Lelouch walked over to Shirley's body lied and saw that her wound had healed and she was merely sleeping now. Her face was free of fear and despair. While it did not bear the expression of joy that she had earlier upon seeing him, it looked peaceful. Lelouch wondered when was the last time she had felt peace of any kind.
For that matter, when had he?
It was probably when he had been dying. The dying itself was not a pleasant experience, but he had felt a kind of serenity knowing that he would not to carry the burdens of his decisions around any longer. But he had been wrong. There was no easy escape from the consequences of his actions.
Ever since Euphemia died as a result of his folly, he had known that there would be no happy ending for him. But he had failed to comprehend how much of a failure he would become. He may have brought the world peace, but he had utterly failed to protect the people closest to him.
He had failed to preserve Nunally's innocence.
He had failed to keep his promise to C.C.
He had broken Suzaku, his first and best friend. He had destroyed the mother he had mourned for most of his life and turned the only brother he had ever respected into a slave.
He had failed to protect Shirley.
The power of the king was indeed a lonely one. He had such good intentions... but everyone knew where that road led.
It had been so simple in the beginning. With his vast intelligence and the power of Geass, he had known that bringing down Britannia would be inevitable. He knew that it wouldn't be simple, but he had never expected that his objective would destroy his life and the lives of everyone he cared about.
When had he stopped seeing the war he had started as a mere chess game? The answer came to him immediately. When Shirley had told him that her father had died as a result of his 'brilliant' strategy, his world had changed forever.
People were going to die because of his decisions. They had died because of his decisions. It wasn't like he hadn't known this when he started. It had just never occurred to him that someone he knew would get involved, which was extremely naive. He was trying to start a rebellion in Japan. If he kept going down the path he was on, then the next funeral he would attend could be Milly's or Sayoko's.
Of course the next funeral he would attend ended up belonging to Shirley.
Before that happened... back when he had been holding Shirley's trembling body in the rain, he came the closest he had ever gotten to deciding to give up his mad quest. And if his only motivation had been vengeance then he may very well have given up. Maybe. There was no way to know for certain.
But he had another motivation. A promise he had made to his sister. A dream of a better world. He would do anything to create a safer world for Nunally. Sitting in his shower trying to wash the stains on his soul away, he had arrived at a decision.
When he created the Black Knights he told them that they would not be terrorists but soldiers in a war. And the major difference between the two was one that he had never needed to spell out because it had instinctively been understood by everyone. It was the understanding that wars had rules and lines that should not be crossed.
Yet even from the beginning Lelouch had never taken the rules of war seriously. He was fighting against an enemy who ruled two-thirds of the world with very little in the way of manpower or resources. He could not afford to give up advantages for the sake of abstract morality.
Lelouch prided himself for his intelligence, and because he was an intelligent man he was very good at rationalizing. And like many intelligent men before him, he had fallen for the most seductive of rationalizations.
That the ends justify the means.
Lelouch had always been a ruthless person. It had taken surprisingly little effort to turn himself into a monster. He became the man in the shadows who did dirty deeds so that the innocent could thrive. He would follow the slippery slope all the way to the end and sacrifice everything to shield people like Shirley and Nunally from the darkness.
The images of Shirley's bloody corpse and Nunally's tear streaked face flashed before him.
That plan had not worked out very well.
"Brother, the demon has finished healing and will wake up soon. What do you plan to do?" Rolo asked.
What did he plan to do?
Lelouch pondered the question as he walked over to where Gjormu's body lied. He glared down at the creature with anger and disgust as he watched the bat-like abomination regain consciousness and struggle to rise. He pushed the demon back down by placing his foot on its chest.
Gjormu raised its arm as if to move Lelouch's foot from its torso, but then its eyes glazed over as if it forgot what it was trying to do. It appeared that Lelouch's last command was working.
What did he plan to do to a creature that could not be killed? It was almost frightening how quickly his mind conjured up various ways to turn an immortal into a quivering, boneless blob of flesh that had no tongue with which to scream...
Shirley gave a tiny sigh and rolled over, curling her arms to her chest.
Lelouch forced back his morbid thoughts. He may have been many things, but he was not a sadist. He did not take pleasure in torturing helpless beings even if this particular one deserved every bit of cruelty he could imagine and more.
But Shirley wouldn't have wanted that. She wouldn't have wanted him to further tarnish his soul for her sake. She had believed in him even after she had recovered her memories and realized that he was Zero.
He wondered what she would think of him now after what he had done as the Demon Emperor. He tried to imagine Shirley looking at him with horror. It was depressingly easy to do so. All he had to do was remember Nunally's eyes.
Lelouch had dreamed for years of the day when Nunally would miraculously regain her sight. He had never imagined that the first time in years that he would be able to look into his sister's eyes that they would be filled with disgust and accusation. There had been hurt and sadness there as well.
The moment that he had seen his sister lose all respect for him would be imprinted in his mind forever.
He had never wanted Nunally to see the darkness within him. He did not think he could bear it if Shirley were to turn such eyes upon him. No, he had committed enough atrocities under the guise of self-sacrifice.
He could not, however, simply allow Shirley's tormentor to go its way without punishment.
"Look at me," Lelouch said softly.
Black, frightened eyes met his gaze.
"You have harmed someone very dear to me. The suffering I would inflict on you for that would be legendary. Perhaps my technique would lack the finesse of an experienced torturer like yourself, but I think that you'd find that I can be very... creative."
Lelouch paused for a moment to let that sink in.
"It is, however, partially my fault that Shirley is in this position. And I know that vengeance on you, while satisfying for me, will not make her happy. So it is your lucky day, Gjormu. I am going to be merciful."
Gjormu did not appear to be reassured by these words.
"I know that I cannot physically destroy you," Lelouch said slowly. "So I am going to do the next best thing."
Ten minutes later, the demon formerly known as Gjormu stumbled away from the school courtyard. Its mind was filled with confusion and not much else.
Tabula Rasa. Blank slate. Millennia of memories of inflicting pain and horror were gone with just a few simple words. What would become of the demon now in a world he did not remember was not Lelouch's affair nor did he truly care.
Some people would view his actions as cruel believing identity death to be worse than physical death in some ways. Lelouch could sympathize somewhat with such a viewpoint. The year he had spent believing himself to be an ordinary high school student because of his father's memory tampering was not something he liked to dwell on. It made him furious to think about how he had forgotten his goals, his power, and even his own sister. And yet...
He had been happy.
To be free of the burden of his memories would not be such a horrible thing. Even with how things had turned out, he still didn't regret erasing Shirley's memory of attempted murder. She had been happy, and she would have remained happy if not for Jeremiah's Geass Canceler.
He only wished that he could use his Geass upon Shirley's memories one more time.
"Brother, what do we do now?" Rolo asked, startling Lelouch from his thoughts.
"What you've expected me to do from the beginning. I am going to be taking over Hell," Lelouch replied with narrowed eyes. "Because I will be damned twice if I am going to allow Nunally and other people I care about to be condemned to an eternity of this absurdity!"
It pained Lelouch to admit it, but there was no other possible outcome under the current system. Nunally had killed so many with Damocles. Nina and Suzaku had killed millions more with FLEIJA. Perhaps such actions merited some form of punishment, But not Hell. He would not allow it.
"You didn't say 'we'," Rolo noted
"No, I didn't."
"You don't trust me." Again, this was a statement, not a question.
Lelouch stared at Rolo's blank expression. But despite the boy's skill and control, he couldn't manage to entirely cover up the hurt in his eyes. Lelouch found himself softening slightly. He had not forgotten what the boy had done for him, and his plans would go more smoothly with assistance.
Lelouch's eyes flickered over to Shirley's still form. Still...
"Rolo, you would do anything for me, correct?"
"Of course!" Rolo instantly replied. He sounded affronted that Lelouch would ever question his loyalty.
"Because you're my brother."
"That doesn't tell me anything. What do those words mean to you?"
Rolo was silent for a few moments before he said, "It means I have someone in the world who I want to protect. Someone I care about. Someone I want to make happy. I've never had family before. I was taught attachments like that would make me weaker. And that's true. I am weaker. But somehow... I feel like I'm stronger as well. Does that make sense?"
"You do understand that we're not related by blood?" Lelouch asked, not unkindly.
Rolo's gaze did not falter. He said evenly, "I have been told that family is usually a matter of blood, but it can sometimes be a matter of choice."
That sounded like something Milly would say.
"I'm glad that you said that," Lelouch said quietly. "Because that means that you will understand me perfectly when I tell you that I consider Shirley Fenette to be part of my family."
Rolo's eyes widened before he looked away with an expression of shame. And Lelouch knew that the boy understood.
"Tell me why you killed her."
He didn't bother saying that he wanted the truth. He didn't need to do that.
Rolo still couldn't look at him. He said in a low voice, "I was afraid. Afraid that you wouldn't need me anymore. I had nothing before meeting you. I know that you used me, but I didn't mind because you use everybody. And because you made me feel like I mattered. I saw that disappearing, so I..."
"Would you do it again?" Lelouch asked.
"No," Rolo replied, and there was no hesitation in his voice.
"Why not?" Lelouch asked skeptically.
"Because... you weren't the same after I killed your friend. You almost allowed yourself to be killed when you thought your sister was dead. I... wasn't enough for you to want to live."
Lelouch could read the pain and the sincerity in Rolo's eyes, and he knew that he could trust him. That was good because Lelouch didn't think that he could do this without him.
My friends... my family... they're the reasons that I can do what I do... live how I live... without them I really am just a monster...
"I will allow you to help me."
Rolo straightened up and he said, "I would be honored to be at your side."
"You won't be at my side."
At Rolo's crest-fallen look, Lelouch said in a reassuring tone, "You will be doing something much more important. You're going to be my eyes and ears. I need you to find a place where you have access to the network and from where you can easily hide and defend yourself and Shirley."
Rolo frowned. "Shirley?"
Lelouch nodded curtly. "Yes, I need you to protect her. I also need you to use your Geass to keep her from waking up. You will not allow her to regain consciousness until I tell you to do so."
He would create a peaceful afterlife for his sister and his friends no matter how long it took. He had failed to make his sister happy when he was alive. Even now, he doubted very much that she was happy. He would not fail her again.
Perhaps this wasn't the best way to handle things. Perhaps it would have been better for him to stay by Shirley's side and do his best to help her pull herself back together. But this was bigger than the two of them. Fighting against the forces of Hell was more than about their survival or even Nunally's survival. It was a second chance at making a better world for everyone.
It was also the only way he could think of to atone for ruining the lives of everyone he had ever cared about.
This time he wasn't going to let his ego get in the way. This time he would do it right. He was more experienced and wiser than the last time he had tried to topple an empire. In addition, he would have plenty of allies in Hell this time around. Some of the best strategists and tacticians in history were available. They only needed to have their chains loosened. Most of the Britannian royal family was probably down here as well. That was a somewhat disturbing thought, but he couldn't afford to ignore potential assets.
This was not going to be easy. This was probably going to be vastly more difficult than taking over the world. But he would succeed. Not simply because he had a Geass. But because he was Lelouch and Zero and the Demon Emperor, and nothing could stop him when he put his mind to it.
What was that old Milton quotation from Paradise Lost? Oh, yes. It was better to reign in Hell than serve in Heaven.
It was time to put that theory into action.
Author's Note: This is the end of this story. I had always planned to only write the 'origin story' of how Lelouch decides to try to conquer Hell and never planned to go any further. I don't have the military or strategic knowledge it would take to write the campaign it would require to take over the underworld. But anyone is free to take this story or this concept and play with it if they desire. I hope you enjoyed the story and that it made you think a little.