Author's Notes- Title taken from "Hum Hallelujah", by Fall Out Boy. Written as kind of stream-of-consciousness stuff while I was waiting in the library for a group project, so forgive the rambling nature.

This is love.

00000

Lelouch is flawless, they say. A face as handsome as a prince (and the irony of that statement never once reaches Lelouch's ears), a mind that dances rings around the teachers and makes them squirm, and a wit to match and cut to the quick of anyone.

Shirley is not flawless. She's pretty, but in a homely sort of way, an earthy sort of way that doesn't shine as bright as Milly's straw-gold hair or catch attention like Kallen's raw, sensual features. She struggles through school like any other girl her age, and stumbles over her words more often than not.

And she thinks the world of him. She believes in him, with the naiveté of a heart undefiled by hate and the blindness of the innocent, and that, Lelouch thinks, is her greatest flaw.

Later, Lelouch reflects that while Shirley wasn't flawless, she was perfect, and his greatest flaw was that he couldn't see it until it was already too late.

00000

"I will be a devil, a god of destruction," he promises Kirihara. "I will walk the path of carnage."

But he never could. Not really.

Men always reach for what they can never achieve, and that is why gods and devils envy us so.

It will take Lelouch Lamperouge a long time to learn he is just a boy, and the path of carnage he walks is nothing more than the same path of carnage we all walk.

It is agony and ecstasy, joy and torture, gain and loss.

And it is called growing up.

00000

The world is drowning.

Between her tears and the rain, everything is drowning, and being swept away in the unforgiving tide.

He doesn't know what to say. Tragedy has ever stalked Lelouch's shadow, and yet every time it stings as badly as the first.

"I'll…" Protect you. Love you. Pretty little lies he can whisper in her ear, and then dance away to burn the world and pretend he's not a monster.

"I will…" Hurt you. Break you. This is the truth.

But the truth is ugly, and Lelouch has always preferred his lies, because he doesn't know how else to live.

"I won't let anything hurt you," he promises.

Shirley leans into Lelouch's arms as his too human fingers struggle to hold her, and they both pretend that maybe, just maybe, it's true.

00000

You see, children make promises.

Adults have to learn whether or not they can actually keep them.

00000

"Will you come and watch?" she asks skittishly, eyes towards the ground. "It's no big deal if you can't, but the meet is going to be pretty big so I thought I'd ask-"

"Sorry," he says, offering her an insincere smile, eyes distant as he calculates the next battle. "I can't."

Tomorrow he's off to fight the world again and make it bleed and burn.

Today, he has no time for her.

00000

This is loss.

00000

Shirley is dying, and nothing is as it should be anymore.

Today, Lelouch understands he is not the devil, nor a god.

If he was, he could save this one small slip of a girl.

Instead, for all his wit, his armies and fleets that raze cities to the ground and turn his enemies to dust, his powers born of unnatural pacts that can bend the wills of others, he is still limited, he is still flawed.

Tomorrow doesn't matter anymore.

Today, he has all the time in the world for her.

It's too bad she has no time left at all.

00000

"You've changed," C.C. notes, when he returns, eyes ablaze, intent on destroying Geass, the power he had once coveted as a gift now nothing more than a curse to his ears and a blight to his eyes. "Death always changes you."

And to that, Lelouch has to agree.

But, he wonders, what was wrong with how he was before?

00000

He remembers the world as it was, as it should be.

There used to be spring in the gardens of the Student Council building, an endless summer of being forced to trek through mountains and nights spent beneath stars, and an autumn of warm afternoons.

Now half of Ashford is nothing but a crater in the ground, Shirley is buried, and Lelouch stands at the wreckage of everything he has ever built and tries to remember what it was all for.

It is not yet winter, but everything is already dead.

00000

Lelouch recalls the taste of salt in their kiss.

Only after will he remember that where salt is sown, nothing will ever live again.

00000

And this is how we grow up.