Euphemia’s voice broke as she spoke, and Suzaku knew she was crying without turning to see for sure. “They’re alive somewhere.”
“In Stundcliffe Park, East Tokyo.” Cornelia agreed, staring at Suzaku. “Last Saturday to be precise. I wish they had been wearing a uniform or had some insignia or anything we could track.”
Suzaku was just thankful they weren’t wearing the Ashford Academy uniforms. He even remembered Lelouch inviting him to go out with him and Nunnally that day, but he had work and couldn’t. And this was taken with a phone, far enough to be considered spying. Someone had been following them.
“How is that possible?” Suzaku breathed.
Cornelia nodded. “It was almost guaranteed already, but I wanted a second opinion. This was sent to us with only one line of text. We can’t take this for whatever reason, but it makes sense considering who sent it.”
“Who?” Euphemia asked.
When Cornelia didn’t answer right away, Suzaku looked up at her, face pale and heart racing.
The princess looked furious, but not at anyone there. She practically spat out the words, “It said “Lionsmouth Apartments:Tick Tock. Love - Zero and the Black Knights.”
Outside Ashford Academy was a van that had absolutely everything to do with the 18 wheeler in the alleyway behind the school. There were nine people in the van, all Elevens, and wearing the same black clothes with the armor needed to withstand some bullets.
They looked almost like the Honorary Britannians.
The leader was on the phone, gazing out the shotgun window to the school’s gates. His mouth was a hard line as he nodded, listening to the other end. “Yes, we’re in position. Everything’s ready, and Yukio is in the back with the rest of the stuff. Yes, sir. I understand.”
The others in the car started loading up their guns, doing one last check of their supplies as the call went on.
They were waiting for the go ahead.
“Yes, sir. We all have a picture on us. Yes, sir. We’re on it.” The leader smiled, reaching back with his free hand and grabbing his mask. Seeing this, everyone in the car followed suit and sent word for those in the 18 wheeler to get ready as well.
“Yes, Zero, I understand.” The man’s smile grew twisted. “Heading out now. Down with Britannia.”
The call ended.