"Where did I go wrong
I lost a friend
Somewhere along in the bitterness
But I'd stay up with you all night
Had I known how to save a life"
"How To Save A Life" by The Fray
"You don't have to do this," he said quietly, a hint of pleading in his voice. He holds the mask and cape and the rest of the regalia he is supposed to wear forever, all of it wrapped in a bundle that feels heavier than it is.
Despite Euphie's death, despite the countless deaths beside hers, despite the twisted world that has been born from this man's work, despite everything, and against all odds-
Lelouch was still his best friend.
And he doesn't know if he can bear that kind of weight when he has to murder him on the morrow.
"What about Nunnally? She'll be heartbroken… you know how much she depends on you, how much she needs you… I can't fill that role, Lelouch. I can be Zero, but I can never be her brother."
"Or Kallen? She loves you, Lelouch… we both know that. How do you think she'll feel when she realizes what you've done, that you pushed her aside to protect her?"
"You don't have to do this," he repeats, desperate.
Lelouch smiled quietly, the kind of smile that only those resolutely prepared to die can smile.
"Yes, I do."
He turned his head, and the instant his violet eyes met her own, she froze, throat catching as she was once again reminded of how utterly beautiful he was.
She wringed her hands fussily, nerve slipping, but in the back of her mind she kept repeating the mantra she had been using for the past few months.
I'll tell him today. I'll tell him today. I'll tell him today.
"What is it, Shirley?" he said softly, and her name on his lips caused her stomach to flip and churn.
I love you, she says inside her own heart. I want to be your strength, when your eyes grow cold and dark, when it looks like you're so very alone, when you look like you're shouldering all the burdens of the world on your back.
I want to be the one you can trust, the one you can rely on.
Because sometimes I feel like if I don't, you'll go far away and I'll never be able to catch you.
"Are you going gambling again?" she demands instead, and, inside, a part of her screams Coward!
Lelouch smiled shiftily. "Why Shirley, don't you trust me?"
"Lelouch!" she scolded, and they descended into the usual banter, all the while hating herself for letting the moment slip away.
Three hours later, Lelouch would make a contract with a witch, begin a crusade to change the world, and forever after be out of reach of Shirley's quiet love.
"Nice digs," Rivalz managed nervously, scratching the back of his head, and wondered at that sensation. He was nervous around Lelouch, his best friend, gambling buddy, fellow Student Council member- but apparently also the former Prince and now Emperor of Brittania.
Lelouch said nothing, crossing his legs from atop his throne, eyes cold, expression indifferent, nose held high in aristocratic disdain.
To be honest, Rivalz didn't even know how he managed to get this audience, mere weeks after the fall of the Black Knights and Prince Schneizel. He had spent that time outside the palace every chance he had, begging the guards to see Lelouch- because Lelouch was his best friend, Lelouch was nice and kind and put up with him even though Rivalz was bumbling and foolish. But through all that time, he actually never believed Lelouch would acquiesce to see him, because this new Lelouch, this cold, vicious monster who cared for nothing but power, was a stranger.
And now here he was, face to face with his friend, and now he couldn't find a single thing to say.
Why, he wanted to ask. Why didn't you tell me? Why didn't you trust me? Why didn't you even look at me when you came to Ashford? Why are you doing this? Why? Why? Why?
Every attempt to speak died upon his lips, choked by uncertainty and fear.
Rivalz shook. He was… afraid of Lelouch? Of the boy who couldn't outrun a turtle, or lift something heavier than a book?
Or was he just afraid that if he asked, Lelouch would tell him that they were never friends?
"What is it?" the Emperor asked- no, demanded, because royalty never asked, and that was what Lelouch was.
Lelouch raised his eyebrow just a fraction. "Why what?"
"… why did you do all this? Why…" his voice cut off. He couldn't bear to ask anymore, because if he did, he might break.
Only silence answered him.
"… was it all a lie?" Rivalz whispered, voice so choked he thought he might die.
Lelouch said nothing, eyes still high and cold, like the peak of an arctic glacier, untouchable, unbreakable.
"Did you ever call me your friend and mean it?" he continued, louder, more desperate now. "Or Shirley? Did she mean anything to you? Or Kaichou? Nina?"
Those violet eyes remained impassive.
His voice returned to barely above a whisper, and he shut his eyes, unable to bear the empty coldness of the Emperor's eyes.
"Did you ever even care about us?"
The following silence was like a hammer blow to his gut, as that lone word rang out through the throne room.
"… I see." Rivalz stood and turned away, shaking, but back straight, unwilling to let himself break in front of the man he had once called friend.
"Goodbye then, Lelouch."
He never turned around, and Lelouch thanked him for that.
Because if he had, he would have seen the mask crack, and if he had, then Lelouch might never have been able to go through with the Zero Requiem.
It was the last great favor Rivalz had done for him, even unknowingly.
"I'm so sorry," she whispered, hands clasped tight, tears pouring freely down her cheeks. It should be raining today, she thinks- it's always raining when there's a funeral on television. Instead it's brutally, cheerfully sunny, and Euphemia has never been less happy about a sunny day before.
There's hardly anyone, even though this is a state funeral for an Empress. The Ashfords are here, along with some members of the immediate imperial family- Clovis-nii-sama, and his mother, Schneizel-nii-sama, and of course Cornelia-nee-sama are all here.
Lelouch doesn't cry, his face stony and coldly determined as he stares at his mother's coffin, as if tears would somehow be an affront to her.
He used to cry, Euphemia thinks, though already the memory of those halcyon days is already beginning to fade into scrapbook photos of better days.
"How is Nunnally?" she asks quietly, voice hoarse from crying.
"… she still hasn't awakened," he managed, his voice unsteady, shaking in the manner that Euphemia was sure his body wanted to but that his mind wouldn't allow.
"Father hasn't gone to see her," he continued, voice filled with an icy tone that Euphemia had never heard before, something that spoke of anger, deep and dark.
"Lelouch…" she breathed softly, wondering what to say.
"I'm going to see him tomorrow, to ask him." There was a resolution in his voice, that same kind of determination she used to hear when he spoke about defeating Schneizel-nii-sama at chess, but harder, and substantially more dangerous.
"To ask him what?" she asked quietly, apprehension filling her stomach at what he might say.
"Why mother had to die… and why he hasn't once gone to see Nunnally," Lelouch replied flatly, eyes as cool and hard as diamonds. "I've already demanded an audience tomorrow morning."
And with that, he began to walk away, back straight, determined and somehow unspeakably sad.
"Wait, Lelouch!" Euphemia took a step forward, hand raised, and opened her mouth to say… something. Anything.
You're not alone.
Euphemia said nothing, watching him walk towards his own doom.
It remained one of her deepest regrets from that day on.
"Hey, Lelouch," she began slowly, lounging, cat-like on his bed, in a manner that they both knew was rapidly beginning to be scandalous and unacceptable for a fourteen year old girl to do in a thirteen year old boy's room.
He didn't stop, as he rarely did, in what he was doing- in this case, typing out a report for History class, a history class that they both knew he didn't need, having already learned Brittania's history at the feet of the best tutors the motherland could provide.
The Junior High section he was currently in was laughably ill-suited, and so was the High school- he'd proven that when Milly, already a first-year in high school, asked for his help with her homework and ended up getting a full on tutoring session that had allowed her thus far to ace the rest of the class.
She had already made a note in her diary to appoint him Vice President of the Student Council once she was elected President next year (and she knew she would be, mostly because no one else would be able to stop her campaign).
"Yes, Milly?" he queried. "What is it?"
Instead of immediately replying, Milly took the time to study his face. Still retaining that baby fat of childhood, but nonetheless it was rapidly transforming into what would doubtlessly be a very handsome young man's visage- a visage that sometimes made her stomach churn in ways she didn't want to acknowledge.
He still seemed kind of like that ragged, desperate boy her grandfather took in so many years ago, but as time went on he became more and more capable of hiding his feelings, more and more inscrutable.
"Do you still hate them? Brittania, I mean."
Lelouch's fingers stilled across the keyboard for just a moment, yet Milly knew it spoke volumes about how much her question had affected him.
"Yeah," he admitted quietly, and that admission too, spoke a great deal about his trust in her.
She hesitated- unusual for her, many would agree, but around Lelouch caution could be the better part of valor. "… do you think maybe you should try to forget about it?"
He stopped typing entirely, and she knew that they had broached something that could never be taken back anymore.
"I just… I worry sometimes," Milly said quietly, focusing her gaze out the window determinedly, praying she wouldn't have to meet his eyes. "That you'll leave us and never come back."
He said nothing, but she didn't expect him to. But she had to press on.
"Do you think you could ever forget?"
Outside, she could hear birds chirping beneath a sky that was slowly starting to burn a bloody red in the sunset, like the daybreak of a war.
"No." His answer was cold as the northern wind, cutting and empty.
Milly never asked him again.
"I hate you."
He smiled coldly. "That's lovely."
"You're a monster."
He tilted his head to the side, lips quirking into mocking amusement. "I'm hurt," he said softly, silkily. "Wasn't it you, Kallen, who told me to keep up my act until the end? Well, here I am, continuing to do what I need to do…"
She raged against the restraints, but even her strength couldn't break the white harness suit, so she settled for using words to convey her anger. "Don't you dare try to use my words against me!" she snarled, glaring with every bit of force she could at him, as willing him to combust through sheer will. "You showed us a dream! I only asked you to protect that dream! Not to bring the whole world into tyranny!"
"And yet," Lelouch countered icily, "When I was no longer allowed to protect that dream, when I was a hindrance to it, in fact, you cast me aside and left me to the mercy of a firing squad… again."
She flinched at the edge in his voice.
His lips curled in a perverted mockery of a smile. "Exactly which one of us is the monster, Kallen?" he asked coolly. "At least I'm not a hypocrite."
"I would have stayed!" Kallen raged, lunging yet again. "I would have stood with you until the end, if you had only… only…"
Lelouch laughed, high and cold, and she flinched as if struck. "Only what, Kallen?" he questioned, pressing closer to the glass of her cell, arching his eyebrow in monstrous bemusement. "Only loved you?"
Kallen flinched yet again, falling back, shrinking into herself, saying nothing as she looked away.
"Can you even love," she asked quietly, a hint of desperation in her voice. "Did you ever love Nunnally, really, or was that just another lie to help cover your ambitions? Or Shirley? Did she really commit suicide, or did she get in the way of your ambition too?"
She stared back up at him, defiance filling her gray eyes.
Lelouch's face didn't change, though, maybe, just maybe, she saw a hint of some kind of emotion flicker through those amethyst orbs for the briefest of moments. "I loved Nunnally as much as a brother can, though the moment she stood against me I no longer considered her my sister," he responded tartly, "And as for Shirley…"
There was a stretch of silence that seemed to last forever.
"She knew too much," he said at last.
The words didn't shock Kallen as much as she thought they would, and that scared her more than she cared to admit.
"… you really are a bastard," she whispered, tears filling her eyes, stinging them and forcing her to close them.
"You never really cared about me, did you?" she managed brokenly, and couldn't help the choked sob that seized her throat.
"You were a wonderful pawn, Kallen," Lelouch complimented, and it was the worst possible thing he could have said. "Though you always did let your heart get the better of you. I admit, it is not one of your better qualities."
"Just stop this."
Kallen's voice wavered for a moment, but she opened her eyes and stood back up determinedly, looking him in the eyes even as the tears continued to flow.
"You don't need to do this, Lelouch," she whispered quietly.
Lelouch's brow raised another fraction. "Are you actually begging for your life, Kallen?" he asked incredulously, clicking his tongue in disappointment. "I expected better."
"I'm not doing this for me," Kallen refuted, voice barely audible.
"For your friends, Ougi and the others, then? Or perhaps Nunnally? Or maybe that Knight of Three, Weinberg, who seems to have taken an interest in you," Lelouch listed icily, smirking wider and wider with each passing name. "Have you found a new love, Kallen?"
"I'm doing this for you," she said softly.
Lelouch's eyes widened just a fraction, but quickly recomposed into that heartless, icy mask of the Emperor.
"Me?" he chuckled amusedly. "I think perhaps your incarceration has addled your mind, Q-1. I'm the ruler of the world, and you're my prisoner."
Kallen shook her head. "If you keep going down this road… you'll really be a monster… and there won't be any redemption left for you."
Lelouch laughed loudly, the bitterest, most incredulous sound either one of them had ever heard.
"Who ever said I wanted redemption?" he asked coldly, and left without another word.
It's already far too late for that, Kallen.
"Is this really okay, Marianne?" she asked quietly, in the shadows of the sun dappled garden that bordered Aries palace.
"What are you talking about?" the Empress's voice came clear as day through the World of C, cheerful and bubbly as ever, even as incorporeal as she was. Such an unusual Geass… even though they had contracted, C.C. found it difficult to understand why Marianne's Geass took on that particular form.
"It just seems… wrong," she murmured, more to herself than to her disembodied companion.
"Now this is a surprise!" Marianne exclaimed, bemused, "I wasn't aware you had taken such an interest in him."
She scoffed- she was far older than this slip of a girl, than her husband or his brother, and had long since lost those instincts of kindness and compassion. "I merely wanted to point out the possible folly of what you're doing. It may come to be a problem someday."
Marianne laughed- despite its childish sound, C.C. thought it rather cruel.
"Oh, C.C., this is for his own good. You know that."
C.C. nodded absently, still looking through the window.
Inside, a violet eyed Prince packs a suitcase for himself and his crippled, blinded sister for their exile to Japan, hands shaking all the while, back straight and proud yet barely holding itself up, desperate for anyone, anyone at all to help him.
And despite her protests and cynicism, she felt a measure of pity for the boy, being cast aside by his parents.
Yet, she was much too old, much too tired to be playing mother to a child, and even that last little act of charity seemed too much for her.
I tried, she thinks to herself, and goes on her way, leaving the boy's fate to the cruel whims of destiny.