"It's such a nice day outside!"she declared brightly, peeking out through the curtains. "Come on, Lelouch! That work can wait an hour or so, you know."
With the greatest, most patient steadfastness, Lelouch ignored her, remaining as he was, perched over his desk, pen in hand as he scribbled off his signature onto the last document.
"Issue these orders," he commanded, and handed the papers over to Jeremiah, who stood in waiting beside him. "Move fast. We can't afford any mistakes."
"Okay, you're done!" she said over his voice, clapping her hands happily. "Now you can go and play."
Lelouch ignored her, even as Jeremiah gave him a crisp bow and bade his leave, to do the bidding of his emperor.
"It's not nice to ignore people, you know!" she said sternly, placing her fists on her hips with a glare.
"It is when those people are figments of a clearly failing sense of reality," he reminded her, sighing, leaning back into his chair. Ruling an empire is more tiring than I thought.
"If you imagined me," she said slowly, leaning against his desk, elbows propped up and supporting her chin as she fixed him with a no-nonsense gaze, "Then wouldn't that mean you wanted me to talk to you?"
Lelouch gave her a tired look, finally bothering to glance over at her. "Why would I want to speak to the dead, Euphie?"
Euphemia shrugged. "Like I said, you imagined me, Lelouch. You're the genius, you figure it out."
Lelouch knew there would be physical and mental consequences to undertaking the Zero Requiem. He had prepared himself- when he started losing weight, eating less, growing thinner ("You're wasting away," Euphemia said sadly, shaking her head), he accepted it. His good health only had to last for so long, after all.
He expected the nightmares even, the endless haunting that followed his dreaming as well as his waking moments, the sudden panic attacks that would strike without warning as he realized he was counting down the days till he could safely die and leave the world in peace.
But of all the possibilities, hallucinating visions of the dead was not one he had considered.
"What did I do to deserve this?" Lelouch paused, fingers tapping the crown of his black king, tilting his head as if he were considering his next move, and not speaking with the vision of a man he'd murdered. "Aside from, you know, everything."
"Well, you did shoot me," Clovis reminded him, sitting across from him in the opposing chair. "Could you move my pawn, please?"
"It just makes no sense. Why would I only start hallucinating now, after I've become Emperor?" Lelouch questioned, frowning deeply, as he did as his brother asked, moving the pawn.
"Well, maybe moving back to the homeland stirred something in you," he offered, tapping his lip thoughtfully.
"If you're planning to move to E-7, don't bother," the Emperor commented in a bored tone, glancing out the window, at any place that wasn't occupied by the image of the brother he murdered. "And I highly doubt I'm that sentimental."
Clovis snickered. "I seem to recall you keeping a blanket for three years after you stopped needing it…"
"I was five!" Lelouch snapped back, suddenly irritated.
"Hey, I'm your hallucination," Clovis insisted. "My rook takes your knight, by the way." After the only corporeal occupant of the room had moved the pieces accordingly, Clovis continued, "Anyways, you should probably seek professional help. Nobody wants an Emperor who sees dead people."
"Nobody wants me as Emperor anyways," came the sardonic reply. "It really wouldn't change much."
"What, are you upset about your lack of rapport with the public? How puerile," Clovis said lightly, mockingly.
"You always were so pretentious," Lelouch muttered, rolling his eyes. "You think using a fancier word for 'petulant child' makes you seem smarter?"
"I'm a figment of your imagination, so I act as you think I would act."
He scowled, and slammed down the final piece. "That's checkmate. I suppose I also made you act in a way that made you lose."
Clovis gave him a deadpan look, and he had the grace to feel the slightest bit contrite.
"Right, I answered my own question there, didn't I?"
"So this is where you were born, Lulu? Wow…" Shirley breathed, wide eyes scanning the elegant hallways, doing a little spin around the hallway, her familiar Ashford uniform skirt whirling about with her, a smile brighter than the sun on her face. Such a mundane behavior fascinated him, made him wonder at how subtly graceful she was, and he wondered why he'd never noticed it while she was alive.
"I wasn't born here, but at the Aries Palace Villa, which is a different building," Lelouch corrected, wishing he could stop staring at what could only be a delusion of his beleaguered mind.
"I don't really remember too much about Brittania," Shirley said thoughtfully, tapping her chin with a long, tapered finger. "To me, the Imperial Family was always just something I heard about on the news… who knew that a prince was sitting next to me the whole time!"
"Ex-prince," he amended, shaking his head. "I lost all titles and rights to inheritance by the time I came to Japan."
"The prince who was banished returning to claim his throne… It's like a fairytale," she said in wonderment.
Lelouch glanced at her, and remembered pools of blood, fading emerald eyes, and one last breath.
"No, it's not."
"I don't trust him," Rolo muttered, jealous eyes stalking Suzaku as he left the throne room, back straight, ready to dispatch the renegade Knights of Round, his former comrades, without mercy.
"Our fates are bound together, and Suzaku will not turn his back at this late hour," Lelouch replied, crossing his legs and resting his cheek upon the knuckles of his left hand. "He understands what we must do."
"I would have understood you, brother," he insisted. "I would have been your knight."
"You did enough, Rolo," Lelouch assured him, but refused to look him in the eyes. "You saved my worthless life, and believed in my lies until the very end. You gave me a chance to set things right."
"Why can't people see how kind you are, brother?" Rolo whispered, and began to cry. "Why don't they understand you, like I did? Even if you lied to me, I knew, deep down, that you cared."
Lelouch himself didn't know if he really ever cared for his one-time jailer/would-be assassin, but the sentiment was understood all the same.
Did he ever wish to be understood? For someone to look past the lies and deceit and see the man, or maybe the boy, beneath?
Or was the reason people didn't understand him was simply because he was nothing but the lie to begin with?
"It's a blessing in disguise," he said finally. "If they did, this Zero Requiem would never work."
"She loves you, you know," Shirley commented quietly, smiling as she leaned against the stairwell. As a bit of courtesy, she wasn't looking directly at them, but rather speaking more towards the familiar Ashford Academy clubhouse wall.
Kallen broke away from the kiss, and Lelouch let himself stand still, and allowed himself the tiniest, most meager 'goodbye' he could.
"You really won't let her in, will you?" Shirley continued, sighing, hands clasped behind her back, gazing up now at that familiar ceiling. "She'd throw away everything for you in an instant, if you'd just say it."
"I am a destroyer, and the only things that come from associating with me are death and misery," Lelouch answered quietly, under his breath, barely audible- but the dead hear everything.
"She's like all the other girls who gave their hearts to you, like me," she whispered softly, glancing at him out of the corner of her eyes, those perfect emeralds he never thought he'd see again at one point. "All we ever wanted was for you to let us in, Lelouch. The blood on your hands, the sins you bear… they wouldn't have mattered."
"You should have kept your heart," he muttered, and started up the stairs again, where Kaguya, the UFN, and the destiny of the Zero Requiem awaited, like a march to the gallows. "Giving your heart to me was a mistake."
Shirley nodded, watching him go.
"But it didn't make me love you any less."
"Oh dear, I suppose this means it's just you, Schneizel, Cornelia, and Nunnally left of the family," Clovis muttered, hand clasped over his forehead, hanging off of Lelouch's seat in the airplane, as the transmission from the Damocles and Nunnally faded. Though they were in the air, he remained standing without effort.
Lelouch ignored him, clutching his chest tightly.
C.C. looked over at him, saying nothing, for once even her smart mouth having no response to the situation.
"We were a dangerous generation of the family, we children of the Charles Di Brittania," Clovis continued, shaking his head. "I always knew it would come down to you and Schneizel, somehow, but to think Nunnally would be in his corner, and not yours… quite shocking indeed."
It doesn't change anything. It doesn't change anything. It doesn't…
"You can't fool yourself, you know," he cut in, shattering Lelouch's thoughts. "You always loved Nunnally. It was your biggest weakness then, it's your weakness now."
Clovis chuckled. "Schneizel always did know how to get you by the proverbial balls, to pardon the language, didn't he?"
"Shut up and go away," Lelouch snarled, and C.C. drew back, blinking in surprise.
"Yelling at your delusions is not going to help," Clovis said simply, but he vanished all the same.
He expected one of them to appear as he confronted Nunnally. They couldn't wait to show up at any other crisis he faced as Emperor, so why not here, at the point where he was most likely to falter?
But as he spoke with Nunnally, no one showed. He waited, but there was no sarcastic commentary, no speeches, no sad whispers.
And the silence that engulfed him and his beloved sister, separating them forever, was more terrible than any words that could be spoken by the dead that haunted his steps.
Never let it be said that the dead don't desire vengeance, Lelouch thought, and smiled, because he had already run out of tears.
"You finally beat Schneizel-nii-sama," Euphemia commented, tiptoeing lightly about the Damocles control room, even though she could have just as easily passed through all the equipment. "How does it feel?"
Lelouch glanced at his brother, kneeling upon the floor, will broken by the Geass, and at the monitors, where thousands of soldiers had just been sacrificed, the hundreds of thousands of orphans and widows born in a game between two bickering siblings with visions of the future.
"Like I can't remember why I wanted it so badly," he admitted.
The clock face blinked, and it was 12:00 AM, exactly.
Just one month left. Thirty days. Four weeks, two days. Seven hundred and twenty hours. Forty three thousand two hundred minutes.
Lelouch laid out in the most comfortable, expensive bed he had ever owned, the height of luxury and power, and pretended he was already dead.
"You really need to stop doing this to yourself," Shirley muttered, sitting on the edge of his bed. Her long, flame red hair seemed more real than anything else in the darkened room, and, just for a moment, he lost himself and attempted to stroke it.
As his hand passed through her hair, a blind man grasping for paradise, he said softly, "They're waiting for me, aren't they? The men I've killed. They're all waiting for me, waiting to call me to where I belong… to Hell."
Shirley gave him a sad little smile. "You know, if I say you won't go to Hell, you'll just call me a self-gratifying delusion. If I say you will, you'll only be hurt."
Lelouch smiled back wryly. "The curse of being a genius."
She reached out towards him, her fingers stopping just short of his cheek, and her eyes watered up.
"You really like to torture yourself, don't you?" Shirley whispered, tears running tracks down her cheek, onto his, like some kind of baptism, a chance for some last second salvation. "You imagine me just so I can hurt you, by being here."
He looked away.
Part of being a genius is that you're smarter than all your self-deception.
"But I'm going to tell you that you're not going to Hell anyway," she murmured, and her hand stroked his cheek, ghosting across the skin. If he closed his eyes, he might have even been able to lie to himself and say it felt warm. "Because I love you, and you know that, even if you can't let yourself believe it."
Lelouch didn't answer.
There was no need. Self-deception doesn't work on geniuses, after all.
It really, truly occurred to him, that he was about to die, as he was fixing his shirt, of all things.
This is the last shirt I will ever wear, Lelouch thought, and it the most terrifying concept he had ever considered.
Ridiculous. A shirt? Every last IQ point in his brain, every last drop of comprehension in his mind knew this was the most absurd thing in existence to be depressed about.
But it really would be the last time he would ever have to put on a shirt.
"You're so close now," Euphemia whispered softly, just behind his ear. "You were always so brave, Lelouch."
He pretended he could smell her distinct perfume- sweet and crisp, it reminded him of summers in sun-lit gardens and grassy hills beneath an endless starry sky. It was a type of flower, but for the life of him, he couldn't remember it anymore.
"You were the brave one," he said hoarsely. "You dreamed of peace where the rest of us could only dream of war. I should never have brought you down to my level."
"What's done is done, and no one can ever change the past," she reminded him.
"I'm so sorry," Lelouch whispered, digging his fingers into his palms, trembling. "I loved you so much, and I killed you anyway. I must be a monster."
"Monsters can't cry, Lelouch," Euphemia reminded him gently.
So this is what it feels like to be on this end of the blade, Lelouch thought wryly. At least I got a clean death. Suzaku was merciful.
And of course, the whole gang came out to pay him a visit, as he did at their deathbeds.
"It's the end now, I suppose," Clovis said quietly, averting his eyes.
"You're done now, nii-san," Rolo murmured, smiling gently, perched over him.
"You can go home," Euphemia added, eyes bright and welcoming.
"Just close your eyes," Shirley whispered. "We're already waiting."
And so he did.
I came up with the initial idea and title for this over a year ago, during a Philosophy class where we discussed the tradition of "eating the dead" and carrying them with you, which seemed to me to completely fit Lelouch's personality. But then I left it, like so many ideas, in outline form in a notebook, only to finally drag it out a few days ago after reading through my old notebooks. It changed considerably since then, thanks to R2, (the whole hallucinating dead people thing is new) but I hoped the initial philosophy I had in mind remains.
I'm aware that Rolo got less screen time, but I just feel like the deaths that really, truly haunted Lelouch were Shirley and Euphemia. Clovis appeared more to taunt him , but those were the two that really bothered him.