Arrhythmia

Love, and do what thou wilt. ––Saint Augustine of Hippo

1.

It's said that God exists somewhere outside of time, but Rolo's never seen Him there. Instead, he sees spots gathering around the edges of his vision and hears a sharp ringing in the back of his skull and feels cold pricking the tips of his fingers. He sees sparks of light there as well.

"Ehhhhh?" V.V., sitting with his chin cupped in his hands, speaks not to Rolo but to the ground. "Rolo sees bright lights? Having visions, is he? Brushes with the Infinite? How unexpected."

After he's finished dragging the body into its shallow grave, Rolo raises a grimy hand to wipe the sweat from his upper lip. Not once does he speak to his maker, who lounges on a nearby tree stump, hair pooling about his feet in unnatural, uniform waves. Rolo's no visionary. V.V. knows this, and so does he. Whatever his Geass shows him is nothing more than gaspings of an oxygen-starved brain.

Rolo leaves the next day for Area 11 and the first long-term assignment of his life. When he asks his superiors at the Secret Intelligence Service about the expected duration of the mission, they tell him not to hold his breath.

2.

Learning his new life is like learning a new language. And Rolo doesn't know any of those, just English, and now a little Japanese, or at least enough for him to introduce himself and ask for directions to the nearest toilet. Luckily, though, it seems the inhabitants of Area 11 use Japanese less often than one would expect.

The real trial is learning the language of a 16-year-old boy, of a student, of a Britannian, of a brother. Skilled as he is in the arena of rote memorization, the vocabulary poses no problem for Rolo, and he learns all the names, faces, and places in a matter of minutes. On the plane to Area 11 the proper nouns of his new life flit past his closed eyes with the comforting regularity of a metronome, and he matches their pace with his murmurings, naming each in their turn: "Ashford Academy, Rivalz Cardemonde, Milly Ashford, Shirley Fenette, Lelouch Lamperouge." This is my brother. This is my home.

But the grammar, the colloquialisms, the subtle inflections that spell the difference between friends and enemies, family and prey––these require first-hand knowledge and experience, of which Rolo has little.

When he arrives at Ashford Academy he's given a room of his own in a house of his own, filled with all the trappings of a life that will, for a time, be his own. One of his new colleagues, a young man by the name of Victor, provides Rolo with a mission overview as he sits at his new desk and fiddles with his new cell phone. With a flick of his wrist, with the same deft movement it takes to release the blade of a knife, the phone opens a soft, plastic "clack." He scrolls through the contact list, already filled with so many new, familiar names, and feels the weight of it in his hands.

"Additional surveillance will be required along the east wall of the premises. However, as of yesterday––you listening?"

"Yes."

"Something wrong with the phone?"

"No," says Rolo. "It's just what I've always wanted."

"Great," says Victor, rolling his eyes. "It made me think of you. Happy birthday, or whatever."

3.

"Who's this?" At the sound of the voice––his brother's voice, he realizes––Rolo swallows and closes Lelouch's desk drawer slowly, carefully. His breath is steady, but his heart is fluttering in his throat and his shoulders are creeping up toward his ears. "It looks like Rolo, but that can't be. Rolo should be in class right now."

Rolo titters, not bothering to hide his anxiety. As he turns to gaze on his brother for the first time, Rolo realizes that Lelouch Vi Britannia will always make him nervous, no matter the circumstances. He looks exactly like the one Rolo knows from the pictures, leaning against the doorframe, arms folded lazily across his chest, regarding Rolo in a manner that is both kind and calculating, as if the only memory left to the errant prince is of his own imperious smile.

"I could say the same to you, Brother," Rolo manages, eventually.

"Do as I say not as I do, et cetera, et cetera," says Lelouch, emphasizing his words with a smirk and an elaborate twirl of the wrist. He ruffles Rolo's hair. "Seriously, though, you should know by now I'm a lost cause. But skipping class isn't like you. Something wrong?"

Touching his head carefully, as if probing for a bruise or some other injury, Rolo stares over Lelouch's shoulder and says, "I'm not feeling well, maybe."

Lelouch clucks at him and presses the back of his hand to Rolo's forehead, which makes him think of the woman from Virginia. Her child, five years old, like Rolo. He watches from a hedge near their home. He watches the child whine and cry, saying stay here Mommy, saying I feel sick, saying don't go. The way the woman bends down to smooth her hand over the child's forehead––it's so unnecessary and inefficient and imprecise compared to the accuracy of a thermometer, which is just the opposite of this woman who doesn't know anything because she says well you don't have a fever, because she says don't worry. She says Daddy and I are going on a walk but we'll be back, and then we'll tuck you in all nice and cozy goodnight. Then the man and the woman go on their walk in the woods and Rolo follows them.

They call it a double suicide. "He shot her," they say, "and then he killed himself." But the truth is Rolo kills the man first.

"Well, you don't have a fever," says Lelouch, giving a little sniff of laughter at the look on Rolo's face. "Sorry. I guess you're too old for me to be treating you like that."

Rolo tries to shrug, but his shoulders are already too far up for him to lift them any further.

"By the way, what were you doing in my desk drawer?"

Rolo tosses Lelouch his best attempt at a smile and says, "Spying on my big brother, of course." Lelouch thinks that's pretty funny.

4.

Thomas should have known not to read over his shoulder. Now Rolo has to hold his hands and his knife out in front of him like a surgeon so he won't get blood all over his uniform. When Villetta-sensei finds out, she'll say what she always says: "This is the last time, Rolo. You have to learn how to work with other people. You have to learn to be patient with them."

But Rolo has infinite patience. Only someone with infinite patience can hold their breath this long.

Rolo is attempting to close the file from the Geass Directorate with his elbow when Victor walks in. He pauses in the doorway for a few beats, stares at Rolo. Then he shrugs his shoulders and saunters inside, cutting a wide berth around Thomas. "God, that knife again," he says. "This isn't some video game, kid. You should really get yourself a gun. They're cleaner."

Rolo snaps the file shut and throws it in his book bag before putting his hands in his pockets and walking wordlessly to the elevator. Someone else cleans up after every mess he makes. In this way Rolo will always be a child.

5.

When Rolo opens the locket he expects to see a picture inside. Instead he hears music, a predictable 4/4 rhythm, beating out a melody meant not to move but to soothe, to lull to sleep. A static refrain that doubles back on itself when the song is done. Repeats itself, and repeats again. Rolo twirls the locket through his fingers.

"It's just what I've always wanted."

The spinning chain twists in on itself before it unwinds.

"It made me think of you," Lelouch says slowly, as if reading from a script. "Happy birthday."

6.

Strangled worry and relief are written all too clearly on his face. Every word, action, every smile, endearment is blatant, rehearsed. Lelouch Vi Britannia steps over the threshold of their home and pulls Rolo to him with stiff arms. The Rolo who might one day kill him can sense in this embrace that Zero has indeed reawakened. Yet the Rolo who is Lelouch's family leans into his chest, because times like these are precious, and times like these are rare, even with a brother as loving and as kind as Lelouch Lamperouge.

"You're an idiot, Rolo."

Rolo follows the script even though he knows he shouldn't and mutters, "I'm sorry if I worried you."

"Next time try calling after you've escaped almost certain death at the hands of a bunch of terrorists."

"So overdramatic. You weren't like this on the phone."

"That's because I knew you wouldn't want your dear Villetta-sensei to hear me yelling at you."

"What does Villetta-sensei have to do with this?"

"You can't fool me, Rolo," says Lelouch, teasing, accusing. "You spend an awful lot of time with her. What is it you do together, I wonder? Do you––"

Rolo cuts Lelouch off with his Geass. Scanning the grounds around their house for potential witnesses, Rolo prepares for a silent goodbye. But when he tries to reach for his knife he realizes that Lelouch has already wrapped a hand around his wrist and is in the midst of pulling him into the house. Rolo tugs, but Lelouch won't let go. In this small moment Lelouch can't let go, and in this small moment he never will.

The air around them sparkles as Rolo stares into his brother's face, which slowly begins to fade, the colors streaking together like a portrait in a rainstorm. And because he's so tired, Rolo allows Lelouch to pull him inside.

"I'm going to bed early," Rolo says as he heads for the stairs.

"Welcome home," Lelouch calls after him. He turns to see Lelouch's small smile, a smile with just enough irony that he considers putting a knife in his brother's kind, loving heart.

7.

Lelouch promises Rolo a new future, but what he receives is a perpetual present. Every day he wakes to endless, sleepy mornings that eventually give way to similar afternoons. Now that Lelouch has recovered his lost memories, Rolo himself begins to forget. For the most part he forgets small, everyday things, if only because every day is much the same. And Rolo doesn't complain about this, because Rolo is infinitely patient. Because Rolo has been waiting and waiting and waiting for the day he could finally be patient.

Life under his brother's command is one without commands. For the first time Rolo truly desires to do as he's told. When Lelouch leaves Area 11 accompanied by one million Japanese, Rolo patiently awaits his return. When he comes home Rolo follows every order Lelouch throws his way. He does so patiently. And every day he will do the same.

After Milly's absurd graduation event, Lelouch lounges in the clubhouse with Rolo, waiting for Shirley to arrive for their date. He seems strangely comfortable in his stiff, high-backed chair, watching the news with his legs crossed and his fingers splayed over the edge of the armrests. The anchor moves from international affairs to the local news, and then Lelouch speaks to no one in particular. "Fate is like the beating of a heart," he says. "Regular, predictable, and impossible to avoid until the very end."

Rolo doesn't particularly understand the analogy. His own heart beats in fits and starts.

"And yet––" Lelouch's bony fingers clutch at the armrests in a momentary spasm before relaxing again. "And yet fate is no command. Indeed, there is no such thing as command, only action. God does not give orders from on high, Rolo. He simply observes." They both watch through the window as Shirley walks across the grounds toward the clubhouse. "Perhaps it doesn't seem that way, but ultimately mortals are the ones who choose to fight, to kill, to forget. That's the only reason they can forgive God for the horrible state of the world."

As Shirley walks up the front steps, Lelouch stands to answer the door. "God knows what will happen," he says, "but not even He can prevent it."

8.

Lelouch's scream is louder and longer than he expects it to be. It makes Rolo cringe with embarrassment for his brother. The scene's pretty overplayed, even considering Lelouch's undeniable flair for the melodramatic. Rolo fidgets in the shadows, waiting for Lelouch to let go of her, to stop rocking her back and forth, back and forth. She, for her part, dangles from his arms, like a girl who wishes to escape from an overzealous lover but only lies there and accepts this bruising kiss, that fervent embrace. Rolo starts to feel sick to his stomach, which makes it hard to breathe, so he turns his head away and wishes he could make it stop.

Above them, the stained glass window glows with pastel shades of afternoon light. Although it's made to seem ancient, like the relics one would find in Britannia, the window can't be older than this settlement. It is six, maybe seven years old. In Area 11, most things of value and significance are fabricated.

Finally Lelouch lays her down. He sways on his knees slightly, staring at something Rolo can't see. Only then does he move to join his older brother. Not once does Rolo consider what will happen next. He doesn't need to think of the future, because nothing will ever change.

9.

"You're a failure," V.V. tells him. He's 11 years old, lying in the hospital ward of the Geass Directorate. Sometimes he faints during his missions. Such are the consequences of overestimating the strength and endurance of the heart.

"What will we do with you?" sighs V.V. Strands of his hair slither behind him like snakes as he paces in front of Rolo's bed. "You're only valuable because of what I gave you. And even that doesn't work properly."

"I've disappointed you."

"Disappointed me?" V.V. laughs. "Certainly not. You're not important enough to be a disappointment. I've created hundreds just like you."

In that case, Rolo wonders why V.V. bothers to visit him. But he does not voice his confusion. He never talks back to V.V. His Geass and the nature of his work give him license to do and say all sorts of disrespectful things to his elders, except for V.V., who is different in a way Rolo can't quite define.

He will always be a tool, if not the tool of the Directorate, then the tool of someone else. Nothing will ever change. It will be this way forever. His heart stopped the moment he met V.V., and every move he makes is toward a future that in all likelihood doesn't even exist. Rolo lives on his own timeline, a time that twists around and consumes itself. That repeats, and repeats again.

Rolo speeds toward V.V. in his Vincent five years later, and indeed nothing has changed. "You were a failure," says V.V. And then, after the FLEIJA destroys Tokyo and everything Lelouch holds dear––"Get out!" he screams, "Get out!"––Rolo obediently grabs the locket and his cell phone before fleeing from his brother's sight. And the Ouroboros of eternity that twists around his heart tightens its hold.

10.

Lelouch realized from the very beginning that Rolo would die for him. Certainly he took advantage of this knowledge, and yet it was a fate Rolo chose freely. Only when he was outside time did Rolo perceive that he held as much power as the hand of God.

After he closed his eyes Rolo cast his Geass for the last time. Even as the black behind his eyelids faded into an emptier darkness, Rolo took a moment to send a prayer of thanks to God, because he knew his brother could never leave him, because he knew his heart would never beat again.

Author's Note:

Oh, Rolo. Of course I knew he would die, but I wish it had happened a little later in the series. This fic took way, way longer than I thought it would. After Rolo died I was all like, "I'm going to make Rolo a little tribute fic and post it before the next episode is out!" That was a very long time ago. Am I lazy, or was Rolo more difficult to write than I anticipated? It seems I wasn't giving the little brat enough credit ;)

Anyway, I don't own Code Geass.