Author's Notes: Sorry for the long delay of this update. As compensation, I made it extra long. XD Part of this chapter was taken from another fic I've written for the CG community, Bitter Irony. I originally meant that particular one-shot to be a companion of this one. If you have read bitter irony before, please note that there aren't any significant additions in this chapter.

"I'm sorry miss Kouzuki." The doctor said, "we have done all we can do."

Tears streamed down Kallen's face. "Doctor…"

The Doctor shook his head. "Let's just hope for the best." He said as he left.

Kallen entered the room where her mother lay in a coma. She was admitted into the hospital a few weeks ago after suffering a stroke, and just underwent surgery to prevent a possible aneurism. She was hooked up to monitors and respirators… Kallen, strong as she might, had trouble stomaching the scene. At least she didn't have to see the state of the people she killed during the war, not that they were any close to her in the first place.

"Oh hey! I heard your mother just…" Rivalz announced, entering the room. After seeing the state Mrs. Kouzuki was in, he decided to shut up.

Kallen was wiping the tears off her eyes. "Thank you for coming." Soon, Milly and Nina came in.

"We're here for you Kallen." Milly said, putting her arms around her friend.

Kallen knew she had to be strong. Her friends were there for her, sure. But she still felt lost. Like… She needed someone equally strong to lean on.

The first thing that came into her mind was Lelouch.

"Lelouch is dead!" came Zero's booming voice inside her head.

She sighed.

Maybe she only fell in love with the man behind the mask… Because of the identity the mask was trying to portray. Therefore…

She tried hard to stop that train of thought. There was no way she was in love with Zero. She'd fallen for Lelouch, yes, she'll admit that. But somehow…

"Kallen?"

"Yes!" She snapped out of her reverie.

Milly was looking at Kallen intently. "I was asking what you would like for lunch?"

"Oh…" Kallen simply told her friends what she wanted, and then waited in her room with her still-unconscious mother. She just wanted to be alone at the moment.

"Mom, what do I have to do?" She started crying again, hugging her mother's body.

XXX

Ambition was his fuel, dreams were his companions, and fate took him to his destination, only to be "cursed" for committing a "sin". Such was the fate of Kururugi Suzaku. Then major of the Britannian army, promoted to Personal Knight, promoted to Knight of Seven, promoted to Knight of Zero, finally ending up as the person whom he had fought countless battles with. He was no longer the main agent of the counterattack: He was now the very thing that started the attack in the first place.

Irony... is a bitter thing.

He spent most of his time now behind a mask: as his friend Lelouch had done quite often. Now he was leading an entire army, one that is not poised to instigate rebellion, but one tasked to keep the peace. And amid the chatter of a "resurrection", "conspiracy", and "identity" going on inside the Black Knights, his authority has never been questioned, not by the lowest ranks, all the way to Commander Li Xingke. He spent most of his days behind a mask, and those unmasked moments were spent in utter darkness.

In that darkness however, he wasn't feeling the normal emptiness and dread. He was feeling annoyance. There was a most unwelcome intruder in his quarters.

Gold eyes met Green.

"HE is worried." The green-haired intruder told him. "You haven't seemed to be acting like yourself lately."

Suzaku retaliated. "Well, tell HIM it's not exactly a walk in the park trying to act like HIM while taking on all the crap being thrown at me!" Suzaku enunciated every single "him" he uttered, throwing his mask at the woman before him.

"Hmmm… haven't worn this for a while." C.C. ignored Suzaku's retort, and put the Zero mask on.

"What the hell are you doing, witch?" Suzaku was at his wits end.

"Calm down." C.C. replied, taking off the mask. "I just came to check on you. Like I said, Lelouch is worried."

"Lelouch is dead!" that phrase stabbed him. It has become more like a catchphrase for him now. It reminded him of a certain subordinate.

"Technically, yes. But that doesn't mean I can't-"

"I KNOW YOU CAN TALK TO HIM, OKAY?"

"Why, would you want to?"

"Do you have any other thing to do other than annoy me?"

"I don't know. I'm immortal. I get bored a lot."

"Just… leave."

"All right, I'll tell Lelouch you're losing it." C.C. said, and then she escaped out the window.

"Oh, and, I'd like to tell you this: Keep it easy."

Keep it easy? That was easier said than done. The Black Knights were currently undergoing backlash since they tried to quell a rebellion with… let's just say a little too much force. Human rights activists left and right were questioning if the Order had the right to use such force… Commander Li tried to quiet the situation by saying that the rebels took human hostages and threatened to kill them. But most of the anger came directed at Zero.

It was a stressful two weeks for Zero: public appearances, court cases, angry mobs throwing rotten tomatoes at him during press conferences… the works. He'd lost a lot of sleep, and trying to keep his composure and think of a way out of this (as Lelouch would) was like trying to calculate the state a FLEIJA projectile would assume given any moment in time.

"Zero-sama" came Schneizel's voice from behind the closed door of his quarters. "Your presence is needed at the conference room." He gave a sigh, grabbed his clothes, put on his mask, and quietly left his quarters, as the doors opened, his eyes met Schneizel's, the sides of which were glowing red from the after-effects of geass.

"What have I gotten myself into?" He whispered to himself.

The conference room was a little small: it was designed to fit only a handful of people. A circular table was in the center, projecting a hologram of the Earth into the air. Already seated were Li Xingke, Empress Tianzi, Princesses Kaguya Sumeragi and Nunnally vi Britannia, and Karen Kouzuki

"Where is Ougi Kaname?" Zero asked.

"He filed a leave of absence to take care of his child", replied Xingke, not leaving his eyes from the stack of papers before him. Karen cleared her throat to speak, but was immediately cut off by her superior. "The matter at hand is this: we have been seeing less and less participation from you, Zero, this past few weeks."

"We are starting to get concerned whether or not you are capable of handling your position as CEO." Karen continued the train of thought.

"If it so please the council," Schneizel started to speak, but Zero raised his hand to silence him. "I admit that my visibility has been low lately, and I'd like to attribute it to my current ill health." Suzaku had to admit, it was a lie... He was unsure whether or not the people in front of him would buy his story. He looked around: Karen was fidgeting, the princesses were studying him, no doubt ascertaining his condition. His eyes stopped as he reached Nunnally's.

She held out her hand, and said "please. Say that again while holding this."

Suzaku took a microscopic step backwards. He knew that Nunnally could smell a lie a mile away.

"Princess, I doubt that would be of any help to the current situation." Zero replied the princess in a cold, almost inhumane voice: his vain attempt at keeping his composure. He held the side of his head... He was starting to feel unwell just being there.

"May I suggest you take a leave of absence, Zero-sama?" asked Schneizel.

"If the King does not move, neither will his followers." Zero replied, trying to sound like Lelouch by quoting him. Most people in the room shifted their seats after hearing that.

"But the King has not been moving at all." Xingke rebutted, sensing the weakness in Zero's form. "That is what we have been discussing as of the moment."

Suzaku began feeling faint, he shifted his feet to maintain balance, and tripped momentarily on his own feet. Schneizel rushed to help him stand again, but Zero refused, and pushed him away, a little too forcefully than required.

"Again, we express our concern." Kaguya started. "If it means your ability to lead the Black Knights is impaired, then the UFN will have no choice but to authorize a short leave, only until your health returns."

It was true. Maybe he needed a break. He sighed, conceding, and replied. "Fine. I accept."

"Then that's that." Xingke. "Zero is to go on sick leave until further notice." The other members of the room nodded in approval, noting the CEO's strange behavior and lapses of judgment lately. It would seem that the workload has finally gotten to him.

Zero turned to leave, as the meeting was adjourned. Nunnally quickly tried to catch up to him on her wheelchair. "Zero-sama!" she started, waiting for him to stop and for her to catch up. "If there's anything wrong, please feel free to tell me."

"Nothing is wrong, princess, nothing at all." He turned and went inside his chambers again. All alone in the dark, Suzaku resumed the position he was in before he was summoned. From his pocket, he produced a couple of Photos: one of Lelouch, one of Euphemia, one of his Father. All gone... All dead. In his vicious thrust to attain his ends and to pay for his sins, he finally succumbed to the crumbling weight of his curse. All alone, no one to guide him, trying to relinquish everything about his past.

Lelouch desired the future.... and so did he. But there are so many things, so much heartache that was keeping him chained to the past... and there was so much that he could not even bear other than to survive the present. How does one reach the future, when everything has been stripped away from you, when you have been cursed?

He laughed. At first it started as a chuckle, but then it began to grow to maniacal proportions. He was losing himself: his sanity, his purpose, his life... And all he could do was laugh. He had erased hundreds of lives, and witnessed too much death in order to attain the peace he wanted. But in the end, the peace he really needed... was one within himself.

Irony... is a bitter thing.

And so, the gears of irony started moving.

XXX

Kallen was walking down the hallway which led to Zero's chambers. She had this itching feeling of wanting to be of assistance to him… With him being at his wit's end and all… But as she approached the door, she heard… Laughter.

But she had heard that voice before… She knew where it came from. She had heard that particular laugh before.

She started banging at the door. "Zero? Zero! Are you alright?" She had known that that particular laugh meant someone was losing it entirely. After all, she had heard Lelouch laugh like that countless times. But that wasn't Lelouch's laugh at all… It was different, and it seemed way too familiar.

"But it can't be… He's supposed to be dead!" She told herself.

The banging yielded nothing. Until, in some sort of Freudian slip, she cried out, "Suzaku! Open up!"