"You seem nervous about tomorrow," C.C. drawled slowly, a hint of caustic, bitter amusement in her voice as she leaned against the wooden doorframe of his bedroom door.
"Despite the rumors, I am human, and thus the idea of imminent impalement on a sharp object does tend to make me a tad anxious," Lelouch shot back, annoyed. He did not glance back at the witch, remaining as he was, hunched over the desk in his room with a single lamplight on over his head as he typed out the final orders he needed to give.
C.C. remained where she was, watching him, as she always had up until this point. "You're not having second thoughts, are you?"
The Emperor snorted in amusement. "Even if I was, things have progressed too far to stop. The ball is in motion, and Suzaku is already far away from here, readying himself for tomorrow. I have promised him my death, and so I shall give it."
Her eyes narrowed, her hands clenched tight like springs. "You have broken many promises, Lelouch Why should this last one be any different?"
"And what would I do, C.C., with my life?" he asked, turning back towards her with an irritated look that seemed somewhat forced. "Continue this farce as the Emperor of Brittania?"
"You could live." The statement cut through the air like a blade, and laid still like a weight sinking into the crushing dark of the ocean. "You could take my Code, let yourself die, and be reborn."
Lelouch's look changed to one of mystified bemusement. "And here I thought you actually liked me… you would want me to spend my days immortal, trapped in this world until I curse another person with Geass?" he tutted and shook his head. "Even if I wanted to, I wouldn't. If I were to cheat death at this stage, what would that accomplish?"
He stood, gazing directly into her eyes with cold sincerity. "Like I said, only those who are prepared to shoot should be shot. I will pay the price for what I have done."
Lelouch looked as though he had been struck. "What did you say?" he asked slowly, an undercurrent of anger rippling in his tone. He had been called that many a time, no more so than in these past few months, but to hear it from C.C….
His anger faltered, replaced by that fragile vulnerability of one who has just had his innermost thoughts revealed.
C.C. advanced towards him, shutting the door as she did so, walking with a leisurely stalk that was decidedly unfriendly. "You're afraid," she repeated, jabbing him in the chest with her index finger, right where Suzaku's blade would pierce him not twelve hours later. "You can tell me that this is the right thing to do, that this is your atonement, that it's all according to plan… but you won't admit you're also terrified of what will happen tomorrow."
"Of course I'm afraid!" Lelouch snapped, angrily sweeping out his hand and knocking over his chair. "I'm about to die, C.C.!"
He shot her a deadly look, fists clenched as though he wanted to strike her, strike anything, to conceal the fact that he was really shaking from abject terror.
"Don't you think I've looked at all the options!" he screamed, truly screamed, more like a desperate, crying child than the Emperor of the world, "Thought every scenario through, tried to find another way?"
Lelouch advanced on her, backing C.C. against the wall, his gaze that of a man who had trapped himself in a corner and couldn't find an escape.
"But there isn't!" he snarled, and slammed his hands against the wall next to her head, on either side, trapping her physically in the same way he felt inside. "I started this chain of events, ever since I accepted the contract! I killed Euphie, I lost Shirley… I spilled endless amounts of blood for my own desires… and in the end I made the choice to force time forward when I defeated my father, to believe in a tomorrow."
C.C. gazed back at him unblinkingly, unwaveringly, silently.
"This was the only way for it to end," he whispered hoarsely, shutting his eyes tightly.
For a long time, there was only the sound of his heart beating frantically against his chest, his slow, panting breaths.
Lelouch wondered at this, wondered why he'd never realized how amazing it was to be able to feel his own heartbeat, hear his own sighs. Or maybe this was just the panic and anxiety setting in.
Would he scream at the end, he wondered? Would he break and beg Suzaku, even silently, not to follow through?
Soft hands gently cupped his face, and Lelouch opened his eyes again to see C.C. looking at him with a mixture of gentle pity and compassion.
"You've come so far," she said simply, and smiled, just a little.
And some part of him, that part of him that had kept his back straight and unwavering as he walked this path of carnage, leaving the bodies of those he loved by the wayside and refusing to acknowledge the tears of those he had willingly abandoned, finally let go.
"I'm so very tired, C.C.," he whispered. "What happened to me? I… I wasn't like this when I started, I think… I was… I was…"
"An idiot." The witch chuckled a little, pushing his head up enough so he could look her in the eyes as she continued. "A headstrong, proud, idealistic idiot. You were full of fire in those days, so sure you could change the world all on your own."
"And now look at me," Lelouch laughed bitterly. "I'm burnt out now, nothing more than a tired husk waiting to die. Ever since I defeated Schneizel, I've just… felt tired. I don't remember ever feeling tired… I was always working, always trying to find a way to win… and now that I've won I don't know what to do anymore."
Slowly, she let go of his face and hooked her thin arms behind him, pulling him into an embrace. He was too tall to hold against her chest, so she settled with simply holding him as she whispered into his ear.
"You have lost so very much," C.C. murmured comfortingly, gently stroking his hair. "And yet you have never let yourself be numb to it… you've held on longer than I believed possible. You're only human, Lelouch."
Lelouch broke the embrace, pulling away, catching her gaze with his own.
"Am I coward?" he asked softly, searchingly.
"Everyone is afraid to die," she answered quietly.
He laughed a little, but it wasn't as hollow as he thought it would be as he turned away, seating himself atop his bed.
"Even you?" he questioned, arching his eyebrow as he cast her a look that was somehow sadly amused.
C.C. followed him slowly, and sat herself on the other end of the bed, just barely allowing their shoulders to touch as she leaned against him.
"Maybe," she said, barely above a whisper, and reached out to place her hand over his, her smaller hand atop his own.
"Does it hurt?" he wondered more than he asked, and noticed how warm and soft C.C.'s hand felt over his own. Why hadn't he ever noticed how nice it felt to touch another human being?
C.C. avoided his gaze, absently tracing her eyes over his skin, unmarred, unscarred, still soft, as though yet unmarked by the passage of time. He was so young, she thought to herself, not for the first time, but maybe the last.
And then she thought of all those times she was stabbed and slashed, burned and broken, the endless agonies, all the times she hoarsely begged to die, begged to have some kind of release from the horrific pain she was enduring.
"You won't feel a thing," C.C. lied, and they both knew it, but the act of lying meant more to both of them than the truth ever could.
"Will you stay?" his eyes, vulnerable and lost, searched her own.
C.C. smiled for him, because she knew it would be the last time she could, and wrapped her fingers around his, a solemn promise of forever.
Lelouch turned his hand up and gripped hers tightly, almost painfully, and let the silence blanket them, all the way until the dawn.