Recessional


She found CC's corpse at dawn: sprawled upon the shore, her skin bluish and crusted with salt, her flightsuit dirty and stained with a bloody serum where some wound had leaked in its post-mortem state. Her chest was half-collapsed, staved in by the ocean's pressure or some cockpit miscellany. One of her gloves was missing.

Kallen hugged her arms and looked at the body for a long time, shivering. Waves lapped gently over the sand. It left filmy bubbles in the tangles of CC's hair and washed grit into her bare palm, as though to leave something there. The empty sea stretched out to empty sky, its horizon loosening into a pale blue with the coming day. It seemed very cold. She watched the sky and she listened to the trees and the waves and she finally became aware that there were tears on her face. She gritted her teeth and wiped roughly at her cheeks and said aloud, finally, "I hate this."

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(And the end of the world, she thought. Was it this, this despair? The Guren's radio hissed quietly, empty of reassurance or victory. Her cell phone's failing battery yielded nothing, no messages from Ohgi or Tamaki or Miname. She wondered, numbly, who was dead.

The island was simple and serene and beautiful. The waves smoothed away footprints and new, raw dunes. The only lingering evidence she saw were jagged black skidmarks on the stone. Scorched limbs surrounding that cursed doorway. A scrape of white paint.

But Suzaku was gone, and Lelouch was gone, and their wake of betrayal and hurt and hard, vicious words hung in the air.

And Zero was gone.

Mid-morning, she received a desperate, short message that had no return address but was signed Kyoto. She looked at it, uncomprehending, and finally, she left Kaguya's terse words-don't come back-and went to burn CC's body. She thought that she would cry, but she didn't.)

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She returned to the empty nest of hard-won tinder she had gathered and stood looking at the indentures leading away through the sand. Burning white ringed the edges, their centers darker as though damp. They wandered along the edge of trees and wove in and out of the undergrowth and then hooked sharply right and into the shade of the island's dense jungle.

She remembered this way, vaguely, and she stumbled and forced her way through the press of limber, whipping trees and snarls of root and vine. There wasn't a trail, but she could hear the heartbeat-thunder of the waterfall and smell the press of its cooler air.

CC stood unharmed in the cold, clear water to her hips, her wet hair clinging to the curve of her spine. She bent and trailed her hair in the spring and rose, dripping. The mist against her pale skin. She gathered her hair to her and patiently worked her fingers through its length, her face turned to the sun, her eyes closed and her bangs raked back. She bent again in a sideways motion and wet her hair again and rose and swung it around in an arc of cold spray, it twisting across her shoulders and neck with a wet slapping sound. And here she turned and saw Kallen watching her, and she made no move to cover herself and instead waded to the bank, her hair hugging the lines of her body.

She went to where her flightsuit was spread to dry on the rocks and touched her fingers to it. "I'm glad you didn't burn me," she said, without looking up. "That would have been unpleasant."

"Yeah," Kallen said. She studied the scar raking over CC's ribs below her breast, and the mark blazoned across her forehead. Both shapes like branded wings. "You're dead," she said finally, her voice sounding tired and stupid.

CC looked at her in exaggerated surprise. "Am I?" When Kallen didn't react, she gave a wry smile. "Well. Perhaps." She held her arms to her, but not out of modesty. Goose bumps peppered her skin. "Go on and build the fire."

Kallen shifted her weight back, a hot, wild claw hooking in her chest. She fumbled for her gun and squared her shoulders. "I don't think I trust you," she said. Her voice didn't shake. "Why should I do what you say?"

CC gave the gun an exasperated look. "Do you have anything better to do?" She folded her arms beneath her breasts and tilted her head.

"You-" Kallen swallowed. "You and Zero ran. You left us. You helped him leave us. We lost Tokyo because of that."

"Someone must suffer defeat," CC murmured.

"My friends are probably dead," Kallen heard herself say. Dead, she thought. Dead. They're dead. "Because of you," she said weakly, feeling all sleepless hurt. Her vision wobbled, and she clicked off the gun's safety.

"Please don't shoot me," CC said, sounding more tired than afraid.

"Did he abandon you, too?" Kallen looked hard at her. Her chest hurt. "Zero. Did he kill you, too?"

"Zero." CC smiled. "Lelouch."

"Lelouch," Kallen echoed, and her voice was horrible and twisted and brittle. "Is this what he meant to do? Kill us all?"

Something softened around CC's eyes, and she shook her head. "You don't understand," she said, and turned away, rubbing briskly at her arms.

"I don't-I don't understand what," Kallen spat. Her gun followed CC, and now there was a tremor to her hands. "Do you love him, is that it? Is that what I don't understand?" CC shook her head again and began pulling on her flightsuit. "Then what? Look at me." Her voice grew louder. "Look at me."

And CC looked at her and there was something weird and pitying and fond in her eyes. She dragged the zipper up her front, hiding that ragged scar again, and pulled her hair free. "There are," she said quietly, "many things at stake. Your revolution is only one of them." She stepped closer and lifted her face, calm. "If they are all indeed dead, then we have a responsibility, no?" Kallen looked at her and looked at the gun, its muzzle inches from touching the damp fabric of CC's flightsuit, and she clenched her jaw and did not pull the trigger.

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"Did you really want to kill me?" CC asked, the barest note of interest in her voice.

Kallen rested her head against her arms, leaning against their makeshift shelter of stone and the forest's bower, the island sun beating relentlessly beyond its reach. Insects sang and, further and gentler, the ocean rolled and whispered against the shore. "I think he's dead," she said finally, ignoring the question. "Zero. I think Suzaku killed him." She settled her weight forward and hunched into her knees.

"Well. What if he is, then?"

"Then Britannia is probably very happy." She closed her eyes. "It got to spill a lot of Japanese blood last night."

"Yes." Then, "If you had killed me, you would be alone."

"I was already alone. I saw you dead."

"True enough." She felt a light touch against her head, a lock of hair pushed into place. "It would have been sad, though."

"Maybe."

"It would." CC's hand settled gently against her head. "He's not, you know. Dead."

"How do you know?"

"I do." Kallen turned her face and CC looked at her, matter-of-fact and unchallenging. Shadows played across her face, her hair tangled and twisted into a tail over her shoulder. "He won't die with stakes as high as these."

"It's not anyone's choice," Kallen said. She closed her eyes again. "No one chooses death like that."

"Well. Perhaps." CC sighed. "At any rate, I'm still here, tragedy of tragedies."

There was a weird resonance to her words, something like water, like rain. Kallen couldn't think about what it meant. Her joints ached. She thought about that drowned Ophelia twist of CC's body, all blood washed away to leave the spread of blue veins stark against her pale skin. Finally, she said into her arms, "Good."

CC huffed out a little laugh. "Perhaps," she said again. A breeze skimmed in from the sea, heavy and warm and salty. "Kallen," she said after a while, and that was strange, because Kallen couldn't ever remember hearing CC say her name, "you can rest." She put her fingers lightly to Kallen's ankle and said nothing more and Kallen let out her breath and didn't reply, but she thought maybe that was okay.