Ex Nihilo, Rebellionis
There was once a time when he had looked up into the stars with wonder, marvelled at how beautiful they were in the night sky, and mused over what each represented. He hadn't been one to delude himself into believing he would be able to explore it in his life, but it had always been a romantic notion. Still, a part of him had wondered his place amongst the heavens when he had been younger.
Now, as he stared out the transparisteel viewport into the void, he found silently cursing their very existence as he stood alone upon the walkway before the window. Around him, the quiet din of men and women working their stations added an air to his silent self-loathing, only reminding him of how far he now was away from a home that he had no idea how to find again.
All that remained was a duty to protect her home without any hope of being able to return to it. Not that he wished to return, even if he could: there wasn't anything that remained there that wasn't painful. No - he would do what he had promised her, even though she was no longer there to bring light to a life that had been always been at home in darkness.
And now, standing with only a scant few meters of material as strong as steel and as transparent as glass to see through, he almost could feel a sense of kinship with the void.
It was these thoughts that dominated his mind as a second figure slowly approached him, dressed in a uniform as black as space, auburn hair covered in a black cap with a white sigil that shared a kinship with a gear surrounded by a circle. Piercing jade eyes met amethyst reflected off the viewport, exchanging thoughts and feelings that far exceeded the capacity of words in scant moments. They were two sets of eyes that shared far more than anyone their age should ever be forced to endure, and did so thanklessly.
A nearly imperceptible nod was all that was needed to be shared between the two, as he was joined side-by-side by the man who was the closest thing to a brother—of any kind—that he'd ever had. They shared a kinship that had run the gamut of what two men could share (well, almost), from the closest of friends, to the depths of vendetta - and yet here, now, they stood in the face of something far worse.
"The Compeller is in position," came the softly-spoken words from the brunette; the other figure, his hair as dark as the feathers of a raven, merely nodded, his eyes shifting to a part of the viewport that he knew, several light years away, was his first command, dangling as bait for the trap he was about to spring, "she has already begun transmitting upon all emergency bands."
"That should draw the Rebels in," the ravenette mused, his body posture still without change, yet his eyes slid to meet green directly, "you want to be out there, don't you Suzaku?"
"Would I be lying if I said I didn't?"
This drew a soft chuckle and the shake of the head from the ravenette, his black locks brushing against the pristine white uniform he wore denoting his rank as one of the elite in the Empire.
"You'll get your chance soon enough," Lelouch vi Britannia murmured, his eyes coming back to rest upon the viewport. While only Suzaku could recognize it, he was tense in the face of expectation.
What would happen in the next few hours would be the culmination of several weeks of planning and decide the fate of the Airam Sector. In between the rebels and the pirates who refused to bend knee to the Empire, it was a sector that had been slated to be absorbed by the Empire for years now. Originally, the campaign had been planned to be executed by Admiral Wooyou Senn and Task Force Vengeance, but it had unfortunately transpired at the time he had just finished up sending a very pointed message to the Hutts about their business practices, so the Emperor had decided to keep him busy by having him do the dirty work.
Senn had not been pleased, having wanted to increase his prestige by conquering the Airam Sector himself. But there was not much he honestly could do in the face of the successful record that he had accrued over the years in the Outer Rim, having put down several rebel and pirate operations with minimal losses.
Then again, Senn was a traditionalist with no imagination, who believe solely in decisive fleet battles in which the glory of the Empire could be highlighted. The man did not have the mind for fighting an enemy that did not subscribe to his thirst for a decisive battle.
And that was likely why Palpatine had sent him, well, at least part of it. The other part was because Palpatine always liked to remind him how he owned him.
Nine years, Lelouch mused silently to himself, the only sign of his thoughts were the clenching of his hands behind his back as he remembered what today was, how much longer can I keep it up?
"You better get ready, Suzaku," he stated as he discarded those dark thoughts that were the sort that he drowned in alcohol, "it won't be long until they take the bait."
For a moment, he wondered if his friend had heard him, or if he was lost in his own memories at the anniversary of that event was today. Just before he was about to say something more, Suzaku spoke again, his voice a soft whisper that only Lelouch could hear:
Lelouch simply nodded in response, and Suzaku spun and strode away, Lelouch watching him in the reflection of the glass as his friend, confidante, and blood-brother strode past the posted stormtroopers and through the doors, on his way to his station. As the doors closed behind him, Lelouch's eyes flicked back forward, only this time watching as several other arrowhead shapes moved around him, along with several other smaller support ships. But they were far from his mind, instead the words that had become a mantra for the both of them rang in his head.
"For Her," he whispered, red hair like the setting sun; the bluest of eyes that could rival the oceans emoting so much through so little; a laugh and a smile that came easily, yet meant more than what could be put into words, caused his eyes to close as he sought to block the vision of sorrow that clenched at his heart.
Because for Grand Admiral Lelouch Lamperouge of the Galactic Empire, that vision was a promise of what could no longer ever be.
Admiral Laeth Kinnex could not help but feel a hint of trepidation as he looked out the viewpoint to see the spiralling blue tunnel that was hyperspace as the Mon Calamari Cruiser Liberty hurtled towards its destination.
The trepidation was warranted though, as his command, which had firmly secured nearly the entirety of the Airam, was now just a shadow of its former self. What had been one of the larger fleets of the Rebel Alliance, was now down to a handful of capital and supports ships desperately scraping to turn the tide against a foe that inexorably squeezing the screws tighter with each passing day.
A month ago, The Emperor's Bloodhound had arrived, and everything had changed almost overnight.
What had been awkward, clumsy attempts by the Empire to quell his forces, suddenly turned into swift, decisive, and remorseless strikes that hit hard, and quickly faded. There was no attempt to take territory, Imperial ships merely appeared, achieved whatever objectives they had been given (usually with the destruction of Alliance or Airam assets with little Imperial losses), and disappeared into the void like wraiths.
As a result, the Airam Sector, which had been a sure Alliance redoubt to expand its forces, was now becoming increasingly difficult to hold as they found themselves with fewer ships to hold the territory.
Even the reinforcements he had received had not stemmed the tide, as the influx of new B-Wing fighters and additional Mon Cal cruisers had only seen a switch in tactics, as the Imperials then started attacking stations, depots, and logistics centers, depriving his forces of the ability to maintain themselves, before coming back to picking off his forces at will.
No, it had to end, and he had been convinced that sooner or later, Admiral Lamperouge would overextend himself, as the frenetic pace of his offensive would require a slowdown, or his ships would break down.
That had resulted in the news that the Compeller, Admiral Lamperouge's own flagship, had suffered a hyperdrive failure and was currently stranded requesting reinforcements. If the Admiral didn't routinely operate in his ship without his support, he would have assumed it was a trap, but the Immobilizer-418 Cruisers were notoriously high-maintenance, and the Admiral's ship had been seen at most of the engagements, so it was more than likely that it had suffered a failure.
And even if it wasn't, the knowledge that they could decipitate the local Imperial command and allow them some breathing room in order to reestablish their foothold was something that could not be dismissed. As a result, even with the possibility of it being a trap, it was a risk worth taking.
"Coming out of hyperspace, Admiral," Commander Birge stated, as the anticipation drew higher. They both knew this was a desperate gamble to turn the tide. There was no doubt in either of their minds that the Admiral would not go down without a fight, especially with the variety of tricks he had shown over the years that seemed to specialize in pulling victory from the jaws of defeat.
It was why he had brought the bulk of the remains of the fleet, with his Liberty, he also had a sister ship in the Crucible, along with the last two of his MC40s and a host of smaller ships provided by the Airam Clans. It was all or nothing here, and he intended to win it.
Reverting back to hyperspace, he cast a gimlet eye at the Interdictor that hung in the distance, even as several ships moved into combat position, fighters deploying to provide a combat screen. Even from here, he could see the ship as it drifted listlessly, obviously the ship having suffered more than a hyperdrive failure if it was to be believed.
The question then became, just what to do. It would be a boon for the Alliance to capture the Admiral, both for the information he carried, but also the propaganda and morale value. Far more than simply killing the man.
"Commander Birge," he decided, turning in his command chair to the grey-skinned Mon Cal, "ready a boarding party, I want the Admiral captured. Contact High-"
"Admiral, the Compeller is powering up," one of the technicians shouted, and he found himself turning in the chair to watch as, the Interdictor, indeed, began to get underway. Every thought came screeching to a halt as every fear that had been burgeoning in his gut was brought to bear as the bridge became a cacophony of reports.
"Compeller's Gravity Wells are coming online, I'm detecting mass shadows bracketing the fleet."
"Admiral, I have a Dominator coming out of hyperspace to our aft, it's already powering up its Gravity Wells."
It is a trap, he thought despairingly as several more ships came out of hyperspace, lead by a ship that he did not recognize that interposed itself between his fleet and the Interdictor Cruiser. While it shared the familiar arrowhead design shared by many of the Imperial ships, it did not have the unique bridge tower that had dominated. In fact, it shared more in common with the Vindicator-class Heavy Cruisers, only the tower was recessed into the very hull itself and the ship was as nearly as long as an Imperial Star Destroyer.
But that didn't matter as TIEs began launching, he recognized, because he knew he had not only been baited into an elaborate trap, but the ship in front of him could only be the new flagship for Admiral Lamperouge.
There were few things that Suzaku enjoyed anymore, one of those was the feeling of flight. It had been something that he had gained years ago as when the Lancelot had gained a Float Unit, and now here in his TIE, he could feel the same sense of enjoyment, even if it was marred by the fact that it was both not his Lancelot, and it signified his servitude to a man who was beyond monstrous.
But those thoughts were for later reflection, as he was free to fly now, even if it was in the pursuit of destruction. In this case, his target was the enemy flagship that his squadron had been tasked to destroy.
"Alpha Squadron, form up," he commed his fellow Bomber pilots, eyes discerning the massive shape of the Liberty-type Mon Calamari Cruiser in the distance, "Eta Squadron, you're our escort in."
"Roger that Commander, though I doubt you will need it," came the jesting rebuke from the TIE Interceptor commander who would be his escort, "unless you're leaving some for us."
A small glimmer of a smirk was the only sign of his amusement at the jest, as he glanced at his scope, noticing the storm of dots that filled it up. It would be one of the uglier fights they were about to embark, but it seemed like every battle nowadays was like that.
Then again, Lelouch always seemed to have the upper hand no matter the fight. Always planning his engagements to his advantage, but also, ensuring that the men and women under his command had the best chance to survive. This ranged from the best equipment available, to equipping all of the TIEs under his command with deflector shields.
He had even supplied Suzaku with one of the exceedingly rare TIE Interdictors after he had cut a swathe through rebels and pirates with a TIE Bomber over the years. While people laughed at the idea of an ace pilot in a TIE Bomber, Suzaku had found a certain challenge in the ungainly and ugly thing, and after while, he was able to make it dance in such a way that it left even some of the best Imperial pilots and strategists in shock. It was no Lancelot, but the amount of effect it could have on the battlefield if wielded right made him feel right at home. That and the shock of having a TIE Bomber making a mockery of TIE Interceptor and A-Wing jocks brought a certain amount of pleasure to a sadistic streak that he hadn't known he had.
"I'll try and leave you some," he finally responded, as he selected an A-Wing that was now only fifteen kilometers in the distance, flicking his weapons selector over to his concussion missiles, before unlinking it to single fire. "Alpha Two, you get the pigs to the trough, I'll give our Interceptor jocks a show."
"Roger that, One," came a chuckle, as Suzaku watched his reticle turn to yellow on the A-Wing at six kilometers, the tweaks the technicians made to his sensors providing him better lock-on range than his counterparts, and his smirk turned feral as the reticle turned red as the missile had achieved a firing solution. After only a few seconds, the A-Wing veered away, making the mistake of giving into his nerves, and he rewarded him with a concussion missile that darted out his ordnance bay and hunted for his prey. No longer paying attention, he sought his next victim, and repeated the same tactic with another one.
But then his own warning system detected a missile lock, and his expression didn't change, even as he refocused his shields forward before the tone of a launch was detected, without a thought, he simply fired his lasers, causing the missile to explode still a kilometer in the distance, before firing his lasers again, watching as an A-Wing took a laser straight through the cockpit, before he put his fighter up on its wing and veered upwards, rolling the fighter and bringing it back around, as fighters merged into a gigantic furball. Immediately, he pounced upon an X-Wing that had swung behind Alpha Six, though that didn't last long as he dumb-fired a missile that speared through the fuselage right where the R2 unit was located.
This had become his life, for better or worse, and he would be lying to himself if he didn't enjoy it
"Target forward batteries on the Dreadnought," Lelouch commanded, watching the battle from his vantage point as a Nebulon-B2 Frigate was snapped in half by a turbolaser salvo by one of the two Imperial Star Destroyers he had on loan from Admiral Senn, "Order the Ascendance to activate its third and fourth Gravity Wells as planned, I think it's time for Admiral Sloane to drop the curtain."
Immediately the order was sent as Lelouch continued to watch, his Star Destroyer's turbolaser batteries battering the Airam heavy cruiser before they collapsed, emerald beams digging deeply into the heavy cruiser before coring it, armor melting in rivulets even as space fought to rob them of their heat.
His attention was then drawn by the appearance of three more ships, an Imperial Star Destroyer, and a pair of Vindicators. However, instead of appearing amidst the Rebel forces, they appeared above, with their bows pointing downwards and towards the enemy ship.
It was the inverse of the old naval tactic of 'Crossing the T' from Earth, only to more devastating effect as all the batteries of three ships were at bear, while the Rebels, which were already engaged forward, now were in a position to where they could not concentrate their fire, as some of their batteries could not elevate to engage the new threat.
It swiftly turned into a slaughter, as the trio of ships concentrated their firepower on the two Mon Calamari Cruisers, even as he eyes caught the telltale explosions of torpedos impacting the shields. It wasn't long before the two cruisers were drifting wrecks, and it switched from a battle to a cleanup operation, as the Rebels lost coordination, proving how poor their command and control was with the simple loss of the commander and the dependence upon a loose confederation of allies. Even now, he watched without emotion as several of the smaller ships attempted to make a run for it, only to be run down by his forces.
No, the battle was over, as anticlimactic as he thought it would be. And all that he had to prove he been in battle was significant damage to one of his Vindicators that several B-Wings were able to unload their torpedos on that would require a lengthy stay in an Imperial repair yard, light to superficial damage on his other ships, the loss of maybe fifty fighters, and the expenditure of a significant stock of his ordnance.
Closing his eyes, he turned to the command pit, no longer wishing to watch what had turned into a slaughter, "Inform Admiral Sloane that she is now in charge, with regards on a job well done."
"Yes, Grand Admiral," came the response from Captain Sair Yonka, who watched as Lelouch strode past him and made his own exit from the bridge. Lelouch didn't pay any attention to his honor guard of stormtroopers that fell in behind him, his thoughts solely elsewhere.
Within a few minutes, the door slid open to his quarters and he stepped in, the darkness engulfing him as the doors slid shut, for what could have been an eternity, or maybe a nanosecond, but for himself, it was too much regardless as the ghost of his past deigned to torment him with glimpses. Taking a deep shuddering breath, he then let it out again, his hands curling into fists as he fought the deluge of emotions, ranging from boiling hot rage, to crushing depression, to anywhere in between. It took every part of him not to curl up into the fetal position and just let it all out. But he couldn't afford it, not now, not ever.
"Lights," his voice came out in a rasp, and the lights snapped on, driving back the darkness, and the ghosts, allowing him just a modicum of control that he would need next as he strode forward through his quarters and came to a stop before a holoterminal and activated it.
It took a few moments to power up and prepare, but once it did, it only took a few minutes before it alerted him that it had made a connection. Taking a shuddering breath, he braced himself as he lowered himself to a knee, the activating hologram blurring into the face of a man that he despised more than anyone he had ever.
"Report, Grand Admiral Lamperouge," Emperor Sheev Palpatine demanded.
"Rebel forces in the Airam Sector have been pacified as promised, My Emperor," Lelouch forced out, trying to prevent himself from grinding his teeth in the face of the man who had forced him into this servitude; this hell.
"Excellent, Grand Admiral, once again, you have proven my wisdom in recruiting you from that backwater hovel where your skills would have gone to waste."
This time, Lelouch could not help it as his teeth ground, but kept his head bowed in order to prevent his tormentor from gaining enjoyment from his suffering.
"Your sagacity is unquestionable, My Emperor," he ground out, failing to keep the raw emotion from his tone, and knowing without seeing, that the older man was grinning at his struggle.
"Of course it is. I have not forgotten how special today is for you, for the both of us. The day in which you finally saw the light, and embrace your destiny."
I saw neither, you bastard, he wished to scream, but his jaw simply clenched harder to the point it hurt. You took away my light!
If he had been looking up to the Emperor, he would have seen the man's grin turn even wider, because he knew perfectly well the words to bludgeon his pet with in order to cause distress.
"Rejoice, my boy, you should be proud of your accomplishments in bringing order to the galaxy."
The only accomplishment I would be proud of is ordering a Base Delta Zero upon you and your fucking Empire, Lelouch almost hissed, biting his lip to the point he could taste blood upon his tongue, merely offering the words spoken robotically, "I am, My Emperor. Without order, there would be only chaos."
A loud cackle was his answer, and Lelouch had to close his eyes, fighting to prevent himself from showing his emotions in the face of speaking of supporting the very thing he had spent eight years of his life fighting against upon his homeworld. Yet, it wasn't enough, as a lone tear broke through the blockade upon his emotions, quickly becoming a silent stream as he swore not to show it to this man. .
"I am so glad that you agree with me, Grand Admiral," the Sith Lord cackled, "that is why, in recognition of both this joyous anniversary, and your esteemed services to this Empire, I have ensured a gift has been delivered to your quarters from your homeworld and placed in your liquor cabinet. I do hope you enjoy it and the memories it brings."
He stiffened, his mind picking up the emphasis on that word, his stomach knotting at what it could possibly be.
"I-I thank you, My Emperor."
"Think nothing of it, Grand Admiral," the Emperor waved off, "I have held you long enough from your festivities, so I will have your new orders transmitted for your perusal on the morrow. Please do enjoy my gift."
And with that, the call ended, leaving Lelouch staring at the ground, for a moment, awaiting to see if it was actually the end of the call, as Palpatine had in the past had returned, and it had ended with a thousand people rounded up and killed on the Emperor's orders. After waiting nearly ten minutes, holding his breath, he numbly rose to his feet, knowing that the man was not to return.
Robotically, he strode towards the liquor cabinet and pulled it open to several bottles of alcohol. But there was also a case that drew his attention, in an ornate lacquered box that just begged for him to open it, and as his trembling hands reached to it, and opened it.
A sob escaped his lips, as he reached with a trembling hand at what lay on the very top.
There, elegantly framed, was a picture of Kallen and himself in the midst of a kiss, a smirk on the edge of his lips even as he held the kiss, Kallen looking like she was caught between kissing him, joy, being scandalized, and chewing him out.
Pulling the picture even closer to himself, he stared at it right hand caressing 'Kallen's' cheek, already lost in the memory.
It had been just a month after he had placed his half-sister upon the throne, having had enough of war and politics for five lifetimes. He had every intention of simply living a quiet life far from any further excitement and was perfectly happy living it out with Kallen by his side.
Kallen had decided to override his wish to take her on a quiet picnic, instead demanding that he take her to the local Tanabata festival. What had resulted would have been best described as a mess, as suddenly the plan and arrangements he had in place to be discarded and he had spent an hour desperately trying to rework everything, while getting fitted for a yukata.
A near car accident later, and Kallen growing irritated with him because she had figured out that he was hiding something from her, they had arrived at the festival and it had nearly turned into a disaster. It didn't help that Kallen had been irritated with him, but he was both irritated with her and himself because things hadn't been working out at all. And it may have escalated into them shouting at each other if her mother hadn't arrived just in time to intercede.
From there it worked out, even if Kallen promised to 'get to the bottom of what he was scheming', because after perusing the stalls, and with some help from her mother, he was able to get her to where he wanted that evening. It was in front of the bamboo tree, that he wrote on a tanabata his wish to marry her. When he put it up, he could still remember the look on Kallen's face after he had placed it on the tree, watching it register in her mind exactly what he had been planning for the picnic that she had ruined.
And he couldn't resist kissing her at that moment her mother taking the picture, catching her as she was gobsmacked, because in the end, he had gotten the last laugh...
He finally got a "Yes", once Kallen's brain had rebooted. There had been no ring because he hadn't been able to get it because of the sudden change of plans. But it hadn't mattered, because it had been perfect.
And she died eight months later, and he was made the slave of a madman.
A tear splashed down onto the picture, as he could no longer hold it back, a choked sob escaping his lips as he hugged the picture, pulling it as close to his heart as possible without crushing it. Because it was all he had left of her, memories and what could have beens.
"I'm sorry," he whispered desperately, clutching it tighter to where he could feel the frame creak, "I'm sorry! I'm sorry! I'm sorry!"
The last declaration escaped his lips as a keening wail, one so full of desperate, mourning, loneliness as he rocked on his heels. It wasn't simply that she was gone, she had been his light in the darkness; in the hell that he had made his life as he had changed the world. He had tainted his very soul with the darkest of filth, all to bring peace to a world that had never truly had it. He had committed the vilest of acts, to the point he had no longer considered himself human.
But Kallen...Kallen had only seen the good that he could no longer see. She had provided so much to him and brought him back from the precipice in which he had decided that it could only end with his death. She had believed in him, when he had no longer believed in himself. She had brought back his hopes, his dreams, his everything...
And now she was gone, and the galaxy had become such a dark and lonely place for a him, a man who had nothing left to live for except a promise to her.
Whatever happens Lelouch. Promise me. Promise me that you will do everything in your power to ensure our sacrifices were not in vain.
And he had honored that promise, even as he sold his very soul to the devil. Even as he drenched his hands in even more blood that he had pledged never to shred, he had done it.
And now...now he was no longer sure he could keep it up anymore. The precipice looked so beautiful, and it would be so easy…
Releasing a shuddering breath as he caught himself, he pulled the frame away, placing it down on the counter, his fingers again caressing the picture where her cheek was, he let out another choking sob, even as he looked back to the case, and found himself in a trance, slowly stepping forward to it, his hand reaching out to touch the contents ensconced in velvet or some facsimile of it.
Inside was an ornate injector, polished and gleaming in the lights, and beside that were a trio of vials containing a drug that had haunted his very life for years. Even now he could remember the bliss caused by the psychotropic hallucinogen that was Refrain. It had been his escape during those dark years. Just enough to cause a brief glimpse of happiness, but never enough to cause too much damage. It had been his constant, steady companion for years until Kallen had ripped it out of his hands and tossed it away.
She would understand, a dark part of his mind whispered, as his hand brushed over the clear glass vial, critical eye judging its opacity, immediately recognizing the drug as one of the highest quality, You just want to remember her. There's nothing wrong.
Slowly, mechanically, he grabbed the injector and a vial, sliding the vial into the loading chamber and locking it in. A soft, shuddering exhale escaped his lips, resisting the anticipatory twitching as a body well experienced in the use of the drug, his eyes both on the injector and far beyond. Closing his eyes, his left hand came up to his neck, brushing raven tresses aside to expose his it, and he brought the injector to his neck, pressing it to the skin, his finger settling into the trigger.
Maybe it was his conscience, or maybe it was a plea for someone to save him, but Lelouch's eyes snapped open, and his eyes locked with his reflections, staring at himself in mute shock, before trailing down to the picture catching Kallen's expression, and then back to himself again realizing what he was about to do.
His features darkened, face contorting into a rictus of fury, violet eyes glowing softly of magenta before an indecipherable scream erupted his lips, the injector and vial slamming against the mirror as he threw it with all of his might, cracking and pitting the glass it as the injector broke and vial splash its contents against it, Refrain of the highest quality dripping down the glass even as the material began repairing itself.
And in the mirror, a pair of blazing geass sigils had awakened to stare at their reflection in the glass.
There had always been a sense of accomplishment to not only survive a mission, but also to achieve all of the objectives with little losses from your forces, and for Suzaku Kururugi, it had become a badge of honor that he proudly wore.
Oh, don't get him wrong, he despised the Empire and everything they stood for. But unlike Lelouch, he had accepted his situation, having decided to do his damndest in order to make the best of it and protect his home. As a result, he was in a position that was, while still fraught with tension, at least allowed him to do what he did best.
Guiltily, he could not say the same for Lelouch. Unlike, Lelouch, he hadn't had anyone outside of a few casual flings, and a semi-serious relationship with Cecile Croomy that fell apart once she realized he wasn't what she was looking for. As a result, he didn't have anywhere near the emotional or psychological baggage his friend had.
Hell, even now, eighteen years later, he wondered if he had stayed with his friend instead of leaving, would he have been able to change the direction fate would take. The knowledge that Lelouch had been captured two years later by the Emperor and given to the Eunuchs as a 'gift' to 'mold' into the perfect puppet husband for their Empress was something that would haunt him for the rest of his life and likely beyond.
It was evident that the year he had spent there before being rescued had a dramatic impact upon Lelouch, to the point that the boy that had emerged from that hell as a teenager had been irrevocably damaged. And he hadn't even realized just how far until he had already declared vendetta upon Zero when he had not only massacred the JLF at Narita, but had personally killed Cornelia there.
No, it would be fair that he hadn't just killed Cornelia, he had tortured her, taking the time and care of ripping her apart emotionally and psychologically in front of all to see, before he killed her as she begged for death after 'Zero' had taken the time to enlighten her with what had happened to Lelouch. That had been when he had declared to avenge Cornelia for Euphemia, not realizing until Lelouch had disappeared, that Zero and Lelouch had been one and the same, and by then he had convinced himself that only he could put down the rabid beast that wore the face of his friend.
He did wonder though, if it hadn't been for Kallen, would Lelouch have turned the world to ash in his mad quest of revenge clad in the idea of creating a better world. It was something that haunted him even now, because now without Kallen, he worried not only for Lelouch, but for home…
Because he wasn't sure how much longer duty would be able to hold Lelouch back from either descending back into that darkness, or simply choosing to end it all. It worried him, but the problem was, no matter how much he wanted to blame Lelouch. He couldn't. And the best he could do was try to be there, and try to honor his own promise to Kallen to look out for Lelouch.
The lift coming to a stop, he took a cleansing breath and adjusted his uniform before the doors opened up. Taking one last moment to double-check himself, he stepped into the corridor striding past a security checkpoint that's officer merely glanced at him then went back to work, having recognized him. After a short while he came to another door, this time flanked by two Stormtroopers.
"Emil, looking as lovely as ever," he greeted the leftmost stormtrooper.
"Up yours, Commander," came the reply with the stormtrooper, though here was no passion in it, Suzaku's lips twitching upwards in a smile, knowing the woman was likewise smiling behind the plasteel helmet.
Emilashl Fritol's story was one of many of the 'recruits' Lelouch's fleet had picked up on its various 'stops' over the years. The girl had become enamored with Lelouch when he had arrived in the Phaeda System tracking smugglers. At the time, the Imperial garrison was heavily corrupt, choosing to work with the smugglers for kickbacks while at the same time cracking down on anyone they pleased. That had quickly changed when then Captain Lamperouge had proceeded to gut the garrison, replacing it with his troops. But as with every planetary visit, recruitment took place, with some lucky enough to actually go with the fleet to learn on the go. Emilashl had been of those lucky ones, wanting to get away from the filth and despair that had been Phaeda. She had never looked back, rising through the ranks through sheer determination and drive, earning Lelouch's attention and being assigned as one of his personal guard.
In fact, many of the crew in Lelouch's fleet were those that were found on his recruitment drives, many who had come to see Lelouch as more than a commander. To many, he had become a way of life.
"Rodosem," Suzaku greeted the other stormtrooper, who merely nodded his head, "he in there?"
"Since he handed over command to Admiral Sloane."
That long, Suzaku mused, his smirk turning into a frown, knowing that they shared his same worry for Lelouch. Taking a breath, he nodded to the two of them, before accessing the keypad, and entering the code that opened the portal to Leouch's quarters and stepping through when it opened.
Scanning the room, he sighed, shaking his head as he knew where Lelouch had likely gone, instead moving through the quarters into a different part of it and coming to a stop at the sight before him.
Draped over a luxurious synthleather couch, a half-empty bottle of Corellian whiskey in his hands and staring vacantly into nothingness, his eyes glowing with the telltale sigil of Geass, was Lelouch.
Taking a moment to stare him, he then let out an explosive sigh that had been resting in his gut, knowing that this was not going to be a good evening. Walking over the bar, he stopped as his eyes took in the picture sitting on the counter, before Suzaku began cursing up a storm in select and acquired Huttese profanity that went so far as to question the legitimacy of several generations of Palpatine's ancestors.
Storming over to the cabinet, flinging it open, a part of him processing the open case of fucking Refrain and remnants of the injector here and there along with dried residue of Refrain itself on the glass. Filing it away for later, and when he was suitably plastered, he grabbed a bottle of Breath of Heaven and proceeded to fill the shot glass before tossing it back, wincing at the taste that was akin to rubbing alcohol with a hint of sugar in the aftertaste before grabbing another a pair of glasses and walking over to Lelouch, extricating the bottle and walking to a table, setting both glasses down and filling them, before placing the bottle down and returning with the glass, placing it in Lelouch's hand, ensuring that Lelouch wrapped his hand around it.
That done, he walked over to the chair beside the table, and grabbed the glass and held it in both hands as he leaned forward.
"Would you have over imagined eighteen years ago we'd become alcoholics?"
Lelouch snorted, shaking his head and causing a brief smile grace Suzaku's lips as he took a sip of his alcohol, savoring the crisp, woodsy taste of the Whyren's Reserve. At least Lelouch wasn't too far gone like other times.
"You started us down that path when you snuck that nihonshu out to the shed," Lelouch retorted, his nose wrinkling in disgust, "how the hell we got into drinking that shit I will never know, I thought you were trying to kill us."
"You were the one that dared me," Suzaku replied with a laugh, remembering happier times, before everything went to hell.
"You didn't protest too damn much!"
An affable shrug was Lelouch's response, as a tense silence enveloped them again, Suzaku took the time to finish off his glass before pouring another one.
"Six more confirmed by the way. They're still working to piece together if I got another six, though I'm pretty sure I got four of them.."
"Oh, the vaunted Squadron-Killer Kururugi didn't get his twelve. I'm disappointed in you Suzu."
Smirking slightly, Suzaku waited for Lelouch to actually sip from his alcohol before having a little bit of fun.
"Oh, you're right, Lelouch. I am losing my touch with killing fighters, I mean, it's not like I was busy putting a few rockets into an MC40a that Intel is trying to figure out if I was the one that landed the killing blow."
Watching Lelouch choke on the expensive whiskey was definitely worth it, he decided, watching as his raven-haired struggled to catch his breath, a pair of Geass Sigils glaring right at him. It wasn't like Lelouch could order him to do anything with it anyways.
"You don't do anything half-assed," Lelouch observed after finally catching his breath.
"Since when have I ever?"
"True," Lelouch responded, finishing off his drink and holding it out for Suzaku to refill, which he did.
Satisfied that maybe he had broken the ice just enough, he decided to try and get to the bottom of both the picture and the Refrain he had spotted. He knew he wasn't going to like the answers, but he knew, for both their sakes, that he had to regardless.
"I take it the Refrain and picture are a gift from His Decrepit-ness," he asked, locking his eyes with Lelouch as the glass was topped off.
Lelouch stilled, looking to him for a moment, before moving his gaze to the picture on the bar, then the Refrain, and with a slouch of the shoulders, he finally nodded, looking far older than his twenty-seven years of age.
"He said to enjoy the memories," Lelouch finally said, his voice barely above a whisper, "I-," his voice broke off in a choke, before he looked up to Suzaku, Geass still activated, but tears shining in his eyes, "It hurts Suzaku, it hurts so much. I promised her...I promised her that I would never lose myself to my memories...but how can I do it when it is the only place I can find her?"
"How," he continued, his left hand placing itself over his heart, clenching the white material of the uniform, "I've done horrible things in my life, Suzaku. Things I can never be proud of. I promised her that I would never go back to being that person! But how can I keep lying to myself that I am not that man? How can I sit here and say I can be someone I never was? How can I be good...when the only goodness in my life is gone?"
Suzaku sat there quietly, staring at his blood brother before looking down at his own drink, losing himself in the amber liquid.
How indeed was the question. He could not sit here and say that he understood, because he would be lying if he did. In fact, the only person who could say that they understood was the very person who had dragged Lelouch back from the abyss, and she was no longer amongst them.
The thing he should say is that he should honor the promise to her, but he had a feeling it would not result in a way that was favorable to all that were involved. He had become an expert over the years upon Lelouch's moods and body language, and right now, if he did, he had no doubt in his mind that it may just be the last time that he sees him alive again.
"Maybe you don't," the words escaped his lips before he could stop himself.
Lelouch's head snapped up in mute shock, staring at him with wide eyes disbelievingly, too stunned to believe that his friend would suggest such a thing.
"It's killing you, Lelouch," he finally said, "tearing you apart. Do you believe Kallen would want you like this?"
"She wouldn't want me to be like that," Lelouch hissed, "never again."
"No," he found himself agreeing, "she wouldn't. But she would understand, Lelouch. She always understood. And she loved you without reservation, because she knew, that despite how you viewed yourself, regardless of everything you did, you were a good man. A passionate and flawed man, but nonetheless a great man who helped change the world for the better. That's what she saw in you, Lelouch. So no, she wouldn't want you to go back to what you had been, but I don't believe, and I doubt you do, that you would descend that far back into the darkness."
Lelouch's eyes averted downward again, his expression becoming pensive, and for the life of him, Suzaku wished he had Mao's Geass, to at least know what was going through his mind. Alas, that was not to be, and he could only hope that maybe, Lelouch would at least some see some light in what he was saying.
Not a lot of people realized just what sort of influence Kallen had on Lelouch, even now. And if people had known, it was likely that Kallen would have been valued much more than Lelouch ever had been. In the shadow of the Demon, she had been warm, caring, yet fierce and protective, unafraid to stand up to him when she felt what he had been doing was wrong. If anything, she was the true hero of it all, and no one would ever realize it.
And it seemed, that once again, she would continue on being a hero, even now.
"You're right," Lelouch's voice came out in a croak, "I just...I miss her so much, Suzaku. I would give anything for her to be here now. I just...it's so hard. What would she say, Suzaku? I'm fighting for an empire that makes Britannia look saintly."
"You know perfectly well she wouldn't judge you Lelouch. In fact, I have no doubt she would say you were a hero, sacrificing yourself to ensure that our homeworld stays safe, that at least the people we have left behind can at least still have a life relatively free."
This caused Suzaku to freeze, unable to say anything back, as Lelouch looked up, expression turning into one of pensiveness, before he shook his head.
"No," Lelouch said, finishing off his glass before pouring himself another finger, continuing, "you're right. Palpatine is a monster, but he's not stupid. He knows that if something happens to Earth, then I will stop at nothing to burn his little Empire to the ground."
Recognizing at least a semblance of dismissal, and the fact that he reports to fill out himself, Suzaku realized now would at least be a decent time to do his work, before he became intoxicated, that and he had a dinner to attend, one that he was not looking to skip.
"Yeah," came Lelouch's response, "I'm good."
"Get some sleep, Lelouch. You look like you need it."
And with that said, Suzaku rose to his feet, finishing off his Whyren's Reserve, and headed out. Lelouch listening intently for the sound of the doors opening and then closing. Downing the rest of his drink, he rose to his feet, legs protesting the sudden weight upon them while his mind protesting that he had too much to drink. He then walked over to the bar, and grabbed the picture, and slowly strode towards his bedroom, not even taking the time to take off any of his clothes, and simply falling into bed, holding the photo frame.
Slowly, reverently, he placed the photo on the pillow beside his own, staring at the photo from a lifetime ago his fingers brushing up against the glass. And as he did so, his eyes starting to slide closed, and the events of the day finally began to register, he was reminded of a line from a book that had exemplified his life to the point where he had read it religiously for years until he had met Kallen:
There is neither happiness nor unhappiness in the world; there is only the comparison of one state with another. Only a man who has felt ultimate despair is capable of feeling ultimate bliss. It is necessary to have wished for death in order to know how good it is to live…, his eyes had completely closed now, the sweet arms of Morpheus embracing him, the sum of all of human wisdom will be contained in these...two words: Wait….and…..Ho-
And for Lelouch vi Britannia, those words no longer mattered in the respite of sleep.