'I'll love you forever', she promises, smiles, and dies.

00000

There was a girl, sweet and innocent, who fell in love with a boy.

There was a boy, full of darkness and confliction, who couldn't love the girl because he was too busy raging out against the world in a mask.

By the time the boy tried to love the girl, she was already gone.

It's a sad, sad story.

00000

He lays on the grass outside the clubroom one long, lazy afternoon, the dreary and humid Japanese summer muddling even Milly's rampant enthusiasm. Rivalz is swamped with trimming the budget as per Milly's orders (the poor boy's the most malleable puppet before her strings, he thinks wryly), so there's no chance of chess today.

'Lulu?' she calls out softly, and he doesn't crack open his eyes just yet.

'Sleeping again?' she sighs, and plants herself down next to him. There's nothing but the sound of errant zephyrs and cicadas chirping, and for a long while Lelouch pretends he's dead as the world passes him by.

But he can hear her breathing, alive and warm and real next to him, above all that white noise that makes him feel dead, and he comes back.

'You don't have to wait here for me,' he finds himself saying out loud. 'I can find my way back on my own later.'

'I won't go till you go,' (unspoken- I won't leave you alone) she says in reply, cheeks flushing. 'I can wait.'

'You might be waiting a while,' he warns her playfully, opening one eye and breaking his own illusion of death.

'I can wait,' she promises.

(Forever)

00000

Looking back, Lelouch thinks that might have been paradise, if he had ever stopped to really look.

00000

'Who are you again?' she asks, and the sunny bright smile on her face wounds him more deeply than any knife, and for the first time he wishes he had never made a contract.

'I'm your-' (friend, betrayer, and maybe in a better place lover) '-I'm Lelouch,' he answers finally, and it sums up everything they are in that one word, and yet says nothing.

00000

Sometimes, Lelouch loses himself in his own act. Not in the act of Zero, the demagogue and shaper of the world, but the act of Lelouch Lamperouge.

He forgets that he's not supposed to enjoy being normal, that he is a schemer with the deaths of hundreds of thousands people (of Euphie, of Clovis), that he's hungry for this rotten, ugly world to change.

He laughs at a stupid joke of Rivalz or rolls his eyes at Milly's antics and in those moments he feels normal, that he's not trapped at Ashford like a rat in a cage beneath his father's thumb, waiting for the chance to escape.

And sometimes, when Shirley sneaks a smile beneath hooded eyes and blushing cheeks at him, and he remembers a rain soaked kiss and a broken girl who needed him to protect her, he wonders if this world is really so twisted that he has to destroy it, and that maybe saving the good things in this world is enough.

00000

'Why do you like him so much?'

Only Suzaku ever thinks to ask this question, and only after he comes back, crowned in glory cloaked in bloodshed and war, a knight out of fairytale, his silver pieces for delivering Zero to the empire (But Zero is Lelouch, she remembers with bile in her throat and half choked tears, He's your best friend, how could you).

Everyone thinks Lelouch is so perfect he is beautiful, and that is why she loves him. He has a slender body and a nice smile and such a gorgeous and unique eye color. They think it's an adolescent crush mixed in with lust, a product of the hormones that surge through her veins.

It's his greatest mask, Shirley thinks. His slender body is near emaciated by the unceasing torment in his mind. The smile is forced so much he can never forget that it doesn't come from his heart. The amethyst sparkle of his eyes hides the dark depths that haunt within.

How nobody realizes it is the real mystery.

Lelouch isn't beautiful because he's perfect. He's broken, beautifully so, and Shirley wants to help him pick up the pieces of his shattered soul before he's beyond repair.

00000

'Breathe,' he begs. (You said you would wait)

She smiles for him, her last precious gift.

It will never be enough.

'Breathe', he begs, and wishes he could change everything, wishes she never loved him so at least he wouldn't have to watch her die.

She's already gone.

'Breathe,' he begs, because he can't remember how.

00000

When Shirley dies, he knows that maybe protecting the good could have been enough, but Lelouch was never good at protecting what he loved. He can't do it- he's a killer and a destroyer, and maybe a creator, but protecting what you care about is something beyond him and his blood soaked hands.

All he can do is make a battlefield into a funeral pyre for her, and send as many souls to hell as he can to make up for that spark of good that has been forever lost from the world.

As a killer, it is his only penance.

00000

If you love someone, Shirley remembers hearing, you'll let them go, and if they come back then they're yours.

But if you really loved someone, she thinks, why wouldn't you wait forever until they did?

00000

'Did you love her?' C.C. asks.

He doesn't answer.

'She loved you so much,' the witch comments airily, a smoky quality in her voice that might be jealousy or envy.

'She shouldn't have,' he says coldly.

(I can only hurt the ones who love me)

00000

Love, Lelouch thinks, is the real monster in the world, the real enemy he should fight.

For love, he has butchered thousands and burned the world down to the ground. Cloak it in the name of justice, all the right intentions, and dress it up with 'the end justifies the means', but in the end there is more blood on his hands than any other, even the enemies he has defeated for that justice.

His father and mother loved Nunnally so much they crippled her, traumatized her with false memories so terrifying they made a sweet little girl afraid to open her eyes ever again.

Kallen is ready to die for it, ready to throw away a life full of promise and a future that is only just unfolding out before her if he would only say a few words.

('Breathe', he begs, and wishes he could change everything, wishes she never loved him so at least he wouldn't have to watch her die)

People, Lelouch decides, as he whispers 'Sayonara', need to stop dying because of love.

00000

'You should see her,' Suzaku says softly, three days before the end. 'There's still time, and we're close by.'

Suzaku is shaking, he realizes, those fingers that will grasp the sword shake at the thought of the weight they will carry forever.

'Don't you want to say goodbye?'

He thinks about blood pooling about and tainting strawberry locks, and emerald eyes fading fast like the last glimpse of heaven before you fall to hell.

'Stab me here,' Lelouch says without answering, hand over the place where his heart should be, and smiles.

(it's already broken, so it won't hurt so much)

00000

Everything is brighter, clearer, slower, in those long few moments as Lelouch Lamperouge breathes out his life.

He can hear Nunnally's last sobs for him (oh, please don't cry, I never wanted you to cry, he wants to say, and stroke her hair, but there is no strength left in him- all of it spent, consumed, and he was already dead long before today) only faintly, everything drowning out by a supreme, serene blackness. Around him there is nothing but the chaos of a world being born, as the last dark remnant of the old, bloody history closes his eyes for the last time.

I wish you could see it, he thinks. You'd be proud of me, right, Shirley?

A last, fleeting wish.

But the wish is futile. She's already gone, and all that should await him on the other side is hell or oblivion, more than he likely deserves.

He lets his eyes shut at long last, and finds himself going, not to hell, but home.

You kept your promise, he thinks. I'm sorry it took me so long.

'It's okay.'

(A smile like the sun and eyes like verdant green summer)

'I told you I would wait.'

00000

The boy died, and found the girl again.

She had waited for him.

Even the sad stories can have happy endings.