Relevant notes: Spoilers for the series.
A/N: ... -depressed- I think I'm just going to write fluff for the rest of my life.
Edited 22nd May 2009.
It's In the Way You Remember
She lifted her head up from where it was pillowed on her arms and frowned at him. 'I'm not sick,' she said flatly, and when she coughed again, so hard that her entire body shook, he smiled in amusement. At the smirk, she added defensively, 'I'm better than I was yesterday.'
'"Better" does not automatically equate to "well",' Lelouch told her. Her pens were scattered all over her desk and he began organising them into a neat row. 'Go home and stay until you're fully recovered.'
'I am not sick,' she insisted. 'Besides-' she reached out and pushed the pens out of their orderly arrangement- 'I have things to do later anyway, so it doesn't matter if I am sick, which I'm not. I'll just have to deal with it.'
'Things to do?' He raised one eyebrow. 'Is it more important than your health?'
She thought of Zero and the Black Knights and nodded vigorously. 'More important than my life,' she said, and instantly regretted giving so much away. She slid on a shy, embarrassed kind of smile and looked at him. 'Well, not literally.'
'Naturally,' Lelouch replied. 'But Kallen-' He hesitated and she waited, wondering why this classmate of hers, who she barely knew, even cared. 'Take care of yourself first, before anything else.'
A little confused by his seriousness, she thanked him politely for his concern and he moved off to join Shirley and Rivalz in a corner of the room. She lay her head back down on the table, trying to will away a pounding headache.
That afternoon, Zero took her off the evening's mission, citing her illness as the reason.
Kallen was the only one who saw C.C. off. The other Black Knights had forgotten that there had ever been a green-haired, mysterious girl among their ranks. It was a little sad, Kallen thought. C.C. had been the one to help Lelouch start everything, had been the reason he was able to settle the world into this peace and yet no one alive, except Kallen, would ever spare her anything beyond a fleeting thought.
'Are you sure you don't want to stay?' Kallen asked, watching C.C. lift her suitcase upright. 'We'd be glad to have you...'
C.C. smiled. 'I can't live here, Kallen. I've never lived very long in one place. Besides, if I do stay, won't people wonder why I never age?'
'We'll say you've been having some kind of surgery because you're afraid of aging,' Kallen said. 'Anyone who knows how vain you are will believe it.'
C.C. drew her Cheese-kun back and whacked Kallen over the head with it. She'd refused to pack it with the rest of her belongings; she said that Cheese-kun deserved better than to be squashed in a suitcase.
'I might actually miss you, you silly girl,' C.C. said, smirking.
'I won't miss your pizza addiction,' Kallen retorted. She paused. 'I guess I will miss you, though.'
C.C. hit her with Cheese-kun again- an affectionate gesture, really, coming from C.C.- and started down the sidewalk. They didn't hug or say anything else, because they both knew that goodbye didn't have to be anything but seeing each other one last time.
'C.C.,' Kallen called out, just before C.C. disappeared into the throng of people beyond. 'If he was still here, would you have stayed?'
C.C. turned and looked wistful for the heartbeat that it took her to answer. 'Maybe,' she said, and when contrasted with the definite "no" she'd given to one of Kallen's previous offers, it revealed more than anyone who wasn't C.C. or Kallen would understand.
She raised a hand in farewell, and went on her way.
Milly's romance-themed festivals always produced ugly scenes, especially when it came to Lelouch. During one such festival, he sprinted into the Student Council room, occupied only by Kallen, and began dragging chairs to the door in an effort to seal the entrance.
'How is that meant to work?' Kallen asked.
'Well, Kallen,' he said, sounding irritated, 'the chairs block the way, see, and prevent people from coming through the door.'
'A few chairs won't stop your admirers.' She walked over and listened carefully. 'I think I hear some of them coming.'
'Help me, then!' Lelouch said, pleadingly. He looked so desperate that she took pity on him in spite of herself and began shifting chairs over to the door. Together they stacked every available chair in the room on top of each other. Kallen eyed Nina's computer desk thoughtfully before Lelouch noticed what she was staring at. 'I don't think we need to go that far.'
She opened her mouth to reply, but a banging at the door interrupted her. Wide-eyed, Lelouch put a finger to his lips, silently urging Kallen to keep quiet.
'Lelouch!' a high-pitched voice called. 'Are you in there?'
When there was no response, the girls outside attempted to enter. Kallen moved forward, shaking off the restraining hand Lelouch had put on her shoulder, and gave them an answer.
'He's not in here,' she said, adopting her frail girl persona.
'Oh, Kallen!' someone else answered her, eagerly. 'Do you know where he went?'
'I'm not sure. I was told to seal this room so he couldn't try to hide in here. He might have gone to the gym...'
With a breathless word of thanks, the girls hurried away. Kallen waited until their footsteps had retreated before speaking.
'What did I tell you? Chairs wouldn't have stopped them.'
'I suppose I should thank you,' he said and he was calm and composed again. 'Although, I do wonder at the physical strength you just showed in moving these chairs. You did it all so effortlessly...'
Flustered, Kallen tried to stammer out a response, but he merely smiled, a little apologetically.
'We'll put it to the excitement of the moment,' he said. 'And... thank you, Kallen.'
Ougi and Villetta's wedding took place in an airy courtyard perfumed with the scent of newly blossoming flowers. They'd chosen it because it represented the fact that their relationship no longer had to be secret; it was open, now, not hidden away. Villetta wasn't showing obvious signs of her pregnancy yet, but she glowed when she walked down the aisle and Ougi looked equally as happy.
There was a minor interruption while they exchanged vows. Arthur the cat streaked down the aisle with someone's hat. It was a sunny yellow, with ribbons trailing down the back and the cat cut through the couple with the hat in his mouth. Guests threw themselves onto the floor in an attempt to catch him, despite the fact that they were in their best clothes, and Kallen smiled, remembering one day at Ashford when the entire school population had done the same thing.
'It makes you nostalgic, doesn't it?' Milly said, laughing softly.
'It does. I couldn't believe you would bargain kisses from us in return for Arthur.'
'I was curious,' Milly said, as Arthur tore under their seats and rounded back to the altar. 'I always felt Lelouch had too many secrets.'
Kallen didn't reply. There was too much truth in that for her to trust herself with an answer.
'How did you react?' Milly continued. At Kallen's inquisitive look, she elaborated. 'When he declared himself Emperor?'
'Like my world had fallen apart,' Kallen admitted. 'He was always so apathetic at school and then... he wasn't.'
'Maybe there was a reason he kept so many secrets from us, then,' Milly mused. 'We wouldn't end up being hurt that way.'
Arthur ran under their seat again. Kallen put her hands out a second before he reached her and clutched him firmly around his middle, causing him to drop the hat in surprise.
'You're right,' she said, quietly, and Milly smiled sadly at her.
Lelouch was as cool and brisk as always when he detailed the plan to capture Nunnally, the new Governor of Area 11, but Kallen thought she could hear a tremor in his voice as he said something about "puppet princess." It smoothed into his usual dramatic tone while she listened and she wondered if she had simply imagined it, because her voice would shake too, if she'd discovered someone she loved suddenly becoming her enemy.
When the Order was dismissed, she lingered a little longer, trying to look past that mask to the man behind. His chin was propped up on his hands and he seemed so deep in thought that she couldn't bring herself to disturb him.
'I'm okay, Kallen,' he informed her, unasked.
She bit her lip, hesitating. When he continued on in determined silence, she nodded and exited just as C.C. breezed in.
The door closed behind her.
Tamaki opened his new bar with his friends there to celebrate and indulge themselves in free alcohol. They'd all signed a framed note of congratulations and presented it to him during the opening. He accepted with actual tears streaming from his eyes and hung it up next to a photo taken at Ougi and Villetta's wedding.
'It looks good, Tamaki,' Minami said, surveying the warm, tastefully decorated room. 'Congratulations.'
Everyone else chimed in with similar words of appreciation and drifted into conversation that was soon fuelled by large volumes of alcohol.
'Aren't you too young to be drinking?' Ougi asked, sliding into a seat next to Kallen.
'It's water,' she told him. She held her glass close to his nose and let him sniff it to confirm. 'I'm a law-abiding citizen, Prime Minister.'
Ougi smiled at her and it was so gentle and fatherly that she reached out to hug him. She'd missed this Ougi; during the war, after Lelouch had gone, he'd been brusque and irritable, trying desperately to keep up the image of a strong leader to replace the one they'd lost.
'Are you sure you haven't been drinking?' he joked when they drew apart.
Tamaki and some of the others had organised a makeshift dance floor, flicking on a radio when they'd finished. Light jazz swept several of them onto the dance floor and soon most of the guests were twirling past them, in some cases rather tipsily.
'Naoto would have been happy seeing this,' Ougi said, watching his wife dance past with Minami.
'I wish he could,' Kallen sighed and Ougi patted her hand.
'I like to think that he can,' he replied.
He claimed his wife for a dance the second Minami brought her past again and Kallen stared down at her glass of water. She hoped that her brother really could see how happy they all were. She hoped, too, that Lelouch could see the result of his sacrifice.
Lelouch approached her in his Zero disguise, leaning on the railing beside her as she shrugged.
'I didn't really try,' she finally said. 'I was too busy thinking about what might happen next.'
'That's not like you,' he teased. 'Don't you usually charge in without a second thought?'
Kallen glared half-heartedly at him. 'Now that we're going into a completely new situation, I might have to consider everything more carefully.'
'We'll see how long that lasts,' he responded, still with that smirk in his voice.
It was quiet by this point. The exuberant celebration at escaping Britannia's clutches had died down to a soft whisper across the ice ships. The stars hung low and she studied them with awe; they seemed brighter out here in the middle of nowhere.
'Do you remember learning the names of the constellations?' Lelouch asked her, out of the blue.
'No,' she said. 'I've never really cared about things like that.'
He nodded. 'It's because you're so pragmatic. You're rooted to this world and everything it contains. You have no time for anything outside of it.' He paused and continued his analysis of her. 'I suppose you've never wished upon a star, either.'
Kallen stilled. He turned his head in her direction, maybe because he could sense the way she'd frozen.
'I did, once,' she said. 'It didn't work.'
He didn't ask her what she had wished for, like she'd expected. She didn't think she would have told him if he had asked.
'Did you ever think you would be granted that wish?' he asked instead, curiously.
'It let me hope, at least.'
'And perhaps that is the best use we have of stars,' Lelouch said. He laid a hand on her arm, so briefly and gently that the touch might have been a butterfly landing. 'I'm sorry your wish wasn't fulfilled,' he said before he walked away, and she thought that maybe he knew what her wish had been; how it had been an impossible one to grant.
She looked up at the stars again and closed her eyes. She made a wish, and this one, she was certain, would eventually come to pass. Lelouch would make sure of that.
Kallen couldn't help but stare when Zero took off his mask to reveal Suzaku. She'd known who was underneath the mask and at the same time, an illogical little part of her expected someone else.
'Is it weird seeing me like this?' Suzaku asked, with a wry smile.
Kallen started and apologised, reaching out to pour tea into their cups. 'Is it weird having to be Zero? You hated him for so long...'
'Sometimes,' he said. The expression in his eyes became a little drawn. 'But Lelouch and I... For the sake of the world, we made our sacrifices. It didn't even feel like a sacrifice when we considered the results.'
She busied herself with her tea, avoiding his gaze. 'I'm sorry. You know, for trying to kill you.'
He laughed and she swore she could hear Zero in his laughter; not Lelouch, but another being- Zero, who'd taken on an identity of his own beyond the people who'd donned his costume.
'More like I should thank you,' Suzaku said. 'It let our plan go somewhat smoothly, for once.'
Kallen wanted to say something else- thank him for what he was doing, maybe, and say she admired him for his sacrifice regardless of whether he considered it a sacrifice.
'Kururugi Suzaku would have had to die eventually,' he said suddenly. 'At least he went out fighting.'
She just didn't know how to put it into words.
She left her quarters in her Black Knights uniform, tightening her headband as she walked. Lelouch was glancing over some sheets of paper when he fell into step beside her and she adjusted her pace so he could walk slower.
'Do you know what you're going to do?' she asked. He hadn't said much after Kaguya's revelation of the upcoming political marriage proposed between the Chinese Federation and Britannia. He'd seemed in shock.
Lelouch sighed. 'I'll like to confirm who it is behind this move, first of all. After that...'
Kaguya ducked out of her room and flashed them a cheerful grin. She was still dressing, she said, so if they didn't mind, she'd be out in only a few more minutes. She didn't wait for an answer before retreating, leaving them with no choice but to wait.
'Are you comfortable with being the only guard accompanying us?' Lelouch inquired. 'I can have Toudou join us as well.'
'No, it's okay!' she said. She leaned against the wall and watched people scurry past with arms full of items for their new home: clothing, linen, furniture. 'It's my job, anyway; I'm captain of Team Zero.'
She heard Lelouch's low chuckle from behind his mask. 'Power going to your head, Kallen?'
'Well, it's not like they'll shoot us, right?' she asked, indignant. 'They won't disrupt a wedding celebration like that, will they?'
'I doubt it. Not if the mastermind behind this political alliance is who I think it is.' He paused. 'Why is Kaguya taking so long?'
'Maybe she wants to impress you.'
'Ostentatious clothing hardly impresses me.'
'And that's why you're such a heart-breaker,' Kallen said, tapping her fingers on the wall out of growing impatience. 'The girls at Ashford used to dress up like princesses for you during dances and you'd never spare them a second glance.'
'I don't recall you ever attending a dance.'
'I didn't. Shirley told me these things. My "illness" prevented me from strenuous activities.'
'Ah.' He handed his papers to a passing Ougi with instructions to return them to his room on the Ikaruga. 'After all this, Kallen... You still have a chance to do what you couldn't before. You could return to Ashford with me.' Her fingers stopped their tapping. 'I-'
'Done!' Kaguya exclaimed, flying out of her room and pirouetting. 'How do I look?'
'Beautiful,' Kallen said.
'Lovely,' Lelouch agreed and he gestured to the hall. 'Shall we leave now?'
Kaguya swept ahead of them and Kallen and Lelouch followed.
'We'll talk about it later,' he murmured to Kallen and she nodded.
They never did finish that conversation.
Nunnally's eyes were beautiful. Kallen had blurted it out before she'd considered what she was saying, but Nunnally had smiled and waved off Kallen's attempts to reword it in a more tactful manner. Sayoko left them to sit in the parlour of Nunnally's temporary residence in Japan and Kallen watched her expertly fold crane after origami crane. There were probably a hundred arranged beside her, a startling rainbow of colours.
'Have you ever heard of that legend?' Nunnally asked, seeing Kallen's curiosity. 'Sayoko said that if you fold a thousand cranes, you will be granted a wish.'
'What will you wish for when you finish?'
Nunnally finished another crane and set it aside. 'I started making these a long time ago. I think I was nearly halfway there when the Black Rebellion began. They must have been thrown out after I left Ashford.'
'I'm sorry for that.'
'It's okay,' Nunnally said, shaking her head. One crease, two, and then she folded the paper over. 'I didn't need them for my first wish. I had my brother.'
'Your first wish-'
'I said I wanted a kind world,' the younger girl murmured and tears began dampening her bird. 'He told me that by the time I could see, it would be. And it came true.'
Kallen's reply was soft. 'These cranes, then...'
'I'll wish that one day, people will know what he did for the sake of the world.'
Blindly, almost without conscious effort, Kallen reached out for a sheet of paper. Nunnally looked at her in surprise and then, understanding, grabbed a new sheet.
'You start like this...'
One month after Lelouch died, the old Student Council went through their photo albums together, exchanging duplicate photos and promising to develop some for each other.
Two months after Lelouch died, her mother laughed for the first time in years.
Three months after Lelouch died, a memorial for those who had fallen during the war was finished.
Four months after Lelouch died, Ashford Academy held its annual school festival and ended it with a fireworks display that Milly herself returned to oversee.
Five months after Lelouch died, she dreamed about him and when she woke up and passed his photo on her wall, she was able to smile at it again.
'Are you happy, Lelouch?'
He was sitting on the swing beside her, in a park not too far from the new war memorial. It was early morning. She pushed herself off the ground and let herself swing, her toes skimming the dewy grass as she moved.
'I'm happy, Kallen,' he said, eyes following her path through the air. 'I succeeded in achieving my dearest wish.'
He rose from his swing and began walking away.
'Don't stop for me,' he told her, smiling, as she made to jump off and go after him. 'Keep going.'
So she did.